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New York Times Smears (2)

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UPDATE (4/6): Please note the correction to this story added below.

It just wouldn't be Holy Week without a media attack on the Church, would it?

First, a recap for those who haven't seen much of the story yet: a March 25 NY Times article accused Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) of shielding a pervert priest from punishment under Church law in 1998.

As John Schultz cited below, a piece for National Review Online by Canadian priest and writer Fr. Raymond de Souza compared the Times' shoddy article with the documentation it offered as evidence, and showed that the paperwork contradicts the Times' claims. Moreover, the primary source for Laurie Goodstein's so-called reporting, the disgraced former Archbishop of Milwaukee Rembert Weakland, has more axes to grind than the crew on American Loggers.

Now an authoritative eyewitness to the case has joined the controversy directly.

Canon-law judge Fr. Thomas Brundage, JCL, who conducted the trial against Fr. Lawrence Murphy, states that neither the Times nor any other media outlet has bothered to contact him to verify any of the facts, or even the statements which the Times presented as quotations from Brundage.

He says that the basic premise of the Times story is wrong: Murphy's trial was never actually stopped, even up to the day of his death. Without that, the whole trumped-up accusation against Cdl. Ratzinger collapses.

Since the website of the Catholic Anchor newspaper has been swamped with readers today and is currently unable to function, here's a link to Brundage's article, reproduced in full in Damien Thompson's weblog at the Daily Telegraph.

CORRECTION (4/6): Fr. Thomas Brundage has issued a correction about a statement he made in the article cited above. Based on documents, he acknowledges that the trial was indeed stopped by Abp. Weakland, shortly before Fr. Murphy's death. The point that CDF did not stop the case remains valid.

New York Times Smears

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From Father Raymond J. de Souza, a response to the New York Times.

The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.

Read the whole thing.

Ed Peters has put together another response to the Legionaries of Christ / Regnum Christi (LC/RC) crisis, which is well worth reading. You can check it out here. Since I'm likely to be asked for a response, here's a line-by-line:

I think that Fr. Alvaro Corcuera's apparent claim that he knows nothing about Maciel's behavior, except that Maciel sired a daughter, is utterly unbelievable. I have nothing else to say about this kind of stone-walling. I will simply re-endorse Dr. Germain Grisez's and Mr. George Weigel's proposals for direct intervention by the Holy See.

Out of Christian charity I will assume Fr. Alvaro is telling the truth. The Holy See should intervene anyway. Directly.

The situation is so muddled that I cannot see how the LC/RC can fix it without outside help and expertise. Of course I'm just one canonist out of thousands in the Church. But given how the LC/RC have maintained Fr. Maciel's innocence for years, the severity of the allegations against him - both proven and unproven, and other structural problems within the movement, how the initial response has been bungled, it will be difficult for the LC/RC to regain the trust of orthodox Catholics without assurances that Rome has performed a thorough housecleaning of the movement.

Apologists for the LC/RC are already stating that Fr. Alvaro and the LC/RC are following Rome's instructions. And Rome has stated it has no immediate plans to step in, but would do so if requested by the Legion. So it might be best is the Legion simply go through the official step of asking Rome to step in directly.

Moving on Peters's rebuttal of the "reform-from-within" assertion and the "carry-on-the-charism" assertion:

Assertion 1. Because the Legion and Regnum Christi have within their ranks many obviously good and faithful Catholics, they should be allowed to try a reform from within. Response: the presence of good and faithful Catholics within an organization, particularly when the organization (in terms of Church history, if nothing else) is so young, says almost nothing about whether the organization itself is sound and/or salvageable.

Here is where I think Peters needs to make a distinction. Those making the "reform from within" suggestion (like myself) are not a unified camp. Some maintain the LC/RC should be permitted to reform from within, without any direct outside intervention. Very unlikely to work, as proven by the fact Fr. Maciel got away with his misdeeds for so long. And even if it were possible, there's still the problem of restoring the RC/LC's credibility.

Like Peters, I believe the LC/RC's current structure is deeply flawed, and have for some time, according to criteria developed with Fr. Frank Morrisey - one of the Church's foremost canonical experts on religious law and structures of institutes of consecrated life - and cult expert Michael Langone. You can read a summary of the criteria here. (Please note: I am not claiming that all of these criteria apply to the LC/RC, but those that do need to be rooted out if the LC/RC is to reform.)

