Scalfari again

My stats counter tells me that a fair number of people come here to read about the interview that Eugenio Scalfari, editor of La Repubblica, had with Pope Francis. The most recent one, mind you, not the one that made headlines a year ago.

I’m not going to write much about it, though, because I think it is a highly problematic thing. Dutch Catholic blogger Anton de Wit says it best, in my opinion, when he writes about the percentage of pedophiles among the priesthood, allegedly given by the Pope as 2%: “A statistic conjured out of thin air, pure fiction, hearsay from a journalist who says he had heard it from the Pope, who had heard it from some unspecified personnel, who in turn, no doubt, had heard it from someone else again.”

Scalfari, as is generally known now, took no notes and made no recordings during the interview. The complete content of the article is taken down from memory. He nonetheless provides what appear to be direct quotes Pope Francis, but the way in which the data was collected makes the entire article inherently unreliable.

I wonder about the wisdom of granting such interviews. They sow confusion as words are put in the Pope’s mouth which we just have to assume are correct until the Holy See’s press office issues a statement, as they did, that none of the quotes can be assumed as attributable to the Pope. The first interview was already problematic, but Pope Francis grants a second one without, it seems, much concern. We are told that the Pope knows 2% of all priests are pedophiles, that there are cardinals among that number, and that he intends to find a solution for the problem of celibacy. And the memory of a 90-year-old atheist editor is the only source for this. The press office can do all it wants to deny it, but the damage is done as soon as the interview is published.

You can’t grant interviews to journalist who are known to be unreliable in collecting and sharing their information, and then hope to correct any errors that pop up.


Another horrible page

Disconcerting reports appeared in the media today about the boys’ boarding school Harreveld. Here, in the 50s of the last century, a student, possibly even more, is said to have been castrated.

Should these reports, as they now appear in the media, indeed be truthful this concerns a serious situation which is strongly condemned and regretted by the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. The willingness to cooperate with finding out the truth is hereby expressed.

A short, almost clinical, message from the Dutch bishops regarding the shocking report that came out yesterday. To combat alleged ‘homosexual tendencies’  a pupil at the Harreveld boarding school was castrated, so the story goes. The exact details are hard to come by, but what has become clear by now is that the events were not widely known, and that the Deetman committee, who did come across the allegations last year, found little basis for a continued investigation. Whether that means that the date was sparse, or that it didn’t further the scientific investigation conducted by said committee remains to be seen.

And that’s always the crux, right? Who knew what, and why did they decide to keep things hidden from public knowledge? Contrary to public opinion, things are obviously not always kept secret with malignant intent. There may be good reasons for it. But I don’t know if that was the case here.

In the media and in politics people are elbowing each other out of the way to attack the Church over this, to call for parliament enquiries into the matter, even to invalidate and redo the entire Deetman investigation. While certainly understandable considering the horror that took place, it must also be said that such calls are often done in the heat of the moment.

While I don’t want to offer an excuse for the castration of boys or young men, for whatever reason (except probably criminal pedophilia), it must be said that it is no secret that such medical procedures, as they undoubtedly are to be considered as, took place in the past to combat all kinds of sexual ‘conditions’, be it ‘hypersexuality’, pedophilia or, indeed, homosexuality. It’s a brutal measure that may be compared to to performing lobotomies on people with mental or psychological disorders. We know now that it does far more harm than good, and certainly doesn’t ‘cure’ the patient.

And what now? We, the Church and all faithful, will be attacked over this, and I think it’s something we must bear for now, painful and frustrating as it is. While I don’t think I, or any other Catholic, can be held responsible for the behaviour of another, the fact that it was allowed to took place under Catholic auspices means that the Church will be scrutinised and held accountable. And we are the Church…

Regarding other abuses, sexual or otherwise, the Catholic Church was, and is, not the only place where it happens. That’s true today and in the past. That is fact that must be remembered, but it does not wipe our slate clean. “The dirt in someone else’s street doesn’t make ours any cleaner,” to quote my bishop. Perhaps the process that we are going through now as Catholics may some day be an example to all of society. The issue of how we treat our sexuality today needs a different answer., and I am convinced that the faith that the Church safeguards and teaches has that answer.

The understandable emotional reactions that will be directed our way will sometime be hard to bear. In today’s extremely secular society, anything regarding the Church is considered with mild suspicion at least, with outright and unjust anger and violence at the worst. Let us, faithful and priests, unite under the Cross and ask God to forgive those who committed the abuse, those who hid the facts and those who now do the wrong things in handling the consequences. Let’s pray for the strength and will to do the utmost for the victims, that justice and compensation, as far as it is possible, be done. Lastly, let’s pray that we can help those in and outside the Church who are now further alienated through the past deeds of a few. And then, once we have asked God for His divine help, let’s get out there an do those things we prayed for!

