Card. Levada on the present clerical sexual abuser controversies

The former Archbishop of San Francisco, now CDF Prefect, His Eminence William Card. Levada, offered a piece to his former archdiocesan newspaper about the recent controversies.

His Eminence is now the head of the Vatican dicastery that handles the cases of clerical sexual child abusers.  I believe that Pope Benedict needed to have an American in that office because of the backlog of cases in the English language, especially from the USA.

He is responding to the way the New York Times (aka Hell’s Bible) and others have reported and distorted the issues.

Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.  It is on the long side, so I had to edit.   Read the whole thing yourself. 

The Cardinal’s tone is nothing short of scathing.  I believe it is a fair treatment of what the Times and their writers, especially, Laurie Goodstein, worked together to accomplish.

It was written on 26 March.

Cardinal Levada to NY Times: Reconsider ‘attack mode’ against Pope Benedict
March 30th, 2010

The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI:
how it looks to an American in the Vatican

By Cardinal William J. Levada
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith


[Laurie] Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.

The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.

It seems to me, on the other hand, that we owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors. These efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope. That the Times has published a series of articles in which the important contribution he has made – especially in the development and implementation of Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, [SST] the Motu proprio issued by Pope John Paul II in 2001 – is ignored, seems to me to warrant the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper.

Let me tell you what I think a fair reading of the Milwaukee case would seem to indicate. The reasons why church and civil authorities took no action in the 1960’s and 70’s is apparently not contained in these “newly emerged files.” Nor does the Times seem interested in finding out why. But what does emerge is this: after almost 20 years as Archbishop, Weakland wrote to the Congregation asking for help in dealing with this terrible case of serial abuse. The Congregation approved his decision to undertake a canonical trial, since the case involved solicitation in confession – one of the graviora delicta (most grave crimes) for which the Congregation had responsibility to investigate and take appropriate action.

Only when it learned that Murphy was dying did the Congregation suggest to Weakland that the canonical trial be suspended, since it would involve a lengthy process of taking testimony from a number of deaf victims from prior decades, as well as from the accused priest. Instead it proposed measures to ensure that appropriate restrictions on his ministry be taken. [NB] Goodstein infers that this action implies “leniency” toward a priest guilty of heinous crimes. [I think he is using "infer" in its meaning of "imply".] My interpretation would be that the Congregation realized that the complex canonical process would be useless if the priest were dying. Indeed, I have recently received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it. But Fr. Murphy had died in the meantime. As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.

Goodstein also refers to what she calls “other accusations” about the reassignment of a priest who had previously abused a child/children in another diocese by the Archdiocese of Munich. But the Archdiocese has repeatedly explained that the responsible Vicar General, Mons. Gruber, admitted his mistake in making that assignment. [You decide if the following is a good argument.  I think it is.  Many don’t think so.] It is anachronistic for Goodstein and the Times to imply that the knowledge about sexual abuse that we have in 2010 should have somehow been intuited by those in authority in 1980. It is not difficult for me to think that Professor Ratzinger, appointed as Archbishop of Munich in 1977, would have done as most new bishops do: [NB!] allow those already in place in an administration of 400 or 500 people to do the jobs assigned to them[Furthermore, the role of a Vicar General in a German diocese usually involves personnel.]


From the point of view of ecclesiastical procedures, the explosion of the sexual abuse question in the United States led to the adoption, at a meeting of the Bishops’ Conference in Dallas in 2002, of a “Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse.” This Charter provides for uniform guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, on structures of accountability (Boards involving clergy, religious and laity, including experts), reports to a national Board, and education programs for parishes and schools in raising awareness and prevention of sexual abuse of children. In a number of other countries similar programs have been adopted by Church authorities: one of the first was adopted by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in response to the Nolan Report made by a high-level commission of independent experts in 2001.