Having said that, given that the majority of LC/RC members are orthodox Catholics faithful to Rome, I believe a "reform from within" is possible if the Holy See intervenes directly and appoints someone credible from outside the LC/RC to do a thorough investigation of LC/RC practices, and oversee their reform. It needs to be someone known for prayer and orthodoxy, experienced in religious life, and highly respected within the Church. For example, Cardinal Francis George from Chicago or Archbishop Seán O'Malley from Boston. Of course this assumes LC/RC members cooperate - not only in letter, but in spirit - with the reform.

Such a reform must begin with a sincere apology to Fr. Maciel's victims, followed by restitution. Also, no more excuses suggesting Fr. Maciel's innocence, or trying to dampen the severity of his sins. Of course the structural weaknesses that allowed Fr. Maciel to get away with his double-life for so long must also be fixed. Good faith only gets one so far. Peters identifies the question many canonists are asking, namely whether there are structural problems to the Legion, expressing them as only he can, when he states in response to the second assertion:

There is, I think, at least as much reason to wonder whether Maciel set up an institute in order to assure himself of ample access to sexual targets and unaccountable funds, or whether he suffered from some warped psycho-emotional condition that enabled him to compartmentalize pious devotional practices and sexual predation for decades on end...

Here is where I take a somewhat harder line than Peters. I don't wonder. In fact, I'm pretty sure Fr. Maciel set up the LC/RC to, as I put it in the following interview, acquire, maintain and protect his access to victims.

I won't comment on funds, except to say well-placed sources within and outside the LC/RC told me that Fr. Maciel was frequently given thousands of dollars in cash without any questions being asked. I haven't looked into the issue deeply enough to give it much thought; it's entirely possible the financial irregularities came after, as a by-product of the sexual irregularities. Of course, none of the above excludes the possibility Fr. Maciel also had a serious psychological condition.

But I've skipped ahead a bit. Here's how Peters begins his response to the second assertion:

Assertion 2. Maciel's canonical crime spree was a grave personal failing, but it does not negate the L/RC 'charism', and they should be allowed to continue their work. Response: This argument misses the key question, namely, whether in fact Maciel ever bequeathed an authentic charism to the L/RC...

This, then, is what separates our positions at the moment. If one believes the LC/RC lack a true charism, then Peters is right in suggesting Rome may have to shut down the movement completely and reconstitute it. (Without a true charism, there is nothing to reform.)

On the other hand, if one believes the LC/RC possess a true charism from Christ, but that it has become seriously clouded by Fr. Maciel's sexual vice, then it may still be possible to rescue the charism. Of course it will still require delicate surgery on Rome's part. It's possible the movement is so far gone that the necessary reform is no longer possible. The LC/RC will have to show they are capable of true reform.

Peters then says (skipping over the part I had quoted earlier, out-of-sequence):

I do not know whether the L/RC can (following a complete leadership replacement!) reform itself from within, although I am almost certain that they cannot;

A complete leadership change may be the only thing that can save the LC/RC at this point. Certainly this is how I feel, humanly speaking, although the Holy Spirit could intervene in a way that canonists haven't imagined. But, assuming most of the current leadership was honestly in dark about Fr. Maciel's double-life, this speaks to a weakness in LC/RC formation that so many clergy suspected so little for so long. This is not to say they were bad people or terrible priests - only that they appear to lack a certain skill-set needed to exercise prudent governance over a large religious institute.

This is not uncommon among young institutes of consecrated life where one is dealing with leadership known for its holiness (let alone living a double-life). I've experienced this at least twice in my career as a canon lawyer. A young institute and its young superior come up with some grandiose ideas, or overlook the obvious. An older priest, with several years of priestly experience before joining the institute, jumps in points out what's being overlooked, or otherwise brings some common sense to the discussion. Older priests can help guide a young superior of a young institute through sensitive pastoral issues, temper and focus the zeal of younger newly-ordained priests, and put bishops as ease knowing there is someone with experience keeping an eye on the new institute.

