Vatican: A New Child Protection Strategy Now?
by Jerry Slevin, retired Wall Street lawyer
WHERE DOES THE VATICAN NOW STAND?
Major new political developments worldwide affecting the Vatican may quickly lead to long overdue changes in its flawed child protection strategy. Two important and informed Cardinals, Martini and Pell, one a former, and the other a present, rumored contender to be elected pope, surprisingly and publicly admitted recently, reportedly, that the Catholic Church’s decades’ old priest child abuse scandal had still not been resolved and would continue to harm the Church, and presumably more innocent children and suffering survivors as well, unless reforms were effected.
Cardinal Martini, who died in September and had been a highly regarded Jesuit scriptural scholar and a very popular head of Italy’s largest diocese, Milan, also noted in August as part of his final description of the Vatican’s strategic failure to protect children sufficiently, that ” … the church bureaucracy rises up …”, clearly pointing his finger at the secretive and powerful Vatican administrative clique within Pope Benedict XVI’s administration, also called the Curia.
The new shocking announcement that one of Cardinal Law’s former Boston canon lawyers is to be the new Vatican prosecutor on priest child abuse cases just reinforces these Cardinals’ recent negative assessments of the Vatican’s current flawed strategy. Cardinal Law fled to the Vatican in 2004 apparently to escape the fallout from the explosive 2002 Boston Archdiocesan priest child abuse revelations. Cardinal Law’s former subordinate replaces the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, who was recently “promoted out” to Malta following his “bombshell” public statement confirming the harmful influence of a pervasive Vatican code of silence, or in Mafia terminology, “Omerta”, on child abuse matters.
Also surprisingly, in one fateful and unprecedented week last month, Catholic laity concerned about children in different parts of the world directly rejected clear Vatican signals by supporting the re-election of President Barack Obama in the USA, and the establishment of a special national child sexual abuse investigation commission by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Australia. And now the Philippine legislature has just approved a very popular law to make contraception affordably accessible there, despite strong Vatican opposition.
The Vatican’s long time significant worldwide political influence over Catholic voters has already likely ended. External pressures are now mounting for real Vatican reforms. There is set out below a summary of the considerations favoring these major reforms, as I now see them in light on my experience as a Wall Street lawyer over several decades advising up close senior executives in multinational organizations, as well as from my perspective as a grandparent and lifelong Catholic.
If you understand these considerations, you will realize reforms are not only possible, but almost inevitable as more external pressure builds on the Vatican. It seems clear to me as an experienced lawyer observing the Vatican’s continuing evasive behavior, often masked by religious rhetoric, that reforms to the flawed child protection strategy will happen mainly and probably soon as a result of subjecting the Vatican to the modern rule of law mandated by constitutional democracies, such as Australia, the USA and Ireland. You can make a difference in influencing how soon the reforms are made by supporting the application of the rule of U.S. law to the Vatican by clicking on and signing the petition to President Obama accessible at
Please avoid being distracted by the seemingly unending “mystical smokescreens” about papal “tweets”, papal saint-making, papal books, even about the papal butler and the other obvious papal rhetorical ploys that Pope Benedict XVI’s well funded Vatican media team, now headed by an ex-FOX News reporter, spins out on an almost daily basis. Disappointingly, some Vatican based media reporters apparently under deadlines and beholden at times to their onoing sources too often just rehash this typical trivia, instead of either pressing their sources on the really important questions or thinking through the real significance of the dissembling and corruption they see with their own eyes, as the butler has recently confirmed to the world at great personal risk. Apparently, it took a simple, but brave, butler just to get much of the international media to pay close attention, for awhile at least. Now the butler’s fate has been decided, while the corruption he sought to expose apparently goes on seemingly unabated and too often unchallenged by the world’s media.
PLEASE CLICK on to the above link and read and sign the short online petition. It calls on President Obama to promptly establish a U.S. national investigation commission comparable to Australia’s. All of the good reasons for establishing the commission in Australia apply here in the USA as well. There are no good reasons for President Obama not to set up the commission in the USA soon. He has repeatedly acknowledged the need to protect children from violence and abuse. You need to take this unique opportunity to encourage him to act decisively now by your signing this petition promptly; otherwise the petition may be disregarded for insufficient public interest.
PLEASE SIGN the above petition. Please encourage personally and by social media others, including family, friends, neighbors and fellow believers and non-believers, everyone who values children, to sign it also. Anyone 13 years or older can sign it.
PLEASE SHARE and circulate also my broad statement here, POST the full statement or portions thereof on your website and/or INSERT a link to this statement in current and future relevant comments you may make on other websites, as you judge appropriate. This hopeful message of potential reforms needs to get out to make sure the reforms occur.
The major national Catholic social justice movement, Call To Action, has just publicly begun to promote the above petition. Other groups, like the Childrens’ Defense Fund, the Voice of the Faithful, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Association of the Rights of Catholics in the Church, are also being encouraged to support the petition publicly in the near future. SNAP reportedly appears to support strongly the establishment of the Australian commission, but seems puzzlingly silent so far on encouraging President Obama to establish a comparable U.S. commission.
President Obama and several key members of his Administration, including his Chief of Staff, his Defense Secretary and his Attorney General, have already indicated recently they are taking some actions to stop the sexual abuse of children, especially in organizational settings. Now President Obama must take the lead on a comprehensive approach. As President, he already has full authority to establish this investigation commission without becoming enmeshed in the inevitable delays of seeking action from a divided Congress.
The rapes of young children secretly in a dark church by a heartless priest they were taught to trust are usually kept hidden for years and understandably get much less media attention than the senseless slaughter of children by a clearly deranged and insanely armed young man openly in a Newtown school he unexpectedly invaded; but they are all horrific and preventable evils for each of the young victims of these unspeakable crimes, for their loved ones and for everyone who cares about children. We must do all we can to curtail all violence against children, sexual as well as gun violence. We clearly have not done enough. You can help by signing the above petition. Please take a minute now and do so.
