Papal Circuses – Yes. Cardinals Trials – No. Why?

By Jerry Slevin
Christian Catholicism
April 12, 2014

When Roman emperors faced internal crises, they often sponsored spectacular free circuses of gladiators and wild beasts to distract the oppressed Roman people. Pope Francis appears to be continuing this imperial tradition, first by his World Youth Day extravaganza in Rio de Janeiro that cost over $ 50,000,000, and now with his lavish, but unnecessary, dual saint making Roman spectacular. Of course, Pope Francis appears to have access to considerable assets, both those owned by the Vatican as well as those offered by the Vatican’s opportunistic and wealthy “friends”, as reported here

In this Internet Era, however, these “circuses” are unlikely to distract many from the Vatican’s ongoing child abuse and financial scandals and regressive sexual policies. When the last cardinal’s red dress fades from the screen, the pressing question will remain: What about the cardinals and bishops who failed, and continue to fail, to protect children?

Francis is expecting over 5,000,000 tourists when on April 27 he “infallibly” declares Popes John Paul II and John XXIII saints. The Vatican is preparing its most ambitious TV and social media campaign yet for the millions who don’t make it to Rome, including 3-D movie theaters in 20 countries, with help from Cardinal Pell’s pal, Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV network, Sony and other partners.

Michael Jackson would be envious, as Francis appears intent on outshining the Super Bowl halftime show. While many opportunistic papal media apologists will dwell on the pageantry of the “papal game”, a few will likely step up for defenseless children. Does Francis really think viewers who care about children will be distracted for long? Even many Catholics now realize modern popes have taken the early Christian practice of honoring martyrs and turned saint making into profitable propaganda projects.

By contrast to this current public relations project aimed obviously at trying to enhance papal prestige and power by striving to glorify Francis’ “semi-divine” predecessors, Francis continues with his low key, almost sheepishly muted responses to the Vatican’s biggest crisis, the scandal of failing to hold bad cardinals and bishops accountable for their longstanding and often continuing child protection failures.

Indeed, even Francis’ recent widely reported brief “off the cuff” remarks in a closed meeting with international child protection advocates are ambiguous and inadequate with respect to the key issue of imposing sanctions on bad bishops. Indeed, as AP’s astute Vatican reporter, Nicole Winfield, honestly noted: “Though unclear, Pope Francis’ comments about the ‘sanctions that must be imposed’ could be a reference to the need to hold bishops accountable.” Could be? What is Francis problem with “straight talk” here? What are he and his cardinals afraid of?

Moreover, Winfield also noted, with respect to the highly touted Vatican media machine, the seeming effort of Vatican TV to avoid these off the cuff remarks. Winfield added: “Pope Francis’ comments during the closed audience were reported in part by Vatican Radio, and Vatican Television EXCLUDED THEM ENTIRELY in its initial edit of the audience. The full quote was obtained after The Associated Press requested video of the full comments from Vatican Television.” {Emphasis added}

One must wonder if Pope Francis was just embarrassed in the presence of so many advocates for children in a closed meeting, thus forcing him to blurt out his ambiguous remarks. This group is associated with the UN Committee that just blasted the Vatican for child protection failures, so Francis had reasons to be embarrassed. As the papal media extravaganzas make clear, the Vatican’s media machine can get out a message when it wants to.

Francis appears intent on preserving the papal sexual policies that have come to underpin the papal mythological ideology of an “infallible pope” that Catholics have been weaned on since 1870. The mythology of a “semi-divine pope” is fundamental to the Vatican’s geo-political strategy.

This ideology may be reinforced, Francis seems to believe, by the “contrived canonizations” of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, notwithstanding their seemingly indefensible records on covering up priest child abuse and Vatican financial corruption, including with respect to Fr. Maciel, among other apparent shortcomings.

These significant subjects appear to have been carefully avoided in the rigged canonization preliminaries that lack the “devil’s advocate” investigation that had been used in many earlier canonizations. Ironically, Pope John Paul II, a prodigious and profitable “saintmaker”, had earlier eliminated the devil’s advocate position.

Meanwhile, the Vatican Archives that might shed some light on these two popes’ seemingly glaring weaknesses remain secret, which further undercuts their claim to sainthood. It is really questionable whether this rush to sainthood will increase or decrease interest in these two popes’ evident shortcomings, while surely contributing to many Catholics’ growing cynicism about saint making.

Pope Francis is still pushing policies that hurt many in the USA and worldwide, including children and women, especially poor ones. Francis’ strategy, evident by clear actions and pregnant inaction that belie his carefully orchestrated public gestures, is evidentally aimed mainly at  protecting the cardinals who elected him from potential criminal accountability for facilitating predatory priests and financial felons, among other misdeeds.