The problem with the current LC/RC superiors is that none of them kept an eye on Fr. Maciel. This is not surprising. Abusers cannot bear close scrutiny, which would threaten their access to victims. Fr. Maciel reportedly handpicked his superiors. Not surprisingly, he often named young priests who lacked practical pastoral experience. Which is why most Catholics would feel more confident about a reform of the LC/RC if Rome stepped in directly.

and I do not know whether Maciel developed an authentic charism for clerical, religious, and lay life, but I have serious doubts that he did.

And now the question of charism. The reason orthodox Catholics have struggled so deeply with the crisis, in fact the reason there are such strong feelings of anger and betrayal, is that the LC/RC's good works have been visible to us for so long. But looking back in retrospect, so too have the institutional signs of Fr. Maciel's double-life. How does one reconcile such a stark contrast?

Normally, an institute's charism is tied to its founder and its good works. However, the two don't match in this case. Some argue that the LC/RC's founding charism was fraudulent from the start. Others argue that God used Fr. Maciel as His imperfect human instrument. In reflecting upon this dilemma, attempting to reconcile these questions in my own mind, I stumbled across the biography of Saint Rafael Guízar Valencia.

Saint Rafael was Fr. Maciel's uncle and the bishop who oversaw most of Fr. Maciel's seminary formation prior to dismissing his nephew from the seminary. Saint Rafael exemplified many of the Christian virtues LC/RC attempt to emulate as members of their movement. In fact, his life story reads like a blueprint for the LC/RC's good works, and LC/RC members in past have recognized his influence in the founding of their movement.

Perhaps - and this is highly speculative on my part - Saint Rafael is the true spiritual founder of the LC/RC movement, and the instrument used by God to transmit its charism. It's something for LC/RC members to pray about.

Not allaying suspicion


Here's a case study in How To Miss An Opportunity.

On June 6, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore wrote a letter to the Superior General of the Legion of Christ, imposing restrictions on the ministry of that religious institute and of the lay institute Regnum Christi within his diocese.

This is an unusual step for any bishop to take, and Abp. O'Brien was characteristically forthright about the reasons that brought him to the decision -- reasons which almost brought him to banning the two organizations outright. He and the pastors of his diocese repeatedly found themselves surprised by the two groups' activities among the faithful of Baltimore and particularly among young people. Pastors, who are responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful, do not like such surprises.

In the left-wing NC Reporter, John Allen reported on the event June 12 and interviewed the Archbishop. The reliably orthodox Catholic World News reported on the event on June 11 and cited the Archbishop's letter to the Legion; and then followed up.

The Rome-based press outlet ZENIT, however, which is "promoted by" the Legion, and includes Legion priests among its writers, and is directed by members of Regnum Christi, doesn't appear to have reported on the story at all in its daily news digests.

Now that is the missed opportunity I'm writing about. When a vigorous, orthodox religious community and a vigorous, orthodox lay institute come under the suspicion of a stalwart bishop who holds the primatial see of the United States (in case anyone didn't notice the point), and are placed under restrictions by that same bishop, that's a news event. To say nothing about it in ZENIT's daily news only reinforces the suspicion that the Legion and Regnum have garnered, suspicion which inescapably adheres to ZENIT.

And it's one reason why I am deleting and ignoring the almost daily fundraising e-mails from ZENIT.

Dear BBC,


Your piece about ex-Catholics who formally withdraw from church membership referred to the act as being "debaptised". It even spoke misleadingly of a "debaptismal certificate", as if the Church were agreeing to cancel someone's baptism. The Church has no such procedure. Baptism is a permanent fact, according to Catholic teaching, and cannot be undone, even if a person leaves the Church. I expect the reporter used this terminology in order to shock listeners and get attention, but it was quite wrong. Did your reporter realize that she was misrepresenting the facts? It only adds to the existing impression that BBC is hostile to the Catholic faith.

We don't need no color code


The newspapers and bloggers got this one wrong: there is no plan afoot in Iran to make Christians and Jews wear special insignia on their clothing.

AP: OBL a "dissident"


To pick up on John's point below about muddle-headedness that favors the enemies of our country, here's an example of AP's thinking in a photo caption:

Exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden is seen in this April 1998 file photo in Afghanistan....