It’s raining statements

In a seeming attempt to put right what went wrong, the Salesians in the Netherlands and abroad are trying to be as open as possible about the process of dealing with the membership of a Dutch Salesian of a pedophilia group and the statements of delegate Fr. Herman Spronck, who came out in favour of pedophilia and defended Fr. van B.’s work for the group ‘Martijn’. Yesterday, two more press releases were published, the first from the Salesian Congregation in Rome, titled Paedophilia: Incompatible with the principles and values of Salesian tradition. The heart of that statement is the following paragraph:

“Being a member of such an association is absolutely incompatible with the principles and values of Salesian tradition. Therefore we strongly disapprove of this fact and we distance ourselves from this kind of personal behaviour by an individual confrere. We can understand that this news has undoubtedly once again seriously wounded the justified sensitivities of many persons. We can understand their pain and we offer our apologies in the name of the Salesians of Don Bosco.”

But do read the full text.

The second press release concerns Fr. Spronck himself:

In a conversation, Jos Claes, Provincial of the Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco in Flanders and the Netherlands, has ordered Father Herman Spronck to refrain from giving any interviews or public statements for one year.

Father Herman Spronck has accepted this decision and has promised to keep to it.

Father Herman Spronck acknowledges that his statements represent an incorrect vision and offers his apologies to the many people who felt angered and distraught by the interview.

He disassociates himself from the contents of his interview, which is fully contrary to the teachings of the Church and incompatible with the Christian and Salesian project of education.

Fr. Jos Claes

What was missing in the interview is now finally present in this statement; the fact that, as a Catholic priest, Fr. Spronck made statements that are incompatible with the Christian faith and the teachings of the Church. Better late than never, I would say.

Certain questions and rumours still remain. What, for example, do we make of the claim that Fr. Jos Claes was aware of the membership of Fr. van B. of ‘Martijn’ well before this whole issue broke? I have no sources for that claim apart from rumours being floated here and there. In Rome and the Netherlands, the investigation will continue. I don’t think this is a closed case just yet.

Three press releases from the Salesians

On their website, the Dutch Salesians have released three press statements, two from the hand of Fr. Jos Claes, the order’s provincial for the Netherlands and Flanders, and one from the chairman of Don Bosco Works Netherlands. All regard the membership of one of the Salesian fathers of the pro-pedophilia group ‘Martijn’ as well as the statements made by delegate Fr. Herman Spronck.

Since the interest in the topic is high, judging from my blog’s statistics, I’ll share both press statements in English below.

Press release from the provincial of the Salesian of Don Bosco

Following the news and notification of the comments by Father H. Spronck about Father van B., we distance ourselves completely from the comments by Father H. Spronck.

To our great surprise we were made aware in the past days that Father van B. was a member of the association ‘Martijn’. The membership and visions of such an association are not compatible with our Salesian identity and the educational project of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

We absolutely do not approve of this and we therefore condemn the membership and the opinions of Father van B.

Brussels, 21 May 2011
Jos Claes

Press release from the provincial of the Salesian of Don Bosco

Concerning the case of Father van B. the Provincial has established a committee. Starting today, this will be collecting all the information regarding the actions and words of Father van B. which is connected to his condemnable membership of ‘Martijn’.

The committee’s report will be sent to the superiors of the Salesian congregation in Rome.

At this moment the provincial has officially informed Father van B. that he can not undertake any pastoral duty or service anywhere or in whatever way.

Brussels, 23 May 2011
Jos Claes

Statement from the Foundation Don Bosco Works Netherlands

On Friday evening the council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands was surprised by the news from RTL 4 about one of the Salesians of Don Bosco and especially the comments which delegate Mr. German Spronck gave via RTL 4.

The council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands would hereby like to inform you that it expressly distances itself from the comments made by Mr. Herman Spronck in this regard. In the meantime, there has been deliberation with Mr. Jos Claes, Provincial.

The council of the Don Bosco Works Netherlands now reflects on the situations and will further inform you.

Foundation Don Bosco Works Netherlands
Lex Enklaar, chairman
23 May 2011

Three statements which illustrate the shocking nature of the comments made and the effect upon the Salesians and all who work with them. It is good to see that steps are being taken and that Rome will be involved, like a spokesman of the Dutch bishops said a few days ago.

In the meantime, it must be emphasised that Fr. Spronck and Fr. van B. have not committed any crimes according to the law. However, morally their statements and the membership of a club of pedophiles are very seriously wrong.

The Kröber interview, now available in Dutch

Early this month I wrote about an interview with German forensic psychiatrist Hans-Ludwig Kröber about the alleged relation between celibacy and pedophilia. Now, thanks to Taquoriaan, that interview is also available in Dutch. An interesting read with some very thought-provoking conclusion from a man who knows what he’s talking about.

The interview is now also available in English.

