A “dossier” accusing papal nuncio Archbishop Josef Wesolowski of sex abuse of minors was sent to Pope Francis sometime in July by Santo Domingo Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez. The pope found the information credible enough to dismiss Wesolowski, nuncio to both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, on Aug. 21 via confidential letter N.2706/PR to the bishops of both countries.
Neither the civil authorities nor the public knew about Wesolowski until a local TV program did an expose’ on Aug. 31. The result of a year-long investigation, the broadcast contained testimony from residents of the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo that Wesolowski paid minors for sex.
Three days after the TV broadcast, a local bishop confirmed that Wesolowski had been recalled for sexually abusing minors.
Wesolowski reportedly had left the country only a few days before. There were accusations that the pope allowed his nuncio to escape and speculation that Wesolowski fled to Haiti where children are even more desperately poor.
On Sept. 23, the Dominican Republic’s Justice Ministry confirmed there was evidence of pedophilia against Wesolowski. A deacon confessed to “pimping” minors for the prelate who allegedly waited in his vehicle nearby. The deacon, Francisco Javier Occi Reyes, who is being held in pretrial prison on pedophilia charges, was arrested when one of Wesolowski’s alleged victims alerted a police officer. The deacon said on that occasion Wesolwski left but said nothing because he thought the Church’s influence would get him out of prison.
The Deputy Procurator and the case’s lead investigator, Bolivar Sanchez, noted that Wesolowski cannot be extradited because of his diplomatic status. He said the minors interviewed admitted to masturbating for, and of taking part in oral sex with the bishop as he filmed them with a cell phone. Another witness affirmed seeing child pornography on Wesoloski’s laptop at the Vatican embassy. Sanchez confirmed that when the local Catholic Church submitted the evidence to the Vatican, the Justice Ministry was unaware of the case but has received full cooperation after the investigation was launched.
Wesolowski is a Polish national and the story is receiving wide coverage in that county. An investigative reporter for Poland’s Newsweek confirmed that Wesolowski was well known in the Zona Colonial. The reporter was told that the nuncio paid youths 500 pesos to masturbate in front of him. Occasionally they were paid 3,000 pesos for “full” sex.
“Confidence in the Church has suffered,” the secretary general of the Polish bishops’ conference, Bishop Wojciech Polak, said. He asked for forgiveness. “It’s the least I can do,” he told reporters. Polak, however, rejected the idea of financial compensation for the victims from the Church. Rather, only the person responsible for these acts should make restitution. Also, the Polish hierarchy said there has been no contact with Wesolowski and that his whereabouts remain unknown.
Similarly, Pope Francis sent confidential letter N315/2012 to the bishops in Peru on May 24, 2013, dismissing Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Miranda Melgarejo of Ayacucho, a poor Andean region in southern Peru. According to this newspaper report, no reason was given and there was no public announcement.
Miranda had led the youth ministry of Peru’s bishops’ conference since 2007 and had accompanied the group “to other countries” and to Spain in 2011 for a World Youth Day celebration, the same event recently attended by Pope Francis in Brazil.
Miranda was reported to be an Opus Dei priest. But the group said he had only received “spiritual assistance” from the organization, meaning that while not ordained as an Opus Dei priest, Miranda was a diocesan priest “intrinsically united to Opus Dei.” This would explain how poor kids could have traveled since Opus Dei would have paid for their trips.
On Aug. 21, a Spanish lawyer, Francisco Jose de la Cigona, wrote in his blog that the Vatican “accepted the resignation” of Miranda for “having sex with minors and adults, too” which had been “solicited in confession.” His informant confirmed that Miranda’s name had been removed from the archdiocesan website.
Diego Garcia Sayan, president of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, wrote in his Sept. 19 La Republica newspaper column what had been “said in Church circles for at least a month” – Miranda had been dismissed by the pope for accusations of sexually abusing children. “No official information [from the Church] is available,” however, it is “essential to confirm or disprove what is an open secret.” If true, he wrote, he called for “immediate action by the attorney general.”
Later on Sept. 19, a local bishop publicly stated that “Miranda has not only been removed [for pedophilia], but laicized. He is no longer a priest.” The bishop said this had not yet been officially communicated by the Vatican.
The next day, Reuters reported that an unnamed “Church official confirmed that Miranda, 53, had resigned but declined to say why.” The attorney general’s office said that it was investigating Miranda and would announce its actions soon. According to an Opus Dei statement, Miranda “denies any crime related to minors.”
Various prelates followed up by confirming the “resignation” of Miranda, or the “removal” of Miranda. The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Ayacucho, said Miranda “departed in July” but did not specify the reason.
On Sept. 22, La Republica’s correspondent in Ayacucho noted that the archbishop of the archdiocese and president of Peru’s bishops’ conference, Salvador Pineiro, had announced to other Peruvian hierarchs that Miranda was dismissed and laicized on Aug. 15 based on evidence and testimony of the victim(s) and their families. The government prosecutor, Garry Chavez, questioned why, having heard the case, the national Church hierarchy had not contacted the civil authority.
The same day, the Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima “minimized” the accusations of child sex abuse against Miranda and blamed the scandal on the media. Cipriani met with Pope Francis on Sept. 24 “for more than an hour” but said that Miranda was not discussed.
Also on Sept. 24, the prosecutor, Chavez, told La Republica that he asked the archbishops of Ayacucho and Lima and the papal nuncio – since the allegations were made directly to the Vatican – for copies of the records upon which the pope based his decision to remove Miranda. According to Chavez, Miranda left the second week in August and his whereabouts remain unknown.
Chavez asked the attorney general’s office, which deals with international crimes, to receive the information requested from the nuncio through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said he hopes there will be a quick response from the Vatican.
On Sept. 26, Reuters reported that Chavez told them Church officials based in Peru and the Vatican had not yet responded to several requests for details about the case. “What we are going to do now is reiterate to them that the law requires their cooperation,” Chavez said. The archbishop of Ayacucho, Salvador Pineiro, who supervised Miranda for two years, said he supports the investigation and hopes it will reveal the truth. He said all he knows about the case is that on July 5 he was notified by Pope Francis that Miranda was being dismissed for “sins against the sixth commandment [Thou shalt not commit adultery] in a process subject to pontifical secret.” (The “sixth commandment” is a euphemism used by Catholic churchmen for any sexual transgression from masturbation to rape.)
However, the online magazine, CARETAS, reported that the accusation against Miranda was for “improper touching” of a 14-year-old altar boy in June 2012 in the confessional. According to the magazine, the victim lodged a formal complaint with the archbishop of Ayacucho’s office. It appears the complaint went unnoticed or ignored for some time. Also, CARETAS reported that Chavez believes there is another complaint against Miranda by a 15-year-old.
Pineiro denied this and said he never received any complaints against Miranda. “That’s a lie. Of course I would have investigated. I am not complicit,” the archbishop protested.
Meanwhile, Miranda’s whereabouts still remain unknown.
While Pope Francis could be praised for dismissing these prelates, the fact that the information he received was credible enough for him to take action also means that he should have immediately alerted the civil authorities so that, if warranted, an arrest could be made or at least an investigation begun as soon as possible. Also, Pope Francis should have made the allegations public so that any other victims would be encouraged to contact a law enforcement agency perhaps making the investigation easier, apprehension quicker or prosecution more certain. Additionally, if made public, people could avoid contact with the accused. The group, Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), defines failure to take these steps as a “cover up.”
How many children have been abused or are in danger until both men are apprehended? Did Wesolowski and Miranda use the time provided by the pope’s silence to escape arrest? At what point should Francis make an apology and offer aid to the victims?
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio did not have a good record regarding child sex abuse before he became pope.
Fr. Julio Cesar Grassi was well known for his work as president of the Fundacion Felices los Niños (the Happy Children Foundation) which he founded in 1993 to rescue street children.
Grassi received donations from fund-raising drives held on numerous television programs. He “won praise from Argentine politicians and his superior, Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio.” (Bergoglio was elevated to archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and elevated to cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.)
The first legal complaint against the priest was filed anonymously in Juvenile Court in Nov. 2000 accusing Grassi of corrupting minors. Nothing was done until an investigative news program alleged that Grassi abused five boys aged 11 to 17. Two of the alleged victims, using the pseudonyms “Gabriel” and “Ezekiel,” stated that they had been abused by Grassi while in the Happy Children Foundation.
In Oct. 2002, Grassi was arrested and charged with 17 counts of abusing three boys who were 9, 13, and 17 when the alleged incidents occurred. The priest accused those who made complaints of extortion. Grassi was held 28 days and released.
One victim’s attorney, Juan Pablo Gallego, said the harm done by the priest was “irreversible.” “This man was in charge of abandoned kids with family problems,” stated Gallego.
The executive committee of the Argentine bishops’ conference issued a statement denouncing a “campaign” intended to “blur the image” of the Catholic Church and “cause society to lose its trust” in the institution.” The Executive Committee was headed by Archbishop Karlic and his first and second vice-presidents, Msgr. Miras and Cardinal Bergoglio.
Cardinal Bergoglio refused to meet with “Gabriel” in Nov. 2003.
In one of Argentina’s most egregious abuse cases, another priest in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires was assigned to work with children even when Church leaders knew of allegations against him.
