Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire provides a compelling and concise response to the most recent coverage of the abuse scandal. As expected, his take is worth a read. His post also has a good summary of some of the relevant Catholic coverage.
Here’s Fr. Barron’s response to the issues of “defrocking” a priest and the problem of analyzing past decisions of Church prelates in the light of current information:
I feel it is important to make two points in particular. First, the insinuation that by delaying or, as alleged, refusing to “defrock” a priest, Benedict is somehow obstructing justice or “looking the other way” is absurd. The formal removal of a man from the priesthood is the last and most drastic disciplinary action that the Church can take and it is done, appropriately, only after long consideration, consultation and due process. But there are many much more expedient ways, shy of “defrocking,” to remove a priest from ministry or contact with children. In the Milwaukee and Oakland cases, for example, this was done even if the priests in question had not been “defrocked.” The implication that Joseph Ratzinger was trying to find a way to “protect” abusers or to abet their abuse is simply a calumny. And the second point is this: it is extremely problematic and unfair to retroject what we currently know about the sexual abuse of children by priests or any other adult back twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years and use our current knowledge about the phenomenon to indict church officials of the time. Prior to the early 1990’s, most people in the Church and in the culture at large were unaware or only beginning to come to grips with the prevalence of this horror and the high rate of recidivism among abusers. Accordingly, many leaders- and not just in the Church- felt that sex offenders could be treated pharmacologically or therapeutically and then returned to their former lives and occupations. Many bishops throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s sent priest abusers to treatment centers and received reports from therapists recommending that priests could be safely returned to ministry. God knows that we have learned from painful experience how utterly inadequate this approach was, but it seems unfair to hold bishops to standards that developed much later. I find the suggestion that bishops and cardinals were intentionally and with malice aiding and abetting the sexual molestation of children to be an outrageous accusation. Were they uninformed, naive, imprudent, indecisive, and, in some cases, far too willing to trust psychological and legal counsel? Sure. Should those prelates whose lack of proper judgement led to the victimization of so many have to accept personal responsibility for their actions? Yes. But were they consciously fostering sex abuse? No.