The Application of Thought to the Abuse Crisis


These are indeed heavy days for the Church as she enters Holy Week.  The coincidence of Passiontide with ongoing scandals in Ireland and Germany calls to mind Fr. Romano Guardini’s haunting observation:

The Church is the Cross on which Christ is always crucified. One cannot separate Christ from his bloody, painful church. One must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the church.

It seems to say everything necessary—that Christ is always both obscured and revealed in His Church.

Most of the analysis of Pope Benedict’s involvement in the scandals, on the other hand, reminds me of a different quote—A. E. Housman’s mordant observations on thought and prejudice in “The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism” (1921).  Apparently, even in a field as unlikely to excite the passions as manuscript editing, he detected the hindrance of complacency:

These internal causes of error and folly [in textual criticism] are subject to very little counteraction or correction from the outside.  The average reader knows hardly anything about textual criticism, and therefore cannot exercise a vigilant control over the writer: the addle-pate is at liberty to maunder and the impostor is at liberty to lie.  And, what is worse, the reader often shares the writer’s prejudices, and is far too well pleased with his conclusions to examine either his premises or his reasoning.  Stand on a barrel in the streets of Bagdad, and say in a loud voice, “Twice two is four, and ginger is hot in the mouth, therefore Mohammed is the prophet of God,” and your logic will probably escape criticism; or, if anyone by chance should criticise it, you could easily silence him by calling him a Christian dog.

Substitute “Canon Law”—or even “the Church”—for “textual criticism,” and I think you have a decent pretty description of the present situation: both the media’s distorted presentation of Benedict’s past and the rather uncritical reception of it by the public.  I have in mind here mostly the recent articles by the New York Times and the screeds that build upon it, such as those by Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan.

Hence, I’d like to do my little part to balance the perspective.  Of course, I’m also aware that, as a seminarian defending the Pope in these matters, I risk seeming blind, callous, or complicit (in short, “a Christian dog”).  Nonetheless, based on the evidence so far produced, it strikes me that the most serious charge that can be leveled against Ratzinger is that he was slow to realize the full dimensions of the problem.  Even in so saying, I am aware that I judge by the more exacting standards that only hindsight provides.

Rather than rehearse the sordid details of the two major cases, I thought I would merely refer the concerned reader to more balanced views.  The Murphy Case, though it receives the most attention stateside, does not reflect as badly on the Pope as was first thought.  At the very least, the story ought to be read in light of John Allen’s useful distinctions here.  Fr. De Souza, however, makes a pretty convincing argument here that the bulk of the New York Times’ case rests on outright misrepresentation of the facts.

The 1980 case in Munich is actually more problematic, since an abusive priest was assigned, on Benedict’s watch, to pastoral work with youth (though, it would seem, the Pope personally approved only his transfer into his diocese for treatment).  John Allen’s description of Benedict’s “Munich Years” here sheds some light on why the Pope may in fact not have kept abreast of the disastrous reassignment.  Nonetheless, would a prudent bishop nowadays leave the assignment of a known abuser to his vicar general?  Surely not.  In that sense, it would seem that even Benedict shows the limitations of his time and his (then) slight pastoral experience.  While he was not directly part of the “problem,” neither was he yet directly part of the “solution.”  This does not seem especially damning to me, but it must be admitted.

On the other hand, Allen’s article (as well as this more recent one, and this one by Archbishop Nichols), suggests that Ratzinger led the charge for disciplinary reform as soon as he realized the scope and extent of the problem.  Though he initially considered the crisis largely invented by hostile media outlets, he turned on a dime when internal Church documents largely corroborated these claims.

In sum, could Ratzinger have taken decisive action earlier?  From where we presently stand, it seems so.  Could he have been less dismissive of the initial reports of the media?  Sure.  Yet, in light of  the low journalistic standards currently prevailing, I also find it hard to fault him for his initial skepticism.

17 Responses to The Application of Thought to the Abuse Crisis

  1. Hey, Aaron, whereas we hear ‘ya, I for one would
    have expected you to take a different tack! And
    least of all, be blind-sided by Secularism on such
    matters as structural church sin!

