Note: This article was originally published on Jerry Slevin's blog Christian Catholicism. For Part 1, click here.
Are cardinals watching current events?
Some current developments strongly suggest that the seemingly irresolvable priest child abuse problem may contribute to toppling this medieval monarchy soon. Significantly and surprisingly, two prominent Cardinals, Martini and Pell, had recently indicated publicly that the child sexual abuse problem continues, in one case even pointing a finger at the Vatican’s administration. These very knowledgeable Cardinals apparently were unwilling to accept their own Pope’s public relations efforts that try to suggest that the priest child abuse problem has been sufficiently curtailed.
How many other Cardinals will also soon be publicly rejecting this papal media spin, if only to protect themselves better from increasingly relentless international prosecutors and survivors’ civil lawyers on the horizon? Will Catholics find out more about many Cardinals’ actual views before the next papal election, especially since the next Pope can be expected to try to continue indefinitely the Vatican’s control over the criminal legal defense strategy that is apparently imposed now on all of the hierarchy worldwide? Perhaps, some Cardinals will not want to handcuff themselves to the railings on the Vatican’s Titanic?
Having observed for several years, as an experienced lawyer, the misguided and ineffective legal defense strategy of the current Pope, it seems inadvisable for Cardinals and Bishops worldwide to concede their legal defense to a distant Vatican administration often controlled, it appears at times, by octogenarians worried more about protecting themselves first. Philadelphia’s Monsignor Lynn may have found this out the hard way when he reportedly was recently denied sufficient funds for an effective appeal of his recent child endangerment criminal conviction for his actions while serving as a subordinate of Cardinals Bevilacqua and Rigali. Should Cardinals really rely on a Vatican administration that, after months of warnings, let their credit card payment system ‘bounce” in the midst of the busy holiday tourist season, as just occurred?
Will the priestly breaches that, as indicated above, two significant Cardinals had recently implied were still being tolerated, of the deep-seated social taboo against sexually violating children lead soon to ending papal dominance of the Catholic Church? Jesus, of course, reiterated this taboo in his stern prohibitions in the Gospels against harming children. Can celibate and childless Catholic hierarchs, like Cardinal Sodano who reportedly referred to news reports of alleged earlier papal cover-ups of priest sexual abuse, as “petty gossip”, even begin to understand the revulsion felt by countless Catholic parents at these obscene violations of children.
Reportedly, there have been over 100,000 child victims of Catholic priest abuse in the USA alone so far, according to experts at a Vatican conference last February. This is hardly “gossip”, and surely not “petty”. Apparently, celibate and childless Catholic hierarchs do not yet sufficiently appreciate the power of this revulsion! Now they must be compelled by international prosecutors to appreciate this.
Have worldwide Catholics and their democratically chosen political leaders now finally had enough of the endless abuse horror stories and the hierarchy’s inadequate and cynical efforts to curtail them effectively? It appears increasingly clear that Catholics worldwide have had enough. Majorities of Catholics in Australia, Ireland, the Philippines and the USA, for example, have just effectively resisted significant Vatican pressure regarding child protection and/or related contraception policies the Vatican opposed strongly.
In particular, the Pope aimed many “moral arrows” at President Obama in connection with the recent November elections, apparently hoping decisively to topple the leader of the world’s most powerful nation. The Pope missed by a wide margin. Now what? Will President Obama now finally investigate priest abuse of Catholic children in the USA, as many Catholics have recently petitioned him to do? Time will tell, as the pressure builds for President Obama to act, especially as Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, moves forward with an unprecedented royal commission investigation of child sexual abuse in organizational settings, including in the Catholic Church. What is President Obama waiting for to establish a comparable U.S. national investigation commission on child sexual abuse in organizational religious, educational and youth group settings, including in the Catholic Church?
The modern worldwide papal geo-political strategy, that began mainly in the 1930′s with facilitating the fascists Mussolini and Hitler, of influencing Catholic voters in exchange for expected political favors from “papal preferred” successful candidates, appears now to be bankrupt, at least as bankrupt as many U.S. Catholic dioceses now are under the weight of significant priest child abuse financial settlements that seem often to be agreed upon at the last minute by U.S. bishops apparently to keep potentially incriminating hierarchical files secret.