Will these major political setbacks worldwide for long standing Vatican policies result in changes in the failing papal strategy for protecting children from sexual abuse by priests and other Church agents? What exactly is the current flawed papal strategy? How was the current flawed strategy developed? Will these strategic political failures affect the election of the next pope expected by many to be occurring soon? Will the democratically elected and constitutionally controlled “Throne” now compel the Vatican to clean up the badly soiled and papally controlled “Altar”?
To assess what the possibilities are for real Vatican change in the near term, it is necessary to consider briefly the historical and political contexts in which the Vatican’s present internal and external strategies have developed.
IS THE CONSTANTINIAN CAPTIVITY ABOUT TO END?
The Catholic Church progressed steadily for three centuries after Jesus’ death, with considerable theological diversity, independently from the Roman Emperors. Its originally decentralized Church organization generally prospered and expanded under consensually selected local Church leaders, including some women, despite occasional and mostly local Roman persecutions. The Catholic spiritual “Altar” and the Roman imperial “Throne” were originally separate. Individual Catholics had a meaningful say for over three centuries after Jesus on choosing their own Church leaders and on evaluating these leaders’ performance in office.
If you were to imagine “playing back the videotape” and interviewing Catholics living in the first three centuries, they would surely have been shocked and confounded to hear how Jesus’ simple message of loving God and neighbor that was shared at a common meal with fellow believers had been hijacked by a clique of opportunistic men in Vatican City to serve as the foundation of a too often seemingly profit-driven multinational organization that frequently appears to exist mainly to benefit these men and their obedient, subservient and well rewarded male bishops worldwide.
Following the proclamation of the powerful Roman Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Toleration in 313, the consensual Catholic Church the Apostles left behind was rapidly transformed in fundamental ways. Catholics still bear the brunt of some of the adverse aspects of this transformation by force, but that may be about to change. The Roman Emperors and their monarchical successors from Constantine on, in effect, frequently commandeered the Catholic Church, installing a coercive imperial-style hierarchical structure that operated top-down with “good” and “bad” popes for much of the subsequent 1,700 years up until the present, even through the 16th Century Reformation.
A new theological “orthodoxy” was often enforced during this period by imperial force, Church councils were called and influenced by emperors and monarchs and a canonical list of some disparate earlier writings to be included in the New Testament was effectively pressed. The “Altar” and the “Throne” were in a relatively short period generally merged under imperial pressure. Some of these merged elements have remained dominant in the Catholic Church until now in varying degrees continuously, despite the disappearance of all of the Roman Emperors and their monarchical successors by the end of World War I in 1918.
As late as 1903, in the lifetime of a few persons yet still living, the last ruling successor of the Holy Roman Emperor vetoed a leading contender in the then pending papal election. Since 1918, significantly, voting Cardinals have been generally free of outside governmental political pressure in papal elections, further strengthening the residual “de facto” power over popes inherent in the voting bloc held by the large group of Vatican Cardinals. The Vatican administration for the past hundred years has generally operated in Vatican City free of both external political control and internal lay Catholic influence, with accountability to no one as a practical matter.
As an frequently unaccountable hierarchical organization, the Vatican administration during much of this 1,700 year period has spent considerable energy, internally, on struggles for power and control over Vatican wealth and prestige among competing hierarchs and, externally, on interacting politically and sometimes even militarily with competing imperial powers up until the pope’s large Italian kingdom, the Papal States, fell militarily in 1870 to Italian nationalists. This resulted, until the late 1920′s papal bargain with Italian fascist dictator, Mussolini, in the so-called self-imposed “papal imprisonment” of the Vatican administration on the 100+ acre “campus” in Rome called Vatican City. Significantly, Pope Benedict XVI was baptized and confirmed during the “reign” of a pope, Pius XI, who had himself been born and confirmed in the Papal States.
WILL THE VATICAN SOON CHANGE DUE TO INTERNAL PRESSURE?
From 1870 until the present, the rare efforts to replace this coercive hierarchical heritage and restore the Catholic Church’s original internal consensual structure, including at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), for example, by changing from a papal hierarchical vertical model to an episcopal collegial, power-sharing, horizontal model, have generally not succeeded. Consequently, internally the Vatican has continued to be controlled since 1870 mainly by a self-perpetuating Vatican leadership group, mostly Vatican based Cardinals.
Operating as a voting bloc, Vatican Cardinals usually have a decisive “de facto” veto vote on selecting new popes. This clique thereby often gets to select on their terms their “man” as pope and also as a consequence to control tightly worldwide Catholic Bishops and related worldwide Catholic wealth through this clique’s designated candidate.
Notwithstanding the papal butler’s recent valiant and thankless efforts to expose this Vatican clique, Vatican Cardinals will likely soon get to pick the next pope in the forthcoming papal election. “Vaticanista” reporters will try to earn their expensive Roman keep by writing their usual harmless “horse race” stories for docile Catholics worldwide, as “papabiles” strut their red dresses in parades featured on CNN and similar underinformed media outlets. Astute observers, however, will know that the winner will more than likely be pre-determined before the race even begins.
Several efforts of some “progressive” Catholic leaders and thinkers, like Pope Benedict XVI’s oldest living former colleague and a fearless best selling scholar, Fr. Hans Kung, to argue for internal structural reforms, citing as support the clear implications of some of the actual decrees of the Second Vatican Council overwhelmingly approved between 1962 and 1965 by the worldwide Catholic Church’s Cardinals and Bishops, have often been strongly resisted and sometimes just ignored by the Vatican dominant clique. The Vatican’s worldwide network of ambitious academic apologists, some of whom at times talk and behave as if the Second Vatican Council never occurred, often then just echo the evasions of their Roman masters. The Vatican clique’s aggressive and long standing intimidation efforts against alternative internal progressive voices have in the past usually limited the impact of these alternative voices among rank and file Catholics.
At present, these progressive reformers, despite the overwhelming evidence from Church history and the Second Vatican Council proceedings supporting their case for reform, have no effective appeal remedies. Significantly, however, many more Catholics are increasingly boldly rejecting the Vatican’s and its apologists’ contrived rhetoric, are listening to these stalwart scholars’ message and are poised to support long overdue Vatican internal reforms. The recent resistance shown by a majority of local Catholics to strong papal political pressure in the USA, Australia, the Philippines, Ireland and elsewhere demonstrates that these reformers’ influence is rapidly spreading.
