John Allen’s piece on “stampede” away from Card. Castrillón

My friend Mr. John L. Allen, Jr., the fair-minded correspondent for the ultra-lefty NCR wrote a piece about Card. Castrillon and the controversy surrounding his letter to the French bishop.  Think what you will about the dreadful NCR, but I find that Mr. Allen’s analysis is usually very sound.  I just wish he wrote for a better journal.

Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments:

Cardinal Castrillón must feel trapped

by John L Allen Jr on Apr. 23, 2010

Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos must feel trapped in a "Twilight Zone" episode, in which, in a flash, the whole course of his life has turned out differently. Now 80, not long ago Castrillón [Thank you!  Mr. Allen reminds the reader that we don’t call him "Card. Hoyos".] was a consummate Roman powerbroker, a man admired for the nerves of steel that once allowed him to stand up to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez at one point hailed his fellow Colombian as "this rustic man, with the profile of an eagle."

For most of the last two decades, Castrillón, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy from 1996 to 2006, was widely considered a serious contender to become the first Latin American pope.  [Well…. I’m not sure about that.]

Today, even if he weren’t almost 81, Castrillón would have about as much chance of becoming pope as Sinead O’Connor. As the then-president of a Vatican commission that deals with traditionalist Catholics, [the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, now under the CDF] he took the blame [Perhaps was "given the blame" might also be accurate.] for the Holocaust-denying bishop fiasco in January 2009. [cf. SSPX Bp. Williamson.] Now Castrillón has achieved global infamy in light of a September 2001 letter he dispatched to a French bishop congratulating him for refusing to report an abuser priest to the police[Something which seems inexplicable unless we ponder the circumstances.  As I wrote, I suspect his motive was more to do with defense of the Seal of Confession than other.  But … let’s go on…]

Though the letter was actually published on the Internet in 2001, it languished in relative obscurity until a French Catholic publication [Golias] brought it back to life a couple of weeks ago. Given the current media climate, it immediately became a cause célèbre. Outrage has made Castrillón such a lightning rod that he was forced to back out of a Mass tomorrow at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., over what organizers described as concerns for "tranquility and good order.[There would have been a media-fueled circus outside the Shrine.  As it turned out, there was joyful calm and order.]

By way of background, Castrillón’s letter was addressed to Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, France, sentenced by a French court to three months in prison in 2001, though that term was suspended, for failing to denounce [there is the key point] Fr. René Bissey, convicted in October 2000 for sexual abuse of eleven minor boys between 1989 and 1996.

"I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate that, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons and priests," Castrillón wrote.

A stampede for distance  [Nice image, Mr. Allen.]

Over the last two weeks, the rush among church leaders to distance themselves from Castrillón has turned into a mini-stampede.

First up was the Vatican itself. In a rare case of "rapid response," the official Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, had a statement out to reporters almost immediately after stories broke in France.

The letter, Lombardi’s statement said, offers "another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

In effect, that was a polite way of saying that Castrillón was part of the problem against which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, had to struggle in streamlining Vatican procedures for dealing with sex abuse cases.

After Castrillón’s appearance in Washington became a bone of controversy, Archbishop Donald Wuerl likewise put space between himself and the Colombian cardinal. [Part of the stampede?] Through a spokesperson, Wuerl let it be known that he would not attend Saturday’s Mass due to a scheduling conflict. There was no statement of support for Castrillón, no complaint about unfair media coverage.

Wuerl’s spokesperson also said that as a cardinal, Castrillón enjoys "universal faculties" — an indirect way of saying that he didn’t need, or ask, Wuerl’s permission to show up.

Yesterday, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops’ conference, posted a blog item bluntly saying that Castrillón’s 2001 letter illustrates a "disconnect" between the American bishops and one Vatican congregation [presumably, she meant the Congregation for Clergy], as well as possibly inside the Vatican itself. Walsh went on to argue that there is no "wiggle room" in the American sex abuse norms when it comes to cooperation with civil authorities, and that counts for a lot more than a "buck-up letter" from Castrillón to a French bishop.  [Again… we haven’t had an adequate exploration of why Card. Castrillon wrote that letter.]

Needless to say, public talk of a "disconnect" between the American bishops and Rome, or inside the Vatican, is not the usual fare from an official spokesperson for the U.S. bishops.

Bottom line: At least as far as the Vatican and the American bishops are concerned, Castrillón is on his own[That’s seems to be the case.]

A broader climate

On April 16, Castrillón spoke at a conference on the legacy of John Paul II at a Catholic university in Murcia, Spain, in which he asserted that he had shown his 2001 letter to the late pope who authorized him to send it. Far from being a previously secret "smoking gun," Castrillón said that he had posted the letter at the time on the Web site of the Congregation for Clergy.

According to media accounts, Castrillón draw warm applause from the audience, which included a couple of senior Vatican cardinals.  [So, not everyone in the Curia has joined the stampede.]

[Read this closely:] Given how far and fast many Catholic leaders are running away from Castrillón, it’s tempting to conclude that he’s a sort of rogue cardinal speaking only for himself. ["it’s tempting"] In truth, there’s an element in his letter that does reflect a broader climate of opinion at senior levels in the church, even if there’s also widespread embarrassment over how Castrillón expressed it.

In a nutshell, there is still considerable ambivalence about the idea of bishops turning their own priests over to the police.

[Here we go…] For one thing, Castrillón asserted in Spain that he was congratulating Pican for defending the seal of the confessional. That’s a bit murky, given that Pican has given somewhat conflicting accounts of how he learned of Bissey’s crimes, especially how direct the connection was to the sacrament. (Under French law, confessional secrets are protected under a category of "professional secrets," though the law makes an exception for crimes committed against children.)

