Pope Attack: Is Lying and Distorting A Feature of Neo-Atheism?

Christopher Hitchens raves and howls at the moon when it comes to religion. He is darn near insane when it comes to the Pope, and all that stuff.

Hitchens is a polemicist. Always has been, always will be. Being a polemicist means you leave out the important parts.

Russ Douthat takes Mr. Hitchens to the woodshed, rightfully so.

I’ve started down this road, so I suppose I might as well go the full distance. Here’s the most significant charge that Hitchens has leveled against the pope, from a column he penned three weeks ago:

Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition). In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture. The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church’s own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated “in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.” (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism!

… Not content with shielding its own priests from the law, Ratzinger’s office even wrote its own private statute of limitations. The church’s jurisdiction, claimed Ratzinger, “begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age” and then lasts for 10 more years. Daniel Shea, the attorney for two victims who sued Ratzinger and a church in Texas, correctly describes that latter stipulation as an obstruction of justice.

None of this is true. The letter was not “confidential,” or at least not for long; it was published by the Vatican that same year in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official journal of the Holy See, and it’s been available in English translation since at least 2002. Ratzinger did not claim that the church had anything remotely like “exclusive jurisdiction” over sex abuse cases. Rather, his letter clarified how the church’s internal disciplinary process should handle a variety of accusations against priests, sex abuse included, and it gave the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “exclusive competence” to handle these accusations, in an effort to centralize and expedite the process. (Given that Hitchens has elsewhere implied, with justification, that this process moved too slowly in the 1980s and 1990s, one would think that he would welcome such a change.) Nothing in the document forbade bishops, priests, parents or victims from contacting legal authorities or the press, and the letter certainly didn’t threaten excommunication (a word that never appears in the text) for doing so. It required secrecy (“the pontifical secret” is the technical term that appears) for the canonical proceedings themselves — not an unusual policy, given the privacy concerns involved for accusers and accused alike — but it required no such secrecy from anyone when it came to reporting accusations to civil authorities. (It would be extremely strange if it had done so, given that only a year later, the Vatican approved the American bishops’ 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Young People and Children,” which required that any abuse allegation be reported to secular law enforcement.)

The long quotation about secrecy and excommunication, meanwhile, which Hitchens presents, by implication, as words that Ratzinger “intoned,” doesn’t come from the then-cardinal’s 2001 letter at all. It’s from a 1962 document, Crimen Sollicitationis, which dealt with how to handle allegations of solicitation (whether of children or adults) in the confessional, as well as other forms of grave abuse by priests, and which Ratzinger’s 2001 instructions explicitly rendered obsolete. And the 1962 letter doesn’t say what Hitchens claims it does either: Again, the secrecy requirement pertains to the canonical proceedings themselves, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the referral of allegations to a secular authority.

But as Hitchens well knows, a lie goes halfway round the world before the truth gets its pants on.

He’s counting on that.

But seriously folks. You can’t take these neo-atheist seriously. They tend to obscure the facts, or outright lie, all the time. They base their cases on made up facts. They are, in fact, the most irrational people I have ever seen come into a public debate.

Hate – driving, maddening hate – seems to be their primary reason for existence.

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