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"A corruption of the Church"

Via Ross Douthat, I see that Jody Bottum has a truly courageous piece in the new issue of First Things calling for Cardinal Sodano (whose see-no-evil antics were blogged about earlier here and here) to step down from his position as dean of the College of Cardinals over his role in covering up cases of sexual abuse within the Church, in particular the truly despicable behaviors of Legion of Christ founder Marciel Maciel. What's especially remarkable about Bottum's piece is its forthright acknowledgment not just of Maciel's sins and the ways that institutional structures in the Legion and the Vatican helped to abet and obscure them, but also of Bottum's own predecessor's unfortunate acquiescence in that same closing of the ranks:

The child-abuse cases were a corruption in the Church. What Fr. Maciel attempted is a corruption of the Church. He fooled many people, including this magazines creator, Richard John Neuhaus, who once defended Maciel in a 2002 column, before agreeing later that Cardinal Ratzinger (investigating Maciel at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and John Paul "know more than I know with respect to evidence.The irony is that Fr. Neuhaus didnt undertake that defense at the behest of Maciel, whom he never knew well. He did so because people he did know well, young American priests of the Legion, begged him to do so, telling him that their founder was suffering an attack they were certain was false and unfair. The first victims are the men, women, and children that Maciel, in his polymorphous perversity, used sexually, but the second set of victims are the good, strong, dynamic priests who had little direct contact with the man and are nonetheless tarred by his actions.[...]First Things has never received money from the Legion (and the closest I personally have been to their finances was a single review, of an Orhan Pamuk novel, I wrote for the National Catholic Register back in 1997). But then one thinks of the likes of Thomas Williams, Tom Hoopes, Thomas Berg, and all the other friends and acquaintances who had associations with the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi. For that matter, many American Catholic commentators have lectured over the years at the movements events. The money they received was never significant, but it all helped contribute to an atmosphere in which the Legion could close ranks after the first public accusations against Maciel.

There are things to disagree with in Bottum's column - there's something unduly complacent, I think, in his confident proclamation that "the most evil, disgusting part" of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is over; and is it really true that the Church "did not materially advance" the crisis of child sexual abuse worldwide? - but on the whole it's a helpful change of pace from the Us-vs.-Them mentality that far too often characterizes the pages, both real and virtual, of First Things. It's words like this that are most likely to build the culture of accountability, and thus help drive the spiritual renewal, that our broken and corrupted Church so sorely needs.

About the Author

John Schwenkler is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.



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I am not persuaded by Mr. Bottum's account of Fr. Neuhaus's involvement in the matter, because as it stands, the account would require Neuhaus to be naive or stupid--and he was neither. Close young friends in the LC BEGGED him to do something, because they were CERTAIN their spiritual father was innocent. Wouldn't Neuhaus have asked them the grounds of their certainty? Unless they were constantly with Maciel, they're certainty was an understandable form of loyalty --but not of hard evidence.And why then, not simply give them the space in the magazine they needed to make their own case? Why endorse their claim to such a degree--putting his own credibility on the line?And, what's more in endorsing Maciel's character, why attack the character and motive of those who told the truth? One could have offered a general defense of Maciel without attacking the persons o who charged him. The piece that Mr. Bottom left out that seems to me to be more relevant than the pleas of a few distressed young American LC: the order itself was highly favored by JPII. Neuhaus and Weigel and Glendon were highly favored by JPII. I find myself wondering whether a request to defend the LC in the American press also came from a far higher source than a few distressed young priests. Dd anyone from the Vatican ask for Neuhaus's help in defending the LC in a full-court press?I think in the end, the LC issue won't be solved until we get a clearer picture of JPII's role in protecting Maciel.

But Cathy, it seems to me that the most natural answer to your questions is that Neuhaus (inexcusably) *believed* those who insisted on Maciel's innocence and the malicious motives of his accusers - and it doesn't change things much at all if the chorus of voices influencing him on this score included those of Weigel and Glendon and maybe even the Vatican, too.That said I agree entirely on the need to uncover more about JP2's role, though I too cringe at the thought of what that might look like.