If the issue is truly whether bishops should be willing to go to jail rather than betray the seal of the confessional, then Castrillón would hardly be alone in suggesting that the answer is "yes.[I raised these questions here.  What we have to think about is also the fact that a priest cannot even make use of anything he learns in the confessional.]

Yet the 2001 letter seems to make a broader argument, which is that putting bishops in the position of reporting priests disrupts the family bond a bishop is supposed to have with his clergy. Traditional Catholic theology teaches that a bishop is both a "brother" to his priests, meaning a fellow member of the clergy, and a "father." 

The objection to "mandatory reporting" requirements is therefore that just as a son should be able to share something in confidence with his father, a priest shouldn’t have to worry that if he bears his soul to his bishop, the bishop’s next phone call will be to the cops.  [But… this is why bishops should not hear confessions of their priests.]

Some of that ambivalence came through in a recent interview with Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s top prosecutor on sex abuse cases, in the newspaper of the Italian bishops. Scicluna said the Vatican’s policy is that in countries where bishops are required by civil law to report abuse themselves, they should comply.

"That’s a very grave matter," Scicluna nonetheless said, "because these bishops are being forced to take a step comparable to a parent who denounces his or her own child."

Where bishops are not required by law to make a report, Scicluna said, they should encourage the victims to make the report — the idea being that the police need to know what happened, but the bishop should also protect a zone of confidentiality with his priests.

Beyond that concern, prelates such as Castrillón are also old enough to remember what happened in regimes hostile to the church — whether police states of Latin America, or Communist governments in Eastern Europe — where clergy were encouraged to inform on one another in order to weaken the church from within, and where refusal to do so was considered a mark of heroic virtue. (Bishops from former Soviet states and from Latin America have sometimes warned against an uncritical embrace of "mandatory reporter" requirements for exactly that reason — it’s a sort of Anglo-Saxon delusion, they say, to believe one can always trust the police and the courts.)

To be sure, even bishops inclined to share those concerns would hardly extol Castrillón’s letter — especially because there’s no word of compassion in it for the victims of the French priest, and no condemnation of the broader phenomenon of sexual abuse within the church.

Still, the letter points to an important insight about where things stand in the church with regard to the crisis: By now, there’s wide consensus that crimes by a priest should be reported to the police, but how and by whom remains contentious.

Ratzinger and Castrillón

Finally, a footnote about the impact of the Castrillón episode: Ironically, resurrecting that 2001 letter may have doomed Castrillón, but it could actually help Pope Benedict XVI.

Throughout the most recent round of media coverage, there’s been a serious mismatch between Pope Benedict’s actual record on sex abuse [] — as the senior Vatican official who took the crisis most seriously since 2001, and who led the charge for reform — and outsider images of the pope as part of the problem.

While there are many reasons for that, a core factor is that the Vatican had the last ten years to tell the story of "Ratzinger the Reformer" to the world, and they essentially dropped the ball. That failure left a PR vacuum in which a handful of cases from the pope’s past, where his own role was actually marginal, have come to define his profile.

One has to ask, why didn’t the Vatican tell Ratzinger’s story?

At least part of the answer, I suspect, is because to make Ratzinger look good, they’d have to make others look bad — including, of course, Castrillón, as well as other top Vatican officials. Lurking behind that concern is a deeper one, which is that to salvage the reputation of Benedict XVI it might be necessary to tarnish that of Pope John Paul II[Not sure about that.]

In this case, however, Castrillón has inadvertently licensed the Vatican and church officials around the world to use him as a foil, effectively waiving a cardinal’s traditional immunity from criticism.

From here on out, when spokespersons insist that Pope Benedict fought inside the Vatican for reform, the world will have a much clearer picture of what his opposition looked like[I think this conclusion may be a slight misstep.  I don’t think the whole dimension of the Seal of Confession has been adequately explained or… given the circumstances… if it can be.] At stake wasn’t just the question of cooperation with the police. Castrillón was part of a block of Vatican officials who thought the sex abuse crisis was fueled by media hysteria, that "zero tolerance" was an over-reaction, and that removing priests from ministry without lengthy and cumbersome canonical trails is a betrayal of the church’s legal tradition[But… doesn’t he have a point?  This is an especially important issue in the case of priests who are falsely accused.  Also, notice that he wrote "lengthy and cumbersome".  It is hard to argue that speeding up the process was bad, so long as the truth and justice to the parties involved are in no way sacrificed for the sake of speed and, worse, appearances.]

That’s important to keeping the record straight, because the truth is that the real choice in Rome over the last ten years vis-à-vis the sex abuse crisis was never between Ratzinger and perfection — it was between Ratzinger and Castrillón[I see what Mr. Allen is saying here, but I believe this is more complicated than that.  To repeat: We need to know more, if possible, about the issue of the Seal of Confession in this whole controversy.  Nevertheless, Allen is right in identifying a "block" which holds that the instant removal of priests is problematic.]


A good and thoughtful piece.  I am glad that Allen brought in the question of the Seal of Confession.  We need to know more about that as a motive. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. New Sister says:

    If it is the case that Catrillón was referring to the Seal, wouldn’t that indicate, de facto, that the Bishop Pican had violated the Seal? (i.e., for Bishop Pican to mention the Seal prevented him from action is to reveal he HAD heard of the crime in Confession – no?)

    I am grateful for this blog; I had never known before that Bishops shouldn’t hear the Confessions of their own priests. It just goes to show further how needed were Bishop Slattery’s words this weekend, on Obedience!

  2. Mark01 says:

    “That’s a very grave matter,” Scicluna nonetheless said, “because these bishops are being forced to take a step comparable to a parent who denounces his or her own child.”