Even now, the current dominant Vatican clique is purportedly subject only to the absolute rule of the 85 year Pope Benedict XVI, although his butler apparently was sceptical about the extent of the aging pope’s actual control, it appears. It is clear, in any event, that the dominant Vatican curial clique internally remains unaccountable either to the Catholic laity, to the various Catholic religious orders, to local Catholic priests or, it appears, even to most non-Roman Cardinals and Bishops, despite some of these Cardinals’ and Bishops’ being at considerable risk of possible criminal proceedings for implementing elements of the Vatican’s flawed child protection policies.
For example, Philadelphia’s recently deceased Cardinal Bevilacqua, in my legal judgment after following Philly events closely, likely only avoided prosecution earlier this year on account of his terminal illness. Meanwhile, his subordinate, Monsignor Lynn, who said repeatedly under oath at his criminal trial this year that he only followed his Cardinal’s orders, sits in prison for child endangerment. Lynn’s subsequent Philly boss, Cardinal Rigali, a long time member of the Vatican upper management team, still appears to be in some legal jeopardy. Cardinal Rigali incidentally had also served as mentor for Kansas City’s Bishop Finn, who pleaded guilty several months ago to a child endangerment related crime but still remains an active Bishop, and for New York’s Cardinal Dolan, who reportedly continues to be a key focus of ongoing legal proceedings related to alleged priest child abuse cover-up misdeeds in Milwaukee.
The Vatican’s recent worldwide political losses suggest it may soon become accountable to the democratically elected and constitutionally controlled “Throne” with its modern rule of law, initially at least with respect to the Vatican’s failures to protect sufficiently children from predatory priests and to operate the Vatican Bank transparently. This likely new accountability can be expected, in turn, to lead to changes soon thereafter in the Catholic Church’s hierarchical structure as well. Cardinals and Bishops worldwide would then likely resist more strongly having their legal and financial protections dictated and/or undercut by octogenarian Vatican overseers, who may be too old to face prosecution themselves and who too often seem incurably oblivious to everyday Catholics’ concerns. This is perhaps to be expected from octogenarians who have apparently spent too many years in the unaccountable and almost surreal Vatican bubble inherited from the Papal States and the Middle Ages before that.
Moreover, the new revelations likely to be forthcoming from the new Australian investigation commission, and the U.S. commission as well if President Obama establishes one as he ought to, can be expected to increase significantly the pressure from lay Catholics for more transparency and accountability from the Vatican administration, and from their local Bishops as well. Few Catholics have accepted the flawed Church funded “expert studies” that painted an overly rosy picture of current Church child protection strategy and relied mainly on uneven data that some suspect bishops may have volunteered to share with the well paid experts. In February last at a Vatican public conference, “Vatican invited experts” gave a conservative estimate of over 100,000 youthful victims to date of priest sexual abuse already in the USA alone and still counting. So much for the rosy “expert” studies!
These impending new revelations in turn will likely hit the Vatican administration hard where it often seems to matter to them most, in their pocketbook. More Catholics, many of whom to date still have difficulty facing up to the upsetting reality of priest sexual abuse of children, would likely decrease even further their financial contributions to the Church and its institutions. Moreover, many more of them would also likely object more strenuously to large governmental subsidies to Vatican dominated institutions, like hospitals and universities, that can be operated in most cases at least as effectively without the Vatican’s almost superfluous “product brand” plastered on them.
These Catholic institutions will also likely face additional public objections from their employees and others over the Vatican’s continuing cynical U.S. presidential election year ploy to deny these employees contraceptive health insurance to try to undercut President Obama and other Democrats with some Catholic voters. And, surely, even fewer young Catholics born in the U.S. will be interested in becoming priests, compounding the severe and growing shortage of U.S. born candidates that is contributing to many Church closures. Imported foreign seminarians and priests, however well intentioned, have not satisfactorily closed and cannot close this gap. Moreover, several dozen of these foreign priests have reportedly fled the USA after being accused of sexual misdeeds, usually involving minors.
Also, the HBO worldwide cable network’s airing in a few weeks of the new award winning documentary, “Mea Maxima Culpa”, about the alleged sexual abuse of over 200 deaf boys in Milwaukee by a single priest that was, in effect, covered-up for decades in Milwaukee and Rome, as well as the public release shortly of the Los Angeles Archdiocesan abuse files related to the $660 million Archdiocesan priest child abuse legal settlements, can both be expected to add considerably to the escalating public pressure for more Vatican transparency and accountability to the rule of law.
Moreover, the potential prosecution for child endangerment in the near term of some Cardinals and Bishops worldwide, a not unlikely scenario, would surely sweep away quickly many of the specious “traditional” arguments about the “immutability” of the current hierarchical structure of the “Vicar of Christ” and the “successors to the Apostles” and the related purported historical impossibility of making changes to the Catholic Church’s imperially mandated structure. Popes did a U-turn by prohibiting slavery after permitting it for centuries. Restoring the original consensual Church organizational structure in the Internet Age is scriptural, theologically and practically achievable and much more consistent with Jesus’ mandate that the “last shall be first” than the current hierarchical structure is.
As my high school chum, Rudy Guiliani, proved in challenging the Mafia as a brave Federal prosecutor, when the prosecutorial heat rises against an entrenched group, as is beginning to happen, prior precedents suggest it rapidly becomes “every man for himself”. Philly’s Monsignor Lynn recently learned this when reportedly Archbishop Chaput, likely with Cardinal Rigali’s concurrence, apparently underfunded the sums needed to pay Monsignor Lynn’s lawyers for a credible appeal of his conviction. Let all non-bishop clerics working for bishops note this well. They will likely be on their own if prosecuted!
WILL THE VATICAN SOON CHANGE DUE TO EXTERNAL PRESSURE?
