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Mexican cardinal sees media persecution in U.S. scandal


Yet another Latin American cardinal has added his voice to the growing chorus of foreign prelates who see a “persecution” of Roman Catholicism behind media coverage of the sex abuse scandals in the U.S. church.

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, 69, made the comments in a recent interview with the Italian Catholic magazine 30 Giorni.

“It’s a matter of a persecution unleashed by the powerful of the world,” said Sandoval, who heads the Guadalajara, Mexico, archdiocese.

The cardinal listed the church’s defense of the family and of life, its opposition to the “financial strangulation” of the Third World, and its “balanced position” on the Middle East among the motives for which he believes the American media has gone on the attack.

Sandoval complained that the world refuses to apply to priests the same “Christian mercy and human understanding” that it grants to others.

Noting that many abuse cases involve not pedophilia but homosexual relations, Sandoval also said he was surprised that a modern society so “pleased” with homosexuality that it organizes “gay pride” demonstrations in the great cities of the world would become enraged with priests “accused of this vice.”

Sandoval’s comments follow those of Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who recently accused the American press of a smear campaign against the Catholic church, comparing it to persecutions under Roman emperors Nero and Diocletian, as well as 20th century dictators Hitler and Stalin.

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City later echoed Rodriguez’s comments, saying the Honduran cardinal “expresses well the common sentiment” of many prelates in Latin America. Rivera complained of “an orchestrated plan for striking at the prestige of the church” behind coverage of the sex scandals.

Rodriguez and Rivera are both considered leading contenders to become the next pope, while some analysts believe Sandoval could be a dark horse candidate.

In turn, the comments of these three Latin American prelates reflect similar ideas expressed in the spring by a top Vatican official.

Archbishop Julián Herranz, , head of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, complained in an April 29 speech in Milan of “tenacious, scandalistic style” in the press. Certain media outlets, he suggested, seek to “sully the image of the church and the Catholic priesthood, and to weaken the moral credibility of the magisterium.”

Those remarks came just five days after the conclusion of the April 23-24 summit meeting of American cardinals with the pope and Vatican officials, including Herranz. Several Vatican officials said in the wake of that event that they were astonished by the massive presence of American media.

The full text of the relevant section of Sandoval’s 30 Giorni interview appears below.

30 Giorni: Your Eminence, will you permit a pair of questions on the dramatic problem of pedophile priests that is shaking the U.S. church?

Sandoval: Certainly. First of all I want to say that every crime committed against children is abhorrent and an ecclesiastic who stains himself with this sin must be ready, after a regular procedure, to suffer the canonical penalties, and if necessary the civil penalties, that he deserves. What is happening in the United States, however, apart from very rare cases, regards not pedophilia but homosexuality. I have to say it is surprising that present-day society, which is pleased enough with homosexuality to organize “gay pride” events in all the great cities of the world, becomes enraged against priests accused of this vice.

30 Giorni: How do you explain this rage?

Sandoval: Priests must be saints. That’s what the Lord wants and what his church desires. In fact, it’s what everyone wants, even those who don’t believe. Thus today’s world does not apply to priests the same Christian mercy and human understanding it concedes to others. However, it’s necessary to remember that there have always been scandals in the church, and there always will be, and not just regarding the sixth commandment. The men of the church also have original sin. The Lord Jesus himself was betrayed, denied, and abandoned by his apostles.

30 Giorni: Cardinals Oscar Andrés Rodrídguez Maradiaga and Norberto Rivera Carrera, in two different interviews published in recent issues of 30 Giorni, described what is happening in the United States as a persecution of the Catholic church.

Sandoval: I agree fully with what has been said by these two brother cardinals. It’s a matter of a persecution unleashed by the powerful of the world. The motives? The powerful don’t like what the church affirms and testifies to regarding the defense of life and of the family. For the powerful of the world, the positions of the church against the financial strangulation of the countries of the Third World and in favor of the millions and millions of robbed and exploited poor don’t go down well. The powerful also won’t tolerate the balanced position of the church regarding the dramatic situation in the Holy Land.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org.

National Catholic Reporter, posted August 12, 2002