As I read the recent comments of Vatican apparatchiks about the sex abuse crisis in this country, I wonder whether they are trying to destroy Catholicism in America or themselves.

Thus if we are to believe a certain Archbishop Herranz, who sat in on the meeting with American cardinals and the Pope, the crisis is the result of the American news media and legal system. It's also the fault of American bishops' timidity in paying large settlements to the victims of abuse. Herranz blames the whole crisis on homosexuals, and castigates U.S. bishops for reporting sexual abuse accusations to civil authorities and turning over files to prosecuting attorneys. Ironically, Archbishop Herranz presides over the Vatican's Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.

Gianfranco Ghirlanda S.J., dean of Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, argued in the Jesuit magazine Civilta Cattolica that bishops are not morally or legally responsible for what priests do. According to him, bishops should not make priests take psychological tests, should not report accusations to civil authorities, and should not inform parishes when a priest is reassigned.

Finally, a certain Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras (reported to be a leading candidate to be the next Pope) is quoted by NCR writer John Allen as saying that attention to the pedophile crisis in the media detracts from attention to the war in the Middle East, that the money in the suits should not be given to lawyers or to the victims but to a fund for spirituality, that every time money mixes with justice it becomes unjust, and that he would be prepared to go to jail rather than harm one of his priests.

All of these curialists are clueless. They don't know anything about American society, culture, and law or about American Catholics. Moreover, they couldn't care less about their ignorance. They pontificate out of this ignorance. So they're arrogant too--or maybe just plain dumb.

They worry about priests, but are remarkably unconcerned about the victims. They forget completely about the elementary Catholic moral principle of restitution, which means that if you harm someone you have to try to restore to them what you have taken away. They don't grasp that whatever the faults of the tort system of Anglo-Saxon law and of the American media, these two institutions have brought the sexual abuse out into the open, where the Church can no longer cover it up and permit it to continue as it does in their own countries.

Cardinal Rodriguez's remarks are singularly ill-conceived, given that in his own country, law is what the soldiers with guns say it is. Rodiguez's own Salesian order seems to be responsible for more than its share of scandals. God help us all if a man of such insensitivity should be the next Pope.

Mix all this nonsense together and it sounds just like the ideology that caused the trouble here and motivated Cardinals Law and Egan: Cover up whatever you can; ignore civil authority and the laity; protect, above all else, the rights of priests, and don't worry about the victims.

Church leaders abroad are saying, in effect, that the Catholic Church does not have to obey the civil and criminal laws in the United States and respond to charges of having ruined the lives of young people. The Church is and should be immune to the laws of the American republic.

I make no case for either the tort bar (which is remarkably greedy) or for the fairness of media reports--like a despicable article in the New York Times attacking the Cardinal Bernardin's remarkably effective review board because two complaints had accused it of being insensitive. Nonetheless, freedom of the press and the right to seek redress of grievance are admirable parts of American life and should apply to the Church as to everyone else--and will do so despite clueless curial arrogance.

The comments read like warnings to the Pope not to let American bishops cave in to the demands of America's irresponsible media and legal systems, its homosexuals, and its sex-crazed culture. Hopefully His Holiness won't listen.

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