It was only in 2001, with the publication of Pope John Paul II’s Motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST), that responsibility for guiding the Catholic Church’s response to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This papal document was prepared for Pope John Paul II [NB] under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Contrary to some media reports, SST did not remove the local bishop’s responsibility for acting in cases of reported sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Nor was it, as some have theorized, part of a plot from on high to interfere with civil jurisdiction in such cases. Instead, SST directs bishops to report credible allegations of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is able to provide a service to the bishops to ensure that cases are handled properly, in accord with applicable ecclesiastical law.

Here are some of the advances made by this new Church legislation (SST). It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. This has been of particular advantage in missionary and small dioceses that do not have a strong complement of well-trained canon lawyers. It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The Congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for “historical” cases. Moreover, SST has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today. It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests’ cases. Perhaps most of all, it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today’s Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen. Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.


The Times editorial wonders “how Vatican officials did not draw the lessons of the grueling scandal in the United States, where more than 700 priests were dismissed over a three-year period.” I can assure the Times that the Vatican in reality did not then and does not now ignore those lessons. But the Times editorial goes on to show the usual bias: “But then we read Laurie Goodstein’s disturbing report . . .about how the pope, while he was still a cardinal, was personally warned about a priest … But church leaders chose to protect the church instead of children. The report illuminated the kind of behavior the church was willing to excuse to avoid scandal.” Excuse me, editors. Even the Goodstein article, based on “newly unearthed files,” places the words about protecting the Church from scandal on the lips of Archbishop Weakland, not the pope. It is just this kind of anachronistic conflation that I think warrants my accusation that the Times, in rushing to a guilty verdict, lacks fairness in its coverage of Pope Benedict.

As a full-time member of the Roman Curia, the governing structure that carries out the Holy See’s tasks, I do not have time to deal with the Times’s subsequent almost daily articles by Rachel Donadio and others, much less with Maureen Dowd’s silly parroting of Goodstein’s “disturbing report.[Well said.  I think Mo is a serial scribal truth abuser.]  But about a man with and for whom I have the privilege of working, as his “successor” Prefect, a pope whose encyclicals on love and hope and economic virtue have both surprised us and made us think, whose weekly catecheses and Holy Week homilies inspire us, and yes, whose pro-active work to help the Church deal effectively with the sexual abuse of minors continues to enable us today, I ask the Times to reconsider its attack mode about Pope Benedict XVI and give the world a more balanced view of a leader it can and should count on. 

Do everyone a favor.

Share some of this, and other posts on this and other blogs, about the distortions by the New York Times.  Share this with at least 5 other people.   E-mail some links with a note that, in service of the truth, people need to get a fuller picture of this recent controversy.  Ask them to forward it as well.

We don’t mind the truth coming out, even if it is painful.  We just want it to be the truth.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sandy says:

    Just sent this on to some friends, asking them to pass it on. God bless the Cardinal, and may his words be spread far and wide.

  2. Taylor says:

    I’m glad his eminence put this out. How much longer can the Times hold out on an apology or admission of biased and unfair reporting?

    I’ll pass this around for sure.

  3. terryprest says:

    It is also posted on the official website of the Vatican at

    I think that we can take it that Cardinal Levada`s response is the official response of the Vatican to the allegations and no doubt has been approved of at the highest levels ?

  4. New Sister says:

    Still …no one thus far, in their defense of the Holy Father, mentions the decisive measure he took against this problem: barring homosexuals from entering the Catholic seminaries. It was one of the first (if not *the* first) things he did in his pontificate and demonstrates, along with Liturgical reforms, his courage & determination to uproot this problem at its very foundation.

  5. “[I think he is using “infer” in its meaning of “imply”.]”

    Actually, Goodstein as interpreter is “inferring” from the situation itself what she “implies” in the piece. Readers/hearers/interpreters infer from some object or data, writers/speakers imply. The good Cardinal got his grammar straight.

  6. TNCath says:

    This is about as strong a position I have ever seen Cardinal Levada take on anything! It looks like our American “men in purple and red” are finally starting to realize that it’s time to start fighting back. Deo gratias.

  7. TJerome says:

    I doubt the people at the New York Times have the mental capacity to understand the Cardinal’s letter. They are a bunch of simpletons. A great letter.

