Benedictions: The Pope in America

Benedictions: The Pope in America

“The Successor”–Cardinal Levada on bishops and the abuse scandal, and why he is not in line to be Pope…

Benedict XVI has earned headlines and goodwill on this, his first visit as pope to the United States, by speaking out repeatedly about his anguish over the clergy sexual abuse scandal and yesterday meeting with a small group of abuse victims. The pope on Wednesday also told the American bishops at a meeting that some of them had “badly mishandled” some abuse cases–the first public suggestion from the pope or the Vatican the the bishops, who most Catholics continue to blame for the scope of the crisis, bore a measure of responsibility.
But Benedict’s successor as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s main defender of church orthodoxy, today said the pontiff’s words do not implicate the bishops in wrongdoing and that no bishops will face sanctions.
At a lunch meeting with journalists sponsored by Time magazine, Cardinal William Levada, the former San Francisco archbishop who Joseph Ratzinger named to replace himself at the CDF when Ratzinger was elected pope, bristled at a suggestion that some bishops had “aided and abetted” priest-abusers by not acting to remove them.
“I don’t believe that,” Levada said. “I know bishops who have said to me, if I had known then what I know now, I would have acted differently.” But he said the bishops who moved abusers around to other parishes or did not remove them from ministry were acting on bad advice from experts and psychiatrists.
“So it [the scandal] has been a learning experience for bishops,” the cardinal said.
“I personally do not accept that there has been a broad base of bishops guilty of aiding and abetting pedophiles…If I thought there were, I would certainly want to talk to them about that.”
On other matters…

…Cardinal Levada said that he had no input on the pope’s addresses or preparation for this visit, even though Levada is the highest-ranking American ever to work in Rome. “I have my own little work to do all the time,” Levada said drolly.
Asked about the question of giving communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians, Levada largely demurred. But he did seem to side against a handful of hard-liners in the U.S. hierarchy who have staked out an independent position on the practice, or at least against the current patchwork of positions. “My stand is that I don’t think our Catholic population is served by a territorial morality.” He said he hoped that when the election season ends there could be a “more serene and effective discussion” about church teaching and what ought to be done in this regard.
Returning to the issue of the scandal, Levada was asked if, in light of the pope’s visibility on the abuse crisis, the Vatican foresaw any subsequent action or envisioned a future course for policies or programs. “That’s a good question that I really hadn’t thought of,” Levada said. He said the pope’s words and actions were meant to be “exemplary,” in the sense of setting a pastoral example for others to follow. He said he hoped victims’ stories would now “be given more prominence.”
Levada later told a few reporters that the CDF was begininning to work through the backlog of laicization cases that had once built up to more than 700, according to reports. He did not say how many remained to be adjudicated. He also seemed to indicate that the CDF was considering ways to raise the church’s canonical statute of limitations on reporting sexual abuse. He noted that it often took many years before victims felt they could come forward and report such abuse.
I also asked the cardinal if he could clarify remarks that the pope made on the plane that distinguished between pedophilia and homosexuality–a linkage many have tried to make. “I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality but pedophilia, which is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry,” Benedict said.
Yet his statements raised questions about what the pope meant (there was no opportunity for follow-up) and whether his words signaled a re-thinking of the Vatican statement in 2006 that seemed to bar gay men from the seminary.
Levada said he would not interpret the remarks as any modification of the seminary policy. But he said he wasn’t sure what else the pope’s words indicated. “I don’t know what to make of that myself,” Levada said. He said he believes Benedict wanted to focus on “the grave problem of pedophilia”–defined as the abuse of a pre-pubescent child by an adult–rather than what Levada calls “ephebephilia,” or “homosexual acting out with adolescent boys.”
Levada called ephebephilia a clinical term, but it is not listed in the DSM and mention of it raises many red flags among experts and within the gay community. Victims advocates also dislike the term, preferring to denote all sexual activity by an adult on a minor as child abuse, which is the criminal and civil law definition.
In short, there still seems to be little clarity. Many believe the pope was trying to make a distinction in order to shield homosexuals from efforts to identify gays with pedophiles. That seems like an obvious–and laudable–goal. But the standing of gay men vis-a-vis holy orders is still a bit uncertain, and seems likely to remain the ecclesiastical version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
On a lighter note, Levada told a good story about Benedict’s White House welcome on Wednesday. As the 15 or so churchmen in the papal entourage lined up to meet President Bush, Benedict brightened when Cardinal Levada, an American, stepped up. Benedict said, “Oh, Mr. President, this is my successor.” Benedict meant his successor at the CDF. But Levada saw Bush raise his eyebrows as if wondering whether Benedict had put the fix in for the Yank. “Oh my God, he’s not thinking I’m the heir apparent!” Levada said.

