Friday, March 22, 2002

Many Catholics are disappointed that the Pope's annual letter to priests yesterday made only passing and indirect reference to child abuse by priests, and coverups of that abuse by the church hierarchy. They may be interested in a subsequent press conference concerning the letter by the Pope's spokes-Cardinal, Dario Castrillon Hoyos, which shows the depth of the Vatican's concern:

At the news conference, the cardinal had at first said he wanted to hear all the questions reporters had before answering. He was then peppered with various inquiries: Why hasn't the pope himself spoken out on the sex issue? Was he being kept informed about the specific allegations?

But then, after hearing all the questions, Cardinal Castrillón pulled out a two-page statement and read it.

That statement said the pope had already dealt with the scandals, and referred to a one-paragraph apology to victims in a recent document on a bishop's conference held several years ago.

The cardinal said he could not deviate from his prepared remarks because "in this particularly difficult moment, I cannot improvise."

The Cardinal was indeed very concerned about a properly measured response in this difficult moment --- the moment of the release of a letter to priests:

When one reporter at the news conference called out, "We had specific questions, Eminence," the cardinal responded by saying that the correct focus of the pope's letter was not the scandals at all. The letter was, in fact, mostly a meditation on the sacrament of Penance, a topic that drew no questions from reporters.

Another reporter persisted, "But can't you answer our questions?" and Cardinal Castrillón snapped, "Excuse me, I didn't interrupt your questions, I hope you won't interrupt my answer."

He did nevertheless offer two unscripted comments. One expressed full support for Boston's Cardinal Law, who is now known to have shuffled several known abusers from parish to parish even after court settlements regarding their earlier abuse promising they would never get another parish assignment. He also observed that "It's already an X-ray of the problem that so many of the questions were in English", before an aide looked at his watch and announced that it was time to go, at which point the two stalked off in a huff. (I guess the Vatican is too traditional to use fake calls to pagers as a way of getting out of awkward spots).

So lay Catholics, take heed that the hierarchy is taking all the notice of the problem that it considers appropriate. As I've observed before, if you can't trust a Cardinal, who can you trust?


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