Monday, October 02, 2006

The Usual Catholic-Bashing

The British press (and WorldNetDaily) has been playing up a "secret" letter from then-Cardinal Ratzinger to all Catholic Bishops which (allegedly) swore them to keep secret all molestation problems.

Not news. Not secret. Not really what it's all about.

Ed Peters is a respected Canon lawyer now on the faculty at Sacred Heart Major Seminary of Detroit. Here's what he wrote a while back, (scroll down to April 27th) in 2005, when the "secret letter" was first discussed:

First, the CDF letter is so secret that it’s been posted on the Vatican website for some time now. I noticed it months ago. It’s in Latin because it is addressed to all the bishops of the world, and it is common Vatican practice to send out important communications in one common language rather than in umpteen vernacular versions. For those whose Latin is rusty, some versions of the CDF letter include links to websites that translate Latin vocabulary.

Second, the CDF letter had as one important aim to settle certain procedural questions among canonists as to which canonical crimes are “reserved” to CDF per 1983 CIC 1362, that is, which ecclesiastical offenses are considered serious enough that Rome itself could adjudicate the case instead of allowing the normal canons on penal jurisdiction to operate (e.g., 1983 CIC 1408, 1412). These canons were on the books long before the clergy sexual abuse crisis erupted, but their interpretation had been disputed. CDF’s letter cleared up much of the confusion.

Third, in extending jurisdiction over these cases to 10 years past the alleged victim’s 18th birthday, CDF actually increased the amount of time that Church officials (whether diocesan or Roman) had to prosecute these offenses. Before CDF’s letter, canonical prosecutions were complicated by unduly short statutes of limitations—the very same problem, by the way, that state prosecutions encountered in many pedophilia cases. CDF was hardly obstructing justice; it was trying to make justice more available.

Fourth, keep in mind that most ecclesiastical crimes are not crimes under civil law, and that the Church obviously legislates for the majority of cases she encounters. For most canonical offenses, then, secrecy in criminal matters (1983 CIC 1455, 1717) accomplishes several goods: 1) protecting the integrity of the investigation; 2) shielding victims from untimely or unwanted exposure; 3) protecting accused, especially the wrongly accused, from devastating publicity; and so on. Need I say that numerous civil authorities conduct secret investigations for exactly the same kinds of reasons? More importantly, though, nothing whatsoever in CDF’s letter prevents or discourages victims (or their parents) from going to the police, private attorneys, or even the press with their stories. CDF, it seems, has a lot to learn about how to obstruct justice.

Of course, a few ecclesiastical crimes are also crimes under civil law. Where two great powers overlap in a very serious matter, as happens when Church and state are confronted with evidence of child sexual abuse by priests, genuine legal and procedural questions can arise. Again, there is nothing new here. Working out the best manner of accommodating the rights and duties of both systems might require some discussion, but there are no insurmountable obstacles to doing just that. In the meantime, the process is not helped by plaintiffs’ attorneys hurling accusations of medieval secrecy at Church leaders. +++

Generally, WorldNetDaily's articles on the Catholic Church are, ah, inflammatory and incomplete, although not all of them are so. As to the Brit tabloids (now including the BBC)--

....stiff uppah lip...

1 comment:

Amy said...

As Mark Shea says, you must remember that whenever the MSM talks about religion, 50 IQ points need to be deducted.

I love how a French teacher is the most recent victim of a fatwa, but the MSM is far more concerned with this non-story from the Catholic Church.