The constant drumbeat excusing Maciel's supporters/apologists is insulting. Those doing the drumming assume their readers/listeners are naive AND stupid.

I have to say this struck me, when I read it, as something less than forthright, and something short of what I think is probably called for, especially at this late date. It makes Fr. Neuhaus and "First Things" out to be in good company as just another victim of Maciel's deception -- which may be true enough, but is not the most constructive thing FT could say at this point, and certainly not a big step forward for accountability. As Cathy notes, Fr. Neuhaus didn't just defend Maciel; he attacked the people who were trying to expose the truth about Maciel. He didn't have to do that, and it's obvious now, if it wasn't then, that he was wrong to do it. So it seems to me there's a category of victims missing from this tally. An apology to them, however belated, would have been much more forthright in my estimation. It also would have required an actual renunciation of the "us-vs.-them" framework, instead of just a moderation of tone.

But Bottum can only do so much to apologize on Neuhaus's behalf, right Mollie? Respect for the dead and all that. (Though none of this is to disagree with your claim that more needs to be said - and done - to heal these wounds.)

Interestingly, all is ultimately well for Bottum because Benedict XVI is a hero and a saint.

Insofar as anyone comes out well from all this, it is Pope Benedict. However much the narrative demands that he be pulled in, nothing yet published has held up to serious scrutiny. Which ought not, really, to be a surprise. This man was the one who actually saw there was a problemthe one who, in 2005, openly denounced the filth in the Church and in the priesthood. A Maltese abuse victim who met the pope this April told an interviewer, I did not have any faith in priests. Now, after this moving experience, I have hope again. You people in Italy have a saint. Do you realize that? You have a saint!

On the other hand, Garry Wills in The New Republic article Forgive Not: A Catholics struggle with the sins of his church (subscription required) denounces the papacy as an institution. There's no one quote that sums it all up, since his critique, although brief, spans pretty much the entire history of the Church. But here is his paragraph about how he sees things at present:

The reaction of the hierarchy has been to dig itself even deeper into the pastto blame the Churchs troubles on such old evils as secularism, relativism, positivism, pluralism, and a permissive culture. The Second Vatican Council is blamed as well, and the Popes have tried to blunt or reverse its changes. Pope Benedict wants to go back to the Latin mass, with the priest turned from the people. He has cut back ecumenical initiatives, denying again the validity of Anglican orders, forbidding concelebration of Mass with Protestants, declaring (in Dominus Iesus) that all other churches are gravely deficient. He wants to put nuns back in their habits. He is driving to canonize the anti-Semitic Popes Pius IX and Pius XII. These are further signs of the structures of deceitof self-deception as the first step to defying worldly wisdom.

Two very different views.

Actually, John, one thing the editor of First Things could do is not pretend that Neuhaus didn't vigorously defend Maciel on more than one occasion (he "once defended Maciel in a 2002 column" is rather incomplete)--while attacking the two journalists most responsible for bringing this truth to light. Recall that well after the accusations against Maciel were aired, Neuhaus said he had "moral certainty" that Maciel was innocent. (He distinguished that from "cognitive certainty.") And in the process of defending the man, he took the opportunity to denigrate Jason Berry and (the now late) Gerry Renner: "It is not the kind of stuff you would find in any mainstream media," Neuhaus wrote in response to their reporting on Maciel, "but then Berry and Renner are not practitioners of what is ordinarily meant by responsible journalism. Berry's business is Catholic scandal and sensationalism. That is what he does. Renner's tour at the Courant was marked by an animus against things Catholic, an animus by no means limited to the Legion."After Pope Benedict finally "invited" Maciel to a life of penance, this is what Neuhaus said about it: "There is nothing in the Vatican statement that suggests that the word penance is meant as a punitive measure. It wouldn't be the first time that an innocent and indeed holy person was unfairly treated by Church authority."

