By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 13, 2010
Time magazine's brazen misrepresentation of the principles that have guided our beloved Pope Benedict, both before and after his elevation to the papacy, in adjudicating the depraved behavior of certain members of the clergy, will be convincing to those who wish to be convinced. In other words, to those whose prejudice against the Church is already solidly entrenched. For readers of that bent not much can be said that will induce a change of mind. But even loyal Catholics, faced with the manifest intent of the antagonistic media to doom Pope Benedict to "the death of a thousand cuts", may find themselves dispirited and confused, wondering silently: could it be that Pope Benedict was lax, or at least was perhaps too deliberate, in his disposition of these issues? One should therefore be deeply grateful to those who have come forward with a well-argued defense of a saintly, wise and now much beleaguered pope, to do battle in the cause of simple justice and to thwart the efforts unleashed by our enemies to "strike the shepherd" so that "the sheep may be scattered." (Zechariah 13: 7). One such champion of the truth is the acclaimed biographer of Pope John Paul the Great and a respected commentator on the challenges troubling society today, George Weigel. His devastating rebuttal of the amputations advanced by Time appeared in National Review Online for June the fourth. I am enclosing his essay as a separate insert in this week's bulletin. I urge you to read it carefully and to share it with friends.
* * * * *May I also present for your consideration a slight effort of my own, a would-be Op-Ed that I recently submitted to the Star Tribune. Unlike an earlier essay of mine that a year ago the Star Tribune did print, my submission this time was declined. In fairness to Minnesota's leading paper I readily concede that my essay was necessarily too long for a Letter to the Editor, and its subject-a criticism of the paper's having capped a report from the Associated Press with a headline that was as grossly unfair to Pope Benedict as it was unreflective of the report's own contents - was no doubt judged by the editors to be of too slight a significance for the general public. Nevertheless I am persuaded that what I said needs saying -and needs to be read by Catholics who wish to reply to the media's obsessive animadversions against the pope. I am therefore including my own brief essay as an additional insert in today's parish bulletin
* * * * *. Finally may I share with you here a brief news report from the Associated Press that was published in the Wall Street Journal on June the seventh. It describes the ceremony of beatification for a martyr of our own time.
* * * * *Vatican Beatifies Priest Killed by Secret Police
The Wall Street Journal
Monday, June 7, 2010
Thousands of Poles filled a sunbathed square in Warsaw on Sunday for the beatification of Jerzy Popieluszko, a charismatic priest who was tortured and killed in 1984 by then-communist Poland's secret police for supporting Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement.
The head of the Vatican's saint-making office, Archbishop Angelo Amato, presided over the Mass at Pilsudski Square that was also celebrated by 120 bishops and 1,600 priests. The late priest's 90-year old mother Marianna, his sister and brothers, were among some 140, 000 attending, among them Mr. Walesa.
Archbishop Amato read out Pope Benedict XVI's declaration that made Father Popieluszko blessed for his martyrdom in giving his life to defend the good. The crowd applauded when the priest's portrait was unveiled.
Beatification is a step toward sainthood.
Father Popieluszko became an icon in Poland's struggle against communism thanks to the "Masses for the Homeland" he offered in the 1980s, in which he preached freedom at a time of martial law.
* * * * *NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE www.nationalreview.com
June 4, 2010 4:00 A.M.
Vatican Time Warp
The newsmagazine launches a snide attack on the Pope.
It’s not easy to understand the decision of Time’s editors to run the magazine’s current (June 7) cover story, with its cheesy title, “Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.” The lengthy essay inside breaks no news; it recycles several lame charges against Benedict XVI that have been flatly denied or effectively rebutted; and it indulges an adolescent literary style (e.g., “mealymouthed declarations buttressed by arcane religious philosophy”) that makes one yearn and pine for the days of Henry Luce.
The lengthy story is also poorly sourced, relying (as many such exercises do) on alleged “Vatican insiders” and giving analytic pride of place to the Italian Church historian Alberto Melloni.
