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The EditorsOctober 01, 2012

Out, Damned Spot!

It is time for an objective look at America’s use of torture. Shortly after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that no one will be prosecuted for the deaths of two prisoners held in C.I.A. custody—one shackled to a wall in Afghanistan in 2002, the other in Abu Ghraib in Iraq in 2003—news broke of other yet undisclosed cases. According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, C.I.A.-endorsed torture during the Bush administration was more widespread than first believed.

The report is based on documents recovered from Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government after its fall and on interviews with 14 former Libyan rebels who opposed Qaddafi before the war, were arrested and detained after Sept. 11, 2011 (when Libya was our ally) and eventually rendered to Libya.

Five of the men now testify that they were abused and tortured at a U.S.-run detention center in Afghanistan, being waterboarded, chained to the wall naked in pitch-black, windowless cells for weeks or months, slammed into walls, enclosed for five months without a bath and denied sleep. The accusation of waterboarding is especially disconcerting; it counters the official U.S. story that only three men had been waterboarded while in U.S. custody.

What else don’t we know? Human Rights Watch has called for an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate all aspects of detainee treatment. They are right. Today some of these victims hold responsible positions in the free Libyan government; and the United States government keeps washing its hands—“Out, out damned spot”—as if it can escape responsibility for its role.

Bishops’ Accountability

The case that led to the conviction of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph on a misdemeanor count for failing to report suspected child abuse is a grim one. The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a parish priest who had been previously suspected of inappropriate behavior around children, downloaded pornographic photos of young girls onto his laptop and created some himself, which was discovered when he brought his computer in for repair. Several people tried to alert the bishop to this and other incidents, but, as The New York Times reported, Bishop Finn resisted removing him from ministry in order to, as he told some priests, “save Father Ratigan’s priesthood.”

The U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” adopted in 2002, outlines the default response when a credible accusation is made about sexual abuse involving a priest. The details are reported to the police, and the priest is removed from ministry while an investigation takes place. If found guilty, he is removed permanently and is, in some cases, laicized. But what happens when his supervising bishop is found guilty of negligence or malfeasance? Catholics may wonder who determines whether the bishop will be removed, whether and how he is punished or does penance and whether the U.S. bishops’ conference or the papal nuncio has any say. So far it seems that any response is left up to the offending bishop himself. The initial response from Bishop Finn’s diocese was a statement saying he “looks forward to continuing to perform his duties.” But he may be unable to perform those duties if he is under a cloud. As there are clear directives regarding a priest (or a deacon, brother or sister) who has committed a crime related to sexual abuse, there must be equally clear directives about their bishops.

Primary Colors

While swing states are expected to determine the outcome of the presidential election, states with variegated shades of red or blue are making other important choices that may augur future political changes. Take Arizona, a red state known for its extreme conservatism on certain issues. In a recall election last year, Arizona voters ousted from office the former president of the state legislature, Russell Pearce, author of the controversial immigration law S.B. 1070. In August Mr. Pearce entered the Republican primary hoping to make a comeback. But the state’s voters spoke again, only this time it was his fellow Republicans who defeated him. Color him redder (and the state a lighter shade of red).

In the U.S. Congress, Ron Barber, who completed the term of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, won the Democratic primary for her seat. He will face Martha McSally, a Republican. With both parties seeking a majority in the House, this race is important.

The biggest gains in Arizona will go to the candidate who replaces retiring Senator Jon Kyl, the minority whip. Jeff Flake, a popular six-term Republican congressman, appears strong. But the Democrats are betting on Richard H. Carmona, a Latino physician and decorated Vietnam War veteran who was appointed U.S. surgeon general by President George W. Bush. Should Dr. Carmona win, he would be Arizona’s first Democratic senator since 1988. Call him their great blue hope.

These races in Arizona illustrate a larger point: even in states that appear solidly red or blue, political change takes place one local race at a time, regardless of who wins the White House.

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Virginia Edman
11 years 8 months ago
It is becoming harder and harder to defend America when all these scandals are in the news.  Canadians ask me what the United States government is doing torturing people, going to war on false information and destroying countries.  My only consolation is the hope that President Obama is a different kind of president.  If the Republicans get into the White House you can colour me blue, because that is what I will be, blue and sad.

If so then we need another Isaiah to come and prophecy:

Make the mind of this people dull,
   and stop their ears,
   and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their 
  and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
   and turn and be healed

Isaiah 6: 10
Michael Schlacter
11 years 8 months ago
I am not sure which underlying situation is the ugliest...Out Damned Spot or Bishops Accountability.
Dennnis MacDonald
11 years 8 months ago

Re: BISHOP ACCOUNTABILITY. We Catholics are "idolators".We permit a basic building block to be chisled and defined, put it on a pedestal and accept it as the be all and end all, without question. Before consulting with acknowledged authorities on a subject I sometimes reflect on what I term reality and common perception thereof. I don't know how many times over my lifetime as an idolator, have I justified the Church/Pope based on the continuity from Christ thru Peter to whomever. At one point tho I asked myself: "Self, besides being divine, Jesus is leader. Does that mean somethin important that I haven't (been allowed/taught to) considered?" In all of Jesus' missionary life He was about gathering people around him. As leader, He did not "direct", He led. He did not instruct (other than in the Temple) he "taught"; taught in the sense of eliciting what was innate in his people, nourishing that seed of goodness and going further, asking more- affirming the validity of his message, in other words consulting the faithful.