John, again. The story requires me to believe Neuhaus to be naive or stupid. Think about it. Suppose you know a few students from the same family very well. They are good and kind. You like them. You met their father once, and he seemed like a good man. Then their father is indicted for (racketeering, insider trading, smuggling). They say to you. "My daddy couldn't possibly do this--he's a good man, and he has lots of enemies who want to destroy him.. Help me defend him publicly."If you're slightly smart, you ask them how they KNOW that they're daddy couldn't do this. They weren't with him all the time, after all. You yourself are in even less a position to know. Would you write a public letter to the Mt. St Mary's College newspaper or the Baltimore Sun putting your reputation on the line to defend their father--after all, you have nothing new to add to the story. You simply like and respect the kids. Neuhaus was not stupid or naive. I would think that to put himself on the line in defending Maciel would require someone vouching for him at a far higher level than simply some nice bright young LC who evidently weren't in a position to know the truth.

But Cathy, I'm not sure how he comes across as any less naive and stupid on your telling. Why should the fact that someone in or connected to the Vatican sticks up for someone mean that that person is beyond reproach? Wouldn't it be right to ask those further sources how *they* know what they claim to know?In any case I agree that there was certainly an irresponsible degree of gullibility operative here, and I did call Neuhaus's position on the matter inexcusable. That said I'm not entirely comfortable speculating about the beliefs and motives of the dead, so I'll bow out of this discussion at this point.

Isn't there another question lurking behind the Maciel story as well? If Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF, were convinced of Maciel's guilt, only to find himself stonewalled by members of the Vatican power elite, including presumably the then pope, what should he have done himself? In other organizations -- including the US government -- someone who cannot for reasons of conscience go along with the institution of which he is a part, often resigns rather than sully himself, his honor, and his Christian obligations. Perhaps in Rome loyalty to the pope trumps all these appeals to conscience -- I don't know.

John: You don't need to speculate about Neuhaus's motives to see that Jody Bottum didn't provide his readers with an accurate account of his late boss's part in the Maciel scandal. The fact is Neuhaus didn't once write a column defending Maciel. He went out of his way to defend him and to denounce the journalists who helped to open Benedict's eyes. (Recall that as a cardinal, Ratzinger once slapped the hand of an ABC News reporter who pressed him on the Maciel case.) And this in a piece that breezily dismisses Berry's recent reporting on Maciel's "donations" to key Vatican officials as "fumbling." There's nothing fumbling about the reporting in Berry's piece.

Rather than characterizing Bottum's piece as courageous I would call it a desperate attempt to make the best of a bad situation for FIrst Things by portraying the magazine's founder as one more victim of the diabolical Maciel. That the result is to make Fr. Neuhaus look either naive or stupid, is a price Bottum was willing to pay.

f the Pope himself--or a high up functionary in the Vatican told Neuhaus to defend Maciel, I could see Neuhaus doing what he did in the aggressive manner in which he did it. It wouldn't be stupid, and it wouldn't be naive. One might reasonably assume that a high up Vatican official WAS in a position to know the truth and was not motivated by filial piety. (unlike babyLegionaries). Furthermore, given that the Pope was Neuhaus's patron, it would make sense to try and accommodate him by pushing his line in a hard manner--not naive. It might still, however, be both factually and even morally wrong.So I would ask Bottum, and Weigel and Glendon: did anyone from the Vatican ask or pressure you to write what you did?

How could 'smart' people vouch for the 'guilty'? I say ideology is the answer. If the 'guilty' thinks like me I vouch for him by saying his ideologue enemies are after him and I can't see the evidence. . Think Alger Hiss. a lot of 'smart' progressives went out on that limb too.

What you say is right, Grant. But Bottum's piece can be a step in the right direction even if it doesn't get him all the way there.

Is it possible that the determination to prop up Maciel was based on the need to protect the reputation of another founder and his order? If Maciel's victims were vindicated, critics of Escriva's life, foundation, canonization, etc., might start demanding renewed attention to THEIR questions.

I don't think the op-ed is courageous. I think it's survival mode for FT and the type of JPII culture war catholicism that the magazine has long represented.I bet Dan Brown wishes he'd written on the LC rather than Opus Dei now.

