POPE BENEDICT XVI AND THE SEXUAL ABUSE CRISIS
Working for Reform and Renewal
By Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Bunson
Our Sunday Visitor, 2010
208 pages, $12.95
To order: osv.com
In Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis, Gregory Erlandson, publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, and Matthew Bunson, editor of The Catholic Almanac, examine this grievous old sin that has lacerated the Catholic Church and has been the subject of much media attention in America and Europe.
As the authors remind us, St. Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) spoke out on this issue, in terms as harsh as any modern critic.
“He wrote that any priest or monk found guilty of sexually molesting young boys should not only be removed from the clerical state but should also face physical punishments, such as public flogging and incarceration for six months — after which they were to undergo long and prayer-filled penances under the stern supervision of spiritual authorities,” they write. “Above all, Basil urged, the priest or monk so convicted should never be permitted contact with, or have access to, young boys or men.”
Erlandson and Bunson set themselves the task of writing an overview of the crisis and how Pope Benedict XVI has reacted to it. While the media have excoriated Benedict for not always “defrocking” clerical abusers immediately, Erlandson and Bunson show that, after an initial period of tending to downplay the crisis, he came to a deeper understanding of the issue and that “he has evolved into a historic advocate for the reform and the renewal of the Church, and he understands the significance of the struggle.”
The authors see this in his actions: his appointment of Cardinal William Levada, an American “aware of the scale and scope of the scandal,” as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; his discipline of Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, communicating that “keeping silent to ‘avoid scandal’ was not an option for a Church leader”; his stern directness in speaking to the Irish bishops; and his understanding that this is “first and foremost a spiritual challenge to the entire Church.”
After an overview of the scandal and the Pope’s actions, a helpful appendix follows with sections on canon law, excerpts from the Pope’s speeches and letters and the entire text of his letter to the Irish bishops.
This book, however, lacks a personal dimension. No stories of the victims themselves are recounted, at least not in the kind of detail that would matter. The Pope has listened to the victims, and so should we.
I disagree with those, such as John Manly, one of the lawyers bringing many abuse cases against the Church, or William Lobdell, author of Losing My Religion, that this crisis is a reason to abandon faith. I agree with Dostoyevsky: that if there is no God, then “everything is permitted.”
But these outrages perpetrated on innocents should make us weep — or at least make us heartsick. This book does not make me weep, and though it is a sound defense of the Pope, it would have more impact if it presented the story of one abuse victim, one of “these little ones.”
Franklin Freeman writes from Saco, Maine.