Central to the Vatican’s protective strategy for over three decades has been to ally itself to right-wing conservatives like Ronald Reagan and the George Bushes in the USA, the world’s most powerful country. Consistent with this strategy, the ex-Pope, his US bishop subordinates and US papal nuncio tried unsuccessfully to help defeat President Obama in 2012.

This papal protective strategy continues today apparently under Pope Francis with “wedge issue crusades” over Obamacare contraception insurance mandates, gay marriage and immigrant deportation policies. For example, Cardinal O’Malley is publicly challenging Obama on legally deporting Latino immigrants, while Bishop Paprocki publicly supports denying Holy Communion to US Senate Democratic whip, Dick Durbin, who is up for re-election, over women’s reproductive rights. And Archbishop Cordileone continues his non-stop anti-gay marriage campaign.

The current papal US political strategy appears to be to help right-wing conservatives win in six months control of the US Senate and thereby to maintain conservative control of the US Supreme Court. Control of the Supreme Court is essential to maintaining the right-wing’s 0.01% billionaires’ dominance of US national politics, Federal low tax policies and most media access. A key factor in the final weeks of the election campaign will likely be Pope Francis’ push to influence conservative US Latino voters in the key US Senate swing states.

Francis’ Synod on the Family in October, with no women or married fathers as full participants, appears likely to reaffirm the Vatican’s regressive policies on human sexuality. This would set the stage for Francis to make a final targeted push for conservative Latino voters on the aforementioned wedge issues.

To avoid undercutting Francis’ US election effort, it appears that Francis must continue to dodge the issue of bishop accountability until after the election in 6 months. He is well on the way to doing this, having effectively dodged the issue for over 13 months as pope. Francis’ illusory advisory commission on child protection still needs more members and an agenda, among other necessary features, and will likely not weigh in, or perhaps even meet, before November.

A likely objective now for Pope Francis is to avoid having President Obama call before the November US elections for an Australian style national investigation commission into child sexual abuse by US institutions like the Catholic Church. Francis has just seen how the Australian Royal Commission shredded the legacy of Cardinal Pell, whom Francis just promoted to the Vatican’s no. 3 position as finance czar.

Obama obviously would like for political reasons to avoid challenging the popular Francis. Indeed, Obama has just accepted the resignation of his HHS Secretary who served as the lightning rod for Obamacare, including its contraception insurance mandate.

Progressive groups are now also going after bishops’, like Newark’s Myers’, “mansions”. Given, however, that the pundits’ current predictions are that the Republicans appear poised to win control of the US Senate in 6 months, Obama may be quite imprudent by deferring announcing an investigation into institutional child sexual abuse. Time will tell.

Most Catholics, like myself, have experienced papal indoctrination efforts since childhood, in confessionals and classrooms, to overlook blindly Vatican misdeeds and to just “pay, pray and obey”, no questions asked. This childhood indoctrination strongly influences many Catholics throughout their lives.

Consequently, many Catholics, and many in the media, overlook Francis’ unambiguous actions and inaction that contradict his pleasing public pontifications. They, instead, choose to continue to be fooled by Pope Francis’ well orchestrated charm offensive, that is both comforting to them and relieves them apparently of guilt about not resisting the Vatican’s evil misdeeds.

Catholic intellectuals and media figures mostly are silent, often co-opted by hierarchical “bribes or appointments” or beaten down by decades of papal intimidation. Even some purported Catholic reformers accept insincere and often unbelievable and/or false excuses from the hierarchy, rather than calling a spade a spade.

As noted above, Pope Francis surprised many by his following unexpected remarks about the priest child abuse scandal. He stated:

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children. The Church is aware of this damage, it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, we have to be even stronger. Because you cannot interfere with children.”

A short video of Pope Francis’ above remarks, along with the circumstances of, and some reactions to, the remarks are included here:

Francis has served in a major city for over a quarter century as either a bishop or a Jesuit provincial, and over a dozen years as a cardinal. He must know the score on the Vatican’s long standing failure to hold bishops’ accountable for protecting predatory priests. He then would also know the Vatican has never really taken a step forward, so it is impossible to take a step backward here.

Will Francis in fact now take a step forward and hold bishops accountable — that is the fundamental issue he has been ducking for over a year as pope. He has finally announced recently in general terms an advisory commission with a vague mandate and neither a specific schedule nor a clear agenda. Meanwhile, Francis recently in effect approved of permitting Italian priests to continue to avoid reporting abuse cases to the police.

