Cardinal Levada Decries New York Times Attack
Stresses Benedict XVI's Action Against Child Abuse
The article, published March 25 by the Times, tried to implicate the Pope in the case of a priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, who was accused of abusing deaf children. It criticized the Pontiff for his actions while prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, before becoming Pope.
Cardinal William Levada, the congregation's current prefect, responded to the accusations in a March 26 letter that was published Tuesday by the newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where he once served as archbishop.
He asserted that the Times article, and an accompanying editorial, were "deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting."
The prelate debunked many of the contradictory claims made by the article's author, Laurie Goodstein, in her attempt at "accusing the Pope of leniency and inaction in this case and presumably in others."
"We owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors," the cardinal affirmed.
He added that "these efforts began when the Pope served as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and continued after he was elected Pope."
The fact that the Times ignored this "important contribution" warrants "the charge of lack of fairness which should be the hallmark of any reputable newspaper," Cardinal Levada affirmed.
He revealed that although the Times article claims that Father Murphy's canonical trial was halted due to the priest's advanced age, he personally just "received an unsolicited letter from the judicial vicar who was presiding judge in the canonical trial telling me that he never received any communication about suspending the trial, and would not have agreed to it."
The cardinal, who previously served as an auxiliary bishop in
"In dealing with priests, I learned that many priests, when confronted with accusations from the past, spontaneously admitted their guilt," he noted. "On the other hand, I also learned that denial is not uncommon."
Speaking about the Church's continual response to these cases, the cardinal recalled that in 2001, "with the publication of Pope John Paul II's Motu proprio Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, that responsibility for guiding the Catholic Church's response to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics was assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
He added, "This papal document was prepared for Pope John Paul II under the guidance of Cardinal Ratzinger as prefect of the congregation."
"Contrary to some media reports," the current prefect said, this document "did not remove the local bishop's responsibility for acting in cases of reported sexual abuse of minors by clerics."
Rather, he said, it "directs bishops to report credible allegations of abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is able to provide a service to the bishops to ensure that cases are handled properly, in accord with applicable ecclesiastical law."
Cardinal Levada listed some of the advances of this "new Church legislation:" "It has allowed for a streamlined administrative process in arriving at a judgment, thus reserving the more formal process of a canonical trial to more complex cases. […]
"It provides for erecting inter-diocesan tribunals to assist small dioceses. The congregation has faculties allowing it derogate from the prescription of a crime (statute of limitations) in order to permit justice to be done even for 'historical' cases.
"Moreover, [it] has amended canon law in cases of sexual abuse to adjust the age of a minor to 18 to correspond with the civil law in many countries today.
"It provides a point of reference for bishops and religious superiors to obtain uniform advice about handling priests' cases."
"Perhaps most of all," the prefect said, "it has designated cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics as graviora delicta: most grave crimes, like the crimes against the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance perennially assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
"This in itself has shown the seriousness with which today's Church undertakes its responsibility to assist bishops and religious superiors to prevent these crimes from happening in the future, and to punish them when they happen," he added.
The cardinal pointed out that this "is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church."
He continued: "I can assure the Times that the
"This kind of anachronistic conflation," Cardinal Levada asserted, "warrants my accusation that the Times, in rushing to a guilty verdict, lacks fairness in its coverage of Pope Benedict."
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