Skip to comments.Let's Get the Story Straight: Defrocking and Divorce (AP Gets It Wrong...Again)
Posted on 04/10/2010 6:53:18 AM PDT by Pyro7480
The following piece was written by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., founder and editor of Ignatius Press, in response to the breaking story about a 1985 letter written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Bishop John S. Cummins of Oakland.
The so-called "stalled pedophile case", blame for which has been laid at the feet of then-Cardinal Ratzinger, had nothing to do with pedophilia and everything to do with strengthening marriage and the priesthood.
Here's what was happening in 1981 when Bishop Cummins of Oakland first wrote the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asking that one the priests from his diocese of Oakland, be dispensed from his promise of celibacy.
Well first, what was not happening. The letter came a week before Cardinal Ratzinger had even assumed his duties as Prefect of that congregation. This is a very important office of the Roman curia. It handles a variety of cases worldwide, mostly having to do with defending and promoting doctrinal integrity in the Church. There's a lot of work to do, and it takes time for someone to become fully engaged in its activities.
But much more pertinently here: By 1980 the effects of the sexual revolution on marriage and the priesthood had been devastating. In 1965 there had been 59 marriage annulments granted by Rome to American couples. By 2002, there were over 50,000 annulments per year in the U.S. alone. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of priests were asking for dispensation from their promise of celibacy in order to be able to marry.
The Catholic Church holds the marriage vows to be indissoluble. Even an annulment, contrary to a widespread misconception, does not dissolve those vows. It is a declaration that because of some impediment, there never was a valid marriage in the first place.
Priestly ordination is also "indissoluble", in the sense that a validly ordained priest never ceases to be a priest.
And here's the rub. It was literally scandalous in the Church that priests, who had been prepared for eight to ten years for their ordination (which would be permanent, irreversible) and their promise of celibacy (which also has the character of a solemn promise before God), were, in the 1970s, being so easily dispensed from their promise of celibacy.
Married Catholics said to themselves: If a priest, who is so well prepared for his commitment, can so easily be dispensed from it so that he can marry, why can't we be dispensed from our commitment so that we can remarry?
When John Paul II was elevated to the papacy in the Fall of 1978, he immediately changed the policy on priestly dispensations. I don't have the exact dates and numbers at hand, but I remember at the time that many of us were amazed that the hundreds of dispensations per year (and it may have been thousands) under John Paul II's predecessor, Paul VI, suddenly were reduced to almost zero. It was almost impossible to get a dispensation in 1980.
What was John Paul's intent? To restore the integrity of the priesthood and of marriage. These commitments are permanent. A priest may be removed from ministry, but he will not be given a dispensation to marry. Priests are to be made to take their commitments with utmost seriousness. They will be an example to married couples to take theirs seriously also. When a priest makes a promise of celibacy, it's forever; when a couple make vows of marriage, it's forever.
This is the decisive context of Cardinal Ratzinger's letter to Bishop Cummins. It is not a smoking gun. It did not mean that Ratzinger was not taking the priest's sins seriously. (He called the accusations "very serious" [gravis momenti].) It meant that he, following the policy of John Paul II, was taking the priesthood and its commitments very seriously.
And again, this entire affair had nothing to do with preventing further abuse by this priest. That had already been done, or should have been done, by the local bishop.
A final, minor but significant point of translation. The translation being used by the media of an important part of Ratzinger's letter is: "your Excellency must not fail to provide the petitioner with as much paternal care as possible". This has been rightly interpreted by some to mean that Ratzinger was saying that the bishop should keep a watchful eye on the priest. The original Latin makes that even clearer: "paterna...cura sequi" which means "to follow with paternal care". We get the word "persecute" from the Latin "per-sequi". "Sequi" is much stronger then "provide".
There is a completely mistaken first premise underlying all this criticism.The premise is that "defrocking" has anything to do with protecting victims and preventing further abuse.
First, the media needs to know that according to Catholic teaching, Holy Orders is a sacrament which leaves an "indelible mark"; in layman's terms, once ordained a priest, a man is always a priest. The reason the word "dispensation" is used in the correspondence is that that is what happens technically: the priest is dispensed from his obligation of celibacy. In a sense, this works in the opposite direction from protection: a restraint is being removed.
Further, as if to prove this point, the priest in question continued to abuse children after he was "defrocked" and had married. QED.
Secondly, nothing at all prevents a bishop from: removing a priest from all ministry; removing his faculties; reporting him to civil authorities. There is no need even to inform Rome about this. The only way (until 2001 or in cases of abuse of Confession) that it need get to Rome is if the priest appeals the bishop's actions.
Thirdly, why was the CDF involved anyway? That was not the congregation that handles abuse cases, except where abuse of Confession has played a role. I believe the CDF was involved in cases of dispensation from celibacy. (Though you would think that should be under the Congregation for Priests.) But, again, dispensation has nothing to do with preventing further abuse. It may appease the sense of justice on the part of victims. But at the same time, It normally takes eight to ten years to become a priest. It's not a club one joins. It is a very serious thing to dispense a priest from celibacy, and there needs to be a careful process to protect innocent priests.
