“How does Benedict fix this mess?”…. Can he “fix” it?

John XXIII, when confronted by problems, at a certain point famously said, "Sometimes I just kneel down and say, Lord, it’s your Church, I am going to bed". 

Much of what is going on today involves Christ being crucified once again.  Anti-Christian, anti-Catholic secularists simply have to attack the Catholic Church.  In doing so, they attack Christ.  Others are probably working from the more reptilian part of their brain stems.  Still others are seeking justice, often in pain.  And another group, seems to be attacking, but are actually like the ancient doctors to whom St. Augustine referred in saying "The doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for him to stop."

There is an interesting piece by Rod Dreher writing on BeliefNetI wonder what you think.

My E and C.

How does Benedict fix this mess?
Tuesday April 6, 2010

Here’s a story about how complicated the whole abusive priest situation is . Indian priest serving in Minnesota allegedly abuses girl, [for a change] who goes to police after he is back in India. Charges are filed. Extradition is sought. The Minnesota bishop in charge of this priest does the right thing, warning Vatican that girls back in India are at risk from this priest. Then:

    In 2006, the Vatican recommended that the priest simply be monitored, a document shows. An attorney for the Holy See said in a statement that the Vatican had recommended that the priest be defrocked, but that canon law specifies that the decision rests with the local bishop. The bishop in India sentenced the priest to a year of prayer in a monastery rather than seeking his removal from the priesthood, according to documents and interviews.

When a second victim came forward with more serious allegations against the Indian priest, the American bishop wrote to the Vatican twice more, trying to make them understand what a menace this priest was. Reportedly the Vatican is now cooperating with prosecutors in Minnesota.  [This leads you to wonder, even conclude, that the Holy See’s recommendations to the bishop were probably pretty severe and pointed.  That would be my guess.]

OK, look. There are over 400,000 Catholic priests on the planet. Do you know how many priests are on the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has oversight in these matters? Something like 40. It is inevitable that the Vatican will have to rely on local bishops to attend to most of these matters. I can’t think of another church or religious organization that has comparable global reach, and which is centrally administered. I’m not trying to let the Vatican off the hook here, but I am trying to understand how difficult it is for the CDF to do proper oversight with such paltry resources. If it’s true that canon law reserves the right to defrock to the local bishop — and I don’t know that that’s true, given how we’ve read many stories about American bishops who wanted to defrock allegedly problematic priests, but who weren’t allowed to because the CDF didn’t think the bishop had proved his case — then there is quite possibly a problem with canon law that needs reform. [I am pretty sure it isn’t simply "up to the bishop".  But the bishop does have to be involved, of course.  It is a priest of the diocese entrusted to his care, after all.  There is supposed to be a relationship between priest and bishop, of co-worker, a paternal rapport.  In fact it is often more like indentured servant.  But in theory… well… you get the idea.  The bishop has to be involved in the process, though the Holy See always can move on its own.] In any case, this is yet another example of how the Vatican sees clerical sexual abuse as a moral problem requiring moral reform measures (e.g., prayer) and not a criminal problem[I think that if a guy broke the law, then he should be subject to the process of the law.]

Serious question: how is the Vatican, with its extremely limited resources, supposed to handle this problem? Again, I’m not trying to excuse Vatican inaction, but I don’t see how Rome is going to get a handle on this at the level of monitoring particular priests. [Rome can’t.] The pope has to be able to trust local bishops to do the right thing. It sounds like the American bishop in question did, but the Indian bishop, following Vatican advice, did not, and doesn’t intend to.

The Catholic Church faces an unprecedented problem, one particular to its global reach, and an era of globalized media. Four years ago, The Dallas Morning News published a shocking investigative series showing how priests accused of sex crimes in the US were fleeing abroad, where they were being sheltered by religious orders, and even in one case, a prominent cardinal. The stories get really complicated, in part because bishops in dioceses half a world away miscommunicate, or possibly deliberately deceive each other. [Quite the allegation.] The news didn’t make nearly the splash it should have, because by 2006, when the story appeared, the American media had long since gotten sick of the abusive priest story. [It’s not sick now… though its consumers may be.] But the reports the DMN published were substantial and scandalous, revealing how clerical sex criminals could count on an international church network to evade accountability and continue to work with children.

