The Catholic Church’s 2010 sex abuse scandal unleashed a global tidal wave of criticism against the world’s largest Christian institution. George Weigel, author of two books about Pope John Paul II, challenges the nature of this criticism. He argues that although the Vatican undoubtedly mishandled the crisis, press coverage of the situation was deeply flawed, which created a misguided narrative that didn’t accurately represent the reality of the situation. While reform in the Catholic Church is necessary, reform of media reporting is also needed. As evidence, Mr. Weigel outlines the false assumptions that caused the media to misrepresent the scandal to the broader public. John Allen, Jr. remarks on the problems in Catholic Church operations that led to the scandal. The two experts present a comprehensive understanding of the crisis that allows readers to develop more informed opinions on the issue.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Welcome. For those of you who are new, you may want to know how we select our topics. You’ll see in that little brochure in your pamphlet on the Faith Angle Forum we have eight advisors to this program. They are: E.J. Dionne, Carl Cannon, Frank Foer, Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Barbara Bradley Hagerty.
We meet twice a year, and we talk about topics that would be of interest to you at the intersection of religion and public life and that is something that is in the news that you’re wanting to know more about. We try to get the best speakers on those topics. That’s how we arrived at this.
This is all being recorded. Everything will be on the record except when someone asks for it to be off the record. But we do like to transcribe these and put them up on our Website. People do read them, and they’re wonderfully rich conversations.
Now, our first topic. We have two of the best people on this subject in the world. They have written books about it, but also when we asked around who would be the best people to speak on this subject, the first two people I went to are these two right here. They said yes, and we’re delighted.
As you know, George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and a colleague of mine at Ethics and Public Policy Center. He’s written a definitive book on Pope John Paul II, but now he’s got a new book out, brand new, literally out a month, called The End and the Beginning: John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy.
So, George, we’re delighted to have you here, and thank you.
After George is finished, I’ll introduce John Allen, and then we’ll hear from John and then have the Q&A.
GEORGE WEIGEL: Thank you, Mike, and good morning, everyone. It was lovely to see so many of you last night. Some of you I haven’t seen since Rome in April 2005, which was a long time ago.
I want to thank Mike for inviting me to do this, and my friend John Allen for agreeing to share the slot. With all due respects to E.J. and others who have spent significant time in Rome, I wrote some years ago that John Allen is the best Anglophone Vatican reporter in history, and that’s a judgment I am sure I am not going to have to retract any time soon.
In the mid-1990s, I think it was, perhaps early 1990s, Pope John Paul II got wind that a distinguished Polish actor by the name of Jerzy Stuhr was in Rome. So he invited Stuhr to dinner. Stuhr was properly impressed by the invitation, came to the papal apartment. The Pope said his usual rapid-fire Latin grace and immediately started in and said, “So, Pan Jerzy, tell me what brings you to Rome?”
And Stuhr replies, “Your Holiness, I am playing in Forefathers’ Eve.”
Forefathers’ Eve, for those of you whose Polish literature is a little rusty is the most important play in the history of the Polish theater. It’s such a powerful evocation of the Polish national spirit that its production was banned publicly in the Russian and Prussian sectors of partitioned Poland in the 19th Century. Stuhr is doing Forefathers’ Eve.
The Pope said, “Ah, Forefathers’ Eve,” talks about how important a play this is in keeping alive the idea of the Polish nation, recites large chunks of the play by memory, and then says to Stuhr, “So, Pan Jerzy, tell me what role do you take?”
And Stuhr looks across the table at the Pope and says, “Your Holiness, I regret to report that I am Satan,” at which point and when I usually tell this story most people laugh.
MR. WEIGEL: And the Pope scratches his head for a minute and then says, “Well, none of us gets to choose our roles, do we?” which often provokes another laugh.
My role today, perhaps unchosen, is to raise questions about the way in which sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy was and is covered and to suggest some possible new angles of exploration for the future.
This is, of course, a complicated story, and I want to complicate it a little further by doing that awful thing that authors occasionally do, and that is quote myself. Eight years ago in this little book that Mike has provided for all of you, during the Long Lent of 2002, I insisted that “it was a serious mistake for some Catholic leaders and some Catholic traditionalists to argue that the crisis of sexual abuse was created by a media frenzy. It was not. The crisis was and is,” I wrote, “the Church’s crisis.” That’s on page 52, if you want to see if I’m quoting myself accurately.
Moreover, I said, I think, on page 53, the Church owed the press a debt of gratitude for “forcing to the surface issues that have for far too long been ignored or downplayed by the Church’s American leadership.”
I meant that then and I would mean it now with reference to eight years ago. To be sure that praise in 2002 was not unqualified, some things were gotten wrong. Other things were misinterpreted or skewed. There was perhaps most significantly little or no attempt to locate the problem of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, which involved a very small percentage of priests in the broader cultural context of an epic of sexual abuse of the young, which takes place primarily in families and in which there were far higher incidences of abuse in certain professional groups, like public school teachers, whose crimes went virtually unexamined.
Still, on balance, I would strongly defend the claim I made in 2002 that this was not the media’s crisis and that the Church owed responsible reporters and editors, many of whom are in this room, a great debt of gratitude.
I think, however, it would be difficult to say that in quite so unambiguous a way about Scandal Time II, as some of us came to call this past spring. But rather than go through a point by point identification of what seemed to me to be specific errors in reporting or specific errors of demonstrable editorial bias, I would rather look forward. The difference, it seems to me, between Scandal Time I in 2002 and Scandal Time II in 2010 is explained in part by a set of assumptions that skewed the most recent reporting and analysis sometimes rather badly.
Left in place, these assumptions will continue to distort coverage of the Catholic Church across the full spectrum of questions in which the Church is engaged, and that would be bad for both journalism and for the Church.
So in good biblical style, let me identify here telegraphically seven problematic assumptions that seem to me to be at work not all the time, but certainly more than once in this latest round of coverage and commentary earlier this year. The first of these is the assumption of the omnicompetence of the papacy or the notion that the Pope is an absolute monarch such that if anything goes wrong in the Catholic Church, the Pope is ultimately responsible.
This is not true in either theory or in practice. During the third period of the Second Vatican Council, when the Council Fathers were completing work on the theological centerpiece of Vatican II’s work, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Paul VI proposed that a sentence be inserted in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church that would read, “The Pope is answerable to the Lord alone,” or, “The Pope is responsible to the Lord alone.”
That papal suggestion was rather sharply rejected by the Council’s Theological Commission which said that the Pope is responsible to any number of things which constrain his ability or capacity to do whatever he might wish to do. He’s constrained by the tradition of the Church. He’s constrained by the sacramental system of the Church. He’s constrained by the rules of logic. He is constrained by the canon law that governs his office, and so forth and so on. So that suggestion by Paul VI did not make it into the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
The Pope, in other words, is the servant of an authoritative tradition. He is not the tradition’s master.
This notion of papal omnicompetence is also not true in practice for no matter how competent, insightful, prophetic in the real sense of the term, ability to see things that others don’t see, a given pope may be, his exercise of the office of Peter is circumscribed by any number of human realities.
The first of these, of course, is the competence of his subordinates. A Pope may have a genuinely prophetic capacity to see around corners and look through walls, as John Paul II seemed to have had an intuition of the vulnerability of the Communist system in central and eastern Europe that many of his diplomats were completely oblivious to, as I try to demonstrate in The End and the Beginning. But the competence of those subordinates nonetheless circumscribes what the Pope can do.
The Pope’s ability to affect the life of the Church is also shaped considerably by the prerogatives of local bishops. It’s quite striking that as the Catholic Church has tried to move away in its own theology and self-understanding from the notion that bishops are simply local branch managers of RC, Inc., and the Catholic Church, you know, the CEO is in Rome, many of us have hung onto that notion that bishops are essentially branch managers or, if you like, platoon leaders in the Marine Corps who, when the Commandant says X, everybody staples a salute to their forehead and proceeds to do what they’re told. This is not the case as, of course, many of you did report this year.
The Pope’s practical capacity to affect the life of the Church is also shaped by his own shrewdness in judging people and in making appointments, and of course, this connects to the first two points, the point about the competence of subordinates and the prerogatives of local bishops. This is — I think John will discuss this perhaps. I know I will a bit later — one of the most interesting dynamics of the present pontificate where you have an indisputably world class theological mind operating in the office of Peter, and yet real questions can be raised about Pope Benedict’s shrewdness in the appointment of subordinates, as well as about John Paul II.
So this assumption that the Pope is a kind of absolute monarch or Marine Commandant is problematic in itself. It’s also particularly problematic, it seems to me, because it tended this past spring to deflect attention from where attention needs to be paid, and that is to the functioning of local bishops who in, I would say, the overwhelming majority of cases that have come to the light of public attention since 2002 are where the source of the genuine problem, the problem of malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, et cetera, lies.
The second assumption that seems to be at work and needs to be cleared out is the assumption that the higher altitudes of the Roman Curia are led by men of world class competence, including the assumption, the sub-assumption within Assumption No. 2, if you will, that the Vatican runs what’s often called “the world’s best intelligence service” through its Nunciature system. This is simply not true.
The quality of heads of decasteries in the Roman Curia over the past 20, 30, 40 years that I’ve been paying any attention to this does not seem to me necessarily higher than in other countries to which I pay attention or other systems in which I pay attention, like the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom, and in some notable instances that competence is quite lower.
One of the major problems in addressing forcefully and quickly the problems that came to the surface in 2002 was the absolute incompetence of Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos to wrap his mind around these problems, which among other things led to what is arguably the worst curial press conference in modern history until several of Father Lombardi’s efforts earlier this year.
As for the information flow, this notion of the great intelligence service, I can tell you from personal experience, which I have described in this little book and which I describe at greater length in The End and the Beginning, that John Paul II was literally four months behind the curve of information in the period January to April 2002 because of grossly inadequate reporting from the apostolic nunciature, the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. We were in the middle of April. He was in early January.
This sounds incredible. I assure you it is true. I lived through this during two extremely difficult and challenging weeks in Rome. It seems unimaginable under present communication circumstances, and yet that was the situation.
So throughout all that year, while there was some closing of the gap, there was a serious, serious disengagement between what was happening on the ground in America and the structure of understanding of what was happening there that prevailed not only in the Roman Curia, but in the papal apartment.
These two false assumptions that these guys really know what they’re doing and that they have a fantastic flow of information often lead to a further problematic assumption, namely, they must have a crisis management strategy, which then leads to a determination, sometimes bordering on an obsession to try to figure that out. But there wasn’t any crisis management strategy in 2010, at least in the March, April, May period, as there wasn’t in 2002.
That may also seem incredible, but those of you who have more experience than others of the Italian age character of the institution with which we’re concerned here and its Roman headquarters will not be surprised by that.
It’s also wrong to assume that the senior officials of the Roman Curia, say the 20 people at the most — and 20 would be an outside figure — who have real weight and real decision making capacity in issues like the ones we’re discussing, it’s a very serious mistake to assume that those 20 people live in the same 24-7 communications universe we do. They don’t, and if we assume that they do, then we’re going to make further false assumptions about alleged indifference, or worse, alleged dissembling.
I might add that in his new book, which will be published, I believe, next week, a lengthy interview with the German journalist Peter Savov, Benedict XVI rather frankly admits that this is a real problem with specific reference to both the abuse crisis and to simply not knowing that Richard Williamson, this Lefebvrist bishop, was a world class lunatic. Whether those admissions will lead to significant change remains to be seen, but at least the recognition that there is a serious problem there, and I want to come back to that at the end.
The third difficult or problematic assumption it seems to me to have been in play most recently, although to some degree in 2002 as well, is what I might call a general hermeneutic of suspicion, or in this case the assumption that there is a well formed and institutionalized will to deceive at the highest levels of the Vatican. This assumption which is the product of both centuries of history and recent polemics is often reinforced by the sometimes breathlessly incompetent activities of the current Holy See press office with which I’m sure all of you have had to deal in one way or another.
Back in the day, ten years ago, people would say of Joaquin Navarro Valls, John Paul II’s long time portavoce, or press spokesman, Joaquin has brought the press office into the 20th Century, to which I would reply: yes, the first quarter of the 20th Century.
And since the change of regime in 2005, I fear we have had a reversion to what remains, I think, the institutionalized default position that is somehow transmitted in the institutional DNA of the Roman Curia. That default position was once given quite striking formulation by the late Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, John Paul II’s Secretary of State, the architect of the “Ost Politik” of Pope Paul VI, probably the most competent curialist of his generation, a man firmly on the liberal end of the Catholic spectrum, who nonetheless famously said once, I believe at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where they train the Vatican diplomats, “We don’t care what they write as long as we can do what we want to do.”
Now, I said at the time this is perhaps an attitude appropriate to the Congress of Vienna when the diplomats meet under the chandeliers at Schoenborn Palace and clink glasses and get the deals done that way. But it is not an appropriate attitude in the present environment, and yet I think it remains very much present in the Roman Curia where the notion that no story is a good story, where the notion that one could actually go out and engage men and women of the media and try to frame stories in a sensible way is very, very difficult to come by.
Now, to be sure, that in itself is affected by the media environment immediately surrounding the Roman Curia, namely, Italy, where as I have noted on more than one occasion, the borderline between fact and fiction is permeable, and when people don’t have a story, they are given to making up stories.
Clare may remember that when we all got to Rome right after John Paul II died in April 2005, I said to our whole NBC gang, “Remember what I’ve been telling you for six years. Don’t read the Italian papers. I’ll read the Italian papers, and I’ll be the filter on that because I, frankly, have a better bullshit detector than you guys do on this stuff.”
But nonetheless that remains. That notion that, you know, we don’t really care as long as we can do what we want to do is still in place there. Now, it’s a completely dumb idea because as they ought to have learned by now, what they write, print, broadcast, narrow-cast, podcast, stream live over the Internet, et cetera, has a lot to do with how the Church’s message is perceived and received.
But there it is, and it’s very much part of the situation with which we deal in this crisis of abuse question and with other issues as well. All of this, I think, leads in turn to frequently missing the simplest, truest explanation of what appears to be dissembling, indifference, et cetera, and that is simply that these people were blindsided and scrambled to respond.
Fourth, closely related to the assumption that there is somewhere lurking in all of this a will to deceive in the Vatican is an inarticulate but perhaps not altogether difficult to discern assumption of institutionalized hypocrisy. It is no secret that the Catholic Church’s sexual ethic and the Catholic Church’s position on a wide range of controverted public policy issues are signs of contradiction to many in the Western world, including many in the Western media. Violations of that sexual ethic, as in the abuse crisis that are not immediately met by draconian public penalties are then assumed to necessarily imply hypocrisy among Church leaders and lead to a kind of “gotcha” reporting and commentary.