As real Vatican insiders know, real Vatican insiders don’t give back-stabbing and score-settling sound bites to the American media. That practice is more typically indulged in by clerics far down the Vatican food chain, monsignori who have no real idea of what’s happening within the small circle where real decisions get made inside the Leonine Wall, but who are happy to chat up journalists over a cappuccino or a Campari and soda while pretending to a knowledge they don’t possess. Such sources can be occasionally amusing; they are almost never authoritative.
Professor Melloni, for his part, is the leader of the “Bologna School” of Vatican II interpretation, which has long argued that the Council marked a dramatic rupture with the Catholic past. That interpretation was authoritatively rejected by the 1985 Synod of Bishops (in which Joseph Ratzinger played a decisive role) and more recently by Benedict XVI in his 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia. SoProfessor Melloni is hardly the man to provide dispassionate commentary on the life and times of Joseph Ratzinger, or to make a plausible case that the Catholic crisis of clerical sexual abuse and episcopal misgovernance was caused by the Catholic Church’s failure to follow the Bologna School’s counsel and becoming another variant of liberal Protestantism. Melloni on Ratzinger is like Paul Krugman on Reaganomics: Caveat lector.
The Time story may serve a useful purpose, however, in that it encapsulates, within ten pages, many of the things the world media continue to get wrong about the Catholic Church, the Vatican, and the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Here are a few of the more significant misunderstandings within Time’s cover story, although Time is hardly alone in circulating these fictions:
The Pope is an absolute monarch. During the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI proposed that the Council’s central document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, include the affirmation that the Pope is “accountable to the Lord alone.” This suggestion was rejected by the Council’s Theological Commission, which wrote that “the Roman Pontiff is also bound to revelation itself, to the fundamental structure of the Church, to the sacraments, to the definitions of earlier councils, and other obligations too numerous to mention.” Pope Paul quietly dropped his proposal.
Thus the papal magisterium — or what Time calls, in a rather overwrought tone of voice, “the historic, cumulative and majestic authority of the Pope to teach and preach the will of God” — is not something that each pope invents out of his own intellectual resources. Popes are the servants of an authoritative tradition; they are not the masters of that tradition. For Pope Benedict to speak of sexualabuse in the language of evil, sin, repentance, penance, and forgiveness is for him to speak the Church’s proper language, which is not the language of the politically correct “apology” to victims of wickedness, either alleged or (in the case of sexual abuse) real.
As for what Time dubs “ecclesiastical autocracy,” while it is true that the Pope enjoys the fullness of executive, legislative, and judicial authority in the Church, his exercise of that authority is not only bound by the truths of Catholic faith; it is also circumscribed by the authority and prerogatives of local bishops. For, according to the teaching of Vatican II, bishops are not simply branch managers of Catholic Church, Inc. Rather, they are the heads of local churches with both the authority and the responsibility to govern them. Far more damage has been done to the Catholic Church in recent decades by irresponsible local bishops than by allegedly autocratic popes.
The Pope’s capacity for governance is also shaped by the quality of his closest associates, and by the accuracy and timeliness of the information he receives from the Roman Curia via the nuncios and apostolic delegates who represent the Holy See around the world. An example of how this fact of ecclesiastical life can impede a pope’s ability to respond to situations promptly comes from the American Long Lent of 2002. Because of grossly inadequate reporting from the apostolic nunciature in Washington between January and April 2002 — when the abuse firestorm was at its hottest — John Paul II was about three months behind the news curve in mid-April 2002; what appeared then (and is still often presented, as in the Time cover story) as papal uninterest in the U.S. crisis was in fact a significant time lag in the information flow.
