God vs Gavel
The Tangled Web Tightens for the Vatican
This is the most stunning part of the letter to me. First, they started working on "concrete directives" in 1997? I have nothing but questions about this. I wonder what directives they have considered over the last fourteen years—certainly not mandatory reporting to the authorities. Nor have they shut down their "treatment centers" to which they send their priest perpetrators, or been willing to release records of claims against priests without civil litigation.
Given the resources they waste on trying to halt legal reform for child sex abuse victims, I'm wondering if one of the concrete directives was to ensure that all victims of child sex abuse be treated just as their victims have been—manacled by the law and ignored by the culture. Nothing like a level playing field to make everyone feel better.
Second, clergy abuse has hardly been cabined to the English-speaking world. It has been rampant in South America and Mexico as well as Africa. And they have known it. Just look at the remarkable, tragic story of the many victims of Marcel Maciel, who was befriended by John Paul II and only recently rebuked by the Vatican.
Does this paragraph mean that they were only taking the English-speaking abuse seriously? That actually makes some sense, because the English-speaking countries have the best legal systems for victims to be able to sue. They are called "common law" legal systems. In contrast, in civil law countries, victims have a much harder time getting to court. The bishops do not take these issues terribly seriously unless they are threatened with imminent legal proceedings. They are particularly averse to having to be deposed themselves, which is why every diocesan bankruptcy has been declared just before a bishop was going to be required to be deposed or testify on abuse. The recent Milwaukee Diocese bankruptcy filing is no different.
Third, what does "at the appropriate time" mean? Were a publicly traded corporation accused of child trafficking, it would not be speaking in terms of "appropriate time" but rather "emergency," "speedy resolution," and it would be firing its leadership for letting it go down such a dark and ultimately unprofitable path. But the Vatican assumed a right to take whatever time it needed, proving once again this institution's callous and shallow response to heinous crimes within its confines. It was, once again, all about the Vatican, and not about the victims.
I don't know how many times one institution can re-victimize its victims, but here you have another example. Fourteen years is a long time to consider what to do in the face of entrenched evil. Of course, for the victims, the abuse itself is a life sentence.
This institution has become the epitome of the famous and memorable line by Walter Scott, in his poem "Marmion": "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." The point is that one lie leads to another and another until one is so entangled that escaping the original falsehood becomes virtually impossible. This letter is the latest proof that the leadership of the Catholic Church is inextricably tangled in a web of its own making, and the rest of us have to be the ones to ensure the safety of our children.
Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge, 2008) and God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2005, 2007).