Settimo Cielodi Sandro Magister
12 apr 19
“Zero Tolerance” Farewell. But “Transparency” Is Still a Long Way Off
by Sandro Magister
What the current leaders of the Church have not been capable of saying – before, during, and after the February 21-24 Vatican summit on sexual abuse committed by consecrated ministers – has been said and written by “pope emeritus” Benedict XVI in the “notes” that he made public on April 11, after having informed cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin and Pope Francis.
Joseph Ratzinger has gone to the the root of the scandal: the sexual revolution of ’68, the “collapse” of Catholic doctrine and morality between the 1960’s and 1980’s, the downfall of the distinction between good and evil and between truth and lies, the proliferation of “homosexual clubs” in the seminaries, the imposition of a “so-called due process” that rendered untouchable those who justified these novelties, including pedophilia itself, in the final analysis a departure from that God who is the Church’s raison d’être and the sense of direction of every man.
As a result, in Ratzinger’s judgment, the Church’s task today is to rediscover the courage to “speak of God” and to “prioritize” God over all, to return to believing that he is really present in the Eucharist instead of “downgrading it to a ceremonial gesture,” to look at the Church as full of weeds but also of good wheat, of saints, of martyrs, to be defended from the discredit of the Evil One, without deluding ourselves that we can make a better one one our own, entirely political, which “cannot represent any sort of hope.”
It is an analysis that will certainly lead to discussion, this of Ratzinger, seeing how distant it is from what is being said and done today at the top levels of the Church regarding the scandal of sexual abuse, from a perspective that is essentially judicial and that wobbles between the two poles of “zero tolerance” and due process.
A due process that is entirely different from the one – “so-called” – evoked by Ratzinger, because it instead concerns the defendant’s rights of defense, the presumption of innocence until the definitive verdict and the proportionality of the punishment, and which it is helpful to gauge for how it is being employed today in regard to cardinals and archbishops implicated in abuse.
Concentrating the analysis on this last point, here is what results.
Until last autumn the formula “zero tolerance” was one of the most recurrent in the words and writings of Pope Francis, to express how to oppose the sexual abuse of the clergy on underage victims.
But since then it has gone missing. Vanished from the final document of the synod on young people; vanished from the subsequent apostolic exhortation “Christus Vivit”; vanished from the speeches and documents of the summit on abuse held at the Vatican from February 21 to 24.
On the contrary, at the beginning of that summit Francis distributed to the participants 21 of his own handwritten “points of reflection” that didn’t agree at all with “zero tolerance.”
Point 14, for example, said:
“The principle of natural and canon law of presumption of innocence must also be safeguarded until the guilt of the accused is proven.”
And point 15:
“Observe the traditional principle of proportionality of punishment with respect to the crime committed. To decide that priests and bishops guilty of sexual abuse of minors leave the public ministry.”
The provisions adopted in these last two months against five cardinals and archbishops who ended up on trial for abuse committed or “covered up” fully confirm this change of stance.
There is not one provision that is the same as another. And only in one case did it consist of the convict’s reduction to the lay state, when instead, by virtue of “zero tolerance,” this should be the sanction to be imposed on all, including on those who committed only one act of abuse on a single victim many years ago.
The only one reduced to the lay state, as is known, has been ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. None, however, of the other four who were sanctioned before and after him.
Australian cardinal George Pell and French cardinal Philippe Barbarin, both sentenced by the secular courts of their respective countries and both awaiting an appeal process, received very different treatment in the ecclesiastical forum, more severe with Pell and more impartial with Barbarin, as Settimo Cielo has documented:
The pope appeared even more indulgent with Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, limiting himself to accepting on March 23 his resignation as archbishop of Santiago, Chile, the day after he was summoned to court for covering up abuse.
And still different from the preceding was the treatment of the former bishop of Agaña on the island of Guam, Anthony Sablan Apuron (in the photo), convicted in definitive form last February 7 with a sentence made known on April 4 by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith – to serve these three penalties: “the privation of office; the perpetual prohibition from dwelling, even temporarily, in the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Agaña; and the perpetual prohibition from using the insignia attached to the rank of Bishop.”
Since the island of Guam, in the Pacific, is a territory of the United States, Apuron is the first United States archbishop so far hit with a definitive canonical conviction for sexual abuse, six days before that February 13 on which McCarrick was laicized.
But that’s just it, unlike this last, Apuron was not reduced to the lay state, in spite of the fact that he was found guilty of “crimes against the sixth commandment with minors.” He can still celebrate, albeit far from Guam and without wearing the episcopal insignia.
And this contrasts glaringly with the “zero tolerance” that is the guideline of the Catholic Church in the United States from the 2002 “Dallas Charter” onward, when the president of the episcopal conference was none other than that Wilton Gregory whom Pope Francis promoted as archbishop of Washington on the very day of the publication of the mild sentence against Apuron.
But how did it come to this epilogue?
In the first instance, the case of Apuron was adjudicated by a jury headed by Cardinal Raymond Burke, a canonist of illustrious renown, he too from the United States but very attentive to the guarantees to be ensured for the defendant, appointed to this role personally by Pope Francis.
This first trial concluded on March 16 2018 with a guilty verdict on the abuse of minors and with the removal of Apuron as archbishop of Guam.
Apuron nonetheless had recourse to an appeal. And at the Vatican a new canonical process began, this time headed by Francis himself, according to what was revealed at the press conference of last August 26, on the way back from Ireland:
“The archbishop of Guam appealed his sentence and I decided – because it was a very, very complex case – to make use of the right that I have, hear his appeal on my own, and not to send him to the appeal court that carries out its work with priests. I took it up personally. I set up a commission of canon lawyers to help me, and they told me that, in a short time, a month at most, they would offer a ‘recommendation’ so that I could make a judgement. It is a complicated case on the one hand, but not difficult, because the evidence is extremely clear; from the standpoint of evidence, it is clear. But I cannot pre-judge. I am waiting for the report and then I will pass judgement. I say that the evidence is clear because that is what led the court of the first instance to its verdict.”
That brings us to the definitive guilty verdict of February 7 of this year. Against which however Apuron continues to protest that he is innocent, the victim “of a pressure group that has planned to destroy me” by recruiting accusers “even behind offers of money.”
In effect, a detailed report published on September 20 2017 on “Vatican Insider” had given a troubling description of the power struggles at the top of the archdiocese of Agaña, before and after the opening of the trial against Apuron, struggles that were not calmed but became even fiercer during the phase of receivership of the archdiocese entrusted by the Vatican to then-secretary of “Propaganda Fide” Savio Hon Taifai and to coadjutor bishop Michael Jude Byrnes, now promoted as ordinary.
That some of the accusations made against Apuron were inconsistent had also been observed by the jury headed by Cardinal Burke, which however had upheld a couple of crimes as proven, with the consequent condemnation.
During the February 21-24 summit, various voices – including that of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and a member of the council of cardinals that assists Francis in governing the universal Church – were raised to call for the relaxation of the pontifical secrecy that precludes access to the proceedings of canonical trials.
But so far nothing has changed, on this. And if there is really the desire to overcome the unjustifiable rigidity of “zero tolerance” in the name of the defendant’s rights of defense and the proportionality of punishments, the much-lauded “transparency” must also be put into practice, with the publication not only of the final sentences, but also of the course that led to them.Condividi: