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Vatican letter told Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report child abuse


Vatican letter told Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report child abuse

Policy to tell police about priest suspects was vetoed, as lawyers say proof at last of cover-up by papacy

From the Link: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jan/18/vatican-irish-bishops-child-abuse

A copy of the 1997 letter from the Vatican, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to AP, warning Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police. Photograph: AP

A copy of the 1997 letter from the Vatican, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to AP, warning Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police. Photograph: AP

 

A letter to Ireland‘s Roman Catholic bishops has been revealed by the broadcaster RTE that contradicts the Vatican‘s frequent claim it has never instructed clergy to withhold evidence or suspicion of child abuse from police.

The 1997 letter documents rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to help police identify paedophile priests. Signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II’s envoy to Ireland, it instructs bishops that their new policy of making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature”.

Storero wrote that canon law, whereby allegations and punishments are handled within the church, “must be meticulously followed”; any bishop who tried to go outside canon law would face the “highly embarrassing” position of being overturned on appeal in Rome.

A 2009 Irish state report found this actually happened with Tony Walsh, one of Dublin’s most notorious paedophiles, who exploited his role as an Elvis impersonator in a popular “All Priests Show” to get closer to children. In 1993, Walsh was defrocked by a secret church court, but successfully appealed to a Vatican court, and was reinstated in the priesthood in 1994. He raped a boy in a pub restroom that year. Walsh since has received a series of prison sentences, with a 12-year term imposed last month. Investigators estimate he raped or molested more than 100 children.

Catholic officials in Ireland and the Vatican declined requests from the Associated Press to comment on the letter, marked “strictly confidential”; RTE said it had been given it by an Irish bishop.

“The letter is of huge international significance,” said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish section of Amnesty International. “It shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here [in Ireland], it applied everywhere.”

Pedophile Pimp Archbishop Luciano Storero

Pedophile Pimp Archbishop Luciano Storero

Joelle Casteix, a director of the US advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, described it as “the smoking gun we’ve been looking for.” It was certain to be cited by lawyers acting for victims seeking to pin responsibility directly on Rome, not the dioceses.

To this day, the Vatican has not endorsed any of the Irish church’s three documents since 1996 on safeguarding children. Irish taxpayers, rather than the church, have paid most of the €1.5bn to more than 14,000 abuse claimants dating back to the 1940s.

In a 2010 letter to Ireland condemning paedophiles in the ranks, Pope Benedict XVI faulted bishops for not following canon law and offered no explicit endorsement of child-protection efforts by the Irish church or state. He was widely criticised in Ireland.

O’Gorman (who was raped repeatedly by a priest in the 1980s when an altar boy) said evidence is mounting that some Irish bishops continued to follow the 1997 Vatican instructions. A state investigation of Cloyne diocese is to come out soon, citing crimes concealed as recently as 2008.

 

Vatican Letter Warned Bishops on Abuse Policy


Vatican Letter Warned Bishops on Abuse Policy

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: January 18, 2011

from the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/world/europe/19vatican.html?ref=williamjlevada

A newly disclosed document reveals that Vatican officials told the bishops of Ireland in 1997 that they had serious reservations about the bishops’ policy of mandatory reporting of priests suspected of child abuse to the police or civil authorities.

The document appears to contradict Vatican claims that church leaders in Rome never sought to control the actions of local bishops in abuse cases, and that the Roman Catholic Church did not impede criminal investigations of child abuse suspects.

Abuse victims in Ireland and the United States quickly proclaimed the document to be a “smoking gun” that would serve as important evidence in lawsuits against the Vatican.

“The Vatican is at the root of this problem,” said Colm O’Gorman, an outspoken victim of abuse in Ireland who is now director of Amnesty International there. “Any suggestion that they have not deliberately and willfully been instructing bishops not to report priests to appropriate civil authorities is now proven to be ridiculous.”

But a spokesman for the Vatican said that the document, while authentic, was further proof that past missteps on handling sexual abuse allegations were corrected by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top official in the Vatican before he became the current pope, Benedict XVI.

The document, a two-page letter, was first revealed by the Irish broadcaster RTE and obtained by The Associated Press.

The letter was written just after a first wave of scandal over sexual abuse by priests in Irish Catholic schools and other facilities — a scandal so big it brought down the Irish government in 1994.

By 1996, an advisory committee of Irish bishops had drawn up a new policy that included “mandatory reporting” of suspected abusers to civil authorities. The letter, signed by Archbishop Luciano Storero, then the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio — or chief representative — in Ireland, told the Irish bishops that the Vatican had reservations about mandatory reporting for both “moral and canonical” reasons. Archbishop Storero died in 2000.

The letter said that bishops who failed to follow canon law procedures precisely might find that their decisions to defrock abusive clerics would be overturned on appeal by Vatican courts.

“The results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same diocesan authorities,” the letter said.

Jeffrey S. Lena, a lawyer for the Vatican, said in a statement that the letter “has been deeply misunderstood.” He said that its primary purpose was to ensure that bishops used proper canonical procedures to discipline their priests so that the punishments were not overturned on technical grounds. He said the letter was also intended to question the validity of the Irish bishops’ policies, because they were issued merely as a “study document.”

Mr. Lena added, “In stark contrast to news reports, the letter nowhere instructed Irish bishops to disregard civil law reporting requirements.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that the letter represented an approach to sexual abuse cases shaped by a particular Vatican office, the Congregation for the Clergy, before 2001. That year, Pope John Paul II charged the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by the future Pope Benedict, with handling such cases.

“It refers to a situation that we’ve now moved beyond,” Father Lombardi said. “That approach has been surpassed, including its ideas about collaborating with civil authorities.”

He played down the idea that the letter was a smoking gun. “It’s not new,” he said. “They’ve known about it in Ireland for some time.”

But Mr. O’Gorman said that the letter was not known until its disclosure on Monday by RTE.

Martin Long, a spokesman for the Irish bishops, said that the revelation that the bishops had faced Vatican disapproval for resolving to report abuse cases to the police as far back as 1996 had prompted an outpouring of supportive e-mails and phone calls.

“The church in Ireland did receive a great number of public calls that reflected the public welcome for the fact that the Irish bishops have been so proactive for so long in working to improve child protection guidelines,” he said.

Mr. Long would not comment on the letter, but he reflected a widespread feeling among church officials that the Irish bishops had borne an unfair share of the recriminations that have been heaped on the church.

He noted that the Irish church had adopted a policy of mandatory reporting of all cases of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities in 1996, and said the policy had been progressively strengthened since then, despite the fact that mandatory reporting in such cases was not required by law in the Irish Republic.

An investigation by the Irish government that took nine years and was released in 2009 found that abuse was “endemic” in church-run schools and orphanages for decades, and that thousands of children were victims.

Pope Benedict sent a pastoral letter to the church in Ireland, accepted the resignations of some bishops and ordered an investigation, known as an “apostolic visitation,” of Irish seminaries and several dioceses. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is in charge of the seminary visitation, announced that he would spend about three weeks from now until early February interviewing seminarians in Rome and in Ireland.

Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome, and John F. Burns from London.