Lost in translation, Vatican edition

A woman misusing a translation dictionary in a Paris cafe

For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, it’s difficult to read the stories attempting to link Pope Benedict XVI to abuse of children. For our purposes here at GetReligion, I hope that it’s possible to simultaneously condemn the abuse of children that has taken place, to criticize the Vatican’s handling of the problem over the years, and to hope that the media work to cover this story more responsibly than we’ve been seeing.

A couple of days ago, I was reading this Associated Press article about the Vatican claiming that the media was engaged in an anti-Catholic “hate” campaign. The article was not a great example of evenhanded reporting. Or even informed reporting, really. It claimed that when Cardinal Julian Herranz talked about the church’s “defense of life” it was code for anti-abortion efforts. Opposition to abortion is certainly an important part of sanctity of life efforts, but not limited to that, of course. Oh, the story also claimed that Benedict had ignored abuse victims.

But it was another part of the story that intrigued me. It was about Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone:

Bertone, now the Holy See’s secretary of state but formerly Benedict’s deputy when the future pope, then-called Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Vatican’s morals office, has himself been swept up in the scandals.

During a May 1998 meeting at the Vatican, Bertone told Wisconsin bishops to halt a church trial against an ailing priest who was accused of sexually abusing 200 deaf children, according to a Vatican transcript. The priest died soon afterward.

“It’s not true, it’s not true! We have documented the opposite,” ANSA quoted Bertone as saying in Chile. “Let’s not talk about this topic now, because otherwise we’ll be here all day verifying precisely the action taken by me and by his eminence.”

And then the report moved on to more imbalance. But why didn’t we learn what this “documentation” of the opposite was about? Was it true that the Vatican had proof that hadn’t been published by the Associated Press or New York Times or other media outlets? If so, why wasn’t it discussed in this story. And if not, why didn’t the reporter make that clear?

Well, I think I may know what Bertone was talking about. And I’m rather surprised that none of the major media outlets — all billing their current stories as attempts to uncover the truth about a possible Vatican cover-up — have written about it.

This gets a bit tricky, so bear with me. First, let’s call recall the New York Times piece that really got things heated up stateside when it tried to link Pope Benedict XVI to an abuse case from 1970s Wisconsin. John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter‘s ace Vatican expert, already noted problems with the way the piece characterized Ratzinger’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis. The judge who oversaw the Wisconsin priest’s trial in the 1990s, Father Thomas Brundage, criticized media outlets for not contacting him for his take. And the Vatican’s Cardinal Levada criticized the story for lacking fairness.

One of the best things about that article was that it included links to a large number of primary source documents. Some of these are in Italian and some are in English. One of the most important documents is only available in Italian, unless you count a rudimentary, machine-based translation that key player Father Thomas Brundage had provided. A professional translator looked at the original document and, well, it looks like the New York Times probably should have considered getting a professional translator to look at it, too, before writing up its story.

The translator, a woman named Lori Pieper, sent her work over to Jimmy Akin at the National Catholic Register. The professional translation shows that the previous translation had some basic errors. So when Cardinal Bertone refers to the need to prove in a canon trial that the crime has been committed “in the strict sense” he did not, as had been reported, say it needed to be proved “in strict secrecy.”

Akin exhaustively explains his take on the documents but here’s his takeaway about the memo summarizing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s meeting about the pedophile priest:

* Then-Cardinal Ratzinger was not present at the meeting. It was run by the Secretary of the CDF, then-Archbishop Bertone.

* Cardinal Ratzinger’s name never comes up, making it impossible to determine anything regarding his involvement in this case.

* In the meeting Bertone points out the difficulties in proceeding with canonical trial for Fr. Murphy, but he does not forbid one.

* The chief difficulty, according to Bertone, is gathering the needed proof against Murphy given the passage of time (not Murphy’s advanced age or ill-health, neither of which is mentioned at all).

* Bertone is appalled at how long this case has been allowed to linger and by the fact that Murphy apparently still has the ability to celebrate Mass for the deaf community in Milwaukee. He insists that this be rectified.

* He also insists that Fr. Murphy be made to reflect on the gravity of his crimes and to furnish proof of his repentance.

* If he fails to do so, Murphy can have additional penalties inflicted on him, including “dismissal from the clerical state” (i.e., laicization, “defrocking”).

* The CDF is thus not opposed to defrocking Murphy.

One of the more striking things, to me at least, from the translation of the memo is how livid Cardinal Bertone appears to be at the Milwaukee and Superior dioceses’ handling of the case. Some 35 years have passed since the crimes took place and the original archdiocese didn’t keep records from the original complaints. According to Bertone, that would make a canon trial very difficult since canon law requires rigorous proof. Another problem with an effective canon trial is that this priest was allegedly committing his crimes in the confessional and since priests are forbidden from revealing anything that happens there, he would have difficulty defending himself and that might further make the case difficult to prosecute.

