The Shame of John Paul II: How the Sex Abuse Scandal Stained His Papacy

Excerpts from The NATION dated 16 May 2011 (Jason Berry) – On May 1, Pope Benedict XVI will beatify his predecessor, John Paul II, at a huge ceremony in St. Peter’s Square inRome. Beatification, the final step before canonization, or sainthood, ennobles the deceased as “blessed,” or worthy of veneration. Authorities have prepared for a million visitors to the weekend events.
Most beatification cases are decided decades after the person dies—a sign ofVaticanprobity on whether a life achievement, nominated by religious colleagues, merits a path to sainthood. The timetable is at the pope’s discretion. In this case, Benedict’s decision to fast-track John Paul’s case has drawn a chorus of criticism from prominent Catholics and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.
Should a pope who turned his back on the worst crisis in modern Catholic history be exalted as a saint? Lawsuits by victims, numerous prosecutions and news coverage of bishops who enabled abuse are the shadow story of John Paul’s twenty-six-year pontificate, during which time he responded to continuing allegations of clergy abuse with denial and inertia. American dioceses and religious orders alone have spent nearly $2 billion on legal actions and treatment of sex offenders, an aching scandal at incalculable cost to the church’s stature.
On John Paul’s role in the church’s long nightmare, the Rev. Richard McBrien, a distinguished University of Notre Dame theologian, wrote, “Indeed, he had a terrible record, full of denial and foot-dragging, on the greatest crisis to confront the Catholic Church since the Reformation of the 16th century.”
John Paul’s beatification may give a media boost to theVatican, but Pope Benedict’s negligence earlier in his career has also done severe damage to the papacy; media coverage last year spotlighted how Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as Benedict was then known, failed to dismiss several known abusers. How can any pope be a voice for peace, proclaim the sanctity of life and speak for human rights while giving de factoVaticanimmunity to bishops and cardinals who concealed child molesters? John Paul bequeathed a quagmire to Benedict: an archaic tradition ofVaticantribunals subservient to bishops and high church officials.
* * *
In a subtle, indirect way, theVaticansignaled its realization that the abuse crisis would have posed serious problems for John Paul’s beatification if his overall record had been considered. On April 1 the Catholic News Service reported fromRome, “Pope John Paul II is being beatified not because of his impact on history or on the Catholic Church, but because of the way he lived the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love, said Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.”
John Paul is not the only former pope about whom this is a burning issue. Many Jewish leaders as well as Catholics oppose aVaticanmove to canonize Pius XII, citing his wartime reticence on Nazi atrocities. Although recent scholarship has found that Pius took some initiatives to help Jews avoid death camps, his silence in the face of Hitler’s crimes is a human rights issue. Moral justice is a force in historical memory; we cannot change the past, but we must account for those who had power yet failed to forcefully resist great evil.
In the 1990s John Paul began to make a famous series of apologies for past church sins, particularly anti-Semitism, calling for “purification of the historical memory.” He apologized for church racism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, to Galileo, and to Indians—a stirring line of atonement. But he did not include children abused by priests. Finally, after extensive media coverage in theUnited States,Canada,AustraliaandIreland, he did voice concern for victims—but he also scolded the media, accusing them of sensationalism. John Paul’s myopia stemmed from a chivalrous idea of religious life, born of his years as the leader of a Polish church that functioned in opposition to the Communist regime. Under such harsh conditions, he considered church unity paramount, and he saw that unity vindicated when the Iron Curtain fell.
In April 2002, as coverage of the scandals hit critical mass, an ailing John Paul, bloated from treatment for Parkinson’s disease, summoned the American cardinals toRome. Reading a statement for cameras, the pope called clergy abuse “an appalling sin” and said the priesthood had no room for such men; he also called on “the power of Christian conversion,” implying redemption for sex offenders. Instead of promulgating a clear policy on defrocking abusers, he absolved the bishops of their “generalized lack of knowledge,” faulting “the advice of clinical experts.” He thus put the blame on therapists rather than on the bishops who recycled child molesters.
In June 2002 the US Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a youth protection charter, declaring “zero tolerance” for any cleric who abuses a child. The charter sparked important preventive training in Catholic schools; bishops removed hundreds of predators who had evaded prosecution. But the charter lacks enforcement teeth, as revealed by recent news fromPhiladelphia, where twenty-one priests were removed and four others indicted only after a stinging grand jury report. And the charter has no oversight of bishops or cardinals. Despite its flaws the charter does represent progress, and yet theVaticanitself still has nothing comparable to it. END Courtesy The Nation. Pls chk the link for full text.



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4 responses to “The Shame of John Paul II: How the Sex Abuse Scandal Stained His Papacy

  1. Dr. K. P. Paulson

    The allegations regarding legionaries of Christ founder Mons. Marcial Maciel Delgado (1920-2008) appeared in the secular papers in 1989, and the National Catholic Reporter wrote a long series of articles in 1990, but no action was done against him. He is reported to have gifted the Vatican top officials Mercedes-Benz at Christmas and others lavish gifts.

  2. Mohnadas Patel

    The problem is not pope John Paul II, but the Vatican bureaucracy which is controlled by a group of people who don’t seem to care. They do not wish to understand the gravity of the damage inflicted on the innocent children. If they considered Jesus the Good Shepherd who understood their pain and suffering: the prodigal son, the man robbed on Jericho road, the woman caught in adultery and the paralytic, they would give more consideration and assistance to the innocent victim. Taking shelter under the cover of Canon Law, the Church authorities seem to be on the wrong side of the fence!

  3. JI

    “He apologized for church racism, the Inquisition, the Crusades, to Galileo, and to Indians—a stirring line of atonement. But he did not include children abused by priests.”

    The tone of this article is very negative, but that’s not surprising considering the newspaper’s leftist, liberal stance. The Catholic Church is guilty of all the worst crimes in history – these are the ‘black legends’ which are constantly recycled when any opportunity arises.

    There’s absolutely no mention of the many good things this Pope did. One can not deny the huge popularity the Pope had among people worlwide, including Catholics and non-Catholics, and for good reasons too. That a minority of the clergy was involved in abuse is not his fault. He’s an example to us all about how to lead a holy life, devoted to God and filled with love.

    • C.M. Paul

      Pls read the full article (use the link) mentioning also the great and good things JP2 accomplished for the polarized world of his day!

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