How Benedict fixes this, God only knows. He theoretically has the power to order wholesale reforms. In truth, it’s far, far more complicated (what’s he going to do if bishops refuse to obey him, [THAT, friends, is the problem.] send in the Swiss Guards?). The quandary he’s in is that he’s got responsibility for all of this stuff, without the practical means to police it effectively. It is an administrative nightmare.

Good piece.

But the Pope is not without a special resource:  those who are willing to pray for him.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Pope of Christian Unity, SESSIUNCULA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Athelstan says:

    This is a surprisingly sympathetic piece from Rod, who rather famously left the Church a few years ago because he could no longer handle the “filth” he had been engaged in reporting on.

    This is an interesting case. Rod has seen the Church at its absolute worst: local bishops actively covering up for their bad priests (or even acting badly themselves), obstructing justice, intimidating victims, destroying evidence, priests fleeing abroad, inaction in the Vatican. Well: That’s not the case here. The local bishop is doing the right thing, and being proactive about it. The Vatican took a hard line and is actively cooperating with prosecutors. The Indian bishop is the bad actor now (and even he opted to do more than many U.S. or European bishops did during the depths of the scandals), but his actions begin to demonstrate the practical limits on Vatican power.

    And this is where the Vatican II emphasis on collegiality, and the post-conciliar empowering of local conferences has really hit the shoals. Things like these in the Church would have gotten worse without the Council; certainly would have done so with all the bad theology that was unleashed because of it; but this new ecclesiological emphasis on collegiality really put the whole situation on afterburner by removing any real accountability for bishops. And unfortunately, Benedict XVI is almost every bit as dedicated to this understanding of collegiality as John Paul II and Paul VI were. And it’s been a disaster – at least in regards to situations like this. Especially when you fail to make a point to try to appoint good bishops (i.e., JPII and Paul VI).

    But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this is going to start changing. Even Rome is feeling the pressure to act. I just wish it had happened far sooner, risks of schism be danged.

  2. Even before Vatican II, the basic problem was still “How do you make bishops obey?” And the answer was always, “You can’t.” That’s why there’s always been schismatic bishops, heretical bishops, killer bishops, womanizing bishops, etc. The best you can do is pick a good man and hope; and Jesus certainly had troubles with his picks for the Apostles.

    I’ve just been reading Sigrid Undset’s biography of St. Catherine of Siena. I guarantee, it wasn’t Vatican II collegiality that made the bishops disobey the Clements and Urbans.

  3. Prof. Basto says:

    An attorney for the Holy See said in a statement that the Vatican had recommended that the priest be defrocked, but that canon law specifies that the decision rests with the local bishop.

    Sorry. I don’t buy it. This is a lawyer presenting his case, but he is not telling the whole truth. The truth of the matter is – and all those who understand a little bit about the Church know it – that if the Holy See really wanted the priest defrocked, even against the wishes of the local Bishop, then the Holy See could have defrocked him. It was within the Holy See’s power to command that he be defrocked or to directly defrock him.

    That absolute disciplinary power – posessed by the Roman Pontiff and which can also be discharged by the Roman Congregations if the Roman Pontiff delegates the necessary authority or approves their acts – stems from canons 331 and 333 §1:

    Can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely .

    Can. 333 §1. By virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff not only possesses power offer the universal Church but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power offer all particular churches and groups of them. Moreover, this primacy strengthens and protects the proper, ordinary, and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care.

    Those norms of Canon Law are based on principles taught dogmatically by the magisterium, especially in the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus of the First Vatican Council, building on the doctrine always held by the Church and taught by earlier Popes and Councils.

    And this principle, according to which the Roman Pontiff “possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely” is part of the Divine Constitution of the Church itself.

    So, if a Roman Dicastery really felt like this priest needed to be defrocked, the Cardinal Prefect could have easily brought the matter to the attention of the Holy Father during an audience, asking approval for a draft decree of dismissal from the clerical state.

    To say that the Vatican can only recommend an approach to the local Bishop is ludicrous. The Church is not a federation. We all know what the Divine Constitution of the Church is and has always been.