    Denounces his or her own child? I take exception to that. I have 3 sons. If I found out that any of them were abusing children, knowing that it was likely to happen again if nothing is done, I would turn in my own child. I would still love him, and stand by him, trying to help him, I would not be “denouncing” him. Or am I misunderstanding the use of the word here? I understand that there are questions about the seal of confession, but let’s not confuse that with the issue of denouncing one’s son because you turn them in to the police for abusing children.

  3. William of the Old says:

    There was also an interesting piece by Fr. Trigilio—-The Black Biretta on Sunday:

  4. I found some interesting information on this case, Fr. Z…

    As you said, we do not have the whole story, but we do have Cardinal Castrillon’s own defense – as John Allen reports – “Castrillón asserted in Spain that he was congratulating Pican for defending the seal of the confessional.”

    One might assume then, that the abuser, Fr. René Bissey, had confessed his sins (sacramentally) directly to Bishop Pican, but it may be more complicated than this as you’ll see below.

    As an aside, John Allen introduces the notion that a private priest-to-priest or father-to-son conversation may have taken place (i.e. outisde of the confessional), and that this is perhaps the issue at hand, but why? According to Allen’s own report, the Cardinal said that his praise centered around the seal of the confessional. Shouldn’t we simply accept this as true unless there is a substantial reason to doubt the Cardinal’s veracity? I say Cardinal Castrillon deserves that much.

    At any rate, it appears that the abuser never even confessed to Bishop Pican directly – sacramentally or otherwise.

    I discovered a news item dated June 2001 in The Independent (of the UK) which states that the information concerning the cases of abuse came to Bishop Pican indirectly through the abuser’s confessor, a Fr. Michel Marcel. Full story here:

    Excerpt from the story:

    “Father Marcel, the man to whom the abbé confessed, told the court that he had reported everything he knew to the bishop.”

    Now it is not clear from the story if the writer is using the word “confess” in a secular way or if it refers to the sacrament, but if we take Cardinal Castrillon’s words at face value as we should (that his praise for the bishop centered around the seal of the confessional), we might assume that it refers to the latter.

    If this is true, (again, IF since we cannot be entirely certain, although I do not see any reason to doubt Card. Castrillon’s defense at this point) what we may have here the case of a priest, Fr. Marcel, breaking the seal of the confessional by reporting the contents of Fr. Bissey’s confession to Bishop Pican. The bishop in turn refused to report or act on this information given to himself not only second hand, but in violation of the seal of the confessional, and he was lauded by Cardinal Castrillon for placing himself at risk by doing what Fr. Marcel should have done in the first place – protect the seal.

    So what happened to Fr. Marcel if he did in fact break the seal???

    The plot thickens…

  5. TNCath says:

    It seems to me that, regardless of Cardinal Castrillon’s good intentions, he did, indeed, drop the ball on this one. As “New Sister” said, if Cardinal Castrillon knew that this priest had indeed confessed his crimes to Bishop Pican, then the Seal would have already been broken. Even the abusing priest never said he confessed it. And why would he even get involved by writing a letter to the bishops of the world about it?

    I don’t know if the truth will ever come out on this one, nor do I think the truth really can be revealed. As a result, I don’t think we’ll be hearing much from Cardinal Castrillon in the future, nor do I think we need to.

    Over the years, I have heard that Cardinal Castrillon was not exactly a “hands on” Prefect, preferring to spend a lot of time at his villa in northern Italy than in his offices in the Vatican. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Cardinal Castrillon was retired as Prefect of the Congregation of Clergy a year and a half into Pope Benedict’s pontificate and then, after the Williamson debacle, was retired from PCED. This seems to support the theory that the Pope knew that Cardinal Castrillon was part of the problems in those respective offices.

  6. If it is the case that Catrillón was referring to the Seal, wouldn’t that indicate, de facto, that the Bishop Pican had violated the Seal? (i.e., for Bishop Pican to mention the Seal prevented him from action is to reveal he HAD heard of the crime in Confession – no?)

    If the info in my post above is correct, the contents of the confession (given NOT to the bishop, but to a priest who broke the seal) became a matter of public record during the trial in June 2001. The Cardinal’s letter of Sept. 2001, therefore, did not break the seal.

  7. Patrick J. says:

    I finally can agree with the “fair and balanced” tag you graciously afford your friend. I think here he indeed earns it.

  8. Joshua08 says:

    Louie, TNCath, New Sister, if any of you had taken just 5 seconds to Google this you would have gotten

    “Monsignor Pican denied knowledge of the priest’s actions when called to testify at Bissey’s trial last October, refusing to say more on the grounds that to do so would compromise his own case.

    But at his trial Bissey said he had given detailed accounts to his confessors in the church.”


    How did the civil authorities find out?

    “The priest stood trial after one of the main victims, now in his 20s, filed a formal complaint with police. ”

    Cardinal Castrillion Hoyos was not “part of the problem”. Rash suspicion and judgment is. He acted rightly as the head of the PCED and anyone who uses the +Williamson thing against him does not know one iota of the matter. While the case with +Pican is not as clear, still I find it disturbing how quickly TNCath and some others label him a problem, merely because they refuse to both to do any research when they think there is a hole in the story…rather they just insinuate that His Eminence lied.

  9. Joe Magarac says:

    Joshia08, I just did the quick Google search you suggested. And I found multiple copies of a 2001 article which explains that Bishop Pican never heard Father Bissey’s confession and thus could have informed police about Bissey’s misdeeds with no fear of violating the seal.