Francis volunteered to be Pope. As part of the control group now, he like the ex-Pope and Cardinals Bertone, Sodano, Levada, Parolin and Mueller are all subject to the long arm of the International Criminal Court. The Court merely deferred taking action for now; a prosecution of Vatican leaders remains legally feasible. Moreover, the Vatican remains subject to the UN committee on children under the treaty the Vatican is bound by. Francis is running out of time.

Award winning reporter, Jason Berry, today noted in an article some of the earlier bad experiences with hierarchical abuse commissions had by key Catholics, including Illinois Supreme Court Justice, Anne Burke, and Duquesne Law Dean Emeritus and canon lawyer, Nicholas Cafardi, with the US bishops’ commission.

Justice Burke even flew to Rome in a futile effort to try to convince then Cardinal Ratzinger (now ex-Pope) to make bishops really accountable. Cafardi, a legal expert on clerical child abuse crimes, interestingly relates his recent unsuccessful effort to try to assist at his own expense Fr. Hans Zollner, S.J., a key member of Pope Francis’ promised advisory commission. See Berry’s article here:

To appreciate how far Pope Francis’ latest verbal undertaking to face up to the abuse crisis is from the actual reality of the Vatican’s ongoing failure to address this scandal effectively and transparently, please review the reported remarks below recently made to a US Catholic reform group by Fr. Thomas Doyle, O.P.

Fr. Doyle has been the leading worldwide advocate for over a quarter century of securing justice for priest abuse survivors. During the 1980′s Fr. Doyle had futilely advised Pope John Paul II’s US representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, on priest child abuse curtailment policy. Laghi had earlier finished overseeing the Argentina Catholic Church’s self serving cooperation with a brutal military in the “Dirty War”, in which Pope Francis indirectly assisted Laghi, as the local Jesuit provincial, by trying to suppress prophetic local Jesuits who challenged the military.

Fr. Doyle’s recent remarks follow:

By: Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C.

Where the Institutional Church is Today

Sources of Information: media reports, official church statements, court records, official and private reports, information from victims, bishops statements, bishops’ actions.

1. The so-called sex abuse “crisis” or “scandal” is thirty years old this year. My authority for any conclusions or opinions I offer rests partially on the fact that I have been directly involved for all of those thirty years. I will admit today that in the summer of 1985 and the winter of 1985 I would not have been able to imagine what would unfold in the following decades. I certainly had no idea of the impact my own experience would have on my relationship to the institutional Church, to my belief system and to my concept of the Higher Power.

2. Before considering the transition from discussion to action, it is essential to consider the foundation for action and the reasons why it is essential to the life and growth of the Church. By “Church” I do not mean the very limited institutional dimension, but the far more dynamic reality, the People of God.

3. The past three decades have revealed much about clergy sexual abuse, but even more important, they have revealed much about the institutional Catholic Church and the tension between it and the Body of Christ.

a. Sex abuse of minors by clerics of all ranks is an historical constant. There is sexual abuse of minors by clerics in every geographic area where the Church exists.

b. The extent of revelations of sex abuse has been commensurate with the willingness of victims to seek relief in the civil courts and in the capacity and willingness of the courts to respond to the victims with objectivity.

c. Sex abuse has been actively denied and covered up by bishops, religious superiors and popes since the early 19th century. The bishops’ negative and inadequate response to reports of abuse and to suspected abusers has been uniform and consistent throughout the international scope of the Church.

d. The institutional Church as a whole and bishops in general, including the bishops of Rome, have never given any credible indication that they understood the nature and gravity of the spiritual damage done to victims.

e. Likewise the Church and bishops in general have given no credible evidence to date of an ability and willingness to make the pastoral welfare, i.e., compassionate care and support, the priority in their response.

f. Bishops remain on the defensive. Their responses have been administrative and bureaucratic. The bishops in the U.S. have expended significant monetary and human resources on programs and policies to protect children in the future.

g. No effort by any diocese has been proactive or initiated independent of pressure from the media, the courts and angry laypersons. In other words, all of the programs and other “advances” referenced by bishops and by Pope Francis have been forced on the institutional Church since the public revelations and nearly all have been instituted since 2002.

h. Attorneys for the institutional Church continue to exert great influence over bishops. Victims are treated with disdain if they decide to resort to the civil courts for justice and recognition. Some examples: Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Paul, and Denver.

i. The archetype of revictimization and institutional abuse is George Pell formerly of Sydney.

j. There are few known examples of bishops who have exhibited sincere pastoral concern for victims. Perfunctory visits at the bishop’s office and penitential liturgies are not examples of pastoral concern.

