Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Clergy sexual-abuse fog: Here are five crucial questions for Catholic Church going forward

Clergy sexual-abuse fog: Here are five crucial questions for Catholic Church going forward

Pope Francis, cardinals and senior bishops from around the world gathered for four days in Rome for a conference on clergy sex abuse designed to guide the church on how to best tackle the growing global crisis that has eroded Roman Catholicism’s credibility around the world in a span of three decades.

The pope vowed that there will be change going forward when the summit opened this past Thursday, while victims vented their anger at the Vatican for its inability to discipline priests and bishops who had committed heinous acts against children, teenagers, adult lay men and women, seminarians and even nuns.

Francis capped off the meeting Sunday calling for “an all-out battle against the abuse of minors” and that “no explanations suffice for these abuses involving children.” He promised, once again, that “concrete” changes were ahead.

What next for the church? A few days of speeches and prayer clearly isn’t enough to heal the deep wound that decades of abuse and inaction have caused. Nonetheless, the first-of-its-kind summit was aimed at trying to right some of those past wrongs in what can very well turn out to be a defining moment for Francis’ papacy going forward. The pope himself, it’s worth noting, had tried to lower expectations on the eve of the summit.

To recap the very busy events of the past few days, here’s a look at five questions to emerge from the Vatican’s summit and how the church hopes to handle cases of clergy sex abuse going forward:

What has changed?

This is the big question. While a meeting regarding sex abuse (or any real public addressing of this problem was both unprecedented and long overdue), the event was largely seen as a publicity stunt and to some even a farce. The overarching message was for the pope to convey sincere regret. The photo-ops and video b-roll of Pope Francis looking somber were needed to publicly show repentance for the problem and the years of cover-ups by cardinals and bishops.

“In the face of this scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by men of the church to the detriment of minors, I thought I would summon you," the pontiff told the nearly 200 Catholic leaders last Thursday to open the summit, “so that all together we may lend an ear and listen to the Holy Spirit … and to the cry of the small ones who are asking for justice.”

In those brief comments, he added that people are “looking at us and expect from us not simple condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to put in place. We need to be concrete.”

How concrete remains the big issue.

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The 'Catholic Church' destroyed files about abuse cases. OK, who did this? Where? Everywhere?

The 'Catholic Church' destroyed files about abuse cases. OK, who did this? Where? Everywhere?

We have some real, live news coming out of the Vatican conference that is focusing on clergy sexual abuse of “children,” and maybe a few other kinds of victims.

It’s big news. But one or two of the most important facts in this story are still missing.

Looking at the coverage, it would appear that these holes are probably not the result of bad or shallow reporting. The holes may be intentional, in terms of a German cardinal’s remarks that were stunning, but also rather vague.

Let’s look at the top of a report in the National Catholic Reporter, which — as I typed this post at mid-day — had the most information in it. You can see the big hole right in the headline: "

Cardinal admits to Vatican summit that Catholic Church destroyed abuse files.

What, precisely, is the “Catholic Church”?

I realize that the Church of Rome is one church, with one leader in the Chair of St. Peter, but — at the level of administration and the supervision of priests — it is actually a complex network of ecclesiastic bureaucracies at the local, national and global levels. Let’s look at the overture in that story. This is long, but essential as journalists look forward:

VATICAN CITY — A top cardinal has admitted that the global Catholic Church destroyed files to prevent documentation of decades of sexual abuse of children, telling the prelates attending Pope Francis' clergy abuse summit Feb. 23 that such maladministration led "in no small measure" to more children being harmed.

In a frank speech to the 190 cardinals, bishops and heads of religious orders taking part in the four-day summit, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said the church's administration had left victims' rights "trampled underfoot" and "made it impossible" for the worldwide institution to fulfill its mission.

"Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created," said Marx, beginning a list of a number of practices that survivors have documented for years but church officials have long kept under secret.

