Monday, January 16, 2023

Telling Truth about Benedict's Legacy re: Clerical Sexual Abuse of Minors, and Commentary on Cardinal Pell's Legacy re: Abuse

Adam Horowitz offers one of the best pieces of commentary I've seen on how far too many Catholic journalists and academics have chosen to falsify the legacy of Pope Benedict vis-a-vis the abuse crisis, by claiming that he was somehow a champion of addressing the problem of clerical sexual abuse of minors — when he decidedly was not. 

Horowitz notes that one Catholic commentator after another — all of whom should know better — has been saying, following Benedict's death, "Maybe Benedict didn’t do as much as he could have, but he did more than any other pope had up until that point.”     

Horowitz writes,

Without getting down in the weeds, let’s assume this is true. Let’s assume that on abuse, Benedict ‘did more’ than his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups. But that’s not saying much. And that expectation – that the following official only needs to do ‘more’ at protecting kids than their predecessor. If the deceased or retiring CEO or bishop or school principal mishandled 95% of all abuse reports and if his or her successor mishandled only 90% of all abuse reports, then should the successor be praised?

That can’t be the standard of judgment when it comes to the well-being of children – that the current boss ‘did more’ than the old boss did regarding kids’ safety, so everything’s fine? ...

In over 25 years as the most powerful religious figure on the planet, John Paul II did almost nothing to safeguard kids worldwide. He repeatedly and effectively brought his unparalleled global influence to bear on other crucial issues but ignored or promoted stunningly complicit church officials. So Pope Benedict may indeed have ‘done more’ on abuse than his predecessor. But did he do BETTER than his predecessor? Not likely. And did he do EVERYTHING THEY REASONABLY COULD HAVE DONE to safeguard innocent children? Absolutely not!

And while we're on this topic, permit me to quote Christopher Knaus writing recently about the legacy of Cardinal George Pell, who died several days ago. In an article entitled "George Pell: what the five-year royal commission into child sexual abuse found," Knaus writes,

The child sexual abuse royal commission in 2020 released a bombshell un-redacted report examining the failings of George Pell during his time as an assistant priest, bishop, auxiliary bishop and cardinal in Australia.

The report found he both knew about child abuse, particularly within the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, and failed to take proper steps to act on complaints about dangerous priests.

The findings – which Pell always disputed – were arrived at after an exhaustive, five-year royal commission.

Then Knaus goes on to offer the entirely damning details and documentation found about Pell's role in ignoring and covering up sexual abuse of vulnerable people by Catholic clerics, as this information is compiled in the report of the Australian Royal Commission.

As Robert Mickens notes recently, it has come out that Pell authored a vicious anonymous attack against Pope Francis last year, in which he called Francis' pontificate a "disaster" and lambasted Francis for just about every shortcoming under the sun, including watering down the "Christo-centricity" of Catholic teaching. 

(My interjection here: when I hear the name "George Pell," Jesus and the gospels are never what comes first to my mind. In fact, to be brutally honest, I have long had great difficulty connectingn anything about Pell with the Jesus I encounter in the gospels.)

Mickens' focus as he discusses Pell is to highlight his and other anti-Francis Catholic leaders' entrenched determination to uphold the all-male, ostensibly celibate clerical system at all cost. This is a large part of what lies behind resistance to Francis.

As Mickens notes, this determination remains strong in the Vatican Curia. In my view, it may lead to the election of another super-reactionary pope following Francis.

What Mickens doesn't mention, but deserves attention, I think, is that the anti-Francis attacks are largely funded by wealthy Catholic right-wingers in the US and Europe, who are allied with Steve Bannon. They are determined to take Francis down because he has rehabilitated Catholic social teaching.

As James Carroll states in his book The Truth at the Heart of the Lie: How the Catholic Church Lost Its Soul (NY: Random House, 2021), this is tragic not just for the Catholic church but the whole world, due to the moral influence the church wields. Mickens writes", At the most practical level, a reformed, enlightened, hopeful Catholic Church is essential to the thriving — even to the survival — of the human species" (p. 304).


As the human species flirts with its own self-extinction, whether through weapons of mass destruction or environmental degradation, the world urgently needs this global institution to be rational, historically minded, pluralistically respectful, committed to peace, a tribune of justice, and a champion of the equality of women. That Vatican II occurred at all is enough to validate, if not belief in the Holy Spirit, the hope that this great institution can survive the temporary moral collapse of its leadership (p. 272).


When Pope John's successors — Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI — adamantly refused to alter anything having to do with the patriarchal and deeply misogynistic structure of Catholic power, and when they shored up a broad Catholic suspicion of every erotic impulse, the Church sacrificed the ongoing project of a humanely reformed Catholicism. Even under Francis, the us-against-them bipolarity that John XXIII stood against remains firmly in place, and it is still epitomized by men against women (p. 172). 

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