May 13 2008

Catholic League’s Inaccurate Critique of FAIR

Group mischaracterized document in defending Pope Benedict

UPDATE–The Catholic League, a conservative Catholic advocacy organization, has challenged the accuracy of FAIR’s April 29 media advisory, “Pope Gets Pass on Church Abuse History.” In a May 2 release, “Media Watchdog, FAIR, Smears Pope,” League president Bill Donohue challenged FAIR’s report that before he was elected pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger “sent a letter to church bishops invoking a 1962 doctrine threatening automatic excommunication for any Catholic official who discussed abuse cases outside the church’s legal system.”

According to Donohue, “The document did not apply to sexual misconduct–it applied only to sexual solicitation that might take place in the confessional.” Donohue went on to say that because

the policy was specifically aimed at protecting the secrecy of the confessional, it called for an ecclesiastical response: Civil authorities were not to be notified because it involved a sacrament of the Catholic Church, not a crime of the state.

Donohue, who accused FAIR of failing to read the document, is in error. “Crimen Sollicitationis,” the 1962 Vatican document in question, explicitly includes acts taking place outside, as well as inside, the confessional. Under the headline “On the Worst Crime” (Chapter V, article 73), the scope of the document is extended to include “any obscene, external act, gravely sinful, perpetrated in any way by a cleric or attempted by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals.”

The issue of whether “Crimen” applied to acts committed outside the confessional was addressed by Monsignor Brian Ferme, a doctor of canon law, in Il Proceso Penale Canonico, a book published by Lateran University Press, a publishing house affiliated with the Vatican. As Monsignor Ferme explained:

While the instruction dealt specifically with solicitation and the procedural norms to be applied in judging this crime, the fifth chapter stated that the same norms were also to be observed for the “crimen pessimum” (article 71), which was understood to include paedophilia (article 73).

FAIR’s advisory accurately criticized media for failing to mention Ratzinger’s letter and other evidence suggesting that, prior to being named pope, Ratzinger attempted to conceal and downplay the church’s sex abuse scandal.