The Official Roman Catholic Policy of Obstruction of Justice

I’ve already written about Rome’s Institutionally Sanctioned Lying. An institution as old as the Roman Church has obviously, over the centuries, adopted policies to deal with the reporting of sexual scandals in its ranks. It has learned how to lie about them:

[One abuse victim] was particularly angered by the use by Church authorities of ‘mental reservation’ in dealing with complaints. Mental reservation is a concept developed and much discussed over the centuries, which permits a churchman knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying … there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be – permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened…

It has, however, not found ways to deal with the actual sexual scandals within its ranks.

At the time of the Reformation, the Catholic historian Paul Johnson described the existing social situation among the clergy: 

“Probably as many as half the men in orders had ‘wives’ and families. Behind all the New Learning and the theological debates, clerical celibacy was, in its own way, the biggest single issue at the Reformation. It was a great social problem and, other factors being equal, it tended to tip the balance in favour of reform. As a rule, the only hope for a child of a priest was to go into the Church himself, thus unwillingly or with no great enthusiasm, taking vows which he might subsequently regret: the evil tended to perpetuate itself.” (History of Christianity, pgs 269-270)

In the summer of 1536, Pope Paul III appointed Cardinals Contarini and Cafara and a commission to study church Reform. The report of this commission, the Consilium de emendanda ecclesiae, was completed in March 1537.

The final paragraphs deal with the corruptions of Renaissance Rome itself:

“the swarm of sordid and ignorant priests in the city, the harlots who are followed around by clerics and by the noble members of the cardinals’ households …” (A.G. Dickens, “The Counter Reformation,” pg. 100)

“… honest manners should flourish in this city and church, mother and teacher of other churches … [yet] whores perambulate like matrons or ride on muleback, with whom noblemen, cardinals, and priests consort in broad daylight …” (cited in Denis R. Janz, “A Reformation Reader, Primary Texts with Introductions,” pg 406.

“The immediate effects of the Consilium fell far below the hopes of its authors and its very frankness hampered its public use. … the more noticeably pious prelates [note: this the “noticeably pious” clergy] had no longer to tolerate the open cynicism of the Medicean period, and when moral lapses by clerics came to light, pains were now taken to hush them up as matters of grievous scandal.” (A.G. Dickens, “The Counter Reformation,” pg. 102.)

Today, the sexual scandals in all forms have not only continued, and the response — “pains taken to hush them up” — has continued as well:

“The Vatican was today rocked by a sex scandal reaching into Pope Benedict’s household after a chorister was sacked for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting. Angelo Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness, was caught by police on a wiretap allegedly negotiating with Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a 29-year-old Vatican chorister, over the specific physical details of men he wanted brought to him. Transcripts in the possession of the Guardian suggest that numerous men may have been procured for Balducci, at least one of whom was studying for the priesthood. The explosive claims about Balducci’s private life have caused grave embarrassment to the Vatican, which has yet to publicly comment on the affair.”

Separately: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20100320/D9EICMPG0.html

“Hundreds of new allegations of abuse have recently come to light across Europe, including in the pope’s native Germany, where he served as archbishop in a diocese where several victims have recently come forward. One priest suspected of molesting boys while the future pope was in charge was transferred to a job where he abused more children. While a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger penned a letter instructing bishops around the world to report all cases of abuse to his office and keep them secret under threat of excommunication. Irish bishops have said the letter was widely understood to mean they shouldn’t report the cases to police.”

At what point can this policy be considered to be an official policy of obstruction of justice?

Benedict offered no endorsement of three official Irish investigations that found the church leadership to blame for the scale and longevity of abuse heaped on Irish children throughout the 20th century. The Vatican refused to cooperate with those 2001-09 probes … The investigations, directed by senior Irish judges and lawyers, ruled that Catholic leaders protected the church’s reputation from scandal at the expense of children — and began passing their first abuse reports to police in 1996 only after victims began to sue the church.