"Dissident"? Y'know, I don't think the attacks on the US Embassy in Kenya, the USS Cole, the Khobar Towers, the WTC (in 1993 and 2001), and the Pentagon are really summed up by the word "dissident". (And throw in the various attempts to kill Middle- and Near East heads of state, anti-Taliban Afghan leaders, and Iraqi democrats.)

Perhaps AP will start to describe Eric Rudolph, Ted Kaczynski, and the guy who was sending out those anthrax-express letters as "dissidents" too.

Make the story fit the paradigm!

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After about thirty years, the Benedictine abbey in Pecos, NM may have to give up its somewhat experimental way of life as an unofficial "double" monastery. I say "unofficial" because the men's community was founded in 1955, but the women's community associated with it has never been formally established as a monastery in its own right: the combination was considered a daring experiment when it started in the heyday of charismatic-renewal communities. I think couples and families lived there too for a time.

It seems that the Benedictine higher-ups in Rome and the Congregation for Religious have told the abbot to get this all reorganized in a more conventional way, so that the women would be under their own elected superior, and the women's monastery could have its own property not totally dependent on the goodwill of the monks.

Alas, it's not working out that way. Of the five women who resided there, three have decided to join existing monasteries elsewhere rather than form a new house at Pecos, which would no doubt be a big job. Of course, their departure pretty much scotches the project for the other two, who have to seek another solution.

When the NYT got hold of the story, little gears turned in the reporter's head, and he slotted it into a conventional paradigm: "liberal nuns vs. male hierarchy", and portrayed it as a clampdown:

the women were told by the Vatican that they were not nuns in the opinion of the church

Get the spin? The reporter takes a judgment that's probably a cut-and-dried matter of canonical facts -- e.g., "you didn't go through the usual procedure, so you aren't legally bound by vows as religious sisters; if you want, you can remedy that by doing [XYZ]" -- and he makes it sound like a personal snub based on "opinion".

Then, without having any interviews with the departing sisters (who wisely have been turning down the press), he portrayed them as refuseniks choosing to "leave the monastery altogether rather than submit to the requests from Rome".

Sorry, sisters, this Times guy's trying to draft you into the war of All Women against The Male Vatican Hierarchy. (I think he fooled Mark Shea into believing it.) I salute you for passing up that invitation!

Big Media and little media


CNN's Aaron Brown just interviewed EWTN's Raymond Arroyo, a resident of New Orleans, for several minutes. Mr. Arroyo got his family -- including his 10-day-old newborn -- to Birmingham in time but, alas, lost his family's restaurant; and his kids have lost the neighborhood where they lived.

Oddly, perhaps amusingly, Brown seemed unaware that Arroyo's the news director from another cable channel. Really, what good is the little earpiece Brown wears if nobody's going to fill him in?

If you knew a bunch of guys who collectively predicted the winning Super Bowl team before the season started, you'd think they were smart but lucky. However, if after 10 seasons they made seven correct Super Bowl predictions, you would think they really had a grasp of the sport.

But if you knew a group that kept insisting they knew everything about football, yet in 10 years they never managed to name one of the Super Bowl teams, much less the winner, you might question whether they understood the dynamics of the game.

The news media are a lot like the latter group of football fans. They've gotten Iraq wrong in so many respects, one wonders why they bother offering any analysis at all. You remember what the "experts" predicted: invading Iraq would provoke the "Arab steet"; unlike the Gulf War, the Iraqis would defend their country to the death; the United States military is unable to fight an insurgency effectively; turnout in the January election will be light; and so forth. (Curiously, they never predicted that we would find no weapons of mass destruction.)

They do continue, though, as in this account of a BBC reporter confidently predicting an imminent Iraqi civil war. There is a great deal of wishful thinking bound up in that remark, but is part of a much larger, much longer pattern: Stalin is our friend and would never do anything nasty. The North Vietnamese are patriots and would never harm their fellow countrymen. Ronald Reagan will start a nuclear war. Sanctions will dislodge Saddam's army from Kuwait....

Primarily, the press makes bad calls because they have a faulty view of how the universe works. Rather than fix their model so they can make more accurate predictions, they continue to insist on the validity of their assumptions.