Finally, the meeting reveals some actual confusion about whether or not the crimes took place in the confessional. Since Ratzinger’s office didn’t even have the mandate to handle sexual abuse cases, the whole thing had to hinge on abuse of the sacrament of confession. That — and not sexual abuse — was why Ratzinger’s office was involved. The CDF basically thought a canon trial would be extremely difficult to successfully prosecute (although it didn’t specifically rule one out and it encouraged that recourse if the priest in any way violated new restrictions on his ministry).

Anyway, in light of these issues, it’s interesting to note how this was written up in the Times:

Figure With Hands To Ears

But the effort to dismiss Father Murphy came to a sudden halt after the priest appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency.

In an interview, Archbishop Weakland said that he recalled a final meeting at the Vatican in May 1998 in which he failed to persuade Cardinal Bertone and other doctrinal officials to grant a canonical trial to defrock Father Murphy. (In 2002, Archbishop Weakland resigned after it became public that he had an affair with a man and used church money to pay him a settlement.)

Archbishop Weakland said this week in an interview, “The evidence was so complete, and so extensive that I thought he should be reduced to the lay state, and also that that would bring a certain amount of peace in the deaf community.”

And yet, in the original at least, the reasons given by Bertone have nothing to do with the priest’s appeal and everything to do with the evidence being incomplete or difficult to prosecute. It seems like that perspective should have at least been included.

Catholic News Agency says the properly translated memo shows problems with the Associated Press coverage as well:

While the AP said Archbishop Bertone “decided the alleged molestation occurred too long ago,” it did not note the problems in the case such as a lack of records in the archdiocesan archives. The memo notes that the length of time since the crimes occurred had rendered a civil lawsuit impossible and posed “the true problem” for a canonical trial as well. …

The AP also claimed Fr. Murphy was “spared a defrocking” because he was “protected by the Vatican office led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the Pope.” The memo reconfirms that Cardinal Ratzinger was not in attendance in the meeting.

While the AP depicted penitence and restrictions on Fr. Murphy’s ministry as lesser alternative to laicization, the memo says Archbishop Bertone stressed “it is unacceptable for him to be able to go and celebrate the Eucharist in the deaf community in Milwaukee.”

Before the unreliability of the documentation was revealed, the Times and Associated Press stories had been criticized for misrepresenting other facts of the case, misunderstanding the Vatican judicial system, and imputing the actions of subordinates to the Pope himself.

Akin says there’s plenty of room to criticize how the Vatican handled this and other cases but that the story is being inaccurately written by media outlets.

So National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency have the news. And the Italian political newspaper Il Foglio discussed it yesterday. But, as of now, I have seen no mention of the mistranslation in mainstream media. Let me know if you see anything.

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  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    “Since Ratzinger’s office didn’t even have the mandate to handle sexual abuse cases, the whole thing had to hinge on abuse of the sacrament of confession. That — and not sexual abuse — was why Ratzinger’s office was involved.”

    Not quite. The CDF had jurisdiction over the Murphy case because he stood accused of sexual solicitation during confession–a grave canonical crime that can be a form of sexual abuse.

  • http://www.commonwealmagazine.org Grant Gallicho

    Sorry, meant to include:

    “Another problem with an effective canon trial is that this priest was allegedly committing his crimes in the confessional and since priests are forbidden from revealing anything that happens there, he would have difficulty defending himself and that might further make the case difficult to prosecute.”

    That’s not in the memo, and is also not quite right. The seal of confession prevents priests from revealing a penitent’s sins–that is, naming the sinner and his sins. It doesn’t prevent the priest from speaking about anything happens during confession. Neither does the seal prevent him from discussing his own sins while acting as confessor. And it certainly doesn’t prevent the penitent from discussing what happens during his confession.

    The memo is of course written in Vatican-speak: heavily hedged language that doesn’t rise above the level of suggestion. It’s clear that Weakland believed he was being instructed to end the canonical trial. That’s why he had Fr. Brundage draw up a memo to that effect (yes, the one Brundage originally claimed no knowledge of).

  • Passing By

    Mollie -

    Thank you for writing this. A friend called last night to ask about the Murphy case. He was hearing all about how awful the pope was for stopping the canonical trial. Of course, the process stopped when Murphy died.

    And yes, why this story continues is a burning question.

  • Julia

    It might be useful to think of state crimes and Federal crimes.

    Sex abuse cases were to be handled at the diocesan level. That covers most of what allegedly happened in the Milwaukee case. There might have also been abuse of the confessional – dealing with that allegation was the only part of the case reserved to Cardinal Ratzinger’s office at the time (pre-2001).

    The newspapers had lots of accounts from victims regarding things that happened in the dormitories and other places. There’s no reason for those allegations not to have been addressed in a diocesan tribunal.

    Many years after the events, perhaps Weakland already had decided it would be too difficult to bring a case locally because the records were missing, and was grasping at straws that the confession abuse portion could still be addressed at the upper level. Bertone was telling him the case concerning the possible abuse of the confessional would have the same problem – missing records.

    It there was suspected abuse of the confessional, why was this not brought to the attention of the proper department in Rome years and years ago?

    Reporters: there are two essential books if you want to cover Vatican doings.

    Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church by Fr. Thomas J. Reese.

    All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks by John L. Allen, Jr.

    In recommending Allen, in particular, as a trustworthy source, here is an excerpt from the Introduction to Allen’s book where he is speaking of his response after being pressed to defend the Vatican on CNN:

    I could, and did, also try to explain why the Vatican does not step in and clean house when bishops fail, because the understanding of the bishop’s office is quite different in Rome from the corporate model many Anglo-Saxon Catholics hold. But it’s not my job to tell CNN’s viewers, or my readers . . . whether these Vatican perspectives are right or wrong, good or bad, adequate to the task of resolving the crisis or not.

  • Jacob

    Ok so where are the counterpart investigations of every public school administrator who ever believed a teacher who said he didn’t molest anyone who actually did? Also the United States government owes those victims somewhere in the neighborhood of two trillion dollars by the logic of what the Church has had to pay victims of individuals. Clearly the media, by focusing only on the Church is saying that those victims are all important and deserving of justice and the rest are not such a big deal. (In that case preserving the institution of public school education is more important for them than delivering every possible aspect of justice to the victims…sickening.)

    Also we need to bankrupt and arrest all the parents of kids doing drugs or committing any other crime. We just have to make sure we keep enough people on the outside so we have enough prison guards.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Everyone please remember to keep comments focused on journalism and not the underlying issues.

  • Dave

    Nice spade-work, Mollie. I remain baffled as to why the Pope’s defenders did not trumpet this memo — in English — a long time age.

    “In English” is a key requirement. Justly or not, a lot of the world’s journalism is done in English, and the Vatican would do well to realize that if it wishes to interface effectively with the press. It’s a pity that the Vatican ineptly mounts circle-the-wagons defenses (like the parallel with violence against Jews) that induce eye-rolling and, in America, memories of Watergate.

  • Martha

    “when the future pope, then-called Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Vatican’s morals office”

    We can haz morals office?

    Of all the ways to describe the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that’s not the first one that leaps to mind.

  • Peter

    This is news in the broadest sense of the word, but not necessarily news that requires the AP or NYT to stop cold. It is one translator, and pro-Vatican blogger, being reported on by a pro-Vatican columnist for a pro-Vatican Register and regurgitated by a Vatican pr/propoganda news service. That’s called circling the wagons, not objective news or evidence.

    Of course, it could all be true. But I’d prefer some objective verification before being convinced the AP erred.

  • MikeL

    I seriously doubt we’ll see this story in any major news outlets, especially the NY Times – they already have too much invested.

  • Julia

    the Vatican’s morals office

    That really caught my attention, too.
    I wonder where the writer got that description.
    The CDF is a theology dicastery, with the added responsibilitiy for reviewing sex abuse files only since Ratzinger insisted on it in 2001.

  • Julia

    But I’d prefer some objective verification before being convinced the AP erred.

    More objective sources like the plaintiff attorneys and the disgraced former archbishop in charge at Milwaukee when the events occurred?

  • Kyle

    regurgitated by a Vatican pr/propoganda news service

    Catholic News Agency is not owned by the Vatican or by bishops or by any church authority at all, as far as I know. Just to be clear.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    Peter, I am the one who did the translation in question. If you know Italian yourself and have any reason to believe my translation is not accurate, please let me know what it is. There is also independent verification of the truth of this matter from the Italian press.

    Another big error in reporting in the original NYT piece was the whole idea that the Vatican has to grant permission for a canonical trial in an individual diocese. It doesn’t.

    Every Catholic bishop throughout the world has supreme power of administration and complete jurisdiction within his own diocese. The Vatican would be way out of bounds if it were to try to forbid a bishop from conducting a canonical trial in his diocese. However, if the verdict involves a penalty reserved to the Holy See, such as laicization of a priest, then the Vatican has to approve that.

    In another similar laicization case that the CDF took on around the same time in 1992-97, a case in Tuscon, AZ (that was equally wildly misreported), Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to the diocesan bishop after first receiving notice of the trial and said more or less “we understand you are conducting a trial of this priest, please follow the norms we have set up for conducting such trials, and send us a copy of everything when you’re done.” Obviously no permission necessary. You can see the original 1992 letter at the Arizona Star:

    http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/azstarnet.com/content/tncms/assets/editorial/f/b9/0c7/fb90c780-3d26-11df-9e9f-001cc4c002e0.pdf.pdf?_dc=1270082415

    What Weakland and the other bishops were trying to get at the CDF meeting was not permission, but advice and clearing up of procedural question. They got quite an earful instead about their incompetence. Nothing in the memo suggests an order to stop the trial, because it would not have been proper to give one. Advice on canon law? Yes. Moral indignation, Yes!!

    Now we have it from Bertone that Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in what happened. I wonder in what sense? If reporters are going to treat this, they should remember that a) Ratzinger is a theologian (and a great theologian) while b) Bertone has a canon law degree. This was the obvious reason he would be delegated to handle this aspect of the Murphy case, because it was his special competence. Ratzinger would have treated the doctrinal aspect (the defense of teaching on the Sacrament of Penance).