In the Vatican’s external political relations since the late 1920′s, beginning with its relations with its early modern political allies, including “elected” fascist dictators, Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, then continuing through the 20th Century with the Vatican’s relations with (1) numerous Latin American, African and Asian leaders, also often “elected” dictators, (2) American presidents, especially right-wing Republican ones, beginning with President Reagan, and (3) these leaders’ wealthy plutocratic supporters, the Vatican’s policy has been customarily to “exchange” papal electoral support locally for specific national candidates in exchange (A) for governmental financial subsidies and special privileges for the local national Catholic Church and its controlled institutions and for donations from wealthy Catholic plutocrats, and (B) “de facto” legal protection for the Vatican administration from any significant application of the international rule of law to either the Vatican’s Roman or worldwide operations.
Shrewdly, this local papal electoral support has usually been “wrapped” in a country-specific wedge issue, as was just done, albeit very unsuccessfully, in the USA elections with the anti-contraception and anti-gay marriage issues. This basic, century-old Vatican external political strategy just failed spectacularly last month in the USA and Australia and this week in the Phillipines, raising now great pressure on the Vatican to changes its external strategy, which may very well trigger changes in internal strategy as well. It is becoming increasingly clearer, to me at least, that a key reason the Vatican clique pushes “sexual” and “gender” legal issues so strongly is that it gives them a “hook” for Catholic voters in national political campaigns, thereby creating electoral “value” for the Vatican to “trade” to political leaders and their wealthy plutocratic supporters in democracies with a significant bloc of Catholic voters.
ARE THE NEW PRESSURES ON THE VATICAN TO CHANGE STRATEGIES ENOUGH?
Will the Vatican change these strategies now? Could these strategies even be changed now as a new pope is apparently to be elected soon, probably pre-selected by the current powerful Vatican Cardinals with their effective veto voting bloc? And what if the Vatican fails to change these strategies? Will governmental investigations in Australia, Ireland, the USA, and likely many more countries soon effectively force the Vatican to change fundamentally under the threat of international law enforcement?
The Catholic Church is at a critical crossroad. Can the spiritual “Altar” and the papal “Throne” again be separated as they were fruitfully under the Apostles and for three centuries following? In theory, there is no valid reason why a decentralized Church free of political alliances could not be effective, indeed more effective, in the Internet Age. Of course, that structure would likely reduce the power, wealth and prestige of the Vatican clique. Will the modern constitutionally controlled secular Throne’s application of the international rule of law to the Vatican compel the cleansing of the imperial Altar and also bring about long overdue internal Church reforms?
It is remarkable that the Church began last month a laity-supported and irreversible “great escape” from this imperial medieval capitivity. The laity appear mainly motivated by a desire to benefit existing and future children, millions of whom suffer often as unplanned children of parents who cannot afford to raise them decently. Many children are also too often subjected to sexual abuse by priests whom the innocent children have been told by their parents to trust.
This “great escape” began as mentioned above during the historic week that commenced on November 6, 2012 with U.S. President Barack Obama’s re-election with majority Catholic voter support despite papal opposition over contraception, and ended on November 12, 2012 with Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s call for an Australian royal commission to investigate organizational child sexual abuse, including in the Catholic Church, despite much papal opposition earlier, but with overwhelming Catholic laity support.
The U.S. November 6 “contraception insurance victory” for President Obama and the simultaneous resounding defeat of anti-gay marriage initiatives, followed quickly by the Philippine legislature’s approval, again over papal objections but with widespread lay Catholic support, for providing broad access to affordable contraception, will likely reduce the frequency of U.S. and Philippine couples either having children they cannot afford or having to consider whether to seek an abortion. These are just plain facts demonstrated widely. The Vatican may claim otherwise and push some rear-guard action to save face and maintain the illusion of having political clout to “exchange”, but it has already lost the contraception and gay marriage legal wars as a practical matter.
The unprecedented and powerful Australian investigation commission will likely, as noted above, lead to the disclosure of many of the Catholic Church’s secret files on predatory priests and bishops’ mismanagement of them. This, in turn, will likely further alienate the worldwide Catholic laity and raise demands for effective hierarchical accountablity structures, perhaps just as the prospect of electing a new pope soon approaches. Perhaps enough voting Cardinals will wake up and smell the coffee, for their own sake at least.
Moreover, in the U.S., President Obama has also recently as reported above been publicly petitioned to set up a similar investigation commission, while President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Jack Lew, an orthodox Jew, just blasted Jewish educational leaders in New York on the need to protect children from sexual predators in religious educational settings.
Reportedly, President Obama’s Chief of Staff added, “Across this country in recent years, we have seen too much evidence of inappropriate behavior at too many institutions responsible for nurturing our children, …” adding, “…We can and must take a stand against it, promote awareness, set up preventative measures and openly address concerns as they arise.”
This follows President Obama’s several reported statements after the Penn State/Sandusky scandal erupted, as recently as last summer, that the protection of children from sexual abuse is more important than institutions.
A few days ago, the President reportedly apparently even bypassed his own Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and went directly to the Army Secretary, an unusual move, to stress the importance of protecting children from abuse following revelations of numerous persons with police records, including some with sexual assault charges, working at a day care center on a Washington, D.C. area military base. Two of these persons have reportedly already even been charged with abusing children at the center. Clearly, the President is being very proactive here to protect children from organizational abuse. A stark contrast to Pope Benedict XVI’s approach.
Secretary Panetta has now ordered a complete review of child care personnel policies on military bases. As a former member of the U.S. Bishops’ original 2002 Child Protection Board, Secretary Panetta knows well the need to have tight procedures to curtail abuse. He presumably saw how U.S. Bishops have evaded accountability under their own 2002 Charter.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder has recently announced an international coalition against the sexual exploitation of children using the Internet. He has also pushed cases where Federal prosecutors have a present jurisdictional basis, including interstate sexual assaults involving children and child pornography cases. It is a good start, but more is needed, so please sign the above petition.