  8. Paul M says:

    As a believer, I have no doubt that Murphy will face the One who judges both the living and the dead.

    In addition to wanting to harm the Church and Pope Benedict, at this point I question whether McBrien, Dowd and the others who are feeding the firestorm would actually agree with the above quote from Cardinal Levada. I think they’ve so completely bought into their secularist/progressivist views, that they don’t believe even basic tenets of the faith.

  9. PostCatholic says:

    I doubt the people at the New York Times have the mental capacity to understand the Cardinal’s letter. They are a bunch of simpletons.

    Please don’t be ridiculous. You may disagree with the point-of-view the Times has been expressing; you may think them uneducated on Catholic matters of governance and praxis; you may consider their reporting lacking in nuance. I’m not even Catholic and I think all those things.

    But simply because some people do not share your conclusions does not make them stupid. It is particularly silly to say that of reporters who hold one of the most competitive jobs in journalism.

    I’m beginning to wonder if “Catholic conservative” means “intellectually dishonest.” I get that you think your side right and others wrong, but why should you think yourself smart and others dumb?

  10. jade says:

    I never post–this is a first for me but feel strongly that the situation is such that it calls for more than prayers in support of Our Holy Father–although those are certainly vital. Fr. Abberton ( has a good post on the abuse issue. He brings up the demonic connection which I believe is not emphasized enough by the Church. It seems obvious to me that satan and priestly homosexual abuse go together. How then can this be overcome but by widespread fasting, sacrifice and prayer? Especially ever more widespread devotion to Eucharistic Adoration. I would go further and state that Our Holy Father *must* call for a campaign of fasting, penance and prayer. Somehow Pope Benedict needs to get the strength to cast out those who are still in power who have contributed to this. I wish all priests would openly petition the Vatican to expel those who are culpable–until the Church purges itself of these people, this will not begin to heal.
    This post is already too long and I don’t express myself well, but until this canker is excised and cauterized, it will continue to infect the Mystical Body of Christ.

  11. Mitchell NY says:

    This man’s hatred for the Pope nullifies any credible shred he may have said about anything in regards to liturgical practice. What a malicious article with an obvious agenda.

  12. TJerome says:

    PostCatholic, now don’t you be ridiculous. The New York Times is a failing publication. It’s reporting is not only slipshod but inherently dishonest. They routinely misrepresent history, economics, the US constitution, and morals because of their left-wing agenda. I happen to have 3 post-graduates degrees and any sentient individual that picks up the Times does so for laughs because they get so much wrong. I’m curious why you post here? A well educated, well rounded American would know how silly the Times has become. It’s evolved into a “viewspaper” for Manhattanite lefties. It no longer even captures the majority of New Yorkers who have moved on the the New York Daily News, the New York Post, or the Wall Street Journal for credible news.

  13. PostCatholic says:

    All of that may be true, TJerome. Or it may not be, but I don’t have the inclination to refute it. My point is that simply because someone disagrees with your outlook does not make him or her a simpleton.

  14. Nathan says:

    In the good news of the day regarding this kerfuffle, none other than Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has gone public in defending the Holy Father:

    “With respect to the processes of dealing with cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests in our Archdiocese, Cardinal Ratzinger and his Congregation responded swiftly and gave us advice on how to proceed with each of these cases. We never had delays or a lack of proper response.

    Whenever I proposed that a certain priest be returned to the lay state and no longer serve as a priest, the Congregation responded quickly and in accord with my recommendations. Whether the priest petitioned himself for a return to the lay state, or whether I insisted upon his return to the lay state, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation responded in favor of the Church, not of the priest individually.”


    H/T to the inimitable Terry up in Minnesota,

    Thanks be to God for this–while we’ve been generous in beating up on H.E. Card. Mahony over the R.E. conference, let’s give him credit where credit is due.

    In Christ,

  15. Jordanes says:

    PostCatholic said: But simply because some people do not share your conclusions does not make them stupid. It is particularly silly to say that of reporters who hold one of the most competitive jobs in journalism.

