John Allen on global policies for a global Church

How I wish my friend John L. Allen could write for some Catholic publication rather than for the National Catholic Reporter.

As you know, Mr. Allen is the nearly-ubiquitous fair-minded writer in that otherwise bleak fishwrap.

His Friday piece is worth your time.

How many times have we heard liberals crow and gabble that Rome -whose central authority they otherwise denigrate – should impose central and global control when it comes to the clerical sexual abuse question, forcing all churchmen to have recourse immediately to local law enforcement?

My emphases.

Thinking globally about sex abuse crisis
by John L Allen Jr on Oct. 29, 2010


Here’s an object lesson in what it means to think globally about issues facing the Catholic church, in this case the sexual abuse crisis. [NB: The sex abuse thing is just the object lesson that points to a larger concept.]

Since the beginning of the most recent round of the crisis, which erupted in Ireland and then spread across Europe, critics have wondered why Pope Benedict XVI has not imposed a uniform global policy of cooperation with the police. In the United States and Europe, where one can generally assume a level playing field and the integrity of police and prosecutors, such a policy seems a no-brainer, and the pope’s failure to impose it across the board has often been touted as evidence of foot-dragging and denial.

Yet there are parts of the world where the wisdom of such a policy is by no means so clear. The state of Karnataka, in South West India, offers the most recent example.

There, in the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield, a Holy Cross brother was beaten on Oct. 23 by a mob of some 300 people, with local TV stations filming the assault and police standing by and allowing it to happen. Many in the mob were reportedly wearing the saffron scarf indicative of Hindu nationalist sentiment.

Brother Philip Noronha, the victim, was hospitalized with severe facial injuries. Although the attack was captured on film, police apparently investigated only reluctantly, and no arrests have been made.

The excuse for the attack was a rumor that Noronha had used “bad language” in class, but most observers say the real motive was a land dispute. A Hindu temple is going up near the Holy Cross school where Noronha serves as vice-rector, and he had spurned demands to give up some of the school’s property in order to accommodate an access road for the temple.

Yesterday, local police detained Noronha for more than two hours and released him only on bail, this time on charges that he had sexually harassed female students. The Holy Cross superior in the area has called those charges “unfounded infamy,” and said that police harassment amounts to “a serious violation of human rights.”

A local Jesuit, Fr. Ambrose Pinto, has posted a lengthy report on the campaign against Noronha, asserting that “we are witnessing a total disregard to the process of law.”

“It was a horrible sight to watch that in the presence of the police a person is assaulted, slapped and insulted, and the police remain mere spectators or even join the attackers,” Pinto wrote. “When the protectors of the state law turn into violators of individual rights to please vested interests in society, what are the avenues left to individuals for justice?”

From a distance, it’s impossible to assess the merit of the charges of sexual harassment. Given the context, however, it’s easy to understand why local Catholics have precious little confidence in the impartiality of the police, and why they’re not exactly eager to cooperate.

It’s also easy to understand why a papal mandate of full compliance with every request from the police and civil prosecutors would probably strike the Catholics of Karnataka as a death sentence.

None of this, of course, excuses the Catholic church for having failed for so long to come to grips with the reality of sexual abuse by its clergy, and neither does it mean that the church shouldn’t do everything possible to make sure these crimes are prosecuted vigorously.

The Noronha episode, however, does offer a caution about the difficulties of imposing across-the-board policies in a church that has to take account of wildly different realities in different parts of the world. Solutions that seem stunningly obvious to Americans and Europeans don’t seem such a slam-dunk when seen in a global context.

That’s a point worth bearing in mind, especially in a church in which Americans represent just six percent of the global Catholic population, and two-thirds of our people live outside the West.

Good article.

That said, it should be clear that there should absolutely be global standards for fidelity in doctrine, liturgical discipline, etc.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Curious timing. Did you see this report in al Reuters: Victims of priest sex abuse to march on Vatican. Apparently they are demanding that the UN declare systemic paedophilia a crime against humanity.

  2. Patrick J. says:

    On what level is John Allen friend? Acording to him, you (of course, he would deem you a special “exception” probably – but otherwise, you fit the description) and most of us constitute the Catholic “Taliban.” Imagine that! Someone who abuses language and attacks “friends” in such a manner is not friend to me, and others similarly situated, not the Church herself. If he wants another job, let him, big boy that he is (supposedly) quit and find another. No one is forcing Johnny to remain with that stinking, scandalous rag. Quit apologizing, please, for the love of God, for this talented, yet unprincipaled “friend.”

    [Since you haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about, I will chalk your poorly reflected comment up to some bad day you are having rather than suspend your posting ability.]

  3. lmgilbert says:

    Unbelievably, we still are not done with this scandal in the US, and are about to be put to shame once again when our bishops elect Bishop Kicanas president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops this November.

    This is from Tom Roeser’s blog:

    Ex-Mundelein Rector Said He’d Ordain McCormack Again.
    Chicago public radio station WBEZ Friday aired a straight-from-the-shoulder assessment of upcoming leadership change in the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops…a refreshing tell-it-like-it-is news story and interview conducted by Chip Mitchell, chief of the station’s West Side bureau:

    {Here are excerpts from the transcript of a recent program on WBEZ, the public radio station in Chicago}

    WBEZ: The nation’s Catholic bishops will choose a new leader next month [president of the USCCB]. Both their outgoing president [Francis Cardinal George] and the bishop [Gerald Kicanas of Tucson) likely to take his place have strong ties to Chicago. That’s not all they have in common. Both clerics advanced the career of a priest who molested as many as 23 boys. That’s despite receiving allegations about his misconduct. If the election goes as expected, it’ll provide ammunition to people who argue there’s no accountability for bishops who protect abuses. We report from our West Side bureau:
    MITCHELL: Daniel McCormack went to prison in 2007 for abusing boys when he was pastor of St. Agatha’s. That’s a parish in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. To learn more about McCormack, I sat down with a father whose son attended the Catholic school next to the parish.