Thus, in both 2002 and 2010, it seems to me, there were other explanations of the facts, truer explanations of the facts that were often missed. For example, the fact that the new 1982 Code of Canon Law was crafted to protect priests from the arbitrary abuses of power by bishops, a real problem in some parts of the world Church in the 20th Century, and that this good intention went awry when bishops concluded that they did not have the canonical or legal means to discipline abusive clergy.
Now, whether that was, in fact, true or not remains very much a controverted point, but that’s what they thought. And they thought that because the system had been set up to be more fair, more judicially responsible in the 1982 code.
Another fact that was missed is that reducing a man, an abuser, to the lay state persistently and, if you will permit me, mindlessly dubbed “defrocking,” a word which has absolutely no meaning in any known Catholic vocabulary, is often worse for both the Church and society. It’s worse for the Church because the Church has no way to control the man who has been laicized or reduced to the lay state, and it’s worse for society because that man cut loose from any possibility of institutional control by the institution in which he had spent some considerable part of his life might, therefore, pose a future risk because of what we know to be a high rate of recidivism in some of these cases.
This missing of the facts, I think, also leads, has led to the repetitive and repetitively unimpressive, if I may be candid, questions about the relationship of the abuse problem in the Catholic Church to celibacy, despite the absolutely well established sociological fact that somewhere around 50 to 60 percent of the sexual abuse of the young takes place in families.
This brings us bumping up against the fifth problematic assumption, and that is the assumption that the sexual abuse of the young is a distinctively Catholic problem and, indeed, an institutionalized Catholic problem. Now, that may be true in Ireland. We don’t know that, but there’s an awful lot of smoke indicating a fair amount of fire there. Unfortunately, according to David Quinn and other reliable sources in Dublin and around Ireland, there is no reliable comparative data in Ireland at least David was aware of comparing the incidence of abuse between clergy and other religious professionals and other similarly situated professional groups.
So it may be true in Ireland that this is a distinctively Catholic problem and an institutionalized Catholic problem. Indeed, the Pope’s letter to the Church in Ireland suggested something of the latter.
But it’s certainly not true in the United States. It’s not a distinctively Catholic problem, and that frequently did not get said. The result was a kind of overkill perhaps more prevalent in 2002 than 2010, but echoes of that overkill were certainly heard this past spring.
In the peak months of coverage of the abuse scandal in 2002, the Catholic Church’s problems with the crime of sexual abuse got 500 percent more coverage than the Martha Stewart scandal and almost twice as much coverage as the D.C. sniper story in a comparable six-month period. There were 44 stories in U.S. newspapers on the abuse of children in Hari Krishna schools from October 2001 to April 2002, and 17,310 stories on Catholic scandals in a comparable six-month period from January 2002 to June 2002.
Perhaps most disturbingly, from the point of view of those of us who are parents and grandparents, the extensive focus on Catholic abuse, crimes and scandals sucks the air out of the much larger story of patterns of child and adolescent sexual abuse throughout society, which is an ongoing and heart rending scandal throughout our country, as indeed it is throughout the world.
The Catholic Church in 2010 is arguably the safest environment for young people and adolescents in the country, but there are many non-safe environments where the reach of public attention that can only be brought by an alert and responsible media has not reached. When these unsafe environments are marginalized or ignored or minimized, it’s not a wonder that some Catholics say, “What’s going on here?” in terms of bias.
Six, the sixth assumption, bad assumption is a kind of lack of skill in reading Church statements and documents that leads to missing real stories. A chief example of this, this past year was what I just mentioned a moment ago, Benedict XVI’s letter to the Church in Ireland, which was, in fact, very tough and began to dig into the real problems of ecclesiastical culture that in the Irish case, at least, abetted an awful pattern of the abuse of the young by both priests and nuns.
What was the response to this? In my hometown paper it was to afford an extraordinary amount of space to Sinead O’Connor who befouled the Outlook section of the Washington Post with calumnies and falsehoods running to several thousands of words.
Why was Benedict XVI’s really tough statement to Irish Catholicism so underplayed or distorted? Is it any wonder that when Sinead O’Connor is considered a reliable and thoughtful commentator on a Church she admits having abandoned, serious Catholics seemingly including those most seriously determined to face the real problems that exist and to root them out wonder what is going on and suspect that what is going on may be a filtering out of data that doesn’t fit a predetermined script or, as I am calling them here, a predetermined set of assumptions.
Finally, in the seventh place, let me say just a word about what seemed to me to be some not very helpful assumptions about who constitutes a reliable source in all of this. Rarely in my reading of the coverage were those most bitterly attacking Benedict XVI this past spring identified accurately and their own agendas acknowledged.
I recognize the problem of dealing with so-called Vatican insiders in a kind of media environment of the sort I described where we don’t care what they write as long as we can do what we want to do. But as I think John knows, being as accomplished at this as he is, E.J. certainly has some sense of this, Laurie and others, a lot of people who present themselves as Vatican insiders are really low level munchkins who have absolutely no idea of what’s going on, but living in the not altogether, shall we say, Puritanical work environment over there, are happy to spend hours over free cappuccini or Campari and Sodas telling you what they think is going on. This is a constant problem.
At a much higher and more serious level, Alberto Melloni was frequently cited in stories this past spring as a credible source on understanding Benedict XVI. Now, Melloni is a very serious guy, particularly quoted at great length in a Time cover story that rather had the juvenile title “Why Being Pope Means Never to Have to Say You’re Sorry.” What was unacknowledged in that story is that Melloni is the leader of a school of interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, the so-called Bologna School, that has been flatly and publicly rejected by Benedict XVI.
So Alberto Melloni is hardly the man to provide dispassionate commentary on the current Catholic situation or on the present Pope, or at least if you wish to take that commentary and report it, it ought to be identified as coming from the kind of source from which it comes.
As I wrote at the time, Melloni on Ratzinger is like Paul Krugman on Reaganomics, caveat lector.
Worse still was the rather regular use throughout the American media of Jeff Anderson, an attorney with a direct financial interest in abuse cases, as a source, and indeed as an authoritative source, without the caveats that would, one expects, be applied in any other comparable situation.
So while there is an ongoing and serious work of reform to do in the Church and many of us are grateful for what our friends in the media did in 2002, there is also a case to be made that serious reform is also required in press coverage of the Catholic Church if the coverage of Scandal Time II is representative. And that reform within the house of the fourth estate requires a rigorous questioning of that structure of assumptions that guides coverage of Catholicism, the Vatican, and the Pope.
Let me conclude with two very brief further thoughts, this time on reform within the Church. The first is, and I would hope John will pick up on this and perhaps flesh it out, is that the Vatican communications debacle has to end. You can’t be a church of a new evangelization, as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called the Catholic Church to be, a Church for whom mission is not one function among many. Mission is the whole raison d’etre of the institution, of the community. You can’t do that with a 19th Century communications apparatus.
In addition to what John might want to say about how that could work in this or a future pontificate or, indeed, in American dioceses, let me suggest that one key to this at least at the Roman level is a papal press spokesman who has regular contact with the Pope, the kind of contact that gave Navarro Valls a certain authority and a certain ability to coordinate the response of various Vatican organs to a complex set of issues like those in the abuse crisis.
The lack of that relationship between Father Lombardi and Pope Benedict XVI was a significant part of the problem of communications that was driving many of you and, indeed, me somewhat mad this past spring, and this really had to be addressed, if not now, because it’s not terribly easy to imagine an 83 year old man changing his mode of life dramatically, then it has to be addressed in the next conclave, and it has to be addressed by all of us in the run-up to that event.
The second point that I would make is that if you are interested in doing real reporting among serious Catholics throughout the world, I think you will find something quite striking, and that is while there remains enormous, strong, emotional, and affective and personal support for priests, there are real questions about the competence of bishops throughout the Church.
No matter where I go in the world Church, North America, Europe, Latin America, the single biggest complaint I hear from engaged and intelligent Catholics is about the competence of the local bishop. Some of that is unfair, but a lot of it isn’t, and it speaks to a serious problem that the abuse crisis has brought to the fore.
Let me put that problem in historical terms. In the early 19th Century when the first Catholic bishops were being appointed in the then nascent United States of America, Pope Pius VII had a free right of appointment in perhaps 50 of the then some 600 dioceses in the world. The rest were controlled by governments, by cathedral chapters or other ecclesiastical organizations, but the Church did not have — the Church as embodied by its leadership in Rome — simply did not have control over the most crucial appointments in its ordained leadership.
One of the great untold stories of the success of Vatican diplomacy over the past 200 years has been to change that situation such that now with what is it, more than 5,000 bishops in the world —
JOHN L. ALLEN, JR.: Five thousand and twelve.
MR. WEIGEL: This is very good. This is like John Paul getting off the plane in Azerbaijan and Navarro saying, “Holy Father, there are only 123 Catholics in this country.”
And the Pope turns around and says, “No, it’s 120.” So five —
MR. ALLEN: If I did the math, it would have been four times less expensive to fly all of them to Rome. That tends to bring the Pope down.
MR. WEIGEL: There you go.
Five thousand and twelve bishops in the world, and with the sole exceptions of Vietnam and China, the Church has essentially a free right of appointment. So the Church has gathered back to itself after what some of us would consider this period of Babylonian captivity to state power in the appointment of bishops. It has regained the capacity to order its own house according to its own criteria.
And, in fact, this has been imbedded in the new code of cannon law, which says that no rights of appointment are to be given in the future to state authorities.
However, if you were going to claim the right to appoint, then you must also in my view own the right to dismiss, and this is perhaps the single biggest management problem in the Catholic Church today, is that we do not have a mechanism in place for dealing with instances of manifest incompetence or worse in the exercise of the local Episcopal office, and that problem in turn explains a large amount, I think, of the dissatisfaction of not marginal Catholics, but serious Catholics, regular Church-going Catholics, major donor Catholics, with local bishops, with the quality of the Episcopate throughout the world Church.
So here is another huge problem that has got to be addressed presumably in the next pontificate. How does the Church get the quality of leadership that the people of the Church deserve, and how does the Church deal with the problem of, frankly, failed appointments? When we get it wrong, how do we deal with this?
This has got to be addressed. I addressed it actually a bit in The Courage to be Catholic, and it’s perhaps a shining example of how little influence I have over things that none of this has had the slightest dent that I can tell on the way things are done.
But it’s a big, big problem, and it’s perhaps in the abuse crisis, if one is thinking about this over the long term, it’s the biggest problem that has come to the surface that will have real effect on the life of the Church and the life of the people of the Church for the next 50 to 100 years.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you.
MR. WEIGEL: Thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, John Allen is a Senior Correspondent, National Catholic Reporter, and according to the London Tablet, the most authoritative Vatican writer in the English language.
How about that, John? You’ve got to live up to that.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah. If the Tablet said it, it must be true.
MR. WEIGEL: No, if I said it.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah. Well, look. The essence of a good response is always brevity. So, as Henry VIII said to each of his wives, I won’t keep you long.
I guess what I want to do at the outset is simply to say that I would endorse in broad strokes everything that George has said. I would agree that the coverage in 2002 was superior to the coverage in 2010. I think the seven flawed assumptions that George gave you cover a lot of ground in terms of explaining why that’s the case.
I think the central problem was in 2002 American reporters were writing about American bishops. So there was a shared culture that made understanding easier. In 2010, you had American reporters writing about the Vatican, which is a completely different cultural world.
I mean, if you want one window into that, one of my favorite examples would be differing concepts of time in these two cultures. My sound bite form of that usually is to say that America is a microwave culture and Rome is a crock pot culture, by which I mean that, you know, the American model is we want our food now. The Roman model is no, it’s supposed to simmer for a long time, and the idea is if you get the ingredients right it’ll taste better at the end.
That’s often a pretty big if, whether you get the ingredients right, but the point is that the default setting in American culture when faced with a problem is to act and act now. If something happens Tuesday morning, if you don’t have a solution for it by Tuesday afternoon, you’re either in denial or you’re incompetent or you’re complicit in the problem.
You know, the Roman model is the notion that you’re going to have a solution to a complex problem within 12 hours of having heard about it for the first time is just lunacy, and so the default setting is always to wait and to ponder. There’s this beautiful Italian word, which George knows well, “approfondire,” and this is the default Italian setting to any problem. Dobbiamo approfondire il discorso. We have to deepen the conversation. We have to think more, allow things to simmer.
And it’s not that one of these is right or the other is wrong, but that if you impose American assumptions about the lack of aggressive public policy response from the Vatican and interpret it through the lens of denial and incompetence and so on, you’re often going to misdiagnose things.
So I think navigating that cultural gap is very important, and I think the tools George has given us are helpful in terms of trying to think through that.
The question I would like to very briefly try to just add a couple of pieces to try and to answer, I think the central question that we face about the coverage of 2010 is why was the real story about Pope Benedict XVI’s record on the sex abuse crisis so difficult to tell in the American media environment, but that obviously begs the question of what was the real story. So let me try to give it to you in a nutshell.
I think the story is that prior to 2001, which of course, was the year of John Paul’s motu proprio, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, which was this legal document that dumped responsibility for the sex abuse crisis in the office then led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Prior to 2001, Joseph Ratzinger, his profile on this issue was utterly indistinguishable from any other senior figure in the power structure of the Catholic Church, that is to say, slow, ambivalent and often arguably in denial, not understanding the magnitude of the problem.
And this, of course, was largely because prior to 2001, Joseph Ratzinger had almost nothing to do with the sexual abuse crisis. I mean, there’s a reason that months and months into this reporting there still are only about four or five cases that have been put on the record where Ratzinger intersected with the sex abuse crisis: the Murphy case in Wisconsin, the Kiesle case of sexual abuse in Oakland. I mean, why are those the only cases we’ve heard about? Because these were the very rare instances in which this ever got to Rome. The vast majority of sex abuse cases prior to 2001 were never reported to the Vatican, never handled by the Vatican. They were handled on local levels.
So in 2001, Ratzinger gets responsibility for the problem and begins to read all the case files because from 2001 forward, local bishops were now obligated to send all of the case files to Rome for some kind of adjudication.
And so in the congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith, Ratzinger was forced to confront the reality of this problem by roughly 2003. He had read the case files for every priest anywhere in the world who had ever been credibly accused of sexual abuse, meaning that by that stage, he knew more at the level of detail about the nature of this crisis than arguably anyone else on the planet, with the possible exception of Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who was the sort of DA, the lead prosecutor in the Vatican, who was Ratzinger’s right-hand man on this issue.