Comments read comments(22)
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Bob nunz

posted April 18, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Read, “business as usual.”
Levada’s remarks are not credible and will undermine the good will the Pope started to generate

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Carolyn Disco

posted April 18, 2008 at 6:14 pm

Oh God, no. My heart sank on reading Levada’s comments. For a moment there, I had genuine hope that Benedict might really have heard survivors Bernie McDaid and Olan Horne, with whom I have had contact over the years.
Their understanding is Benedict would act in some way regarding bishop accountability. May Levada’s interpretation be incorrect. His own record on dealing with abuse is fully compromised.
Please do read about it:
The Man Who Keeps the Secrets by Jason Berry at Berry, and
Blind Eye Unto the Holy See by Ron Russell at to know where Levada is coming from.
Bishops did not send full sexual histories to treatment centers, misused diagnoses, and shopped around for compliant professionals.
Our NH AG found the Diocese criminally endangered children, with perjury part of a planned indictment (what happens when a bishop lies in civil lawsuits and to the court about a convicted rapist’s record).
Read more It was plea bargained, but Bishop John McCormack had to admit in writing there was enough evidence for a likely conviction.
People are tired of hearing the truth about bishops’ complicity, and so the bleached language of public relations that issues from chanceries becomes the narrative. For shame.
Browse for a much-needed corrective.

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Frank Douglas

posted April 18, 2008 at 10:21 pm

It’s clear why the pope chose Levada was chosen for his old job as CDF head. The pope plays the role of the good cop by meeting with victims–finally, after 7 years. In counterpoint, Levada plays the role of the bad cop bringing us the bad, but not surprising news: the pope’s words don’t implicate the bishops in wrongdoing and no bishops will face sanctions. The cover up, the whitewash, continues. Why would anyone with a sense of realpolitik be surprised? There is no other way. This is organizational hardball. This is the real world. To admit the bishops were, and are, guilty of wrongdoing would topple the whole house of Vatican cards built on the flimsy foundation of “apostolic succession.” Better to shed a tear or two, blow smoke at the faithful, and let them go home with a nice warm feeling about their papal “leader.”

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posted April 18, 2008 at 11:24 pm

Yesterday’s optimism has disintegrated today, when reading here about Levada’s rationale! Excellent report of further tragedy!

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Kay Goodnow

posted April 19, 2008 at 12:53 am

Levada states that bishops would have handled the abuse scandal in a different manner had they know then what they know today. What an insipid statement. Surely the bishops, the cardinals and the pope, all of them alive today, know that rape of children and vulnerable adults is not only wrong, it’s a crime.
With his own record being what it is, Levada fully understands and did enable sexually immature deviants to cause harm. He, along with the rest of the henchmen, walk around with criminal intent.
It is time for NO SOL. The children are no safer today than they were 1500 years ago.
Thanks, Levada, for your remarks. I feel better today than I have since Ratz arrived! Oh yes, in case no one has noticed, the abuse situation in worldwide within the Corporate Roman Catholic Church.

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K. Fresne

posted April 19, 2008 at 1:14 am

As a woman and mother I find the nature and scope of this filth beyond imaging and this man’s oily words at this point in time utterly despicable. I once read a definition of evil as any willful act that is inhumane or dehumanizes self or others. Depraved clergy abusing children for their own gratification, causing the light to be extinguished in their innocent, trusting souls is as dehumanizing and “evil” as anything can get. The refusal of the curia to publicly acknowledge the truth of what happened and its effects on the mental, emotional, spiritual and even physical health of those violated is complicity in evil. These men will have to pay a huge spiritual price someday for their role in this scandal. They are worrying about money. If the church has to sell off the treasures of the Vatican to settle law suits, so be it. What is the price of a soul?
There should be a convocation called of all the documented abused where archbishops, cardinals and bishops should have to hear the testimony of each victim. They should have to prostrate themselves in the name of Christ and apologize and beg for forgiveness.

