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by Peterr

Benedict’s Resignation May be a Surprise, But It’s Not a Shock

5:52 am in Religion by Peterr

Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement this morning (US time) that he is resigning effective February 28th burst upon the audience to which he was speaking, leaving them in stunned silence.

Pope BenedictThat silence has not lasted long.

On the one hand, there is the “OMG! This is unprecedented! No one could have seen this coming!!!1!1!” reaction, coming largely from folks who are so enamored with the office of the Pope that they can’t conceive of a papal resignation. Well, no. Canon law explicitly makes provision for a papal resignation, and John Paul II certainly contemplated it, going so far as to draft letters of resignation on two separate occasions as his health fluctuated. Yes, there hasn’t been a resignation in centuries, but that doesn’t mean this is as incredible as some are making it out to be. Indeed, bishops are required to submit their letters of resignation at age 75 (though the pope is not obligated to immediately accept them). This rule was set in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, so the notion of staying on the job until death has been less and less the rule in the hierarchy of the Catholic church.

As a practical matter, it has been obvious to anyone who has been paying attention that Benedict’s health has been declining. Major liturgical events like Christmas Eve at St. Peters have been adjusted, so that the pope’s strength would not be overly taxed by standing too long or holding heavy objects. I’ve seen old men fall asleep on Easter morning during worship, even as the trumpets are sounding from the choir loft, and I can imagine Benedict looking ahead to Holy Week and Easter and saying “Enough. I don’t have the strength for this.” If popes have nightmares, one of Benedict’s must be falling asleep during high Easter mass and having that image flashed around the world.

And very specific to Benedict, he himself has spoken about this in the past. Last April, National Catholic Reporter talked about this as Benedict turned 85, noting:

Talk of possible resignation has been swirling around the pope ever since his 2010 book, ‘Light of the World,’ in which he said that if a pope felt ‘no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of carrying out the duties of his office,’ he would have ‘the right, and in some circumstances the obligation, to resign.’

So enough already with the shock. It only shows that you haven’t been paying attention.

As for Benedict announcing his resignation, I say “Good for him.”

For all the talk of infallibility and power and lifelong tenure of the pope, the pope is as replaceable as anyone else — and an honest pope knows this. If Benedict were to get hit by a truck this afternoon, the cardinals would gather and elect a successor, and the church would go on. For Benedict to voluntarily step down, rather than linger on with weakened strength and declining health, is a statement of trust that he knows he is not irreplaceable.

So now we enter the silly season, as rumors fly and speculation of successors runs rampant. Myopic conservative Americans will breathlessly talk about Timothy Dolan as a leading candidate because of his media savvy, or arch-conservative Raymond Burke (former archbishop of St. Louis and now ensconced in a powerful Vatican post) because of his arch-conservative credentials, but IMHO, these are both pipe dreams. I can’t see the college of cardinals elevating an American to the papacy at a time when Americans are viewed around the world as increasingly arrogant on the international scene, and I’m not alone in this.

So enjoy the retrospectives, but keep some perspective as well. Enjoy the rumors and speculation as well, and take them with a very large grain of salt.

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by Peterr

Bishops Will Be Bishops

3:11 pm in child abuse, Religion by Peterr

Bishop Finn "Boys will be boys."

[UPDATED -- See below]

Cardinal Bernard Law presided over the archdiocese of Boston, and protected abusive priests like John Geoghan and Paul Shanley from secular authorities. When the story came out in court in 2002, the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer prize for their coverage, collected here in a special webpage. As the archdiocese melted down, Pope John Paul II accepted Law’s resignation and transferred Law to Rome, giving him a prestigious post at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, and retained him as a member of various important positions on Vatican boards and commissions.

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua presided over the archdiocese of Philadelphia, and put his own power and reputation ahead of the protection of children. After two major grand jury investigations, Beviliacqua’s Secretary for Clergy, Monsignor William Lynn was indicted for covering things up. As I wrote a year ago,

Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua escaped being hauled before a grand jury only because his doctor says he is near death and has bad memory issues. In their report, the grand jury basically said “we took mercy on him and didn’t name him in the indictment, but boy did he screw up here.” Either he knew what his assistant was doing and is culpable for the later abuse, or he didn’t know and should have. The grand jury report [pdf] is devastating, and the trial will be as well.