    The article explains that events transpired as follows:

    1. Fr. Bissey abused a boy.
    2. The boy’s mother called the diocesan vicar-general, Fr. Morcel, and complained.
    3. Fr. Morcel and Bishop Pican met with Fr. Bissey.
    4. In that meeting, Fr. Bissey admitted to abusing that boy and others.
    5. Bishop Pican sent Fr. Bissey to therapy and then reinstated him in parish ministry.
    6. An adult male who had been victimized by Fr. Bissey contacted police, who launched an investigation.
    7. The investigators learned of the meeting at #4 above.
    8. The investigators charged Bishop Pican with failure to contact police after #4 as required by law.
    9. At trial, Bishop Pican raised professional secrecy laws as a defense.
    10. The fact that Bishop Pican raised a professional secrecy defense does NOT mean that he was raising a seal of the confessional defense. The French professional secrecy law is broader than that. In France, professional secrecy protects doctors from disclosing information about patients; protects public accountants from disclosing information about companies which they audit; protects lawyers from disclosing information about clients; et cetera. The professional secrecy laws in France would protect a priest from disclosing information about a penitent.
    11. Bishop Pican did not argue that he had heard Fr. Bissey’s confession and was therefore precluded under professional secrecy from disclosing information about Fr. Bissey. Rather, Bishop Pican tried to argue that the professional secrecy law also protected a conversation between a priest and his vicar-general and bishop.
    12. The trial court ruled that the conversation between Fr. Bissey, Fr. Morcel, and Bishop Pican was NOT protected by the professional secrecy law and sentenced Bishop Pican to probation.


    Again, if Cardinal Castrillon had wanted to congratulate Bishop Pican for not violating the seal of the confessional, he could and would have sent a letter saying “I congratulate you for not violating the seal of the confessional.”

    Cardinal Castrillon did not write that in his letter. Instead, he congratulated Bishop Pican on treating his priest like a son.

    Reasonable minds can differ about whether it is good to require bishops to inform on the priests in their dioceses. It may be good in that it will help to rid the Church of filth (per BXVI). It may be bad in that it will make priests reluctant to confide in their bishops.

    But reasonable minds cannot differ on whether Cardinal Castrillon’s letter said anything about the seal of the confessional. It did not.

  10. Jordanes says:

    You read it on the internet, so it must be true, right Mr Magarac?

  11. Joe Magarac says:

    No, I don’t think something is true because I read it on the internet.

    Having said that, I would be inclined to give this “seal of the confessional” business more credence if there were any evidence anywhere that Bishop Pican had heard a priest’s confession, that he learned about the abuse in that venue and in no other way, and that in keeping with his solemn duty he refused to disclose what he learned.

    But there is no such evidence. None.

    It does appear that Bishop Pican’s lawyers – and maybe Cardinal Castrillon as well – were and are raising a “slippery slope” defense. They are saying that if we force bishops to act things they learn in private conversations with their priests, then next thing you know, we will be forcing bishops and priests alike to disclose what they hear in the confessional.

    Maybe there is something to that. But I doubt it. In my experience, even anti-Catholic nutjobs have a sort of grudging respect for priests that refuse to violate the seal of the confessional and go to jail for it. That’s why Hitchcock could sell tickets to the movie “I confess” in a country that had a small and sometimes persecuted Catholic minority. People generally respect anyone who is willing to go to jail on principle: journalists who go to jail to protect sources, psychiatrists who go to jail to protect clients, even the people who went to jail for refusing to testify against the Clintons (whitewater) and against Barry Bonds (steroids) – we grudgingly respect all of them.

    In short, if Bishop Pican had really only known about Fr. Bissey’s misdeeds in the confessional, then I expect he would have said so clearly, and that Cardinal Castrillon would have defended him clearly, and that even anti-Catholic nutjobs would have seen their point. But nothing like that happened. Instead, all signs suggest that a bishop failed to act on something he heard outside the confessional, that he admitted he should have done more, and that his lawyers used a slippery-slope this-is-like-the-seal-of-the-confessional argument in a failed attempt to save him. I’m a lawyer too, so I know how that goes.

  12. Taken 5 seconds, Josh? Easy there, partner. Fr. Z might have to take your bullet away.

    My last post quotes and then answers New Sister, who by all appearances asked her question innocently enough in light of the fact that details are rather scarce. I guess it wasn’t immediately clear that I opened my last post by quoting New Sister’s question, my mistake… I realized as soon as I hit “Submit” that I forgot to use quotation marks.

    Look, when you can take a break from your other research, read my first post (at 9:49) in this thread. You’ll be happy to see that I in no way consider Cardinal Castrillon and Bishop Picay as part of the problem. And get this, I actually provide a link to a pretty interesting news item that I found on Google of all places.

    Funny, that research thing… Sometimes the stuff right under your nose is the hardest to see.

  13. Traductora says:

    Very interesting observations by John Allen. I thought the comment about JPII was interesting, and I do think he’s got something there. I’m not sure it would “tarnish” JPII’s reputation, since he was already widely known to not be very proactive in administering the Church. But he was also the one who protected Fr. Maciel for a long time, and I think his judgment in these things may not have been the best. It’s possible that he was simply an easy touch, and anybody who shed a tear or two in his presence was then “pardoned.” But I do think that people are a little unwilling to look at JPII’s performance, and thus are focusing on BXVI because he’s unpopular with the press (which loved JPII) and it is easy to use him as a scapegoat.

  14. Joe,

    There are conflicting news stories out there, so the bottom line is we cannot take any one account too seriously. That said, I see no reason not to take Cardinal Castrillon at his word that he was indeed praising the bishop for protecting the seal. Until proven otherwise, I think we should all assume that this is absolutely true.

    See the link I provided at 9:49. It does not appear from this account in The Independent that Bishop Picay learned of the abuse in a meeting with Fr. Bissey at all, rather, Fr. Marcel (Bissey’s confessor) divulged to the bishop what Fr. Bissey had confessed.

    Secondhand information that originated in the confessional is still protected by the seal.

