Thursday, July 22, 2010


For those who follow the Catholic priest abuse crisis, I wanted to comment in a Post about a July 21st article on the Commonweal Magazine site.

The claim made by the reporter Nick Cafardi is that “secret laws” are evil things; reference is made to the odious Caligula, who notoriously had new laws inscribed on tablets in very small print and then followed the letter of Roman practice (but defied the spirit) by having the tablets placed on tall pillars where nobody could read them.

The venerable Western compendium “Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England” is brought into it – reinforcing the idea that in a government (even a royal government) that is responsible to the people, the laws cannot be made secretly and then kept secret. (And THAT is a point I’ll get back a bit further on here in regard to Our own Sex Offense Mania crisis.)

And – this being a Catholic sorta thing – Thomas Aquinas is brought on stage, opining that “promulgation is necessary if a law is to have binding force”. And Thomas actually predates Blackstone by several centuries – so there’s a point to be made here that Western Democracy as We know it kinda owes something to Catholic thought and philosophy. But I digress.

In Woodward-and-Bernstein or ‘DaVinci Code’ style, the reporter informs Us of a 1922 Holy Office INSTRUCTION (caps mine; I’ll explain in a minute here) that was – of course; it was an official Instruction – signed by the then-Pope and the Cardinal-Boss of the Holy Office.

It was an Instruction, not a ‘law’ and as such set up procedures for dealing with things, and in this case how to handle violations of the already-well-published Church laws (called Canon Law – and not a secret these past 1500 years). From the point of view of Aquinas’s and Blackstone’s concerns, the ‘law’ was already well known and this was simply a procedural instruction on how to deal with violations of the law when and if they arose.

You know something’s up when the initially breathless reporter suddenly gets kinda vague: this Instruction was approved, printed up by “the Vatican Polyglot Press” (no surprise there), “but it was never officially promulgated in a useful way”. Ummmm – useful to whom? It was what the military would know as a confidential command-procedure instruction, for the use of commanders when the subject situation might arise; consequently there was no need to paste it to lamp-posts. It was for Bishops (“Ordinaries”) and the heads of Religious Orders and such; it would be kept for reference in the Holy Office files against the time when the case of such an offense came to their desks and they wanted to know how to proceed.

So I sense that when this reporter goes vague he knows what he’s doing: trying to tiptoe around the evidence that his mountain is a molehill. A secret Instruction on procedures is not a “secret law” and it would be “usefully promulgated” if it only made its way directly into a well-tended filing system in Rome, or perhaps to Ordinaries and the heads of Orders and such.

And even if, as the reporter darkly reports, all those folks didn’t get a copy as a matter of course, but would be sent a copy if they had such a situation on their hands – it’s not a “secret”. If the Ordinary inquired of Rome, Rome would send him the Instruction and he’d have it in short order and know how things would be handled within the Roman system.

It’s very much like War Plans: take, for specific example, the Rainbow War Plans that the US had on file in case war became imminent with any of the world’s major powers; they were replaced in the late 1930s. Plan Black, if I recall rightly, was for war with Germany; Plan Orange was for war with Japan; Plan Green was for war with Mexico; and Plan Red – wait for it – was for war with Great Britain and Canada. Put together afterWW1 in 1919 (Mexico got its Plan in 1916) the Rainbows were on the books but weren’t generally known even by those in positions of relevant authority: if the situation arose, the appropriate file would be pulled out and copies passed around as needed. If not, not.

So possessing a War Plan is not only not an Act of War but it’s also not ‘secret’ just because it hasn’t been put up on the news-ticker in Times Square.

The Instruction is renewed in 1962 – by the good Pope John XXIII, so dear to the heart of American religious liberals of that era because he convened the Second Vatican Council.

Although nowadays, it seems, he would have to be classified as an abuse-abetter, a Pope, and a ‘mahhhhn’ (enunciated with a whiney nasal intonation). It’s not to be discussed in Commentaries – just as the Rainbows were not common knowledge … imagine Churchill and Roosevelt having to build their relationship if both had Plan Red on their mind. Some things, as every European and perhaps every genuinely mature adult knows, don’t need to be pasted to the inside of your eyeglass lenses.

The 1962 revision, this reporter reveals, confirms that a priest ‘soliciting sex in the confessional’ is a major crime – as it had been, he notes with some honesty, for centuries. But then it adds that “obscene behavior with children of either sex or with brute animals” is ranked right up there with priests soliciting sex in the confessional.

This is supposed to be incriminating. But it strikes me as an updating quite in keeping with the developments in society and law – and indeed is somewhat well ahead of American law, where the child-sex-offense concerns did not gather public steam for another twenty years, and even then it was in the queasy and alarmingly rash form of the Child Day Care Satanic Ritual Abuse mania of the early 1980s.