That experience of having to read the case files and to become aware of the dimension of the problem produced a kind of conversion experience in Ratzinger and in the Congregation for the Doctrine in the Faith. And I will tell you from having covered the Vatican on an up close and personal basis day in and day out during this period, that the Vatican’s response to the crisis from 2001 to 2005 can basically be understood in terms of a conflict between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith led by Ratzinger, which was pushing for an aggressive response, and a number of other dicasteries, that is, Vatican departments, the Secretariat of State, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Clergy, which would have been the opposition, which would have argued that this crisis is, to some extent, has been overdramatized by sensationalist media coverage, and would have defended the due process rights of accused priests and felt the so-called zero tolerance policy adopted by the American bishops was an overreaction.
And then, of course, from 2005 forward, Ratzinger’s election to the papacy as Benedict, you know, we know his record. So the point is that prior to 2001, I think you can make a credible case, and we now have cases on the record of Ratzinger’s response being less than we today would suggest would have been appropriate.
Post 2001, you can really make an argument that Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict, is the great reformer on the sex abuse issue, the only guy at senior levels of the Church who seemed to get it and who seemed to sort of cajole the Church into a more dramatic response.
Why was that story so difficult to tell? Well, I think the seven points George has made are helpful. I just want to add two other pieces to the picture in terms of where things went wrong.
First, I think the Vatican drew a bad hand in the sense that the first bit of truly critical reporting in this most recent cycle about the Pope’s record was the Hullermann case in Munich. It’s the case of this priest Peter Hullermann who Joseph Ratzinger, of course, had been the Archbishop of Munich from 1978 to 1982. In 1980, there was a priest from another German diocese, the Diocese of Essen, named Peter Hullermann who went into Munich for therapy because he had been accused of the sexual abuse of some boys of the parish where he was serving in Essen. He went into Munich for treatment. Ratzinger was made aware of this. While he was in Munich he got an assignment in another parish where he went on to sexually abuse other young males and for which he was criminally convicted in Germany in 1986.
And this was all reported initially by the Suddeutsche Zeitung on March 12th and then very quickly by the New York Times, which fleshed out the picture and so on. I would argue that to this day, the Hullermann case remains the only truly serious indictment of Benedict XVI’s personal record on this issue. The other cases that have come to light, the Murphy case in Wisconsin, the Kiesle case in Oakland, you know, whatever you think about the Vatican’s response, that was the end of a very long chain of causation in which the lion’s share of responsibility for what went wrong are on other levels. They don’t reside in the Vatican.
But the Hullermann case was a genuine failure, and of course, the Vatican’s initial response to that both in the Vatican and in the Archdiocese in Munich was to try to insulate the Pope from blame, to argue that he didn’t make this decision. It was made by his Vicar General. Ratzinger didn’t know, and so on.
And you know, let me just say I buy that. I mean, knowing Joseph Ratzinger as I do, he very much lives in his mind. I mean, he’s never been interested in the nuts and bolts of ecclesiastical governance. He once famously said, “I do not have the charism of governance.”
So I find it perfectly credible that he did not know, but that, of course, doesn’t solve the problem. I mean, morally speaking the buck stopped in his desk. He was the Archbishop at the time this guy slipped through the cracks. So it’s not enough to say, “I didn’t know.”
You know, I mean, obviously, you have to go on to say, “But I should have known.” And I think had that been the response, had the response been that, you know, “I’m heartsick about this failure. You know, looking at it with the eyes of today, it’s obvious that the right precautions were not taken. I’m going to be reaching out to Father Hullermann’s victims to express my sorrow,” et cetera, et cetera. Had that been the tone, then I think it would have been easier to sort of mount a defense of the Pope’s record on the other cases that came to light.
Unfortunately, since that wasn’t the tone, I think the Vatican helped create an environment in which the script was denial, cover the wagons, insulate the Pope from responsibility. And once that script was in place, once that became the narrative, then I think that dominated the reporting of other cases as they emerged.
“The problem with the Church, in terms of its response to the crisis was not that it had bad law. It was that it had bad culture. We simply had a culture in which these things weren’t talked about, in which we didn’t turn guys over to the cops, in which we didn’t air our dirty laundry in public.”
The second way in which this went wrong, if you are going to make the argument that Benedict XVI is the reformer on the sex abuse issue, that is, that he is the guy who ten years ago kick-started the Church’s response; if you’re going to make that argument, then to make it credibly, you have to explain the opposition that he was up against. I mean, in other words, you have to explain that back in 2001, 2002, 2003 part of the story of Ratzinger’s leadership was that he overcame senior officials, other senior officials in the Vatican power structure, people like Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who was John Paul II’s last Secretary of State; Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who George referred to earlier, who was the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, who famously in 2002 sent a letter to a French Bishop congratulating him publicly for refusing to report an abuser priest to the police, and so on.
I mean, in other words, in order to explain what Ratzinger did right, you have to be able to explain what other senior Vatican officials did wrong, and the problem is that from the point of view of the corporate communication strategy of the Vatican, they simply do not have a vocabulary for indicting publicly, for publicly indicting the record of senior Vatican officials. I mean, in other words, there’s nothing in the culture that would sort of give somebody like Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, or other people who communicate publicly for the Holy See; there’s nothing that would sort of allow them to feel authorized to say, “Yes, John Paul II’s Secretary of State made some grotesque mistakes in the handling of the sex abuse crisis.”
In other words, I think part of the reason the Vatican has been unable to tell Benedict’s story is that in order to defend Benedict, you have to indict other people at senior levels of the Church, and they just don’t have a structure. They don’t have the vocabulary for doing that, and I think that’s part of the reform of communication systems that has to happen.
Bottom line to all of this is that my own view would be that the coverage in 2010, particularly as it relates to the Vatican and Benedict XVI, quite often got the facts right but the story wrong. I mean, that is, you know, there really was a Lawrence Murphy case in Wisconsin. There really was a Stephen Kiesle case in Oakland. There really was a Campbell case, and so on.
But the bigger picture in which those incidents need to be located was often missing. I do think some flawed assumptions on our side, that is, on the media side, a lack of insight into the culture, both the culture of the Southern Mediterranean and the specific culture of the Holy See helped explain some of that.
But I also think responsibility has to be placed to some extent at the doorstep of the Vatican’s communications operation because early on when the Hullermann case broke, I think they had an opportunity to set a different narrative, and they failed. As these other cases played themselves out, they repeatedly had opportunities to change the narrative and they failed because doing so would have meant pointing the finger at people who were still around. You know, Angelo Sodano was still around. He’s still the Dean of the College of Cardinals, and it’s just constitutionally very difficult for them to sort of lay the case, make the case for exonerating one senior official at the expense of another.
So, I mean, in other words, I think the coverage for 2010 was a perfect storm in which you had flawed assumptions and, you know, often inaccurate diagnoses on the side of the media, and you had a singularly dysfunctional communications enterprise on the side of the Vatican. And given that perfect storm, you know, I don’t think it’s particularly surprising that the coverage was as often uneven and in some cases misleading as we saw.
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, thank you. Thank you, John.
And I have a list of eight names already and nine. But Laurie Goodstein, you’re first and then Lauren Green, and Nina Easton and others.
LAURIE GOODSTEIN, The New York Times: — into this year with a lot of the same assumptions that you are giving us now as a starting point, and what Scandal Time II, if you want to call it, which I for one was not at all eager to engage in, you know, when things started breaking in Germany and in Ireland and some editors came to me and said, “What can you tell us about the record of Pope Benedict, I gave him the story you just laid out about Cardinal Ratzinger having been the great reformer because it’s the story I wrote when he was elected, partly based on your work, partly based on what Monsignor Scicluna had to tell us about how he observed Cardinal Ratzinger sitting with the files every Friday — what was it called, Penance Friday? — and weeping as he read the cases, and also observing the speeding up of handling of cases.
That is where I began in March 2010. So when I was asked to look at the record, I said there’s only four relevant years here: 2001 to 2005, from the time Cardinal Ratzinger’s office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is given authority to handle the cases. He didn’t handle them at all before that, and until he is elected Pope. Those are the relevant years.
So how do you then begin to tell a more complete picture than what we already know? I mean, I had one option to rewrite the story about, you know, the reforms that he had put in place. You go where there is information, where thereare documents, and I hate to say that in this, the larger picture of the story, the documents don’t come from the Vatican. The documents come from attorneys, from plaintiffs’ attorneys who have handled the cases of victims, and also, you know, recollections of victims themselves.
So, you know, there are so many cases that have gone to the Vatican and well before 2001, and in looking for those cases, that’s where you begin to turn up the Murphy case, the Kiesle case, the two others that you can see a document trail. What happened when the cases went to the Vatican?
So what the scandal this year told us I would say completely flipped the picture for me of what I believed, you know, going into this year. My assumption was where you’re beginning, which is the problem is that we have bad bishops and they’ve mishandled cases. You know, they have covered up, and they have complete authority in their own dioceses for how they discipline their priests.
The revelation was to see documents in which you had bishops pleading with the Vatican: please let me laicize this priest. Please let me remove this priest from functioning as a priest. And then to see from the Vatican end “no” and the reasoning, it told us something about the culture of the Vatican and the Church that I hadn’t known.
I mean, for instance, in the Kiesle case, when you see, you know, the Bishop of Oakland writing numerous times to Cardinal Ratzinger and saying, “This man is convicted of sexual abuse. We fear he is going to abuse again. Not only that; he should probably never have been ordained a priest. He’s not suited to the priesthood,” and the response is, “You know, he’s very young, and we have too many — you know, we have too many people leaving the priesthood right now, and so let’s hold off.”
And then you see the correspondence between the bishop and, you know, I believe it’s his vicar who says, “I fear that they’re just going to let this sit.” And, indeed, it does for six years, in which this priest continues to operate as a priest, you know, become a youth minister in the Church, you know, and to cause more harm.
And so, in other words, yes, the bishop has a culpability, and the end game is what happens when the documents go to the Vatican. Okay? And yet isn’t it important to know what happens when the documents go to the Vatican, how the Vatican behind the scenes is dealing with bishops? What kind of instruction are bishops getting?
Because they are getting some instruction. They’re not completely on their own. I mean, I understand the argument that, you know, they’re not branch managers, and yet this was the year in which with these documents we learn that there is a constant correspondence, not in every case, but in many cases, and there is direction from the top back.
You know, I don’t think that’s a misreading of documents. You can see them. They’re all, you know — the correspondence is all there and laid out, and there is some culpability there, as well, you know. There is direction being given.
So I think that, you know, until this year we really, at least in this country, we were looking only at, you know, what was the obligation of the bishops. How did the bishops — you know, how did the bishops behave? How did they handle their cases?
And this was the year in which we said, “Oh, there really is, you know, another level to this and we should look,” and that’s what we did.
So, you know, I think in terms of understanding the culture of the Church, for instance, in the Kiesle case, what was the greater good? The greater good was we can’t lose this young priest at a time when we’re losing too many priests.
In the case of the Murphy case, it was where you had Father Murphy who, you know, not only did the bishops in Wisconsin believe that he had abused as many as 200 kids, but they had also told that to the Vatican. When Father Murphy wrote to the Vatican asking for mercy, saying, “I’ve never done it again. I have repented, and I’m old and sick,” the immediate response of compassion was to the priest and not to the victims and certainly not to the bishop who in this case was saying, “I need this man to be laicized to comfort these victims because they don’t want to see him buried as a priest.”
But, you know, that’s not what happened. So I think that, too, is telling of, you know, the mindset and the culture. And these are the only windows we have because, as you say — and it’s true — you know, you don’t get true insiders in the Vatican telling you, “Here’s what’s on our minds. Here’s what we think is the highest priority.”
So in some ways all you have are the documents. So you’re going to ask me to ask a question, right?
MR. CROMARTIE: Yeah.
MS. GOODSTEIN: Okay, but I —
PARTICIPANT: I want self-defense.
MS. GOODSTEIN: Yeah, self-defense, but also in some ways a response because I find you both on the same page, and I want to say I agree with many of the points you’ve both made. I do agree. I think there were, you know, some wrong assumptions, and in terms of analyzing some of the problems.
“America is a microwave culture and Rome is a crock pot culture. The American model is we want our food now. The Roman model is, it’s supposed to simmer for a long time, and the idea is if you get the ingredients right it’ll taste better at the end. The default setting in American culture when faced with a problem is to act and act now. The Roman model is always to wait and to ponder. We have to deepen the conversation. We have to think more, allow things to simmer. If you impose American assumptions about the lack of aggressive public policy response from the Vatican and interpret it through the lens of denial and incompetence and so on, you’re often going to misdiagnose things. So I think navigating that cultural gap is very important.”
But I want to ask you whether, indeed, you have — both of you I find are kind of sticking to the notions that we had before the reporting this year as though this year told us nothing at that was of use. Do you find there’s, you know, nothing? There’s no revelations in these documents or in what was learned this year that is different from what we knew before?
MR. CROMARTIE: Let’s hear from John or George. Who wants to go first?
MR. ALLEN: First of all, I would say 98 percent of what you said I absolutely agree with. Now, the question you ended up with do we learn anything from the reporting of this year that’s useful.
Sure, we did. I mean, we learned that the response both of Joseph Ratzinger personally and the Vatican corporately to the sex abuse crisis prior to 2001 was inadequate.
Now, I don’t think that’s anything we didn’t know before, but I think the reporting obviously fleshed it out. I mean, it showed us how the Murphy case was handled. It showed us how the Kiesle case was handled and so on.
You know, to flesh our out understanding of this case, I think there probably are a couple of other things that ought to be in the mix. I mean, one is that both of those guys had been suspended before the issue of laicization arose. So, I mean, in other words, officially speaking — and that had been the case for decades — so officially speaking, neither of them had the authority to continue acting as Catholic priests.
I think sometimes in the secular reporting we fail to make the distinction between suspension and laicization as if laicization is an all or nothing game.
But look. I mean, the big picture here is, I mean, what we know is that you are absolutely right. In the rare instances when cases involving sex abuse, and they are rare, I mean, pre-2001, a bishop would report a case of an abuser priest only if he had activated procedures for laicization, and as you know that often wasn’t the case. I mean, usually these were handled administratively. The guy was shipped off for therapy. You know, six months later you get a psych eval. from whoever the counselor was. Bishops made decisions. Rome wasn’t a player. Okay?
But in these rare instances when bishops did want to laicize guys, we know from your reporting and from others, we know that the procedures were painfully long, uncertain. You know, the response, as you say, obviously tended to emphasize the due process rights of the accused priest as opposed to the impact on victims in the larger community. And we know that much more clearly, thanks to the document trail that has been laid out.
My point is that, if anything, I think that makes the narrative about the Pope’s conversion experience on the crisis even more dramatic because it shows us where they were corporately and personally pre-2001. And, therefore, however, you know, insufficient you might want to argue the response has been post 2001, it clearly is light years ahead of where the Church once was. Do you know what I mean?