    This case was brought to the attention of the Holy See! More then once! If the Holy See wanted to act with a strong hand, it could have. Now, if the prelates in charge of the Roman Curia are not willing to discharge the powers of posessed the Holy See under the Divine Constitution of the Church because of “political correctness” in deffering to the local bishop (the “let us adopt a more collegial approach” thing), that is another matter. And that constitutes an ommission. But, since the Church is not a federation of Churches, the Holy See cannot claim that it lacks the power, when all power has been given to it by the Divine Founder.

  4. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    Dear Athelstan,

    You say above concerning Rod that he “rather famously left the Church a few years ago because he could no longer handle the “filth” he had been engaged in reporting on.” Rod did not “leave” the Church, rather he entered into full communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church.

  5. Oneros says:

    “what’s he going to do if bishops refuse to obey him,”

    Uh…fire them!

    And if they won’t budge, the police can have them arrested for trespassing. A corporation that removes a leader through the legitimate process in that corporation’s bylaws (in our case, canon law) can do that.

  6. jfk03 says:

    I pray for our Holy Father each and every day, fail not. The Lord will not let him down. He is a faithful Christian committed to the Lord’s work.

  7. I’m sorry.
    Rod Dreher is not credible to me.
    Take me to the stocks and whip me.
    That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.
    And, of course, prayer for the Holy Father, every day from here.

  8. TJerome says:

    Remember always that Pope Benedict is part of the solution not part of the problem. From everything I have read over the past twenty years on this subject, as Cardinal Ratzinger and as Benedict XVI, His Holiness has taken this matter very seriously and actually done something concrete about it, much more so than the media’s favorite liberal prelates, think Cardinal Mahony. What the lying, prevaricating, obfuscating media will not report is that this scandal was caused mostly by gay priests (Whom the media love)having sex with young boys and young men, not little kiddies.

  9. Padre Steve says:

    This is George Weigel’s take on it:
    We need to become more Catholic!

  10. Steve K. says:

    Well Rod atones a little for his awful piece on Easter Sunday, where he egged on his cesspit of a combox against the Church via Rowan Williams’ comments. What a way to spend the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord.

    If you are interested in the “Crunch con” idea (as I am) much better reading can be found here:

    Including this excellent piece on the attacks on the Holy Father by Professor James Matthew Wilson:

  11. Prof. Basto: Right on. I don’t understand Canon Law in this way, either.
    It is up to the local bishop to refer cases of “laicization” to the Holy See. But, I do not believe, he can mandate or impose this; suspension, yes. Laicization is a matter for Rome. And if Rome, as is being reported (correctly or incorrectly today by the MSM) that Bertone, in his position in the CDF, did not approve the laicization of a priest (is it in the Arizona or the Wisconsin case? Can’t remember…)nevertheless, then, what the heck is going on?
    This is purely speculation based upon anecdotes that I have heard, but formerly, the European Church did not take these cases of abuse as seriously as we did in the USA (prior to 2001)…I have no explanation or reason for this; it could be just speculation. But it also can answer some questions about what was going on.

  12. eiggam says:

    Is a priest considered to be an “employee” of the diocese, of the Holy See or of the local parish? The Church is not a “Corporation” so I don’t think we can expect her to operate like one.

  13. Dreher is an interesting source on the topic. When he was with the National Review in the early 2000’s, he was put on the sex abuse beat because he was Catholic and is an evenhanded kind of fellow. He says that his deep investigation of the topic ended up driving him into a deep revulsion, and lost his trust in the episcopacy. To keep access to valid sacraments, he joined the Orthodox Church.

    I’ve been reading Dreher for years and suspect that he secretly misses Rome very much, but doesn’t feel like he can go back until this story has been well-put to rest.

  14. catholicmidwest says:

    There’s one other piece of the puzzle here. The world is full of perverts and the great overwhelming multitude of them are NOT Catholic clergy. How do you keep yourself from getting hurt by any one of them?

    Ans. You keep your head on straight. You watch where you are and what you’re doing. You watch your kids. If someone touches your kids in the wrong way, you call the cops pronto. If some grown man asks your kid to stay for a sleepover (what?), you go over there and fix the problem. Come on people, get some brain cells. (And some guts.)

  15. kelleyb says:

    It maybe time for our good Pope to defrock a few disobedient Bishops. Collegiality is a dandy, feel good, squishy-sixties word. I’m thinking like my patron Saint, that the Pope needs to ‘man up’ and kick some jackrabbits into obedience.

  16. kelleyb says:

    I believe that Christ would weave a few branches together and CLEAN house.

