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Some reactions to Fr. de Souza’s essay

September 5, 2018

Apologies for a long post; I don’t have time to write a short one.

I don’t mean to single out Fr. Raymond de Souza, whom I have read with profit many times, but his essay over at National Catholic Register, “It’s time to turn down the temperature”, touches on several issues related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis and its recent, very grave Roman ramifications that need airing. So, first some canonical matters, then some rhetorical ones.

Resignation in general.

Canon law provides for resignation from ecclesiastical office. 1983 CIC 187-189. The threshold for any resignation is pretty low (namely, “a just cause”) so resignation from office for a good cause would be more than acceptable. Indeed it would be preferable, I think, to an unfit (or worse) occupant continuing to hold a Church office.

Canon law encourages, and frankly pressures, a pastor to resign from office when his ministry becomes “ineffective … even through no grave personal negligence”. 1983 CIC 1740, etc. That norm and others imply that pastors who have acted in ways that actually render themselves unfit to stay in office should resign.

Finally, canon law, albeit in more nuanced terms (given the ecclesiological issues involved), encourages a bishop to resign his see when he “become[s] less able to fulfill his office because of … some other grave cause…” 1983 CIC 401 § 2. The allegations swirling around several bishops and cardinals in various countries and in Rome itself would, if true, surely suffice as “grave cause” for such prelates to tender their resignations immediately. The world must await evidence of wrong-doing before making demands in this area but prelates who know the truth of their own situations should act accordingly. Now.

By the way, resignation from Church office motivated by one’s own, or the community’s, awareness of malfeasance in no way renders a resignation invalid (see Canon 188) or prevents ecclesiastical authority from later prosecuting and punishing said resignee for those misdeeds. One who resigns Church office under such circumstances has not ‘picked his own punishment’, rather, he has performed a good act by ending one aspect of his scandal. After that, let justice take its normal course.

Papal resignation, Francis.

De Souza writes: “It was a mistake for Archbishop Viganò to call for the resignation of Pope Francis.” Oh?

Of what was said above concerning resignation from Church office in general, what would not apply to a pope, of all office holders, if he, as alleged by Viganò, from the first months of his papacy knowingly protected and favored a cardinal who was [pick a disgusting verb]-ing seminarians? By what possible stretch of the imagination would such an occupant be suited for the Chair of Peter? Does the historical fact that some pretty bad popes held on to office despite committing various offenses justify other popes acting badly in shirking even the minimal gesture of resigning?

Viganò is unquestionably in a position to know, and claims to know, whether his central allegation that Francis’ was covering for McCarrick, big time, for years, is correct. Believing, as he does, that his claims are correct, Viganò, in calling for Francis’ resignation, has done nothing more or less than exercise his right under canon law “to manifest to the sacred pastors [his] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make [his] opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful…” 1983 CIC 212 § 3.

I have not called for Francis’ resignation because I do not know (with the degree of certitude that a lawyer seeks) whether Viganò’s key allegations against Francis are substantially true; most assuredly, however, if I reach the conclusion that they are true, I would say, without hesitation, that Francis should resign. Such a resignation would, I think, result in the very opposite of what De Souza fears when he worries that a papal resignation “under a cloud would be a catastrophe for Catholic credibility and unity.” Balderdash. If Viganò’s allegations are proven, I think a papal refusal to resign would be a catastrophe for Catholic credibility and unity.

Papal resignation, Benedict.

De Souza writes: “The mistake that Benedict XVI made by abdicating in 2013 need not be compounded by people — especially high-ranking prelates — treating the papal office as something worldly that can be relinquished under adverse circumstances.” Others, such as Raymond Arroyo, have expressed ‘squeamishness’ over the prospect of a Francis resignation, lest ‘there be three popes’ sitting in Rome. Nonsense. A Francis resignation would no more result in three popes than Benedict’s resignation resulted in two.

Time does not permit me the luxury of squeamishness so let me say a few things directly.

In my view, first, Pope John Paul II should have resigned at least five years before his death; he was effectively ignored by the corrupt elements in his curia for at least that long and the Church has suffered sorely for it. Second, and despite my professional misgiving about how Ratzinger/Benedict understood and used canon law, I think it was a grave error for him to have resigned, and, if his resignation gave the impression that the papacy was essentially “something worldly that can be relinquished under adverse circumstances”, well, that’s on Benedict, no one else. Third, Benedict’s unjustified resignation and its disastrous aftermath does nothing to answer whether Francis should, upon his own knowledge and/or in the face of public proof of malfeasance, resign. That is an entirely separate question to be answered on its own merits.