    He didn’t say that the fact they don’t share his conclusions is what makes them stupid. Recall the old adage, “Sin makes you stupid.” It doesn’t matter how educated one is or how competitive one’s job supposedly is — when we sin, or when we’re committed to upholding something evil as something good, the intellect suffers a breakdown.

    One that subject, the penitential season of Lent and the Sacred Triduum are the perfect occasion for someone such as yourself to drop the “Post” from your screen name and be welcomed back to your Father’s house. Today is the day — you may not have a tomorrow.

  16. irishgirl says:

    MitchellNY-surely you are referring to the McBrien article in Newsweek, and not what Cardinal Levada is saying about the NYSlimes?

    Bravo to His Eminence for his words! The Slimes deserves a slap!

  17. TJerome says:

    PostCatholic, because you describe yourself as that, you probably have closed your mind like a trap to Benedict’s innocence. The Slimes
    violated rule 101 of investigative reporting – going to the original sources. These slobs didn’t even both to contact the Church judge in charge of the matter. They relied on trial lawyers representing the plaintiffs who have significant financial gain at stake. Who knows, if they’re successful, maybe they’ll share their fees with the Slimes reporter for helping their case by poisoning public opinion about the Church.

  18. robtbrown says:

    All of that may be true, TJerome. Or it may not be, but I don’t have the inclination to refute it. My point is that simply because someone disagrees with your outlook does not make him or her a simpleton.
    Comment by PostCatholic

    I seldom read the NYTimes (The Old Gay Lady) anymore, but in social issues it often oversimplifies the side it opposes.

  19. TJerome says:

    Or ignores the opposition’s legitimate concerns. Have you ever seen in the Times an article about the adverse consequences of abortion?

  20. PostCatholic says:

    PostCatholic, because you describe yourself as that, you probably have closed your mind like a trap to Benedict’s innocence.

    Again you make an assumption. I think if you look elsewhere on the blog, TJerome, you’ll discover I’ve already made many statements agreeing with Rev. Zuhlsdorf’s assessments of Benedict XVI in this matter, and I would be as shocked as the most pious catholic if I were wrong about his innocence. To save you the time:

    I met Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on three occasions, when he was Prefect of the SCDF, each time only very briefly and as part of a group. He struck me as a man of immense gentleness and kindness. He chuckles constantly and seems to me to be a man of great personal integrity. Rev. Zuhlsdorf has observed that he is a reluctant administrator who delegated much to his staff, and that is something I have heard from others who knew him (the late James Cardinal Hickey being one). Even so, I think as pope and at the Holy Office he has established a record of swift and decisive dealing with rapists like Maciel that surpasses that of any other Vatican prelate. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much and I think there is more that he could do.

  21. TJerome says:

    PostCatholic, thanks for the additional information. The “PostCatholic” moniker is unusual since it sounds like you’re very connected to the Church. I think Pope Benedict has moved the ball forward by light years on this issue, that is why I find the Slimes’ attack so unwarranted and cynical and dishonest when it comes to his “personal” involvement. I also believe it is diabolical: intended to pay the Church back because the Church and Pope Benedict will not bend to its secular and immoral will. It is no mere coincidence that this was dredged up at the same time the USCCB told Catholic legislators not to vote for ObamaCare. The Slimes is desparate to diminish the Church’s influence in the public square because it is virtually the only remaining influential voice in the fight against their Godless and fascist agenda.

    By the way, didn’t the term, Holy Office go out of use some decades ago? Personally I liked the term.

  22. PostCatholic says:

    I was once a diocesan seminarian, TJerome. I’m no longer a Catholic.

    I think the term “Holy Office” is officially deprecated but it’s nevertheless quite frequently employed.

  23. TJerome says:

    PostCatholic, it’s curious you post here, if you’re no longer a Catholic.

  24. Jack007 says:

    PostCatholic, please do not let anyone discourage you from posting.
    You do NOT need to be Catholic to post here.

    Hopefully TJerome’s post is simply inarticulate, and means no disrespect?
    I HOPE?

    Jack in KC

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