I suppose a point might be made that “obscene behavior" is actually a new addition to the classification of crimen pessimum (the ‘worst crime’), but since priests were already taught in seminary that ANY sex-related behavior was a violation of their Holy Orders, then such behavior was already covered and they knew it because they had been taught it. Surely this is not the grounds for claiming a “secret law”.

As for the obscene acts “with brute animals”, I can’t imagine that not occurring to anybody who’d been through seminary training, or – up until recently anyway – was an adult in Western society. Yes there were reputed to be the ‘mountain folks’, and yes, sex with an ape had more than a little to do with the AIDS epidemic’s notorious Patient Zero, but by and large most adult males in the Western tradition in those days of the early 1960s (at least) would be rather clear on the concept that sex-with-animals was neither liberating nor creative nor bravely transgressive nor in any other way an expression of mature socialization.

The reporter – writing for a progressive American Catholic magazine – is tactically well-advised not to venture that far afield in his examination of the matter and he doesn’t.

He does then point out, gingerly but adequately, that it was in 2003 that attorneys for the plaintiffs brought the 1962 document to the klieg lights in the spate of Boston civil cases consequent – by the most amazing coincidence – upon ‘the Boston Globe’ series of the preceding year. They claimed – and who could be surprised? – that the 1962 revision constituted “a smoking gun”.

Nor did it make much difference to the many players on the field pursuing their own various purposes, that – as Cafardi points out – a Vatican Instruction outlining how to deal with complaints and crimes within the Church’s law do not constitute some effort to impose ‘secrecy’ on the crime itself.

The civil attorneys could hardly surprise anybody by their extravagant claim that the 1962 document constituted “not only a smoking gun but a nuclear bombshell” – clearly it does not and did not, although the blast wave that the statement produced worked nicely enough for the tactical purposes for which it was no doubt intended.

Nor did the document prove “criminal conspiracy”, although persons familiar with the assorted sub-cultures around the US could far more easily imagine what in the Northeast might seem the most outrĂ© science-fiction: that the Vatican does now and for long centuries has engaged in dark criminal conspiracies of all sorts in its role as the Anti-Christ (and so forth and so on).

The reporter shifts a bit now and dismisses without prejudice “the exaggerations of plaintiffs’ lawyers”.

But only to clear the track for his own “deeper ecclesial question”: “where was Crimen [shorthand title for the 1962 revision] during the clergy sex abuse in the 1980s and ‘90s in the United States?”

My first point is that this conventional American framing of the issue is itself misleading and inaccurate: what broke out in the US in the 1980s and 1990s (in those several curious Phases) was not Catholic clergy sex abuse but the reports of same. The alleged acts themselves had mostly taken place quite some time before, in some cases several decades before. Even the John Jay Report noted that, though tactfully without caring to explore it in any depth.

If We presume that Catholic clergy actually committed such crimes in larger proportions than other fiduciary groups such as other faiths’ clergy, educators, medical personnel, and relatives and family friends, among others – and that’s a bigggggg presumption, then it is hardly beyond the pale to hypothesize that the numbers of genuine abusers among Catholic clergy were greatly increased during the postwar period because such an increase was somehow included in a wider ‘loosening’ of American maturational competence consequent upon the experience of World War 2.

And perhaps also because the Second Vatican Council had the unhappy and unintended consequence, certainly in the US, of re-igniting the quintessentially American sense of individual freedom that manifested in the Catholic religious arena in a tendency to distrust ‘Rome’ and ‘foreign ideas’. And that loosening of all the ‘old’ disciplines of behavior and deportment: you might imagine far too many priests unprepared for the sudden loosening of rigid codes of dress and conduct that had helped provide an exo-skeleton for a not-fully-matured internal adult competence.

Clearly the Church was unprepared for that development – and in that she joins just about every other major institution in Western civilization during the 1960s. Although doubly so: since the Second Vatican Council’s unintended loosening effects had already taken hold in the American ecclesiastical culture before the Summer of Love (1967) or 1968 (the whole year) started doing their work on American society and culture.

But the Church has – as so often in two thousand years – used the past 10 or 20 years constructively: seeking to improve the maturity of its ordained members. (In fact, you could hypothesize that those elements in the American Catholic community who want to get rid of an all-male clergy or of any clergy at all, realize that the Church has been effecting repairs and are thus now seeking with intensifying urgency to administer a death blow while they still have some at least modestly credible pretexts at their disposal.)

Cafardi wants to know why the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law still held to a five-year canonical state of limitations “for starting diocesan penal trials against accused priests”. [italics mine]

The first point to make here is that We are still in the area of Church law here – these are canonical trials, before an ecclesiastical court, and that court’s greatest punishment authority would be to impose a dismissal from the priestly state. It was not a civil or criminal court and had no authority to imprison and so forth.