Without the "led" there is no leadership in the kind of community and values that Jesus established. Yes, yes, noone could do what Jesus did - as divine. As a gatherer, as a leader Jesus was accountable to the gathered. He not only affirmed, He was affirmed.

C Walter Mattingly
11 years 8 months ago
Virginia: "My only hope is that President Obama is a different kind of president." 
Whereas under Bush the US captured Saddam and turned him over unharmed to his countrymen for trial, Obama had Bin Laden, unarmed and unresistive, plugged. Whereas President Bush got the approval of the House and Senate before going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Constitution requires, President Obama got the approval of neither for going to war with Libya. Whereas President Bush did conduct drone assasinations of suspected terrorists, President Obama has quadrupled those assassinations. Whereas President Bush was very unpopular at the end of his term in Middle Eastern countries, President Obama is even more unpopular in most of the major ones.
The difference between Presidents Bush and Obama in regard to warfare in the Middle East is that President Obama has somehow managed to out-Bush Bush. And that shows up in the opinions of Middle Easterners. 
Tom Maher
11 years 8 months ago
Re: Bishop's Accountability

This editorial is a very muddled and misleading analysis of accountability.

If any in the clergy commits a definite crime defined in law such as murder they can and will  be prosecurted under the law as an individual as has always been the case.  All individuals and entities have due process rights to dispute any criminat accusations. This s not clergy or Bishop or religion being accountable to the state.  This is very specific individual criminal process that can only be done under court supervision when probable casue is esatblisned that a crime as defined by the legislature has been committed by an individual.  

Let's try to focus on what is worng with the concept thrown out too casually here.  To whom are the Bishops or clergy religious  accountable to?  Religion is not accountable to the state under the U.S. Constitution which forbids governement invovlment in the affairs of a religion. Criminal actions of a individual are a entirely separate matter that does not give the goverenment any power to monitor or review or be involved in the affairs of the Church or any religion.  
Virginia Edman
11 years 8 months ago
Bush took the United States to war with Iraq, and in the process ruined the country.  Walter, it is very hard to defend that.  President Obama has not taken us to war with Libya.  He worked to liberate the country from a Muammer Gaddafi, a dictator who changed the constitution in 1951 to reflect his own ideology.   The Libyans are happy that NATO came in and helped.  That was a UN resolution.  No one wanted Gaddafi killed like that, but the people were responsible who found him.  I have no love for the Muslim Brotherhood, but I don't believe that people should live under a dictator where they have no freedom.  Even the Pope said freedom is good.  Freedom IS good.
Vincent Gaitley
11 years 7 months ago
Alas, Bishop Finn, convict, must go.  Who can be in communion with a criminal bishop?  And please don't feed me some martyr story-Finn defied the law with the same contempt that caused this endless crisis.  His attitude illuminates the very path that caused the Church to become a laughing stock, a dangerous, unaccountable laughing stock.  

Which is worse, that Rome won't fire him, or that he doesn't have the moral courage (and class) to resign? Out, damn spot! Indeed. 
C Walter Mattingly
11 years 7 months ago
Virginia, I don't agree that Bush "ruined" Iraq, although the country has suffered greatly. From a butcher dictator to even a troubled and uncertain democracy is real progress.Probably more Iraqis wanted us, or anyone for that matter, to overthrow the Butcher of Bagdhad than Libyans wanted to oust Gaddafi: 83% of Iraqis wanted Saddam's murderous reign ended. What they didn't like was the bungling of the aftermath of the war. But few dispute that many more died and would have continued dying under Saddam had he remained in power. 
As bad and bloody as Gaddafi was, Saddam was worse. Far worse, whether in invading neighboring countries or killing and torturing or starving out a population Stalin style.
We know the UN approved of our air war against Gaddafi. But you (I suspect) and I are citizens of the US. According to our constitution, the approval of house and senate is required to commit us to military actions of certain durations. Obama violated that requirement, and in doing so has set a terrible precedent.  
I'm very much with you on the freedom issue. I'm glad both Saddam and Gaddafi are gone. What freedom issues forth remains to be determined, especially in Libya. 
11 years 7 months ago

Re: Bishop's Accountability

Let me see if I've got this straight (humor me on some of the details, please): A bishop in Australia can be removed from office for suggesting that we maybe, possibly, consider thinking about discussing the matter of women's ordination, but, so far, a bishop who chooses to fail to report suspected child abuse remains in office??? Which is the greater transgression?

And, which is worse, 1) that this bishop remains in office or 2) that the Hierarchy cannot understand that such decision-making negatively affects their overall credibility and likely contributes to Catholics leaving the Church?

I'll repeat what I've state before: We need better leadership.

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