I mean, in other words, so you’re asking, you know, did the reporting that we’ve seen this year tell us things we didn’t know? Well, sure, it did, but I don’t think it changes the basic narrative, and the basic narrative is there was a fairly dramatic transition in Ratzinger and in the culture of the Holy See pre and post 2001, which if anything the reporting from this year I think makes it even more clear.
MR. CROMARTIE: George?
MS. GOODSTEIN: I want to say in both cases where there was only suspension and not laicization, both those men continued to work as priests and to work with children.
MR. ALLEN: Oh, I know, but they didn’t have official permission to do so. I mean, in other words, you know, look. I mean, I’m not trying to get the Church off the hook here. Okay? The response in both of these cases was completely woefully inadequate, and they should have been kicked out much earlier in the game than they were.
However, I think it is also true that sometimes in secular reporting on the Church, we get hung up on this issue of laicization, you know, as if the Church either laicizes somebody or it does nothing, and you know, we sometimes forget that if your issue is you want to make sure that a guy cannot play off his status as a priest in order to sexually abuse kids, suspension when authorities make it stick, okay, when it works, suspension takes care of that.
So you know what I mean? I mean, in other words, it is not accurate to say that if they that if they haven’t laicized a guy they’ve done nothing.
MR. CROMARTIE: George.
MR. WEIGEL: Yeah, I think a couple of things that I’ve learned this year are how this set of problems, when it began to appear on the radar screen, which I think, frankly, John, was before 2001, but we’ll leave that. I mean, surely, 2001 was a critical moment. But how this intersected with a whole set of other genuine problems in the Church, the Kiesle thing, the 40 year old business. This was obviously a very bad idea to have this kind of artificial number of, you know, he’s got to be 40 before we can act on any of these petitions, whether it’s a guy who wants to marry the parish secretary or a guy you’re trying to get rid of.
But that has to be seen, Laurie, I think in, however dumb it was, and it was dumb, in the context of the crisis of the Catholic priesthood that John Paul II inherited in 1978. Between 1965 and 1978, almost 45,000 Catholic priests had left the active ministry in 13 years. That’s the largest number of, we’ll use the neutral term “leaving the active ministry,” since the reformation. I mean the priesthood was in crisis throughout the world Church.
Seminaries were zoos described in some detail in here, and we know many of the examples of that, and in that context if we’re looking at this 200 years from now, I think these last two pontificates are going to go down as great pontificates of reform of the Catholic priesthood.
John Paul II, like Benedict XVI, has attracted to the Church’s ordained ministry a quality of young man that is quite different, not without some problems, but quite different, and both of these guys, particularly JP II, inculcated or manifested or embodied a heroic notion of priestly ministry that has caught on. And among those who have bought into that, who have put that imagery on, if you will, I think you’re going to get very, very, very, very, very few incidences of people being abusive.
So I think the overall picture is one of reform. So the intersection of this specific set of problems with the overall problem of the need to reform the institution of the priesthood and the preparation of priests, which had really gone off the rails is something that I had, frankly, not thought about before, and it was this 40 year old thing that brought that to my attention.
I think the other thing I have learned is how utterly — I mean, I suspected this — but how utterly ill prepared, unwilling perhaps, Cardinal Sodano was, to exercise a kind of prime ministerial role as the king was dying. A stronger Secretary of State from the late 1990s, perhaps after the Jubilee Year on, would have coordinated, I would hope, this response better so that, you know, you don’t have the cardinal prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy blowing off these concerns in Holy Week of 2002 and saying the Pope has got more important things to worry about like peace in the Middle East.
I mean, this was really a bad managerial situation, and ultimately, of course, the buck stops with JP II on that, but there is —
MR. CROMARTIE: Did you put that in your new book?
MR. WEIGEL: Yeah, I do as I go through this whole thing.
So that’s an aspect of this, it seems to me, clear. The other thing that I am very struck by and that I haven’t seen anybody write about and Castrillon’s name brings this up, is the odd influence of the Latin American mind on this and the culture of the Church in Latin America, which is riven with conspiracy theories, and it’s all Masons and secularists and atheists and God knows what all else.
And this was brought to Rome by people who turned out to have not been helpful in addressing these problems, specifically Castrillon, and that’s a real problem. That’s a real problem, too.
So those are some things I think I’ve —
MR. CROMARTIE: I’ve got about ten names here, 11 names. I want to get people in quicker now if I can. I know you want a quick intervention, but I think we should move, get some more questions on the table and then I’ve got you on the list, Cathy.
Lauren Green, you next and then Ross.
LAUREN GREEN, Fox News: I’m not quite sure if this is a question or an observation, but it seems to me that the Catholic Church has a culture of, you know, we’re in, you’re out. You know, there is this constant tension between assimilation and separation, between the supernatural and, you know, the temporal, theological versus secular justice.
I don’t know if there’s a solution to this. I really don’t because in one sense, you know, Pope Benedict is a very, very intelligent man. He’s an incredible theologian, but he lives in a world that’s ruled by a secular judicial system, and these things are in constant tension.
I don’t know that there is even a solution to this. Maybe you can address that.
MR. ALLEN: Well, I mean if part of what’s latent in that question is the issue of cooperation between the Church and civil authorities, you know, the cops and prosecutors around the world and so forth, I think for the most part, I think, that problem has been resolved in favor of cooperation.
I mean, that is to say, you know, I think today it is very clear. You know, the Vatican, as you know, has put out this set, this “regalamento,” this, you know, set of procedures, and you know, the expectation is cooperation.
But you know, I think it certainly is true that there has often been confusion if not so much attention between — the Catholic Church is unique in terms of major world religions because it has its own body of law. It has its own set of courts. It has its own justice system, and there has often been some confusion in terms of interpreting the Church’s own juridical response to the sex abuse crisis as if that was at odds with or excluding civil accountability for priests who abuse.
I mean the classic instance of this, of course, is that document that’s a 1962 document, Crimen Sollicitationis, okay, which has in some quarters been touted as the smoking gun, you know, proving that there was a Vatican orchestrated cover-up because it says that these cases are to be handled in secret canonical trials and so on.
Now, the truth, however, of the matter is that there was nothing in Crimen Sollicitationis or any other Church document that says that we can’t also turn this guy over to the cops, that there can’t also be civil procedures to insure criminal accountability, you know, whether that’s him going to jail, you know, whatever.
In other words, the problem with the Church, you know, in terms of its response to the crisis was not that it had bad law. It was that it had bad culture. I mean, we simply had a culture in which these things weren’t talked about, in which we didn’t, you know, turn guys over to the cops, in which we didn’t air our dirty laundry in public.
It’s that culture and the cancer in that culture that the crisis has exposed. I mean, in some ways I wish it were as simple as changing Church law. If all you had to do was flip a switch in Rome and make the world different, you know, life would be a lot easier, but you know, unfortunately that’s not the reality.
So you know, what I think is that what the Church has had painfully and in some ways incompletely become aware of is that reliance on internal disciplinary procedures at the core of which are a set of theological assumptions, you know, about we stand before God in our accountability, and so on, that reliance on those procedures cannot come at the expense of, okay, but it has to unfold in tandem with, full cooperation with civil, secular systems of accountability.
One footnote to that is the Pope’s failure to impose a uniform global policy of automatic cooperation with police and with civil prosecutors continues to be one element in the indictment, you know, that people will offer in terms of how the Vatican has responded to this, and I think that may be one of the places where looking at the global Catholic situation exclusively through American eyes becomes problematic, because while, you know, I think it’s utterly reasonable to suggest that in the main the policy ought to be cooperation, there are places where a binding inflexible policy of automatic cooperation with civil authorities would be a real problem.
I mean, let me give you one of them. Northern India, where there is an active campaign these days among certain segments of radial Hindu activism to try to sort of crack down on the growing Christian presence, there was a case recently where there is a Christian school in Hyderabad in India run by the Christian Brothers, and there is the BJP, which is the Hindu Nationalist Party, is building a temple immediately adjacent to the school. They want to get the land from the school, and the school owns about 80 acres of land. They want to gobble up about 40 to put this temple up.
And they have been trying to compel the school to sign over the deed. The school has been unwilling to do so. So they have publicly organized an accusation of sexual misconduct against the rector of this school, which even the local police have acknowledged is manufactured.
But my point simply is that it’s an example of a corner of the world where if you had a Vatican imposed edict of automatic full cooperation with civil authorities, there are places where the civil authorities really are actively out to get you. I mean, you know, there are places where that kind of policy would be tantamount to a kind of death sentence.
So, you know, George was talking about how the crisis intersects with larger narratives about the Church. I think this is one, too, that trying to apply Western or American assumptions about the way life works, you know, we have to bear in mind that the Catholic Church is a 1.2 billion strong global church, two-thirds of whose members today live in the southern hemisphere. By mid-century, that’s going to be 75 percent, and therefore, American and Western realities can’t be the exclusive prism through which we handicap the way the Vatican responds to things.
MR. CROMARTIE: Anything to add, George?
MR. WEIGEL: Just a brief thought that it would be nice if as this continues to play itself out over time the places where there were real problems that have now been fixed would get some attention. Phoenix, Arizona would be a diocese in question, which had enormous problems to the point where the state Attorney General — maybe it wasn’t the Attorney General. It was the D.A. of Maricopa County or whatever the county is that Phoenix is in — said, “Look. I’m sorry. You know, I need to move in on this. I need to move in on this.”
And a new bishop was appointed, Bishop Thomas Olmstead. He did not scream and yell about this. He said, “I understand we’ve got a serious problem.” He has so cleaned up the scene that the county officials have, you know, pulled back.
That’s worth reporting, I mean, it seems to me. There are a lot of success stories in the reform of Catholic institutions that don’t get the attention that they deserve. Sometimes we get it right, and that ought to be part of the national dialogue on this, it seems to me.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Ross, you’re up next. So grab the mic and then Nina Easton.
ROSS DOUTHAT, The New York Times: I guess this is — well, maybe, John, you could take this first, but I’d be interested in George’s thoughts on this as well. I wonder if we could talk just a little bit more about Benedict’s relationship to the Curia and sort of what you see as the Pope’s power over the Curia, the Curia’s power over the Pope, and the Pope’s ability to change the Curia.
Because it seems to me and you’ve been talking about how the narrative of Ratzinger/Benedict’s transformation didn’t get the play it perhaps deserves, and I think one of the reasons it doesn’t get the play it deserves is because the people with whom he was in conflict from 2001 to 2003 or whatever period you want to say, there isn’t — from the point of view of a secular reporter, there isn’t tangible evidence that they lost in terms of their own personal power being reduced.
MR. ALLEN: Right, yeah.
MR. DOUTHAT: So certainly, you know, a cardinal loses a bureaucratic battle and the Catholic Church’s global policy on sex abuse gets better, but that cardinal is still empowered in Rome and still has the power to give public commentary and give, you know, private commentary and be a Vatican insider and all the rest of it.
You can go through all of these different people. I mean, you know, in the case of Father Macial the head of the Legionaries of Christ, gets, you know, sent into retirement and so on, and the Legion is going to get cleaned up, but everybody says, “Well, it couldn’t happen before because Cardinal Angelo Sodano was protecting him,” right?
Well, Cardinal Angelo Sodano is still the Secretary of State.
MR. ALLEN: No, he’s the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
MR. DOUTHAT: Sorry. He’s the Dean of the College of Cardinals, and it’s — right, close – but you can go through this with almost all of the figures who Benedict was sort of at war with when he was Joseph Ratzinger, and so my question is, you know, to the extent the story hasn’t been told, isn’t part of the reason the story hasn’t been told that the house cleaning has persistently stopped below the curial level, right?
So abusive priests may be handled better, but people who cover up for abusive priests, there just doesn’t seem to be any accountability, and so stories from, you know, Ratzinger’s past seem to — I mean, they seem to have some bearing on those kind of problems today.
MR. ALLEN: Sure. Well, I mean, if your basic point is that in the Vatican it is virtually impossible to get fired, you know, that’s true. I mean, you know, I think if cardinals were to sit in St. Peter’s Square buck naked shooting up heroine it would be difficult to kick them out of the system, you know, let alone for their culpability on some management problem. So, I mean, that’s for sure.
Now, you know, if you know how to read the tea leaves, okay, there’s a striking gap between insider and outsider perceptions of the Vatican on the best of days. Okay? Take Castrillon Hoyos. Okay. Cardinal Dario, Colombian for those of you who don’t know, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, now dead, but he was the Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy during the white hot period of the sex abuse crisis in 2001, 2002, 2003; you know, as George said, you know, led what is arguably the most disastrous press conference ever staged at the Holy See.
This was 2002. He came out to read the Holy Father’s, John Paul II’s letter to the priests of the world for Holy Thursday, and had this, came in, and you know, was obviously loaded for bear, knew the questions were going to be about the sex abuse crisis. So he came in, read the letter where there was a paragraph about the crisis, then said, “Now, we will take questions.”
So there were five questions. I was one of them. We were all from the English speaking world, most of us Americans, to which Dario Castrillon Hoyos began his response by saying, “Well, this is already an x-ray of the problem,” okay, meaning this is an exclusively American thing, and then went off into this kind of hysterically defensive rant about how no institution on earth has stronger laws to deal with sex abuse than the Catholic Church and on and on, I mean, just cemented the perception of an institution in complete denial. Okay?
And as I said, you know, what came to light earlier this year is that he also has the distinction of being the only senior Vatican official ever to put his signature on a letter congratulating a bishop for refusing to turn over his priest to the police, you know, back to this problem.
Now, when that letter came to light earlier this year, okay, that is, the Castrillon Hoyos letter to a French bishop saying, “Thank God you had the spine not to cooperate with the police,” okay, when that letter came to light, what was the Vatican’s response?
Well, Father Lombardi said that this letter illustrates the challenges that then Cardinal Ratzinger faced and the importance of the reforms that he engineered.
Okay. Now, every insider understood that as a smack-down, okay, as they’ve cut this guy loose. I mean, they’ve publicly said that Castrillon Hoyos was part of the problem, okay, that he was one of the obstacles Ratzinger had to overcome.
I think the outsider take-away obviously is much different than that. I mean, first of all, most people never heard of this statement, and as you say, because it was not accompanied by any gesture of a public firing — of course, Castrillon was already gone by then. He was already dead — but I mean, the point is, you know, because these things are not accompanied by gestures of accountability that the typical, you know, American or Westerner would recognize, it’s difficult to sell that insider perception, you know, on a big public stage.
