More on Castrillon Hoyos

Several readers took issue with my skepticism about Cdl. Castrillon Hoyos and thought I was unjust to him. One notes, for instance, that Fr. Z speculates that the cardinal was interested in guarding the seal of the confessional. However, there were multiple sources of information on the matter, including the victim’s own mother, so it’s hard to see how that really flies.

Meanwhile, the invaluable Lori Pieper writes:

The important thing is not to rely on speculation but on facts. For starters, here’s my English translation of Castrillon Hoyos’ letter (not even Catholic news sources translated the whole thing).

First, it should be noted that the seal of confession is not mentioned at all in the letter, only the defense of the father-son relationship between the the priest and the bishop.

While French press reports from the time do say that Bishop Pican first heard about the abuse in the priest’s confession, he had ample other sources later on, including a victim’s mother, and at the trial the bishop said he learned it in “private conversation.” I think it may be understandable that the cardinal used the seal of confession thing to bolster his case, but it’s not what the letter in question is about at all.

It’s also clear from the letter that Castrillon Hoyos did NOT support shielding pedophile priests. He wrote:

“The bishop has other means of acting, as the Episcopal Conference of France has recently recalled; but a bishop cannot be required to make the denunciation himself.”

This case was really a case of what the French government can force a bishop to do, and is a question of the relationship between church and state. I don’t know exactly what the French episcopate said, but the idea would seem to be, as the bishop in question himself said, that he can and should ask the priest to turn himself in; or he could encourage the victim’s parents to report it. But the state should not be able to force a bishop to do this.

According to some press reports at the time, the French government was leaning heavily on the French church in regard to abuse (I guess we missed all this here in the U.S.) and in some cases, the police had raided bishops’ offices and even confiscated documents that had nothing to do with the abuse. This would clearly be a concern.

The headlines that scream “Cardinal supports shielding pedophile priest,” or even “Pope supported shielding abusive priest,” and the like are clearly not true.

I haven’t even had time yet to write all this on my blog, but I will repeat what I did there, that if the cardinal thought his letter couldn’t stand on his own, ne nevertheless should not have dragged John Paul II, who can no longer speak for himself, into this whole mess.

She also adds:

I’ve done a little research, and I’m pretty sure this must be the text that the cardinal was speaking of in his letter. The French Episcopal Conference held a plenary assembly in Lourdes in November 2000 (the letter, you will remember, is from 2001). They adopted a declaration that said:

“The responsibility of the bishop in this domain is at once clear and of a sensitive nature. He neither can nor wishes to remain passive, much less cover up criminal acts. It is also true that pedophilia as a phenomenon is still poorly understood. It is hidden. It happens rarely. Often it is not easy for a bishop to gather together enough certain information to permit him to know if a priest has really committed acts of a pedophilic character.

The priests who are guilty of acts of a pedophilic character should answer for their actions before justice. They must repair the wrong they have done and bear the weight of the penalty inflicted by the Church and society. Like every human being, however, the priest remains a person who has the right to our respect, our concern, and our prayer. We feel it is important to say once again that it is our will to keep careful watch so that these has do not happen, that they ever happen again.”

Perhaps this is where the cardinal got his idea of what bishops should do. I don’t exactly how he got the idea of “other means of acting,” though. Perhaps the paragraph on the priests made him think it is primarily the priest’s responsibility to answer for these acts.

A bishop appeared on French TV today speaking about pedophilia (this was on the same website); I watched the video, but he didn’t mention this case.

I appreciate Lori doing all this footwork. It’s great to have more information to work with. However, I’m not sold that Castrillon Hoyos is particularly off the hook here. I don’t get that it’s some sort of meritorious fatherly thing to not turn a criminal priest over to criminal prosecution, especially when the safety of kids is at stake. Yes, I get the need to guard the seal of the confessional. This is, as Fr. Z points out, exhibit A in why superiors should not be hearing the confessions of priests under their governance. But in this case, the bishop had access to information about his pervert from sources besides the confessional. So I still don’t get why Hoyos thought the bishop was doing such a bang up job in resisting the civil authority’s quite rightful prosecution of the pervert (for which he was eventually jailed). It’s not (to me) self-evident that (outside the seal of the confessional) a bishop’s paternal relationship to a priest trumps Caesar’s right to information and cooperation in situations of criminal endangerment of the common good. Believe me, I’m the last person to think Caesar should be allowed the power to push the Church around and determine internal policies as a general rule. But when it comes to priests raping kids, I see no good coming from the bishop claiming that his paternal relationship to the priest somehow exempts him from cooperation with the cops.

What prompted all this was not, by the way, anything Rod Dreher has had to say on the matter (some of my readers seem to think this for some reason). Indeed, I was among those who objected to Dreher’s easy willingness to credit Hoyos’ claim that JPII was in his court. Rather, it was the (generally careful and judicious) reportage of John Allen who noted that the Vatican had basically distanced itself from Castrillon Hoyos, for reasons that still seem fairly intelligible to me. Hoyos’ “JPII agreed with me” claim is one I don’t buy till he produces some evidence for it. It reads to me like a bureaucrat fighting back and using a conveniently dead pope as ammo.

So, at the end of the day, I’m still not too persuaded that Hoyos is undeserving of the icey treatment he’s getting from Rome, nor that it was unwise, unjust or unrelated for the Pontifical Mass people to find another celebrant. If somebody can explain to me why I’m obviously wrong here, I’m happy to listen.

PS: This smells pretty stenchy too. Again, I’d be happy if somebody can put a benign construction on all this, but really…

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