Bertone’s grain of truth

Massimo Introvigne

Via Eric Masseus I find yet another interesting article. Author Massimo Introvigne writes about moral panic in the light of the abuse crisis, focussing especially on the occurence of pedophilia among priests. It’s an interesting piece in itself, so go read it.       

What drew my attention, also in light of the comments by Fr. Federico Lombardi about Cardinal Bertone’s statements linking pedophilia and homosexuality, is the following passage:  

While it may hardly be politically correct to say so, there is a fact that is much more important: over 80 percent of paedophiles are homosexuals, that is, males who abuse other males. And – again citing Jenkins – over 90 percent of Catholic priests convicted for sexually abusing minors have been homosexual. If a problem has sprung up in the Catholic Church, it is not due to celibacy but to a certain tolerance of homosexuality in seminaries, particularly in the 1970s, when most of the priests later convicted for the abuses were ordained.       

Philip Jenkins


The Jenkins that Introvigne refers to is historian and sociologist Philip Jenkins of Pennsylvania State University, who has done a study about the influence and value of moral panic and how it contributes or blocks resolving a problem. He concludes that they usually don’t help at all. It reminds me of my opinion, mentioned here before, that modern society often remains stuck in the emotional response, indeed the moral panic of Jenkins’ study.       

In considering the above statements, I would also like to include a few words  from Fr. Lombardi. About Cardinal Bertone’s comments he said: “[R]eferred to here obviously is the problem of abuse by priests, and not in the population in general.”       

If we then take the priestly population as our subject, rather than the wider population of all people (men and women, hetero- and homosexual), we do see a different picture. The Zenit article I linked to above also mentions:       

These statements are backed by the report published in 2004 by John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, regarded as the most complete report on the sexual abuse crisis.       

On studying the charges of sexual abuse presented against clerics between 1950 and 2002 in the United States, the report stated that an overwhelming majority of the victims — 81% — were males.       

Considering these facts and studies, we can draw some conclusions: in the priestly population, for various reasons, sexual abuse is chiefly of a homosexual nature (a possible reason could be the fact that most children and young people who had regular dealings with priests were male). In that sense Cardinal Bertone was correct. It was a clumsy thing to say, but it now seems he did have the data to back it up. If only he’d made that clearer.       

Of course, such conclusions do nothing to resolve the problem. They don’t help the victims or the offenders. What they do allow, is a renewed consideration of the formation of priests (here I go again). Introvigne also writes:       

If a problem has sprung up in the Catholic Church, it is not due to celibacy but to a certain tolerance of homosexuality in seminaries, particularly in the 1970s, when most of the priests later convicted for the abuses were ordained.       

And isn’t that directly related to the political and social climate? As far as the sexual revolution goes, it ran absolutely rampant in the 1970s. In the Netherlands, for example, political parties and members of parliament actively advocated legalising pedophilia (the same parties and individuals which now viciously attack the Church, as a poignant aside. PvdA, I’m looking at you).       

This is no excuse for the crimes committed by priests, but they point at the main problem. That is not homosexuality, celibacy or pedophilia, but the formation and education of priests. A priest is a man of God who, if he works in a parish, is also a man of the world. There is a careful balance to be achieved there, which is not always easy, especially for seminarians and young priests who are only just getting started. In order to maintain that balance you need clear demarcations and a good development and awareness of yourself. From my own limited knowledge of seminaries, that formation is part of the tripod of their education program, at least in the first few years: philosophy, theology and spiritual formation.       

Saying “the homosexuals did it” is pointless for finding a solution. But the facts above must be taken into account: we need them to figure out the problem and resolve it. The moral panic as described by Introvigne and Jenkins blurs those facts, and so does more damage for the sake of political correctness. Reality hurts. A lot sometimes. But sometimes pain makes us stronger. I am convinced that we, society as a whole, must relearn that.

Chipping away…

In a time when the Catholic Church should be acting and speaking as one, there are countless people and institutions who do the opposite. Earlier this week Cardinal Bertone was an example of that. The Vatican today issued a statement distancing themselves from the cardinal statements that homosexuality and pedophilia are related. They said:

“Church authorities do not consider it their responsibility to make general statements of a specifically physiological or medical character, which is why they naturally refer back to experts study and ongoing research on the subject” . (Source)

In other words, Cardinal Bertone spoke about things that should have been left to the experts. But I’m afraid the damage is already done…

Other damage comes from a Dutch bishop, a retired one, but a bishop nonetheless.

Msgr. Philippe Bär is the former bishop of Rotterdam, and in an interview he gave recently he blamed the taboo culture in the Roman Curia for the problems of the Church.

“The Curia placed a taboo on everything, always arguing that the Holy Father would otherwise be disturbed. We now pay the high price of all those scandals for that.”