Let me broaden the focus a bit. You asked about Benedict’s relationship with the Curia, okay, not just in terms of housecleaning, but you know, more broadly. I mean, let’s say it as it is. I think that what you saw, the sex abuse crisis that erupted in 2010 is merely the most visible example of a much broader crisis of governance under this papacy. I mean, administratively, managerially, things are adrift and have been for a long time.
I mean, you know, George briefly mentioned the Williamson affair, okay, you know, this Holocaust denying bishop who was rehabilitated and the Vatican had to concede afterwards that it had not done even the most basic vetting to see if this guy was going to be a problem.
The so-called Boffo case in Italy, which I’m sure nobody here paid any attention to, and there’s no reason on God’s earth why you should have, but this was the editor of an Italian Catholic publication by the name of Dino Boffo who was fired or actually resigned, but pressed, sort of pushed out not long ago amid rumors that the Vatican Secretary of State, that is, the number two official in the Vatican power structure, Tarcisio Bertone, and the editor of the Vatican newspaper, Gian Maria Vian, had cooked up fake documents suggesting that this guy was engaging in a homosexual liaison and had made threatening phone calls to the girlfriend of the guy that he had the hots for, and this went on for 18 full days. It was front page news in every paper in Italy for 18 full days before the Vatican said word one about it. I mean, in other words, they allowed this story to metastasize and to fester.
When after 18 days, so on day 19 when they finally said that it isn’t true, Il Manifesto, which in Italy is a left-wing paper, but still I think it captured popular sentiment, their banner headline was Il Vaticana nega tutto, nessuno ci crede, “The Vatican Denies Everything, No One Believes It,” you know.
I mean, in other words, my point is that in terms of having your hand on the rudders of power, okay, it’s just the lights are on but nobody is home in terms of the governance dimension of the Holy See these days.
Benedict XVI I am convinced, you know, 200 years from now will be remembered as one of the great teaching Popes of recent centuries. I mean, I think if you look at his encyclicals, if you look at the speeches he gives on his foreign trips, I mean, this magnificent speech he gave in Westminster Hall in the U.K. in September, you know, his books and on and on, I mean, it’s incredibly provocative and powerful stuff.
But, you know, unfortunately, you don’t live in the world 200 years from now. You live in the world of today, and you know that passion for his teaching comes at a price. He just is not interested in governance.
And, by the way, he wasn’t during — for almost 22 years he was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I mean what people would always say about Ratzinger during those years is that he was in the Curia but not of the Curia, you know. I mean, he never went to the cocktail parties. He never went to the receptions. You know, he didn’t do the things that people who are interested in empire building do, okay, because he lives in his head.
Now, I personally would say that, you know, that is his passion and, you know, the teaching is good enough that’s what he ought to be doing, but he needs to be surrounded by people obviously who do have the charism of governance.
This gets to George’s point about the problem of personnel. I think what everyone would tell you about Benedict XVI both before and after his election is that his Achilles heel, his central flaw is that he is often not a good judge of talent. I mean, the people who served him in the Holy Office were of uneven quality, some of them very good, some of them not so hot. Certainly the same thing would be true about the current regime, you know, that’s running the show.
I mean, Bertone and the Secretariat of State and so on, I mean, a lot of the problems in the Vatican begin and end with the Secretariat of State because it’s the office that, in effect, controls all the others. If you’ve got a good Secretary of State, that can cover a multitude of sins. If you have a bad one, you’re going to have problems.
And to just give you a sense of how bad things are under Bertone, I mean, first of all, George, you know, whatever you want to say about Sodano’s inadequacies during the end of the John Paul regime, Bertone makes Sodano look like Talleyrand, you know, in terms of his diplomatic capacities.
And, second, just to tell you how the Italians, you know, they capture it — yeah, exactly, you know. The Italians actually call Bertone “Buffone,” okay, just as a kind of joking way of capturing, you know, how asleep at the switch the regime often is.
So I think you can analyze a great deal about the papacy of Benedict XVI through this lens. This is a Pope who is invested in teaching, not in governing, okay, and whose Achilles heel is that he has not appointed sort of competent governors to pick up that slack.
The consequent reality is that from the inside, this looks like a great teaching papacy. From the outside, it looks like a papacy defined by its train wrecks.
MR. CROMARTIE: Quickly, George, and I want to get one more in before the break.
MR. WEIGEL: Thank you.
It turns out he wasn’t the Rottweiler after all. Part of the difficulty that John is describing at least as I observe it from a distance is that this is a man who is incapable except under the direst of circumstances of inflicting pain on someone. This is not a good — this may be an entirely admirable Christian characteristic, but it’s not exactly what you need if you have situation after situation where someone has proven incompetent or malfeasant or whatever.
So there’s something we’ve all learned over the last five years. It turns out he wasn’t this Rottweiler. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of those who were instrumental in electing Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope fully expected that he would take in hand a dramatic reform of the Roman Curia, and that turns out to have been a very inadequate expectation of what he thought he was going to do.
I think he thought he was going to die soon. In the 20-some years I’ve known him, he has always been slightly, I thought, overly concerned about how frail he is. Seems in pretty good shape to me, but, no, I actually think he thought, “I’m going to do this for three, four years. I will hand over it to someone else. So I’m going to concentrate on what I know how to do and the next guy can do the institutional rebuilding.”
That, and I think the notion that this man at age 78 was suddenly going to become something different than what he was. This was just not part of people’s reflection. He had done such a magnificent job at JP II’s funeral. He had been so good at running the Congregations of Cardinals between the Pope’s death and the funeral. He was, as they say, the elder brother who simply stood head and shoulders above all the rest.
That the question of whether he was personally capable of doing what a lot of people wanted done, which was turning the whole thing upside down and shaking it out and perhaps even redesigning the management structure, was not an unrealistic assumption, and it now has turned out to be the case.
MR. CROMARTIE: We’ll just get one more in before the break, and then I know everyone wants to get some coffee. So Nina Easton. Concise.
NINA EASTON, Fortune: I’ll be concise, and go back to the question of media bias.
I don’t cover the Vatican. I don’t cover the Catholic Church. So I have no dog in this fight.
I am, however, Catholic. I have friends who have been sexually abused. I’ve heard their stories. I also deeply appreciated the Pope’s apology when he came here. I was very moved by that.
And in my professional life, particularly as a talking head, I’m somebody who’s very attuned to media bias and is in my mind calling the media on bias all the time. But I have to say as I look back over this past year, at Laurie’s work, other people’s work, what sticks out in my mind in Scandal Time II was not media bias but the Vatican’s response, and that’s what offended me.
And correct me. I may have this wrong, but did not the Vatican at one point blame sexual abuse on the secularization of society (a), and (b) at another point ranked it right up there with married priests, for priests getting married as a sin in the Catholic Church?
And I think, you know, going back to George’s point, with all due respect, doesn’t the buck stop here when it comes to the Pope and those kinds of responses?
MR. WEIGEL: Listen. I would have redrawn the cast of characters a long time ago. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the way a certain technical adjustment was made in canon law suggests what you suggested at the end here, that, you know, we’re equating certain things here. That was a blunder of communications, but it was not a blunder in understanding.
Does anyone doubt that the current circumstance of a virtual sexual free fire zone in the Western world has something to do with spikes in incidence of child abuse across society?
Now, you don’t blame it on that. I mean, part of the problem throughout this whole thing has been, going back eight years, has been the failure to say, “Look. We know this stuff goes on everywhere, but we are holding ourselves to a higher standard and, therefore, we’re not going to use that as an excuse.”
I mean, that has not been said, it seems to me, sufficiently. It is true that there are by orders of magnitude more incidents of the sexual abuse of the young in American public schools than in American Catholic Churches, but we’re holding ourselves to a different standard, and we can’t use the rest of this as an excuse.
However, if all of us, as people who shape the public conversation, care about this colossally widespread problem, we’re going to take this set of incidences of it and make that the occasion to look at other aspects of it as well, but it’s not for the Church to say that, it seems to me.
MR. ALLEN: Can I? Just two quick things. One, I just want to absolutely endorse your point that the Vatican’s communication’s tone deafness, I mean, the kind of defensive finger-pointing, you know, sort of wounded image that it often projected and particularly during this most recent period of the crisis — I’m talking about March, April, February, March, April of this year — it cemented that narrative I was talking about, that narrative in which, you know, defensiveness and denial is the story of the Vatican’s response.
And there is no doubt that there were multiple turning points. The Hullermann case was a turning point in which they had an opportunity to change the story and failed.
You know, certainly the Good Friday period when you had on Good Friday the preacher of the papal household, Father Cantalamessa, publicly comparing criticism of the Pope to anti-Semitism, and then two days later on Easter Sunday Sodano, once again, you know, comparing criticism of the Pope to petty gossip. I mean, that obviously cemented, you know, a very destructive reading of how the Vatican was responding.
So there is no doubt that the — and also, of course, you have to factor in Cardinal Levada’s interview in which he blamed the New York Times and others and, you know, the great rant about media bias and so on.
You know, all of that, all of that, no doubt, was part of why the take-away for the typical person about the Vatican’s response and the Church’s response was so woeful.
Now, two points to make about that. One, I know this is very difficult for people to believe, but it’s true. There is no communication strategy in the Vatican. I mean, usually when I’m asked what do I think of the Vatican’s communication strategy, my snappy answer is as soon as I see evidence that they’ve got one, I’ll tell you, but you know, they don’t.
I mean, there’s no war room where guys get together at eight o’clock in the morning and decide what today’s message is going to be, you know. So, in other words, this often, you know, ad hoc and off the cuff and unscripted and so on, I wish to God there were a communications strategy, but there isn’t.
My point is that rather than thinking that there was some kind of corporate decision in favor of denial and in favor of, you know, making the problem worse rather than making it better, the practical reality is there is no strategy, you know, for good or for ill.
The other point is that I think sometimes —
MR. CROMARTIE: Do they know that’s a problem?
MR. ALLEN: Well, I’m getting to that point because obviously the question that Michael just asked me, do they know that is a problem, well, the question that begs is who exactly is “they,” right?
Here’s the thing. There is often a tendency to think of the Vatican in these kind of mythic terms as an organism, you know, that has a central nervous system and thinks only one thought at a time, the Vatican is not an organism. It’s a complex bureaucracy, which means there are lots of different temperaments and outlooks and opinions about things, and there is a tendency sometimes to take a one off isolated comment from an official and treat that as “the Vatican says X,” when in fact, not everyone in the Vatican feels that way at all.
So you ask, you know, do they understand the lack of the strategy is a problem. Some do; some don’t. You know, obviously there’s not a sufficient center of gravity yet to rectify it, okay, but there clearly is an understanding there.
My point simply is that I think sometimes what will happen is that these more spectacular examples of tone deafness sort of carry a weight that is sometimes disproportionate to what most people in the Vatican actually think.
I mean, if I can just say a word in defense of Father Lombardi, George, you’re right, the guy has got his problems as a communicator, but if you look at the actual public statements Father Lombardi has made about this crisis, many of them have actually been exceptionally good.
I mean, you know, last week there were 60 sex abuse victims, mostly from the States, who came to Rome to stage a protest. They actually called it Reformation Day. They met — yeah, I know, and they did it on October 31st, of course. So if you’re wanting the Vatican — if you’re wanting a warm, fuzzy response from the Vatican, I’m not sure calling something Reformation Day and doing it on the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is the best way to go about it.
But in any event, you know, so they meet in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, which is down the Via della Concillazione from the Vatican. Lombardi actually comes out of his office, walks all the way down the street, okay, to try to meet them and engage in conversation. A couple of them yell, you know, “Vergogna,” shame, at him. He doesn’t want to make a big public spectacle of it, so he leaves, but says to them that if you want to meet with me privately you can. Eight of them took him up on that. They spent an hour and a half in his office.
Afterwards he issued this letter to them, which at the level of content you can debate, but I mean, the kind of pastoral tone and the obvious sort of desire to reach out was pretty impressive, I thought, and it builds upon what has been, I think, a pretty good record from him in terms of statements that come out from his own name.
The problem, of course, is that public perceptions of the Vatican are not defined by things Lombardi has said. Okay? They’re defined by what Sodano has said, and they’re defined by what Castrillon Hoyos said. They’re defined by what Cantalamessa said, and, Ross, back to your point, the reason that those sort of isolated provocative statements, even if they may not represent what most people in the Vatican think, the reason that they fester and that they dominate perception is because nobody knocks them down, right? Nobody comes out and says, “That’s not what we think.”
The way the Vatican works, this is a clue, an insider clue. When they want to distance themselves from something, okay, they don’t publicly deny it. What they do is they don’t repeat it.
Okay. So what will happen is if you go to Lombardi and say, “Well, did Sodano’s thing about or did Cantalamessa’s thing about anti-Semitism, does that reflect what the Pope thinks?” what Lombardi is simply going to say is, “Father Cantalamessa was speaking for himself.”
You know, he’s not going to do what, you know, you and I would wish he would do, which is, “Of course that doesn’t represent what the Pope thinks!” you know, and he’s going to be apologizing, and the Pope is going to be making a public — you know what I mean. In other words, he doesn’t do the things that, you know, ordinary secular reporters would look for in an institution that truly wants to disown something. Okay?
But I’m telling you in terms of the internal logic of the Vatican, that business about not repeating it is the way they signal that this doesn’t reflect what we think, you know. I mean, in other words, insiders get it, you know, but the vast majority of the rest of the world never does.
MR. DOUTHAT: I guess my sort of the thrust of that question though is then doesn’t this mean in a sense that, you know, the ultimate — and we’re talking about the narrative about Benedict’s papacy, right, and the narrative about Benedict and the sex abuse crisis and isn’t the phenomenon that you’re describing and the persistence of that phenomenon in face of a grave, grave crisis for the Church’s image in the Western world? Doesn’t that — you know, isn’t that a huge part of the narrative of Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI post 2001 as well, that he hasn’t — you know, he has come to grips with it, but he hasn’t come to grips with it, right?
MR. ALLEN: Well, I think here’s the thing. If you want to talk about the communications dimension of it, I think when the Pope engages the issue personally, he usually does pretty well.
MR. DOUTHAT: Right, but I’m talking about the institutional.
MR. ALLEN: Right. What he hasn’t dealt with is the institutional dimension, and here I would agree with George absolutely. I think, you know, Benedict XVI, first of all, he’s the only Pope ever elected who compared his election to capital punishment.
You know, in his meeting with the press two days afterwards, he talked about being in the Conclave and feeling the noose tighten around his neck, you know. I mean, I don’t think he wanted to be Pope, but I think, you know, you get out of bed in the morning as a 78 year old guy and you ask, “What’s the providential logic for God putting me here?” Right? I mean, what contribution can I make at this stage in my life?
