I found out something significant about the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church as I sat inside Judge M. Teresa Sarmina's criminal courtroom in Philadelphia April 30 and listened to Msgr. Kevin Michael Quirk, a church canon lawyer from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W. Va.
Examining the Crisis
In a none too subtle posting on his Archdiocese of New York blog, Cardinal Timothy Dolan -- the newly minted and over the top feted eminence -- confirmed the bishops’ new strategy: playing hardball against victims and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in particular. Any reader of a diocesan newspaper knows that bishops are experts at the coy, the obfuscating, the lovely sounding but non-relevant tinkling brass and clanging symbol approach to communication. When they do otherwise it pays to take heed.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, came into existence in 1989, just five years after national attention was first focused on sexual molestation of minors by Catholic clergy. SNAP came into existence because the institutional church, i.e., the bishops, could not and would not do anything to help the victims of the priests they were supposed to supervise.
Both Pennsylvania and New York will have an uphill battle to get any legislation dealing with the sexual abuse of children discussed, let alone signed into law, regardless of what has been happening lately at Penn State, Syracuse or any other educational, religious, public or private institution.
The British High Court ruled Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church can be held responsible for the wrongdoings of its priests, according to BBC News.
"The Church had claimed it could not be held vicariously responsible because there was no formal employment relationship with its priests," the site reported.
It has been almost 10 years since the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States mandated accountability and transparency in regard to the sexual abuse of children, but how that accountability and transparency was defined was ultimately left up to individual bishops, as was their application.
Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, or prime minister, of Ireland, addressed the Irish Parliament about a judicial report released last week on how the Cloyne diocese responded to the clergy sex abuse crisis. That report found that the church's own guidelines were "not fully or consistently implemented" in the diocese as recently as 2008. It also accused the Vatican of being "entirely unhelpful" in the crisis, charging in fact that the Vatican "effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore [those] procedures."
Kenny told the Parliament "the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism … the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."
The publication of the most recent John Jay study of sexual abuse in the church has been met by predictably impassioned binary responses. Church leaders seem to idealize the results, feeling vindicated in at least some of their responses to sexual abuse. Victims and advocates, on the other hand, lambaste the research as a dismissive invalidation of their pain. It is always difficult to speak dispassionately about sexual abuse; the crimes at issue involve passion, denial by perpetrators is standard fare, and brittle experiences of new betrayal are at the ready for victims expecting their suffering to be minimized. It is worth trying, however, to put passion aside temporarily to make room for reason. I hope to do a little of that here.
Before unpacking specific aspects of the John Jay study, it is important to put the entire project into a research and scholarly context.
In the last few days I have carefully read the entire 143-page John Jay report on the causes of clergy sex abuse in the United States and have again reviewed the executive summaries and conclusions of 17 of the 27 reports on clergy sexual abuse that have been published between 1989 and 2011.
Most of these are from official sources such as the U.S. grand juries, the three Irish reports (Ferns, Ryan, Murphy) or the two Canadian reports that resulted from the Mt. Cashel debacle of the eighties. Others are from Church sources such as the National Review Board Report of 2004, The Bernardin Report of 1992 or Church sponsored reports such as the Defenbaugh Report (Chicago, 2006) or the first John Jay Report from 2004. Most of the reports contained a section on causality.
None of the reports said anything about the effect of the culture of the sixties or seventies as a factor of causality but every one of them pointed to the various kinds and levels of failure by the bishops as the essential cause of the phenomenon of sexual abuse of children and minors by clerics.
In a circular letter to the world's bishops released today, the Vatican's Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith has asked every bishops' conference in the world to prepare "guidelines" for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. (See Vatican guidelines seek consistency on sex abuse.)
I believe that the guidelines will change very little in how the Catholic church handles these cases. Here are 10 reasons why I think that: