Another Smoking Gun?

Developments are coming thick and fast; right now I literally don’t have time to do anything but put up this translation of a letter that is once again being only partially translated and taken out of context in the press. Here is what Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos wrote to the French Bishop Pierre Pican, who had been imprisoned when he refused to turn in (denoncer) a priest who had sexually abused minors. This is my translation from the French; the letter was reproduced in a Rome Reports video – (I had to stop the video several times to get it all):

September 8, 2001

Most Reverend Excellency:

I am writing to you as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, charged with collaborating in the responsibility of the common Father over all the priests of the world.

I congratulate you for not having denounced a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well, and I rejoice to have a brother in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all the other bishops of the world, has preferred prison rather than denouncing his priest-son.

In reality, the relationship between priests and their bishop is not professional; it is a sacramental relationship, which creates very special bonds of spiritual paternity. This theme has been amply taken up again by the last Council, by the 1971 Synod of Bishops and the one in 1991. The bishop has other means of acting, as the Episcopal Conference of France has recently recalled; but a bishop cannot be required to make the denunciation himself. In all civilized legal systems it is recognized that close relatives have the opportunity not to testify against a direct relative.

We recall to you in your regard the words of St. Paul: “My imprisonment has become well known in Christ throughout the whole Praetorium and to all the rest, and the majority of the brothers, having taken encouragement in the Lord from my imprisonment, dare more than ever to proclaim the word fearlessly” (Phil. 1:13-14).

This Congregation, in order to encourage brothers in the episcopate in this very sensitive area, will send copies of this letter to all the conferences of bishops.

Assuring you of my fraternal closeness in the Lord, I greet you with your auxiliary and the whole of your diocese.

Dario Castrillon H

Fernando Jimines(?)

Bureau Chief

If we knew what the French episcopate said and what “other ways of acting” a bishop was supposed to have in such situations, we’d have a better idea of what he was talking about.

Also, was the bishop being asked to turn the priest in, or to testify against him in court? If it were the first, then Castrillon Hoyos’ reasoning wouldn’t apply; I’m not sure it would apply anyway. I expect we really don’t have all the necessary information to understand this yet.

One way of understanding (not necessarily excusing) this attitude would be to recall that to the more traditional wing of the French Church, the modern state is an enemy not to be trusted, much more so than anyone in the U.S. is capable of grasping. This is all the result of the French Revolution of 1789 and the fact that the modern French state from the beginning was highly anti-religious and anti-clerical.

A traditionalist like Castrillon Hoyos would most likely share this attitude. He might have suspected that a Church trial would be more fair, etc. Once again, I don’t want to excuse his attitude if he were aware that the priest was guilty, but this might help explain it.

Sorry I don’t have more right now. It’s been an exhausting day and I have to turn in.

Update: April 18

Only now am I am to find out a little more. Just as I feared, the press is distorting this out of all proportion — again. Worse yet, the cardinal has claimed that Pope John Paul II authorized him to send the letter to all the bishops in the world. The headlines are screaming: “John Paul backed praise for hiding abuse” ((story by Reuters).

Well, the headlines are wrong to start with. The cardinal was not telling bishops to protect pedophile priests. The specific crime the priest was charged with is never mentioned in the letter. It’s more in the way of a defense of a universal principle of relations between Church and state. It’s saying: what is the limit for the State’s interference within the Church, specifically the relationship between a priest and a bishop? It’s a valid question, no matter what the specific case was about.

Does anyone remember the movie “Reversal of Fortune”? In it, lawyer Alan Dershowitz got hell from his own law students for taking Claus von Bulow’s appeal. They figured the guy was too obviously guilty, and that it was wrong to defend him. Dershowitz replied that he wasn’t defending the guy so much was he was defending the legal principle of someone getting a fair trial. Because he defended those principles, was he defending murder?

Of course, people are going to neglect common sense ideas like this in the present hysteria.
This doesn’t mean that I agree with everything that Castrillon Hoyos was defending. And it is true that he seemed to defend at least one molesting priest, Fr. Trupia of Tuscon; the Congregation for the clergy declared him exonerated; when the case was turned over to Ratzinger at the CDF – this was after 2001 — he got what he deserved.

But there is a huge amount we still don’t know about what was going on. Let’s not jump the gun here.

Update:

Well there is still more; it seems that just Friday Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos claimed at a conference in Murcia, Spain that the priest in question, a Père Bissey, had told Bishop Pican of the abuse he had committed in confession, and that is why the bishop couldn’t denounce him. (news story) The Reuters story (something I didn’t notice when I first looked at it) points out that this could not be the case, because the bishop admitted on the stand that he learned of the abuse from the priest in a “private conversation,” which is not immune from the law. And of course, if the case had really been about the seal of confession, the letter would have said so.

So what exactly is going on here? I’m afraid I won’t have much if any time to research this because of other obligations, but finding the actual text of the original Spanish news article on the conference would be helpful.

One thing is certain: this cardinal has a classic case of foot-in-mouth disease. Not only that, he can’t keep his story straight. And his dragging John Paul II into this mess was certainly unnecessary — and bound to be disastrous.


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