How are these current developments likely to lead to the toppling of this long standing hierarchical structure? What would the potential consequences be for Catholics if this happens?
Pope Benedict XVI at 85 years old still reigns over the Roman Holy Empire to be sure. He has so far continued to rule despite the abuse scandal that he has faced, unsuccessfully mostly, often since his days as Archbishop of Munich three decades ago.
The bizarre episode of key documents leaked recently by the Pope’s bold butler raises substantial doubts, however, about how firm this aging Pope’s grip remains on the levers of papal power. Since the butler still likely knows many more papal secrets and cannot any longer be “burned at the papal stake” for copying and distributing documents, he has been pardoned after a very harsh imprisonment process. Will the butler, whose relationship to the Pope does not appear to have been legally privileged and protected, soon be subpoenaed to testify in civil and criminal proceedings involving alleged Vatican misdeeds? Have we heard the last from the butler yet? Probably not.
A new Pope, as mentioned above, is expected by many soon to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. But will it matter much by then? Especially, when it seems that the next Pope may already have been, in effect, pre-selected by the current Pope and Vatican Cardinals that hold significant power over papal candidates’ selection and election. This Pope and his predecessor, John Paul II, carefully selected all of the current voting Cardinals, evidently seeking “Yes Men” who would obedient ally continue these two Popes’ increasingly hierarchical and retrogressive policies. These two Popes witnessed up close as youths the rigid discipline of the Third Reich and both seem thereafter to have held clerical “obedience” to be a “cardinal virtue”.
But are the Vatican Cardinals going to be the last word here? While no European emperors or monarchs in the last century have had a significant say on selecting popes, the modern rule of law is now being applied by constitutional democracies increasingly to the previously unaccountable Vatican administration. At the same time, the modern papal geo-political strategy continues to produce spectacular failures, thereby weakening in many cases the Vatican’s ability to resist these significant legal incursions. These important legal and political developments will likely and should have considerable impact on the next papal election and its aftermath.
Prosecutors and abuse survivors’ civil lawyers from constitutional democracies worldwide, from Australia in the Pacific to Ireland in the Atlantic and to the USA in between, are relentlessly advancing legally on Rome, armed with the powerful modern weapons of international human rights law. They may soon be joined by the woman prosecutor from the independent International Criminal Court, who is reviewing a criminal complaint filed against the Pope and Cardinals Sodano, Bertone and Levada, alleging crimes against humanity related to the cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests worldwide.
The current Pope, and any designated successor, will likely be unable to prevent some of these lawyers from breaching the high Vatican walls and gaining access to secret papal files, initially relating to the child abuse scandal, but who knows what else? What might these lawyers find? Once these files are public, it is impossible to predict all of the potential outcomes, but none of them will likely support continuation of the current Roman Holy Empire.
Meanwhile, papal political power also appears on the wane in many other countries, often as a reaction to the papal failure to curtail effectively the worldwide sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
As European monarchs chose not to stop the Italian nationalists from seizing the Papal States in 1870 in part out of dissatisfaction with papal failures to adopt political reforms, it is not likely the Vatican will get much sympathy from current political leaders. The days of Cardinal Sodano complaining, as he did, about aggressive U.S. lawyers for survivors of priest sexual abuse to President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State are over. Now the focus shifts to Australia.
Will Australia's Commission compel Vatican changes?
Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s prominent Cardinal, has been considered by some informed sources as a top prospect to be elected pope in the next papal election expected to be held soon. After spending considerable time in late October in Rome with the Pope and numerous other top Cardinals and Bishops at the lengthy Evangelization Synod that was mainly silent on the priest child sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Pell indicated unexpectedly in a public speech last month that the criminal moral cancer of sexual abuse of children by priests is the most important and powerful barrier to Catholic evangelization at present. As Cardinal Pell now faces an unprecedented Australian national governmental commission to investigate thoroughly organizational child sexual abuse in Australia, including in the Catholic Church, he surprisingly admitted in his recent speech that the Catholic Church has failed to deal effectively with some predatory priests and to help enough abuse victims heal. He further acknowledged that much more needs to be done in the child protection area.