    “The World” is, and always will, howl on any such
    matters. That’s “their” problem. Ours is different,
    and more global, and in the end, self-corrects
    because of “Who” is behind our “CEO-Equivalent!”

    At issue is the foundational experience of UNIVERSAL
    sin, at all levels of life! THAT is not to be
    confused with the leadership of plus in ANY
    organizational structure!

    We don’t condemn the “position” nor the “structure”
    for the sins of its Managers: they are mutually

    But the “world” blends them as one, not to mention
    that the Father of Lies (Satan) is in there
    supporting such twisted logic!!!

    So, hey, who cares! God doesn’t sin: He is in charge.
    The Pope is His stand-in, only!

    And it was way worse in the Middle Ages when sex
    was rampant even within the papal court, and for
    example, it is the Borgias who started the Mafia
    practises (if one studies their sick behaviour!)!
    But the Church continues. And always will.

    And meantime, I concern myself with the salvation
    of my soul, today, and not the Pope’s, today
    or any day. That is the right prioritizing of
    doing that which is within our limited control,
    horizon, and responsibility.

    That God has managed to survive the inanities of
    the religions that do Him homage is truly a miraculous
    proof of His existence!

  2. Donato Infante III says:

    Dowd: “The sin-crazed “Rottweiler” was so consumed with sexual mores — issuing constant instructions on chastity, contraception, abortion — that he didn’t make time for curbing sexual abuse by priests who were supposed to pray with, not prey on, their young charges.”

    A perfect example of the media showing its bias. The truth would say constant instructions on Christology or soteriology.

  3. Henry says:

    Allow me to share with you the text from a friend’s blog (

    No Catholic should be surprised that there is filth in the Church for Our Lord Himself told us that this would be so in the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). AND it’s no surprise that the Church is full of sinners, sinners who commit grave sin. And yes, some who claim to follow Christ commit evil and everything possible must be done to stem the evil and to make amends for that pain generated by that evil.

    Furthermore, no Catholic should be surprised that the Faith should once again be attacked during Easter because this is an annual event. However, this year’s annual Easter attack on the Faith has taken the form of one upon the person of the Pope, Benedict XVI, himself.

    What truly saddens me, however, is that there are many within the Church herself, those who should know better, that are once again attempting to create a Christianity without Christ. But if we forget Christ, if we do away with the wholly different measure that He introduces into the world now, through the Church, then we no longer have the terms on which to judge the Church.

    To ensure that we keep our eyes on Christ and the newness He introduces into the world, Communion and Liberation (CL), an ecclesial lay movement in the Church, has written a beautiful editorial – Greater than Sin. The editorial, will be published in the upcoming issue of Traces, CL’s monthly magazine, but it is now available on the CL website ( and I strongly encourage you to read it and to send it it to as many people as possible.

    In the editorial, CL asks: “Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil? Something that, as the Pope writes in his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, “has the power to forgive even the greatest of sins, and to bring forth good even from the most terrible evil”?

    In speaking about the editorial in Milan, the head of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, Father Julian Carron, emphasized that it “is a witness of the ‘being moved’ about which the School of Community speaks and that it allows us to look at everything–skipping nothing–all the way to making a judgment [an evaluation].” Since the newspapers are filled with a different way of looking at things, we can’t do this week’s School of Community without speaking and looking at this fact in another way, helped by the witness of the Pope. Because the question that is begged, ‘From where is this way of looking at things born?’

  4. Qualis Rex says:

    Aaron, this is the first time I am responding to one of your posts, and I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt here. But your writing “most of the analysis of Pope Benedict’s involvement in the scandal…” is sloppy at best. There is NO proof or evidence to date of ANY “involvement” of our blessed Pope Benedict (may God bless him and grant him 100 years) in ANY abuse scandal. To imply or insinuate as such is to be dishonest on both a scholarly and journalistic level.

    There are forces at work here, both secular and of course WITHIN our church who would like nothing better than to bring this particular Pope down, for more reasons I can post in a com-box. So, until any guilt can be established beyond a reasonable doubt, I would like to humbly remind you to uphold one of the founding principles of the Jesuit order- namely, loyalty to the supreme pontiff.