  15. Joe Magarac says:

    I don’t think you’re right, Louie, though I admire your desire to take Cardinal Castrillon at his word. Here is a reliable source’s account of whom to believe:

    But at a conference in Spain on April 16, Cardinal Castrillon defended his 2001 letter. He argued that Bishop Pican could not rightly tell police about the misconduct of a local priest, Father Rene Bissey, because he learned about it in the confessional. The cardinal also said that Pope John Paul II had approved the letter that he sent to the French bishop.

    Cardinal Castrillon’s invocation of the confessional seal conflicts with a statement from Bishop Pican, who told French prosecutors that Father Bissey admitted his abuse during a private conversation– which, unlike a sacramental confession, would not be privileged under the law. Moreover, if the bishop felt that he was bound by the confessional seal, he could not mention the priest’s misconduct to anyone, including Cardinal Castrillon.

    As you noted in your post, the article you cited is unclear about whether it means “confess” in a sacramental or a confessional sense. But in light of the facts that: a) multiple accounts say that the vicar-general learned of the abuse from a victim’s mother; b) neither the French vicar-general nor the French bishop specifically referred to having heard about abuse in the confessional; and c) Cardinal Castrillon’s letter makes no mention of the confessional, it seems a stretch to believe that this incident involved the confessional in any way.

    As I mentioned before, I think what happened is that Cardinal Castrillon raised a slippery slope argument in which he suggested that the relationship between a priest and his bishop is like the relationship between a confessing person and his confessor. But they are not the same.

  16. Fr_Sotelo says:

    At Angelqueen, a poster has produced copies of Castrillon’s correspondence on another case which is quite damning and makes clear that he did, indeed, expect bishops to protect priests from civil consequences, even when defending the seal had nothing to do with the case.

    In the Tucson case of child rapist Msgr. Trupia, Bishop Moreno clearly is seen to have suspended the molester and removed him from ministry, only to be told clearly by Castrillon that these actions were too harsh and that the suspension could not stand. Trupia used Castrillon’s letters to continue work as a canon lawyer elsewhere. Castrillon insisted that Moreno give the priest full financial support, even as the raped boys’ families were suing the diocese for Trupia’s horrendous crimes.

    This “protecting the seal of confession” route is a nice and sincere attempt to salvage the Cardinal’s image, but in light of the Tucson case there is a clear presentation by Castrillon himself of his thoughts on how to treat a priest who has raped children: assume the priest is innocent and take no action that would besmirch the Church’s “bella figura.”

    I have spoken to Spanish-speaking priests from various nations, and they have all made comments along the lines of: “do you know of a single parent who has handed over a son for a prison sentence, even though they knew he sexually abused children? Well, that is how our (i.e. Mexico, Central, South America) bishops are. They would never, ever turn us in to the police, even if they were sure we committed the crime. They see us, not just as co-workers, but as sons, and a father does not do that to a son.”

    It does not surprise me at all that Castrillon, a Hispanic bishop, has the mindset that he has.

    Honestly, of all the cases of sexual abuse of minors I have heard in the confessional, I have seen men turned in by siblings and spouses, but never their mother or father. My impression is that most parents think they know what they would do, but only the rare exception would actually make that call that would cause their son to go to prison.

  17. Joe Magarac says:

    Also, a Spanish newspaper quoted Cardinal Castrillon as saying on April 16 at Murcia that:

    El obispo “no lo denunció -al abad pedófilo Rene Bissey- porque había recibido la confidencia.”

    I am not fluent in Spanish, and will stand to be corrected by those who are. But I believe that “porque habia recibido la confidencia” means “because he had recieved it in confidence.” If Cardinal Castrillon had wanted to say that the bishop had received the news in confession, he would have said “confesion” and not “confidencia.”

    In short, it doesn’t appear that Cardinal Castrillon said anything about confession in his 2001 letter or in his recent speech on April 16 in Spain. He is saying that priests should be able to trust their bishops, and that the way to ensure that priests can have that trust is for the bishops not to denounce priests to the civil authorities.

    That is one side of an argument that goes back to Beckett and probably before. It’s a good argument. But it has nothing to do with the seal of the confessional.

  18. Mrs. O says:

    I appreciated Mr. Allen’s article.
    The fact that he mentions what the Cardinal had been through as to maybe why he felt so inclined not to turn over a priest to the proper authorities. It still doesn’t make it right, but it does explain some.

    The April 16th statement he gave left me unimpressed for several reasons.

    Is it just me, or are others bothered by the word “denounced”?
    This is also used here, or if I remember correctly, in dealing with priests who have abused and it is my understanding that the Bishop doesn’t have to denounce the priest – But that doesn’t mean the same thing as turning them in to the authorities either. Maybe just a bad choice of words.
    The victim on the other hand is asked to denounce the offender, especially naming what had been done (not person) as evil.
    Just bothers me.

  19. AnAmericanMother says:

    I believe “denounce” is something of a term of art here. It appears in the old French Penal Code, and I think it’s more or less the equivalent of preferring a complaint or filing a charge under the English/American system.

    I don’t think the secondary meaning that we have in English applies here.

    But since my only contact with French law was in a lawsuit in Louisiana, where the Code Napoleon is still in effect, I’m not entirely sure.

  20. Mrs. O says:

    Ok, thanks AnAmericanMother.
    If you denounce someone, that to me is even more serious than turning someone over to the police or reporting the crime.

    On something else:
    it’s a sort of Anglo-Saxon delusion, they say, to believe one can always trust the police and the courts.

    I will speak for myself. We HOPE that justice will be carried out not that we have exclusive trust in them (courts/police). They failed fair too many times for me to think this but that doesn’t me you don’t try unless you want to go back to the lawless days of settling it yourself which I don’t want to.