And I think the conclusion he drew is that what I am is a teacher, and essentially I’m going to turn the papacy into a global classroom, okay, and I’m going to try to reintroduce Christian orthodoxy to a jaded world. Okay? And that’s his project. All right? Which is phenomenal, but it means that he is not personally engaged in the managerial dimension, and he has not surrounded himself with people who have an aptitude for that. In fact, what they have an aptitude for often is making things worse. Okay?
So I mean, this is the thing. I mean, the great irony of this papacy is that at one level, you know, its teaching dimension, it is an enormous success story. Okay? And if all you had to evaluate Benedict on was his teaching, I think, you know, even many of his critics over the years would say that the teaching has actually been very good. All right?
But that story is sort of utterly occluded from public perceptions because you have at the same time this kind of raging management crisis, a crisis of governance that means that in terms of the court of popular opinion, you know, what people see is this papacy at its worst. You know, they see its debacles and its meltdowns and its disasters, which keep replicating themselves.
I mean, my sound bite for all of this is that, you know, the tragedy of this papacy is you’ve got a world class teacher. Unfortunately nobody is paying any attention because the schoolhouse is on fire, you know, and that’s the practical reality.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: I hope you don’t mind if I just take us for a minute away from sex abuse because we have these two Vatican experts here, and I’d just like to get your sense of whom we should watch as the next potential Pope. I mean, we’ve had a number of cardinals recently, you know, elevated, and from what I understand a number of them are from Italy or from Europe and so that —
PARTICIPANT: A large number.
MS. HAGERTY: Yes. So what, that probably indicates it might be a European? But given what you said that 75 percent of Catholics will be in the Southern Hemisphere in how many years? When was this?
MR. ALLEN: Well, it’s two-thirds today, and the projection is by 2050.
MS. HAGERTY: 2050. Okay. Given that direction, is there someone we should watch from the Southern Hemisphere or do you think — can you just talk to us a little bit about the next Pope?
MR. CROMARTIE: George.
MR. WEIGEL: You can watch all you want, but I don’t think it’s coming from there, and the reason for that is quite simple, and that is that Europeans have racial prejudice problems, frankly, far more than the United States, and in that sense, I think while John and I were naming several possible African Popes, I, frankly, don’t expect to see this in my own lifetime, which is too bad. I mean, I’m for opening the lens as wide as possible.
I think the question, Barb, has to be split into what are the circumstances. As Clare knows because we’ve talked about this at our network, whenever this question comes up in our planning meetings, I always say it depends on how it happens. If there is — and I think this has to be part of any projection of the immediate future — if this happens, if the transition happens as the result of an assassination, then there will be a certain set of dynamics in place to try to resolve the matter of the next Pope very quickly in order to demonstrate continuity, et cetera.
And that would begin to favor in-place, respected, experienced managers like, for example, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the present Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, and the last sostituto or Chief of Staff of John Paul II and the man who announced John Paul II’s death, as many of you will remember.
If this happens in the normal way of an illness followed by a death, there’s not a panic. There’s not a crisis situation, then I think you’re looking at a very long conclave because not only is there not one leading candidate, I don’t think you could come up with three to five leading candidates, and I think it’s going to take quite a while to sort this out, given in part the imperatives we have been talking about today, curial reform, reform of the communications apparatus, somehow nonetheless in the midst of all of that, maintaining this kind of evangelical teaching focus and so forth and so on.
So that’s how I would break it out at this point. It depends on the circumstance, and if it’s a normal transition, then I think we’re all going to spending a lot of time in Rome when it happens.
MS. HAGERTY: Just a couple?
MR. ALLEN: Sandri, he gave you Sandri.
MR. WEIGEL: Well, I gave you Sandri. I think, I don’t know that he can make it, but I think Cardinal Ouellet, formerly of Quebec, now the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is going to get some — in fact, I know he’s going to get some support particularly from some Americans.
The present President of the European Bishops Conference, the Archbishop of Budapest, Esztergom, Peter Erdo, will get a look from some. I’m not sure there’s something there.
I would not be surprised if this is three to five years down the line to see people beginning to look at the new Archbishop of Warsaw who will be a cardinal as of Saturday, Kazimierz Nycz. He’s the closest thing to a Wojtyla in the Polish hierarchy, and I think you’d have to put him on that list.
I think an influential guy in orchestrating things will be Cardinal Pell of Sydney, although I don’t think that’s a realistic possibility, an Australian Pope.
And there are a number of Italians whom John will name, including some who will — at least one who will be made a cardinal on Saturday, but I’ll leave the Italians to him.
MR. ALLEN: Well, I think everything that George has just said is broadly speaking correct. I mean, first of all, I don’t think we’re going to be faced with this any time soon. I mean, you know, my read — of course, the Pope doesn’t go in for annual physicals and so on that are then released to the media, but certainly my read would be that Benedict XVI is good to go for some time to come. You know, I mean, as I like to say, German machinery is built to last, you know.
And, you know, I’ve covered the institution long enough to have a feel for when there’s a concern among the people, you know, the Pope’s intimates for his health. I don’t get any of that vibe right now. You know, on the contrary, I think the sense I get is that it’s kind of full steam ahead.
I also agree that there’s no obvious front runner. I mean, that will be the central difference whenever this Conclave happens. That will likely be the central difference between the next Conclave and the one of 2005, but it was abundantly obvious to everybody going into April 2005 that the early rounds of that Conclave were going to come down to a yes or no to Joseph Ratzinger.
Now, had the answer been no, things would have gotten much more interesting, but you know, obviously the answer was yes, and it was very quick.
There is nobody right now, I think, who would be the kind of obvious, you know, frame of reference for the early stages of a Conclave. I think the reason for that is fairly simple. You know, when John Paul died, there was a basic consensus in the College of Cardinals that, you know, things were fundamentally healthy. I mean, you know, the papacy was a mixed bag, as they always are, but net-net there was a perception that the papacy of John Paul II had been a great success, and therefore, the natural instinct was to look at the architects of that papacy as the people to inherit it, okay, which meant that people who occupied senior Vatican positions were credible candidates, in particular, Joseph Ratzinger.
I don’t think that dynamic is true today. I mean, you know, I was talking earlier about the crisis of governance in this papacy. I’m telling you the people who understand that the best from the inside out are the cardinals, many of them. Many of them are as frustrated with it, if not more so, than everybody else. I think there is a sense, therefore, that you would not as naturally look to the architects of the managerial dimension of this papacy as the people you want to carry the institution forward.
In concrete, I don’t think that Tarcisio Bertone is going to get a single vote in the next conclave. I don’t think — George, correct me if I’m wrong.
MR. WEIGEL: How many Salesians will be in the —
MR. ALLEN: Yeah, that Salesian loyalty only carries you so far, George.
I mean, my point simply is that you wouldn’t go looking at Bertone or —
MR. WEIGEL: He’s going to be too old anyway.
MR. ALLEN: He’ll be too old anyway.
MR. WEIGEL: He’s 76 right now.
MR. ALLEN: Or, say, Cardinal Levada in the Holy Office. I mean, you wouldn’t naturally go looking from the current crop of senior prefects as your papabile.
You know, in terms of — and then the other issue becomes if the voting issue of that Conclave is you want to fix the governance crisis that you associate with the papacy of Benedict XVI, that poses something of a paradox for the electors, doesn’t it? Because on the one hand, they want somebody who has got a demonstrated track record of ability to govern. In other words, it sort of argues for an insider, and yet if you think the insiders are the problem, then you sort of — you know what I mean. It pushes you in sort of two opposing directions.
It’s hard to come up with somebody who has got that profile, somebody who knows the Roman Curia from within, who you could have reasonable confidence will be able to get his hands around it, but who you would not sort of associate with the crisis that you’re trying to resolve. Okay?
So it makes it very difficult to think through who you’re going to look at.
In terms of people who I think would get a look, I think the people George mentioned are right on the money. I think if they want a safe hands candidate, that is, somebody that they are sure will make the trains run on time, then I think Cardinal Sandri would be an obvious sort of focal point for a lot of interest.
And, by the way, he was born in Argentina. So he would also have the cache of being a, quote, unquote, Third World Pope, even though he comes from an old Piedmontese Italian family and is more Italian than most Italians are and has spent all of his adult life in Rome, but nevertheless, you could bill him, you know, as a Latin American or a candidate from the developing world.
If I think they want to be a bit more imaginative, that is, you know, they want somebody who can govern but who can also continue to some extent the teaching legacy of Benedict XVI, I think the hot tip, if you want one hot tip today, it would be keep your eyes on Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.
He is currently the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture. He’s an Italian, which means he is a Vatican insider, but the Council for Culture doesn’t have any real world control. I mean, it doesn’t — you know, all offices in the Vatican are equal, but some are more equal than others.
You know, the Council for Culture is basically a think tank. It doesn’t have any administrative responsibility for anything really. So no one would blame Ravasi for the present malaise. Okay?
In addition, he’s got a track record. He’s a scripture scholar, a brilliant guy. He’s very Ratzingerian in terms of his theology, that is, you know, reliable, orthodox, you know, very much a man of Catholic identity, but he also has a remarkable degree of kind of ability to engage the wider culture. I mean, that obviously is his job as President of the Council for Culture.
He’s written a series of front page essays in Corriere della Sera, which is basically the New York Times of Italy, huh? You know, these little 600-word scriptural reflections which are consistently the most popular items in the paper when they appear, and he’s got a real populous touch.
I like to say that Ravasi is a guy who’s got the mind of a Ratzinger and the heart of Roncalli, Roncalli meaning Pope John XXIII, you know, the so-called good Pope John of the Second Vatican Council, you know, populous, accessible, avuncular, you know.
And so for a lot of reasons, I think Ravasi is somebody who will get a lot of attention. Other people I would throw into the mix, I would agree that Cardinal Ouellet has a lot of support. I think, however, it will be very important to see what happens to him now that he is in Rome. You know, he is now the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, very newly appointed. A lot of people will be watching to see how he manages that job.
If the perception is that you get better quality appointments and that the system works more efficiently under Ouellet, then I think that would be a very strong argument in his favor.
If that’s not the take-away, if the take-away is that, you know, he becomes captive to the system, which happens to a lot of non-Italians when they end up in the Vatican; if the perception is that he doesn’t have what it takes to buck the system, then that might reduce some of the enthusiasm around him.
A couple other names just to have in mind. If you want an African candidate, and I’m not sure there is a credible African candidate, to be honest, but if you want one, the guy to have on your radar screen would be Cardinal Peter Turkson. He’s from Ghana, and very recently, that is, within the last year, appointed to head the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. So he is now, again, a Vatican insider.
However, again, the Council for Justice and Peace, like the Council for Culture, doesn’t really have any throw weight in terms of real politique. So he would not be seen, perceived as responsible for the present problems.
He is young. He is articulate, getting high marks at the Council for Justice and Peace. I think Turkson’s real problem though is that he made it abundantly clear before he got this job that he didn’t want it, that is, he didn’t want to come to Rome. He would have preferred to stay in Ghana and has sort of told intimates that he’s hoping to be able, honestly, to get out of Rome as quickly as he possibly can and to get back into a pastoral assignment.
And if that’s your profile, you know, admirable though it may be, it’s not necessarily a profile of somebody who is really going to throw himself in to reforming the Roman Curia with the same kind of vigor that they might be looking for.
But anyway, Turkson, I think, would be the African that a lot of people would say would be the kind of leading bet.
One other guy just very quickly throw into the mix, the present Cardinal, Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, veteran Roman Italian insider, but now back in the field, getting very high marks in terms of his leadership in Mumbai. If there is a sense that they want to cast a wider net and perhaps consider an Asian, Gracias would be somebody they might look at.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you.
Carl Cannon and then Clare Duffy.
CARL CANNON, PoliticsDaily.com: I just wanted to ask you about going back to the sexual abuse scandal. It seems to me we’ve talked about 2002 and 2010 like they’re separate issues, separate eras, but it seems a false dichotomy to some of those of us who have written about this. Laurie Goodstein just told me she wrote her first story about it in 1993.
I mean, this reporting in very public places, in very prominent news outlets has gone on for a generation, and just as an aside, it’s mind boggling to some of us that it was 2001 until the Pope set up a formal entity in the Vatican to deal with it.
But that reminded me of something you said, John. When Jason Barry was going around in the mid-’80s, Jason was working for National Catholic Reporter on assignment. I was working for San Jose Mercury News, and we talked to aggrieved Catholic parents, victims, families, and appalled lay leaders in Catholicism. He and I compared notes on this. At some point in the interview the people would invariably say, “How do we get the Pope to know about this?” They’d like ask us.
MR. ALLEN: Right.
MR. CANNON: And talking about Pope John Paul and how they loved him and they were certain that if he knew about this, he would stop it.
And when you said that the Vatican has no mechanism for exonerating one senior official at the expense of another, it dawned on me that what had happened in the last year was that if you were really going to evaluate what happened, and I’m talking now the years 1987 to 2009, whatever, till now, it was the current Pope. If you were going to exonerate him, it was really the previous Pope that had to be left holding the bag.
I’m asking you is that true. Is that your perception, not these other functionaries that know American —
MR. ALLEN: Exactly.
MR. CANNON: — had never heard of the previous Pope, the revered Pope. Is that what really was going on and why Ratzinger — why they couldn’t get his story out, as you see his story?
MR. ALLEN: Well, sure. I mean descriptively, I think that’s absolutely right. I think the perception in some quarters of the Holy See was that to really tell Ratzinger’s story, to really tell Benedict’s story would end up impugning the legacy of John Paul II because, you know, it’s not like these guys, Sodano and Castrillon and so forth were operating in a vacuum. I mean, they were put into those positions by John Paul II, and they were making decisions in his name.
And I think the take-away in the Holy See is that, you know, once those dominoes start to fall — I mean, in other words, Castrillon was the first to go down. They cut him loose. Okay. They threw him overboard. All right?
Now, Sodano is still around. He’s still the Dean of the College of Cardinals, but clearly his star has fallen. I mean, he’s not put out front anymore. Okay? So he’s on the brink. That’s the next domino that’s going to go down.
I think the fear is that after Sodano, you might get to Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who had been John Paul’s private secretary, and hard questions might be asked about the role he played, for example, in creating a back door channel for Father Marcial, the founder of the Legionaries with the Pope, et cetera, et cetera.
And ultimately if that domino goes down, then we end up with the Pope himself. Now, fair, right or wrong is almost independent. That’s the psychology. I mean, in other words, the fear is that ultimately where this is going is end up is that too aggressive an effort to make Benedict look like a reformer means he had something to reform, and responsibility for creating that need of reform would lie with John Paul II.
And I do think that has shaped the kind of ambivalence and the half-heartedness and the mixed message in terms of the Vatican’s public defense of Benedict that we’ve seen.
