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Cardinal: John Paul II Approved Secrecy for Molesters

Dario Castrillon Hoyos in 2002. (Associated Press)

Here’s a new, overlooked item in the ongoing soap opera of the Catholic Child Molesters’ League: a Spanish cardinal wrote to a French bishop in 2001, praising him for not reporting a serially abusive priest to the cops.

Now the cardinal says he showed his letter to Pope John Paul II, who approved of it and ordered him to send a copy to every bishop in the world.

William Wan of The Washington Post reports:

At the center of the debate is [Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos], the former head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, who made headlines last week when a 2001 letter he wrote to French Bishop Pierre Pican surfaced in the French press. In it, he praised Pican for not reporting the pedophile priest to police, despite being mandated to do so under French law.

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillón wrote, after Pican was convicted of failing to report sex crimes against children. “You have acted well, and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

At the time the letter was written, the priest, the Rev. René Bissey, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for repeatedly raping a boy and for sexually assaulting 10 other children.

On Saturday, Castrillón ignited another firestorm when he claimed that Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, not only approved of his letter but also instructed him to send copies to bishops worldwide.

I’ve taken this out of context slightly, in that The Post’s Wan is all a-flutter because Castrillon’s upcoming appearance at a long-scheduled Latin mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is being verbally protested by the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. Wan seems to think this is an unfortunate coincidence, and that the museum-piece mass should go on as scheduled; it’s been three years in the planning and he’s sympathetic to the sponsors. Okay, fine, let them have their mass with someone else. But to explain why this Latin mass is now in doubt, he had to describe the controversy; thus my pulled quote above. Wan is not the only source of this information; it stands on its own, but his article is quotable. It doesn’t matter that he’s more sympathetic to the Paulus Institute, sponsors of the upcoming mass, than to SNAP; that’s his problem.

The story of Castrillon’s letter to the French bishop, who was himself convicted of failing to call the cops, and Castrillon’s claim that the late pope approved his letter and ordered it cc’d to every bishop in the world, is by far more important than one olde-tyme mass in D.C.

SNAP couldn’t be more right in this case. It clearly shows that the Catholic Church puts its own secrecy above protecting children, and that it does so as a matter of policy from the pope on down.

It also proves that the Church’s actions go way beyond “being tone-deaf” or “having a poor public relations response” to the crisis. Some commentators like to minimize the controversy with phrases like these.

The news about Bissey, Pican, Castrillon and John Paul II is totally outrageous. But my point goes beyond the usual anger, hurt and indignation; those responses are getting to be routine, the more the saga unfolds. I want to examine what Cardinal Castrillon was saying to Bishop Pican, and why he said it, to see if we can get beyond the outrage to understand why the Church has taken the position it has.

It goes beyond our usual high-pitched accusations—”the pope is a dictator, the Church is a criminal conspiracy”—to something else: this is a matter of theology, strange as that must seem.

The pope really is a dictator, and the Church really is a criminal conspiracy, but why? Because of their tragically flawed theology of the nature of the priesthood.

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillón wrote, after Pican was convicted of failing to report sex crimes against children. “You have acted well, and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

That’s as opposite an apology as you’re ever going to see. Castrillon is claiming that Pican did the exact right thing according to God. John Paul II agreed with him.

in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world

Any idiot—any parent—can see the moral depravity of this. It’s breathtaking that the Church cannot. But let’s remember, this is not the first era, nor is child molesting the first type of crime, in which the Church has taken this position; it was precisely this same phenomenon which led to the Protestant Reformation. Back then the issue was priests who commit murder, as well as lesser corruptions like selling indulgences. For at least 500 years of history of the Church in England, the Church claimed a right to try clergy accused of crimes in its own Church courts, not in the government’s courts.

People rioted over this question; kings went to war over it. Archbishops were beheaded over it. Thomas Becket was killed at the altar in Canterbury Cathedral because of it; he insisted that the Church, not Henry II’s government, discipline his priests. Becket’s a saint because of this—even in the Church of England.

Becket murdered in the cathedral.

When Henry VIII finally got control of the English Church so he could marry Anne Boleyn and prevent another civil war over the royal succession, ecclesiastical vs. civil courts was one of the main issues he cited.

