Getting there firstest
with the
mostest is the way to win wars, according to Confederate General Nathan Bedford
Forrest. A couple of Catholic journalists for Our Sunday Visitor, Gregory
Erlandson and Matthew Bunson, have taken this to heart and rushed to press with
a crisp, clear account of the recent turmoil in the Catholic Church. Pope
Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis
draws together the main threads of the
debate without flinching from the misdeeds of the clergy or fulminating over
the distortions of the media.

While the book does not pretend to give an
exhaustive account of the major scandals and how they were addressed on a local
and on a global level, it imposes an intelligible narrative on the rain of
facts, smears, potted history, arcane terminology and revulsion which have filled the media since March.

The main focus of the book is to set the
record straight about Pope Benedict’s record. Lunatic calls for his resignation
seem to have subsided, but many people, even Catholics, harbour doubts about
his commitment to cleansing the “filth” from the Church. This account, short as
it is, should at least allay these fears.

The Catholic Church is governed by its own
law, Canon Law. Although its aim, like civil law, is justice and fairness, it
is cloaked in unfamiliar terminology and bewildering procedures. This has been
the source of no end of confusion in the media. Erlandson and Bunson do a good
job of clarifying some of these issues. But they also include, as one of the
appendices, an invaluable concise explanation of the relevant canonical terms
and penalties by an expert canon lawyer. This makes it clear that the Catholic
Church has always had clear procedures and penalties for dealing with sex
abuse. The problem was that bishops did not use them, out of a misguided sense
of mercy and a disdain, perhaps, for the harshness of legal justice.

Amongst the other valuable documents in the
appendices are several of the Pope’s speeches in which he tackled the sexual
abuse crisis.

It’s clear to any fair-minded observer that the Pope is innocent of any
wrong-doing and has in fact been the main engine of change in the creaky
Vatican bureaucracy to purge the Catholic Church of miscreants. But a thorough
account of the crisis is still needed. How did so many clerics, even bishops, become
abusers? Even if their numbers were fewer, proportionately, than the population
at large, one is too many. And why did so many Catholic authorities fail so
miserably in fulfilling their duty to protect children? But that can wait. In
the meantime, read Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.