How fitting that as the Church enters Holy Week, it is under the weight of a particularly galling cross, one crafted by some of its own most trusted members, humiliating enough at that, but made more so by the klieg lights of sensationalistic journalism that has taken little trouble to get at the whole story. (That would be too much work. And so much less juicy.) Incomplete.
National Catholic Reporter Vatican correspondent John Allen names the most serious shortcoming in the typical presentations of the story of Pope Benedict's alleged complicity (as Cardinal Ratzinger) in delaying action against accused abusers: stories claim that Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the "point man" for all such cases, worldwide, from 1981 (when he was first appointed) up to his election. As Allen notes, until 2001, abuse cases (except for those involving the further sacrilege of exploiting access through the sacrament of Penance) were the responsibility of the local bishop. (That's been the heart of the issue all along.) Only in 2001, with revelations of widespread mismanagement in the US, did Pope John Paul direct that these cases be handled in Rome.
So any story or letter you see that pulls this fast one--"after all, Ratzinger sat on those cases from 1981-2005..."--can be discredited right off the bat. Allen seems convinced, as Archbishop Dolan sure is, that (in Dolan's words), "No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI."
Please refer to the Allen article (the top of my list below) any time you find yourself freaking out over some aspect of media coverage of the issue. "Only 20% of the cases in Rome were brought to a church trial!" Does that sound like negligence? Sure it would--if they don't tell you that in 60% of the cases the abuser was dismissed from ministry immediately on the basis of the documentation.
There's more where that came from.
This is not to say that all scrutiny or coverage is unfair or useless. Far from it. As Archbishop Dolan remarked yesterday after Mass:
...Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past? Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing. All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.
John Allen sets the record straight
Cardinal George speaks of the shame of betrayal
Archbishop Dolan off-the-cuff
Details from the Milwaukee case
More pertinent info, most especially the first on the New York Times' sloppy journalism (say it ain't so!).
Milwaukee case: Journalists failed to investigate this source
George Weigel: the bigger picture
The Anchoress: "The Quest for the Petrine Scalp"