Vilifying The Vicar Of Christ Is Nothing New

It has not gone unnoticed that during Holy Week, and in the days leading up to it, the media elite, led by the New York Times, has taken aim at Pope Benedict XVI. Do they have any evidence on which to hang their cloaks of disdain? Of course not, but then when you deal with people who buy their ink by the barrel and have no love for the Catholic Church, not much is required for them to attack her and her beloved pope.

But this time, they may have gone too far. Take for example the vituperative remarks by the Times that are, as Father Raymond J. de Souza outlined in his recent article, patently false at every level. Attempting to tie the Holy Father, during the time he was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to situations that occurred during his tenure can easily be seen for the hatchet job that it actually is. As Father de Souza explains,

The charge that Cardinal Ratzinger did anything wrong is unsupported by the documentation on which the story was based. He does not appear in the record as taking any decision. His office, in the person of his deputy, Archbishop Bertone, agreed that there should be full canonical trial. When it became apparent that Father Murphy was in failing health, Archbishop Bertone suggested more expeditious means of removing him from any ministry.

Furthermore, under canon law at the time, the principal responsibility for sexual-abuse cases lay with the local bishop. Archbishop Weakland had from 1977 onwards the responsibility of administering penalties to Father Murphy. He did nothing until 1996. It was at that point that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became involved, and it subsequently did nothing to impede the local process.

The New York Times flatly got the story wrong, according to its own evidence. Readers may want to speculate on why.

The Times would not, of course, ever take Weakland to task because he is, among Catholic bishops, one of the most strident dissenters to Catholic teaching ever to be elevated to the sacred office of bishop.  But that is another story for another time. The fact of the matter is that the Times could not prove its own case even with the documents that are freely available for anyone to examine.

But there’s more. Kenneth Briggs, the former religion editor for the New York Times and currently with the National Catholic Reporter,  has called for the pope to step aside, at least “temporarily.” 
His opinion piece tells the tale:

My proposal, therefore, is that Benedict take a leave of absence until his case is cleared one way or another. He should ask for a full investigation by both secular and church agencies and step aside until the results are in. If he fails to clear his name, he would be honor-bound to resign. A refusal to invite such tough scrutiny would be widely seen as admission of wrongdoing. Otherwise, he could return with a clean slate.

The current Vatican would likely resist openness with every fiber of its being. Secrecy has been considered the mode of operations by the ruling class of the church. To reverse this policy, by allowing investigators into these inner workings, is hardly imaginable. For the past 150 years, since the First Vatican Council declared the pope infallible in faith and morals, the Catholic hierarchy has run against the tide of history. While nations and institutions were toppling monarchical structures and embracing democracy, the church's hierarchy was enhancing its power and control. Papal infallibility elevated that office to new levels of influence and invested it with an image of moral perfection.

Is Briggs really all there? There is no case against the pope and never has been, though there is a concerted effort by reporters and the Holy Father’s enemies to make absolutely certain they smear him and the Church with every possible means, including fabrications and allegations based on nothing more than imaginary scenarios.

Is it really any wonder that Briggs believes that the Church can carry on very well without a pope? When I read this, it reminded me of the time when our own children were teens and we frequently discussed the subject of absent parents. Some parents thought that their kids would be fine if they left them unattended and took a night off to see a movie or go out to a late dinner. But the warmth of the evening faded when they came home to scenes of beer kegs, liquor cabinet raids, cigarette burns on the furniture and more.

Teens need their parents at home; writers like Briggs need their pencils or laptops taken away until they can learn how to properly represent Church teaching and the meaning of the words “innocent until proven guilty.”

And then, of course, there’s another of NPR’s favorite Catholic bashers standing at the ready to take his swipe at the Church. David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, doesn’t think the pope should step aside. No, Clohessy has his distorted reason:

If the pope were to step down, like Cardinal Bernard Law did in Boston, it would create the illusion of reform while decreasing the chances of real reform.

In terms of how Benedict deals with clergy sex abuse and cover-ups, we've seen just the tip of an enormous iceberg. The tip is very ugly, and we suspect the rest of it is, too. But victims, parents, Catholics and law enforcement need and deserve to see the full picture. Benedict can show it to us. He should disclose the records of the hundreds of predator priests he dealt with during the years he headed the Vatican agency charged with this sorry chore. That is why Pope Benedict should not resign — just yet.

This man has lost his ability to understand Church teaching or read the documents that the Church has been publishing on this subject. Instead, he has chosen to build a straw man out of Popsicle sticks. I have always found it of interest that people like Clohessy cannot establish a case built of real facts. They have to stoop to the use of media hype, trumped-up demands from the Church hierarchy and allegations without substance in far too many cases. 

It has paid off, of course. The Church has already spent more than two billion dollars settling these cases, and the end seems nowhere in sight. But none of this justifies a wholesale verbal assault on a holy man of God who has done so much about this crisis already. The perpetrators of sexual abuse are vile men, but that does not make every other prelate guilty of crimes.

I am grateful for the forthright treatment of this matter by Father Thomas Brundage, JCL, a man with firsthand experience. Father Brundage presided as a judge for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during the trial of the offending priests.  Brundage writes in great detail about that case and closes his article with the following:

Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reined in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international Church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.

Finally, over the last 25 years, vigorous action has taken place within the Church to avoid harm to children. Potential seminarians receive extensive sexual-psychological evaluation prior to admission. Virtually all seminaries concentrate their efforts on the safe environment for children. …

Catholic dioceses all across the country have taken extraordinary steps to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. One example, which is by no means unique, is in the Archdiocese of Anchorage, where I currently work. Here, virtually every public bathroom in parishes has a sign asking if a person has been abused by anyone in the Church. A phone number is given to report the abuse and almost all Church workers in the archdiocese are required to take yearly formation sessions in safe environment classes. I am not sure what more the Church can do.

To conclude, the events during the 1960s and 1970s of the sexual abuse of minors and solicitation in the confessional by Father Lawrence Murphy are unmitigated and gruesome crimes. On behalf of the Church, I am deeply sorry and ashamed for the wrongs that have been done by my brother priests but realize my sorrow is probably of little importance 40 years after the fact. The only thing that we can do at this time is to learn the truth, beg for forgiveness, and do whatever is humanly possible to heal the wounds. The rest, I am grateful, is in God’s hands.

I did not notice anyone in the media, in particular, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, interviewing individuals like Father Brundage, a man who is aware of the real facts. But I know why.  One evening, I heard Amanpour suggest that if there were women in the priesthood, none of these torrid things would have occurred.

Wonder what she is getting at; whose agenda she favors? It is quite obvious to me. When anyone in the media despises Catholic magisterial teaching, the depths to which he or she will sink in their quest to shower their loathing upon the Church knows no bounds.

As this Holy Week comes to an end, I pray that the Holy Father be sustained through this trial, which is truly a bloodless crucifixion of him and the Church to which he has given his very life as the Vicar of Christ on earth. We are blessed to have him in the chair of Peter. May God be with him and with all faithful Catholics who will stand with him to the very end.