Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos' Letter

I have been struggling with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos' letter to the French Bishop Pierre Pican that said,
"You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest."
Bishop Pican received a 3 month prison sentence rather than denounce one of his priests for molesting a child. This took place in 2001. Father Lombardi has distanced the Holy See from the Cardinals remarks, saying this why it was necessary that that year, 2001, such cases were removed from the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Clergy, of which the Cardinal was head, to the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger.

For many bishops and priests prior to 2001 the Cardinal's words would have been seen as quite normal, a decade on things have changed dramatically. The change has brought about a drastic alteration in the relationship between bishops and priests, and consequently between priest and his people. In the past the relationship was indeed that of "father and son", in the last 10 years it has moved in many instances to employer and employee. Consequently there is a distancing between priests and their bishop, to some extant a breakdown in trust.. In the past bishops saw themselves as having a profound spiritual relationship with their priests, conversations were in the best situations the same as those with one's spititual director, which had at its root the confidentiality of the confessional.
The bishop, and priests too, were the keepers of secrets. The bishop would see his role to advise, even to command in the name of obedience but what he would not do was to break confidences or act any way that might detract from someone's character.

Nowadays a priest who is told by about child abuse, at least outside of confession, would be expected to report the offence himself, which means few people would consider admitting the offence. In the past both in the confessional, and outside of it, he, ideally, would have advised the victim to report the offence and the perpetrator to seek help, even to turn himself in but rarely would he have seen himself as taking any positive action that might betray confidentiality. 


Dominic Mary said...

I understand your problem with this one, Father.

If the Bishop knew of the offence in confession then his refusal to disclose it was laudable; but in that case how did the Cardinal know of it, unless the offending priest subsequently admitted it, and declared that he had confessed it to the bishop.

If, on the other hand, he knew of it out of confession, then even at that date it was utterly inexcusable (not least in terms of Canon Law) not to have taken immediate and direct action against the priest - although one obviously can't say whether or not he should also have denounced him to the secular authorities.

However, I think it is imperative that the Church emphasises that there is never a reason to breach the seal of the confessional; although a confessor might, I presume, require some concrete act of repentance - such as surrender to the secular authorities - as evidence of genuine contrition and intention to avoid the sin in the future before absolution can be given.

The Seal is already under legal threat in some places, not least Australia, and it will do the Church's ability to help repentant sinners no good if this core principle of the Sacrament is even thought to be compromised.

Michael Petek said...

Bishop Pican was rightly imprisoned assuming that he broke a civil law requiring crimes of violence of this kind to be reported to the civil authorities, and assuming that he came by his knowledge outside the confessional.

Under international law the priest alleged to have abused children, no more than a foreign state official, can claim state immunity in respect of offences against the person committed on the territory of the forum state.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this post.

"... (A) decade on things have changed dramatically." Surely we are not willing to admit that the nature of the theological/spiritual relationship between bishops and their clergy is changed? Although evidently it has in practice in many places....

I don't see why the expectation that clerics who commit certain crimes will be handed over to the civil power need affect the bishop/priest bond; surely since the end of the 16th c in most places the right of the state to do its own justice has been recognised?

Edward P. Walton said...

I think the "Progessive Faction" has fed Cardinal Hoyas to the media.
They must be going over Archbishop Burke with a magnifying glass.

Anonymous said...

Father Blake,
As an Orthodox priest I would expect my converations with my bishop to be "priveleged" in the same way as any man's conversation with his wife.
Similarly, I would treat all conversations of a spiritual nature as equally priveleged, as you might treat a conversation in the confessional.
I would go to prison rather than reveal them and hopefully, by God's grace, face death.

It is of the nature of a priest's relationship with his people that he is their advocate before heaven and their protector here on earth.

Father Nicholas

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

If this crime occured within the Confessional, then I can see why Cardinal Hoyos said what he said.

If it did not, then a grave error was committed.

Dominic Mary said...


Bishop Pican was rightly imprisoned assuming that he broke a civil law requiring crimes of violence of this kind to be reported to the civil authorities, and assuming that he came by his knowledge outside the confessional.

Absolutely right; the trouble is that we don't know whether either of those two things was the case.

If they were both true, then the Cardinal's letter is, on the face of it, indefensible, because the imprisonment was wholly justified both legally and morally.

If, on the other hand, there is no such law, than there was a miscarriage of justice; and if the information was revealed to him only in the confessional then, regardless of the legal position, he was imprisoned rather than break the seal, for which no praise can be too high.

The problem is, as with so many of these stories, we just don't know the facts.

jangojingo said...

Perhaps Father you are struggling with someone who has told you of a sexual offence against a child outside of confession and are concerned what you should do?

You could inform the secular authorities and let secular justice take its course. If you speak to your Bishop about it then he will need to inform the secular authorities.