    Above all, it should be recalled that it was the diocesan bishop himself, Archbishop Weakland, not the Vatican, who stopped the trial, more than two months after the meeting, and only two days before Father Murphy’s death.

    In my humble opinion, the NYT should print a retraction, but unfortunately, the damage has been done.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    By the way, Mollie, excellent analysis. I’m glad this side of the story is getting play.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    And oh yes, thank for linking to me.

  • http://idlespeculations-terryprest.blogspot.com/ terryprest

    “It’s not true, it’s not true! We have documented the opposite,” ANSA quoted Bertone as saying in Chile. “Let’s not talk about this topic now, because otherwise we’ll be here all day verifying precisely the action taken by me and by his eminence.”

    Lori: I do not think that this means that Bertone has indicated that the then Cardinal Ratzinger was involved in the matter

    Or is there another quotation from Bertone somewhere ?

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    Terryprest,

    No, I just assumed that by “His Eminence,” he meant Cardinal Ratzinger. I don’t know what other cardinal would have been involved. But in what way he was involved, we don’t know.

    Of course, we would want to know if the original interview with Bertone (by the Italian News Agency ANA) was accurately translated into English as well. There’s always a possibility of error, especially in this climate.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    Oops, the news agency is called ANSa.

  • Charles Curtis

    I’m a practicing Catholic.

    I just watched the Daily Show, and saw the misreporting of the NYT (etc.) played for laughs in the most scurrilous way. John Stewart made his usual blasphemous jokes about the Eucharist (“father has had one too many double stuffed communion wafers,” etc.) and totally defamed the Holy Father.

    This week, for the first time since these scandals broke a decade ago, I am furious with someone other than a dunderhead blackheart bishop. I am getting really angry here, at the press.

    The press does us a huge service by outing the criminal malfeasence of our clergy, especially the bishops. As painful as the truth is, I am so so glad they tell it.

    We’re the disciples of the Truth.

    But the press has to be careful. If they start being sloppy, they will do huge damage. There will be a backlash, if they carry on like this. The problem is that the most dangerous backlash may be against the Church I love, when the crimes of a few are used to attack the faith – and maybe in time more – of the many.

    Secular Jews like John Stewart should be especially sensitive about this sort of thing.. Bigotry and hatred are all too easy to stoke.

    Anti- Catholicism is just as ugly and evil as anti- semitism.. For the first time in my life I’m feeling like the target of bigotry, and it isn’t cool..

  • str

    Apart from all the true observations you hav made, there’s one more item, nitpicking though it may be:

    headed the Vatican’s morals office

    I never knew that the “Vatican” had a “morals office”…

  • str

    Terry and Lori,

    Regarding Bertone’s statement:

    “It’s not true, it’s not true! We have documented the opposite”, ANSA quoted Bertone as saying in Chile. “Let’s not talk about this topic now, because otherwise we’ll be here all day verifying precisely the action taken by me and by his eminence.”

    Judging from this English translation, I do think Bertone clearly talks about Cardinal Ratzinger when speaking of “His Eminence”.

    “the action taken” might simply refer to the fact that the Congregation acting was headed by the Cardinal and might also refer to actions taken regarding abuse cases in general. And IMHO “action taken”, if restricted to the Murphy case, also includes the possiblity of “no action”, just as “What have you done” might be answered by “nothing”.

    PS. Sorry for post #21 – I hadn’t seen that this had already been raised.

  • domenico

    HELLO,
    Why do you think the same page of the memorandum in the Milwaukee archive is stamped with different numbers?

    http://img695.imageshack.us/img695/8228/image1qzw.jpg

    the first page is from Jeff Anderson & Associates files, the second from NYT files

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    Domenico, if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say they were different copies of the memo sent to the different bishops at the meeting (there were three of them). It would make sense that each of them got a copy. Though I don’t know why that many duplicates ended up in the files. They are all from the same place, since the NYT times article used Anderson’s files.

  • domenico

    hi,
    you can download Anderson’s files from http://www.andersonadvocates.com/ViewFile.aspx?ID=368

    in this file there is the different number in the memorandum…

    Bertone ‘s letter to Weakland accompanying the memorandum is the same in both files and with the same number.

  • http://twitter.com/bdunlap Ben Dunlap

    I’ve been particularly taken by the use of the word “after” in some of these stories, and the insinuation that “after” means “because”:

    But the effort to dismiss Father Murphy came to a sudden halt after the priest appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency.

    Once you’ve read the original documents, you can see that this statement is about as relevant to the case as saying “the effort came to a halt after the Marlins won the World Series”.

  • Carolyn Disco

    Thank you so much, Grant Gallicho, for your comments.

    I am at a loss to even begin to answer the distortions here, and am frankly out of the energy except for some key points.

    Grant is so right that Vatican speak is a genre of its own that rarely rises about suggestion, when direct order is the true meaning.