John --About not speaking ill of the dead. Should there be such a statute of limitations for the dead? Surely such a rule would make history impossible.Ed --Yes, the psychological force of Neuhaus' ideology might be a charitable way of accounting for how he reacted to Maciel. But if ideology blinded Neuhaus, then Bottom, who subscribes to the same ideology, ought question his own motives for accepting it. Idolizing such people as Maciel, Escriva, and, yes, JP II is a kind of idolatry and needs to be rejected. (Why *do* the neo-con Catholics accept such obviously flawed leadership? Is it a defining trait?)

Could First Things invite the once criticized reporters to write both a retrospective and prospective piece on the issue? (and if they didn't, could Commonweal?)

What Ann said: Bottum's defense of Neuhaus isn't too much different from Neuhaus's (and Glendon's) defense of Maciel -- it's about giving the overwhelming benefit of the doubt to those who think and believe as we do. I believe that Neuhaus didn't necessarily want to know the facts about Maciel, that Maciel represented in living form Neuhaus's vision of the militant church, and that is what he was really defending. From this vantage point, Maciel's only real failure was to outlive his deception.

Apologies for my bluntness, but the last sentence of Barbara's comment is simply disgusting. It's likely true that Neuhaus was unwilling to acknowledge the facts because he saw in Maciel an embodiment of his vision for the Church, but the idea that he'd not have viewed Maciel's sexual behavior as a failure is utterly absurd.It's deeply depressing how quick Christians are to heap scorn on the sins of their (our) "opponents".

Prof. Kaveny - would agree with your comments and observations. Months ago J. Bottum criticized some of my comments about Neuhaus and his frequent meetings with jPII over his career. I drew some conclusions about this type of influence - easy access to JPII; private lunches; almost monthly meetings (e.g. questioned Neuhaus's objectivity given this type of access - examples are articles about Maciel, liturgy, etc.) Bottum was very defensive and said that such interpretations and conclusions were unwarranted. Keeping John's comments in mind, I will not try to characterize Neuhaus' motivations, knowledge or lack thereof, but this does not change a stance that this First Things article seems to consist of more damage control than shedding light on past events. Actually, Mr. Pettit has a great suggestion......dare First Things to act on it.

People often try to protect flawed leaders from public exposure. JFK's supporters (some) probably knew about his affairs, but decided to keep them secret because exposing them would undermine the good he did and could do in the public realm. Same thing with Martin Luther King. What's the difference with Maciel ? Maybe earlier on, people thought "oh, these are limited flaws, from a long time ago." But the thing that to me makes the difference (and this no one except those in the inner circle had reason to suspect) is that Maciel was not, apparently, a flawed but good man. He was a total and complete fraud. He refused absolution, according to Berry.

It's pretty clear that Bottum has a hagiographer's reverence for the late Fr. Neuhaus. Yet readers of Neuhaus's lengthy columns knew that he could slash, rough and high-stick his opponents with the best (or worst) of them. So I guess I would tend to discount Bottum on Neuhaus. It raises the interesting question of the extent to which a publication "owns" the sins of its leader after that person has left the scene.But First Thing's treatment of Maciel and reporters isn't the main point of the FT story or this post. I agree with Schenkler and Douthat that the piece is noteworthy - remarkable, really.

Sorry, John - misspelled your name. Schwenkler.

John comments:"Its deeply depressing how quick Christians are to heap scorn on the sins of their (our) opponents.When I first read the post I thought you were unduly restrictive when you lamented:"the Us-vs.-Them mentality that far too often characterizes the pages, both real and virtual, of First Things."

In other words, Robert, the pages of Commonweal suffer from the same shortcoming? Is that what you're trying to say? Hard to tell. For the record, I don't see a lot of scorn in this thread. I'm pleased that Jody Bottum wrote in favor of disciplining Sodano, and disappointed in his scrubbed version of Neuhaus's writings in support of Maciel. There's nothing scornful about pointing out those lacunae.

I assumed Bob meant that he took a second look and then realized that John was not unduly restrictive. It's the most charitable interpretation!

Grant,"I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet," but I could certainly predict that once "First Things" was mentioned favorably, your comment would follow. FT seems to ignite a fuse. I'm glad to see that in your last comment you actually admit finding something to be "pleased" about. Cathy, I expect no less than charitable interpretations from the heartland!

