Saturday, April 10, 2010

Striking the Shepherd

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will have your faith shaken, for it is written:

‘I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be dispersed.’ (Mk 14:27).

What are we to make of the attacks against the Pope which seems to be going on daily… yet not a single allegation has been anything more than post hoc fallacy and insinuation, brought on by a media which seems to have no knowledge of Church procedures and no interest in learning?

The truth is, as the Church defends herself from these attacks and these defenses are entirely ignored by the media, what we are seeing is not an interest in protecting the youth and reporting the facts. What we are seeing is nothing less than an attempt to condemn the leader of the Catholic Church and shake the faith of those members of the Church.

The Effect of the Attacks

Tragically, it seems to be working. Polls claim that the popularity of the Pope is falling.  The London Times labels the Church defense against these unjust attacks as "bluster."  Church baiter Andrew Sullivan has claimed the Pope has "no moral authority."

None of these Charges have ever been proven. All of them have been Debunked

The problem is: While the media claims the attacks are true, in every case the charges made against Pope Benedict XVI have been debunked. The claim is that the Pope was responsible for quashing all attempts by the “heroic” bishops to remove predator priests. The fact is the media is employing the argument from silence fallacy to argue that since they have not heard of a solution, the Church did nothing and then Cardinal Ratzinger must have been responsible for this.

This kind of thing would be considered slander if the Pope was not considered a public person (in US law, conviction of slander against a public person requires proof that the story was published with malicious intent).

A Pyramid of Nothing

The public seems to be intimidated by a continued collection of stories against the Pope. The old adage where there’s smoke, there’s fire is considered to be true and the fact that the media is reporting these stories continually leads one to believe that there must be truth to it, even though the reports are entirely based on the media’s interpretation of documents and lawyers suing the Church, with no attempts to study what the Church has done, how it governed itself and so on.

The Oakland Case

In the latest case, we are told that then Cardinal Ratzinger was responsible for quashing the case, even though the CDF, at the time, only dealt with cases involving the abuse of the confessional. There is an excellent debunking of the story by Fr. Zuhlsdorf who points out the gross misunderstandings of the media in this case.

For example, the media reports that the priest himself requested a dispensation, which it confuses with laicization. The AP report says:

But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the "good of the universal church" and the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age." Kiesle was 38 at the time.

However the priest’s request was hardly a “stop me before I abuse again.” Fr. Zuhlsdorf points out what dispensation is in comparison to laicization, in his commentary on the story:

"DISPENSATION"? AP has been talking about the priest’s "removal" but not about a "dispensation".  What dispensation?  Dispensation from the obligations of the clerical state?  That is not the same as the "removal" implied in dismissal from the clerical state, which is a punishment.  Of course the half-informed scribblers of AP probably don’t understand this.  But, dear reader, this was an interesting line in the letter, if that is what it actually says in Latin.  As I read these things, here is what comes to mind.  And this is where the AP’s desires fall apart in this case.  In the 60’s and 70’s hordes of priests simply left ministry or, if they requested a dispensation from the obligations of the clerical state, they were often caused to wait a great deal of time – often a decade or more – until the priest was older and had a change to reflect – with the hope that somehow they might be recovered as priests.  Clearly this case is more complicated because the priest concerned had harmed children.  But back in the day, the standard operating procedure was to try to save priests from quitting.  Therefore, when a petition for dispensation had been made, the Congregation followed their standard operating procedure.

This is an excellent point. When we consider that in the 1980s, the CDF was only involved if the case involved solicitation in the confessional, the job to keep the priest in line fell to the Bishop, John Cummins, who appears to shamefully failed in his duties. Dispensation (the removal from obligations) is not the same thing as the penalty of laicization (the forbidding of the priest to practice his ministry). The priest was asking to be removed from the vows of celibacy and the like. Certainly this would be a scandal, and if the CDF had given a dispensation, I have no doubt that today the story would have been that the priest was “rewarded” for his actions (much as some say Cardinal Law was “rewarded” for his actions when he was “encouraged” to retire from one of the most powerful and influential dioceses in the United States and wound up being nothing more than a glorified pastor of an obscure church in Rome).

Any old stick will do to bash the Catholic Church.

“Defrocking” and Penalties

The media has been reporting about how certain priests were not “defrocked” (a false term) but it overlooks the fact that penalties can be exacted which forbid the priest from practicing their ministries which do not require laicization (which is limited to certain cases).

Whatever the penalty may be, the Church operates under the principle of law. It does not arbitrarily throw penalties about. The possibility of the accused being innocent is recognized. Investigations do need to be carried out, and the penalties need to fit the crime

In 2001, the Church did make changes to the rules in order to eliminate loopholes abusers could hide behind. Processes were streamlined and in severe cases, the CDF could eliminate the statue of limitations (ordinarily ten years after the abused minor reaches the age of 18).

The Double Standard

The ironic thing is, the Church stands condemned for not doing what it was (wrongly) accused of doing in the Inquisition… arbitrarily inflicting punishment on individuals without trial. So which is it? If the Church should be arbitrary, there is no cause for complaint when the Church is (falsely) accused of arbitrarily punishing during the Inquisition. If it is to take time and fairly investigate, then it also applies to priests accused of abuse.


Ultimately, the issue is that the Church is being attacked with the intent of undermining the support of the faithful. Whenever one story is debunked, another will keep on coming, with the intent of making the defenders weary and the average man in the pews thinking there must be some truth simply due to the sheer volume of the attacks.

Yet the fact that the reports are continually debunked should give the reader pause. If the attacks are continually shoddy and based on interpretation without proof to back it up, the veracity of the accuser should be investigated. If the media is continually shown to be misrepresenting the case against the Pope, shouldn’t we perhaps demand they prove the charge of guilt instead of demanding the Pope prove his innocence?

Perhaps we should even investigate the motives of the accusers from the media.

Of course it won't happen.  When a person is tried in the media, the accused is "guilty until proven innocent" and the accused is never innocent.

Because of this, my fellow Catholics should remember this: rash judgment is a sin.  We are obligated to be informed before passing judgment on another person… even the Pope.

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