First we need to recognize that something has gone seriously wrong.
The other day my wife and i went to the Pontifical High Mass at the National Shrine in Washington. The occasion was the fifth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s papacy. The pope has gone out of his way to revive the old Mass (Tridentine rite), and the organizers had been looking for some publicity. The Shrine is an enormous place, seating 3,500 people, and a half-empty church wouldn’t look so good. Answered prayer:
A few days before the event, the Mass attracted huge press
attention. But not of the desired kind.
The planned celebrant was Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, who was prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy in Rome in the years 1996-2006. In other words, he was one of the leading curial officials during the later years of Pope John Paul II. Castrillon turned 80 last July, so he is no longer a voting cardinal.
Then the never-ending saga of sexual abuse reared its ugly head. It was revealed that in 2001 Castrillon had written an embarrassing letter to a French bishop, commending him for refusing to report a criminally abusive priest to the police. The priest had sexually abused 11 minor boys and was later sentenced to 18 years in prison. The bishop received a three-month suspended sentence for not reporting the crimes, in violation of French law. Castrillon had written to the bishop (of Bayeux-Lisieux):
I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am happy to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son, a priest.
Then, on April 16, speaking in Spain at a conference on the legacy of John Paul II, Castrillon really stirred up trouble. He said that in 2001 he had shown this letter to John Paul II, who had authorized him to send it. Then it was posted on the website for the Congregation for the Clergy, where it has long been a public record. It was deliberately publicized just as Cardinal Castrillon was due to arrive in Washington for an event celebrating the pope’s anniversary. The goal, surely, was to add to the negative publicity already heaped on Pope Benedict. The letter, of course, actually implicated his predecessor, John Paul II, in tolerating the cover-up of criminally abusive priests.
Protests at the Shrine were promised, and Cardinal Castrillon was promptly disinvited. (By Washington’s Archbishop Donald Wuerl? It is not clear.) Castrillon was replaced at the last minute by Edward Slattery, the bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma, since 1994.
When my wife and I reached the Shrine, about 20 minutes ahead of time, most of the pews were already filled. We managed to find seats, but off to one side, the high altar not in view. The music was excellent — a choir sang a Palestrina Mass — and as I listened, I pondered some of the developments enveloping the Catholic Church.
THE CHURCH TODAY has an ever growing roster of enemies. The mainline Protestant denominations are succumbing to the anti-Christian rebellion of our time; Episcopalian leaders embrace homosexual bishops. As the rot spreads, the Catholic Church will become ever more conspicuous as a bastion of unfashionable truth — a standing rebuke to godless egalitarianism; to the pretense that men are interchangeable with women; to the edict that no law should stand in the way of a woman desiring an abortion, that homosexual behavior is acceptable, that single-sex unions are just like normal marriages, that marriage can be put asunder, or dispensed with altogether. In short it is a rebuke to relativism — to almost everything that the New York Times holds dear.
Modern liberalism seeks to bring maximum discredit upon the present pope and if possible to abolish the institutional Church altogether. “I hope the wretched organization will vanish entirely,” the Oxford atheist author Philip Pullman said recently.
Faced with the recent crisis, the dominant impulse of the orthodox Catholic — to maintain solidarity with the pope — is one that I certainly accept. But some distinctions are essential. First we need to recognize that something has gone seriously wrong. We also need to pinpoint some errors. Here are some examples, as I see them. The first sheds further light on Cardinal Castrillon.
In the 1980s, the then bishop of Tucson, Manuel Moreno, found himself saddled with a priest, Robert Trupia, who had sexually abused dozens of minor boys and, further, had been protected by the previous bishop of Tucson. When Bishop Moreno tried to take action, Trupia threatened to reveal that he had also had sexual relations with the then bishop of Phoenix, James Rausch (a protégé of Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago). Bishop Moreno took Trupia’s case to Rome. At that point Cardinal Castrillon not only protected Trupia but actually threatened Moreno with financial damages if he did not allow the predator to maintain his priestly status within the diocese. Moreno died in 2006.
Meanwhile there had been a fundamental disagreement within the Curia as to how these complaints should be handled. Only in 2001 did Cardinal Ratzinger win that jurisdiction and at that point cover-up ceased to be Church policy. Trupia was laicized in 2004. The details of this case were only recently made available to the National Catholic Reporter and published by Jason Berry. Together with the late Gerald Renner, a reporter for the Hartford Courant, Berry wrote a most informative book called Vows of Silence (2004)
(I knew Jason Berry when I lived in New Orleans in the 1970s and I have recently been back in touch with him. He is a man of the left, and he and I disagree about many things. But we strongly agree that this corruption within the Church needs to be exposed, especially as Roman concealment had been the essence of this corruption.)
The Legion of Christ, founded in Mexico by Fr. Marcial Maciel in 1941, has already been much in the news. Both Maciel and the Legion were praised and supported by John Paul II. But already, going back to 1976, nine seminarians had charged that they had been sexually abused by Maciel, who also turned out to have a daughter and three sons. For years, a stream of support for Maciel and attacks directed at his critics worked to silence criticism. Bundles of cash were handed to high curial officials. Many of these payments were documented in two recent articles by Jason Berry. A particular beneficiary was Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the secretary of state and John Paul’s “prime minister” (as the pope referred to him).
On a trip to Rome in 2003, my wife and I were given details of a $100,000 payment to a construction company controlled by Sodano’s nephew, in return for Sodano’s assurance that the Jesuits would not be able to expand in Mexico, the Legion’s home base. In a word, Sodano was bribed. But not everyone was so corrupt. One senior official in Rome who was handed “for his charitable use” an envelope of Legionary cash and who curtly refused it was Cardinal Ratzinger — later Pope Benedict. In 2004 he initiated an investigation of the Legion, and Maciel was soon disgraced. He died in 2008. In March this year the Legion acknowledged that Maciel had been guilty of “reprehensible action.” Further developments are expected. One may wonder whether the Legion will survive.
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