My dad told me that some things you take to the grave for the benefit of the common good (not the exact words). There are no easy answers. He told me to always think about welfare of the eternal soul.

Fr Ray Blake said...

No, Paul and you shouldn't ask
But I do know of a case where a woman told a social worker about having been abused by her father; several years after the the event. The social bulldozed a prosecution through. The secrets of the family were disclosed the woman's mother hanged herself, the woman herself committed suicide, and so, I think, did a brother.

People tell priests secrets, that they want God to hear but also want kept secret. It should be their secret to do with as they will.

I sympathise with Fr Nicholas, but the situation he describes is no longer possible in the Western Church.

B flat said...

If that relationship of priest to bishop and people to priest, described by Fr Nicholas, is no longer possible in the Western Church, then trust and confidence in and of one another is undermined, and how will the members of the Body cohere? That trust is the basis for the rule of unbreakable confidentiality in confession. If you isolate confidentiality to sacramental confession, then I doubt it will hold for long.

What about trust between members of a family, or between friends? I resist intrusions of the Law on these relationships.

How much counselling can a priest offer in a half-hour slot for confession, when five more people might be waiting? If he continues outside the confines of the confessional, the same confidentiality must apply, otherwise who will approach with confidence? Can you work with less than unconditional trust on both sides?

I really hope you are mistaken in this judgment, Fr Ray; but I am glad you raised this topic.

nickbris said...

MOST of us have heard from female friends that they had been sexually abused as children by their Father or an Uncle.These revelations usually come about many many years after the events,it always comes with a shock and when asked why nothing was ever done about it the answer was always thought to be best to keep it a secret.

Sometimes the Mother was aware of the abuse but it was always thought best to keep it to themselves and try to keep out of the way as much as possible.

When I was told about one of these abuses it deeply affected me as one of these abusers was a great friend of mine before he died some years earlier.

There must be thousands of tales like this but they don't seem to come out until we are in our seventies.

Verity said...

Fr Corapi, in one of his talks ,mentioned the prevalence of incest but, as nickbris said, nothing was said - it was kept inhouse. I have heard from psychologists that 40% -60% of sexual abuse occurs in homes.

B. said...

We do not know what Bishop Pican knew because he refused any comment during his trial citing the seal of the confessional.

How Cardinal Castrillon knew of it? That is easy, because the bishop was convicted.

Of course it is possible that he knew of it outside of the confessional and just cited the seal for his own protection. That is what the court assumed.

bill bannon said...

Frankly, excepting confessional matter, aside from the crass legal minimum concerning husband-wife whereby they need not testify against each other, I think they should turn each other in if one of them knows the other is molesting children. Likewise a father should turn in his son if he knows he is molesting children.
What is the point of keeping a trusting relationship with someone who cannot be trusted with children.

Norman said...

The trouble is that legally there is no difference between what is said in the confessional and elsewhere.
What is the difference?
Why shouldn't someone, a thief, an adulter, a terrorist, a pedophie have a right to speak to priest as he might to God?
I think a priest has duty to keep silent, his first duty must be to save souls.

bill bannon said...

I wrote "excepting confessional matter". Therefore as in the case of then Bishop Wuerl years ago, Wuerl saw and had a lot of extra confessional evidence against a priest and fired him from ministry whereupon the priest had that overturned by Rome and Wuerl then packed the evidence in a suitcase and flew to Rome and had them reinstate his original order for the priest to stay out of ministry that brought him in contact with children.

Anonymous said...

If Mons Pican's knowledge came solely from the sacrament, then how could he have turned the cleric over to the civil authorities?

On the other hand, if we are defending Mons also because he enjoyed a strong and authentically Catholic bond with his secular priests, surely he ought to have been able, on the basis of that, to persuade the offending cleric to give himself up?

I hate to admit it but I think Edward P. Walton is likely on to something....

Mike said...

Sorry this has nothing to do with the Bishop sentenced to imprisonment but it is relevant to clerical child abuse. It is an example of how distorted some reporting on the BBC, at least, can be. I could not see anywhere else to put it that people might see.

Pope avoids sex scandal comment
The BBC's David Willey says Pope Benedict is unlikely to agree to a meeting requested by the 10 Maltese men who allege in criminal proceedings that, as children, they were sexually molested by the priests at the orphanage.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/04/18 05:18:29 GMT

This article appeared on the BBC website on Sunday morning. By Sunday evening you would not know that it had been there as all links to it had been removed from the website. For example if you looked at the article with the headline:

Pope 'cries with Church abuse victims' in Malta

you would not find any link to the earlier article which alleged that “Pope Benedict is unlikely to agree to a meeting requested by the 10 Maltese men who allege in criminal proceedings that, as children, they were sexually molested by the priests at the orphanage.”

Notice that the allegation about not meeting the alleged victims is not reporting. It is pure supposition. And what did Mr Willey base his supposition on? Well, not on any facts, that’s for sure. So what was it based on? Prejudice, perhaps?