    Please rephrase/qualify your statement with “alleged involvement” or “if any”; a courtesy we in Western society afford the most common of suspects until proven guilty.

  5. crystal says:

    I guess I’ll be the one voice of dissent.

    I think the NYT has done a necessary job. If it hadn’t been for the Boston Globe reporting on the abuse crises years ago, it may never have come to public attention.

    There seem to be two accusarions against the pope – that he allowed a priest he had reason to suspect as a pedophile to continue working (Munich) and that he didn’t respond to the message from Bishop Weaklnad about the priest abusing deaf children in the US.

    The details of the events are what they are but they seem to be spun in different ways by disserent people. From what I’ve rad, though, it seems likely the pope (who got a memo about and who chaired a meeting about the priest in Munich) has some responsibility for allowing that priest to continue to abuse ….. why did he not report him to the authorities for investigation? As for the priest in the US, I listened to an interview with Weakland in which he said that he wrote to the CDF about the abuse of the deaf children because it often related to the rite of confession, which the CDF was supposed to regulate at that time. He got no response, yet a letter from that priest (about whom a social worker reported confessed to the abuse and showed no remorse) saying he was ill and wanted to die in the priesthood got a quick response.

    To not address the fact that thousands of kids have been abused over the years and that that may relate to the way the church runs things, to instead attack the messengers and to portray the church and the pope as the true victims, seems very wrong to me.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      “I guess I’ll be the one voice of dissent.”

      Surprise surprise. The hatchet-job the Boston Globe did on the Catholic church hardly passes for journalism. Why do you think they hyperfixated on the Catholic church as opposed to other religious organizations with similar issues and similar responses? Do you know how many rabbis, specifically in NYC, who were also accused of child-molestation and who quietly made exits to Israel to escape prosecution? Of course you don’t.

      No one is saying the abuse should not have been addressed or brought to light. But we MUST also address the reprehensible conduct of the anti-Catholic media and the subsequent atmosphere of mistrust, intollerance and biggotry against the church it created/is creating.

  6. […] classmate, and friend, Aaron Pidel, balances the New York Times’s point of view with some very helpful facts and some wise insights regarding how one might work through a trying time such as this. Aaron […]

  7. crystal says:

    The New York Times is not the only papaer reporting the events. The audio interview I heard with Weakland was from the BBC. It would be refreshing if the actual events were addressed instead of attacking those who write about them as anti-Catholic. Here are links to a few recent posts at America magazine’s blog …. do you think America magazine is anti-Catholic too?

    The Expiration Date of This Catholicism: Being a Theologian in an Abusive Church [UPDATED]

    NCR on the Crisis

    It was the worst of times, and the worst of times

    • Vincent L. Strand, SJ says:


      To satiate your desire to discuss the actual events of the cases, you might find this article by Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL, who was the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 1995-2003 and presided over the canonical criminal case of Father Lawrence Murphy, to be illuminating:

  8. Tom Piatak says:

    A very balanced and judicious post. Thanks for writing it.

  9. Henry says:

    I generally try to be calm but I am so upset with what I see developing, and if you will allow me, I am going to share the thoughts that have been ruminating in my mind about this topic with the Whosoever Desires community.

    In my opinion, the real problem is that there are people in the Church who are forgetting who Christ is, are not relying on Him, and are, in some sense, ashamed of Him – and Bill’s post alludes to this problem. Moreover, the problem was/is NOT that these people were/are following Christ, NO, the problem was/is precisely that they were not following Him and that they were not availing themselves of the wisdom He has deposited with Holy Mother Church. For if the church leaders followed that wisdom, then they’d realize that it is the height of stupidity to allow a pedophile to ever work with children again or to believe that it’s “intolerant” or “uncharitable” to monitor a priest who belongs to NAMBLA. In any event, my friend Paul Zalonski has a post on his blog – More questions result from media persecution of Pope – that looks at this as well.

