A critic blinded by hatred


Christopher Hitchens is blinded by hatred.

Do you remember the carnival game Whack-A-Mole? Up pops one mechanical mole from his hole, you whack it down and up pops another. There is no pleasure to be taken in revisiting the sordid mess of sexual abuse, but the regular appearance of Christopher Hitchens in these pages requires it. Moles are naturally blind. Hitchens is blinded by hatred.

A few weeks back Hitchens appeared here, vomiting forth his bilious anti-Catholic defamation. Having convinced himself that God is a fraud, he merrily concludes that by definition all religious believers are fools or knaves, and thus attributes to them all manner of evil. He hated Mother Teresa. Not from a distance, mind you, but signed up to provide off colour commentary on her funeral Mass, all the better to denounce her between the altar and the grave. It was, not for the last time, a disgusting performance.

No surprise then that, in full frothing fulmination, he slandered Pope Benedict XVI for "obstructing justice on a global scale." My colleague Rex Murphy then shovelled out the Hitchens stall, but so prodigious is the excrement that there remains work to be done. It is not fair to make Rex, only having recently joined us here, do the dirty work every week.

On Tuesday, Hitchens, waging his atheistic holy war against Benedict, wrote that then-Cardinal Ratzinger's signature had been found on a – get ready for it – "permission to rape." Not daunted by previously relying upon a Wisconsin case reported in The New York Times and discredited in these pages, Hitchens now thinks he has found a smoking letter in a case from Oakland regarding Stephen Kiesle.

If only the Oakland diocese had handed over the priest to the criminal justice system rather than petitioning Rome in 1981, Hitchens wrote, decades of subsequent abuse could have been avoided. Up pops the mole: Here we have it, Ratzinger is told about an abuser, and he makes sure that no one tells the police! Kiesle continues to work with children on direct orders of Rome! Ratzinger issues the Vatican-embossed "permission to rape"!

Whack! In 1978, the priest was arrested, convicted and sentenced by the California courts. From that moment, he was never again allowed to exercise any priestly ministry. In 1981, already barred from any priestly work, Kiesle asked to be formally dismissed from the priestly state. Such requests presume that all ministry has already ceased. The dismissal came in 1987. Ratzinger's only involvement was to write in 1985 that because the case was very grave, it required careful scrutiny. After Kiesle was dismissed, he abused another minor in 1995 as a married man, for which he was convicted.

For someone who hates the Catholic Church as much as Hitchens does, it should be sufficient just to tell the truth about the wicked things done and the necessary reforms that were too long in coming. He could consult a number of reports on the matter, some of them commissioned by the Church, others by law enforcement, still others by government inquiries. It is not really that hard to understand how the shape of this is different today than in 1975. Can it be that Hitchens and his ilk, riveted by this issue for years, still don't know the basics of Church law on priestly discipline?

An ordained priest has "clerical" status in Church law, accompanied by certain rights and responsibilities. He also needs permission from his own bishop to exercise his ministry – to present himself as a priest, to preach, to offer Mass, to hear confessions, to be the pastor of a parish, etc.

His functioning as a priest is of greatest practical impact. The bishop can refuse or remove permission to exercise any public ministry. He can forbid a priest to live in the parish rectory. He can force a priest to live privately, reduced to saying Mass alone at his kitchen table. In fact, that is now routine in Canada and the United States in matters of sexual abuse. When a credible accusation is received, before the investigation begins, the priest is "removed from ministry." He can be out of his parish within the day.

But in terms of child safety and priestly functioning, the removal from ministry occurs at the first step, before guilt is even established or more serious penalties are even considered.

When an investigation concludes the abuse took place (at a much lower threshold that the "reasonable doubt" standard in criminal law) the priest is permanently suspended from all ministry – making permanent his situation during the investigation. At that point, proceedings can begin for a "dismissal from the clerical state" or "laicization," which strips the priest of his priestly status in the Church, the so-called "defrocking." But in terms of child safety and priestly functioning, the removal from ministry occurs at the first step, before guilt is even established or more serious penalties are even considered. It's a key point to remember as the moles crawl around searching for decades-old memoranda.

One can think of it as analogous to bail. An accused is granted bail so that he can go about his regular business, presumed to be innocent, until a trial determines otherwise. In some cases, bail is denied, and the suspect is remanded into custody. With allegations of sexual misconduct against priests, there is no bail – no going about one's regular business until innocence or guilt is determined. Immediate removal from ministry means being off the job and out of office, home and parish immediately. That's a higher standard.

Was this higher standard always met? No, and the failure to act forcefully and expeditiously according to Church law is at the heart of the sexual abuse story. Before the necessity of responding to the false allegations about Cardinal Ratzinger came to dominate my time, I wrote two columns in March on the necessary culture change required in the Church.

That culture change has been underway for some time, both in Rome and in North America. Bishops in other countries need to follow. The Archdiocese of Toronto has the toughest reporting requirements of any institution in Canada about allegations of sexual abuse of minors – one hour. Reforms have been real and in place for some time. Real reform was needed because there was a real problem.

It is a peculiar act of wilful blindness to ignore the current rules, practices and protocols, in place for 10 or 15 years, in order to search exclusively for imagined malfeasance from 30 years ago. Quoting the Bible to Hitchens is like giving garlic to a vampire, but the prophet Jeremiah may have played a little Whack-A-Mole in his day, for he laments the "foolish ones, without understanding, who have eyes and see not."




Father Raymond J. de Souza, "A critic blinded by hatred." National Post, (Canada) April 15, 2010.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2010 National Post

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