Vatican Goes After Times Over Coverage


In a lengthy screed against the New York Times that singles out reporters Laurie Goodstein, Rachel Donadio, and columnist Maureen Dowd, the Vatican's Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, accused the paper of bias and unfair reporting in its recent coverage of past abuse scandals that appeared to be swept under the rug by the Church. Pope Benedict XVI, who at the time of two of the most prominent scandals held Levada's position as prefect, is implicated by the paper to have been influential in keeping the scandals — involving child molestation by priests — secret. The point of a recent article regarding a Wisconsin priest who was allowed to continue ministering to children despite being known to have molested 200 deaf boys was, according to Levada, "not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time," but "to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time."

Of course, Benedict — then Cardinal Ratzinger — was then at the head of the body that made these decisions. But Levada is bound and determined to relieve his boss of any responsibility, instead passing blame for the cover-up to area dioceses and local police departments. It remains unreported why local authorities did not prosecute the crimes of the Wisconsin priest, father Lawrence Murphy, and Levada tries to absolve the Church because of this, and because by the time the priest was exposed, he was near death. Writes Levada:

The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these “newly emerged files.” Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, [Rembert] Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse. The Congregation approved his decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession — one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.

Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken.

First of all, Levada has no idea whether the Times was interested in finding out why the crimes weren't prosecuted, but it's pretty easy to assume writer Laurie Goodstein tried. But here's where the Vatican's mindset veers wildly (seemingly unbeknownst to Levada) from that of America, a country whose people Levada (an American) snidely notes "are not noted as examples of 'high' culture." In America, part of what we consider justice is the opportunity to bring criminals to face their crimes, hold them publicly accountable, and give victims the chance to share their stories in open court. We do not simply leave a serial criminal, much less one who molested 200 deaf children, to die peacefully with curtailed job duties. That's not even to mention the openly noted fact here that the Church only decided to plan a canonical trial when it was discovered that some of these molestations took place in a confessional, which was apparently the threshold that the abuse had to cross in order for it to become their "responsibility." That's actually a defense that's used here. Yes, trials are long and hard, but since when has that ever been an excuse not to have them? And even if it didn't fall within Church rules, isn't it any employer's moral responsibility to ensure that an employee who they know to have abused hundreds of children over a period of decades at least gets prosecuted by someone?

Cardinal Levada to NY Times: Reconsider 'attack mode' against Pope Benedict [Catholic San Francisco]