For immediate release: Tuesday November 5, 2013
A long time top Catholic official now says that Pope John Paul II knew “absolutely nothing” about multiple credible child sex abuse reports against Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado.
We find this very hard to believe. And if it's true, we find this very troubling.
Polish Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz of Krakow was the personal secretary to Pope John Paul II for 39 years and had been ordained to the priesthood by him. In a new book, Dziwisz claims the pontiff should not have met with Maciel.
Again, we just don’t believe this. (The first known letter to Vatican officials about Maciel’s crimes was in the mid-1990s though we suspect there were other reports even earlier. And the first known letter to Pope John Paul II about Maciel was in 1998.)
Among many excuses offered by Catholic prelates about their refusal to take action to protect kids, this is the most common excuse. And it’s the most inexcusable one. Bishop after bishop after bishop claims, over and over again, “I just didn’t know” about clerics who commit and conceal heinous crimes against children. After hearing this claim repeatedly for decades, we just don’t believe that any more.
(After all, Catholic officials are smart, well-educated men with vast resources. If they want to learn about anything, they can.)
If that’s true, especially in the decade since 2002, we believe that’s only because Catholic officials have told and shown their staffs that they want “plausible deniability” and want evidence of child sex crimes and cover ups handled by their underlings.
By their deeds, leaders communicate to their staffs what they deem important. So if ever a lower-level church employee withholds information about child sex crimes from his or her boss, the blame lies squarely with the boss, for refusing to make it clear that the safety of children should come first.
If Dziwisz is being honest, we're disappointed that Pope John Paul - who apologized many times to many audiences about many hurtful church actions over centuries - couldn't bring himself to apologize over giving a credibly accused serial child molester prominence and credibility.
We have a simple choice. We can generally assume that Catholic officials lack the knowledge to do what’s right in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases. That’s what many Catholics and citizens have done for decades and still do, especially when the accused wrongdoer is in their own backyards. Or we can generally assume that Catholic officials
History and prudence suggest that we assume the latter. That approach will more likely protect kids now and in the future.