    But what truly saddens me is to see men and women within the Church herself who are trying to create a Christianity without Christ; i.e., that are either consciously or unconsciously pushing the idea that a Faith that is connected to a visible, institutional Church has an expiration date. So for example, Tom Beaudoin, in the post that Crystal cites, claims that the visible, institutional Church that Christ established and maintains is already being replaced by new ways of ‘being church’. For example, Mr. Beaudoin writes:

    “Different Catholicisms are already detaching themselves from these old structures, from below: Catholics redefining their mass attendance, their loving relationships, their relation to the magisterium, their sense of the roles of women, their relation to people of other faiths and religions, and more.”

    But I am not really that surprised because this agenda has been pushed for decades and is so clear to anyone who has eyes to see. And, in fact, Fr. Carron warned us of this problem – because we too have this temptation – two years ago when he gave the Spiritual Exercises (“The Challenge of the Present”) to the University Students of Communion and Liberation:

    “We want to get by on our own energy.

    As one of you said, “I would change the title from ‘Reality is what cries, “He exists!”’ to ‘Reality is what cries, “Everything is Mystery.”’ Before the fact of Eluana [or of a Church filled with filth], I acknowledge that the fact that she exists is a mystery, but I stop there; I don’t go further and say that I need Christ in order to look at this situation.”

    He can’t go further and say he needs Christ, that he needs a bond stronger than any evil.

    Instead, obedience is reasonable only if we see that in this bond, in this belonging to the Father lies “the success of life,” because leaving You, Christ, is the true sacrifice. In Jesus, what has won? This relationship with the Father, the bond, a lived belonging.

    Without this, friends, as soon as something comes along that exceeds our measure, we see that our faith has an expiration date.”

    So yes, we will always need reform but we also need an incredible amount of Adult catechesis! For if we Catholics fail to realize that the Church is Christ’s “divinely appointed conduit” for bringing us the Truth, which is Himself, then we will forever be tempted to agree with those who want to remake the Church in their own image.

    Pax and a blessed Triduum to all,


  10. Henry: phew! Umm, to help “you” have a great Triduum,
    I thought I should mirror back some items buried
    in your text, epistemologically?

    For starters, are you aware you’ve launched into a
    traditional defense of both our faith, and the
    church structures, that is not needed, today.
    Because we discovered the utter futility of
    apologetics to win any cause, since we are dealing
    with metaphysics, matters beyond the senses, issues
    beyond the mind’s reason: an incapacity to grasp
    ultimate reality and meaning. We now leave the world
    to such irrelevant practises, to such futile attempts.
    Which is what it does when it attacks the Church:
    it doesn’t realize it’s taking on God Himself! Christ!

    Secondly, your ramblings start off on separate
    tangents to do with historical religious issues:
    what you write, can be written for each successive
    faithed generation, starting with the Calf-builders
    in the desert while Moses was working miracles right
    under their blind noses (!)

    You and I can’t have said it better than what
    Kierkegaard writes in blasting the faith practises
    of the Christians of his times! And little if nothing,
    has changed!

    In a profound synthesis thereof, Chesterton for me,
    says it best:
    “The Christian ideal has not been tried
    and found wanting.
    It has been found difficult and left untried!”

    We have to trust more, and believe less: Christian
    spiritual maturity is evidenced in an inner movement
    from mere faith, to trust, in Divine Providence,
    ignoring the pathologies around us! Few spiritually
    grow into a letting-go, a trust of, and in, God!

  11. Henry says:

    It is so easy to be distracted isn’t it. Well I thank you Virgilijus, and everyone else who writes on this blog, for being a conduit of Christ’s tender embrace and for constantly reminding me that only one thing is necessary!

    A few years ago one of my friends introduced me to the poetry of Jacopne da Todi and I was reading his poem The Lament of the Soul for the Intensity of Infused Charity this morning as a way to enter into these days and I’d like to share a few lines with you, and the rest of the Whosoever Desires community because they are so beautiful:

    “A new creature is born in Christ:
    I hasten to put on the new man,
    And Love continues to rise in the veins,
    A knife blade cutting into the heart,
    A heart that sears all powers of thought.
    Christ in His beauty draws me to Him,
    Locks me in His embrace, and I cry out:
    ‘Love for whom I hunger, let me die of love!

    …Jesus, my hope, drown me in Love.”

    Let’s accompany each other in this Love during these most holy of days.



