America’s top criminal lawyer, Harvard Law
School professor Alan
Dershowitz
, has come to the defense of Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic
Church in
a blog post
stressing that media attacks regarding the sex abuse crisis
have been unbalanced. He presents the pope as a key part of progress that has
been made on the matter.

“This tragedy should not be used as an
excuse to attack a large and revered institution that does much good throughout
the world.  Blame must be placed with precision and praise should be given
with precision as well. The eleventh Commandment, Thou Shalt Not Stereotype,
must never be forgotten.”

In one of the most succinct and perceptive
comments to date on the crisis, Dershowitz gives five important traditions in the
Catholic Church which have made it difficult to move “quickly and aggressively”
to solve the abuse problem.

The
first tradition involves confidentiality, particularly not exclusively the
confidentiality of the priest with regard to the penitent.  But there is
also a wider spread tradition of confidentiality within the Church hierarchy
itself.

Second,
there is the tradition of forgiveness.  Those of us outside the Church
often think, perhaps, that the Church goes too far in forgiving.  I was
shocked when the previous Pope immediately forgave the man who tried to
assassinate him.  But this episode and other demonstrate that the
tradition of forgiveness is all too real.

Third,
there is the tradition of the Church regarding itself as a state.  The
Vatican is, after all, a nation state.  The Catholic Church is not big on
the separation of church and state, as are various Protestant
denominations.  The Catholic Church, like Orthodox Judaism, believes that
matters affecting the faithful should generally be dealt within the church,
without recourse to secular authorities.

Fourth,
the Vatican prides itself on moving slowly and in seeing the time frame of life
quite differently than the quick pace at which secular societies respond to the
crisis of the day.

Fifth,
the Catholic Church has long had a tradition of internal due process. 
Cannon Law provides for scrupulous methods of proof.  The concept of the
“devil’s advocate” derives from the Church’s effort to be certain that every
“t” is crossed and every “I” is dotted, even when it comes to selecting saints.

None
of these explanations completely justify the long inaction of the Church in
coming to grips with a serious problem.  But they do help to explain how
good people could have allowed bad things to happen for so long a period of
time. 

Dershowitz is a colourful figure who has
been a defence lawyer in some of the most publicized trial of the last century,
including O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow, Patty Hearst, Leona Helmsley, Mike
Tyson, and Michael Milken. He has spent most of his career at Harvard, wherehe
became the youngest full professor of law in its history at the age of 28. He
is a passionate defender of Israel and has been called “America’s most public
Jewish defender”.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.