k. The overall costs for the U.S. Church between 1986 and 2014 are slightly over 3 billion dollars. This figure includes known settlements, jury awards and attorneys’ costs for the Church. The actual amount expended on attorneys is unknown but reaches into the hundreds of millions of dollars. For example the diocese of Kansas City took 200 depositions in one case (Teman) and ended up settling for $2.25 million. In Sydney the archdiocese spent $1 million fighting John Ellis who asked for $100,000.

l. The Church in general continues to favor the clerics over the victims. This is a by-product of the clericalism mentality and magical definition of the priesthood. The recent decision by the Italian Bishops’ Conference is an example of the attitude.

4. The U.S. bishops continue to treat victims with disdain at the very least. This is evidenced by:

 -Encouraging attorneys to go to extreme lengths to defeat victims who challenge the diocese in court. This holds true for religious communities as well, e.g., California Franciscans, Jesuits, Salesians and Christian Brothers;

 -Refusing to recognize or communicate with SNAP or any other victims group;

 -Expending vast monetary resources and engaging in dishonest campaigns to defeat any legislative advances for victims of child abuse in general;

 -Refusing to publicly disclose the names of known predators and putting known predators back in some form of ministry;

 -Threatening victims with lawsuits if they break confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements;

 -Counter suing victims; and

-Failing to muzzle Bill Donohue.

5. There are no clear signs of hope that the institutional Church is beginning to comprehend the horrendous nature of sexual abuse by clerics. There has been a great deal of rhetoric and public relations bluster, but there is little if anything to show sincerity. To date, no bishop has been subjected to any penal process or penal sanctions for sexually abusing minors or adults himself or for their failure to remove known perpetrators.

6. The recent appointment of eight members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is not a sign of hope for a variety of reasons. Everything they need to know has already been well researched especially in the U.S.

7. What Have We Learned About the Church: The past thirty years have revealed much about the institutional Church. Perhaps the most far-reaching conclusion one can draw is that there is a sharp division between the institutional Church and the Body of Christ and that the institutional Church is essentially atheist, judging by its choice to protect its worldly image, prosperity and power rather than respond to the victims with immediate care and concern.

a. Ecclesiology. There is either an ignorance on the part of many, including bishops, of the true nature of the Church or there is a conscious rejection of it.

b. Spirituality. The clerical spirituality is deeply flawed in that it has highly narcissistic strains, which actually enable sexual abuse and prevent a compassionate and just response to it.

b. Priesthood. The common understanding and the standard theology of priesthood in the Church is deeply flawed. The heavy emphasis is on sacramental ritual and sacrifice, rather than ministry. The elitist “theology” of priesthood, grounded in the concept of “ontological change” and being joined with Jesus are the basis and constant support for the toxic concept of priesthood commonly held by victims, and others.

c. Pastoral care. The “crisis” has revealed an inability to conceive of spirituality and spiritual care in other than terms of ritual attendance and obedience to authority. The bishops have shown that they do not know how to give pastoral and spiritual care to victims of the clergy.

d. Episcopacy. The bishops as a group and as individuals have consistently failed and offended the People of God by their treatment of victims of sexual abuse, their insistence on limiting the concept of “Church” to the clergy and hierarchy and their squandering of financial resources, all donated, for their own security and protection. This calls into question the authenticity of their claim to be the essential pillars of the Church. In reality, in light of our experience with a growing scarcity of priests, but unfortunately not a comparable scarcity of bishops, and the dependence on the laity, it is probably true that the Church needs bishops as much as a duck hunter needs an accordion.

e. Concern for doctrine and dogma has eclipsed commitment to charity and justice. The recent popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) have reacted, often with cruelty and nearly always without process, to anyone who has voiced or written an opinion not is not in complete compliance with their opinions. At the same time, these popes have protected bishops who have violated children themselves or who have enabled priests to violate children.