    Now, we have Brundage himself revealing the trial was stopped as a result of the May 30 meeting, and admitting his earlier error. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/priest-who-oversaw-church-trial-in-wisconsin-abuse-case-admits-error/#preview

    The key point is what Bertone said were the results of their discussion at the meeting. Bertone concludes by noting the “two central points TO BE FOLLOWED” which are territorial restrictions on saying mass, and the need to secure remorse by Murphy.

    Bertone does not refer to two central points that “MAY be followed” or “SHOULD be followed” or are “SUGGESTED” in some way. There is nothing conditional about what shall be done, and a trial was not among them.

    Why would Weakland be so upset about the difficulty of informing the deaf community of their deliberations if a trial was among the outcomes? It was precisely because the trial was cancelled that Weakland was so concerned. He and the victims wanted a trial on principle, so Murphy could be buried as a layman.

    Bertone and his deputy favored sending Murphy for a psych exam and spiritual direction, hoping he would feel remorse afterwards. Never mind that no remorse was evident decades later. A possible reinstatement of a trial was to be the penalty if Murphy did not cooperate. But why delay? A second trial would have the same evidentiary burden as the one being dismissed. Either there is “insufficient information to instruct a canonical process” or not.

    My suspicion: Bertone did not want a trial, period, so just impose restrictions of various kinds. Why not run out the clock on Murphy’s health and then the whole problem is avoided. It’s the perfect cover.

    I find Bertone’s comment in Chile interesting: “Let’s not talk about this topic now, because otherwise we’ll be here all day verifying precisely the action taken by me and by his eminence.” I believe the claim is that no action was taken by his eminence (Ratzinger) on this case. Or was there? Does the buck stop with no. 1 or no. 2, or does the deputy act in accord with his superior’s policy directives or not?

    Getting back to Vaticanese: Benedict “invited” Maciel, the Legionary molester, to a life of prayer and penance after he had already declined re-election as superior. As John Allen insists, that was Benedict’s way of saying Maciel was guilty of sexually abusing minor seminarians.

    Such opaque, indirect communication that is only understood by “insiders” is typical. So, any “request” or supposed “suggestion” by Bertone was very correctly understood by Weakland as an order. Weakland knew what he had to do, contrary to all his conviction on the matter.

    Bottom line: the meeting began with a trial in process; after the meeting it was off.

    As for proof, the social worker’s notes include an admission of guilt by Murphy of 19 victims, and Murphy even describes his preferred type of victim: medium build, not overweight, poor social skills, parents uninvolved or distant, etc. Who believed Murphy was innocent?

  • Dan

    Here’s the latest attack:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100409/ap_on_re_us/us_pope_church_abuse;_ylt=AlVpiUW7Q4kij94LvA7VvIN34T0D;_ylu=X3oDMTJsdDFqbGV2BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwNDA5L3VzX3BvcGVfY2h1cmNoX2FidXNlBGNwb3MDMQRwb3MDMgRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3J5BHNsawNhcGV4Y2x1c2l2ZWY-

    Here’s the lastest counter-attack:

    http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2010/04/09/news/pedofilia_canada-3229221/

    The La Repubblica article reports on a critique provided by a canon lawyer who noted: (1) In 1985 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not have jurisdiction over cases of pedophilia (unless it involved the confessional), (2) this thus was not a penal proceeding but a request by the priest himself to be laicized, and (3) It was and still is the practice not to grant requests for laicization if a priest has not yet turned 40 years old and that is what happened in this case – the priest was made to wait until he was 40.

  • str

    Carolyn,

    “The key point is what Bertone said were the results of their discussion at the meeting. Bertone concludes by noting the “two central points TO BE FOLLOWED” which are territorial restrictions on saying mass, and the need to secure remorse by Murphy.

    “Bertone does not refer to two central points that “MAY be followed” or “SHOULD be followed” or are “SUGGESTED” in some way. There is nothing conditional about what shall be done, and a trial was not among them.”

    “It was precisely because the trial was cancelled that Weakland was so concerned.”

    It was not up to Bertone to either allow or disallow a trial but to the local ordinary, so your second statement does not follow from your first. At best you can say that Bertone did not suggest a trial as one of his central points to be followed. He simply said nothing for or against a trial.

    “He and the victims wanted a trial on principle, so Murphy could be buried as a layman.”

    Then he and the victims hope for the impossible (apart from having rather capricious hopes) because once a priest, always a priest.

    “I find Bertone’s comment in Chile interesting …”

    Which have already been discussed as yielding no information whatsoever. Sure, you can surmise what you want but this in the end will remain based on no evidence.

    “Bottom line: the meeting began with a trial in process; after the meeting it was off.”

    Bottom line line is that such bottom line statements are pretty meaningless.

  • Carolyn Disco

    Believe what you want, str, but if the decision on a trial had been left to Weakland, he would have gone ahead with one.

    I don’t have the interview link to hand, but Weakland admitted his failure to persuade Bertone, and knew he had no wiggle room.

    Please, parsing “once a priest always a priest” to imply being laicized does not reduce one to the lay state in any common sense understanding of those terms is not impressive.

    And Bertone said a very great deal against a trial. They constitute a major part of his contribution at the meeting.