This manifests itself in odd ways, most prominently in how they analyze President Bush. The reasoning seems to be this: because he is a slack-jawed Texan who lives his faith, and knows nothing about the outside world, the president is a fool. Therefore, everything he does is foolish. Ergo, any specific action or policy is likely to be disastrous.

This also explains why religous coverage is so abysmal, when it exists at all. Most mainstream press members think that religion is a secondary or tertiary characteristic about a person, like height or body weight, something that might or might not affect one's daily life. For most people in the world, it is what they build their lives around. Instead of making bad predictions, the press is simply baffled by the whole subject and resorts to comfortable terms. Thus, clergy are "liberal" or "conservative," not "traditional" or "hererodox."

In a quite different but still related example, you would have thought that a year ago, Moqtada "Mookie" al Sadr was routing the American military and leading a mass Shiite revolt. In reality, most Shiite leaders looked the other way as the gallant men of the Army's First Cavalry Division slayed 5,000 of Mookie's goons. There was no general Shia uprising, and now the would-be revolutionary is trying to get into normal electoral politics. Had the press considered Mookie's lack of status in the Shiite clerical pecking order, they might have realized that few imams would come to his aid.

This is a fixable problem, but it is an open question as to whether the oldline media can reform itself. They pay themselves in flattery, imagining themselves to be master analysts of the universe, and feeding one's own intellectual pride is as addictive as a narcotic. Admitting their errors and making ideological adjustments is possible, but it's not the way to wager.

Have a good laugh


Stereotyped reactions to Pope Benedict's election are pouring in from the usual suspects:

Reuters: "Arch-Conservative German Elected Pope"

The two writers are obviously stunned; otherwise, they wouldn't be writing nonsense like this:

He was expected to take a tough line against reformist trends in Europe and North America. In a Good Friday Mass this year he said: "How much filth there is in the Church, even among those who, in the priesthood, should belong entirely to Him."

Apparently some people actually want moral and spiritual corruption! For these two Reuters dopes, they constitute "reformist trends"!

We have video!

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The Political Teen has video of Pete's appearance on MSNBC Monday afternoon. Good job!

15 minutes and counting


Good Heavens. The media are on to us!

Not only did AOL link to this blog the other day, but some kind folks at MSNBC dropped us an e-mail invitation, since they like to invite bloggers onto Monica Crowley's show to comment on the news.

We don't know yet whether that's going to actually happen, but if it does, you may see Pete Vere on that cable channel at about 12:30 p.m. Monday. Now, he probably won't have his Alhambra fez on, so just keep an eye out for someone who looks Canadian.

Another Liberal Media Drive-by


The chicken said, "Eat beef!"
"I concur - beef is the tastiest form of protein!" said the fish.
And the pig said, "Beef does a body good! Just don't wrap it in bacon!"

And that's what having James Carroll review John Cornwell's book "The Pontiff in Winter" is like.

Who wants to take the Post to task on this? Perhaps we could do a group letter from St. Blogs and rattle the Book World cages over at WashPost central?

Someone would need to volunteer to draft a response, we could pass it around for edits and then do the virtual signature... Who's up for it?

A term limit for the Pope?


Time's speculation about Cardinal Ratzinger as the next Pope is intriguing, all right, and probably appealing to his fans.

The reporter Jeff Israely could have stopped there reasonably enough, but he goes on to float this idea:

Moreover, John Paul's very public health woes may prompt the Cardinals to push his successor to impose a mechanism to avoid another pontificate slowed by illness. Ratzinger, who has sought ways to adapt church governance for modern times, might be willing to agree to an age limit and pass on the job after a few years.
Isn't that a little far-fetched? Of course, he was writing for the mainstream media. I guess he just had to put in something consoling to that part of his editors' brains that is filled with secular liberalism and other noxious gases. If they can't get the Pope's governance controlled by Time's editors, they'll settle for having it limited by time itself.

Cardinal Ratzinger might indeed support some change in the way the Roman primacy is exercised, especially if it facilitated the re-establishment of full communion with the Orthodox Eastern churches. But a religious proposal that comes along in the name of "adaptation for modern times" can probably be assumed wrong until proven otherwise.

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

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unless you state otherwise.


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