Should Pope Benedict XVI be thrown in jail for whatever role he might have played in covering up the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church? I am not a lawyer, so I push the legal issues aside. But is not this a matter that cries to Heaven about simple justice? Since the violation of children was so heinous and the cover-up so systemic, should not the penalty be harsh?
I insist this scandal is the greatest example of corruption that Catholicism has faced since the Renaissance popes. I favor harsh penalties against corruption in high places, but I also feel punishment should be targeted upon the guilty. Pope Benedict should not be made a scapegoat for the sins of others. While he is not innocent of blame for having followed in the 1980s what was then the reigning modus operandi of the Church, he should get credit for reversing the policies of Pope John Paul II. Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, began the process of cleaning up the “filth of the Church” (his words). Moreover, he most recently has taken on the hierarchy who want to continue to hide priests and crimes from civil authority. It is at his (reissued) directives on “serious crimes” that the Church universal is now to act and turn over clergy and relevant records to civil authorities.
There are hierarchs deserving of punishment. Pope John Paul II is dead, so he cannot be held accountable for his role in the cover-ups. But Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos who previously headed up the Congregation on the Clergy needs to be taken to court. It was this Cardinal who congratulated a French bishop for shielding a priest (later found guilty of sexual abuse). “I congratulate you on not having spoken out to civil authorities against a priest,” he wrote. When confronted by the media, the Cardinal claimed that his letter of praise for the cover-up was authorized personally by Pope John Paul II. Moreover, this was not the only incident of Castrillon’s defense of pedophiles. It is noteworthy that even if civil authorities lacked jurisdiction in the case, concerned Catholics prevented the same Cardinal from presiding at a Mass at the National Shrine in Washington.
Some prelates acted in ways that constituted cover-ups. Many of them have accepted blame for errors and made public statements of apology. Others, like Cardinal Law, formerly of Boston and Archbishop Burke, formerly of St. Louis, have been “kicked upstairs” to the Vatican. No apologies come directly from them, and one wonders if such prelates might be liable for criminal action in the U.S. for obstruction of justice concerning the way they handled pedophilia cases.
To say Catholic laity is conflicted on this subject is to understate the dilemma. None of us wants the Church pilloried for mistakes that in large measure have been rectified at great cost in legal settlements and with almost draconian reforms to separate inferior clergy from the Church so that they can be prosecuted by government. On the other hand, as Pope Benedict has said, the Church must repent and do penance for this error that endured all too long.
I propose that bishops in Catholic America follow up the papal call to repentance with an organized effort in each of a diocese’s parishes. Just like the bishops use visual and audio media to ask for money or to promote vocations, it seems to me they should now address Catholic America about the positive steps that have been taken, and to elicit lay cooperation in reporting violations.
Most importantly, this kind of “Repentance Sunday” can be the chance to praise the 95% of good Catholic priests who have been unfairly stigmatized In addition to the apologies of the bishops, I think laity should be given the opportunity to speak publicly in praise of priests who have labored under these difficult burdens.
It is part of Catholic theology that none of us is without sin — including bishops and priests. But the glory of our faith is that we have a sacrament of reconciliation and the grace of God to rise up from our fall.