Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Austen IvereighApril 16, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI - Catholics like me have been insisting these past weeks on TV and radio - is a key part of the solution to the clerical sexual abuse crisis, which is why the media attempt to scapegoat him is so misguided. Indeed, what has surfaced from the recent firestorm is how providential it was that Pope John Paul put then-Cardinal Ratzinger in charge of abuse cases from 2001. But what is also becoming clear by the day is how much he has struggled against a mentality at the top of the Roman Curia which manages, at times, to live up to every sceptical media stereotype.

Cardinal Bertone's misguided remarks on homosexuality and paedophilia were one instance. But far more shocking is the revelation of a letter sent by Darío Castrillón-Hoyos, the Colombian cardinal who until 2006 headed the Congregation for the Clergy, to French bishop Pierre Pican, congratulating him for not turning over to the police an abusive priest later jailed for 18 years for raping children. (See Reuters).

It was a notorious case at the time: the auxiliary bishop, who received a suspended three-month jail sentence for failing to report  sexual abuse of minors, admitted in court he had kept Fr Rene Bissey in parish work despite the fact the priest had privately admitted committing pedophile acts. The case shocked France and prompted its bishops to declare that all abuse cases must be reported to civil authorities.

The Castrillón-Hoyos letter, posted on its website by the critical Catholic French magazine Golias, could not be clearer or more damning:

"I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. 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."

Consider the letter's date: September 2001. Pope John Paul II's motu proprio insisting that all credible abuse accusations against priests be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was issued in May that year. 

The Vatican's statement in response to the revelation was swift and well-judged. "The document is another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith", said Fr Lombardi yesterday.

In effect, says John Allen, "the Vatican statement suggests that Castrillón Hoyos's attitude was part of the reason that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ... pressed for a more aggressive policy on the removal of predator priests".

A glimpse of that attitude was on vivid display in an April 11 interview that Cardinal Castrillón-Hoyos -- who along with Cardinal Law (formerly of Boston) is one of the leaders of the movement behind the restoration of traditionalist liturgy --  gave to the Spanish-language CNN. My translation:

“As prefect of the Congregation for Clergy I had meetings with scientists.  And there was one group of scientists who said that the paedophile doesn’t exist; there exist persons who commit acts of paedophilia, but the illness of paedophilia doesn’t exist. So, when one person makes a mistake, which is often a minimal error, that person is accused  - that person confesses his crime, or is shown his crime -- the bishop punishes him according to what [canon] law allows: he suspends him, takes him out of a parish for a time, then sends him to another parish. He is correcting him. This is not a crime, this is not a cover-up, this is following the law just as civil society does in the case of doctors and lawyers – in other words, it’s not about taking away the chance of them exercising their profession for ever.”

So you mean, asks Patricia Janiot, that for the Church sex abuse of minors is not a crime? Castrillón-Hoyos loses his rag in a flash of arrogance.

"Patricia, for the love of God, don’t you understand what I'm saying? Am I speaking a foreign language? I’m talking in Castilian. The Church punishes paedophilia as a very serious crime – do I have to repeat this a thousand times? --  but punishes it according to the law. The fact that it is a serious crime does not authorise a bishop to punish without following the processes to which the accused has a right."

When Janiot asks him about those processes, the cardinal talks about the need for corrobative evidence and witnesses but quickly adds that even when these exist, "when you factor in the enormous sums of money which are benefitting large numbers of people in relation to these crimes, we all have the right to question the honesty of those cases.”

Janiot then asks him whether, if Pope John Paul II had acted more decisively to clear up the mishandling of abuse cases, Pope Benedict would not have inherited such a large problem. Castrillón-Hoyos is having none of it.

"Pope John Paul did everything he should have done, and did so within the clearest norms of justice, charity, and of equity,  – he did exactly what he should have done to maintain the purity of the Church. He did exactly what he should have done. I am witness to his worries and his pains. It is very easy to have news stories about cases which have not proved in which the image of the clergy is far from reality – this does not mean that there have not been painful cases in the Church; he knew of them, and he punished them. Show me one single case – I challenge people – one known case anywhere in the world where a case has been proved where the delinquent has not been punished."

