Must Read: The Pope Really DOES Understand the Sexual Abuse Problem

In a recent widely viewed entry on this blog, retired 87-year-old Msgr. Harry Byrne from the Bronx, NY, and a former Chancellor of the Archdiocese of New York, argued that the pope doesn’t really understand the true nature of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

In the following brief essay my friend Jim Jenkins takes strong exception to Msgr. Byrne’s claim about the Pope Benedict’s true understanding of the crisis. Jim is a clinical psychologist with a practice in the San Francisco Bay area. He writes with the authority of an insider. Dr. Jenkins was chair of the archdiocese of San Francisco Review Board under Archbishop, now Cardinal, William Levada. Cardinal Leveda has Pope Benedict’s old job, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Office of the Holy Inquisition).

Here is Jim’s response.

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There has been some speculation recently on VOTFND [VOTF’s Notes and Discussion YahooGroup] that the pope does not understand the sexual abuse problem.

Benedict (ne Joseph Ratzinger) has been the point person in charge of the church’s response since the time when the true dimensions of the abuse scandal first came to the attention of the Vatican curia back in the 70’s and 80’s.

Benedict understands very well the threat the sexual abuse scandal represents to the ruling oligarchy of the church (i.e., the bishops). And he has always acted consistent with that understanding.

We now know that Ratzinger essentially  ran the Vatican for the last decade of the sickly John Paul’s life. It was undoubtedly one of the major factors in Ratzinger’s ascension to the papacy.

While I was chair of the archdiocese of San Francisco Review Board, Archbishop, now Cardinal, Levada, previous long time acolyte of Joseph Ratzinger in the Holy Office of the Inquisition (CDF), was summoned to Rome with two other hand-picked American bishops to respond to “objections” of the curia to the so called, “Dallas Charter.” (At the time, Ratzinger was running the show!)

It seems to me that the Vatican devised a strategy where they essentially cut priests loose to fend for themselves against allegations of abuse, in a sense throwing them to the wolves –in other words, every priest for himself. But circle the wagons when it comes to their “brother” bishops, cardinals and even popes.

Bottom line, defend clerics to the extent it protects the corporate business interests of the church, which it seems is the real “higher calling” of the bishops.

All these claims by the hierarchy about concern for “innocent”priests wrongly accused of abuse are nothing more than crocodile tears. So far, I believe, the strategy has worked pretty well for the bishops.

As related to me by Cardinal Levada, the major points of concern for the Vatican were:

1. The Charter provided for review boards where clerics and their conduct would be subject to the scrutiny and supervision of laymen, specifically women. The purview of the Review Boards needed to be tightly controlled and curtailed as much as possible given the public’s adverse attitude toward the church’s past inaction.

2. The Charter’s scope needed to be limited to the alleged assaults upon “minors” leaving the inappropriate sexual behavior of clerics with other adults beyond the jurisdiction of the review boards.

3. The Vatican wanted the definition of who is a “minor” to be according to canon law (females 14 y.o., and males, 16 y.o.) and not the American legal standard of 18 years old being the age of majority.

4. The Vatican wanted the definition of “sexual abuse” in the Charter to be narrowed, more in compliance with the archaic understanding in canon law, discarding the operative Canadian bishops standard which the Charter originally adopted.

5. The behavior of bishops and cardinals was off-limits to the scope of any investigation by any archdiocesan review board.

6. A new, secret tribunal would be established in Rome to adjudicate the most “notorious” of the clergy abuse cases from around the world, ensuring tight control of the really dangerous assaults to the church’s leaders and authority.

7. All the protections in canon law afforded clerics must be strictly observed. In other words, canon law should trump American legal standards.

As far as I know, the Vatican got everything it wanted in modifications to the Charter from the American bishops. To Levada’s credit, he was able to dissuade them from rejecting the common standard American understanding of what is a minor (objection #3).  Levada related to me that he felt that the American public would never understand, nor accept rejection of that standard.

What this all meant to me is that management of the church’s response to the abuse scandal was indeed controlled from Rome. The dominant message would be: “Give the impression that things are changing. Soon, when the furor dies away, we can go back to things as usual.”

American bishops were going to be kept on an even shorter leach for this issue. Joseph Ratzinger would still call the shots,especially with his trusty confident William Levada now ensconced at the Inquisition.

The Dallas Charter was essentially a “limited hangout” to use the metaphor of the message control folks in the public relations industry. Give the appearance of a more open, more compellingresponse to the abuse crisis, but continue to play hardball in the American courts with survivor lawsuits.

(In Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahoney employs at a princely sum of money the same public relations firm that promotes the Academy Awards and celebrities who engage in antisocialpublic behavior! Do you still think your donations to the Sunday collection goes to support the corporal works of mercy?)

The phrase of “One Strike, You’re Out” was just a marketing, public relations tool for the benefit of the American public and media. Practically, operationally, it would have no real meaning.The Vatican and American bishops were counting on the short attention span, bumper-sticker mentality, of the public.

It seems to me that the Vatican and the bishops made a good bet.

Jim Jenkins
Berkeley, CA

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