The Levada file

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Over on First Thoughts, Joseph Bottum takes another swipe at the New York Times‘ ongoing coverage of the current Catholic crisis by cocking a snoot at Michael Luo’s review of the history of Cardinal William Levada’s handling of sexual abuse cases in yesterday’s paper. Nothing new there, saith Bottum. Just the Gray Lady intent on tying the scandal as closely as possible to the pope.

Hold on. As Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Levada is the Vatican’s guy in charge of all abuse cases. In the present situation, it’s important to revisit his record, even if that means retelling some old stories. It’s also worth considering that record in light of his current statements, such as occurred in the following exchange with the New Hour’s Margaret Warner last week:

MARGARET WARNER: Now the focus seems to be in this
way very much, less on the individual cases and more on how the church
hierarchy handled it. And the overall charges that the church for
decades seemed more concerned with protecting priests and the image of
the church than in protecting children. TDo you think that is a fair
reading on it?

CARDINAL LEVADA: I think it’s, I think it misses
another aspect that has to be taken into account again it’s an aspect
that applies to the church and to society at large that it has been a
learning process and the learning process has not finished in society
certainly, even in the church here in Europe and other parts of the
world, we know that. I was named a bishop in 1983. I can say to you at
that time I had never heard of case of priest abusing a child. But in
what we’ve seen reported, it was going on. It was going on behind closed
doors. Nobody was reporting it. And it took us a lot of time I think to
understand how to deal with this part and it took a lot of time to
understand how much damage is done to victims, to children, by this kind
of behavior.

As Luo’s story recounts, however, Levada was among the first American bishops to get a graphic picture of what was going on:

In the spring of 1985, the alarm was sounded by an unlikely trio of
concerned Catholics, the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Vatican canon lawyer;
Raymond Mouton Jr., a Louisiana criminal lawyer who defended the Rev.
Gilbert Gauthe, a notorious pedophile priest; and the Rev. Michael
Peterson, a psychiatrist.

In the wake of the Gauthe case, the three men produced a strongly worded
92-page report that argued for immediate action to deal with sexual
molestation in the church.

In May 1985, Cardinal Levada, then a young auxiliary bishop from Los
Angeles, was sent by church leaders to meet with the men. The meeting at
a Chicago airport hotel went on all day, Father Doyle and Mr. Mouton
said recently, with Bishop Levada going through their report almost line
by line. They said he seemed enthusiastic about their proposals.

But what should have been a wake-up call wasn’t.

Two weeks later, however, the bishop called Father Doyle and told him
that their report was being shelved and that the bishops would convene
their own committee to examine the issue. But no such group

Two decades later, in various sworn depositions, Cardinal Levada would
assert that he recalled little from the meeting. But his detailed
briefing would have given him a far deeper awareness of the issue than a
vast majority of church officials at the time.

It’s not a question of tying the mess to the pope. It’s a question of taking the measure of the guy charged with cleaning it up. And Levada’s record is, as Luo makes clear, decidedly mixed.