Is the Catholic Church Capable of Transparency and Truth Telling?


The recent Lettergate scandal coupled with the US bishops inability to reveal the truth about the history of sexual abuse within their own dioceses leads one to ask “Is the Catholic Church able to tell the truth?”

Lettergate has become a public relations nightmare after the Vatican selectively released portions of a letter that implied Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI supported him wholeheartedly.

The previously hidden part of the letter provides the full explanation why Benedict refused to write a commentary on a new Vatican-published compilation of books about Francis’ theological and philosophical background that was released to mark his fifth anniversary as pope.

In addition to saying he didn’t have time, Benedict noted that one of the authors involved in the project had launched “virulent,” ″anti-papist” attacks against his teaching and that of St. John Paul II. He said he was “surprised” the Vatican had chosen the theologian to be included in the 11-volume “The Theology of Pope Francis.”

“I’m certain you can understand why I’m declining,” Benedict wrote.

The Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications said Saturday it was releasing the full text of the letter due to the controversy over the “presumed manipulation” of information when the volume was launched Monday with great fanfare on the eve of Francis’ anniversary.

Perhaps the more important example of the inability to tell the truth is occurring in the Diocese of Buffalo.  Bishop Robert Malone has announced that he is reconsidering whether he should reverse the longstanding diocesan policy of withholding the names of priests accused of abuse.  At the same time, he is quick to point out that he inherited the policy of secrecy when he took office.

What is there to consider?  What has to be deliberated?  Do the right thing especially since the Bishop has announced a plan to compensate certain victims for sexual abuse and the recent admission by a retired Buffalo priest should make the decision quite easy.

The Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits admitted the abuse to The News after a South Buffalo resident accused the priest of molesting him on a ski trip in the early 1980s. The admissions prompted additional allegations against Orsolits, as well as new public accusations against other priests.

Victims’ advocates for years have called for greater transparency from the diocese, including the release of names of clergy alleged to have molested children. Withholding names, they argue, fosters secrecy that allows the abuse scandal to fester.

In spite of all this, Bishop Malone can’t bring himself to do the right thing.  He is unable or unwilling to tell the truth and release names of priests who are accused of sexually abusing young children.  It is apparent the Catholic Church doesn’t enjoy a strong relationship with transparency or the truth.


Photo Credit:

Nacho Arteaga

Pope Benedict Orders Investigation of Legionnaires of Christ Sexual Abuse

Pope Benedict

In a somewhat surprising move, Pope Benedict has ordered an apostolic visitation of the controversal religious order, the Legionnaires of Christ whose controversial if not charismatic figure Marcial Maciel fathered at least one child and is said to have sexually abused seminarians under his tutelage.

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The controversial order was one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite religious orders. John Paul admired Maciel for his fundraising prowess, doctrinal orthodoxy, and loyalty to the papacy. His admiration blinded him from the other, dark side of Maciel-the one that was sexually deviant, secretive, and authoritarian to the point of seeking to control every aspect of its members’ lives.

The apostolic visitation is a church investigation conducted under the authority of the Pope himself. It is not something that occurs every day in the church. An apostolic visitation usually occurs when there is potential for grave scandal in the church or there has been a serious problem that can no longer be ignored. In the 1980’s, Pope John Paul II ordered an apostolic visitation of US seminaries to discover if they were hotbeds for doctrinal heterodoxy and homosexuality. This particular investigation will no doubt include a discussion concerning the future of the Legionnaires of Christ as well as their lay counterpart Regnum Christi.

After John Paul’s death in 2005, Benedict moved swiftly (for the church, that is) to remove Maciel from any public priestly duties. While he stopped short of having him removed from the priesthood (laicized), he did strip him of much of his influence and power base. After his death in 2008, revelations that he fathered a child could no longer be denied by the religious order. The news sent shockwaves through the church, especially the Legionnaires of Christ and members of Regnum Christi.

Besides the sexual abuse allegations, there are financial irregularities the members of the apostolic visitation team will investigate. Their findings may lead the Pope to dissolve the religious order.

The Legionnaires of Christ was founded by the Rev. Marcial Maciel in 1941 as an order of Catholic priests. The Order boasts over 700 priests and 1,300 young men studying for the priesthood. The order’s priests work in 20 different countries throughout the world. The order priests take the usual three vows of other religious orders namely, poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, they also took private vows of charity and humility which were subsequently revoked by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

The Legion’s political leanings have been criticized as ultra-conservative and its members, particularly its founder Maciel, have associated themselves with the powerful and wealthy, especially in Latin America.

In the United States, the order’s most consistent and vocal critic has been Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore who had petitioned Rome for their removal from the Archdiocese. The archbishop discontinued these efforts after several powerful Roman curial officials asked him to do so. O’Brien’s criticism centered on the Legion’s lack of transparency and their aggressive recruiting practices which have been rumored to have included children. These children were supposedly instructed not to tell their own parents about the Legion’s recruitment efforts.