  21. JonM says:

    Presuming guilt on the part of Cardinal Castrillón (i.e., that he was ‘defending’ or ‘abetting’ molestation of children by Priests) seems oddly out of place.

    In general (that is NOT this blog) I have noticed that people who declare themselves to be ardent supporters of American Constitutional principles to invert on the matter of those accused of sexual improprieties or severe abuse.

    Many Priests have had their names slandered by groups like SNAP and some have even been sent to jail for alleged (and later admittedly made up) sexual instances, including when the accuser is an adult woman (Recently a Brooklyn Priest was released from prison after a woman confessed she completely fabricated an assault tale.)

    There is clearly a serious problem, but it is typically homosexual in nature and has been worsened by a clique of homosexuals within the Church, particularly the seminaries (possibly even amongst bishops.)

    We have to keep in mind that when writing letters to friends, we often ourselves don’t phrase things with the intent that the content will one day be re-printed in the NYTimes. This alone should give pause to accusatory tendencies.

    I think this was a very well-written and generally fair piece by Mr. Allen. I think also that this will not be the end and we could end up knowing much darker aspects of the abuse cover up and just how high the cover up formally went; the Fr. Marcial case is far from shut and is a classic reminder as to why being slow to judgment, negative and positive, is imperative.

  22. Hans says:

    [Thank you! Mr. Allen reminds the reader that we don’t call him “Card. Hoyos”.]

    Explain please!

    Is it he should be called Cardinal Castrillón , or that (for instance) we should also not use the title ‘Cardinal George’?

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    New sister is right.

    If it was known to Cardinal Castrillon that the information about the abuse was found out in the confessional, then there was a violation of the Seal. However, if it was NOT known to be such by Cardinal Castrillon, then I don’t know what he was congratulating the Bishop about.

    I, for one, think the whole a “bishop shouldn’t turn in a priest” thing is totally bogus–for two reasons:
    a) A bishop is NOT a priest’s father any more than a priest is a bishop’s son–that’s ONLY an analogy. And face it or not, the analogy is based on blood. I’ve raised sons. And if one of them ever abused a kid, they’d better hope the police got them before I did. That’s not an analogy. They’re my flesh and blood and I care about what they do.
    b) France is not communist Poland, nor was it 10 years ago. France is not Nazi Germany, nor was it 10 years ago. There is no comparison that someone who wants to whine can make. In civilized Western societies as they exist now, and as they existed 10 years ago, people who rape little boys need to be on trial for raping little boys. And that includes priests. And also bishops who would be accessory to the crime of rape if they have become aware of the act outside the confessional.

    For this reason, a bishop should never hear the confessions of his own priests. It could be very dangerous for the bishop, who could be blindsided.

  24. catholicmidwest says:

    I also think that one of the largest reasons that we had priests who were “rampant repeaters” and were never dealt with was the belief that priests could not tell on other priests–*no matter what they had observed*. Or the belief that priests who did tell on other priests needed to be punished in some way.

    And there didn’t seem to be any sense of proportion involved at all, just like I see in this business, which is just asinine.

    Look, refusing to turn in an innocent man when the Gestapo is at the door is ENTIRELY different from refusing to report it when a person knows damned well that a man has a little kid up in his room–in the same house–for the 10th time. I’m sorry but there is simply no comparison whatsoever. And anyone who thinks there is doesn’t have the brains to be a rat in the sewer, let alone a priest in the Catholic church.

  25. S Petersen says:

    St. Thomas a Becket’s martyrdom involved the prosecution of errant Priests. In Christendom, a duality of judicial administration was, for a while, the norm. Even in my lifetime, there were traces of this in, inter alia, divorce law. No sense waiting for the secular authorities to wake up to what they are missing but the Church is our mediator of the transcendent. We should work for the day when we can effectively police ourselves. It’s not going to happen and we won’t be moving that way as long as the dioceses are run by Bishops(Castrillón Hoyos not being among them) who want to be mainstreamed with Protestants and, more lately, secularists . The secular world cannot properly minister to offending Priests nor to their victims. As long as the Mass is offered as a community study and meal no one is going to find transcendence and no one is going to be able to see what matters in the world as a result.

  26. Joshua08 says: Where Cardinal Bille defends Bsp. Pican

    “LOURDES, France, NOV. 6, 2001 ( France´s judiciary is threatening the secrecy of the confessional and the Church´s professional secrecy, warns Cardinal Louis-Marie Billé of Lyon.

    “When an ecclesiastical judge knows that his notes and conclusions could be shown with impunity before a penal jurisdiction, he will lose the necessary freedom of action. He will meet with an obstacle, and it is precisely the freedom of worship that is at stake,” Cardinal Billé told the plenary assembly of the French bishops´ conference under way here.

    Cardinal Billé, 63, who a few days ago announced he was resigning from the presidency of the episcopate because he has cancer, mentioned two cases which indicate trouble for clerical secrecy.

    The first case involved Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux. He was sentenced to a suspended jail term for not publicly denouncing a priest who admitted to the bishop his tendency toward pedophilia.”
    “February 23, 2001
    Web posted at: 11:30 AM EST (1630 GMT)

    PARIS, France—A Roman Catholic bishop has been charged with failing to turn in a priest who, in a confessional booth, admitted to sexually abusing children.

    Magistrates on Friday said that Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux heard Father Rene Bissey’s confession and did not report the incident to the police but instead relieved the priest of his duties. ”

    How did the civil authorities find out?

    “The priest stood trial after one of the main victims, now in his 20s, filed a formal complaint with police. ”

    So joe, according CNN the bishop both heard and didn’t hear the confession. Conflicting news accounts anyone?


    As to the person who without bothering to do real research said in CWN

    “Moreover, if the bishop felt that he was bound by the confessional seal, he could not mention the priest’s misconduct to anyone, including Cardinal Castrillon.”

