Catholic Church scandal
From the Nov. 13 edition of The Washington Post:
On his plane back to Rome from a Middle East trip recently, Pope Francis acknowledged that the Vatican faces pushback in its efforts to overhaul the Catholic Church’s habits of denial, secrecy and coverup surrounding clerical sexual abuse. “There are people within the church who still do not see clearly,” he said, adding that “not everyone has courage.”
The pontiff’s delicate phrasing, and his timing, underscored the compounding damage the scandal has inflicted on the church’s moral authority and prestige. Days after Pope Francis shared those thoughts with journalists, new revelations of high-level sexual misconduct and coverup in France shattered illusions of progress by the church toward establishing a culture of transparency and accountability in its hierarchy.
That problem was crystallized in the admission by Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, who was the archbishop of Bordeaux for 18 years before he retired in 2019, that he had behaved “in a reprehensible way” with a 14-year-old girl 35 years ago when he was a parish priest. The news was made more astonishing by the fact that Cardinal Ricard served as president of the Bishops’ Conference of France from 2001 to 2007, even as revelations of clerical sexual abuse rocked the church — first in Boston, then throughout dioceses in the United States and worldwide. Yet the prelate continued exercising his authority as one of the French church’s most prominent figures. He is now being investigated by French prosecutors in Marseille for “aggravated sexual assault.”
The cardinal’s public confession followed last month’s disclosure that another prelate, Michel Santier, 75, had been removed as bishop of Creteil, near Paris. The fact that he had been disciplined, after allegations that he had abused young adults decades ago, was overshadowed by the church’s silence on the matter. It had said nothing about the accusations or action taken against him until they were reported by the French media in October. He is now also under investigation by prosecutors.
Pope Francis has said there is no turning back from “irreversible” steps designed to enhance safeguards against clergy child sexual abuse and has said the church has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy toward offenders in the priesthood and the hierarchy. His push for reforms has featured broadening the church’s definition of sexual crimes, requiring nuns and priests to inform their superiors of abuse allegations, holding bishops and other prelates to account for their handling of instances of abuse, and empowering the Vatican’s own commission that deals with cases of sexual abuse, elevating its status and clout.
Yet the ongoing evidence of years-long silence in cases involving senior prelates and others in the hierarchy points to the internal institutional foot-dragging that Pope Francis acknowledged. So does the attitude of the church hierarchy in many poor countries, where the scandals of the past two decades are widely regarded as mainly a Northern Hemisphere problem, and little information has been made public about sexual abuse cases.
Pope Francis’s record is mixed on the greatest scandal to envelop the church in centuries. His forthrightness on the issue is admirable, but ultimately he, and the church, will be judged on the tangible progress they have made.
Biden’s student loan forgiveness
From the Nov. 14 edition of The Wall Street Journal:
Things aren’t going well for President Biden’s student loan cancellation. On Monday the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined the $400 billion write-off, its second legal defeat in days. This is what happens when the President subverts the law for election politics.
The appellate court’s unsigned opinion focuses on the threshold question of whether Missouri suffered a concrete and particular injury to sue. Missouri argued that the loan cancellation would cost its student loan servicer, Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (Mohela), revenue and impose administrative burdens.
Missouri lawmakers established Mohela as a “public instrumentality” in 1981 in part to provide financial aid to students. A lower-court judge, however, ruled that lawmakers intended Mohela to be a “self-sustaining and financially independent agency.” Ergo, Missouri couldn’t sue since the state wasn’t directly harmed by the loan write-off.
The Eighth Circuit disagreed, noting that state law specifically directs Mohela to distribute $350 million into a state fund for capital projects at public colleges, among other things.
Mohela still owes $105 million. The Administration’s loan write-off could impair its obligation and threaten financial harm to the state.
After granting Missouri legal standing, the court explained that the equities “strongly favor an injunction” since the debt cancellation would have an irreversible impact on the state while an injunction wouldn’t currently harm borrowers. That’s ironically because the Administration extended its student loan payment pause through December.
Conservatives have criticized liberal judges for issuing universal injunctions that pre-empt other lower courts from forming their own decisions. But in this case the Eighth Circuit noted it would be impractical to limit an injunction to Missouri and its fellow plaintiff states since Mohela services some $168 billion in student loans from borrowers nationwide.
“We discern no workable path in this emergency posture for narrowing the scope of relief,” the court writes. The Eighth Circuit ruling follows a Texas federal judge’s vacatur on Thursday in a case brought by two borrowers who argued the Administration violated their procedural rights by not undertaking notice and comment.
Missouri strikes us as having the stronger case on the question of standing.
But the important point is to stop loans from being canceled, which would do irreparable harm to the constitutional separation of powers and national fisc. If Republicans take the House, they could also sue the Administration for usurping the chamber’s power of the purse.
Mr. Biden’s loan write-off is the largest presidential abuse of power in decades, and it’s good to see courts stepping up to their obligations to enforce the Constitution. This case may be heading to the Supreme Court.