"What about the case of Fr Maciel?" Janiot answers. "This was never brought to justice. He died, never having been tried."

Cardinal Castrillon's eyes look sharply to the left, to where an advisor or lawyer is obviously sitting. He then turns back to the camera. "Non ti rispondo", he answers (in Italian, oddly). The interview is over.

This astonishingly unedifying display shows why, even while Rome cannot be held responsible for local Churches' failure to disclose clerical sex abuse cases to the police, it could at times help to foster the mentality that was disposed against that disclosure.

The message, at least from the head of the Congregation for the Clergy until 2006, was to regard "paedophile acts" as minimal mistakes, to doubt the veracity of evidence brought against priests, and to regard a bishop who turned over an abusive priest to the police as betraying his "son".

Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that the excoriating media coverage gives the Church a chance to repent.

At a Mass broadcast on Vatican Radio he said that "we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word 'repentance,' which seems too harsh. Now under the attacks of the world, which speaks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to repent is a grace, and we see how it is necessary to repent -- that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life".

But there is one more step to take: to name what is wrong. It's what Castrillón-Hoyos displays so vividly.

Its name is clericalism.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Beth Cioffoletti
14 years 1 month ago
Yes, exactly: Clericalism.
Even though I found this article difficult to read, it was a relief to see the root of the problem finally out on the table, exposed.  Naming the sin.  I can now see that there is hope for the Catholic Church.
14 years 1 month ago

Professor Marci Hamilton and Sister Maureen Paul Turlish on NPR's Radio Times on WHYY Philadelphia 04/12/2010


Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
14 years 1 month ago
Sister Maureen comments on George Weigel article “Church gets an unfair rap,” published in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Molly Roach
14 years 1 month ago
Clericalism is indefensible.
14 years 1 month ago
Clericalism is indefensible and so is child abuse.

Why is it that the bishops of Connecticut, New York, Pennsyvania, Maryland, Colorado, and Ohio have been so vicious and so untruthful in their opposition to statute of limitation reform? Is it just to scare the People of God ito thinking parishes, churches, schools and outreach programs will close when such statements are not supported by facts. Certainly no documentation, financial or otherwise has been put forward to support any of their statements.

Since the passage of the 2007 Child Victims' Law in Delaware the insurance industry has a vested interest in seeing that any religious denominations they insure do the right thing and follow the laws they chose to ignore in the past.

Religious denominations have been conspicious in their absence in calling for legislative reform and that is appalling.

The Roman Catholic Church should be leading the parade in legislative reform that will protect all children as well as give access to justice to those victims of childhood sexual abuse by anyone.

But so far and especially legislatively the RCC is not only not leading the parade, it is not even bringing up the rear.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
mary parks
14 years 1 month ago
Sister Maureen, the reason that many in the Church have opposed the statute of limitations legislation is that it targets the Catholic Church (or churches in general) and does not apply to school systems, public entities, or other organizations that harbor abusers.  I support rationally revised statutes of limitations, but I don't support using the law as a weapon against one group only.  I agree that the opposition to statue reform has often not been in good faith or based on facts, but that doesn't change the inherent flaws in the legislation. 
14 years 1 month ago
What Hoyos displayed so accurately was a certain hierarchal mindset that most hierarchs keep better hidden. In this interview he pulled off the mask of clericalism and privilege and we stare at a face that stuns us. "the laws of the civil society do not apply to us. We have canon law and we do what we do' ... When Law walked into his  Roman palazzo it had the same arrogance of Hoyos  but with a smile.  memo to the Vatican... "it's over'
14 years 1 month ago
Sister,  Please explain to my why the statutes of limitation are ok for others but not for the R.C. Church?  I would think 30 years over the age of 18 would be more than enough time to bring in charges against an offending priest, even though by that time I am sure most credible witnesses probably have only vague memories, leaving a situation of unsubstantiated claims against a dead priest.
Out of all the claims aired in the court of public opinion one source in these pages estimates there have been about 5000 credible claims against priests while the NY Times puts the number at 3000+ priests. 
Mona Villarrubia
14 years 1 month ago
 "But so far and especially legislatively the RCC is not only not leading the parade, it is not even bringing up the rear."Sister Maureen, you are so right. I had to witness this first hand before I truly understood. In Louisiana the Archbishop sent legal and religious representatives to argue against requiring priests to be included under mandatory reporting laws, and to argue against extending statutes of limitations to 30 years after the age of 18, up from 10. The victims, including myself, who testified before the Criminal Justice Committee brought the members to tears. There we were, Catholic victims all of us, advocating for justice. And there were the representatives of our church, the church I had personally worked for for over 20 years at that time, the church that had nurtured, protected, re-assigned and covered up the behavior of our abusers, pitting their influence, power and financial support against us. It was one of the saddest days of my Catholic life.
James Collins
14 years 1 month ago
The biggest problem to my mind is that the bishops who aided and abetted the abusers have not been held accountable. The worst was probably Cardinal Law. He was sent to a cushy job in Rome and, As I have read recently, is driven around Rome with a chauffer and limousine. Irish archbishop Diarmid said it well, "Without accountability there can be no healing and no trust in the future." The hierarchy and the power structure of the church has lost what little credibility they had left.
14 years 1 month ago
There seems to be some misunderstanding on statute of limitation reform.

