Friday, March 26, 2010

Vatican wilting under weight of public scrutiny
Vatican wilting under weight of public scrutiny
By John Cooney
Friday March 26 2010

ROME and Maynooth are being called to account by the voices of previously isolated groups around the world. As Pope Benedict deals with the fallout from a tsunami of clerical child sex abuse cases, it is clear that neither the Vatican nor the bishops are coping well with this new manifestation of public opinion.

'People power' is becoming a thorn in the flesh of authority and hierarchy.

Victims' abuse groups and Catholic reforms network groups are using the internet as a new counter-force to challenge the control of the clericalist system. They are calling for overdue accountability and reform in the Catholic Church and are sharing information with one another about grassroots reactions to what is fast becoming the biggest religious crisis since the 16th century Reformation.

Since November 26, 2009, the day of publication of the Murphy Commission's report into the cover-ups of abuse by successive archbishops of Dublin, a new phase in the crisis has spread like bush-fire to much of Europe. The flames have also reignited cover-ups in America, Canada and Australia, as well as Brazil, the Philippines and Mexico.

It is a full-time job these days for hard-pressed Vatican officials defending Pope Benedict from the growing flood of new allegations of his involvement in clerical child sex abuse cover-ups in his two previous jobs as Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich-Freising and later as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith up to his election in 2005.

Yesterday morning, the American leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, came to Rome. Simultaneously, in Rome and five US cities, news conferences were held to distribute dozens of pages of secret archival church records which they said showed that the world's top two Vatican officials in the 1990s covered up for a serial US predator priest's case, because they feared "public scandal" if the gruesome details were published.

As the 'New York Times' has revealed, these two officials were Cardinal Ratzinger and his assistant at the Doctrinal Congregation, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the pope's prime minister as secretary of the Vatican State.

The newspaper reported that Ratzinger and Bertone did not defrock a priest, the Rev Lawrence C Murphy, who molested as many as 200 deaf boys. Murphy was quietly moved by the Archbishop of Milwaukee to the Diocese of Superior in northern Wisconsin in 1974, where he spent his last 24 years working freely with children in parishes, schools and a juvenile detention centre. He died in 1998, still a priest.

Significantly, the story was based on files from lawyers for five men bringing four lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. This supplies documentary proof of the part played by the present pope and secretary of state.

In a statement, the Vatican said that by the time it learned of the case in the late 1990s, the priest was elderly and in poor health, and it eventually suggested that the priest continue to be restricted in ministry instead of laicised, and he died four months later. This is a bland short-cutting of the truth as detailed in the documents.

Apparently aware of this flawed defence, Vatican officials have been saying the 'New York Times' story ignored the fact that, at the urging of Cardinal Ratzinger himself, new procedures to deal with priest abusers were put in place in 2002, including measures making it easier to laicise them.

As if this was not a bad day at the office for the Pope, he was also confronted by confirmation that a second victim of Fr Peter Hullermann has proved credible evidence of his abuse. This is the abuser he allowed to move to Munich for therapy, but who was allowed by the archdiocese to minister there with access to children, while not reporting him to the police.

Pope Benedict now needs to reconcile telling the Irish bishops of their duty to cooperate with civil authorities in abuse cases, while the correspondence points steadily in the direction that as 'the Doctrinal Enforcer', his Congregation impeded such cooperation.

Furthermore, the American case shows that the Vatican -- in refusing to defrock Murphy -- viewed abuse complaints in terms of sin and repentance rather than crime and punishment. Both the Pope and Cardinal Bertone have a lot of explaining to do, if they are to practice the principle of accountability which they preach. It is hard to see them weather the storm.

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