What really gets me irked.

Most of De Souza’s essay urging disputants “to turn down the temperature” savors of that rhetorical style, now wearing very thin, wherein paternalistic, above-the-fray advice comes down from a supposedly calm and objective observer to squabbling children who are letting emotions get in the way of problem solving, a la, ‘Now, now boys and girls, play nicely.” For crying out loud.

If, even today, a priest still does not see that the last thing in the world that lay faithful—who represent 99% of the victims of clergy sexual abuse and who make up 98% of the voices demanding accounting, cleansing, and deep ecclesiastical reform—need to hear is yet another cleric telling them to quiet down about clergy sexual abuse and/or weighty allegations that abuse was being covered up at the highest levels of the Church, well, I don’t know what to say in the face of such chronic cluelessness.

It certainly does not suffice to excuse the proffering of such advice by pointing to the obvious fact that some laity (among the millions wounded directly or indirectly by decades of clerical indifference in this area) are hot heads forsaking love for fury. We all know that! Such persons are, in fact, a bonus for the devil, for he gets these sad souls to violate charity in their desire for justice! Good priests who want to lend a special hand in repairing the damages wrought by some of their evil brothers and superiors could well reach out in a special way to such persons, to these victims in their own way of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up.

Moreover, this ‘everybody-calm-down’ advice supposedly aimed at ‘both sides’ of this matter is frankly insulting to that one side which, beyond any question, has been severely betrayed by the other. Even the idea that ‘both sides’ are engaged in roughly equal exchanges is groundless. Francis, for example, sees himself as choosing the high road of silence and, after taking some digs at “people lacking good will, … people who only seek scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within the family”, seems intent on saying nothing more. Sure, a few mouth-pieces such as the papolatrous Fr. Rosica, and few prelates who, it seems, owe their current offices in some measure to the great influence that Francis is alleged to have accorded the disgraceful and disgraced McCarrick, have spoken out intemperately, but for the most part these voices are very, very few.

No, the shouting in this mess is coming overwhelmingly from one side, the side that has been wronged! To call on ‘both sides’, then, “to turn down the temperature” is, therefore, effectively aimed at squelching one side here, the victims! 

Deep breath time…

As for some other points in De Souza’s essay, such as his minimizing the personal attacks on Viganò as a “tactical mistake” that “muddied the waters for a few days”, or his concession that “it would [be] very damaging to the Holy Father personally and to the Church generally if Archbishop Viganò’s charges are true” (just “very damaging”?), or his generous interpretation of Francis’ “dramatic and heartfelt admission of error and expression of contrition” in the Chilean debacle—well, to borrow a phrase, who am I to judge? Maybe it was “heartfelt”. I hope it was. But that being granted, may I ask, who is De Souza to judge the pope’s heart? I pray the pope’s conversion was as De Souza sees it, heartfelt. I only know it was the right thing to do, and got done it did, regardless of whether the pope’s motives were heartfelt, self-serving, both, or neither. Fine.

Let me close with this observation: De Souza and I are on the same side of this crisis; I have not the slightest doubt that he detests what has happened to the victims of clergy sexual abuse and is in palpable pain over the very prospect that cover for such abuse was extended even by those in the highest ranks of Church authority. We each, in our respective spheres, have dealt with the aftermath of problems for which neither of us are to blame. We both want the truth to come out. And we each wince when others equally appalled at what has happened purport to speak for all of us with hatred, exploitation, or vengeance in their voices. What can I say, that’s not me and it’s not Fr. De Souza.

But that said, sometimes even allies offer advice that is ill-conceived, and in the respects outlined above, I think that applies to some of what Fr. De Souza wrote for the Register. And I have no doubt, of course, that others might disagree with my disagreements. That’s fine, too.

As I have said from the outset, the cleansing of the Church from the defilements she has suffered of late will come and true reforms will be put into place, but it’s not going to be a smooth process and it’s not going to be a pretty one.

It’s just going to be.

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