8. The Church has responded to the victims of sexual abuse by the clergy and these victims extend well beyond those actually violated by clergy. It includes parents, siblings, friends and in a real sense, every believing person in the Body of Christ. The Church that has responded has been us. It has not been the official institution but laypeople and a small number of clergy and religious. There are a number of things we can continue to do. One of them is not talking about it anymore. There have been enough meetings, discussions, symposia etc.

a. Actively support legislative reform in your own state and in other states. If you don’t understand the issues contact SNAP for help. There are numerous sources of factual information. (Please note the work of Voice of the Faithful in collaboration with Sr. Maureen Turlish in this area with the publication of “Statute of Limitation Reform: An Advocacy Guide.”)

b. Challenge priests, bishops or lay people who continue to speak out against victims and who continue to propagate the erroneous propaganda from the institution.

c. Invite survivors or their active supporters to speak publicly. There are still countless people who live under serious misconceptions about this issue.

d. Ask your pastors and your bishops if they support victims support groups, i.e., SNAP and ROAD TO RECOVERY. If they do not, challenge them.

e. If survivors plan a demonstration of any sort near you, go and support them.

f. If you know of church officials who speak or act in a way that is harmful or derogatory of survivors or who are harboring credibly accused clerics, challenge them. Call, write, email…but challenge them.

g. Do NOT donate to any diocesan causes. Do NOT donate to Peters Pence. In the ideal do not donate to any Church affiliated organization especially those that have or continue to harbor criminals.

h. Give/donate to survivor support organizations, i.e., SNAP and Road to Recovery.

i. Actively insist that all church officials but especially bishops, act and speak with complete openness, transparency and honesty.

9. The thirty-year chapter of Catholic Church history, dominated by an epidemic of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and ineptitude and malfeasance by bishops, has exposed flaws in several essential elements of the Church that are so destructive to the People of God that they are fatal to the present paradigm of the institutional Church.

Try as they might the ordained office-holders have been unable to change or camouflage these flaws. The chasm that separated the clergy and hierarchy from the mass of lay people has shrunk to the point where the old methods of control no longer work.

The playing field has been leveled to the point where ever growing numbers of Catholics are encountering and confronting bishops as adults and not as compliant and docile children. This has irrevocably altered the definition of the Church promulgated by Pius X in his 1906 encyclical Vehementer Nos:

“It follows that the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.”

In spite of the insistence of Pius’ successors that this is the only authentic understanding of the socio-political structuring of the people of God, the realities of life in the Catholic Church over the past fifty years have shown that rather than comply in lock-step to such stratification, the voices and actions of a significant number of lay persons, religious and clerics have shown that “agere sequitur esse”, “action follows being,” is not so much changing the meaning of the Church, but revealing what it really is. //END


It is hardly surprising Pope Francis has not appointed Fr. Doyle to Francis’ long delayed and still illusory advisory committee on child abuse, the latest Vatican public relations façade for covering-up the priest child abuse scandal.

Fr. Doyle has also recently perceptively remarked on the outrageous and shameful testimony before Australia’s Royal Commission of Cardinal Pell, Pope Francis’ new appointment to oversee Vatican finances. For Doyle’s remarks on Pell’s testimony, see:

Fr. Doyle’s above remarks and his Pell remarks make amply clear why President Obama must set up now a US national commission, like Australia has, to investigate US child sexual abuse in institutions, including in the various churches. If Obama fails to do this, and if Catholics and others fail to demand that he do so, they are also failing in their Gospel mandated duty to protect children by reasonable and readily available means.

More US children, beyond the currently estimated 100,000+ US child victims of priest abuse, and their families will suffer unnecessarily and end up barely surviving on government assistance, while Catholic bishops continue to live like medieval princes accountable to no one, unless Obama acts. Francis’ recent endorsement, of the policy that continues to enable Italian clerics to avoid reporting to the police cases of priest abuse of children, makes clear Francis is clearly part of the priest child abuse problem. His illusory advisory commission fools few.

The Vatican will not change unless compelled to do so by governmental pressure.

It likely will take some courage for US politicians to challenge the Pope Francis mythmaking machine, especially with key US Congressional elections barely six months away. Of course, Obama may be forced to speak up, as Francis’ US subordinate bishops aggressively help right wing Republicans and their tax avoiding billionaire backers reach conservative US Latino voters. Francis’ cynical “Our Lady of Guadalupe” strategy may help conservatives gain control of the US Senate in November and of the US Supreme Court majority for many years to come.

Since Francis’ continuation of the Vatican’s stonewalling policy, on holding bishops accountable for protecting child predators, will likely land some more bishops in Federal bankruptcy, and even criminal courts, the US bishops may well need some “friends” on the US Supreme Court.

Instead of really facing the abuse problem, Pope Francis instead usually just tries to change the subject, for example, by more mystical propaganda ploys like the upcoming canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. Of course, neither of their abysmal records on holding bishops, or even priests, accountable for abusing children has even been addressed in the “rush to sainthood”. How long does Francis think he can go on trying to change the subject? Although many Catholics sometimes appear to be overly docile and wishful thinkers, most of them are not that naïve, as the 30 plus million US Catholics who have left the Church appear to indicate.


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