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Michael Tfirst

posted April 19, 2008 at 7:08 am

Cardinal Schoenborn covers up and simply moves paedophiliac priests!
Nearly all victims to sexual abuse of the Catholic Church in Austria are treated as liars by Schoenborn’s spokesman.
Even the justice supports him. May I refer you to several cases that are listed and explained on my homepage:
Unfortunately, since plenty of cases are published on my homepage (documented with files of court), free translation software is not able to translate the entire website from German to English.
In public Cardinal Schoenborn keeps everything a secret like his predecessor Cardinal Groer, who even might be canonized. He as former student of Benedikt XVI will probably become the next pope.
Schoenborn and Benedikt XVI are untruthful in this sad matter.
Yours sincerely from Vienna
Michael Tfirst

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posted April 19, 2008 at 8:47 am

Truth be told,please. Is there any indication that sexual abuse in the church remains alive and well at thiss time, or did it come to a shrieking halt upon exposure 4 years ago?

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posted April 19, 2008 at 10:12 am

Have mercy on this Secular country.
Too Bad Father Martin Luther did not continue as an Augustian Priest.
Things would have been much better in this world.

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Judy Jones

posted April 19, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Well, for all those survivors who are still suffering in silence, I hope they never hear these arrogant words that come from Levada. It is not a wonder why there are so many survivors who have been sexually abused by priests are still suffering in silence and shame. It makes me sick to even think about how this man must sleep at night. He just undid any hope that victims were hanging onto.
So we keep on fighting the fight. Every victim of priests’ abuse will never give up their desire to protect kids, and never, ever let this happen to another child.
I hope that catholics and non-catholics are smart enough to see right through this Levada, and see what is really going on. After all, before he got his promotion to the Vatican, he was a bishop in the US and he was a part of the cover-up.

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Thomas Doyle

posted April 19, 2008 at 7:41 pm

I vividly recall briefing Levada in May, 1985 when he was an auxiliary bishop, about the sxual abuse crisis. I also have seen volumes of documents and sworn testimony from depositions that clearly shows that most, probably all, bishops clearly knew that priests were raping and otherwise sexually abusing kids as far back as thr 40’s….and I limit it to that era because I have not tone beyond that in studying documents. So, Levada’s statement is either an outright lie or evidence of a very narrow understanding and perception of reality.
Bishops have been shifting the blame to psychologists for a decade. This too is grossly dishonest. I have seen scores of reports wherein psychologists said that priests were not fit for ministry. Some bishops just ignored them and many others twisted them to interpret them in a way that would be favorable to their needs. The bottom line is that bishop were intentionally negligent. Any adult male leader of anything who claims that he did not know that grown men having sex with minors is wrong and insidiously harmful to minors, is either an idiot or a liar or both. Levada’s arrogant line is the same as everyone else in the Vatican and most bishops……basically they are saying its someon else’s fault and in reality, its their fault.
The sexual abuse crisis is far from over. Victims continue to come forward with great regularity…some who were abused decades ago and some who were abused months ago. The press may not jump on it every time but the filth is still present because the system that spawned it is still denying its responsibility.

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Augusta Wynn

posted April 19, 2008 at 10:25 pm

Could someone please ask Cardinal Levada what kind of funny cigarettes he’s smoking. More than any other bishop, he and Cardinal Law knew all about the sex abuse crisis in 1985. His arrogance has caused the church billions and now he whimpers about psychologists being responsible. Perhaps the same someone could remind Levada that Jesus never said, “Blessed are the cowards, for they will rise to the top of the Vatican….” Neither did Jesus praise and protect and promote pedophiles. Levada placed a known pedophile as his chancellor in San Francisco and put him in charge of creating sex abuse policies for the dioceses all over the U.S. Levada admitted under oath that he knew Rev. Gregory Ingels was a pedophile since 1996. Might someone want to mention this to him? Levada and his ilk have turned our beloved church into a dirty joke. AW