  17. kelleyb says:

    I believe that Christ would have woven a few branches together and CLEANED house. (I should have previewed my comment-but didn’t…sorry.)

  18. catholicmidwest says:

    This whole confusion over who can laicize and who cannot may be designed to keep bishops from inactivating people for political reasons, rather than criminal ones. I can imagine a very progressive bishop laicizing anyone who gives him any grief about whatever he wants to do. I can also imagine a bishop in a totalitarian country being so afraid that he does the bidding of the government such that the Vatican can do nothing about it.

    I suspect this is the reasoning, and if that’s it, there’s a decent reason. Not that we don’t need to figure out how to deal with the problem. We do.

  19. Laura says:

    Meh. Doesn’t this piece add fuel to the fire to those whose claim is that the structure of the Catholic Church *is* outdated and broken? And if the Church is housing and feeding a suspected criminal in one country, it doesn’t look for good– he should be returned to the United States.

    The idea that the Church is sheltering sexual criminals is personally sickening.

    When my son attended Catholic school a few years ago, we all had to attend an abuse prevention seminar. Something like one is seven children is sexually abused.

    If you suspect someone is abusing children, you report it to the police. Period.
    You don’t hide them in other countries– whether you think they are away from children or not.

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    Suburbanbanshee has a point. The Church has always had trouble with bishops, and it’s almost always been at the expense of the laity. Maybe they need to put bishops on a shorter set of leashes and give them a list of deadlines to meet.

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t think it’s the CHURCH (read Vatican) that’s “housing and feeding a suspected criminal.” I think it’s one of those bishops doing that too. Perhaps someone should drop-kick the bishop til he catches on?

    One in seven children may be abused, Laura, but most of them are abused by their own fathers, uncles, grandfathers and teachers. True. Never leave your kids with a male babysitter, particularly a male relative, or the boyfriend of a girl relative. Watch coaches and camp counselors–those professions particularly are full of people looking for too much intimacy with children.

  22. JMody says:

    This hints at two issues in “the Church in the world” — first, as Fr. Z says, when the bishop must administrate, and refuses to do so, what can be done? And how culpable do we hold those in the Vatican City for willful negligence on the part of someone a world away? And second is, Rod hints at this, but I find it interesting that the world that complains so heavily about how “Rome does nothing” would ABSOLUTELY LOSE THEIR FLIPPIN’ MINDS if the Pope had any significant worldly power AND exercised it.

    I once joked to a friend that we’ll know the Church is serious about reform when an Alitalia jet swoops into LAX, and the Pope gets off and heads to the Temple of Doom, and a cardinal is marched at halberd-point into the waiting Pope-mobile, while another cardinal dismounts. The first cardinal is taken back to Rome (by the jet that only shut down long enough to refuel safely), where he assists the Pope in determining “How many push-ups does it take to absolve a sin?” as the first secretary for a new dicastery – the Congregation of Spiritual and Physical Fitness.

    Of course that won’t happen — and yet the press all carry on as if they think the Pope has this power. And if he WERE to do it, can you imagine … wouldn’t the reaction be, what’s the word, delicious? But what WILL happen is the Pope will admonish (a la letter to Ireland) and he will name coadjutors and replacements (see LA). Hopefully we will see him act with dispatch — one of the most troubling things I heard in the last several years was that sometimes allegations were dismissed simply because “these are the accusations Communists make, and we aren’t like them”, apparently with no thought that they could have been true.

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    Those days are over. Benedict XVI is pope now.

  24. JMody says:

    by “those days”, you mean the days of the occasional dismissal of allegations, right?

  25. mwurzer says:

    Sandro Magister has a good piece today about the attacks against Pope Benedict, which seems relevant here and suggests the Pope is already on point on this issue and that is the very reason for the attacks. http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1342796?eng=y

  26. Here’s a story about how complicated the whole abusive priest situation is . Indian priest serving in Minnesota allegedly abuses girl, [for a change]

    Excuse me?

  27. MargaretMN says:

    I don’t know the facts of either of the cases that the Indian priest is accused of but they must be pretty serious for his former bishop to go to such lengths to make sure that they know about the cases in India. In addition to bureaucratic intransigence, though there may be a cultural barrier. The word of a young girl may not be taken the same way there as here and if a girl can be married and have children at 14, then the whole idea of childhood is skewed downward. I also don’t know what constitutes consent there either. The Indian bishop may be filtering the information he’s getting.