In late October, only a few weeks before the remarkable week of November 6-12, numerous carefully selected worldwide Cardinals and Bishops had met at the Vatican at a papally orchestrated week-long Vatican Synod on Evangelization that barely mentioned child sexual abuse. Some U.S. hierarchs there appeared to operate on the expectation that President Obama would not be re-elected. What a monumental difference a few weeks makes!
As alluded to above, following the loss of the Papal States in 1870 and several disasterous wars in Europe that by 1945 ended all other absolute monarchies in Europe and the fascist dictatorships in Germany and Italy that popes had initially facilitated, Pope John XXIII in 1961, the year of President Obama’s and Prime Minister Gillard’s birth, signed the call for the Second Vatican Council. Pope John apparently hoped with the Council to lead the Catholic Church to adjusting internally and externally to a new world of democratic and constitutionally controlled nations.
Following the several decades long withdrawal from most international political matters after the 1870 loss of the Papal States, the Vatican had adopted, as described above, beginning in the late 1920′s a new geo-political stategy of providing Vatican support in fledgling Western democracies to opportunistic leaders, like Mussolini, Hitler and Franco, in exchange for subsidies and privileges for the local national Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII, a seasoned world diplomat, knew the Vatican had to adjust to modern realities, but died in 1963 before he could achieve his goal. The Vatican cliques with their papal election veto then regained their dominant position and have since the 1960′s generally frustrated many of the structural reforms the Second Vatican Council had tried to initiate.
THE AUSTRALIAN CHALLENGE
Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s prominent Cardinal, has been considered by some informed sources as a top prospect to be elected pope in the next papal election expected to be held soon. After spending considerable time in late October in Rome with the Pope and numerous other top Cardinals and Bishops at the lengthy Evangelization Synod that was mainly silent on the priest child sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Pell indicated unexpectedly in a public speech earlier this month that the criminal moral cancer of sexual abuse of children by priests is the most important and powerful barrier to Catholic evangelization at present. As Cardinal Pell now faces an unprecedented Australian national governmental commission to investigate thoroughly organizational child sexual abuse in Australia, including in the Catholic Church, he surprisingly admitted in his speech that the Catholic Church has failed to deal effectively with some predatory priests and to help enough abuse victims heal. He further acknowledged that much more needs to be done in the child protection area.
Amazingly, as mentioned, the Evangelization Synod orchestrated by the Pope in late October barely mentioned the child abuse scandal. What may have caused Cardinal Pell so suddenly to “get religion” on abuse matters? Evidentally, Cardinal Pell is very concerned about the unprecedented investigation commission, and he should be from all indications. So should Pope Benedict XVI.
A brave New York mother who lost her brother to child abuse has filed recently an online White House petition mentioned above to have President Obama set up a similar US commission. A U.S.commission would likely affect U.S. Cardinals as much as the upcoming Australian commission has affected Cardinal Pell, who now publicly endorses the commission he was unable to stop.
CURRENT VATICAN STRATEGY
Cardinal Pell’s quick “conversion” raises questions of where Pope Benedict VI now stands. The October Synod seemed to indicate that the Pope will continue mainly to avoid the abuse scandal.The continuation of Kansas City’s Bishop Finn after his child endangerment conviction suggests continuing Vatican stonewalling. Moreover, the appointment of Cardinal Law’s former canon lawyer as chief Vatican abuse case prosecutor suggests more of the same.
Pope Benedict XVI is generally publicly elusive, doesn’t give journalists regular access and often clouds his carefully drafted statements, and now “Tweets”, with mystical smokescreens. But he has given some clear indications of his ongoing strategy on predatory priests, especially by some of his consistent actions and failures to act, including the recent Synod, Bishop Finn’s retention and his new chief prosecutor appointment. What might the Pope’s current strategy be?
Pope Benedict XVI, in his occasionally candid “My Vatican” video of a few years ago available readily on YouTube, volunteered the surprising admission that Vatican officials operate not very differently or more mysteriously than executives of major corporations. In a similar corporate vein, the pope’s long time doctrinal enforcement official, Cardinal Levada, in attempting to justify his recent carefully planned attack on U.S. Sisters, indicated in a recent interview that the Sisters were not properly presenting the Catholic Church’s “product identity”, pure corporate jargon.
Picking up on the Pope’s and Cardinal Levada’s useful admissions, one may justifiably ask what are the Vatican’s “corporate” structure, strategy, product identity and market position?
Cardinal Levada, for example, tried cutely to identify the Sisters’ “product” with the “Gospel according to Maureen Dowd”. She, of course, is the outspoken Catholic columnist at the New York Times whom Levada had earlier referred to as a “silly parrot”, perhaps because of her red hair and her propensity to soar verbally to peck holes so effectively in papal hot air balloons. Certainly, neither she nor the Sisters are silly!
For many US Catholics, Maureen Dowd’s and American Sisters’ “Gospel” is often much closer to Jesus’ Gospel than the corporate Gospel too often followed by the Pope and his other Vatican officials, most recently in the US presidential elections. The effective reporter and author, Jason Berry, has just convincingly shown in his “New Inquisition” articles that the three U.S. Bishops investigating the Sisters, as well as Cardinal Levada, are hypocritically carrying some of their own heavy baggage from their own different failures to address the child abuse scandal.
Cardinal Levada’s chauvinistic and gratuitous attack on American Sisters, and his premeditated pivot to Maureen Dowd as almost a feminine Martin Luther-type protestor, provide interesting perspectives on Vatican officials’ view of competent Catholic women. The Vatican’s nearly obsessive fear of Maureen Dowd’s pointed and incisive New York Times columns, especially, gives some indication of what “Women Bishops” will inevitably have to face from the Vatican’s exclusively male officials, which confrontation will likely occur much sooner than the Vatican may now be expecting.
Given the way the Nuns on the Bus easily outdistanced the Popemobile in the recent US electoral races, the sheltered Vatican administration with their chauvinistic attitudes have some good reason to fear sharing power with competent Catholic women. These brave women clearly seem less likely than many male bishops to be cowered into secrecy by threats of abrupt removal or to serve as papal puppets in exchange apparently mainly for a larger piece of the Catholic Church’s financial pie.
