Friday, April 16, 2010

"Pope Benedict's Safeguards Against Abuse"

“I think this op-ed is very well written - it addresses the scandal in an appropriate manner highlighting the fact that the church has made many mistakes and needs to both repent and make structural changes; not just blame the media.”

This is a comment made from Wednesday’s post. I appreciate the blogger’s comment and encourage other bloggers to enter into the discussion! Regarding the Church’s structure of how to handle sexual abuse by clergy, the following is a summary and assessment of the Church’s safeguarding against abuse, specifically regarding Pope Benedict XVI. This helpful resource was compiled by one of our students at the Newman Center who researched documents all the way back to 1741…!

While it does show that Church leaders have failed in implementing the safeguards, it clearly indicates that Pope Benedict has not been one of them. In fact, it proves the opposite: he has been an ecclesiastical leader in preventing sexual abuse by clergy. Also, it shows that the Church has had these safeguards in place for over 200 years, not just in recent days or weeks as a result of media scrutiny. Pope Benedict has admitted that the Church has sinned in all of this and is not placing the blame on the media. But, the recent attacks of the media are baseless, as shown by the following:

“Pope Benedict’s Safeguards Against Abuse”


Legal Safeguards

• 1741: Pope Benedict XIV issues Sacramentum Poenitentiae articulating the canonical norms with how to proceed with sexual abuse by clergy.
• 1922: Pope Pius XI issues Crimen Sollicitationis (crime of solicitation) updating Sacramentum Poenitentiae for the Code of Canon Law of 1917.
◦ Laid out the judicial norms for how dioceses and the Congregation of the
Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) were to deal with priests accused of abuseparticularly in the Sacrament of Confession.
• 1962: Pope John XXIII adds an appendix to Crimen Sollicitationis further specifying legal steps to be taken.
• 2001: Pope John Paul II issues Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (The Safeguarding of the Sanctity of the Sacraments) (SST).
◦ Simplified previous legal documents for clergy abuse cases and explicitly granted the CDF, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, authority over cases involving clerical abuse.
• 2002: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger publishes its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
◦ Comprehensive guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of further abuse.
◦ Procedures include adult screening, stricter seminary application testing and formation, background checks, Virtus abuse training, etc.
• Spring 2010: Vatican expected to implement USCCB guidelines for the rest of the world.

Why the Previous Safeguards Failed

• Cultural approach to pedophilia in civil and ecclesiastical authorities was to send offenders to treatment to be "cured." Once the treatment sessions ended, offenders faced no further penalties.
◦ Similar example: until the late 1970s, rape was punished usually with only between 3-5 years in prison; today, one offense is 20 years in prison and convicts register as sexual offenders.
• After Vatican II, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal action to canonically irregular situations on the part of the local ordinaries.
• Inadequate procedures for seminarian applicants and insufficient formation in seminaries and novitiates contributed to abuse. Also, a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal. The result, failure to apply existing canonical penalties.

Actual Extent of Abuse

• In the US- in 2002 the USCCB publishes an independent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice examining priestly abuse from 1950-2002.
◦ 149 priests accounted for almost half of the 7,000 allegations of abuse by priests.
◦ Of the 109,604 priests who served during this time, the 149 priests accused of the most heinous accusations account for about 0.001% of priests or 1/1000 of 1%.
• Another example, in Great Britain over the past 40 years less than 0.4% of British priests were accused of abuse.


Documents show that in the 1980s, the CDF, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, was pushing dioceses to take a tougher stand against clergy accused of abuse. One example, in 1995, Cardinal Ratzinger called for a full scale investigation into allegations that the former cardinal of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, abused a boy. However, other Vatican officials persuaded the then Pope John Paul II that the media had exaggerated the case and an inquiry would only create more bad publicity. Secondly, Pope John Paul II's motu proprio SST was the result of intense lobbying by Cardinal Ratzinger, who was distressed by the Roman Rota's (highest canonical appeals court) slowness in dealing with clerical abuse cases. Only with the SST in 2001 did the CDF gain explicit authority over such cases. Almost immediately, Cardinal Ratzinger issued procedures for diocese who have received evidence about child abuse to report that evidence to civil authorities. At the same time, he also established other norms and clarified any jurisdictional confusion between the diocese and the CDF. All of this happened almost a year before the American clerical abuse scandal began in 2002.

Before Cardinal Ratzinger, individual dioceses had to conduct their own investigations separate from civil investigations. While canon law had laid out specific guidelines to follow, jurisdictional questions remained until 2001. Also, it is not surprising that since it was challenging to obtain reliable information, both civil and ecclesial authorities found it difficult to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem. However, Benedict XVI has admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred.

Also, in a culture where pedophilia was not recognized as an inherently disordered and incurable condition, coupled with a desire to avoid public scandal, appropriate canonical laws were not enforced. Had all local ordinaries been enforcing the existing canonical procedures, the extent of the abuse would most likely have been far less than it was.

Despite these unfortunate failures, when Cardinal Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he made important changes to church law: specifically, the inclusion in canon law of internet offenses against children, the extension of child abuse offenses to include the abuse of all under 18, the case by case waiving of the statute of limitation, and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders, among other things.

Opinion: Allegations that Pope Benedict failed the Church are baseless and show that secularists are merely trying to take out the last challenge to their liberal ideology.

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