02 July 2010

On what grounds?

Get Religionista Mollie wants to know on what grounds the Associated Press' Nicole Winfield claims that "his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe haven't succeeded and need a new boost." That is a very fine question, though I don't expect we'll have a response from Ms. Winfield.

She also tackled the New York Times' recent and renewed attack on Benedect VXI by Laurie Goodstein. In Mollie's words: "[T]he claims of the piece come nowhere near being proven," and, "It’s really disappointing, actually. The language is just so loaded and while all the quotes seem generally supportive of Ratzinger, even if critical of the mess of the Vatican’s legal system, the story relentlessly spins it against Ratzinger."

Disappointing it may be; unexpected it is not.


  1. Mollie argues that the NYT piece amounts to a hatchet job on Benedict, in that the article points out some facts that would seem to undermine the Vatican's recent claim that Card. Ratzinger did something wonderful in going to JP2 and requesting that the CDF be given explicit authority over priests implicated in sexual abuse cases. Having just read today's NYT article, I look at it quite differently. I see this as a very balanced piece, with plenty of attention given to favorable quotes about Card. Ratzinger/Pope Benedict from, among others, Archb. Wilton Gregory. True, the article doesn't just say, "Wow, J.R./B16 has always done a swell job on this issue, all sources agree!" But that would be a bit of a puff piece, wouldn't it? A balanced article would report positive claims and negative claims. This article strikes me as achieving genuine balance in its portrayal of J.R./B16.

    I'm fascinated that neither you, Father, nor Mollie at Get Religion actually have contested the accuracy of Archbishop Wilson's claims about the 1922 (or was it 1917?) code of canon law giving the CDF explicit authority over all instances of sexual misconduct on the part of priests, rather than solely over solicitation of sex in the confessional, as the Vatican has recently claimed. What's the truth? Is Archbishop Wilson either poorly informed (though he apparently was a canon law student in the 1990s), or is he willfully misrepresenting the truth about the CDF's powers prior to 2002? Or is it possible that he is indeed stating the facts?

    If you'll humor me for a moment and consider the third option above, the implication seems to be clear: those working for a VERY LONG TIME at the CDF (particularly Card. Ratzinger, who was in charge of it for more than 20 years) did not take the sexual abuse of children by priests seriously enough to even investigate what powers the CDF might have (MIGHT have!) in such cases. Even the most favorable reading of the situation would seem to suggest that -- if what Archb. Wilson claims about the 1917 or 1922 code of canon law IS correct -- nobody in the CDF thought to pick up a phone or write an inquiry to a good canon lawyer to determine what the CDF could do under either the 1917 code or the 1983 code. Yes, I realize Card. Ratzinger was a theologian, not a lawyer, but surely he had access to a few good canon lawyers while working for 20 years in...yes...Rome.

    I'm very curious as to whether Archb. Wilson's claim is true -- and as to why the CDF was possibly not concerned enough about sexual abuse cases to even investigate what powers it might have. I teach at a college, Father, and serve on several committees. Frequently, we look things up to see whether a particular committee has the power to act when we think action would help solve a problem. But it has to be a problem that we take seriously to motivate us to look things up (or send an inquiry to somebody who is likely to know whether or not we can act). Was that the case with the CDF, pre-2002, or not? Did the CDF take this issue seriously enough to look into its powers in these cases? And did it in fact have that power under the 1922 provision, as Archb. Wilson claims?

    Sorry this is so long. However, everything I've written here is written out of genuine concern; I'm not trying to be snarky. I truly wish that Archb. Wilson's claim would be addressed one way or the other. No way should one try to rip the NYT article without addressing Wilson's claim head-on.


  2. Father, a concise(?) follow-up here. I just looked up the powers of the Congregation for the CDF under the *1983* code of canon law. Canon 1362 refers to four specific canonical provisions that are "reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

    One of the canons specified is 1395. Canon 1395 deals with sexual improprities by priests "committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years."

    Unless I'm misreading those canons entirely, it sure sounds like the CDF had authority to act on sexual abuse by priests as of 1983 (if not, in fact, as early as 1922). Why did Card. Ratzinger have to wait until 2002 to get "new" powers from JP2? Doesn't the 1983 give the CDF that authority and responsibility?


  3. That's a good question, Steve, and one that I, too, have wondered about. In all of the coverage of the scandal, this is the first instance I've seen of anyone claiming the CDF had such authority. His claim is, in fact, false.

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf addresses the question here, pointing out the "error" (he's a bit kinder on it than I) of the New York Times: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/07/the-key-purposeful-error-in-the-nytimes-new-attack-on-pope-benedict/