April
26
  12:15:34 PM

Has Cardinal Castrillon been treated fairly?


Cardinal Darío Castrillón HoyosIf anyone is reflecting on McCarthyism and moral panics at the moment, it must be Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, of Colombia. From 1996 to 2006 he was the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, a most distinguished gentleman. Back in 2005, when Time magazine was surveying potential Popes, it wrote:

He has gone deep into Colombian jungles to mediate between leftist guerrillas and right-wing death squads, and once showed up at the house of cocaine king Pablo Escobar disguised as a milkman. Revealing himself, Castrillón Hoyos implored Escobar to confess his sins, which, presumably at some considerable length, the vicious gangster did.

Yet now, even Catholic groups shun him as if he had been Escobar himself. The cardinal was supposed to have presided over a Latin Mass at the National Basilica in Washington DC marking the fifth anniversary of the Pope's inauguration. At the last minute the organisers revoked the invitation to preserve "tranquillity and good order".

Why? Because a French newspaper revealed that he had written a letter in 2001 praising the decision of a French bishop to go to jail rather than turn an abusive priest over to the police. "I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate that, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons and priests," Castrillón wrote.

That one sentence made him a pariah. Even Vatican officials have distanced themselves. The official Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi, told the media almost immediately that Castrillon’s letter offersed "another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

Priestly sex abuse is such a scourge for victims and the Church that the inflexible protocols pioneered by Benedict XVI seems clearly the best one. But Cardinal Castrillon’s angle left room for strictness. It is a measure of the stifling McCarthyist atmosphere that has developed in the past two months that none, none, of the journalists who damned Castrillon quoted his one sentence in context.

Here is the paragraph which followed the offending words. The complete letter is available in French at the magazine Golias and in English on Wikipedia:

For the relationship between priests and their bishop is not professional but a sacramental relationship which forges very special bonds of spiritual paternity. The matter was amply taken up again by the last Council, by the 1971 Synod of Bishops and that of 1991. The bishop has other means of acting, as the Conference of French Bishops recently restated; but a bishop cannot be required to make the denunciation himself. In all civilised legal systems it is acknowledged that close relations have the possibility of not testifying against a direct relative.

“The bishop has other ways of acting”: in other words, Castrillon was not saying that bishops should conceal the crimes of priests, but that they themselves should not hand the offender over to the authorities. He would probably encourage the victim or the victim’s families to report the crime.

Is this a realistic policy? Perhaps experience has showed that it is not, especially with recidivist paedophiles. Perhaps, too, victims are psychologically incapable of denouncing their tormenter. Perhaps some bishops would not be courageous enough to engineer a denunciation by a third party. But that single sentence should not be used to smear a man courageous and zealous enough to seek the conversion of Colombia’s vilest drug lord.

 
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