    But a 2001 news source said

    “Monsignor Pican denied knowledge of the priest’s actions when called to testify at Bissey’s trial last October, refusing to say more on the grounds that to do so would compromise his own case.

    But at his trial Bissey said he had given detailed accounts to his confessors in the church. ”

    Now we can go deeper…We can actually look at French sources, such as the letter Bishop Pican issued to his diocese after his conviction, or other such things….but I am sure that would be ignored too

  27. catholicmidwest says:

    “The secular world cannot properly minister to offending Priests nor to their victims.”

    I beg to differ. The fact that these priests have done this is the clearest possible proof that they belong in the world and need to be dealt with by the world until they are willing to put that world into its proper perspective. At the very least, it’s a matter of reparations. Minister to them? Yes, but that isn’t all that has to happen. Not by far!

    Sin is an interesting thing. It has many different kinds of consequences. One consequence is repentance; another is reformation of action; another is reparations that must be paid. It’s not enough to just opine that it was wrong, hum oh-well and let it go. A guilty person has to do something about it–that is if he cares about other people at all, and is not just yanking people around for the hell of it.

    Think of it this way: What if I decided to go rob and bank and did so–and then decided I didn’t like it? If I were to give the money back, they might forgive me. But do you think that would be the end of it??? Seriously?

  28. mpm says:

    Personally, having read the article referenced by Joe Magarac (27 April 2010 @ 3:21 pm) I agree with Joe. I think that it is the Spanish reporter, Daniel Vidal, or his editor, who has linked “the seal of confession” with what Cardinal Castrillon actually said. And I also feel that the context in which the Cardinal made his remarks gives a different “slant” to what he was intending to communicate. The Congress at which he spoke was a multi-day conference dedicated to the Pontificate of JPII, and Cardinal Castrillon’s remarks were dealing with key aspects of the priesthood for JPII.

    The article is entitled: “Castrillon: ‘The Pope authorized my letter’ The Cardinal says that Pican, condemned to three months in jail for covering-up, got the information secretly in confession”.

    The reporter says:

    Pocos minutos después de comenzar su intervención, centrada en las claves del sacerdocio durante el pontificado de Karol Wojtyla, Castrillón aseguró que el obispo «no lo denunció (al abad pedófilo Rene Bissey) porque había recibido la confidencia». De esta manera, el cardenal se refería a que Pierre Pican había actuado en virtud al secreto de confesión, que prohíbe al confesor «descubrir al penitente, de palabra o de cualquier otro modo, y por ningún motivo», según consta en el canon 983 del Código de Derecho Canónico.

    which means

    A few minutes after commencing his talk, which centered on key aspects of the priesthood during the pontificate of Karol Wojtyla, Castrillon assured everyone that the bishop “did not denounce him (the pedophile curate Rene Bissey) because he had spoken with him about it in confidence.” Thus, the Cardinal was referring to the fact that Pierre Pican had acted in virtue of the seal of the confessional, which prohibits a confessor from “disclosing a penitent’s confession, by word or in any other manner, and for any reason whatsoever”, as canon 983 of the Code of Canon Law reads.

    But that is not what the Cardinal said. At least, that is not what the reporter says the Cardinal said, and I wasn’t there. But I do know that “Confession” in Spanish is not “confidencia”, which is any kind of confidential discussion.

    There is no doubt in my mind, however, that officially, they want as much daylight as possible between themselves and Cardinal Castrillon. I think Fr. Sotelo’s remarks about how culturally distasteful it has (historically) been for a bishop to “denounce” a priest are well-taken. The Spanish in their Civil War, the Poles and Easterners under the Nazis and Communists, and the Mexicans for most of the 20th century had too much up-close-and-personal experience with false denunciations of priests, to allow that to go down smoothly.

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    I understand that the priest was convicted for child abuse. This is hardly the a “false denunciation,” mpm.

  30. mpm says:

    I’m not referring to what happened in France. I’m referring to what Cardinal Castrillon said in Murcia, Spain, and the context in which he said it, versus what is being said that he said. Notice that the bolded words are those of the reporter, not the Cardinal.

    As to child abuse, I can’t imagine Castrillon personally “harboring” a child-abuser. The policy of “instant denunciation” may be the right policy in the Anglo-Saxon legal systems now: that does not make it the very best policy everywhere and for all time, and for all crimes. Because, though appropriate in the cases of child molestation, it may not be appropriate in other cases of denunciation.

  31. Joe Magarac says:

    Joshua08 –

    In the articles you cite, a reporter says that Fr. Bissey confessed to Bishop Pican or that Bishop Pican heard Fr. Bissey’s confession. I’m clear on that. There are other such articles, too: conceded.

    But the reporter does not make clear whether the “confession” was sacramental or secular. This is the same problem as in media accounts about “defrocking” priests: the media is using the term loosely, so that we don’t know whether it means suspending a priest’s faculties or involuntarily laicizing him.

    If I tell my wife that I have been having an affair, we could say that I am “confessing” it to her. But obviously that isn’t a sacramental confession. Likewise, we know that when the vicar-general (Fr. Morcel) and the bishop (Bp. Pican) confronted Fr. Bissey about one complaint of abuse, that Fr. Bissey “confessed” to many more. That doesn’t tell us whether the confession was sacramental. The fact that it was to two people suggests that it was not a sacramental confession.

    Again, I ask you: if it were clear beyond doubt that Bishop Pican had refused to disclose something he had heard in the confessional, would not Cardinal Castrillon have been very specific about that fact? The fact that Cardinal Castrillon only congratulated Bishop Pican for “not denouncing” his priest suggests that the confessional had nothing to do with this.

  32. Joe Magarac says:

    This will be my last post on this topic.