In the state of Delaware the statute of limitation on the sexual abuse of a child was removed civilly in 2007 with the passage of the Child Victims' Law.

That law covers EVERYONE in Delaware.

It is NOT anti-Catholic or anti-any other religious denomination although the lobbyists and spokespersons for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware portrayed Senate Bill 29 as such.

Delaware's Child Victims' Law is anti-child rapist, molester and sodomizer. It is also anti any enabling individual or institution about which it can be proven that they or the institution had knowledge of the danger an individual posed and knowingly put that person in the position to do harm.

Think Boy Scouts, for example.

Actions have consequences. Crimes have consequences. Trafficking in individuals for purposes of sexual exploitation has consequences. Crimes against humanity have consequences.

Perhaps some are unaware that the Holy See is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Be that as it may, now in Delaware there are no criminal or civil statutes of limitations where the sexual abuse of a child is concerned. Previously in Delaware, as in many states, the SOL was an appalling two years, which certainly gave a free pass and a never go to jail card to sexual predators, however they were dressed.

Bishops and church spokespersons who say that it is hard to find records or evidence to defend individuals in stale cases are being disingenuous. Such statements are misleading and are probably meant to be.

Unlike criminal cases where it is the district attorney or the attorney general, society in general, whose responsibility it is to show proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt, civil cases are different.

The burden of proof in a civil case is on the plaintiff not on the accused. If records, files, or other evidence does not exist or cannot be produced a case will not go forward.

Cardinal Keeler of the Archdiocese of Baltimore early on called such a horrific violation of a child soul murder and I agree.

There should be no accomodation in law that gives more protection to sexual predators of any stripe, along with any enablers, than to the very real victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Visit the Child Victims Coalition website at:


There one may find an abundance of information on legislative reform.
14 years 1 month ago
Mona Villarrubia, I am so sorry that you were a victim of sexual abuse in our church. It should never, ever have happened.

Since our church leaders have had such a difficult time doing the right things for the right reasons, the people of God along with all right minded people much bring the laws of our states up to date so that they better protect all children and hold all sexual predators and any individual or enabling institution accountable befor the law.

The enabling bishops in the United States have never, ever been held accountable for what they have done. A number of them, think the Archdiocese of Boston, have even moved up to head dioceses of their own.

I cannot agree with you more in regard to your statements.

The first time I testified I thought individuals representing the institutional Roman Catholic Church, not to be confused with the People of God, would be telling the truth. I was so naive. Providentially the bill failed because it was not a particularly well crafted bill.

Senate Bill 29 was much better and it was signed into law in July of 2007. Also included in that was a two year civil window for previously time barred cases of childhood sexual abuse - BY ANYONE.

I was then and I continue to be appalled by the lengths that bishops and state Catholic conferences will go to in order to avoid responsibility for what they have done or what they have failed to do.

I cried when I read through the pages of the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report and realized what had been done to so many good and faithful people in God's name.

I was down in Lafayette, Louisiana some years ago preaching for the Propagation of the Faith. When I wear that particular hat I do not initiate conversation about the sexual abuse of children.

