Rod Dreher

Here’s a story about how complicated the whole abusive priest situation is . Indian priest serving in Minnesota allegedly abuses girl, who goes to police after he is back in India. Charges are filed. Extradition is sought. The Minnesota bishop in charge of this priest does the right thing, warning Vatican that girls back in India are at risk from this priest. Then:

In 2006, the Vatican recommended that the priest simply be monitored, a document shows. An attorney for the Holy See said in a statement that the Vatican had recommended that the priest be defrocked, but that canon law specifies that the decision rests with the local bishop. The bishop in India sentenced the priest to a year of prayer in a monastery rather than seeking his removal from the priesthood, according to documents and interviews.

When a second victim came forward with more serious allegations against the Indian priest, the American bishop wrote to the Vatican twice more, trying to make them understand what a menace this priest was. Reportedly the Vatican is now cooperating with prosecutors in Minnesota.
OK, look. There are over 400,000 Catholic priests on the planet. Do you know how many priests are on the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has oversight in these matters? Something like 40. It is inevitable that the Vatican will have to rely on local bishops to attend to most of these matters. I can’t think of another church or religious organization that has comparable global reach, and which is centrally administered. I’m not trying to let the Vatican off the hook here, but I am trying to understand how difficult it is for the CDF to do proper oversight with such paltry resources. If it’s true that canon law reserves the right to defrock to the local bishop — and I don’t know that that’s true, given how we’ve read many stories about American bishops who wanted to defrock allegedly problematic priests, but who weren’t allowed to because the CDF didn’t think the bishop had proved his case — then there is quite possibly a problem with canon law that needs reform. In any case, this is yet another example of how the Vatican sees clerical sexual abuse as a moral problem requiring moral reform measures (e.g., prayer) and not a criminal problem.
Serious question: how is the Vatican, with its extremely limited resources, supposed to handle this problem? Again, I’m not trying to excuse Vatican inaction, but I don’t see how Rome is going to get a handle on this at the level of monitoring particular priests. The pope has to be able to trust local bishops to do the right thing. It sounds like the American bishop in question did, but the Indian bishop, following Vatican advice, did not, and doesn’t intend to.
The Catholic Church faces an unprecedented problem, one particular to its global reach, and an era of globalized media. Four years ago, The Dallas Morning News published a shocking investigative series showing how priests accused of sex crimes in the US were fleeing abroad, where they were being sheltered by religious orders, and even in one case, a prominent cardinal. The stories get really complicated, in part because bishops in dioceses half a world away miscommunicate, or possibly deliberately deceive each other. The news didn’t make nearly the splash it should have, because by 2006, when the story appeared, the American media had long since gotten sick of the abusive priest story. But the reports the DMN published were substantial and scandalous, revealing how clerical sex criminals could count on an international church network to evade accountability and continue to work with children.
How Benedict fixes this, God only knows. He theoretically has the power to order wholesale reforms. In truth, it’s far, far more complicated (what’s he going to do if bishops refuse to obey him, send in the Swiss Guards?). The quandary he’s in is that he’s got responsibility for all of this stuff, without the practical means to police it effectively. It is an administrative nightmare.

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