    I think that mpm and Fr. Sotelo have provided enormously valuable insights about Cardinal Castrillon’s motivation. They suggest that he was coming out of a culture in which priests were sometimes falsely accused and treated badly by hostile civil authorities. In those circumstances, a bishop’s first duty might well be to shield his priests from civil justice. JPII came out of a similar culture and approved of Cardinal Castrillon’s position. No surprise there, either.

    So in the years leading up to 2001, we had two positions, both defensible, both colored by the pasts of their respective adherents:

    1. Cardinal Castrillon’s position, which has certainly been championed a lot through history, which is that the bishops should police their priests themselves and should not turn them over to the civil authorities when accused.

    2. Cardinal Ratzinger’s position, which is that allowing bishops to police their priests in sexual matters, especially in a therapeutic age, was tantamount to not policing them at all, with the end result being a Church covered in “filth.”

    Both positions are defensible. Both have their time and place.

    Cardinal Castrillon’s position was wrong for this time and place. It allowed authorities to turn a blind eye to bad conduct in Boston, among the Legionaries, and in so many other places.

    Cardinal Ratzinger’s position was right for this time and place. And we can thank God that he took authority for this issue when and as he did.

  33. dcs says:

    If it was known to Cardinal Castrillon that the information about the abuse was found out in the confessional, then there was a violation of the Seal. However, if it was NOT known to be such by Cardinal Castrillon, then I don’t know what he was congratulating the Bishop about.

    Very simple (please note that this is a hypothetical situation) – Bp. Pican mentions at trial that he heard Fr. Bissey’s confession (whether or not he hears a particular person’s confession does not fall under the seal). When asked if he knows anything about Fr. Bissey’s history of abuse, he replies, “I don’t know” (which the moralists tell us is not a lie if a priest only knows something from confession). Therefore Card. Castrillon concludes — although he does not really know — that Fr. Bissey confessed his history of abuse to the bishop. However he is circumspect in his letter congratulating the bishop so as to respect the integrity of the seal.

    If Card. Castrillon does not explicitly mention confession in his letter or in his subsequent comments, perhaps it is because that he doesn’t really know what exactly it was that Fr. Bissey confessed to Bp. Pican. And how could he know? It would be a violation of the seal for Bp. Pican to say.

  34. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Joe Magarac:

    I think the letters produced at the Angelqueen forum, from Castrillon’s hand, clearly show an attitude which is untenable and immoral. To be blunt, I believe that Cardinal Castrillon was dead wrong, even taking into account his cultural biases against turning priests over to authorities.

    Especially in the case of Msgr. Trupia of the Diocese of Tucson, Cardinal Castrillon obstructed justice and castigated a good bishop who was trying to protect children. In that case, the dynamic going on was simply the “good ol’ boys club” and I thank God for Ratzinger having put the kabosh on that whole school of thinking.

    As much as I realize that SNAP goes to extremes because of their hatred of the Church, but as a priest, I can also tell you that there was indeed a certain clericalist culture which made it difficult to report priest abusers and which tending to punish the whistleblowers.

    That is what Castrillon did in the Tucson case, and it is quite ugly to see the gory details now come to light. The Cardinal actually was attacking the bishop who suspended a priest, even as numerous victims were coming forward and even after the police said child rape had taken place but could not be punished because the statute of limitations had passed. Castrillon’s attitude was *not* “let’s reach out and help those victims” but “whew, we dodged that bullet; now Excellency, please quit giving that poor priest a hard time.”

  35. Jordanes says:

    Explain please! Is it he should be called Cardinal Castrillón , or that (for instance) we should also not use the title ‘Cardinal George’?

    He should only be called:

    Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos


    Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos


    Cardinal Castrillon

    but never

    Cardinal Hoyos.

    “Hoyos” is his mother’s maiden name. In Hispanic cultures, a person’s full surname includes the father’s surname first, followed by the mother’s maiden name. Often the mother’s maiden name will be left off, however. Thus, Cardinal Castrillon’s surname is “Castrillon Hoyos,” or “Castrillon” for short. To refer to him as Cardinal Hoyos would be to erroneously say that his father’s surname was Hoyos.

  36. Jordanes says:

    P.S. A further illustration of the Hispanic naming custom: The 20th century Mexican martyr priest St. Cristobal is referred to as Father Cristobal Magallanes, because Magallanes was his father’s surname. He can be called Father Cristobal Magallanes, or Father Cristobal Magallanes Jara, but never Father Cristobal Jara, because Jara was his mother’s surname, not his father’s.

  37. steve jones says:

    In defence of Pican (and Castrillon), does spiritual direction not have the same canonical status as confession? Is any conversation between bishop and priest deemed spiritual direction?

    I sense that Castrillon is naive not think through his words (recent explanation in Murcia) and their possible impact in the present climate. This was arguably no less true in 2001 when he congratulated Bishop Pican. His dragging of JPII into this affair strikes me as confusing and ill-judged. Some guidance is required for bishops because at this rate they will not want to talk to their priests at all for fear of what they might hear.

  38. catholicmidwest says:

    If Cdl Castrillon didn’t know, then he didn’t know. Ignorance hardly warrants a letter like this. Congratulating someone on a monumentally big guess like that, at the risk of congratulating him for flat out lying-because he could have been doing that too-would be an exhibit of very, very bad judgment.

    Steve Jones, no, and no.
    Bishops just shouldn’t administer the sacrament of reconciliation to their priests because it can blindside them to the decisions they have to make for the good of the diocese. They can certainly talk outside confession as any two people might. Steve, confession isn’t some foggy ill-defined segment of time. It’s quite concrete when confession starts and ends–or at least it is when it’s well managed.

  39. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I think the following article sheds light on Cardinal Castrillon’s letter to that French bishop.

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