Is Pope Benedict XVI fallible here? Certainly. Before considering the papally admitted potential parallels of the Vatican’s approach to structure, strategy, product identity and market position to those of multinational corporations, one fundamental and clear difference must be emphasized. The Vatican uniquely operates secretly without accountability either internally to shareholder oversight or externally to regulatory oversight. In some ways, for example in its priest child abuse cover-up and its financial banking scandals, the Vatican seems at times to operate as a “rogue nation” accountable to no one internally or externally.
In my three decades representing many multinational corporations, I observed up close some top executives who would have envied greatly the Vatican’s secretive unaccountabilty, but that corporate battle was effectively lost years ago in constitutional democracies by subjecting corporate executives to the rule of law in a global regulatory environment.
The Pope’s revealing “corporate admission” that suggests one can view the Vatican similarly to corporate models provides a very useful way of analyzing the current Vatican’s approach to the Catholic Church’s “corporate” stucture, strategy, product identity and market position, which also sheds much light on the its flawed child protection strategy.
The Church’s corporate structure is analytically fairly simple. At the top is a pope who is “chief executive officer”, supreme legislator and top judge for life. In practice, papal decisions appear often to be influenced strongly, if not at times controlled by, senior Vatican Cardinals, especially the Secretary of State, currently Cardinal Bertone, who succeeded Cardinal Sodano, who appears still to be influential. Both of these Cardinals have reportedly been linked to several long standing scandals; Bertone to the Vatican Bank and a Milan hospital scandals and Sodano to the Mexican child sex abuser, Fr. Maciel, who eluded Vatican investigators for almost a half century by, among other things, reportedly frequently sprinkling large cash payments to powerful members of the Vatican clique.
The Pope, with his Vatican management team, controls Church canon law and judicial proceedings, and selects and controls worldwide Catholic bishops, who can be removed promptly by the pope. Priests and male and female members of religious orders are controlled directly by local Bishops and/or Vatican managers who direct the orders’ superiors. Any who deviate from currently favored Vatican theological or even political positions are generally disciplined promptly, often harshly and unfairly.
Pope Benedict XVI’s strategy appears targeted at maintaining maximum obedience to current papal theological, ecclesiastical and political positions. Opposing positions are at best given lip service, with the result that millions of Catholics, including priests, have left the Catholic Church in frustation, if not disgust. Some who stay try almost hopelessly and usually unsuccessfully to effect changes by stressing contrary precedents, especially the positions approved at the Second Vatican Council. In theory, clear positions approved by Church Councils could trump a contrary Vatican position. In practice, especially under Popes Benedict XVI and his immediate predecessor, in several crucial areas the Vatican’s interpretations of the Council is what controls Church practice, regardless of the weakness of the arguments supporting them.
The Cathholic Church’s key “product identity” appears to be to create a “monopoly” on the Eucharist, a central element of Catholic worship at the Mass, and on the all male celibate priesthood currently needed to offer the Eucharist worldwide, subject to the control of Bishops and ultimately the Vatican. A common meal of fellow believers in Jesus’ time, at least occasionally overseen by women, has become the central “unique product” in the Vatican’s “marketing” strategy. The pope and his Vatican management team, through numerous “theological” and liturgical statements, seeks to protect and preserve the Vatican’s monopoly here, but need a sufficient number of obedient priests to offer the “product”.
The Vatican seeks zealously to preserve its worldwide “market position” by protecting its “monopoly” on the Eucharist and on the requisite male priesthood against other Christian religious traditions externally and against alternative viewpoints internally, especially espoused often from women seeking admission to the priesthood.
While millions of Catholics have left the Church in rejection of the Vatican’s positions and approach, the Vatican’s prohibition on contraception has helped generate millions of “replacement Catholics”, born to Catholic couples whether or not the couples wanted or could afford to have additional children. Some of those children who survive, often in miserable circumstances, become future sources of Vatican power and wealth, as well as of new priests to serve to fill numerous priest shortages worldwide.
Against this corporate background, the Vatican has seemed incapable of containing its worldwide crisis of children being sexually assaulted by priests. Priests are needed to offer the main “product”, the Eucharist. It take years under current procedures to train young men to serve as obedient and low wage “producer priests”. The supply of domestic priests is diminishing in many countries and foreign “imports” have not and realistically in most cases cannot satisfactorily resolve the shortages.
Fearful of permitting priests to marry or to have women as priests, both of which means the Vatican might have to risk being viewed as “fallible” and then have to deal on a equal basis openly with women priests or priests’ wives, and even some mothers, on all issues, including child protection matters, and also pay at least married priests higher wages, the Vatican has to date thereby retricted the potential supply of new priests.
Consequently, Bishops are increasingly forced at times to ordain questionable seminarians and still even to retain predatory priests. Philly’s Archbishop Chaput is apparently still carrying suspected priests Cardinal Rigali suspended over a year and a half ago. Given this artifical constriction of the already diminishing candidate pool, the prospects are increasingly bleak for solving the predatory priest problem, no matter what the Pope may “tweet” otherwise!
Moreover, the Vatican’s “corporate” financial policy seems impervious to the multi-billion dollar continuing cash drain from child abuse claims. A continuing revenue stream from governmental subsidies, docile Catholics’ and protected plutocrats’ contributions, and Vatican investments and tax free properties, and a willingness to close parishes and schools, makes paying lawyers to protect Bishops an acceptable cost of business, like some financial firms that often treat fraud claims as an acceptable cost of doing business.
Survivors’ lawyers seeking usually the most cash for their cients, sooner rather than later, can apparently be depended on to settle claims and keep the bishops’ potentially incriminating files sealed if the settlement amounts are high enough. Apparently, bishops will often pay whatever is takes to protect themselves. While this expensive litigation process has benefited a small percentage of abuse survivors, it has not benefited many other survivors nor stimulated the Bishops yet to adopt real accountability measures like thorough independent audits.
In view of the unlikelihood as indicated above that the Vatican will effectively curtail predatory priests on its own initiative, governments need to compel corrective action. Please help this happen by signing the above petition.
