Sequitur, et Non
The Los Angeles abuse settlement continues to reverberate to a degree that surprises me. There were several powerful letters to the New York Times after their news story and editorial, including one from Anne & Ed Wilson of the VOTF chapter here in Brooklyn, and one from the venerable Msgr. Harry Byrne, who now has his own blog. But there was also a truly brilliant parody that apparently sought to find humor in this dark saga, and at the same time puncture many of the silly contentions and connections made by some advocates of a liturgical silver bullet for the crisis. The letter is from, of all people, the “rite-wing” Catholic polemicist Matt Abbott. In full it reads:
To the Editor:
I am pleased that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has settled with more than 500 survivors of sexual abuse. The settlement is long overdue.
Despite the moral corruption that has permeated the church in the United States over the last few decades, I still believe in the truths of the faith, and I applaud Pope Benedict XVI for loosening the restrictions on use of the traditional Latin Mass and for reiterating the church’s central role in salvation.
Matt C. Abbott
Chicago, July 17, 2007
Or at least I think it was meant as parody. Unfortunately, about the same time, the Vatican came out with a lengthier take on priests and pedophiles that is no more encouraging in its analysis. The text is posted at Zenit and is a pamphlet written by Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli, an official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In his self-administered Q&A Msgr. Martinelli repeats many of the defensive argumentations made by other Vatican officials after the Los Angeles settlement. And he plays up the problem of pedophilia outside the Church while playing with figures to diminish the true scope of the abuse:
“There are some 500,000 priests in the world, and the priests who have cases brought against them are a small percentage. Those that have been proven and ended with punishment are even less: Trustworthy, nonpartisan sources say the percentage is 0.3%, that is, three priests out of 1,000.”
He always stresses that acts of abuse “are the responsibility of the individual who carries them out” and of the bishops says:
“Unfortunately it must also be said that some bishops were mistaken when they undervalued the facts and limited themselves to moving, from one parish to another, a priest who was found guilty of pedophilia. For this reason, the Holy See decided in 2001 to claim for itself the judgment on those crimes.”
I don’t want to belabor the point that has been made so many times before, but this sort of testimony is not conducive to the kind of penitence and catharsis on high that the Church needs. Benedict himself, who used to denigrate the scandal as an anti-Catholic media creation, had something of a conversion experience on this issue a few years ago, thanks to the personal pleadings of Ann Burke and the Review Board. But he continues to avoid any examination of the responsibility of the Church hierarchy. This is the kind of evasion that undermines the homilies the pope preaches. It is also an issue on which the pope, and the Vatican, may need to do some hard thinking before Benedict visits the U.S. next year. Boston is supposed to be on the itinerary. Boston Catholics, above all, will want a more honest accounting.