Second, in 1983 world psychological opinion was not as convinced as conventional (or ‘progressive’) American psychology – galvanized by a developing ‘Victimist’ perspective – in regard to the significance and consequence of unwanted sexual-experience. Especially since ‘advocacy science’ was by its own definition not objective and in a psychological field still seeking objective facts any prudent practitioner-researcher would want to take some time to study things more carefully.

As I have often said, in this country the Victimist ‘revolution’, like its older siblings, sought to override any ‘objectivity’ and framed any effort at prudence or deliberation as a form of (perhaps willful) ‘re-victimization’.

Even now in this country there is no scientific consensus on such large ‘scientific’ claims as the validity of repressed and recovered memory. And the exception that proved the rule in regard to the necessity for objective science in matters of Stampede and Mania was the dust-up a decade or so ago when a group of government-funded scientists (as most are these days) reviewed all the already-existing and already-approved reports of studies and found, much to their surprise, that none of those studies validated the bedrock Mania presumption that children are profoundly and irretrievably harmed by any sexual experience whatsoever.

The alarming response of Congress – passing for the first time in American history a Resolution claiming that any further study of such a finding would result in the cut-off of government funding – should have been a clear warning that something had become grievously unbalanced in the United States.

I hold no brief for any unwanted sexual experience and certainly not for imposing such experience upon children.

But the point relevant to the discussion in this Post is that the assorted groups allied (however tenuously and sometimes illogically) against the Church in this brouhaha continue to conflate the hugely odd American Mania Psychology and ‘Science’ of the past few decades with accepted world professional opinion. Advocacy Science is not World Science and is not actually even American Science - if I might put it that way.

The Church would have been highly imprudent to incorporate in the 1983 revisions to its master text of Canon Law a peculiar and (as the Brits would politely term it) ‘extraordinary’ Victimist Science and Psychology. (Indeed, the US Congress is already starting to experience, I think, the baaaad consequences of its own drunken embrace of the whole thing a couple-three decades ago.)

And the Church would have been equally imprudent to debase her own ancient and effective legal system by introducing the panoply of American Victimist agitations: for example, the term ‘abuse’ has no fixed meaning, and such meaning as it does have relies heavily on the ‘spectral evidence’ of how an individual reports him/herself … for which there can be no possible objective verification except the Vulcan Mind-meld or Dumbledore’s doo-hickey that makes memories come to life in some fluid or other.

It may be true that “it takes children a long time to process sexual abuse when it happens to them”, but you would have to study objectively the many variables in that assertion: a) all children (and if so on what basis of commonality?) or just some children (and if so how to distinguish and then what makes some resilient and others not?); b) define ‘sexual abuse’ clearly – which is precisely the opposite of what was happening in American, Victimist-addled, law where any long-established ground-rules meant to create hard-and-fast boundaries to reduce the possibility of arbitrary and mis-applied government authority were merely framed as ‘structural re-victimization’ or some such; and their removal or watering-down ‘hailed’ as ‘reform’. Phooey.

And what specifically does “process” mean?

American science and American law have both been hugely deranged and deformed in the past few decades. It is nothing more than a rhetorical debater’s gambit to claim that the Church has failed because it has held firm in preventing such a derangement from spreading to its own legal systems and systems of thought and analysis.

But in the Revolutions that sired American Victimism, themselves heavily dependent for justifications upon literary theory, the clever word-play and the shrewd rhetorical gambits were considered to be adequate replacement for the disdained analysis, objectivity, deliberation, and genuine debate. (And, to repeat, the US Congress is already starting to experience, I think, the baaaad consequences of its own drunken embrace of the whole thing a couple-three decades ago.)

Cafardi mentions the fact that “in the late 1980s the U.S. bishops began asking the Vatican to change the five year statute” and “the Vatican seemed reluctant to do so”. This only seems ‘suspicious’ if you presume that American Victimist science was in all of its assertions objectively proven right and widely and conclusively accepted as such by the relevant world professional community.

And that presumption would not have been correct back then. And would not be correct even now.

And the Vatican has had centuries of the tension between allowing local authority to determine its own affairs and calling the locals back from the brink.

Think of World War One. The local German bishops were rather strongly in favor of the German position; ditto the French. And there was a Belgian prelate who actually condemned the Germans for atrocities they were committing in his country. The Austro-Hungarian bishops ditto. And the American bishops – so eager to secure for their immigrant flocks a place as in the national esteem patriotic citizens – were mostly as slap-happy for American intervention as any jingoist Protestant.

“The Vatican” did what it could to try to keep the Universal perspective alive among national episcopacies that had, alas, gone gaga along with their national flocks.