Fr. Imbelli, as long as we can count on you to object whenever someone balances their fulsome praise of FT with an extremely mild criticism, I think it all comes out pretty even. Do you have an opinion of your own you'd like to share on this topic? Where do you come down on the courageous/not-so-courageous question?

Robert, I'm not sure what you mean. What do you think you predicted? If you think there's something wrong with pointing out the significant lacunae in Bottum's rendition of Neuhaus's defenses of Maciel and attacks on the journalists who brought his crimes to light, I'd like to know why. In other words: what was wrong with my comment? In what way did it feed into the us-vs.-them mentality John lamented. Speaking of, I'm still wondering whether you were trying to say that the pages of Commonweal also suffer from that problem. Although I suppose at this point it's foolish to expect an answer from an expert filibusterer.

Bob--you're not trying to suggest that there's some sort of moral equivalency between FT and Commonweal on Maciel, are you? And you're not trying to suggest that Berry --and people who are trying to get to the bottom of things --including the significant role played by Neuhaus, Weigel, and Glendon in protecting Maciel --are simply being "uncharitable" are you? Do you think that the only charitable thing to do is simply believe what their defenders say and move on? Because that seems to me to be a pure replication of the attitude that got the Church into this problem in the first place. Neuhaus tarred the people attacking Maciel with being "uncharitable" and hating the church. And so how many people didn't speak up on this issue because they feared the wrath and biting wit of Neuhaus?

Good luck to everyone trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. (Though I suspect that will peg me as just as uncharitable as Father Neuhaus!) My initial reaction to Jody Bottum's piece was much like John Schwenkler's, in that given where he's coming from, it's truly a laudable step forward to say what he did. Hence I tended to skim the gratuitous swipes at Jason Berry's work. But I shouldn't have, given that without Berry and the victims and the media and the lawyers, the truth never would have come out. I agree with Grant above that a full accounting of the role of Neuhaus and FT in this terrible scandal is part of the "purification of memory," as JP2 would have put it. "Theres nothing scornful about pointing out those lacunae." True.

The Renaissance court at Urbino was familiar with cases of reflexive hostility between aristocratic families. Of course these stories are of historical interest only since such reactions are unimaginable in our age of disinterested truth-seeking.In the Florentine Council not long ago there were (as often happens in these republics) two enemies, and one of them, who was of the Altoviti family, fell asleep. And although his adversary, who was of the Alamanni family, was not speaking and had not spoken, yet to raise a laugh the man who sat next to Altoviti woke him with a touch of the elbow, and said: 'Do you not hear what So and So says? Make answer, as the Signors are asking for your opinion,' Thereupon Altoviti rose to his feet all drowsy as he was, and said without stopping to think: ' My Lords, I say just the opposite of what Alamanni said.' Alamanni replied: ' But I said nothing.' ' Then,' said Altoviti at once, the opposite of whatever you will say.' Castiglione, The Second Book of the Courtier (77)

The dysfunctional pattern of tacit support and blaming of the victims is very, very characteristic of abuse allegations when they are disclosed. While I am disappointed in Richard Neuhaus' behaviour, I understand the psychological dynamic which is all too common. It is easy to judge from a distance but if anyone has ever had the experience of abuse being disclosed in a family, these patterns are all too familiar. As a microcosm of this issue read or listen to Mackenzie Phillips describe the incestuous relationship with her father in her book. Some of her family have ostracized Mackenzie Phillips, others have criticized her for bringing it up after her father is dead. The story is replicated time and time again and was in this situation as well.However, Bottum, who I admire as a writer, is quite correct in calling for the resignation of Sodano. He is not an effective leader. His comment about petty gossip is sick making. Bottum alludes to how Maciel allowed his dysfunctional patterns to creep into the fabric of the spirituality of the order through certain practices around confession and other patterns of excessive control. I was under the understanding that formation practices are reviewed by the Congregation for Religious. I would have thought that some of this should have been flagged as being a cause for concern. What good is an international institution if there is not oversight and discernment from peers or others in authority to review practices of the order. These are standard quality assurance procedures in business, academia, health care, etc. They should be applied to religious as well. That they were not speaks to a problem in discerning in the congregation responsible for religious.

