The Problem With John Allen

He is to the Vatican what Jackson Diehl is to the Israeli government. A reader writes:

John Allen’s lens for evaluating Benedict’s record as pope on sexual abuse matters in the National Catholic Reporter is skewed toward an insider’s apologia for the pontiff. “For those with the eyes to see” (like Allen), the days of lethargy and cover-up are over, and Benedict is a “Catholic Elliot Ness.” Please.

The question is the degree to which one should be expansively grateful for progress that essentially moves the ball from a minus zero to maybe plus 3 or 4, on a scale of 10. It’s in the right direction but such a meager standard for justice hardly merits high praise.

Allen cites:

1) disciplining Roman favorites Burresi and Maciel,
2) meeting abuse victims twice,
3) embracing zero tolerance,
4) apologizing.

On every count, Allen is misguided.

1) Burresi and Maciel were removed from ministry, but without ruling they were molesters and without vindicating their victims. Maciel had already declined re-election as superior so his removal was essentially moot; he claimed innocence until death. Benedict’s refusal of a clear pronouncement of guilt denied justice to survivors.

Allen’s claim that a guilty verdict seemed clear is not true for the survivors themselves or the world in general, best I can tell. Playing verbal gymnastics may be an inside Vatican game, but I find it dishonest at heart. This is the first time I ever saw a direct statement from Allen that Maciel was nevertheless guilty.

2) Meeting abuse victims abroad after, what, five years since the scandal broke is a huge achievement? Each got about five minutes. Two of them told me by phone recently they are disgusted by lack of outreach.

The actor who played Christ in Gibson’s movie was invited to the Vatican itself; such an invitation has yet to be extended to survivors, even though several went to Rome about 2004 and were rebuffed. Allen notes approvingly that Benedict “devoted five full paragraphs” to abuse in a speech, calling it evil and a sin. Is that such a remarkable effort?

3) Zero tolerance – demanded by public response. There would have been hell to pay without it, but a helpful sign. Still, no voluntary document releases to expose the truth, and Vatican refusal to cooperate with Ireland’s Murphy Commission.

4) Apologies are often in the passive voice, conditional, not in the pope’s name personally, filled with theological reflections about evil as red herrings that skirt bishop accountability. Non-apologies expressing shock, horror, etc. sorrow for the pain you suffered, not the pain that we as bishops caused by criminally endangering your children.

Remember: Cardinal Law still holds power. I believe Allen is inaccurate that Law was asked or instructed to resign. Law begged Battista Re (Congregation of Bishops head) to help him get out after his first offer of resignation was turned down. And I hazard it was not the 51 priests speaking out or the demonstrators or VOTF's call for resignation that prompted Rome to let him leave.

It was, IMHO, in large measure because the expected subpoena from the MA AG's office, which happened to arrive the morning Law went by car to NJ to take Peter Lynch's private plane to Rome (on his second trip). Rome could not take the chance a sitting cardinal might be indicted, especially if my understanding is right, after a contact in law enforcement hinted, "You better get him out of here." That and the damaging loss of support by diehard major donors after the latest revelations from secret archives.

The details, be what they may, will come out over time.