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What we've got here is failure to communicate -- debates about Cardinal Marx and gay blessings

What we've got here is failure to communicate -- debates about Cardinal Marx and gay blessings

Our review of the US press coverage of claims that Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, the president of the Deutsche Bischofskonferenz (DBK), had given his permission to clergy to bless same-sex unions has sparked rigorous debate on social media.

Criticism of the article “Let your Ja's be Yes” has taken two general lines -- discussion of the underlying issues and discussion of our criticism of the Daily Caller -- the U.S. publication singled out in the review.

Please note that the question of whether Cardinal Marx should, nor should not, endorse same-sex blessings is outside the parameters of this site -- we focus on journalism. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?) the Roman poet Juvenal asked in his Satires (VI, lines 347–348). This website seeks to answer this question as it pertains to the coverage of religion in the secular press.

The criticism of our reporting can be summarized in a tweet from reader Samuel Johnson, who challenged our translation of the German-language interview. He stated that our review was “a very problematic criticism, because the writer of the Crux published CNA authored piece, Anian Christoph Wimmer, is a native German speaker who also writes for CNA's German website. This is not a case of an English-speaking reporter misunderstanding.”

I responded by noting the critique was of the Daily Caller, not CNA. To which, Mr. Johnson responded:

The problem is that you write in criticizing the Daily Caller, "If we listen to the Marx interview then through German ears, rather than through the filter of English print, the story is turned on its head." But evidently, listening through German ears doesn't necessarily turn the story on its head, since after all Wimmer listened with German ears and heard a, "Yes."

While I am not a native German speaker, I do have some small fluency in languages, and am persuaded I had the better translation. The discussion essentially ended there, as it had become a question of competing truths -- mine versus the translation used in the Daily Caller story.

A new day, however, brought new developments to the story.

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So what did Cardinal Marx say about gay unions? Let your Ja's be Yes

So what did Cardinal Marx say about gay unions? Let your Ja's be Yes

“German Cardinal Endorses Homosexual Heresy” states the headline of a Sunday story in the Daily Caller.

It is a wonderful headline crafted to drive readers to the religion section of the online political news portal. But is it true?

Written by the Daily Caller’s religion reporter, the article appears to deliver on the claims made in headline. The lede states:

A German Catholic cardinal publicly approved heresy Saturday, declaring that priests are permitted to bless homosexual unions despite official church doctrine to the contrary.

Working from Catholic media reports, the article cites Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s words, translated into English, and then places them against the formal teaching of the church to substantiate the charge of heresy.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx said that “there can be no rules” concerning the question of whether a priest can bless a homosexual relationship in the name of God and such a decision should be made on a case by case basis and left up to priests, according to Crux Now. Despite Marx’s assertion that there can be no rules, his approval directly contradicts the Catholic Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality and marriage.

The article offers further quotes from the interview, sourced through the English-language newsite Crux Now, to hammer home the claim of false teaching, and then notes recent statements by two other prominent German Catholic clergy. The article then moves in for the kill with this quote.

When asked to clarify whether he was in fact approving the idea of blessing homosexual couples, Marx simply replied “yes.”

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From our 'No comment' department: This is sort of a journalism Marx Brothers joke

From our 'No comment' department: This is sort of a journalism Marx Brothers joke

You cannot make this one up.

I think we have to rank this one right up there in the top ranks of items that we have ever featured under the heading "From our 'No Comment' department."

Let's see if you can spot the error in the top of this Associated Press report, as it ran earlier today. It has since been corrected.

Note that the dateline is from an always-exciting location during the Pope Francis era, when it comes to breaking stories on the Godbeat. Yes, I know there was a post earlier on a story linked to this. Thus, please consider this a quick mini-update on that  post by our own James Davis.

Here goes.

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) -- Pope Francis says gays -- and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited -- deserve an apology.
Francis was asked Sunday en route home from Armenia if he agreed with one of his top advisers, German Cardinal Karl Marx, who told a conference in Dublin in the days after the deadly Orlando gay club attack that the church owes an apology to gays for having marginalized them.

Oh my.

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