  • Carolyn Disco

    To requote Grant Gallicho above:

    “It’s clear that Weakland believed he was being instructed to end the canonical trial. That’s why he had Fr. Brundage draw up a memo to that effect (yes, the one Brundage originally claimed no knowledge of).”

    And Lori Pieper:

    “Every Catholic bishop throughout the world has supreme power of administration and complete jurisdiction within his own diocese. The Vatican would be way out of bounds if it were to try to forbid a bishop from conducting a canonical trial in his diocese. However, if the verdict involves a penalty reserved to the Holy See, such as laicization of a priest, then the Vatican has to approve that.”

    The verdict Weakland sought was laicization and the Vatican would have to approve it.

    Never mind really, consensus is hopeless.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    Carolyn,

    And where do you get the idea from the minutes of the meeting that the Vatican would not have approved laicization? They actually discuss it as a possibility (dismissal from the clerical state). And of course it was not Bertone, but the Pope who would have to approve it.

    I see no indication in Fr. Brundage’s memo that the decision not to have a trial was taken as a result of the meeting at the Vatican, as you claim.

    Forgive me if I find anything that Weakland says now not to be very credible. It was his foot-dragging and the cover-ups by both his predecessors in the archdiocese that had lead to the bad pastoral situation and not incidentally to the loss (or destruction) of all records of the case in the diocese that had made prosecuting a trial almost impossible. Weakland was notorious in this regard. I can’t see why you are harping on Bertone and the CDF as the villian in all this.

    And why would the Bertone and the CDF feel such a strong need not to have a trial that they would forbid it? Nothing in the minutes suggests just a desire. Just indignation at the lack of proper pastoral action by the bishops involved, which by the way is required in canon law (canon 1341) before you can go to trial.

    I hope by the way that you are using my accurate translation of the minutes of the meeting (linked to above). They certainly make it clear that there was no fear of the scandal involved on the part of the CDF, as the computer translation claimed.

  • str

    Carolyn Disco,

    “Believe what you want, str, but if the decision on a trial had been left to Weakland, he would have gone ahead with one.”

    A statement solely based on your belief that it is so.

    Fact is: the decision on a trial was left to Weakland and nobody else and there wasn’t a trial. It was solely his responsibility.

    That Bertone spoke against a trial is one thing and if his talk convinced Weakland not to hold one (after years of not holding one either), this would still not shift the responsibility to anyone but Weakland. It is not Weakland who had to convince Bertone – he could have just get on with it, had he so chosen.

    Regardless of how you try to ignore it, a priest will always stay a priest (and I never “parse”) – and I certainly stick by my observation that people who care about somebody “not being buried a priest” are strange indeed.

  • Carolyn Disco

    Well, I find it of interest that Bertone indicates the central points “to be followed” but that must have been a theoretical exercise since he had no power anyway in the matter…because it was all up to Weakland. Why were they even meeting then?

    “I see no indication in Fr. Brundage’s memo that the decision not to have a trial was taken as a result of the meeting at the Vatican, as you claim.”

    http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/priest-who-oversaw-church-trial-in-wisconsin-abuse-case-admits-error/

    Stalemate here.

    I agree the way Weakland handled survivors was a travesty, but that does not mean everything he said or wrote was, ipso facto, wrong or distorted, or somehow not true. He can’t open his mouth on anything without an avalanche of criticism, no matter what, so I doubt he would be inclined to clarify now what his understanding was of that meeting.

    And even if he said I was ordered to end the trial in process (that’s how Vatican indirection works), I doubt you would believe him. So, I leave him to whatever peace and penance are possible.

    My God, victims not wanting to see a funeral for their perpetrator with full honors in priestly garb are “strange indeed?” You have not spent enough time listening to survivors’ pain.

    Survivor Support Chairman
    NH Voice of the Faithful

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    Carolyn, I looked at the memo and saw nothing in there that even mentions the meeting. Please quote the exact passage you have in mind. I’m not saying that Brundage didn’t write the memo, just that there’s no indication of why he did so.

    They had the meeting because the bishops needed advice. It was at their own request. Yes, Bertone put forward the points to be followed, very succinctly. “Don’t have a trial” was not among them. This guy was quite capable of using forceful language to convey his points. That he should suddenly all cryptic and super-refined when it comes to telling them not to have a trial compared to his other statements — no, I’m not buying it. Of course, he was discouraging them from having a trial. But as I said, he didn’t really have the right to forbid them. He seemed to be all but ordering them to forbid Fr. Murphy from traveling to Milwaukee and imposing himself on the deaf community, which was a very good thing, but that couldn’t be an absolute order either. The ordinary of the diocese still has jurisdiction in such matters.

    I see that you do have a great stake in this case on behalf of the victims. But that doesn’t mean your own perspective can’t be skewed because of that. Anger over the victims is good, but why does the Vatican need to be blamed here?

    Again, Weakland’s own inaction was the ultimate reason that a trial was unfeasible. It ultimately would have been unfeasible anyway because of Murphy’s death. So why continue to insist on this point?