"If Maciels victims were vindicated, critics of Escrivas life, foundation, canonization, etc., might start demanding renewed attention to THEIR questions."There was a lot of criticism of the canonization of Escriva (including letters from myself and others to the Irish Times) -- but nothing could stop the Vatican Juggernaut. The Vatican have long mastered the art of not hearing what they do not want to hear. Their stonewalling on Maciel is in seamless continuity with their stonewalling on Escriva.Escriva and Opus Dei have no connection with child abuse, but Escriva's spirituality is pervaded by an unwholesome sadomasochism. The political aura of his organization in Spain seems to be to the current Curia's taste -- witness the mass beatification of victims on the Franco side in the civil war (including one torturer).

You people are harsh. I think it is courageous on the part of a priest to be willing to engage in a blog discussion. Normally, they preach and get no feedback. People in the pews may have plenty of opinions and may even be fuming internally, but they remain silent, so there is never any direct criticism. That's the normal mode of operation. I think it's counter-cultural for a priest to be willing to participate in a blog, where his arguments are exposed to the possibility of immediate criticism. I bet it's a shock for them. Reacting to their willingness to be thus vulnerable by direct and sharp criticisms is hardly encouraging. We ought to be affirming and cut them a lot of slack whenever possible, or else they might not be up for more and might just leave the realm of blog comments.

I would never have suspected the denizens of dot.commonweal of Jansenism, but from the comments here it seems that many feel that attrition is worthless and that nothing less than full contrition from Jody Bottum will do. Despite my own Jansenist affinities, I tend to think a first step, even one motivated by something less than full sorrow for past sins, is a step in the right direction.

Ha! But if I'm not mistaken, Fritz, attrition only suffices in the context of sacramental confession--otherwise full contrition is required for forgiveness of sins.. So for your argument to work, wdotCommonweal would need to be a sacramental setting, and the bloggers the priests! If Jody's good with that, so am I.

Claire, I think you are trying to be nice, but your comment is incredibly condescending. Even if what you say is true about priests in general, the priests who post here are academics, so I suspect they might have experience with "feedback" from students, and colleagues.

Cathy,I think the general principle can be extended to the spiritual life in general.Not that blogs have anything to do with the spiritual life, either in general or particular.

JCOuch. (Maybe I'm the one who has a hard time being labelled with certain adjectives). You're right. Sorry.

I would also add, on a more serious note, that I think the call for Cardinal Sodano to step down is pretty significant. Intending no offense to Commonweal, I think that such a call coming from First Things is far more significant in terms of its potential impact. And, at the end of the day, I am far more concerned with seeing folks like Sodano moved out of positions of power than I am with whether or not Jody Bottum has executed a full threefold mea culpa on behalf of the late Richard John Neuhaus.

I'm not sure why anyone in this thread keeps focusing on whether Jody Bottum should apologize for Richard John Neuhaus's failure to apprehend the truth about Maciel. He can't. He might be able to apologize for the way the magazine he now runs was used to defend a criminal psychopath. But that's not what his readers, including me, expect. We simply expect the magazine to meet a commonly held journalistic standard of accuracy.Whether Sodano is now in a position of power is not clear to me. (I do think he, as former secretary of state, remains influential; that wouldn't change were he to be removed as dean of the college of cardinals.) In part, that's why I think calling for his removal is a no-brainer. Jody is right that were Sodano to run the conclave his role in the Maciel scandal would pull focus (perhaps reporters would also dig into his relationship with Pinochet).