    And yes, for a change, this is about abuse of a female, not a male. So the Indian priest’s problem is not that he’s gay and can’t control himself, he’s heterosexual and can’t control himself. It reminds me of a discussion I had with a catholic friend about an old parish scandal involving a priest and a married woman in the parish. Although we both agreed it was really bad all around, for the priest, for the woman, each of whom broke vows and scandalized the community– we both ended up saying “at least they were both consenting adults of the opposite sex!” Pretty sad when the standard is now simply what won’t put you in jail.

  28. B flat says:

    Fr Z, I think your conclusion was the right one.

    The Pope has people to pray for him.

    I am glad to do that, because I believe it helps; and I am not RC.
    I cannot understand why any Catholic does not pray for Divine protection and help for the Pope; protect your most prized asset!

    I am sad that people’s anger and frustration at this situation is being channelled into pointless and vain criricism of people and situations whose subtle intricacies we do not, and cannot, know. The indian priest is accused, but has not been found guilty AFAIK, yet so much effort is spent on the rules about defrocking in this case. Where in readers’ minds is the presumption of innocence, or the right to a fair trial in all this? Or do you think every accused priest must be guilty?

    Anger is only properly directed against sin, and the devil who instigates it. All else is created and loved by God(bishops included), and should be loved and cared for by His children.

    Rod Dreher’s piece seemed exceptionally fair-minded and thoughtful to me, especially taken against the overwhelmingly hostile baying of the media these last two weeks. I am glad that on leaving the RC, Rod Dreher did not give up trying to live according to his lights. He shows no hatred of the Church, or contempt for her institutions or personnel. May God bless him.

  29. MarieSiobhanGallagher says:

    William McGurn wrote a good piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday “The Pope and the New York Times” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304017404575165792228341212.html?KEYWORDS=mcgurn

  30. rakesvines says:

    If the bishops refuse the reforms, then that’s a bridge that needs to be crossed when needed. But
    that consideration should not stop Rome from instituting sweeping changes. When it comes to the salvation
    of souls, nothing else has precedence. And clerical abuse is the main source of scandal and loss of faith.
    If that is not addressed, then even the good works of faithful clerics get jeopardized.

  31. I’m with “Nazareth Priest” on this one. Rod Dreher carries no credibility with me. The “discovery” of corruption in a church is no reason to leave it. Corruption is, sadly, found everywhere and no church or ecclesial community is without it. Our Lord makes it quite clear that the tares will grow with the wheat until the final harvest.

    One should only leave a church body if one no longer believes in the tenants of that body, or if one believes that the fullness of truth is found elsewhere. (Like I did when I became Catholic!) If Mr. Dreher truly believes that the fullness of truth resides in the Catholic Church united to the successor of Peter, then no amount of sin or failing on the part of her leadership should have swayed him.

  32. ssoldie says:

    I often wonder what the 11 original Shepherds would have said and done, in these’modern times’? The crisis in the Church since Vatican II, has been brought on by our shepherds, the bishops. And for the last forty years I would only trust a very few of them. It seems to me they have been so obssesed with the oppressing the T.L.M.,and giving carte blance to the fabricated N.O. and all the novelties that went with it,like the confusion, chaos, distruction, disunity, not to mention thier own exalted opinions, and not the Churches traditions/doctrines. St John Eudes said it all so well. In short ‘we get what we deserve.’

  33. thouart says:

    ONE SUNDAY! That’s all it would take. A new Missal, a new Liturgy. That’s all it took to DESTROY the Mass. Pope Benedict would be the only Holy Father for decades who spanked his children and made them behave!

    Our Holy Fathers have been nothing but pandering mommies for so long they don’t discipline anymore. Any parents understand what I’m talking about?


  34. catholicmidwest says:

    I mean the days when most allegations were dismissed out of hand because they either weren’t believed or were thought to be the communists (or whoever) lying for coercive reasons. In Eastern Europe this was the origin of many complaints during the red curtain era; this was not what was going on here in the 60s-2000s.

  35. catholicmidwest says:

    And JMody,
    That era began to end when the matter of sexual abuse was transferred to the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger’s watch.

Comments are closed.