The Vatican policy myth

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Mythology is not only loads of fun, but often highly profitable. For proof, look no further than this: Dan Brown has written a book about the Vatican, which was pure fantasy; I’ve also written a book about the Vatican, which, if I do say so myself, has a fairly decent grasp of the basic realities. Care to guess which one sold better? writes John Allen in NCR Online.

Yet mythology is also dangerous, never more so than when it fosters misleading diagnoses of serious problems. We’ve seen two good examples recently vis-à-vis the Vatican, both involving the sexual abuse crisis.

The bit of mythology in play, which we might call the “Policy Myth”, is the following: When Rome says “jump,” everyone in the Catholic Church responds, “how high?” If there’s a problem in the church, therefore, it must be due to some Vatican policy (either explicit or secret); to resolve the problem, the trick is to get the Vatican to issue new marching orders.

As the Italians would say, Magari! If only it were as simple as flipping a switch in Rome, and all would be well. Catholicism, however, is a remarkably decentralised system with regard to everything other than doctrine, so the correlation between Roman instructions and application on the ground is rarely exact.

Putting the focus on policy obscures what is often the far more decisive question of accountability for how it’s implemented.

The two instances where the Policy Myth has cropped up most recently involve a lawsuit in Oregon, and a highly public standoff between the Vatican and the Irish government.

The Oregon case

In late August, the Vatican released what it said were all the documents in its possession related to the case of Fr. Andrew Ronan, a onetime Servite priest born in Armagh, Ireland, who was laicised in 1966, after serving both in Ireland and America, and who died in 1992. In 2002, an American who says that Ronan abused him in 1965 filed suit in federal district court in Oregon, naming the Vatican as a defendant.

FULL STORY The policy myth versus 'accountability with teeth' (NCR)

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