It's hard to imagine Cardinal Sodano resigning due to media pressure. That would be conceding them too much power and would be, in a way, losing face for the Vatican. As long as the only things against him are some evidence of cover-up and of accepting bribes, which I am not sure are crimes in canon law, the natural course of events is that he'll simply get older and eventually will resign when his health starts failing. Cardinal Sodano is dean because he was elected on April 27, 2005, by the college of cardinals, who are probably wishing right now that they had made another choice. I suppose that he could reasonably resign (without the Vatican losing face, that is) if the ones who elected him asked him to (or if Pope Benedict asked him to, but that's unlikely since our pope is more focused on pursuing justice against culprits of abuse than against culprits of cover-ups). According to wikipedia he was elected by the bishops of the "suburbicarian" dioceses, himself plus:- Francis Arinze; - Roger Etchegaray; - Giovanni Battista Re; - Alfonso Lopez Trujillo (since then deceased and now replaced by Bertone); - Bernardin Gantin (since then deceased and now replaced by Jose Saraiva Martins).If even just one of those 5 cardinal bishops spoke up to ask for him to resign, that might do it...

I agree that First Things calling for the resignation of Sodano is significant. Part of the significance rests on the presumption that the Vatican is a quasi-democracy which it is not.Yet, many people in times of crisis automatically revert to what they know. And democracy, in some form, has been a feature of Western life for almost 300 years. The Magna Carta was an important document in terms of the political self understanding of Western culture.Still, the Vatican is insulated from these calls and the concerns of "the faithful". And even if Sodano does not exercise any power in terms of function, symbolically his being Dean of the College of Cardinals is significant.Besides, look at the Pope at the end of Sodano's message where he (in)famously) denounced petty gossip. (4:56).As Groucho Marx said, "who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes".

To me Benedict looks like a man somewhat ill at ease as Sodano goes on and on, and the wan smile at the end is unconvincing.

"And, at the end of the day, I am far more concerned with seeing folks like Sodano moved out of positions of power than I am with whether or not Jody Bottum has executed a full threefold mea culpa on behalf of the late Richard John Neuhaus."Completely agree.

"Its hard to imagine Cardinal Sodano resigning due to media pressure. "I think this is where Fritz's comment comes into play, that such a call for resignation coming from First Things is more significant than the same call from Commonweal or America. Calls from the latter two might be brushed aside as routine opposition from the other side of the cultural divide. When the call comes from an erstwhile ally, the culture-war explanation can no longer be given, and we're left to focus on the actual merits of the case.

I think it's appropriate to give people a wide berth when gauging their reaction to a misstep by a formidable competitor--who among us can fully resist the schadenfreude temptation? That said, some of the carping on this thread comes across as a distasteful piling on. Would these same people have been as courageous as Mr. Bottum if the shoe had been on the other foot? Given the editors' unfortunate decision to provide a forum for a certain disgraced prelate from Wisconsin, *after* his despicable deeds became known, it would be hard to answer that question in the affirmative. So maybe some slack should be cut, and some credit should be loosed.

I would never expect Bottum (or anyone else) to have to show contrition on someone else's behalf. What is frustrating is that he never examines why, without any apparent personal knowledge of the facts, Neuhaus extended the full benefit of the doubt to Maciel and none at all to his accusers. Proclaiming innocence proves too much and avoids the harder question, what kind of self-examination do we have to expect and accept in order to maintain our own integrity? Can it go too far (surely it could)? In other words, what should someone like Neuhaus or Glendon have done when asked to vouch for Maciel, in the absence of knowing any real facts? What would you have done?

In his criticism of Cardinal Sodano followed by his defense of Pope Benedict XVI, Mr. Bottum seems top be making a move analogous to the chess strategy of sacrificing a bishop to save the king.

It seems to me that how B16 does/doesnt deal with Sodano is simply an example of the dark side of clericalism. B16 is the Supreme Pontiff of this church, fer crying out loud. He has a level of authority unequalled in any other religious organization. These cardinals serve in their positions at the popes pleasure. If he was really upset with Sodano, and not so worried about protecting the reputation and prerogatives of the senior clergy, he could and would simply put Sodano out to pasture, removing him for all positions of power. He might even be invited to be a chaplain to an organization of the poorest, most helpless members of this church.Failure to exercise the authority that B16 has because the miscreant is a cardinal is just another proof of what most folks think: these guys look out for each other, no matter the consequences to the church. Thats the clericalism that will continue to be one of the major achilles heels of this church.

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