  • Carolyn Disco

    Note, “Continue the trial” was not among Bertone’s points. He has the power though to indicate what else is to be followed?

    If the bishop has full authority how to handle these matters, why does Bertone have any authority to specify anything to be followed, trial or not?

    I wonder if you are looking at the “memo” I had in mind. Brundage wrote to Weakland:

    “As you requested I have put together what might be a response to Archbishop Bertone’s document (meaning the minutes) regarding Fr. Murphy that he recently sent us. Here is a suggested response:”

    IOW, here is Weakland reporting back on how he is following up on the conclusions reached at the May 30 meeting.

    Brundage writes a draft which Weakland forwards to Bertone on Aug. 19 with minor changes.

    The documents are here: http://media.journalinteractive.com/documents/brundage.pdf

    As another commenter noted:

    If Bertone’s communications were mere suggestions to Weakland pointing out the downside of continuing with a trial, and it was still Weakland’s decision to continue or discontinue the trial — and we have every reason to believe Weakland did want to continue the trial — why does Brundage’s “suggested response” to Bertone say the trial is being formally abated?

    The only plausible explanation, it seems to me, is that the communications from Bertone in effect ordered the trial to be abated. Brundage drafted the only plausible response to Bertone: “We’re doing what you told us to do.”

    I am out to learn the truth of who did what, no matter where the chips fall. In my mind, abatement of the trial is not at the feet of Weakland, who ardently wanted to go ahead.

    In your mind, it is something different. So, we disagree. That’s all.

  • http://www.pilgrimage.subcreators.com Lori Pieper

    Sorry I didn’t see that when I read the memo. But all the same there are responses and responses. All responses don’t have to be obeying orders. Otherwise Fliss wouldn’t have responded to Bertone’s request in the earlier letter by saying “no, we are going to trial.”

    I think that in August, the fact that they now (two and a half months later) knew that Murphy was actually dying must have played some part in the decision. And I certainly don’t see this as a matter for some dark conspiracy or a vendetta. But we certainly do disagree.

  • str

    Carolyn and Lori,

    you both right when you say that Bertone said neither “Hold a trial” or “Don’t hold a trial”. He simply said nothing about this.

    But even if he had, Bishop Weakland would still have been free to start a trial. He is a Bishop, for Christ’s sake!

    Could you, Carolyn, please stop your insinuations based on nothing than prejudice and a hyperpapalastic ecclesiology.

  • domenico

    actually,
    reading the documents from http://media.journalinteractive.com/documents/brundage.pdf
    and in particular the weakland’s letter to bertone prepared by Brundage we can read:
    “I WISH TO BRIEFLY INFORM YOU OF THE DECISIONS I HAVE MADE IN THIS REGARD”…
    understood? “I HAVE MADE”: so, weakland made the decisions (probably in the local meeting in milwaukee).

    and brundage says:
    “Had Father Murphy not died, knowing how I feel then as well as now about the matter, I suspect I would have made an attempt to appeal WEAKLAND’S DECISION”..
    http://www.620wtmj.com/shows/charliesykes/89689487.html?blog=y

    And remember what Brundage wrote in his first letter:
    “In the summer of 1998, I ordered Father Murphy to be present at a deposition at the chancery in Milwaukee. I received, soon after, a letter from his doctor that he was in frail health and could travel not more than 20 miles (Boulder Junction to Milwaukee would be about 276 miles). A week later, Father Murphy died of natural causes in a location about 100 miles from his home”.

    Murphy died on August 21 but in early August or end of July Brundage was still going ahead with the process: the decision to abate the process was taken at this time and has nothing to do with the meeting in Rome.

  • Carolyn Disco

    str (whatever your name is),

    I can’t hear a thing you say; you lost your credibility with me. And vice versa, I am sure.

    str:
    “Regardless of how you try to ignore it, a priest will always stay a priest (and I never “parse”) – and I certainly stick by my observation that people who care about somebody “not being buried a priest” are strange indeed.”

    Carolyn Disco:
    “My God, victims not wanting to see a funeral for their perpetrator with full honors in priestly garb are “strange indeed?” You have not spent enough time listening to survivors’ pain.”

    domenico,

    You have some persuasive points at first glance and I can hear you.

    I still maintain any reference to Weakland making a decision on his own has a different interpretation, because in the final analysis I believe it was a coerced decision. I shall try to make contact with Weakland and see if he is willing to shed some light on the matter, even if no one here accepts the result, or if he prefers not to get in the middle publicly.

    I shall also consult two doctorates in canon law, one a peritus at Vatican II who ran a tribunal for decades and has long familiarity with how the Vatican functions. He knows how to read the lines as well as between the lines. The other also worked in the Vatican embassy as a canon lawyer relaying abuse cases to Rome.

    The postings here have been very instructive in many respects. My first exposure to the Oxford Centre.

  • Mollie

    As informative as I’ve personally found the back and forth — everyone please remember to keep comments focused on the journalism.

    What we discuss here isn’t canon law so much as how well the media is explaining canon law (and so on and so forth).

