Having said that, as a Catholic I believe it is long past time to stop accepting the dictates of fools and charlatans about our Church and, by extension, our faith. The matter of Lawrence Murphy, the priest who abused potentially hundreds of innocent children at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, has been only the latest brickbat by which the Catholics have been beaten over the last 20 years. A few thoughts:
- I don't think any Catholic, or any Christian of any denomination, needs to pay much attention to the harangues of a cynical atheist like Christopher Hitchens.
- Likewise, I don't much care what the cynical, blowsy Maureen Dowd has to say, either. She may claim to be nominally Catholic, but there is nothing in her background or her writings that suggests she understands the first thing about the Church.
- The glee that the MSM has demonstrated in invoking the Watergate narrative in this matter ("What did the Pope know, and when did he know it") is either silly or offensive. I'm having a difficult time deciding which. The latest "revelation" I've read moves the scandal all the way back to Paul VI. I supect a letter directed to one of the Avignon Popes will surface in the coming days.
- The key to understanding what happens is one word: anachronism. We are imposing the value judgments of today on events that happened years ago. The belief that was prevalent at the time was that pedophile priests could be treated and cured. As it turns out, that is not the case. It took too long for the Church to understand that, but we understand many things now that we didn't in, say, 1963.
- Is there evidence that Pope Benedict was derelict in his duties? Not especially. We now have the testimony of William Levada, formerly the Archbishop of San Francisco, who now heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office held by Benedict when he was known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Levada goes into great detail in discussing recent events and the news coverage. It's a longish piece but it's well worth your time to read it in full. The most relevant paragraphs are these:
I grew up in Wisconsin, in the Green Bay Diocese. Rembert Weakland, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, was always a controversial figure in the Church and his role in what happened in Milwaukee has not received a lot of attention. Weakland himself was forced from the Church in 2002, following revelations that he was an active homosexual who had long-standing affairs during his time as Archbishop. Weakland had both the motive and the standing to take action against Lawrence Murphy, but he did not. Is there a reason? No one knows, because it doesn't appear that he has been asked.
Goodstein’s account bounces back and forth as if there were not some 20 plus years intervening between reports in the 1960 and 70’s to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and local police, and Archbishop Weakland’s appeal for help to the Vatican in 1996. Why? Because the point of the article is not about failures on the part of church and civil authorities to act properly at the time. I, for one, looking back at this report agree that Fr. Murphy deserved to be dismissed from the clerical state for his egregious criminal behavior, which would normally have resulted from a canonical trial.
The point of Goodstein’s article, however, is to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time. She uses the technique of repeating the many escalating charges and accusations from various sources (not least from her own newspaper), and tries to use these “newly unearthed files” as the basis for accusing the pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others.
Weakland's successor, Jerome Listecki, says the blame belongs in Milwaukee:
Mistakes were made in the Lawrence Murphy case. The mistakes were not made in Rome in 1996, 1997 and 1998. The mistakes were made here, in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, by the Church, by civil authorities, by Church officials, and by bishops. And for that, I beg your forgiveness in the name of the Church and in the name of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Listecki is correct. Yes, the Church has had a global problem and only in the last decade or so has it started to find a solution. It is important to understand that individual Archbishops have great authority and their own views matter a lot. If you doubt the importance of an individual archbishop, consider the ongoing attacks that John Nienstedt, who is the Archbishop here in the Twin Cities, faces from the likes of Nick Coleman. Weakland wielded enormous power in the Archdiocese, and by extension throughout heavily Catholic Wisconsin. And for reasons we do not know, he did not stop what happened at the St. John's School for the Deaf.
But you know what? In the end, the issue isn't really affixing blame for what happened. The larger issue is healing those who were hurt and ensuring that future generations of children will never face what the children at St. John's did. The Church continues to make progress on both fronts. We have a long way to go and it will take the prayers of the faithful. As a Catholic, I have a responsiblity to offer prayer and support for the victims. I do not have any obligation to accept the dictates of Maureen Dowd or her partners at the New York Times.