Rights campaigners in Ireland and abroad forecast that more victims in more nations will keep coming forward and opening new fronts of criticism, because the pope’s promotion of secretive canon laws remains at the heart of an unsolved problem.

“We know this policy of secrecy was worldwide. The more that victims speak out, the more the scandals will spread,” said Marie Collins, who was repeatedly raped by a Dublin priest while aged 13 and hospitalized in 1960. Her attacker wasn’t removed from the priesthood and imprisoned until 1997.

While a cardinal at the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger, now the pope, wrote a 2001 letter instructing bishops worldwide to report all cases of abuse to his office and keep church investigations secret under threat of excommunication. The Vatican insists the secrecy rules serve only to protect the integrity of the church’s investigations, and should not be taken to mean the church should not tell police of their members’ crimes.

But victims’ advocates in Ireland and the United States said the pope again failed to make it clear whether the church considers the secular law a higher priority than canon law when seeking to stop a pedophile priest.

“The letter’s underlying goal seems to have been to appease the outrage while keeping the church in control of its incriminating information,” said Terry McKiernan, president of a Web-based pressure group, BishopAccountability.org, that chronicles Catholic abuse scandals worldwide.

“He should have demanded that the bishops release all pertinent files and other information about all credibly accused priests. He should have demanded that every complicit official be named publicly and forced to resign,” McKiernan said.

This is the same institution that has made it an official policy to say that it, and it alone, is the Christ-appointed infallible guardian of true Christian doctrine.

4 thoughts on “The Official Roman Catholic Policy of Obstruction of Justice

  1. Here’s further evidence that “obstruction of justice” can rightly be applied to this whole matter:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/24/children.childprotection

    Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night he had ‘obstructed justice’ after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church’s investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret.

    The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.

    This type of thing has its roots in a document like “Unam Sanctam” (1302) when Pope Boniface VIII asserted that no secular government had jurisdiction over the papacy:

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/b8-unam.html

    However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God’ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

    For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal.

    It’s important to note here that a pope, Boniface, is using “the traditions of men” to supersede Scripture. The particular “tradition” in question —
    “Blessed Dionysius” was thought by this pope to be Dionysius the Areopagite, named in Acts 17. However, Dionysius was in reality a 6th century neoplatonist writer.

    Talk about standing on shaky ground.

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  2. “The Catholic Church as a singular entity has run its course. After nearly three decades of one horrendous revelation after another involving church officials in serial acts of pedophilia and sex, physical abuse, and as the record shows, actual complicity and cover-up: The Catholic Church MUST be abolished. The Vatican turned into a museum honoring the children it destroyed.

    Let the members choose how they wish to create their own new ‘Catholic’ church in their countries…the faithful seem not to have suffered unduly as a result of Henry VIII splitting off… it has proven that it is an abomination, and the antithesis of its own preachings.

    For those who care…the basis for the Pope’s dilemma is this: Absolution! God(supposedly) has granted the church(Pope) the power to absolve sin through confession, these powers are delegated down through the hierarchy. Now, a priest molests a child, he goes to confessional, he does penitence, he is absolved of the sin. If he is no longer a sinner then the Church must see him as a ‘clean’ priest once again. If they were to reject that logic then they must reject the power of ‘Absolution’ granted from God.

    Deny ‘Absolution’ as a power and you have destroyed the underpinnings of the Church itself.
    Such a system, and belief structure cannot ever mesh with a world that is ever more democratic and diverse.

    The question begged most of all is: “Can the Pope absolve himself?””

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    1. I don’t know that it can be “abolished.” My hope is to create public awareness and public pressure on some of these things.

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  3. Mr. Didereaux,

    A murderer on death row must pays the price for his crime, though he is, if repentant, certainly forgiven for his offense.

    In the same way, an individual (a priest or anybody else) who’s committed a heinous moral offense, though he may be fully absolved for his sin, still must pay the price for his offense (this “price” may include fines, fees, jailtime, public ridicule, loss of employment, etc.).

    thank you herbert

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