Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vatican mastery of the co-opt

co-opt: To take or assume for one's own use; appropriate: co-opting the criticism by embracing it. - the Free Online Dictionary

I saw two posts at America magazine's blog from different POVs, but on the same subject, that subject on which we so hate to dwell, the growing European clergy/sex abuse story. Some may think that talking about this is uncouth, like gaping at a roadside accident, but I believe we have to look because it's no accident.

The first of the two posts at In All Things is Sex abuse brush fires in Europe by Kevin Clarke, an associate editor of America magazine, and he mentions all the defensive tactics used by the Vatican to neutralize criticism ..... attacking the messengers with allegations of anti-Catholicism, the assertion that everybody does it and that other institutions abuse children too, and one of the best strategies, co-opting the criticism, acting more outraged than even the victim s of abuse and making itself a fellow victim of the perpetrators. The second post at In All Things, Vatican statement on European abuse marks strategic shift by Austen Ivereigh, a British correspondent for America, is something of an example of these counter-arguments.

I don't know much about law, so I naively asked myself why the Vatican can be so cavalier about its possible legal responsibility for the abuse crisis, and looking around online I saw something in a past story from the Irish Times ....

[...] If the Vatican is to be seen as a state that has colluded in the commission of crimes against Irish citizens, then the Vatican (and its representatives) should in some way be punished: Irish citizens should have some redress against the Holy See, or so goes a certain line of reasoning.

Those who would dearly like to see the Vatican at least “cross-examined” in a court of law have taken hope from a US ruling last March in which a federal appellate in Oregon court ruled that an unnamed former Portland man, known in court papers as John Doe, could sue the Vatican in a US court over his alleged molestation as a teenager by a (then Portland) parish priest, namely Fr Andrew Ronan of the Friar Servants of Mary.

The US supreme court is considering whether to hear an appeal from the Vatican against this decision.

The point about this, though, is that in all likelihood, not only will the supreme court not rule against the Vatican but it is probable that the case will not even come before the supreme court.

Prof Nick Cafardi, professor of law at Duquesne University, Pennsylvania, and author of After Dallas – the US Bishops’ Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children , argues that under the terms of the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, lawyers for the plaintiff face two huge problems.

First, they have to prove that there is a “statutory” case to answer. In other words, the lawyers would have to prove that the Vatican does not enjoy diplomatic immunity when engaged in non-sovereign activity (ie the kind of activity private firms or individuals might perform).

Second, they would have to prove that the Vatican had exercised precise “control” over their agents, in this case Catholic priests.

Prof Cafardi, senior Vatican diplomats in Rome and John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter , a US-based newspaper, all suggest that this simply will not happen. For a start, says Allen, the US is the last country in the world that wants to see diplomatic immunity being eroded. If outraged Catholics could now get at the Holy See, then just how many outraged Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, Chileans, Salvadoreans etc would want to get at the US state department? How many similar problems would other world powers such as Britain, Russia or France then face?

Then there is the question of the (relative) centralisation of the Catholic Church. Critics often argue that the church is an all-powerful monolith which speaks with just one voice, that of the pope. In reality, though, even if only the pope may decide on doctrinal issues, when it comes to day-to-day administration, the local Catholic churches have a deal of administrative and fiscal autonomy. As one experienced Vatican diplomat puts it, Rome appoints the bishops but Dublin pays the damages (or Columbus, Ohio, or Brisbane, Australia, or wherever). Remember the Catholic Church in the US has paid more than $2 billion (€1.34 billion) in compensation to clerical sex abuse victims.

In a sense, too, the Vatican moves very handily from being a temporal power to a worldwide religion.

The religion might abhor clerical sex abuse but the temporal power is only too glad and determined to hold on to the privileges of diplomatic immunity.

To sue the Vatican is not, was not and never will be an easy matter.

As for the Vatican's moral accountability, well, I hardly know what to say. The faithful seem to feel all over the place about the sex abuse crisis and the Vatican's responsibility, from outraged impotence (me) to what seems like an acceptance of abuse as the cost of doing business, and I honestly think the Vatican could not care less about our views. I hope the German government will have more success than others at holding the Vatican accountable.

Two interesting links from a later post by Mr. Ivereigh, Pope Benedict feels the heat .....

1. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and editor of the Catechism, has said that the causes of the abuse crisis must be examined, and that these include "priestly formation and the understanding of celibacy in personal development" (Le Monde has the story here; the original article in German is here).
2. A front-page piece in the Vatican daily L' Osservatore Romano, no less, argues that a greater presence of women in high-level decision-making bodies in the Church would have helped to lift the "veil of masculine secrecy" over clerical sex abuse cases.


Blogger victor said...

I agree that we should all be kept in honest check especially in such an important Catholic matter.

Having said that I've got confidence that The Bride of Christ will do what is needed for all souls concerned and I'll continue to pray during Lent that God's Old Rugged Cross will again come to save U>S one more time.

God Bless,


7:16 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor :)

9:19 PM  

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