Msgr. Charles Scicluna, a Maltese priest who serves as the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- in effect, its lead prosecutor -- said in a recent interview with the Italian Catholic paper L'Avvenire that the motu proprio triggered an "avalanche" of files in Rome, most of which arrived in 2003 and 2004. Eventually, Scicluna said, more than 3,000 cases worked their way through the congregation.
By all accounts, Ratzinger was punctilious about studying the files, making him one of the few churchmen anywhere in the world to have read the documentation on virtually every Catholic priest ever credibly accused of sexual abuse. As a result, he acquired a familiarity with the contours of the problem that virtually no other figure in the Catholic church can claim.
Driven by that encounter with what he would later refer to as "filth" in the church, Ratzinger seems to have undergone something of a "conversion experience" throughout 2003-04. From that point forward, he and his staff seemed driven by a convert's zeal to clean up the mess.
Of the 500-plus cases that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with prior to Benedict's election to the papacy, the substantial majority were returned to the local bishop authorizing immediate action against the accused priest -- no canonical trial, no lengthy process, just swift removal from ministry and, often, expulsion from the priesthood. In a more limited number of cases, the congregation asked for a canonical trial, and in a few cases the congregation ordered the priest reinstated.
That marked a stark reversal from the initial insistence of Vatican officials, Ratzinger included, that in almost every instance the accused priest deserved the right to canonical trial. Having sifted through the evidence, Ratzinger and Scicluna apparently drew the conclusion that in many instances the proof was so overwhelming that immediate action was required.
Among insiders, the change of climate was dramatic.
In the complex world of court politics at the Vatican, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith became the beachhead for an aggressive response to the sexual abuse crisis. Ratzinger and his deputies sometimes squared off against other departments which regarded the "zero tolerance" policy as an over-reaction, not to mention a distortion of the church's centuries-long canonical tradition, in which punishments are supposed to fit the crime, and in which tremendous discretion is usually left in the hands of bishops and other superiors to mete out discipline.
Behind the scenes, some Vatican personnel actually began to grumble that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had "drunk the Kool-aid," in the sense of accepting the case for sweeping changes in the way priests are supervised and disciplined.
Ratzinger's transformation can also be glimpsed from an exchange with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, which George described in April 2005, just after the conclave which propelled Benedict XVI to the papacy.
Two days before the opening of the conclave, George met Ratzinger in his Vatican office to discuss the American sex abuse norms, including the "one strike and you're out" policy. Those norms had been approved grudgingly in late 2002 by the Vatican, and only for a five-year period. George said he wanted to discuss with Ratzinger the arguments for making the norms permanent. Ratzinger, according to George, showed "a good grasp of the situation."
Forty-eight hours later, Ratzinger was the new pope. As is the custom, the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel made their way, one-by-one, to the new pontiff in order to pledge their support and obedience. As George kissed his hand, Benedict XVI made a point of telling him, in English, that he remembered the conversation the two men had about the sexual abuse norms, and would attend to it.
The new pope's first words to a senior American prelate, in other words, were a vow of action on the crisis.
Read the entire piece. Although I occasionally criticize Allen and think the National "Catholic" Reporter is (Allen excepted) an embarrassment, this piece, overall, is a helpful bit of reporting and analysis.
Allen writes in his conclusion, that "relatively few people know or care how far the Vatican, or the pope, have come over the past eight years." There are, of course, many very legitimate and strong criticisms to be made of various bishops and of how certain cases have been handled. Absolutely. But the attempts by many pundits, talking heads, and celebrity "conservative" homosexuals to place nearly all blame on Benedict XVI is frustrating (to put it mildly), but hardly surprising. Some simply jumble the facts about what really happened (or didn't happen) during Ratzinger's time in Munich, and then glibly write this sort of nonsense: "If this person headed a secular organization, or if he were a politician, he would be forced to resign." When was the last time you heard someone call for the resignation of the Secretary of Education, the head of the National Education Association, or of any teacher union for the widespread and increasingly prevalent sexual abuse of children in public schools?
As Allen reports, Benedict has, since 2003-2004, taken very concrete steps to address sexual abuse by priests, to investigate reported incidents, and to identify abusers. Compare that with a 2004 study issued by the Office of the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education (PDF format) that flatly states, "There is no research that documents teacher union attempts to identify predators among their members." The author of the study, Charol Shakeshaft (then at Hofstra University, now teaching at the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University), also made this remarkable statement: "Because of its carefully drawn sample and survey methodology, the AAUW report that nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career presents the most accurate data available at this time." Tom Hoopes, in an August 2006 piece for NRO, wrote:
Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft looked into the problem, and the first thing that came to her mind when Education Week reported on the study were the daily headlines about the Catholic Church.
“[T]hink the Catholic Church has a problem?” she said. “The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”
So, in order to better protect children, did media outlets start hounding the worse menace of the school systems, with headlines about a “Nationwide Teacher Molestation Cover-up” and by asking “Are Ed Schools Producing Pedophiles?”
No, they didn’t. That treatment was reserved for the Catholic Church, while the greater problem in the schools was ignored altogether.
As the National Catholic Register’s reporter Wayne Laugesen points out, the federal report said 422,000 California public-school students would be victims before graduation — a number that dwarfs the state’s entire Catholic-school enrollment of 143,000.
Yet, during the first half of 2002, the 61 largest newspapers in California ran nearly 2,000 stories about sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, mostly concerning past allegations. During the same period, those newspapers ran four stories about the federal government’s discovery of the much larger — and ongoing — abuse scandal in public schools.
It's now six years since Shakeshaft's study was released and how many major news stories have you heard about it? What, exactly, has the NEA or the Department of Education done to change things? In October 2007, the Associated Press, to its tremendous credit, ran a devastating series on the "plague" of sexual misconduct in U.S. public schools:
There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators — nearly three for every school day — speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.
Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.
And no one — not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments — has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.
And yet, according to some critics of the Catholic Church, the solution to priestly abuse is simple: acknowledgment, transparency, purging. Ironically, again, Pope Benedict has taken significant steps in those areas—far more, apparently, then the public schools in the U.S. Just don't expect to hear too much about it. While uncovering abuse by priests and dealing with it justly and firmly is imperative, the attempts to link cases of abuse to Benedict have very much of a witch-hunt quality to them. And it is quite clear there are some bigots who, quite shrewdly, recognize that even if they aren't able to pin anything on Benedict, it will be a major coup to simply associate sexual abuse with Benedict XVI, just as fifty years ago there were those who successfully worked to associate antisemitism with Pope Pius XII.
I wrote essentially the same things three years ago, arguing that
the sexual abuse of children and young adults is not the result of religious dogmas that wrongly suppress sexual desires, nor is it the result of authoritarian structures that encourage the powerful to dominate the weak—even if those structures can be misused for that end. It is the result of man's sinful nature, of his twisted desires, and of his hunger to satisfy himself rather than die to himself. It is encouraged and often promoted—hyped!—by a culture that so often revels in sexual freedom without responsibility, in the glorification of a guilt-free, self-pleasuring existence that doesn't really exist, but actually leads to spiritual death, destroyed lives, and social chaos.
I don't think anything has changed in three years, especially not human nature and human weakness.