The recent decision to have the order investigated by Rome comes at a particularly difficult time for the Legion. The embarrassing revelations of their leader’s sexual abuse of young seminarians as well as his fathering children with at least one woman have caused many in the Catholic Church to call for their dissolution. The extent to which the apostolic visitation is successful depends upon the willingness of the Legion’s hierarchy to cooperate with the investigators. This is especially true regarding the Legion’s documents chronicling its financial dealings as well as the sexual abuse allegations. In the end, it will be the Pope himself who decides the fate of the Legion. If you or a loved one have any questions about sexual abuse or clergy abuse please feel free to contact Joe Saunders today.

Pope Benedict Resigns. But Why?

pop benedict sex abuse resigns

A week after the premiere of Alex Gibney’s new film, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. This unprecedented move is the first papal resignation in almost 600 years and comes at a time when the church is riven by its role in countless child-abuse scandals.

Mea Maxima Culpa is a horrifying look at the churches decades-old effort to protect and, in some instances aid sexually predatory priests. The film begins with the first known case of a priest being publicly accused of molestation – Father Lawrence Murphy of Milwaukee’s St. John’s School for the Deaf. The story is told through the testimonials of four former students and tells of how a beloved priest systematically raped and abused more than 200 students in his 24-year tenure.

Through the meticulous presentation of timelines, documents, and interviews with a wide variety of sources Gibney ultimately exposes the Vatican’s shameful record and complicity in the scandals. At no time did the church ever place the welfare of the abused children over their concern for protecting the guilty priests. The church’s record is one of denial, obfuscation and omertà. Lurking at the heart of the story is then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now better known as Pope Benedict XVI.

The story in the film begins with the four boys – Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Pat Kuhen, and Arthur Budzinski – telling of how Father Murphy routinely went about sexually abusing them. Molestation of any child is untenable, but the fact that these children were preyed upon in part because they were deaf makes it even more disturbing. Murphy, who knew American Sign Language, could often communicate with students when their own parents couldn’t. This tool became a cruel and perverse advantage for him.

When the four deaf students reconnected as young adults and recounted their experiences to each other their shared anger led them to attempt to have Murphy arrested and defrocked. At every turn the Catholic Church rebuked them, first denying the accusations and then eventually settling privately with Terry Kohut in a twisted agreement where the church admitted no guilt and held that Kohut was forever barred from any public disclosure.

Privately, the Catholic Church had known for years of Father Murphy molesting children. As early as 1960, Murphy had confessed to another priest, Father David Walsh in the Archdiocese of Chigago, but was left at St. John’s. Walsh went on to report Murphy to the Vatican and by the time it was revealed Murphy had sexually abused the children in Mea Maxima Culpa, the Vatican had known Murphy was a pedophile for 20 years.

Gibney uses the events at St. John’s as a platform to follow what has become an international scandal for the Catholic Church. The Boston Scandal that resulted in the payouts of millions of dollars and the removal of Cardinal Law and the Irish Scandal resulting in the criminal prosecution of Father Tony Walsh show eerily similar patterns to what happened at St. John’s. In every case the church knew of the child-abuse by priests and chose to hide it. In the eyes of the Church protecting the near-deification of priests was always the paramount concern.
Even, over the years, when some priests attempted to intervene, they were bound by cannon law. This required them to report to their superiors, including the Vatican, but also bound them to secrecy outside the church. Most predatory priests were either reassigned, and their new parishes never informed, or simply left where they were. In almost every case they continued to prey upon children.

Throughout the film it is revealed that every case that went to the Vatican ultimately landed on the desk of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith from 1981 until 2005. In 2001 he put out a decree that all abuse cases would go directly to his desk. By the time he ascended to the papacy in 2005 as Pope Benedict XVI he had become the most knowledgeable person in the world on abuse within the Catholic Church. The comprehensive records he collected remain enshrouded at the Vatican in the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

Meanwhile more cases of child-abuse by priests keep coming to light. Earlier this month documents were released showing how the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles under Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney had tried to stop the investigation into the sexual abuse of hundreds of local children in an effort to protect accused priests. In Germany it was just announced that the Church had called off a national investigation of reported abuse by priests. After pledging transparency and full cooperation, the Church has been accused of attempting to censor the German findings and limit what information would be made public. New cases of abuse by priests are being uncovered in Europe and Latin America.

What Mea Maxima Culpa makes clear is that the entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church is complicit in the long and unbelievable history of pedophile priests. As Terry Kohut and others in the film continue to fight for the Vatican to open its archives and release the records on sexual abuse, one thing remains obvious. The man who sits at the head of the church in his cloak of infallibility resigns knowing he had the power to stop this epidemic and failed to act.