Amazingly, as mentioned above, the Evangelization Synod orchestrated by the Pope in late October barely mentioned the child abuse scandal. What may have caused Cardinal Pell so suddenly to “get religion” on abuse matters? Evidently, Cardinal Pell is very concerned about the unprecedented investigation commission, and he should be from all indications. So should Pope Benedict XVI and so should worldwide Cardinals and Bishops.
Cardinal Pell’s quick “conversion” raises questions of where Pope Benedict VI now stands. The October Synod seemed to indicate that the Pope will continue mainly to avoid the abuse scandal. The continuation of Kansas City’s Bishop Finn after his child endangerment conviction suggests continuing Vatican stonewalling. Moreover, the appointment of Cardinal Law’s former canon lawyer as chief Vatican abuse case prosecutor suggests more of the same.
Pope Benedict XVI is generally publicly elusive, doesn’t give journalists regular access and often clouds his carefully drafted statements, and now “Tweets”, with mystical smokescreens. But he has given some clear indications of his ongoing strategy on predatory priests, especially by some of his consistent actions and failures to act, including the recent Synod, Bishop Finn’s retention and his new chief prosecutor appointment. What might the Pope’s current strategy be?
The Church’s organizational structure is analytically fairly simple. At the top is a pope who is “chief executive officer”, supreme legislator and top judge for life. In practice, papal decisions appear often to be influenced strongly, if not at times controlled by, senior Vatican Cardinals, especially the Secretary of State, currently Cardinal Bertone, who succeeded Cardinal Sodano, who appears still to be influential. Both of these Cardinals have reportedly been linked to several long standing scandals; Bertone to the Vatican Bank and a Milan hospital scandals and Sodano to the Mexican child sex abuser, Fr. Maciel, who eluded Vatican investigators for almost a half century by, among other things, reportedly frequently sprinkling large cash payments to powerful members of the Vatican clique.
The Pope, with his Vatican management team, controls Church canon law and judicial proceedings, and selects and controls worldwide Catholic bishops, who can be removed promptly by the pope. Priests and male and female members of religious orders are controlled directly by local Bishops and/or Vatican managers who direct the orders’ superiors. Any who deviate from currently favored Vatican theological or even political positions are generally disciplined promptly, often harshly and unfairly.
Pope Benedict XVI’s strategy appears targeted at maintaining maximum obedience to current papal theological, ecclesiastical and political positions. Opposing positions are at best given lip service, with the result that millions of Catholics, including priests, have left the Catholic Church in frustration, if not disgust. Some who stay try almost hopelessly and usually unsuccessfully to effect changes by stressing contrary precedents, especially the positions approved at the Second Vatican Council. In theory, clear positions approved by Church Councils could trump a contrary Vatican position. In practice, especially under Popes Benedict XVI and his immediate predecessor, in several crucial areas the Vatican’s interpretations of the Council is what controls Church practice, regardless of the weakness of the arguments supporting them.
The Catholic Church’s key “product identity” appears, as mentioned above, to be to create a “monopoly” on the Eucharist, a central element of Catholic worship at the Mass, and on the all male celibate priesthood currently needed to offer the Eucharist worldwide, subject to the control of Bishops and ultimately the Vatican. A common meal of fellow believers in Jesus’ time, at least occasionally overseen by women, has become the central “unique product” in the Vatican’s “marketing” strategy. The pope and his Vatican management team, through numerous “theological” and liturgical statements, seeks to protect and preserve the Vatican’s monopoly here, but need a sufficient number of obedient priests to offer the “product”.
The Vatican seeks zealously to preserve its worldwide “market position” by protecting its “monopoly” on the Eucharist and on the requisite celibate male priesthood against other Christian religious traditions externally and against alternative viewpoints internally, especially espoused often from women seeking admission to the priesthood.
While millions of Catholics have left the Church in rejection of the Vatican’s positions and approach, the Vatican’s prohibition on contraception has helped generate millions of “replacement Catholics”, born to Catholic couples whether or not the couples wanted or could afford to have additional children. Some of those children who survive, often in miserable circumstances, become future sources of Vatican power and wealth, as well as of new priests to serve to fill numerous priest shortages worldwide.
Against this organizational background, the Vatican has seemed incapable of containing its worldwide crisis of children being sexually assaulted by priests. Priests are needed to offer the main “product”, the Eucharist. It takes years under current procedures to train young men to serve as obedient and low wage “producer priests”. The supply of domestic priests is diminishing in many countries and foreign “imports” have not and realistically in most cases cannot satisfactorily resolve the shortages.
