Theocon-in-chief, Richard John Neuhaus, has a problem on his hands. No one has gone so far out on a limb defending Father Maciel from charges of rampant abuse and rape of minors. Neuhaus smeared the reporters who helped bring Maciel’s abuse to light, and declared his innocence was a "moral certainty." Yesterday, we got two messages from Neuhaus. One is in the New York Times today, where Neuhaus refuses to budge from his previous position, and essentially says that Benedict XVI is wrong to discipline Maciel:
On Friday, Father Neuhaus, editor of First Things, an ecumenical magazine based in New York, said he still believed that the charges against Father Maciel were unfounded. "There is nothing in the Vatican statement that suggests that the word penance is meant as a punitive measure," he said. Asked why the Vatican would take any action, he said, "It wouldn’t be the first time that an innocent and indeed holy person was unfairly treated by church authority."
On his blog, the clearly rattled Neuhaus says something else entirely. Not that he has the decency to apologize to the reporters he smeared. But there is the most minimal concession as to the evidence for Maciel’s long and documented history of sexual abuse:
Since there was no canonical hearing, there is no canonical judgment regarding his guilt or innocence of the alleged wrongdoings … I do not know all that the CDF and the Holy Father know, and am not privy to the considerations that led to their decision. It is reasonable to believe that they think Fr. Maciel did do something wrong.
Something wrong? He is accused of sexual predation and molestation. Then Neuhaus cites John Paul II for leading him astray:
It was hardly the only factor, but one of the many factors that entered into my moral certainty regarding Fr. Maciel’s innocence was my great respect for John Paul II and his repeated statements of support for Fr. Maciel. With similar respect for the office and person of Pope Benedict, I do not protest this directive implying that Fr. Maciel is guilty of wrongdoing. It is obvious that CDF and the Holy Father know more than I know with respect to evidence supporting the guilt or innocence of Fr. Maciel.
So Neuhaus exonerated a man of sexual abuse with unsubstantiated "moral certainty" – and attacked the credibility of the victims of the abuse and the reporters who exposed it – because the former Pope supported Maciel. If the pope said someone was innocent, that was good enough for Neuhaus. Evidence and testimony be damned. There you have a central theme of theoconservatism: the abdication of rational judgment to ecclesiastical authority. That mindset is partly what enabled the sexual abuse crisis in the first place and the cover-up that continued for decades. It was sadly perpetuated by some of the most doctrinally conservative men in the Vatican. In the Maciel case, there can no longer be any doubt that among them was Pope John Paul II. The last Pope, and his enabler, the current Pope, were directly implicated in covering up minor abuse in order to protect one of their powerful friends. That’s the bottom line.