Matters described above are readily substantiated on the Internet by entering the relevant key words in Google for links to the underlying news and other reports.
Finally, several excellent and readable books available now or soon in bookstores or online amplify much of the foregoing. Helpful summaries and/or reviews of most of them are presently freely available at Amazon.com/books.
These selective books are:
(1) The Theology of Fear, by Fr. Emmett Coyne;
(2) Can the Catholic Church Be Saved?, by Fr. Hans Kung (forthcoming soon in an English version);
(3) What Happened at Vatican II, by Fr. John O’Malley, S.J.;
(4) Trent: What Happened at the Council, by Fr. John O’Malley, S.J.;
(5) Electing Our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Elect Its Leaders, by Joseph O’Callaghan;
(6) Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church, by Jason Berry;
(7) Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, by Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea;
(8) The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability For Human Rights Abuse, by Geoffrey Robertson; and
(9) The Politics of Sex and Religion, by Robert Blair Kaiser, available for FREE as an E-Book at robertblairkaiser.com .
8 Ugly Sins of the Catholic Church
If pedophile payouts weren’t enough to convince you the Catholic leadership is often anything but moral, take a look at some of their other sins.
Did the Catholic Bishops wince last week when their leader, anti-contraception Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was exposed for paying pedophiles to disappear? One can only hope. After all, these are men who claim to speak for God. They have direct access to the White House, where they regularly weigh in on issues ranging from military policy to bioethics, and they expect us all to listen – not because of relevant expertise or elected standing, but because of their moral authority.
If pedophile payouts weren’t enough to convince you that this “moral” authority is often anything but moral, take a look at some of their other sins against compassion and basic decency.
1. Excommunicating doctors and nuns for saving lives. In 2009, a 27-year-old mom, pregnant with her fifth child, was rushed to a Phoenix hospital, St. Josephs, where her doctors said she would almost certainly die unless her pregnancy was aborted immediately. The nun in charge approved the emergency procedure, and the woman survived. The local bishop promptly excommunicated the nun. “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means,” said Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix.
How far are the Church authorities willing to take this “moral” logic? In Brazil last year, with Vatican backing, the Church excommunicated a mother and doctor for saving the life of a 9-year-old rape victim who was pregnant with twins. (At four months pregnant, the girl weighed 80 pounds.) Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re, who heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, said “life must always be protected.” Perhaps Mr. Batista Re can explain the Vatican’s 1,500-year tradition of “just war.”
2. Protecting even non-Catholic sex-offenders against child victims. As we have seen, the moral priorities of the bishops are laid naked when they decide who to excommunicate and who not. The doctor and the mother of the pregnant 9-year-old got the boot for approving an abortion, but not the stepfather who had sexually assaulted the child, probably over a period of years. A similar contrast can be seen between the case of the Phoenix nun and hundreds of pedophile priests who were allowed to remain Catholic even after they finally were identified and removed from the Church payrolls.
It gets worse. In New York, a bill that would give child molestation victims more time to file charges has been blocked seven times by the Catholic hierarchy led by none other than Cardinal Dolan. Why? “We feel this is terribly unjust, we feel it singles out the church, and it would be devastating for the life of the church.” In other words, regardless of whether the abuse really happened or what the consequences were for victims, what matters is how much additional lawsuits might cost the Church. Isn’t that the ends justifying the means?
3. Using churches to organize gay haters. When the Washington State legislature approved marriage equality this spring, fundamentalist Christians across the state organized to reverse the legislation. Even though three quarters of American Catholics think that gay marriage or civil unions should be legal, Archbishop Peter Sartain jumped to the front of the pack, decreeing that Western Washington parishes under his “moral authority” should gather signatures for an anti-equality initiative. To their credit, a number of priests refused, and a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality is raising money for ads. In contrast to the Catholic League, which has made the degrading argument that sex between priests and adolescent boys is consensual homosexuality, lay Catholics appear to know the difference.
4. Lying about contraceptives to poor Africans. Of all the mortal sins committed by the men of the cloth, the most devastatingly lethal in the last 30 years has been the Catholic hierarchy’s outspoken opposition to condom use in Africa. In 2003, the president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family publicly lied about the efficacy of condoms in preventing both pregnancy and HIV: “The AIDS virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.” The archbishop of Nairobi told people that condoms were spreading HIV. Some priests told parishioners that condoms were impregnated with the virus.
The motivation for such flagrant falsehoods? The Church has practiced competitive pro-natalism for centuries, but lately anti-contraceptive edicts have been ignored by most educated European and American Catholics, and Italy has the second lowest birthrate in the Western World, at 1.3 per woman. The bishops see this as a “catastrophe” and are looking to Africa as “a reservoir of life for the Church.” They wrap their opposition to contraception in lofty moral language such as that offered by Pope John Paul II: It seems profoundly damaging to the dignity of the human being, and for this reason morally illicit, to support a prevention of AIDS that is based on a recourse to means and remedies that violate an authentically human sense of sexuality. As late as 2009, John Paul’s successor, Benedict, continued to tell poor African Catholics that condoms were “wrong” and even suggested that they were making the epidemic worse. With god-knows –how-many lives lost and children orphaned, he finally softened his stance in 2010.
5. Obstructing patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals. In rural Arizona near the Mexican border, women delivering babies by cesarean section were refused tubal ligations because their independent hospital was negotiating a merger with a healthcare network run by Catholics. Worse, when a woman arrived at the same hospital in the middle of a miscarriage and need a surgical abortion to complete the process, she was forced to travel by ambulance to Tucson, 80 miles away, risking hemorrhage on the way. All over the U.S. secular and Catholic-run health systems are merging, and patients are quietly losing the right to make medical decisions based on the best scientific information available and the dictates of their own conscience.
Even when the Catholic-owned hospital is a small part of the merger, administrators insist that Catholic directives apply to the system as a whole. These directives prohibit not only abortions but also contraceptives, vasectomies and tubal ligations, some kinds of fertility treatment, and compliance with end-of-life patient directives. Ectopic pregnancies cannot be handled in keeping with the medical standard of care. As biotechnologies and treatments relevant to the beginning and end of life advance, we can expect the list to grow longer. Patients cannot trust that they will be told other options are available elsewhere.