The Holy See’s claims to sovereignty make the Church the equivalent of a nation-state. If he is to conduct his global mission freely, the Pope cannot be the subject of any other political sovereignty; that fact has been recognized in customary and statutory international law for centuries. But to suggest, with Time, that the Catholic Church is “hard-wired” with the conviction that “the Church must be a state” that wields “the clout of secular government” is, frankly, nonsense. The moral authority of the papacy in world affairs — think of John Paul II changing the course of 20th-century history in Poland in June 1979 — hardly derives from the Pope’s position as sovereign of the 108 acres of Vatican City State. Rather, that moral authority is a function of the truths popes articulate, truths that are based on the natural moral law that everyone can know by reason.
Pope John Paul II was an inept, even culpably inept, administrator. This charge, from one of Time’s “Vatican insiders,” has the feel of payback from those quarters in which there is still weeping and gnashing of teeth over the loss of the Italian papacy. To be sure, John Paul II was not a papal micromanager like Pope Paul VI. But is any serious commentator or scholar prepared to make the argument that the pontificate of Paul VI witnessed greater accomplishments, for the Church or the world, than the pontificate of John Paul II?
John Paul II knew that his strengths lay in the papal roles of teacher and sanctifier; and, as he had done while archbishop of Cracow, he found men in whom he reposed trust to handle the quotidian details of ecclesiastical governance. Some of those men were less than competent; and, contrary to Time’s “Vatican insiders” and their complaints about Roman centralization, John Paul II arguably had too much confidence in the capacity of national conferences of bishops to solve problems within their own countries. In the main, however, John Paul II ought to be judged a successful administrator, if by successful administrator one means a man who sets large goals and achieves them. The drift and malaise in which the Catholic Church found itself in the latter years of Paul VI were not replicated in the 26 years of John Paul II. That strongly suggests that the late pope did not leave behind, as Time put it, an “abysmal record as administrator of the Church,” and was in fact a far more effective leader than some “Vatican insiders” are prepared to concede.
The sexual-abuse crisis has emptied Catholic churches in the United States and Western Europe. “The scandals in deeply Catholic Ireland have led to a massive emptying of churches,” according to Time, and “controversies in Germany, Austria and other parts of Europe have had a similar effect.” Nonsense on stilts. Those Irish, German, and Austrian churches were empty long before Scandal Time II exploded several months ago; indeed, those churches had been emptying for decades. Recent revelations of the complicity of Irish bishops in cover-ups of sexualabuse have undoubtedly damaged efforts to get Ireland out of its current secularist slough of despond, just as scandals in Germany and Austria have had negative effects in those countries. But to blame the dramatic decline of Catholic practice in Ireland and the German-speaking parts of Europe on clerical sexualabuse is to confess that one simply hasn’t been paying attention for the past 40 years.
Joseph Ratzinger was part of a curial culture of secrecy and denial that placed greater value on the protection of the Church’s reputation than on the protection of the young. There is no question that the institutional culture of the Roman Curia was once an obstacle to the Church’s coming to grips with the scandal of clerical sexualabuse . But the man who did more than anyone to reset the default positions in the Curia was Joseph Ratzinger, once the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), with Ratzinger in the lead, wrested competence in handling these crimes away from the Congregation for the Clergy. That reconfiguration of responsibility took place between 1999 and 2001, when it was approved by John Paul II. Thus to suggest, with Time and the New York Times, that Ratzinger is to be faulted for the failures of other curial offices prior to CDF’s assumption of the brief on abuse cases is like blaming the State Department for not dealing adequately with Hurricane Katrina. By every available piece of evidence, Ratzinger, in his last half-decade as prefect of CDF and as Pope, has been determined to root out corruption within the priesthood (whether that involves the rare cases of genuine pedophilia, the far-more-common homosexual predation on adolescents and young men, or clerical concubinage in Africa and Latin America), while at the same time acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of Catholic priests are not sexual predators — a point it would be refreshing to see recognized, in print, by Time and others.