    {Mitchell then goes on to interview the father of one of the victims}

    MITCHELL: I tell the North Lawndale father how Kicanas helped get McCormack’s career off the ground. This was in the early `90s. Kicanas was Rector of an archdiocese seminary where McCormack studied. Here’s what happened. Kicanas received reports about three McCormack sexual misconduct cases, one involving a minor. But Kicanas still approved McCormack for ordination….

    MITCHELL: I tell the North Lawndale father that how the Chicago archdiocese assigned McCormack to other parishes before St. Agatha’s. McCormack attracted more allegations but Cardinal Francis George promoted him in 2005 to help oversee other West Side parishes. Around that time the police arrested McCormack on suspicion of child molestation but they released him without charges. Cardinal George kept McCormack in his posts even after the archdiocese sexual review board urged his removal. The father can’t believe this.
    FATHER: How is it that you’re notified that someone in your parish is doing something to children and these people are still getting higher appointments?
    MITCHELL: It wasn’t until Mitchell’s second arrest—more than four months after the first—that George finally yanked him. The delay outraged victim advocates. But George’s peers still elected him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007. And who did the bishops elect as vice president? Kicanas, the man who approved McCormack’s ordination in the first place.

    LMG: I have no idea of the truth of these allegations, but in the mediasphere that we all inhabit perception is reality. Perhaps these bishops can justify their actions somehow, but with these question marks over their conduct how does it make sense to elect them to high positions and give ammunition to our enemies?

  4. Fr Levi says:

    It should be noted that in Ireland until recently there were no mandatory reporting laws. This means that not only were the hierarchy in Ireland under no legal obligation to report to the police those they suspected of abuse; it also meant that if they did report anyone they were in danger of legal action being taken against them by the person they reported.

  5. ray from mn says:

    “In the United States and Europe, where one can generally assume a level playing field and the integrity of police and prosecutors, such a policy seems a no-brainer,”

    If the president decided to issue an executive order on reducing “carbon footprints” by taking bicycles to work, nobody would expect cooperation.

    The “Obamacare” legislation has barely gone into effect and something like 15 or 20 states are suing and willing to take it to the Supreme Court. Some insurance companies are refusing to sell certain kinds of insurance policies, fearing that only those who are sick will bother to buy them.

    The “Reformed LDS”, or whatever they call themselves, have been practicing bigamy in remote areas of the west and law officers ignore it. Just like cities where councils have instructed their law enforcement officers not to enforce U.S. Immigration laws.

    And they think that the Pope can get priests to obey his directives with respect to sexual abuse incidents when for 40 years he hasn’t been able to get them to follow the GIRM properly.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    The article is extremely thoughtful. But, we, I think, do not want a global police state watching over all the religious and secular clergy in the world. The Vatican has worked, as the Church has worked, for two-thousand years, with bishops being the local governors of their dioceses. What needs to be clarified is the role of the bishop cooperating with the local authorities, as has been done in many cases. However, I, for one, have the Thomas a Becket approach to kings and presidents, or the United Nations when it comes to prosecution of the clergy. I truly believe the Church should try and prosecute first, and then, only when that legal avenue has either broken down because of local, diocesan problems or other problems, only then should the secular authorities be called in. Of course, if a priest or nun, or who ever is guilty, that one should be handed over to the secular authorities only after a thorough investigation by the Church has been done. Otherwise, we may be throwing sheep to the wolves, as in nationalist Hindu areas, Muslim areas, and Communist countries, such as China. The clergy need to be protected, and the vast majority of priests are good men.

  7. Peggy R says:

    This isn’t the first time Allen has posted an article this year explaining that there were different sensibilities in different parts of the world toward hierarchy cooperation with civil authorities. I have searched and can’t find the earlier column, however, though I do recall it.

  8. “Apparently they are demanding that the UN declare systemic paedophilia a crime against humanity.”

    Apparently those abuse victims don’t pay much attention to the plight of other abuse victims, or they’d know that UN military forces and many UN agencies (in the last ten or twenty years) are notorious for raping children wherever they go. It’s like asking Hitler to condemn Jews being harassed in, say, Uruguay.

  9. Ismael says:

    John Allen is the only real journalist and the only person worth of beaing read on NCR.

  10. Ismael says:

    beaing = reading*

  11. JARay says:

    I think that what Patrick J. is talking about actually comes from the UK where a certain gentleman associated with “Catholic Voices” actually rejected a very loyal, faithful Catholic from being part of that team and referred to the one he had rejected as being “part of the Catholic Taliban”. In other words, those faithful, traditional Catholics who stand up for what the Church actually teaches, are now to be put down by referring to them as being “Catholic Taliban”
    I can see how Patrick J. would see you, Fr. Z., as being part of the Catholic Taliban because what you write, propose and teach is loyalty to the Church, its teaching and our Holy Father.
    May I humbly suggest that you wear the epithet of “Catholic Taliban” with pride?!

  12. catholicmidwest says:

    Funny how some people think the sex abuse crisis should be handled, first and foremost, on a global basis (ie. by Rome) YET spend all their spare time grousing about new global liturgy initiatives (ie. the new translation of the N.O.). Doesn’t it dawn on them that this stance is incoherent????

  13. RichR says:

    Very interesting article by Mr. Allen that does put things into perspective. I am glad that readers of the NC Reporter will be reading this, too.

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