MR. CANNON: Michael, if I may then, just ask the obvious —
MR. CROMARTIE: Yes.
MR. CANNON: — second part of that question of George then.
MR. CROMARTIE: Sure.
MR. CANNON: So leaving aside the public, the management of it, your new book has that word “legacy” in it. Should the failure to deal with this problem over a generation be a more prominent part of the legacy of the previous Pope, of John Paul II?
MR. WEIGEL: Well, Carl, as I indicated earlier, I do discuss this in the new book at some length, and I discuss it in terms of 26 and a half years of the reform of the priesthood. I mean, I think that is the relevant framework for thinking about this, not a framework created by the stories that we’re talking about here.
The stories that we’re talking about here fit within that framework, and I think a number of things have to be said there. First of all, it is true. I mean, Sandro Magister, the Italian Vaticanista, has emphasized this, I think, somewhat too much, but I think it’s also true.
Charges of sexual impropriety were a standard part of the Communist assault on the Catholic clergy in central and eastern Europe from the Second World War till the day Wojtyla got on the plane to Rome for the Conclave that elected him Pope. So that’s the personal experience he brings to this, and that obviously was a problem. I mean, it was a problem in creating a set of assumptions about how one responds to those sorts of charges.
Secondly, he was the legislator of the 1982 Code of Cannon Law. I mean, that had been started during the previous regime, but he’s the guy that drove that through to a conclusion, and I think they really believed they had given local bishops the competence to deal with these things, and they had given priests protection against the arbitrary use of power by bishops who may not have liked a guy, et cetera.
That turns out to have been wrong, but I think that’s exactly what they thought. On the Marcial case, I don’t see any other explanation, except that the Pope was badly deceived, and that’s exactly what I say in the book. Marcial happens to have been a master deceiver. He deceived an awful lot of very smart people, including some of the richest people in the world.
MR. CANNON: Marcial is —
MR. WEIGEL: The founder of the Legion of Christ.
MR. CANNON: Right.
MR. WEIGEL: But there’s no point in my mind in denying that there was, you know, a significant deception here, and that the Pope failed to read this guy accurately. I mean, why not say that? Why not say that? I also think one has to go back to 2001-2002, and when attention was focused, it was focused rather strongly. The Pope’s statement to the American Cardinals at that emergency meeting in April 2002, there is no place in the Catholic Church for those who would abuse the young. I mean, that’s the first really strong signal from the top that we are not going to have this anymore, and he gave the American bishops exactly what they wanted in terms of the Dallas norms, and then backed them up against some considerable resistance in the Curia in doing that.
So I don’t think it’s fair to say that he was at fault in all of this in the sense that John is suggesting the dominos fall. It’s certainly the way they think over there, and that’s part of what has to be changed. I mean, part of what remains to be changed is this assumption of, you know, this is the way this will play out.
No, we all know that the appropriate response to serious screw-up is to get it all out quick and acknowledge responsibility, et cetera, and I would add to that find a mechanism for quickly dealing with the people who you are reasonably certain did not deal with this the way they should or who have made utterly embarrassing public statements that do not reflect the mind of the Church or the mind of either of these two Popes.
MR. ALLEN: Can I just make one very quick factual point? I think I said a little bit ago that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is dead. I meant that his career is dead. The guy is not literally dead. Okay.
MR. CROMARTIE: Yeah, that’s very important on the record.
MR. WEIGEL: Here again, here’s some of the human complexity of this. Castrillon was a reforming bishop in his diocese in Colombia. He disguised himself as a milkman to get in Pablo Escobar’s face and tell him he was going to go to hell if he didn’t get his act together. I mean, this is not a complete weasel of a guy.
MR. ALLEN: No. In fact, I think the most —
MR. WEIGEL: But he just could not get this stuff because of his own culture.
MR. ALLEN: The most elegiac piece of writing about a cardinal I’ve ever seen was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s essay about Dario Castrillon Hoyos as the great hero of the Latin American Church, precisely because of this thing. I mean, he went pounding on Escobar’s door demanding that people who he had kidnapped be released, and so forth.
Ironically, you know, back in 2002, 2003, as you know, when we were ticking off papabile, Castrillon Hoyos was on everybody’s list for precisely this.
MR. WEIGEL: Including his own.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah, well, that’s a whole other conversation.
MR. CROMARTIE: Clare Duffy and then Bill Galston after Clare, and then Cathy and David and E.J. and Keith and Dan.
CLARE DUFFY, NBC News: I just wanted to ask kind of to go back to what Michael asked about the communications arm of this. I mean, is there any sense that this is going to change any time soon? Have we discovered the Internet?
I realize, you know, culturally —
I mean, I’m assuming we have after the Williamson affair, but what is frustrating from our standpoint is I realize culturally, yes, they don’t exist in our 24-7 universe, which I’m not here to argue its merits either, but at the same time this is a 1.2 billion strong institution. This is not the Amish. This is not the Satmar Hasidism.
You know, it’s like thanks to George being a wonderful adviser to our network, we don’t talk to insiders like Maloney or whoever that we shouldn’t talk to, but we’re going to wait, say, on Good Friday and see what happens at Mass. Oh, we’re going to equate it to anti-Semitism. You know, that’s what we’ve got to go with, you know.
There has to be more direction from this office. There can’t then be, well, you know, the coverage in 2010 was so biased. Is there any sense that is a priority for anyone, that it’s going to move at all?
I mean, John, you’re there all the time. I mean, you know, anything?
MR. ALLEN: No.
MS. DUFFY: Okay.
Thanks. Asked and answered. All right. Yeah, I mean, but that’s the frustration, I think, that we, you know, we’re trying to do this correctly, but at the same time the sort of constant reliance on, well, you know, these arguments of cultural relativism, there has to be at some point this is not okay.
MR. ALLEN: Sure, and actually, let me just give you a little bit, very brief education of Vatican politics because the problem, honest to God, is not the press office. Okay? I mean, Federico Lombardi, who is the guy who runs it, is the sweetest guy on earth. I mean, yeah, I mean, Navarro Valls was brilliant and he was terrific, but I mean, as you know well, George, the guy played favorites. I mean, there were some people he would talk to and some people he wouldn’t. There were people who would wait months for call-backs from Navarro and could never get them.
“There is often a tendency to think of the Vatican in these kind of mythic terms as an organism that has a central nervous system and thinks only one thought at a time, the Vatican is not an organism. It’s a complex bureaucracy, which means there are lots of different temperaments and outlooks and opinions about things.”
Lombardi doesn’t do that. I mean, there’s a level playing field, and if you look just at what he says, it usually is quite — the tone is right. I mean, unfortunately, the problem is it’s tone without content because Lombardi doesn’t know anything.
And I don’t mean that he’s dumb. What I mean is he has no access. I mean, just as a thought experiment, you know, if you’re ever over there, ask him when is the last time he saw the Pope for more than two seconds. He’ll tell you, oh —
MS. DUFFY: Yeah, he did.
MR. ALLEN: — it was Christmas Mass two years ago, you know.
The paradox is you’ve got a spokesperson who has no — I have more contact with the guy that Lombardi is speaking on behalf of than he does. Okay?
Now, why is that? It is because Lombardi is controlled by and responsible to the Secretariat of State. To take a step back, I think every institution has a built in tension between the communicators and what you might call the civil service. Right? Okay? And the civil service’s instinct is if we’ve got a problem, we’ll get back to you in three weeks after we’ve consulted 27 experts and, you know, blah, blah, blah, whereas the communicator’s instinct is, no, we need to do this and we need to do it now. Okay?
Now, under John Paul II that tension was resolved in favor of the communicator, okay, Navarro Valls. Navarro Valls had direct and unmediated access to the Pope. He bypassed the Secretariat of State. That was a running source of tension for the Secretariat of State which hated the press office and hated Navarro Valls because they felt they should be the ones making these decisions, not Navarro Valls, but John Paul backed him up. Okay?
Under Benedict XVI, the situation has flip-flopped, and the Secretariat of State has reasserted its traditional control over messaging and so on, which means that Lombardi doesn’t work for the Pope. Lombardi works for Cardinal Bertone, and unfortunately, you’ve got a guy in Bertone, wonderful Salesian, pastoral heart and all that, but you know, communicating in a 24-7 global village just is not in his wheelhouse, you know.
Lombardi can’t open his mail without Bertone’s permission. Okay? So, in other words, it’s not as simple as saying, oh, we’ve got a bad spokesperson. We need to get somebody else in there. That’s not the problem. Okay?
I mean, you could put whoever. I mean, you know, your own personal vision of a world class spin doctor in that role, and if the structure didn’t change, it wouldn’t make any real world difference. Okay? So it’s a structural problem that needs a structural fix.
Now, you ask do people get that. Yeah, I do think they get that. I mean I get a lot more conversation from guys in the Holy — I mean I can tell you in the last six months, I’ve been asked to come into more Vatican offices to discuss the communications problem than in the previous 15 years I’ve been doing this work. Okay?
So I do think — I do think there is a frisson, that there’s an awareness of a problem. However, I would also agree with what George said earlier. I think married to that awareness of the problem is a kind of resignation that it’s not going to be fixed under this papacy, that Benedict XVI basically has indicated in every way he possibly can that he is joined at the hip to Cardinal Bertone, and as long as Bertone and his regime and Secretariat of State are still in place, this structural problem is not going to be fixed.
So I think there’s awareness. In other words, there’s diagnosis, but there isn’t cure.
MR. WEIGEL: I mean, I’ve had many similar conversations, although perhaps not as many as John, with people who really want to know how do we get this right. How can we do this better?
And I think you’ve now got throughout the Roman Curia, and it’s not just Americans, although it’s significantly Americans, a cadre of I would say high second and third tier people who really want this to change, I mean, who want to go out and engage, but because this remains, this really pyramidal structure here, they have no capacity to give effect to that except to try to push it from within and to get the Website up with all of the statements and to get things done in languages that people actually understand so that when they come out, you can actually read them.
But John is exactly right that as long as the present cast of characters at the top of the pyramid remains what it is we are going to have these problems. The further paradox of this is that the Pope is his own best spokesman.
MR. ALLEN: Yep.
MR. WEIGEL: All you have to do is read this new book. I mean, he is really good at explaining what he thinks he’s doing and he’s actually pretty good in this book at explaining what he thinks they made a mess of. Why he is not deployed more is one of the further mysteries of this, because he’s quite — I mean, he’s got that teacher’s mind for kind of laying it out.
MR. CROMARTIE: Bill Galston.
DR. WILLIAM GALSTON, The Brookings Institution: Well, this has a very familiar ring to those of us who have been immersed in American politics. Let Benedict be Benedict, and I’m not unfamiliar with the phenomenon of a press secretary who has inadequate access to his or her boss and, you know, what that does to credibility. So this all rings very true.
One quick observation and two quick questions. The quick observation is that speaking as a Jew, I’d like to push back a little bit against the proposition that the Catholic Church is the only religious entity that has its own internal judicial system. I think if there were an orthodox rabbi in the room, you know, there would have been a huge outcry. But I won’t go there.
Here are my two quick questions. Number one, you know, as just a casual reader and follower, it has been my impression that especially under John Paul II, there was a real effort to centralize the appointment of bishops, that is, to take more direct personal oversight over those appointments.
Now, if that’s correct, then George’s indictment of the weakness of the bishops would also seem to be an indictment of the man who appointed most of them, but maybe I’m missing something.
And here’s my second question. Obviously we all know there’s some things that are sins in the eyes of the Church that are not crimes in the eyes of secular law, but there are some things that are sins that are also crimes. And with regard to the latter category, it is not my understanding that your actions can be optional in those situations.
If you come into possession of evidence of a serious crime in the eyes of secular law and you withhold that, technically speaking you’re acting to obstruct justice. Now, whatever gave anyone the idea that if there’s credible evidence of something that is regarded as a crime in the eyes of the secular law having been committed, that there is discretionary authority to withhold that information?
MR. CROMARTIE: George.
MR. WEIGEL: I’ll let John handle the second one since he’s dug into the legal detail of this more.
Bill, on the question of the appointment of bishops, the Pope cannot possibly even if it were 26 and a half years, have an intimate knowledge of the more than what was it, 3,000 bishops he appointed? He is in some sense the prisoner of the system which relies heavily on the Vatican Ambassador or Nuncio in a particular country to develop these so-called “turnas” or lists of candidates.
What he did was put three guys whom he really had confidence in, a Brazilian, a Beninese and an Italian serially in charge of the Congregation for Bishops, and that guy would go to see him every Saturday with this week’s lists to be determined.
He would intervene in that on occasion. He did not like the list he was given in 1983-84 for New York from the normal process, and so John O’Connor was a kind of personal thing.
Lustiger in Paris was something that no one in that bureaucracy would ever have come up with, son of Polish Jewish émigrés as Archbishop of Paris. These are things they don’t think about.
JP II was convinced that this was the guy, and in defense, imposed him on Paris. But in the main, he’s dealing with what he’s given, as any Pope is, as the present Pope is. I argue in this book, and I still think it’s true, that while there are some of the usual political difficulties of people promoting proteges all the rest of it, the real problem now is one of criteria. You know, what are you looking for in a man in this office and where do you look for evidence that he has these qualities?
The notion that a man ought to have been, for example, a successful pastor who knows how to preach, who can reach out to young people, who has a capacity to deal with the press, and in fact, likes mixing it up, this is not part of the structure of criteria by which you begin to formulate these “turnae.” This is something else that has got to change, got to change, but it’s not going to change under the present regime.
MR. ALLEN: On the legal thing just very briefly, and first of all, it is now the Vatican’s official policy that where bishops are mandatory reporters, that is, where they are obligated by law to report incidents of sexual abuse, they must comply with that civil law.
Where they are not obligated by civil law to do that, in the ordinary course of circumstances they should do so unless there is some compelling reason like the example I gave you of India earlier.
Where did the idea come from that they didn’t have to do that, you know, up until very recently? I think there was a kind of widespread cultural thing that wasn’t just restricted to bishops not reporting priests who were guilty of sexual abuse. I think it was in the water, in the kind of bloodstream of the Church.
It’s not like bishops are the only guys who knew this was going on. I mean, I think you could go into any diocese in America and you can find other clergy probably who knew that so-and-so was doing stuff. You could probably find laity.
I mean, hell, you know, I went to Catholic schools. You know, in the Catholic school I went to out in the high plains of rural western Kansas, there was a priest, okay? Everybody knew the two things you never did with him is you never got into a wrestling — you never let him take you onto the wrestling mat, and you never let him get you into the swimming pool because if one of those two things happened, he was going to grope you. Just flat everybody knew that. I mean, this was like oral wisdom in the school. Okay? The freshmen would be told, you know, in the kind of informal orientation that goes on.