The Catholic Church’s wrestling with the scandals of clerical sexual abuse and misgovernance by bishops is by no means over. Throughout the world Church, the primary complaint one hears from well-intended and well-informed laity has to do with Catholicism’s seeming inability to remove incompetent bishops from office, a problem that is made far worse when the incompetence in question involves malfeasance in responding to the scandal ofabuse . The wheels of the Vatican still grind too slowly: Five apostolic visitators were recently appointed for Ireland, but their work is not to start until September, and a papal delegate has yet to be appointed to govern the Legionaries of Christ, more than a month after such an appointment was promised.
Yet the Time indictment — that the Catholic Church is institutionally incapable of acknowledging its errors and the sins and crimes of its sons and daughters — is absurd. No, the Pope has not followed the established media narrative and groveled before the cameras like a congressman caught in deviltry with a staffer. Benedict XVI’s response has been far more serious. He has met, prayed, and wept withabuse victims in the United States, Australia, and Malta. He has called the Irish bishops to task in the sharpest terms, while acknowledging that those bishops’ failures have broken some victims’ capacity to find anything good in the Church. He has frankly acknowledged that the real threat to the Church comes “from sin within the Church,” without absolving the media of their failures of reporting and analysis in recent months. And he has insisted that “the Church has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice.”
That kind of leadership, rooted in that kind of theological and spiritual depth, deserves something more than a snarky cover headline adapted from one of the worst novels ever written.
— George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
* * * * *
Op-Ed"Future pope refused to defrock an abusive priest." So shrieked the headline in the May 31st Star Tribune. Accompanied by a not very flattering photograph of Pope Benedict, the headline-the lead-in for a story written by Matt Sedensky, a reporter for the Associated Press--conveyed the image of a sinister Cardinal Ratzinger, the "future pope" in question, as a willing accomplice in helping a child-abusing priest to continue blithely on his way in pursuit of new victims. Those who took the time to read Mr. Sedensky's report found that the headline was dramatically "out of sync" with the facts that the report presented. But in today's world on the run how many readers ever get past the headlines?
Those who actually read what Mr. Sedensky had to say learned that an American bishop had sought permission from Rome in 1989 to laicize one of his priests who had been convicted in a civil trial and had been sentenced to imprisonment for sexual molestation of minors. Laicization, one might note, is a procedure governed by canon law that solemnly prohibits an ordained priest from discharging any priestly function (e.g., saying Mass) even in private for the rest of his life. Laicization is often described in the press as "defrocking." Under the laws of the Church that were then in force when the bishop's petition reached Rome-the new revised Code of Canon Law was issued in 1983-laicization could be authorized only in the presence of either of two conditions: 1). when a request had come for some proportionately grave reason from the priest himself; or 2). when judgment had been handed down in an ecclesiastical trial in which the priest had been found guilty of serious crimes or violations of his vows. In responding to the bishop's request Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, i.e., the Vatican "department" that at that time had jurisdiction over some though not all cases involving clerical malfeasance, correctly pointed out that since the priest himself had not asked to be laicized and since no independent ecclesiastical trial had as yet taken place, canon law did not permit this priest's reduction to the laicized state at that time.
Cardinal Ratzinger noted, too, that his bishop correspondent already possessed, in virtue of his office, ample authority to remove from contact with the young or even from active ministry any priest-subject whose behavior justified such action. Far from providing evidence of willful collaboration in evil, Cardinal Ratzinger's response was fully in accord with what the law of the church at that time required. And one would do well to keep in mind that just a few years later, in 2001, largely owing to Cardinal Ratzinger's initiative, a major reorganization of the procedural law that governed such matters was approved by Pope John Paul. As a result much more swift and direct administrative action is possible today, without the requirement of a formal church trial, when either the accused priest admits his guilt or when his guilt is evident beyond reasonable challenge.
All in all, does the recital of facts such as these deserve the headline imposed upon it by the Star Tribune?
(The Rev.) George Welzbacher
Pastor of the Church of St. John
St. Paul, Minnesota