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Dom Tomasso

posted April 19, 2008 at 10:47 pm

I wish to God, that Cardinal Levada could read what I am about to say. So Levada does not believe that what the biships have done , moving priest from one parish to another does not make bishops complicit in the abuse crimes, or not telling the next parish why they were assigned that priest, or withholding information from parishioners, not being truthfull to parents of children that were abused and withholding information. Is that part of good management. It is obvious that bishops will do everything and anything possible to protect themselves no matter how much money from the sunday collections it takes. If the piggybank runs dry, call for a fund drive. This is what I think: If a priest was aware of an abusive priest and did not do what God would want him to do, that priest or bishop is complicit too. Then, from that day forward, every time that abusive pries abuses another child, that silent priest and bishop are also complicit. What other conclusion can you honestly come to. How can they continue to live with themselves. Now for the bishops. Lets say, that more than half of the bishops in this country have been involved in moving priests around. They are only kidding themselves, if they believe that what they did, did not make them complicit in the abuse crimes because they acted on bad advice. Give me a break, your eminence. Do you honestly think that your sheep are that stupid. In any other organization you would be in jail, not only for your complicity in the abuse CRIMES, but for stealing all that money from your sheep to protect yourself or another bishop. I wish that what I just said, would make me feel better but it doen’t. I just feel a little bit ashamed that I’m talking this way about our Church leaders but I know I would feel realy ashamed if I kept silent. Cardinal Levada, if you don’t like what I’ve said, take me to court. (The question now is, will this be deleted.) I hope not.

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Kate Bochte

posted April 20, 2008 at 11:25 pm

I will begin to listen to what the pope has to say once he starts yanking – beginning with Mahoney and George and including Doran. Until then, it’s all nothing but rhetorical smoke to me.
The only person qualified to be the successor to Benedict XVI is indeed an American but it’s not Levada. His name is Thomas Doyle.

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posted April 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Let one without sin cast the first stone. Only God knows the guilt of each individual, and it is wise to leave the judgment to him. Justice will be done. God’s justice should be more a concern than that of the human courts. No Church should be blamed for the sins of those that violate its disciplines and doctrines. No one gets away with anything in this life.

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Kate Bochte

posted April 21, 2008 at 6:04 pm

What about crimes, RelicMM, especially crimes against children? Are you suggesting we turn our backs on criminal activity and leave it for God to judge? What about clear violations of Church policies, USCCB Charters, diocesan Codes of Conduct for employees and volunteers? Shall we ignore those, too?
The Dominican Sisters taught me that “Church” is made up of people, servants of God. Are you truly suggesting that individuals within the Church should not be held to account for their own actions and inactions? If so, please re-read the Catholic Catechism.
The hierarchy has proven itself incapable of self-policing and enforcing it’s own policies. If Catholics in the pews (God’s servants)do not stand up and “make sure priests act like priests and bishops act like bishops” (Fulton Sheen) then, yes, God will judge those who engaged in sinful deeds against children, those who were complicit in such deeds, and those who did nothing to stop it.
If the salvation of souls is our goal, as Catholic Christians, it is our duty to rebuke those who permit harm to children and bring scandal to the Body of Christ. Mahoney, George, and Doran deserve such rebuke.

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posted April 22, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Kate: How do you suggest the Church go about policing and enforcing its disciplines and doctrines? Do you know for certain that everything you have heard is true. I agree that criminals should be held accountable, but unfortunately perhaps scandal is a sin not a crime. I am somewhat inclined not to totally discount the rumors of a conspiracy in the highest levels of the hierarchy to bring down the Catholic Church. What would work better than to create a scandal on this magnitude that forces innocent parishioners to pay millions for the actions of those that violated the doctrines of the Catholic Church and bankrupt entire dioceses. Bear in mind that I am not saying this is true, but what would happen if it were? I do know the Catholic Church promised to be without error is being wrongly stained by actions that conspire against doctrine. I don’t know what the answer is, but I have confidence that Benedict XVI is the Pope we truly need to address these problems. Blaming him for not being everywhere at the same time is a scandal as well. I am not discounting your obviously heartfelt questions. nor am I putting down those that were truly abused. I believe that only God can sort it all out. I do know the guilty will be judged justly, and that was the point of my blog.