It didn’t occur to any of us to report this priest to the cops. You know, I mean, the notion was that if something needs to be done, it should be done by his ecclesiastical superior, and it should be done quietly.
I mean, you know, there are legions of stories of cops who would, you know, arrest a priest in a compromising situation. Instead of taking him to the jail, you know, they would take him back to the rectory, okay, and make a phone call on Monday to the bishop saying, “You might want to look at Father So-and-so. You know, we caught him doing” — I mean, my point is that there was a kind of widespread culture that I think was both in the Church and in civil society that when it came to Catholic priests, you didn’t rely in the first instance on the instruments of criminal law, okay, because the Church was supposed to clean up its own mess. Okay? That was the psychology.
And what became painfully clear, I think, much too late in the game, but what is painfully clear today is that (a) for a variety of different reasons the Church wasn’t capable of cleaning up its own mess, and therefore, this has to be entrusted to the civil system, and (b), the Church shouldn’t get special treatment; that when it comes to criminal and civil law, priests stand before the law like every other kind of citizen.
That awareness, you know, took an awful long time to arrive, but I think, you know, the good news is in the main, it’s there today.
MR. CROMARTIE: I’ve got Cathy and David Gibson and E.J. and Eve and Dan. Why don’t we just get them all out and then let them make comments?
CATHY GROSSMAN, USA Today: Well, I’m looking forward to some news since my original question has long since been passed in relevance, and that is that on the 19th, the Pope has called all of the cardinals in to talk about the sex abuse crisis. Can we expect another spectacular display of tone deafness?
You know, the problem that we have in writing these stories is that we cannot have a standard four-paragraph drop-in to every story that gives Vatican context, that explains that they like to stew about things, that they have a mix between Italian and South American conspiratorial simmering culture. This is just not going to fly with our readers. It’s not just a USA Today readership trouble.
You know, American readers are not interested. They view all of this explaining how the Vatican works as excusing the Vatican. It doesn’t excuse us from trying to find a way to convey these things and to put things in context, but there’s a limit to how much context you can freight on every news story.
So what do you expect will happen on the 19th? And how do you think we could do a better job reporting it?
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. David Gibson and then E.J.
DAVID GIBSON, PoliticsDaily.com: I think there’s danger in the media having overplayed maybe raising expectations on the 19th, but I’ll let John answer that because I don’t think that’s going to be a big issue.
Just a couple of quick observations and probably repetitive, but one thing I think it’s interesting this strikes me is this has been a great session, and you two have said a lot of pointed and poignant things, and I think if they were, for example, put in the mouth or pages of the New York Times or other papers, they’d be blasted as anti-Catholic. So I think there’s a kind of a problem here in a lot of the stuff, and when it’s reported in the secular news outside Church circles, it’s seen as an attack, whereas a lot of people share a lot of the concerns that have come up in this Scandal Time II I’m referring to particularly, and obviously that everybody has alluded to is that, you know, we are getting this good information, but we’re getting it from you guys. We’re not getting it from the Vatican itself.
And I think George’s point that throughout this, you know, Benedict has been his best — he’s the best spokesman of the Vatican, and he ain’t talking, and that’s really the problem. It gets to the whole thing. There’s no — and you can feel the frustration. He’s not answering questions, you know, even in the faux press conferences on the plane and that kind of thing. He’s not sitting down and talking to anybody.
The Hullermann thing comes up. We don’t know. You know, all of these stories come out and people are upset with them, but they’re raising questions which aren’t being answered. So in the absence, there’s such a vacuum it’s a real problem.
The other thing I’d just kind of say is that, you know, I think when we talk a lot about a communications problem and structural problems and that kind of thing, but I think at a certain point it’s not just about PR or spin. It also reflects who these people are and that they have perhaps a flawed vision of justice or of the way we see the world outside, and that justice for victims and that kind of thing. So I think there’s a certain — you’re just trying to say this is a communications issue that needs to be fixed. It can sort of diminish what is really a problem that is actually part and parcel of the scandal.
This whole scandal from 1985 that we’ve been covering is in many respects you could argue a communications problem. They covered things up. They put priorities on secrecy and on protecting clergy and bishops rather than, you know, what we, the rest of the public, would put the priority on.
So in a sense I can kind of see the communication, you know, stiff-arm from the Vatican in Scandal Time II as in a sense consonant with the reporting that was done by the AP and the New York Times and the European papers. This is all part of the same story, and hence, you know, these aren’t two discrete kind of things where the media is getting it wrong.
Media is the only instrument to get these things out, and it has just been this long, 25-year slog. So anyway, I had a question about Benedict. He seemed to feel the media or the modern world is kind of a necessary evil to getting it out and producing a kind of penitential reaction among the Church, but that’s another whole other issue.
MR. CROMARTIE: E.J.
E.J. DIONNE, The Washington Post: Yeah, I want to pick up on that point. I just want to make two points. First, thank you for your great tour of the next Conclave. I was thinking this will be like the 1924 Democratic convention that went on for 103 ballots, and the head of the Massachusetts delegation famously said, “Either we must switch to a more liberal candidate or move to a cheaper hotel.”
And this won’t be a problem for the cardinals, but it will for the media.
PARTICIPANT: And do you know the rates went up the longer it went on by day. It was horrible.
MR. DIONNE: The other thing is I want to ask a couple of pointed questions. I want to commend George for something in his book. He compares favorably — my home town of Fall River is in the book unfortunately because we were one of the first diocese implicated in the scandal, and he praises Sean O’Malley, then Bishop of Fall River, and he writes, “Lessons from the Fall River experience were not learned, however, a few miles up the road in Boston.”
This is the first learned book ever to say that Boston had something to learn from Fall River. So I thank you for that.
MR. CROMARTIE: What page was that, E.J.?
MR. DIONNE: That’s page 92, I believe, yes.
Three quick points. One, on this communications issue, I want to take what David said and continue that question. I mean, first of all, the same people who make fun of President Obama for saying he has communications problem and that explains everything, typically use that to defend whatever institution they want to defend.
And I’m wondering if this is not a communications problem as such. Two reasons. One, if a lot of these folks get up there and say the same stuff over and over again, maybe they are actually communicating exactly what they want to communicate.
Secondly, it’s a structural problem. You made the great point, John, that they didn’t want to say this guy and this guy were — failed in order to defend Benedict, but that’s not a communications problem.
I think there is a problem where the modern media, particularly the American media, are rooted in a certain democratic sensibility and a form of democratic accountability and clearly that democratic spirit is not what the Vatican is about. So I think it does raise more profound issues about the Church and the structure of the Vatican. So I’d love you to comment on that.
The second quick point on appointments, I understand George’s argument as he knows perfectly well, as well as anyone, there’s an alternative view, which is in that period doctrinal loyalty often took precedence over competence or pastoral gifts.
I was struck, George, when you raised properly the point that in the past Rome didn’t have control over all of the appointments. There’s another way to take that story. Yours is Rome can hire them, Rome can fire them, but there is a long tradition in the Church, Father Tom Reese, a much older tradition, of local churches through almost quasi or pre-democratic structures having much more control over bishops, and maybe the problem is excessive centralization, and it’s an issue, I think, the Church needs to grapple with.
The third point is on Laurie’s stories, and I’ll just ask it as a question. Wasn’t the Church’s reaction in 2010 the same as in 2001, which is a great deal of self-protection? And wasn’t Laurie’s reporting important and actually changed the nature of the discussion because before she reported this, it was possible to put almost all of the responsibility on local bishops?
And did not that reporting achieve a kind of breakthrough where suddenly you said wait a minute. The Vatican had some real responsibility in at least these cases we know about, which might mean they had more responsibility in other cases, and thus, I close looking forward to the 1924 Democratic convention when we all gather together in Rome.
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, Eve and Dan, if you can be quick, we do want to have lunch and then our next session will be starting. So, Eve, if you could pull the mic and, Dan, pull yours up. Eve is over here.
EVE CONANT, Newsweek: Okay. And I will keep this short. I think Clare really touched on my question, but I just wanted to say to George as well, when you said in the beginning of your talk, you know, there were 44 stories on the Hari Krishnas and whatever number it was on the Catholic Church. Obviously that’s a smaller church. When it’s Martha Stewart, this is not involving children, and there’s not a lot of time for approfondire when you’re talking about kids and childhood. It’s a very fast time, and it’s something that needs to be addressed quickly.
Also, if it was something in the past, and it’s not just a question of how many paragraphs we can put into context for our readers, but how many we’d want to, I think I would say personally, because I think the issue here isn’t an attack on the Catholic Church. It’s a defense of children, and that’s a totally different thing.
And that’s the difference in coverage that you see from these other issues, and I would just venture to say personally you were talking about how the Church won’t change. I think the press isn’t going to change, and I think that we’ll continue to hammer at this until it’s resolved, and just that we can be as unchanging and relentless as the Church can be obfuscating.
So it’s more of an observation at this point and I’ll just keep it short.
DAN HARRIS, ABC News: My question is back to George’s point before about our tying the celibacy issue to the sexual abuse issue. I would love to hear you elaborate on why that link should not be made.
MR. CROMARTIE: That just broke the record for the shortest question of the day, and we thank you for it.
Which of you two — John, do you want to go first and then George or the other way? You’re looking up quotes. If everybody can be concise, then we’re going to break for lunch.
MR. ALLEN: Yeah, I mean, no way that I can respond to that all. So I’m going to try to do this very synthetically, and then if you want to pull me aside later for more details, you know, I’ll be happy to give them to you.
What should we expect from November 19th? Virtually nothing. I mean, bear in mind the Pope has not called the cardinals in the room to talk about the sex abuse crisis. They’re coming because there’s a consistory. Under John Paul, the Vatican adopted this custom of scheduling a business meeting for the cardinals the day before the consistory because it’s really the only time other than a Conclave they’re all together.
There are five items on that agenda. Sex abuse is one of three things they’re going to try to do between five and seven o’clock in the afternoon, which means they’re going to talk about it for maybe a half hour. If you’re expecting some breathtaking new policy initiative to result, I’ve got some land in, you know, a swamp I’d like to try to sell you. So nothing.
You know, David your point about this not being just a communications problem, of course, it’s not. All I was suggesting, it is at least a communications problem and that while we might not be able to resolve some of the deeper kind of psycho-structural factors that you were trying to sketch, I think there is at least at the moment some realistic hope of putting a dent on the communications front, not so much in terms of it happening in this papacy, but I do think there is a new critical awareness of the importance of doing that.
I mean, there’s a new Italian — there’s a new book out in Italian called Attacco a Ratzinger, “Attack on Ratzinger,” by a couple of very well known Italian journalists and known as real Vatican loyalists. Okay? So these are like Church insiders, which is the most kind of barbed critique of the communications failures of the Vatican you’ll ever want to see, and they have this previously unpublished document, a meeting that took place in the Vatican with very senior officials two days after the story about the Holocaust denying bishop had broken, okay, to discuss how they were going to present the decision to the world.
All they talked about was the canonical fine points of what impact this was going to have on the organization that this bishop belonged to. There wasn’t a single mention or reference at all to this guy’s record as a Holocaust denier, and the story had been out there in the world for 48 hours by that point.
My point simply is that there is a new kind of awareness, I think, of the intolerability of that kind of thing which would suggest there’s some momentum to eventually doing something about it.
Finally, E.J., your point about the reporting being valuable that we’ve seen, Laurie’s and others, because you’ve brought this home to the Vatican. At one level I would enthusiastically endorse that. I mean, you are right that, you know, there was a kind of tendency particularly inside the Vatican pre-2010 to suggest that the responsibility for this was exclusively at the lower level of the Church, and that is to say, “Oh, isn’t it too bad. We had these bishops who shirked their responsibilities and didn’t do what they should have done, and there was a failure to kind of take some measure of ownership for the problem because, I mean, the truth is structurally, as you know, a bishop is accountable only to the Pope. I mean, there is no other layer of accountability. In making poor decisions, Rome has to take some responsibility for that because no one else can structurally in the Catholic system.
So I do think that was a contribution. On the other hand, I think packaged with that I would go back to where I began, that there was also, I think, a failure at times to tell the full story of what Rome’s role in the crisis had been and, in a particular way, what the Pope’s role in the crisis had been. I think that was one part, a kind of cultural gap, you know, that separates Americans from Italians, the secular media from the world of the Catholic Church and on and on.
I think it was another part, spectacular failures on the part of the Vatican to tell that story adequately. So the reporting was valuable because it did, inject, it put the Vatican into the mix. I think at a cost sometimes, however, of misdiagnosing what both the past the present of the Vatican’s role has been.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you. John.
MR. WEIGEL: Ratta-tat-tat. Dan Harris, celibacy, pages 37 to 42, I stand by every word.
Eve Conant, amen to defending children. Let’s defend children across the board, not simply by focusing on sexual abuse problems in the Catholic Church, of which there were six credibly reported cases in a community of 65 million people last year. Let’s look across the board at other environments where children and young people are at risk. So let’s do this across the board.
E.J., dioceses should absolutely be consulted on the appointment of bishops. I was recently in an American diocese which will remain nameless, as it doesn’t need to suffer any more, which has been virtually destroyed by this business over the last ten or 15 years. A new bishop is in the works, and the priests, much less the laity, have not been consulted.
I mean, on learning this, I fired off any number of e-mails across the Atlantic with all sorts of unpleasant adjectives and adverbs to them saying have we learned nothing here about this process. So, you know, this remains to be fixed.
I mean, I think ultimately you don’t want the state involved in this, which is what Pius VII’s situation was, but I think you are going to get a much better answer to the question what kind of man do you think you need for your shepherd in this particular location by consulting widely with engaged laity and priests than the present form seems to allow.
David, I would deepen again your comment simply by saying it’s true. It’s not just a communications problem. It’s an ecclesiological problem. It’s a problem of how you think of the Church. If the Church is an institution to be maintained, then there is a certain kind of weird logic even in what appears to us to be this Keystone Cops communications operation. You’re just trying to get through to the next thing.
If the Church is a mission, if it doesn’t have a mission as one function among others, if it is a mission, and if the mission is being fundamentally impeded by this inability to be self-disciplined, et cetera, then that’s not just a communications problem. I mean, that’s a problem to really understand the distinctive nature of this community and the one thing that it exists to do, the one thing that it exists to do.
So thank you, John, let me say to him, for bringing enormous amount of detail and wisdom to this.
MR. ALLEN: Well, thank you, George.
MR. WEIGEL: And see you all at the 1924 — is that the convention that elected John W. Davis, who was hardly the more liberal candidate.
PARTICIPANT: No, they didn’t switch to a liberal candidate. It went on to a 103rd ballot.
MR. CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking both of our speakers.