    Best,

    Mollie

  • domenico

    1) in the weakland’s letter to bertone the only point that is said explicitly suggested by Bertone (“following your suggestion”) is the psychological treatment.

    2) the true meaning of “to abate” is not “to close” the process but “to suspend”…
    in a letter cited in NYT000037 we can read: “Brundage said that at this point father murphy’s case would be held in abatement, canonically, until we hear from rome regarding a waiver of the statute of limitation”.

  • Carolyn Disco

    Ah, well, to add to the mix:

    Brundage in NYTimes:

    “He (Brundage) added that he did everything he could to bring Father Murphy to justice, and to honor the victims. “We did for the last 18 months of his life try him, and we did try him hard,” he said. As to WHY THE TRIAL WAS STOPPED, he said, “It’s a bit inexplicable to me.”

    He added, “The only reason I can think of is a sense of clemency” — that ARCHBISHOP BERTONE took mercy on Father Murphy because of his age and poor health.”

    This is a vote for Bertone stopping the trial. Brundage needs to learn about consistency, much less faulty memory that levels sharp charges that are untrue.

  • domenico

    the NYT’article (a blog, not the main newspaper) writes about a telephone conversation with Brundage and then I may have doubts about what he actually said…
    in the brundage letter, written by himself, he speaks instead of a weakland’s decision.
    of course, brundage is confused…

    In any case, what is to be understood is that the jurisdiction was of the local court and not of the CDF:

    the crimen sollicitationis states:
    “The Defendants retain the right in any grade of trial to have recourse to the Holy Office;
    BUT SUCH RECOURSE DOES NOT, EXCEPT IN THE CASE OF AN APPEAL, SUSPEND THE EXERCISE OF JURISDICTION BY A JUDGE WHO HAS ALREADY BEGUN TO HEAR THE CAUSE. The judge can therefore continue to hear the cause up to the definitive sentence, unless it has been ascertained that the Apostolic See has called the cause to itself “.

    well the memorandum does not say that the CDF called the cause to itself!

    Bertone gave only advices and not orders.

  • domenico

    but the most incredible thing is that clearly the NYT tries in all ways of involving the Vatican and the pope, while it should ask others:

    “Weakland shredded copies of sex abuse reports, documents say”

    http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/78431087.html

    well Laurie Goodstein (the journalist who wrote the article about murphy) says about weakland:
    - was one of the Catholic Church’s most venerable voices for change
    - had been the intellectual touchstone for church reformers

    no charges to weakland but only to the pope!

  • Carolyn Disco

    domenico,

    Re: Crimen and who makes decisions: there are the rules and then there is how the real world operates.

    Weakland, in a recent interview: “I pleaded that even though (one abusive priest) was retired and in ill health, that he be reduced to the lay state to bring some kind of closure?.?.?.?,”

    One who has the actual power to act does not have to “plead” for an action to be taken. He simply decides.

    Weakland: “I guess I wasn’t very persuasive in trying to tell them that if he were buried as a layman, it would be much, much better for the entire community.”

    “The request at the end of the meeting was to put him under more restrictions, and so on, but we had tried that route.”

    Bertone’s “request” was much more than a “pretty please”. Realistically, Weakland had no choice other than to call off the trial though it went against everything he wanted.

    To some though, if Weakland says “the sky is blue”, it must be a lie.

  • str

    Caroyln, you obviously still don’t get.

    The rules is how things operate.

    A trial is solely within the authority of the bishop – so-called laification (or however the word is), which some advocated, is not.

    Quite apart from the “buried as a layman” actually being an absurdity and an impossibility as an ordained priest will always be an ordained priest.

  • Carolyn Disco

    Oh, str again, oblivious to how the rules often do NOT relate to reality. You can’t penetrate such blindness.

    God help any survivor who comes across your posts, as you lecture them on the eternity of priesthood in theological, mystical terms most would not understand in the everyday world. That such reminders could be so hurtful apparently means nothing to you. Skip any pastoral consideration about a priest not being buried in priestly robes with all the honors; better to get the theology exact.

    No, what you don’t get is basic human kindness.

  • Mollie

    Come on people — this is a site for discussion of journalism. Keep comments focused on journalism.

    Also, be nice.

  • str

    Of course, Mollie.

    Just this one last reply:

    Rules are not the only reality but if rules do not apply here, the field of speculation is without limit: you accuse Bertone a lot without foundation but maybe it wasn’t him but the Dalai Lama that made Weakland do what he did. Well, maybe it was me or you!

    Oblivious? Yes, what I don’t get is how any victim would be helped by seeing the priest that abused him undergo some meaningless formality. He will still always remain the priest that abused him. What that has to do with human kindness is also beyond me.

  • domenico

    well,
    Weakland’s biography tells us that he, as liberal bishop, has never pulled back in dealing with the Vatican…

    from the NYT:
    “He was among those who publicly questioned the need for a male-only celibate priesthood. He also led the American bishops in a two-year process of writing a pastoral letter on economic justice, holding hearings on the subject around the country”…

    strangely, only in this occasion behaved like a lamb


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