However, at dinner with one very well known and respected Cajun family in the diocese the subject was brought up as I thought it might.

I cannot tell you how ashamed I was even to be sitting at their table as a representative, non-ordained to be sure, of the church that had brought so much pain and sadness to them. They had been betrayed in the abuse and they continued to be betrayed in how they were treated.

While the bishops promised Accountability and Transparency in 2002, when one gets right down to the individual dioceses that accountability and transparency depends on the bishop's definition, doesn't it?

God bless you,

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware
Mona Villarrubia
14 years 1 month ago
Sister Maureen, thank you for your comments. I had been wondering about the United Nations CRC, I am glad you brought it up.  Perhaps that document could provide a standard for the Church, because asking bishops to turn over child abusers ''if required by law'' leaves the whole issue dependent on the implementation of very diverse laws in each state and country. The Vatican apparently has a law that sets the age of sexual consent at 12, for example.
Michael Appleton
14 years 1 month ago
I very much appreciate the comments of Sister Maureen on this issue. The fact is that all of the criticism faced by the Church, including criticism by interests inimical to Catholicism, has been brought on by the hierarchy itself. For far too long the Church has pretended that the precepts of canon law should be given secular recognition in dealing with clerical abuse. But it is not 1500. Regardless of what canon law may have to say about the punishment of pedophilic priests, their actions constitute crimes. Those in authority should be grateful that we no longer prosecute the misprision of felonies.
The great medieval churches of Europe were not intended as monuments to the grandeur of the Church, but as symbols of human faith in the promise of eternal life. Unfortunately, they are now regarded by many as symbols of the great wealth of an institution more interested in preserving its riches than in humbly acknowledging the horrible injustices inflicted on the young and trusting. Should it require the sale of every last candelabra in St. Peter's Basilica to achieve justice, the Church will be stronger for it.
Jim McCrea
14 years 1 month ago
People act as if B16 is a prisoner in the Vatican.  Bullroar!  He can dismiss any and all of these Curialcrats whenever he wants to.  If he can appoint them, he can can them.  If need be, he can go down into the organization and can them all!
Maybe if he did that and started to put some non-ordained folks into positions of power and authority, this ongoing idiocy might diminish. 
Michael Barberi
14 years 1 month ago
Regardless of the quality and quantify of evidence, the Vatican and many Church Hierarchy will not address the real issue. 
Sexual abuse is only one of the symtoms of a broader problem.  The authoritarian nature of the Vatican, its fear of change and the over-arching cloud of infallibility (to emphasize a point) is the issue.   Many Catholics have turned away from the Church for these reasons, but not away from God. 
The Church is blind to the impact that sexual abuse, its mismanagement, and villifying its accusers, are having on the Body of Christ.  Thankfully, there are many priests, sisters and bishops that have offered good guidance.  However, all of these suggestions are worthless unless the leadership of the Church accepts these recommendations. 
James Dominic James
14 years 1 month ago
Ivereigh notes that Hoyos and Law both promote traditional liturgy and get in the way of cleaning up the molestation, rape, and cover-up mess in the Roman Catholic Church. That's nice, but what's the connection, given the fact that so many other bishops who don't promote the traditional liturgy also get in the way of cleaning up the molestation, rape, and cover-up mess in the Roman Catholic Church? If I want to know whether any given bishop is likely to get in the way of cleaning up the molestation, rape, and cover-up mess, it'll do me no good to learn whether he’s romoflexible. It’s just not a reliable indicator.
Abnormal personalities, secrecy, team spirit, moral teachings that leave priests and bishops wide-open for blackmail, etc.: that’s where the action is, I think. Smells and bells? Not so much.
Austen Ivereigh
14 years 1 month ago
James, I realise that the juxtaposition of two facts often implies a link, but I  didn't intend to suggest a connection, only to point out for benefit of readers who Castrillon Hoyos is, and what kind of role he occupies in Rome. Because he has long been associated, along with Cardinal Law, with Ecclesia Dei, I thought that was useful background. I could also have said that Castrillon Hoyos is notorious for his interference with the Latin-American bishops' meeting in Santo Domingo in 2000, but that seemed a bit like insider baseball.
We could have a long discussion about a certain kind of societas perfecta ecclesiology promoted by Castrillon and its link to the clericalism which is a large part of the reason for the clerical sex abuse crisis. But it wouldn't get us very far for the reason you give.
14 years 1 month ago
I appreciate the definition of clericalism that John Hardon SJ provides: " The advocacy of exaggerated claims on the part of the clergy, especially in matters that belong to the jurisdiction of the state. *More commonly it is used as a term of reproach by secularists and unfriendly critics of the Catholic Church who aim to banish all religious influence from public life*.

