By Hilary White

ROME, March 31, 2010 ( – Cardinal William Levada, the third highest-ranking prelate in the Vatican has joined his voice to those defending Pope Benedict’s record from attacks by the New York Times in its coverage of the sex abuse cases by priests.

Levada, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), wrote in a letter, published by the San Francisco Catholic and dated March 26, that in his dealings with clerics from countries around the world, “I have had to admit to them that I am not proud of America’s newspaper of record, the New York Times, as a paragon of fairness.”

On March 25, the NYT produced two headlines for an article and an editorial: “Warned About Abuse, Vatican Failed to Defrock Priest,” and: “The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal” in reference to an abuse case in Milwaukee that had been brought to the Vatican’s attention after nearly 20 years of local diocesan inaction. Many, both in and out of the Catholic hierarchy, have taken to task the Times’ coverage for inaccuracy and anti-Catholic bias.

Levada wrote, “Both the article and the editorial are deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness that Americans have every right and expectation to find in their major media reporting.”

The cardinal details factual errors in the article, and accuses the author of ignoring both facts and internal contradictions in her own writing to tar the reputation of Pope Benedict. The point of the article, Levada wrote, was not to uncover the truth, but “to attribute the failure to accomplish this dismissal to Pope Benedict, instead of to diocesan decisions at the time.”

Levada joins in the growing chorus of those who, having examined the situation in detail, have praised the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s efforts as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to halt the abuse and bring offenders to justice. Levada writes, “We owe Pope Benedict a great debt of gratitude for introducing the procedures that have helped the Church to take action in the face of the scandal of priestly sexual abuse of minors.”

Levada particularly praised a document prepared by Ratzinger’s office, a “motu proprio” published by Pope John Paul II in 2001, that brought the abuse of minors by priests under the competence of the CDF.

The document, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela (SST), Levada wrote, did not remove the local bishop’s responsibility in cases of reported sexual abuse, neither was it “part of a plot from on high to interfere with civil jurisdiction in such cases.”

The document did, however, make it simpler to bring accused priests into the process of an ecclesiastical trial, and created a canonical structure allowing prosecution even of “historical” cases to overcome any statute of limitations. But most important, SST changed canon law to include the crime of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the short list of “graviora delicta,” or the most grave crimes it is possible for a cleric to commit. Others on this list include desecration of the Holy Eucharist and violation of the seal of the confessional.

This document and the changes instituted by the former Cardinal Ratzinger, Levada wrote, have “shown the seriousness” with which the Church treats sexual abuse.

“Here is a legacy of Pope Benedict that greatly facilitates the work of the Congregation which I now have the privilege to lead, to the benefit of the entire Church.”

Read the full text of Cardinal Levada’s letter here.


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