I see more than a little of the same thing here. American Victimism has not discovered some psychological equivalent of Newton discovering or codifying the Law of Gravity that would be valid at all times and in all places on the planet. American Victimism – especially in the queasy and alarming turns it has taken in regard to deranging Constitutional principles, jurisprudence, legislation, and the utterly indispensable American concepts of competent public deliberation and consensus-building – is not some world-historical discovery that the Vatican is lumpishly and mulishly obstructing, in order to prevent ‘progress’, hide sex-fiend priests, and continue its violent reign as the American fundamentalists’ or liberals’ favorite Anti-Christ.

And as for ‘statutes of limitations’ – the same problem exists. It has yet to dawn on ‘cutting edge’ American legal thought – such as it is – that to extend Statutes of Limitations is a dangerous jurisprudential and legislative gambit because evidence in any form – physical or remembered – decays over time. And any consequent legal judgments based upon such decayed evidence risk not only their justification in Truth and their political legitimacy, but their fundamental Integrity as well.

But of course, to American Victimism – evidence ‘don’t enter into it’: to disbelieve the victim is to re-victimize the victim, so courts should just ‘believe’, ‘convict’, and thus respect the reported pain. If evidence ‘obstructs’ the rush to alleviate the pain, then evidence must be eliminated just like any other bump in the road. But this is a recipe for tyranny in the most classic American sense. Or in any country’s sense.

You cannot sustain so regressive a legal gambit in an advanced Western nation. And Vatican lawyers are hugely well-placed to recall the centuries-long effort in the West, under the example of the Church’s own Canon Law, to advance beyond the level of jurisprudence so nicely limned in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”; and so fatally exemplified in the Salem Witch Trials and their “spectral evidence” that only the victim could see; or in any 20th century totalitarian jurispraxis where Correct revolutionary emotions were all that were necessary to justify a conviction (both Hitler and Stalin could agree on that).

Cafardi would like to move beyond the almost-admittedly over-the-top “plaintiffs’ attorneys” in the hugely remunerative civil trials aspect of this thing. But he then deploys his own acuity in a painstaking unraveling as to which office in the Vatican bureaucracy knew what when in terms of who had the official authority to do stuff.

The best he can come up with is that there was a lot of confusion and that “secrecy” helped cause the confusion.

It would seem to me that if I were a non-American watching what was going on over here I most certainly would want to avoid stepping in front of a stampede and to try to accomplish the best possible outcome some other way. The Vatican did that during the Stampedes that enabled both the German and Italian regimes of the 1920-1940s.

If you don’t realize just how seriously deranged the American elite mentality is at this point, then you aren’t going to be able to accurately assign weights to the Vatican’s behaviors – that’s Diplomacy 101.

I make no trump assertions that no priests did bad things; I make no trump assertions that the Vatican is superhumanly good as an institutional entity.

But I do say that A) there is more than enough indication that the presumptions vital and quintessential to the American variant of Victimist thinking are hugely unproven and more than probably inaccurate and even dangerous to any Constitutional jurisprudence as it has evolved with great difficulty in the West since the Middle Ages; and that B) until you have gotten clear of the deforming ‘planetary atmosphere’ of Planet Victim you will not be able to gauge clearly actions that are in many ways a Vatican response to the American situation (whether American commentators realize their own myopia or not). *


*If I seem rather hard on Victimism and Victimist thought, let me explain myself: I have just completed reading Robert Elias’s 1986 book “The Politics of Victimization”, published by Oxford University Press. Elias writes in 1986 as a committed scholar who supports the insights of Victim-thought around the world (hence I am following his lead when I point out that what We know is only the American variant).

He tries to write simultaneously as an objective scholar and as a committed advocate. Hence there is a weird two-tone authorial voice.

But he has exhaustively studied the Movement and in this book he wants to share and inform.
And in the process he lets an awful lot of cats out of the bag – and yet the cuddly house-cats of 1986 have by 2010 turned into jungle-size cats. Elias mentions, in his objective scholar mode, how dangerous victim-centered thinking can be for the American Constitutional system and considers that a matter that should be tagged for further consideration. (Alas.)

Yet he cannot help share his excitement about the possibilities for a victim-friendly legal process, and though he refers vaguely to the fact that ‘the victim’ had at earlier points in Western legal history played a much more vital and substantial role in justice, yet that respectable position diminished with the development of “professional” police and justice personnel and institutions.

Which really means that in the pre-Modern West, before the development of a rational, state-run justice system, the ‘victim’ had been a respected player. He’d like the victim to be a respected player again, although he goes no further toward the next question: does he or Victimism imply regression of the West’s hard-won legal system back to the pre-Modern era?

I plan an extended Post – or a short series – on this book in the near future. In the meantime, I can urge you with confidence to secure a copy of the book and read it for yourself: from the perspective of a quarter-century later, so much has happened, and not all to the good.

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