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Global Perspectives
From our Rome Bureau

Five Vatican offices will review new charter

American zero tolerance policy headed for trouble in Rome, sources say

Church in Australia also struggles with sex abuse scandal

Cardinal's ‘persecution’ remarks play to mixed reviews in Europe


Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga’s recent attack on the American media, comparing what he termed its “persecution” of the Catholic church to ancient Roman emperors as well as Hitler and Stalin, has played to mixed reviews overseas.

While most observers regard the language as overheated, some agree that the press has exaggerated the sexual abuse story. Others, however, contend that the media focus is appropriate to the gravity of the crisis that grips not just the United States, but other parts of the Catholic world.

Rodriguez, 59, is widely regarded as a candidate to be the next pope. His comments came in an interview with the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni, published in the June issue.

“We all know that Ted Turner is openly anti-Catholic, and he is the owner not just of CNN but also Time-Warner,” Rodriguez said. “This is to say nothing of dailies such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, protagonists of what I do not hesitate to call a persecution against the church.”

Rodriguez suggested this “persecution” serves political ends.

“In a moment in which the attention of the mass media was focused on what was happening in the Middle East, the injustices directed against the Palestinian people, the TV and the newspapers in the United States became obsessed with sexual scandals that happened forty years ago, thirty years ago. Why?

“I think it has to do with these motives: What church has received Arafat the most and has called for the creation of a Palestinian state the most? What church has never accepted that Jerusalem should be the indivisible capital of the state of Israel, but must be the capital of the three great monotheistic religions? What church opposes abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty? What church does not accept projects for the family that are not in keeping with God’s plan?

“It’s the Catholic church,” Rodriguez said. “It is the only one, to put it this way, that stands in the way of a dehumanizing political program. Only in this fashion can I explain the ferocity [in the press] that reminds me of the times of Nero and Diocletian, and more recently, of Stalin and Hitler.”

Rodriguez called for a tempered approach to sexual abuse.

“If there are priests, or also bishops, who are stained by grave sins they must be punished with the appropriate canonical penalties, and if necessary, must also face civil justice,” Rodriguez said. But this must happen, he said, without a “witch hunt” inside the church.

“We bishops must not forget that we are merciful pastors and not agents of the FBI or CIA. We must always ask how Jesus would conduct himself. Pedophilia is an illness, and it is just that whoever has it should leave the priesthood. But the accusations must always be proved with a just process, and without persecution from the civil authorities, which is what is actually happening.”

The comments echoed points Rodriguez had earlier made in a session with reporters in Rome on May 16, in which he said he would go to jail rather than “harm” one of his priests.

In this context, Rodriguez came to the defense of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.

“I know him well,” Rodriguez said. “He is a man who has done much good for us in Latin America, and now we suffer for him and we suffer for the injustice of what is defined as justice.”

“I heard that the judge who is conducting the case is one who supports all the feminist movements,” Rodriguez said, in an apparent reference to Judge Constance M. Sweeney of the Massachusetts Superior Court, who was recently assigned responsibility for all the sex abuse complaints filed against the Boston archdiocese.

It was Sweeney who, in early May, denied an archdiocese request for a customary seven-day notice before a deposition of Law, citing fears that the cardinal might be brought to the Vatican to evade answering questions. “If the pope tells him to go to Rome, he goes,” she said.

“Thus it happened,” Rodriguez said, “that despite the fact that cases in the United States take a long time, Cardinal Law was quickly subjected to interrogation using methods that recall the most dark times of Stalinist processes against churchmen in Eastern Europe. Then transcripts from these interrogations were put into circulation on the Internet and published with great emphasis by all the big dailies. I don’t agree with this theatrical form of justice.

“This is not justice, I repeat, this is persecution.”

Salesian Fr. Sebastian Karotemprel, an Indian who teaches at Rome’s Pontifical Urban University, said that while Rodriguez may have pushed the point too far, there is a measure of hostility in the way the American media has reported the sex abuse story.

“The Catholic church is a very powerful institution, for good or bad, and it has a clear moral position that is not palatable to the left-oriented media in the world,” Karotemprel told NCR June 11.

Karotemprel said the sex abuse crisis offered “a large stick with which to beat the church.”

On the other hand, Fr. Antoine Bodar, a frequent commentator on church affairs in Holland, told NCR that he does not believe the media has oversold the dimensions of the story.

“I am afraid the sexual abuse crisis is not exaggerated, generally speaking,” he said. “The crisis is not just in the U.S., but is the same in northwestern Europe.”

Karotemprel told NCR that one element Rodriguez leaves out of view is the role the bishops themselves have played in stoking the crisis, including hostile treatment in the press.

“Bishops are answerable only to God and the pope, and this doesn’t happen very often,” Karotemprel said. “In the meantime we have to live with them.”

Karotemprel said he hopes one lasting effect of the American crisis will be an impetus for structures to make church governance “less silent and secret, more transparent and responsible.”

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR’s Vatican correspondent. His e-mail address is