Clarke said...

Having just read this article and some of these comments, I am in total shock. I hardly feel, considering the appalling lack of child protection provided by the Catholic church, that any priests should be giving out advice on how to handle cases of sexual abuse. Yet I see the priest here feels he is in a position to send out a warning, citing a worst-case scenario of suicides that occurred in a family affected by sexual abuse, in a case apparently handled badly by social services. Notwithstanding that self-harm and suicidal behaviour is sadly very common amongst survivors of child abuse, does he really think that the church would have handled this case better, maybe by covering up the sexual abuse and silencing the victims?
Psychologists who work with sex offenders have a term for the presentation of these types of worst case scenarios ... they're called extreme case formulations ... and they are very commonly found in the discourse of child sex offenders and are presented as an attempt to divert blame away from themselves and onto other organisations, the family or even the victims themselves.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Clarke, I am sorry you be shocked by what I wrote but I have met too many people damaged by a one size fits all approach.
What survivors seem to want is control - which is what abuse has denied them. It is sad and damaging if social workers, psychologists and police deny them that control.

Maureen said...

Father is right to cite a hard case.
It is only when we examine hard cases that we can find the best practice and the best way of empowering survivors.
I speak myself as a survivor of abuse from a family member.

Clarke said...

We can all try to compile a list of what constitutes best practice for helping survivors of abuse and no doubt would include common sense ideas like control, support and the importance of being believed ... but surely we can agree that the last thing we would include on our list is for an abuse survivor to see a letter posted on the internet, from a Vatican offical congratulating a Bishop on their actions for aiding and abetting their paedophile abuser ... do you think the boy who was raped by this priest is feeling a sense of control now? Why go routing round for cases handled badly by other organisations, which I doubt you know the full details of as they would be confidential, when there is an extreme case of bad-handling right in front of you?

Mark said...

Victims anyone? Anyone care to think about the victims & avoiding future incidents or is keeping Canon Law more important?? Straight to the Police please in any & all situations. Let's look as though we want to 'root' this out forever rather than protect the criminals!

Sussex Catholic said...


You may find the attached link helpful in trying to understand what went on here. I is John Allen's latest synopsis in NCR:

You will note that it appears that Bishop Pican presented the seal of the Confessional as his defence but that the court did not accept this since evidence was adduced that he had had discussions about the allegations with his Vicar General and even the victim's family. It might be said that the Cardinal's letter was sent on the mistaken premise that this had been a "seal of the confessional" case pure and simple given that the letter cited the relevant code. That said Cardinal Castrillon, perhaps as with the Williamson affair, should have made sure he knew all the facts before making an intervention and indeed enlisting Papal support.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Everyone wants to protect and help the victim.

The problem is how best to do it.
In some cases it is best done by being listened to and being taken seriously.
I have never as far as I know met the victim of clerical abuse, I have met several who have been abused in families. Listening and praying is all I have done in most of these cases, which is all, I thought at the time, what the survivors wanted. Going to the police is something I have always suggested but has never been something the victims have wanted.
All of whom I would stress are adults. Some have found help through through survivors forums.
Prosecution really isn't a priority, often because of the difficulty of proving anything.
Few people want to put their pain and hurt on display in court.

See the next post.

SanDeE said...

I do agree that retelling the story of ones abuse in court would be painful but not nearly as painful as knowing not telling would cause others to go thru the same abuse.

Father when a congregate comes to you with these issue they are looking to you to comfort them and are well within thier rights, but is that all you want to be in this situation. The person who comforts victims after abuse, especially if you are in the position to stop the abuse. I say if you know there is an abuser in your church or your community it is your responsibilty to alert authorities to thier presences.

Please realize that one victim coming to you for comfort is most likely one victim of many and most likely many to come. It is those victims in the future you have a responsibility to.

Basil said...

I see the latest is that Castrillon-Hoyos has been pulled as celebrant for a planned Mass in Washington after this letter.

What with this letter and the incompetence shown over Richard Williamson this is long overdue.

Edward P. Walton said...

It was not Cardinal Hoyos's letter that decided the change of plans but the fear of demonstrations both inside and outside of the their Nathional Basilica in Washington.

A change in the Papal visit to England might not seem as remote as once thought.

John Lowell said...

Castrillon-Hoyos's reliance on the seal to justify his support of Bishop Pican is bogus in every respect. Pican's Vicar General had been advised of the abuse by the victim's mother and had so informed Pican well in advance of any confession made to him by the abuser priest. The Vicar General testified to this effect at Pican's trial and his testimony was central to the court's rejection of Pican seal of confession defense at the time. Why Pican even changed the abuser's assignment after learning of the abuse! Certainly Castrillon-Hoyos knew of these details. What possible merit could there have been in supporting Pican in this way? If anything, the man made a mockery of the seal defence and has embarrassed Catholics everywhere.

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