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Kate Bochte

posted April 25, 2008 at 2:11 pm

RelicMM, I’m not talking about enforcing dogma here and I don’t get my information from the rumor mill. I’ve read the USCCB Child Protection Charter and it’s related documents. I’ve read the Code of Coduct of my diocese (Rockford) and know from first-hand experiences of repeated violations with absolutely no accountability. I’ve attended court hearings with Church attorneys playing legal hardball with victims of clergy child abuse in both civil and criminal courts. This is after their Charter promised openness, transparency, and compassion for the victims. The billions of dollars in judgments – paid for by parishioners – are part of the hierachy’s game of secrecy. They refuse to go to trial where they might have to release self-incriminating documents and tell the truth so they simply use their lawyers to wear down the victims to the point where they just want it to end. Bishops and cardinals nationwide are using Sunday collections to a re-victimize those who have already been assaulted and it is still happening today. Cardinal George claims victims are just after the money but it’s the hierarchy’s unwillingness to go to trial that drives the settlements up, not the victims.
I haven’t heard anyone blame the pope for not being everywhere at the same time. Benedict XVI admitted last week that he, like St. Peter, is imperfect and makes mistakes. Though the divine element of the Church is perfect, the human element is far from it. Jesus chose imperfect married men to lead the Church and there has been error in the Church ever since.
Amazingly, the Church seems to have no effective system of checks and balances and assumes everyone will always do the right thing. All humans occassionally succumb to temptations – even clergy. But the current structure of the Church is unable to weed out sin and corruption within it’s own walls and instead is fertile ground for it to propogate which has indeed, sadly, happened. The Church needs to be reformed to address this defect. Otherwise, history will keep repeating itself.
The good news is, God isn’t going to wait to sort it out. He has already called upon His servants to step up and speak out for the good of the Church and for the good of His people, especially the wounded. Many who have answered His call have been punished by the hierarchy for doing so. I’ve met a principal in Chicago who was fired by Cardinal George for reporting one of her student’s claims of abuse by the pastor. I’ve met a teacher who continues to be harassed and lied about by a pastor who threatened to sue her after she reported abuse of a student by a priest. My own pastor pulled the plug on my involvement in parish ministries, gave a 20-minute homily at weekend Masses against my husband, and has posted on the internet a voicemail message I left him as well as private letters I wrote. We are called “clergy killers” and “dissidents” for advocating for healing and demanding the hierarchy follow our civil laws and its own written policies.
I hope this pope does a better job than the last in rooting these evils out of the Church. But I will not place any confidence in him as long as certain individuals are still in positions of power. The people in the pews must rise up and demand the hierarchy clean up its act. For a closer look at one parish and its experience with the clergy abuse scandal, check out For a look into ‘the devil’s playground’ which has nauseated many people who just took a quick look, go to my pastor’s website, Remember, faith is dead with only prayer. We must act.

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posted April 26, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Kate: I won’t dispute most of what you have said. Unfortunately Mary is the only perfect human so God had to rely on imperfect humans, but their sins are not the sins of the Church. If the Church had been followed, the scandal would have been avoided so I see no need to change its infallible structure. What needs to be changed, is for every Catholic to start obeying the Magisterium without reservation which seems to have been the main theme of the visit of BXVI. But all he can do is ask, there is no way he can prevent the individual sins of humanity. I was so in hope that Cardinal George would be able to straighten up the mess he inherited from his predecessor who was considered by some as the paramount influence in condoning homosexuals for the priesthood. I too am disappointed in him and in other Cardinals who have and are are still creating scandal as well. My heart goes out to Benedict XVI in his efforts to assuage the scandal and chaos in the wake of VCII that was not of his making.

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Kate Bochte

posted April 27, 2008 at 8:05 pm

Ridding homosexuals from seminaries is a diversion tactic used by the hierarchy to change the subject and divert the light of truth away from their own deeds. One of the main tenets of our faith and the teaching of the Magisterium is that of repentence, reparations, and reconciliation – for all, from the pope on down (as they would say). It is ridiculous for “the Church” to focus on homosexuals in seminaries when a huge number of clergy are so filled with pride that they sorely fail in the 3R department. The pope doesn’t need to “prevent the sins of humanity”. He does need to humble some very proud and arrogant cardinals, bishops, and monsignors – with demotion, early retirement, or laicization. That would be in accordance to the teachings of the Magisterium. By the way, I wonder what you would think is worse, a celibate priest with homosexual leanings or hetersexual priests who sleep with female married parishioners who come to them for counseling regarding her troubled marriage and thereby breaking up the marriage completely. I only ask because there is evidence two priests in my parish have done just that in the past 5 years. Personally, I would have rather had homosexual-type priests who were true to their vows and not living like hypocrites. God b with u.
p.s. I wouldn’t be too down on homosexuals. Many were doing just fine until their priests raped and sodomized them while they were adolescent and prepubescent – a time of finding oneself and discovering one’s own sexual identity. So, if there is anyone to blame for their “perversions”, wouldn’t that be their rapists and the bishops who transferred them around?

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