It was. Last June, I wrote this about the trial when the verdict of “guilty” came down:

Lynn’s lawyers tried to cast him as a mere functionary, who had no authority to challenge what the archbishop wanted done — and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Archbishop Bevilacqua wanted things hushed up and buried. . . .

At the trial, Bevilacqua’s actions were scrutinized. Father Thomas P. Doyle, the canon lawyer who tried to warn the USCCB about the dangers of covering up for child abusers back in the 1980s. In thanks for his work, the hierarchy of the church derailed his career and sidelined him from offering them any additional advice. The prosecution, however, put his advice front and center in the trial:

A priest who is an expert on canon law testified Thursday that in his opinion, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was guilty of obstructing justice when he ordered the shredding of a confidential memo in 1994 that listed 35 archdiocese priests accused of sex abuse.

Father Thomas P. Doyle, an outspoken advocate for victims of clerical sex abuse, was asked on cross-examination what advice he would have given Bevilacqua.

“He’s got a list of 35 men who are sexually abusing children, and he’s going to shred it?” Doyle asked incredulously. “No way,” Father Doyle told the jury. “That’s like obstruction of justice.”

That sole “guilty” spoken in Philadelphia is the one that ought to send shivers up the spines of every bishop and cardinal of the Catholic church. In Philadelphia, the story is not over, as there are other trials waiting to be held on this. Similarly, if I were retired Cardinal Rigali [Bevilacqua's successor], I’d be consulting with my attorneys rather closely. From the grand jury’s report, there certainly appear to be things that Rigali either knew or should have known about but upon which he did not act. Do they rise to the level of a criminal coverup? I don’t know, but there’s certainly enough there for a prosecutor to want to dig in a bit deeper.

Here in Kansas City, it certainly worries Bishop Robert Finn, whose trial for failure to report suspicions of child abuse by one of his priests is slated to begin later this summer.

Which brings us to Bishop Finn and Kansas City, where lawyers for the victims of former priest Shawn Ratigan have filed a civil suit against Finn and the diocese for failing to promptly report the child pornography found on Ratigan’s computer by the diocese’s director of management and information services, Julie Creech. Creech’s deposition was part of the court filings, which included this bombshell [KC Star story updated; see below]:

The civil motion filed Thursday quotes Creech as having been concerned when she heard that some at the diocese were saying that she had not found “lewd” photographs on the computer. In a partial deposition transcript included with the civil filings, Creech said she approached Finn about the diocese’s response to the Ratigan discoveries.

Finn, she noted, was not specific as to what actions the diocese would take.

“He did indicate that, you know, sometimes priests do things that they shouldn’t, and he said, you know, he said, ‘Sometimes boys will be boys,’ ” Creech said in the deposition.

And you know, sometimes bishops will be bishops, even when women like Julie Creech and Sister Joan Scary try to warn them.

I suppose it’s like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who told the male disciples of Jesus about the resurrection. According to Luke, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

One of these days, the leaders of the church might learn that they ought to listen to the women.


From the KC Star this morning [same link as above, but now changed], Creech appears to be walking her testimony back:

John Gromowsky, an attorney representing Julie Creech, the computer systems manager for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said that she had “misspoken” in deposition testimony taken in a civil case and hoped to correct it.

In the Aug. 17 deposition, Creech said that Finn had said, “Sometimes boys will be boys,” when she raised concerns about how the diocese was handling the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, on whose laptop computer she had seen lewd photos of young girls.

“The statement Julie Creech attributed to Bishop Finn during her deposition that ‘boys will be boys’ is not consistent with her recollection of any conversations she had with the bishop concerning the Shawn Ratigan matter,” a statement released by Gromowsky said. “Following the deposition, Julie realized she had misspoken.”

The statement gave no explanation for why Creech’s testimony differed from her recollections.