Fourthly, there are definitely cased of priests who have been falsely accused. Especially the American media ought to be sensitive to the principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty. Civil law requires that to be done in a court of law. A bishop can, and in many cases, should take action against a priest before there is any canonical trial.
Finally, let's compare this to the difference between a criminal and a civil trial. Criminal trials can be expedited, but even then in all but the most grievous cases, a criminal defendant is a free man until convicted. In the case of priests, the "punishment" of removal from ministry can be applied immediately by a bishop even before there is any canonical trial, which is like a civil trial. How long do civil trials take in this country. I know of trials that have dragged out for more than seven years.
If Ratzinger took part in "stall[ing]" a "pedophile case", the worst one can say is that he wanted care taken in a canonical trial. And, let's not forget, this wasn't "punishment" at all from the priest's point of view. He had "asked" to be dispensed.
Yep, the next page in the PR plan. Somebody read their Bernays.
Another case of "A lie can run around the world while the Truth is still tying its shoes."
I am not sure that AP got it wrong; their version or spin supports their bias and prejudice against the Catholic Church, IMO. The Associated Press is part of the main stream media that is under the control and guidance of evil-minded leftists.
Misnomer. The left stream media is anything but main stream.
Enlightening. But couldn’t they still defrock, saying that while he was still a priest he was unable to perform his duties. Like when a married person is civilly divorced?
Defrock is a secular term not found in Canon Law. Removal of a Priest is called Dismissal. A Priest can be suspended from public ministry while his offense is being adjudicated without being dismissed from the clerical state.
Right on Mrs Don-o!
I am assuming “busy body” is tongue in cheek for “defending the Faith”.
If the MSM and anti Catholic Goons were not out in attack mode and truley wanted clarity from the Catholic Church EWTN is globally available and its outreach/apologetics ect are taught/explained at a level anyone wanting to can understand.
That goes for the internet as well.
When the anti Catholic faith attack went viral the first thing I thought was exactly what this article stated.
And that thought occurred when I took my personal love for the Church out of the process so to be objective.
BTW I usually recieve my Zenit daily and have not for almost a week is anyone else getting Zenit?
Or did Zenit take a respite during the Novena of the Divine Mery?
I read an AP report on this last night and they kept referring to a translation of the letter provided to them by some professor out of Univ of Southern Cal, I believe. Then they quote very little pieces of it as they constructed their story.
Why not just post the entire letter and its translation since they had it from the USC prof????
Then we could have made up our own minds about what the letter did or didn’t say.
Instead, there’s the distinct impression the AP is telling the story their way for maximum effect. That means....distorted for the AP’s purposes.
There is no need even to inform Rome about this.
The only way (until 2001 or in cases of abuse of Confession) that it would land in Rome is if the priest appeals the bishop's decision.
You will have noticed, perhaps, that this is what had been done in the awful School for the Deaf case: the abuser, Fr. Murphy, was removed from all assignments and placed on an authorized leave ("sick leave" from 1974 until his death in 1998) --- he never served as a priest in the Archdiocese again, or even lived in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, until the day of his death. This was all on the authority of his Ordinary, Abp. William Counsins, whose policy was simply continued, as I understand it, by his successor Abp. Rembert Weakland.
Again, as I understand it, it didn't get to Rome until Fr. Murphy was dying, and people he had abused (now grown men, 35-45 years later) wanted -- rightfully --- to ensure he was not buried as a priest. His case had the very unusual feature that he had abused the sacrament of Confession, so it was sent on to the Vatican. A canonical trial was initiated despite some worrying that it would take way too long (I understand that Cardinal Bertone wanted to find some way to expedite things); and sure enough, Murphy died while the canonical trial was still in process.
For which Bertone and his boss, Cardinal Ratzinger (who probably had no involvement in the case), are now being thrown to the media dogs; when actually, the case had been on Weakland's plate for 20 years.
There's a pattern here, I think, of slack, dissenting and abuse-enabling bishops (Weakland, and in Oakland, Bp Cummings: darlings of the liberal media) being shielded, and the facts being twisted so they're off the hook and Benedict is set up for a worldwide sliming.
That's my interpretation.
This may be of limited relevance, since this chart only shows U.S. abuse cases. But just notionally, check out the "Benedict years" --- if you want to call them that--- when he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under John Paul II, 1981-2005. Notice a trend?
I don't know whassup with Zenit. I just got this statement from Fr. Lombardi in an e-mail from Helen Hitchcock, who apparently subscribes to Vatican Information Service (VIS)
Thank you for your dedicated solcititude for the truth and the holy father.
“The Catholic Church holds the marriage vows to be indissoluble. Even an annulment, contrary to a widespread misconception, does not dissolve those vows. It is a declaration that because of some impediment, there never was a valid marriage in the first place.”
Unless you’re a Kennedy and put a lot of money in the collection plate.