  12. Qualis Rex says:

    An addendum here; more and more the signs are showing that it was our blessed Pope Benedict (may God bless him and grant him 100 years) who was at the forefront of trying to stop and publicly expose the abuse, but it was HIS PREDECESSOR who often prevented this. When it came to light that the archbishop of Vienna was gulity of abuse, then Cardinal Ratzinger pleaded with the Pope to remove him and deal with the problem. JP II in typical fashion swept it under the rug, as he did with so many problems which didn’t fit his agenda.

    To me, the good news is this has pretty much quashed any rumblings of JPII’s sainthood (Deo Gratias!!!) The bad part is our blessed Pope, who aside from being a scholar and a cleric is by all accounts a VERY GOOD MAN will have to continue to take the heat for the evils and sins of omission his predecessor is guilty of.

    Lord have mercy, lord have mercy, lord have mercy.

  13. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Now, Qualis, I think you’ve been a bit too hard on both Aaron and JPII in the comments here, though I certainly do appreciate your desire to defend Pope Benedict (and I hope that when I am ordained, God willing, many years from now I will be able to pray for “Benedict our pope” at Mass).

    Aaron, I think, is not endorsing any of the charges being made against the Holy Father but rather trying to take the air out of some of the more malicious and absurd slurs being hurled against him. Be careful not to hurl the same sort of unsubstantiated charges against JPII, who was also a very good man. I don’t think Benedict himself would agree with your characterization of his predecessor.

    Both of my brother Jesuits who have offered thoughtful posts on this terrible issue have at the very least done an excellent job of avoiding what might be the chief temptation among commentators on this subject — namely to use these awful crimes as a tool to push a particular agenda. I find it quite distasteful when the pain that the victims of sexual abuse suffered is invoked to support whatever particular issue (e.g., married clergy, women clergy, or JPII’s [non-] canonization) one has been pushing all along.

    I can agree with Crystal in the sense that we can and should expose the truth so that we can learn from it to seek a holier church, try to prevent abuse in the future, and do what we can to help victims of abuse heal. BUT much of what has been reported in the NY Times goes well beyond trying to help the victims or prevent sex abuse from occurring in the Church. I don’t think you can honestly read Maureen Dowd’s hysterical screen in the Times today and not see that she is pushing an agenda that goes well beyond caring for victims. There is nothing “constructive” in calumny.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Anthony, my apologies if my toned seemed harsh. Let me reassure you that I am NOT using the abuse situation as a reason to not canonize JPII. That’s not how I roll. I’m restating what other religious commentators/analysts are saying

      Not for nothing, but I met JP II on 2 occasions during the late 80’s; both times I was joyous to “meet the Pope”, but honestly, not really impressed with him on a personal level. I realize this annectote plus 50 cents won’t even buy a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, but my point is Pope Benedict walks the wals, and he is who he is 24/7. It would be amazing if the same man who tried to sound the alarm against abuse 15 years ago yet was stymied by the “powers that were” at the time would be in any way responsible for ANY cover-up or misdeeds. Whereas the track-record of the JP II pontificate really speaks for itself.

  14. Anthony, wise words! Which triggered relational
    alternate angles of vision, that too much of our
    Secular Age’s weak use of reasoning skills
    evidence (I’m on record that Philosophy courses
    be instituted in all Business Schools, in order to
    teach them better basic “thinking” skills!)….

    At issue, is the legitimacy (actually: illegitimacy!)
    of the “Agenda Makers” of too much of contemporary
    media: they over-attack one area, and let other
    more significant one’s pass!

    No one has gone to prison for the recent international
    financial collapse, no bankers chastised (lip service
    yes, significant efforts, no!), nor mention that
    had it been the “Lehman Sisters” this thing would
    not have gone down (!)

    Then look at the evils in Darfur: while here they
    over-fixate on a mere handful out of thousands
    and thousands of otherwise holy souls! Etc.

    If that isn’t symptomatic of the presence and action
    of the Dark Side of life (i.e., Satan!) then I
    don’t know what is!

    May we as a Force Of Ones continue to roll back
    the stones to allow the Truth to shine light on
    our pagan practices and dark interpretations of

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