And however ridiculous it was that Henry’s sexual and romantic appetites were the immediate cause of the break with Rome, the English Church has been purified of this deadly theology of priesthood ever since. Anglicans worldwide thank God for it.

Henry and his many wenches.

So what’s the theology? Why did Cardinal Castrillon praise the French bishop for “preferring prison to denouncing his son and priest”? Why did John Paul II endorse Castrillon’s position and order it distributed to every bishop of the Church?

What is a priest? Here’s how Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, explains it on his website:

Every Catholic priest is an icon of Jesus Christ and acts in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”). At every Mass, we not only remember the Last Supper and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we also live them again in the present, and God becomes flesh and blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In other words, the Mass, through Jesus Christ who acts in his priest, is always much more than a ritualized memory of something that happened a long time ago. It’s a living sacrifice, a mystery and a sacrament – a sign of God’s continuing, tangible presence among us.

(This comes after Chaput’s patted Protestants on the head. The italics are his.)

Castrillon praised the French bishop (himself a convict, remember) for not turning in the serial molester-priest (who got 18 years in the slammer) because a priest is the very successor of Christ, and you wouldn’t turn in Jesus to the government of Pontius Pilate, would you?

When a priest celebrates mass, Catholics believe, not only is the crucifixion of Christ re-enacted, it takes place again at that very moment.

The sacrifice of Jesus is not only then, but now. Thus the sacrament of Holy Communion the priest celebrates turns the bread and wine into the Real Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, to be reverently consumed as he ordered, “Do this.”

It’s not a huge leap of logic to go from there to “every priest is Jesus” or “every priest participates in Jesus.” (The rest is theological gloss, frankly.)

In ordination the priest was grafted into Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit, or so they believe.

Benedict 16 explained all this in 1990 when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, in a speech On the Nature of the Priesthood.

You wouldn’t turn Jesus over to Pilate, would you? That’s why the Vatican’s done everything it’s done.

The theology has a certain plausibility, a certain Scriptural grounding; it’s even perhaps revelatory of the loving nature of God. But look at the results: priests committing murder and getting shielded by the Church; priests molesting children and getting shielded by the Church.

We human beings, mere mortals, unwashed laypeople, cannot allow this to go on. We demand that government overrule the Church.

Jesus said, “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” You can tell who’s worth following, and who’s not, by the results of their behavior.

Matthew 7:16-30 (NRSV)

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit—but the Catholic Church bears bad fruit all over the place, and always has, because of this horrible error in its theology of priesthood, and its creation of ecclesiastical courts that set priests apart when they go bad.

The Church didn’t intend for any of this to happen, but it has.

Most priests bear great fruit, but the ones who don’t mess it up for everyone else—including kids.

Until Rome recognizes that its theology is wrong, nothing much is going to change. It will forever make excuses and coddle the priests who go bad, because it over-identifies its functionaries with the person of Jesus.

My mentor Howard Galley once said, “Heresy takes a truth and over-emphasizes it, so that the truth it upholds gets out of balance with other truths.”

That’s exactly what’s happened time and again in the Catholic Church—because of its polity, its decision-making process, which is always top-down, never bottom-up.

It’s true, I believe, that Jesus is really there in the Holy Communion. It’s true, I believe, that a priest acts and re-enacts the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in the breaking of bread. It’s true that a priest is grafted onto and into the person of Christ in ordination. But that’s not the end of the story, it’s the beginning.

Societies have a right to protect themselves from noxious theologies, and parents have a right to protect their children from priests.

There’s something grievously wrong when the Church thinks its theology is more important than human beings. God doesn’t think so; God thinks the opposite.

God couldn’t care less whether you believe in the “immaculate conception of Mary,” for which there is zero Biblical evidence; that theology is pure extrapolation invented by overreaching systematizers trying to reconcile the contradictions of someone else’s theology. You can pray to God in Latin if you want to, or English or Chinese; what matters is that you pray.

Meanwhile the pope’s shit stinks; the priest’s shit stinks; and if you think Jesus pooped vanilla ice cream you’re denying that he was a man, which is grievous heresy.

But even heresy isn’t a crime; a man imposing himself on a child while claiming to act for God is the very definition of crime. Let’s have a toast to the French police.++