Fearful of permitting priests to marry or to have women as priests, both of which means the Vatican might have to risk being viewed as “fallible” and then have to deal on a equal basis openly with women priests or priests’ wives, and even some mothers, on all issues, including child protection matters, and also pay at least married priests higher wages, the Vatican has to date thereby retracted the potential supply of new priests.
Consequently, Bishops are increasingly forced at times to ordain questionable seminarians and still even to retain predatory priests. Given the artificial constriction, by prohibiting married and female priests, of the already diminishing candidate pool, the prospects are increasingly bleak for solving the predatory priest problem, no matter what the Vatican and its apologists may say otherwise!
Moreover, the Vatican’s financial policy seems impervious to the multi-billion dollar continuing cash drain from child abuse claims. A continuing revenue stream from governmental subsidies, docile Catholics’ and protected plutocrats’ contributions, and Vatican investments and tax free properties, and a willingness to close parishes and schools almost indiscriminately, makes paying lawyers to protect Bishops an acceptable cost of business, like some Wall Street financial firms that often treat fraud claims as an acceptable cost of doing business.
Survivors’ lawyers, as alluded to above, seeking usually the most cash for their clients, sooner rather than later, can apparently be depended on to settle claims and keep the bishops’ potentially incriminating files sealed if the settlement amounts are high enough. Apparently, bishops will often pay whatever it takes to protect them. While this expensive litigation process has benefited a small percentage of abuse survivors, it has not benefited many other survivors nor stimulated the Bishops yet to adopt real accountability measures like thorough independent audits.
What can cardinals and Catholics do?
Are there steps Cardinals can take to reduce, or at least mitigate, the adverse effects of the likely implosion of the Holy Roman Empire? Yes, simply put, Cardinals should only vote for a papal candidate who will publicly commit, as a pre-condition of his election, to do the following:
1. Serve as Pope for five years only, and
2. Call an ecumenical council, to be held within 12 months outside Europe, with voting lay participants holding the same number of total votes as clerical participants, including an equal number of women that will review and update:
(a) Policies on contraception, divorce, mixed religious marriages and same sex marriages;
(b) Policies on married and female priests;
(c) Procedures for electing bishops and requiring equal lay participation in the elections; and
(d) Procedures for papal elections by worldwide bishops and for papal term limits no greater than ten years.
Are there steps that lay Catholics can take? Yes, simply put, just suspend all funding of Catholic causes if the Cardinals fail to take all the above steps at the next papal election, and do not resume contributions until all of these steps are taken.
In view of the unlikelihood, as indicated above, that the current Vatican administration will effectively curtail any time soon predatory priests on its own initiative, Catholics need to press their political leaders to compel the Vatican to take promptly all feasible corrective action to protect defenseless children from predatory priests.
Several of the themes discussed here are considered in more detail in my statement “Vatican: A New Child Protection Policy Now?”. Please read it at your convenience.
Please also circulate this full statement or relevant portions thereof widely, as you may consider helpful to reforming the Catholic Church, to protecting defenseless children, to comforting suffering abuse survivors and to giving many discouraged Catholics some new hope.
Matters described above can be readily supplemented by relevant material on the Internet by entering the relevant key words in Google for links to the underlying news and other reports.
Finally, several excellent and readable books available in bookstores or online amplify much of the foregoing. Helpful summaries and/or reviews of most of them are presently freely available at Amazon.com/books.
These selective books are:
• The Theology of Fear by Fr. Emmett Coyne.
• Can the Catholic Church Be Saved? by Fr. Hans Kung (forthcoming soon in an English version).
• What Happened at Vatican II by Fr. John O’Malley, S.J.
• Trent: What Happened at the Council by Fr. John O’Malley, S.J.
• Electing Our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Elect Its Leaders by Joseph O’Callaghan.
• Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church by Jason Berry.
• Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church by Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea.
• The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability For Human Rights Abuse by Geoffrey Robertson.
• The Politics of Sex and Religion by Robert Blair Kaiser, available for FREE as an E-Book here.
Jerry Slevin is a retired Wall Street lawyer. He blogs at Christian Catholicism.