Theresa Maccarone
14 years 1 month ago
Well, it looks like Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos just threw Pope John Paul II under the bus. 
Dear God in heaven. When will this nightmare end?
James Dominic James
14 years 1 month ago
Austen, thanks for making things clearer for me. I need it sometimes.
I hope a form of cultural politics can be waged that will de-couple a clericalism-enabling ecclesiology from traditional liturgy or at least attractive aspects of it. I am sure some have doubts, both from the perspective of what can actually be accomplished given the present play of forces, and from the perspective of a particular picture of what clericalism is. That picture of clericalism views eastward celebration itself as a kind of violence done by ordained against non-ordained, so that traditional liturgy just is clericalism, no matter what else is going on in the Church, diocese, or parish. From the perspective of this picture, my hope rests upon delusion and operates objectively as a force for evil.
14 years 1 month ago
Hoyos sending the letter congratulating the bishop for shielding his abusing priest, was sent about 6 months before Boston Globe abuse stories broke, At that time Hoyos  must have thought that the cover-ups, the secret hush money payouts were working. Not unlike a consiglieri telling a cappo that the fix was in and you,  bishop, are a standup guy and  the consiglieri appreciates the omerta. Now, Hoyos giving up JPII  just to protect himself with a cheap excuse from a journalist's question is the second crack in the Vatican wall. Last weeks Bertone's 'it's the gays'. was the first.The  Lower and retired flacks have already leaked  the 'it's the Jews' defense . When are the silent bishops and cardinals going to step in and say enough. When is that slow walk by senior men on their way to the Papal apartments going to take place? Time is running out.. I say they have one week..  
Theresa Maccarone
14 years 1 month ago
It's sad to say, but it looks like Catholics will just have to wait for our illustrious Vatican prelates to stop their childish whinning, finger-pointing, and media-blaming games. Maybe, then, we can all assemble together as a Church (Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, Religious and Laity) in order to bring a final solution to this self-inflicted nightmare.  If I were the Holy Father, I would dissolve the Legion of Christ, liquidate their assets, use some of the money to establish a foundation to help clergy sexual abuse victims around the world and then use the remaining funds to help defray the cost of assembling an ecumenical council.
14 years 1 month ago
I had trouble with Teresa's link. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/17/AR2010041702066.html
Yes Hoyos said JPII agreed that the bishop who wouldn't turn in abusing priest was correct and should be sent a letter. . and that he talked it over with JPII before sending the stupid letter. . More than 'throwing JPII under the bus it's more like throwing JPII  out of the reputation lifeboat. Sail on Hoyos,Sail on.. in my old neighorhood we would call him a fink..  Nixon and Reagan had more loyal hacks than these Vatican types. PHEW

The latest from america

Pope Francis accepts the offertory gifts during Pentecost Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on May 19, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)
The pope devoted his entire Pentecost homily to describing how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians with both “power and gentleness.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 19, 2024
Today’s text from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that henceforth, as a rule, the Holy See will not declare any alleged spiritual phenomenon, such as an apparition, as authentic‚ that is, “of divine origin.”
Gerard O’ConnellMay 17, 2024
Cardinal Robert McElroy, Bishop Robert Barron and Bishop Daniel Flores joined moderator Gloria Purvis for a roundtable discussion on the rise of polarization in the church.
Michael O’BrienMay 17, 2024
Whether carefully reflected upon or chosen at random, picking a confirmation name is a personal and spiritual journey for Catholics, reflecting a connection to the saints or a loved one and a commitment to embodying their virtues.
America StaffMay 17, 2024