One of the bitter ironies here is that even wholly “Catholic” hospitals and charities are staffed primarily by non-Catholics and largely provide services to people of other faiths or of none, paid for with tax dollars. In healthcare much of the money flows from Medicare and Medicaid. In 2010, non-medical affiliates of Catholic Charities received 62 percent of annual revenue from the taxpayers – nearly $2.9 billion. Only 3 percent came from church donations, with the remainder coming from investments, program fees, community donations and in-kind contributions. And yet all of those dollars get directed according to the dictates of bishop conscience rather than individual conscience.
6. Slapping down nuns. Catholic charities and hospitals are at some competitive advantage in part because of hard-working nuns, many of whom have skills and responsibilities that exceed their compensation. The bishops are the Catholic Church’s 1 percent; the nuns are managers and service workers –and many have taken the kind of poverty vows that America’s 1 percent is trying to impose on the rest. Because many nuns live in the real world, where suffering and morality are complex, they often make care-based decisions and take nuanced positions on moral questions that the Council of Bishops resolves by appealing to dogma and authority.
In April, the Vatican decided to remind the nuns who’s on top. Rome issued an 8-page assessment accusing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious of disagreeing with the bishops and of “radical feminism.” It appears that their labors on behalf of poor, vulnerable people had distracted them from a more Christian priority: controlling other people’s sex lives—oh, and standing up against the ordination of women. The Archbishop assigned by the Vatican to rein in unruly American nuns is none other than Peter Sartain of Seattle, the same moral authority who has declared a holy crusade against gay marriage.
7. Bullying girl scouts. Unlike the Boy Scouts, who recently earned media and public attention by booting out a gay den-mother, the Girl Scouts have been stubbornly inclusive and focused on preparing girls for leadership. For example, last year a Colorado troop included a trans-gender 7-year-old. That’s a problem for the Bishops, and since up to a quarter of American Girl Scouts are Catholic kids with troops housed in churches, they see it as their problem. To make matters worse, the American Girl Scouts refused to leave their international umbrella, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which has stated that young women “need an environment where they can freely and openly discuss issues of sex and sexuality.” The World Association would appear to believe the data that girls who can’t manage their sexuality and fertility are more likely to end up in poverty than leadership positions.
Then again, maybe that’s what the church hierarchy is after. According to an article last month at the Huffington Post, “The new inquiry will be conducted by the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. It will look into the Scouts’ ‘possible problematic relationships with other organizations’ and various ‘problematic’ program materials, according to a letter sent by the committee chairman, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne, Ind., to his fellow bishops.” We’re talking about an organization run by women for girls facing an all-male inquisition. In today’s Catholic church, leadership still requires a y chromosome.
8. Purging popular and scholarly interfaith bridge builders. Lest some reader assert that the sins of the Bishops are all a consequence of sexual repression – some contorted pursuit of sexual purity that degrades both sex and compassion—it is important to note that the current cohort of Church authorities are as obsessed with doctrinal purity as sexual purity. It would take me many paragraphs to describe their tireless pursuit of purity as well as retired Anglican bishop, John Shelby Spong, does in one:
Hans Kung, probably the best read theologian of the 20th century, was removed from his position as a Catholic theologian at Tubingen because his mind could not be twisted into the medieval concepts required by his church. This action was carried out by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who at that time under Pope John Paul II held the office that in another time gave us the Inquisition. Matthew Fox, one of the most popular retreat and meditation leaders and an environmental activist, was then silenced by the same Cardinal Ratzinger. Professor Charles Curran, one of America’s best known ethicists, was removed from his tenured professorship at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., also by the same Cardinal Ratzinger. Father Leonardo Boff, the best known Latin American liberation theologian, was forced to renounce his ordination in order to continue his work for justice among the poor of Latin America by the same Cardinal Ratzinger. Next we learn that the Vatican, now headed by Cardinal Ratzinger under his new name Pope Benedict XVI, has ordered the removal of a book from all Catholic schools and universities written by a popular female theologian at Fordham University, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson. Now the nuns are to be investigated. Conformity trumps truth in every direction.
The Catholic tradition defines deadly or “cardinal” sins as those from which all other sins derive. In addition to lust, gluttony, wrath, sloth and envy, the traditional seven include pride and greed, which, to my mind, drive much of the appalling behavior in this list. If an attempt to assert autocratic control over the spiritual and physical lives of lay people isn’t pride, I don’t know what is. And if a willingness to silence child victims to protect church assets isn’t greed, I don’t know what greed is. The BBC’s revelation last month of money laundering in the Vatican Bank pales by comparison.
To me, ultimately, the sins of the Catholic bishops are “deadly sins” because they kill people, whether pregnant mothers or depressed gay teens or African families, or simply desperate people who are forced into greater desperation by “moral” priorities that distract from real questions of well-being and harm.
What the Bishops will have to account for when they meet their maker, none of us can say. For some American Catholics, the process of holding them to account has already started. The Women Religious have pushed back against the condescending “assessment” issued by the Vatican. Small groups of lay Catholics have rallied to their support. Picketers meet monthly outside Sartain’s cathedral to protest his stance against equality. The Franciscan brothers issued a statement of solidarity with the nuns, many of whom have remained solidly focused on economic justice instead of sexual transgressions.
Given the arrogant cruelty of Church leaders, criticism to date has been remarkably tempered. As the Bishops flash their moral authority in the White House and media and pulpit, clothed in white robes and draped in crimson, they should be glad they aren’t eyeball to eyeball with Jesus himself. As the writer of Matthew tells it, he called out the corrupt religious leaders of his day in no uncertain terms: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” and “Deas and Other Imaginings.” Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.
Gerald T. Slevin, Update–Criminal Charges of Vatican Child Abuse Cover-Up
Monday, April 16, 2012
Cross-posted on Open Tabernacle, 16 April 2012.