An overly simplistic thing to say. A slightly thorough reading of, for example, the Code of Canon Law will show that taboos are quite rare and they are never created to protect the wellbeing of the pope (knowing Pope Benedict XVI, he’d be the first to tell the Curia to act normally around him).

“Oh, my dear Church! There is so much joy in your message, so much positivity too. I shed hot tears as that is hidden by this reaction.”

Well, the bishop has a point there. The bad news does tend to overshadow the good. In part the Church is to blame for that; she has much to learn about communication. But the responsibility is also shared by the media and society as a whole. The good news is not hidden for the attentive reader.

“Pride is disappearing. That beautiful Church, with that beautiful past, with that marvellous tradition, with everything she has done for western culture. We may be proud of that. That is threatening to be lost. I suffer because of that.”

We should be careful with pride. Yes, the Church has done much for the good of society and culture, and we must be aware of that. But is that the core of the Church? No, that is the Good News of Jesus Christ. First and foremost, always, that is what the Church must be concerned about. Everything else, even the great tradition and all contributions to western culture, take a back seat to that.

“I try to be a child of these times, so I wish to be as open as befit these times. To not immediately say: “The Church does not want that.” The ease, the joy of discussion is something of these times. And, in my opinion, something belonging to Catholic culture, with her joy of life. But sadly the Church did not use the options that are part of that wonderful way of living, on the contrary. Nothing was allowed. I disagree about this with the Holy Father. It is high time that people speak about mandatory celibacy for priests. That must be discussed.”

Always celibacy… It is not the problem! Formation and preparation is, but not the fact itself. Bishop Bär wants to be a child of these times. But as  Catholics we are not part of the whims of the day, just like the Church herself is not. Certainly we live in our time, and must do so fully. But we can’t be subject to it. Discussion is good, but without well-established values it is pointless. Every party in a discussion must have a foundation. The Church has that. By diminishing this foundation as ‘the things the Church does not want’, the bishop betrays a serious lack of sensibility about his own priesthood, and a lack of knowledge of exactly what the Church teaches and why she does so.

“The Church must […] break down the walls, open herself for dialogue, enter into debate about celibacy, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia. Throw it open!”

Around the time of Vatican II, someone (it might have been Pope John XXIII) warned that the faith must not be blown out of the newly opened windows. Dialogue and debate, as I have said, are good and deserve to be encouraged. But it does not mean that anything and everything is up for debate. Not if we want to maintain a semblance of identity and, most importantly, maintain that identity in Jesus Christ.

I recognise Bishop Bär’s concerns. They are well-merited. His solution to subject the Church to the ‘there are no certainties’ attitude of our times is not.


Cardinal Bertone and the importance of formation

A not-so-clever comment? A slip of the tongue? Or a grain of truth?

Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State of the Vatican, who is visiting Chile this week, addressed the abuse issue yesterday. On of the things he said is that there is a link between pedophilia and homosexuality:

“Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and pedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia.”

Now, I have no background in anything resembling medicine or psychology, and neither, it seems, does the cardinal (“I have recently been told”). I can’t say anything with any certainty about the truth of this matter. But it is striking that the majority of abuse cases in Catholic institution involve young boys. There are some homosexual elements there, it would seem. But that’s for smarter minds to figure out.

I don’t believe that Cardinal Bertone is correct here, and what’s worse, he has not been clever in making this connection while admitting that he does not really know what he is talking about. It is statements like this that get picked up by the media, torn out of context and used to further damage the Church. You would think that an experienced man like Cardinal Bertone would be smart enough to realise this. Media training would not seem to be a luxury, even on the highest levels of the curia.

Candidates for the priesthood are, if things are done correctly, thoroughly psychologically tested, not only to see if they really have a vocation to the priesthood, but certainly also to judge if they are suitable for a priestly life, which includes living celibate. It is problematic when a  man is unable to not act upon his sexual desires, be they hetero- or homosexual (or pedophiliac, for that matter). And in my uninformed opinion, that is where the problem lies: in the past decades men have been accepted into seminaries and formation houses who were not ready or suitable for that. And now we are faced with the results of that. Not to say that all men who are not able to live celibate go on to abuse minors, of course (there have also been cases of priests entering into sexual relations with adult women (or men) on a basis of mutual consent).

But imagine this: you are a priest and the Church asks that you live celibate. But you can’t: for various reasons you are unable to refrain from acting upon sexual desires. You can’t go out and find a girlfriend because you’re a priest. So what do you do? You keep it secret, find hidden ways to satisfy your sexual urges. Some men will target the easily available: people, children, under their care…

And that is why it is so very important to be as certain as one can (both the candidate and those responsible for their formation) about the psychology and suitability of the candidate for the priesthood. It is tough, difficult, but then again, that is what formation is. Christ calls some men to be priests, to represent Him in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, to transcend their human nature. That is no easy task, and we can use all the help we can get.