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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is this a 7.0 earthquake or a 9.5?

I honestly can't tell:
The Vatican said that Mgr Gruber had taken “full responsibility” for the priest’s move back into pastoral work but did not comment further.

Mgr Gruber said that the Pope, who was made a cardinal in 1977, had not been not aware of his decision because there were 1,000 priests in the diocese at the time and he had left many decisions to lower-level officials. “The cardinal could not deal with everything,” he said. “The repeated employment of H in pastoral duties was a serious mistake ... I deeply regret that this decision led to offences against youths. I apologise to all those who were harmed.” He did not indicate whether the convicted paedophile would be allowed to continue working in the church.
Poor Benedict XVI. He lacks not only John Paul II's and Ronald Reagan's acting experience but their stage presence. His popularity, therefore, is far broader than it is deep. That, in turn, will make him an easy target for the media firestorm that's about to erupt. And erupt it likely will, since the Vatican's damage control operation has verged on the catastrophic.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the head of Germany’s Catholic bishops, apologised yesterday to the victims of clerical sex abuse after meeting Pope Benedict. He said that the German-born Pope had expressed “great dismay” over the scandals and had encouraged him to take “decisive and courageous steps” to tackle the problem.

Mgr Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg, said that the German Church would investigate abuse allegations and take measures to prevent a recurrence. He said that the Pope had been “deeply moved” by his report of sex abuse cases in Germany, and had praised the naming of a bishop to act as a clerical sex-abuse watchdog. He added that paedophilia was not confined to the Roman Catholic Church.

Mgr Gerhard Müller, the Bishop of Regensburg, said there was “not even a minimal link” between paedophilia and priestly celibacy, which would “not be modified”.
Really? That's your response? The pope has been accused of a sex abuse coverup!  Your sole reaction simply cannot be that celibacy must remain sacrosanct!

Sadly, this pathetic attempt at messaging seems to have come from the top. According to Der Spiegel, that was the Pope's message of the day, delivered in Rome at an international conference sponsored by the Congregation for Clergy.

This is a huge story in Germany. The question, to me, is whether this will blow up in 1) major Catholic nations like France, Spain, and Italy and 2) fellow German-speaking nations Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Lichtenstein. France and Spain have population, wealth and influence, both within Europe and throughout the nations of their former empires. The Germanic nations, by virtue of sharing a language, can add more investigative reporters to the mix.

I would ordinarily say that the United States, whose media is completely ignorant of religious politics, would have nothing to add to this story. But this is a special case: there are some pretty powerful people in the American Church who have felt slighted by the way the Vatican dealt (or didn't deal) with the abuse crisis here at home. They have bided their time. And now, two decades of resentments going back to John Paul II's papacy are coming out:
To many observers, the situation in Europe looked unsettlingly similar to that in the United States a decade ago, when a trickle of isolated abuse cases steadily grew into a widespread phenomenon that upended — and bankrupted — many American dioceses.

But in Europe, unlike in common-law countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, defendants cannot sue the church for negligence.

“When this first started to break in the United States in the mid-to-late ’80s and our bishops went to Rome for help in dealing with it, they were basically told, ‘This is an American problem,’ ” said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon law expert and emeritus dean of the Duquesne University School of Law.
Benedict's problem is that plausible deniability isn't working for him:
An American group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said it “boggles the mind to hear a German Catholic official claim that a credibly accused paedophile priest was reassigned to parish work without the knowledge of his boss, then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger”. Any expulsion of a priest from the Church, however, must go through the Vatican.
This time, survivors and the American laity, who never had voice in the Church during Cardinal Law's and John Paul II's coverups, aren't alone. Statements like Thomas Doyle's are truly devastating.
The former vicar general took full responsibility for the decision to reinstate the priest to pastoral work. “I deeply regret that this decision resulted in offenses against youths and apologize to all who were harmed by it,” he said, according to a statement posted on the archdiocese’s Web site.

There was immediate skepticism that Benedict, as archbishop, would not have known of the details of the case.

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, who once worked at the Vatican Embassy in Washington and became an early and well-known whistle-blower on sexual abuse in the church, said the vicar general’s claim was not credible.

“Nonsense,” said Father Doyle, who has served as an expert witness in sexual abuse lawsuits. “Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He’s the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he’s trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope.”
So where does the story go from here? I have no idea. At a minimum, this papacy is permanently tarnished. It's already a 7.0 quake when major commentators like David Gibson say stuff like this:
“What is at stake, and at great risk, is Benedict’s central project for the ‘re-Christianization’ of Christendom, his desire to have Europe return to its Christian roots,” said David Gibson, the author of a biography of Benedict and a religion commentator for Politicsdaily.com. “But if the root itself is seen as rotten, then his influence will be badly compromised.”
If, however, there was a coverup, and if any evidence appears that the Pope lied regarding the degree of his involvement, it is very hard to see how this papacy can retain its legitimacy, particularly given the recent explosion of abuse claims in Europe. It's equally hard to see how the entire conservative Catholic project begun by John Paul II retains its hold on the Catholic imagination (and history books) if child sexual abuse becomes its best known legacy. That holds doubly if it results in the first papal resignation in six centuries. I am not saying that will happen. A 9.5 quake and its concomitant tsunami are events that occur but once every few centuries.

But I don't think this is a 7.0, either.

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