After local parishioners accused Fr. Mario Napoleon Sasso of molesting children in a poor, rural province of eastern Argentina in the early 1990s, he was sent to a private rehabilitation center for wayward clergy. He was then reassigned to work in a soup kitchen for poor children in a town outside the capital. There, he went on to sexually abuse girls as young as 3.
The attorney for the victims said that in 2006 the victims’ families asked to see Bergoglio but they never received a response.
Sasso was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to 17 years in prison. He has since been released on parole.
After years of legal delays, Grassi’s trial began in August 2008. Prosecutors sought 30 years in prison. For nine months, the trial was held behind closed doors. Only the verdict was read to the public on June 10, 2009. The Criminal Court found Grassi guilty of two acts of aggravated sexual assault and corruption of minors and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. He was allowed to remain free during his appeal but the judges imposed a number of restrictions.
On June 20, 2009, 49 priests and 50 laypeople criticized the “silence of ecclesial leaders before this case and others.” The signers said, “We see that other bishops’ conferences like Colombia’s have spoken up in similar cases, and we do not understand your silence, that has the appearance of ‘hushing up’ and ‘tolerance.’”
In a 2009 interview, Grassi claimed that Bergoglio “never let go of my hand….Investigative reports at the time indicate that Bergoglio not only continued protecting Grassi through the Church but was also his confessor – one of the few who came to talk to him.”
The case of Fr. Grassi has been particularly troublesome to children’s advocates in Argentina because “Bergoglio was widely viewed as close to the young priest. [He] was not expelled from the priesthood after the guilty verdict. Instead, Church officials led by Bergoglio commissioned a lengthy private report arguing that Grassi was innocent.”
The report, written by Marcelo Sancinetti, a criminal lawyer, was two volumes exceeding 1000 pages. He argued that a member of the clergy should not necessarily comply with secular court decisions. “He suggests that allegation of sex abuse by Grassi are false and comparable to the witch trials of the Middle Ages.” A copy was given to each judge involved in hearing Grassi’s appeal and was “submitted as part of the legal appeal…Prosecutors say the document has helped Grassi avoid jail time.”
For the next four years, Grassi was allowed to continue living across the street from the foundation. Grassi “violated the conditions for his freedom by calling one of the youngsters whose testimony led to his conviction a ‘liar.’”
On May 8, 2013, the victim known as “Gabriel” and his attorney, Juan Pablo Gallego, went to the Vatican embassy in Buenos Aires to hand deliver a letter addressed to Pope Francis. The letter read, in part, “I would be grateful if you would apply the so-called zero tolerance [as announced by the Vatican towards pedophile priests] for the privileged Grassi sentenced for horrific crimes from which I have suffered and still suffer. Have him reduced to the lay state and issue a clear public sign of respect for the independence of the Argentine judicial system….I beg your compassion and help me regain my faith.”
While the attorney and his client were at the nunciature, “a number of parcels, letters and papers” addressed to the pope were received. After an employee read “Gabriel’s” letter and consulted with someone inside, they were told the letter would not be accepted and they were threatened with a call to the police.
On Sept. 2, the chief justice of the Argentine Supreme Court of Buenos Aires, Héctor Negri, one of the judges who would decide Grassi’s appeal, met in private with Pope Francis. Negri stated that the Grassi case was not discussed, but should a prominent jurist have considered the meeting unseemly just a couple of weeks before a decision was to be handed down on Grassi?
On Sept. 18, Grassi’s conviction for two cases of aggravated sexual abuse and a third for corruption of minors and sentence of 15 years imprisonment was upheld. Other plaintiffs are pushing for the trial against Grassi to continue, saying he still needs to answer to accusations that he abused two other youths. Plaintiffs’ attorney Gallego said the victims are currently between 27 and 28 years old and live “in humble conditions.”
Grassi called the court’s decision “a cross one must know how to bear.” The priest criticized the prosecutor for “wanting to deceive society” and the media for waging a campaign against him.
In a press statement, Bishop Marcelo Cuenca said that Grassi was “totally innocent” and he blamed the media for Grassi’s conviction.
Sergio Piris, an attorney for another of Grassi’s victims, said the priest always felt comfortable because he was protected by the Church. Piris said his client “was never able to close this black chapter on his life” and that “he was still suffering while the abuser was free and spoke on television.” Cuenca’s statement shows that the Church continues to protect him, Piris stated. ”
Considering that Grassi resists detention by “spurious means,” provides a “bizarre spectacle” for the press, and “because he does not stop hurting himself, the Catholic Church, justice and, above all, the victims,” Gallego asked Pope Francis to remove the priest from the Catholic Church.
Bishop Luis Guillermo Eichhorn had defended Grassi as “again acquitted on fifteen charges and convicted on two,” in an earlier statement. But on Sept. 25, the day after Grassi was finally ordered to prison, Eichhorn said that Grassi could no longer say mass in public but could continue doing so in private “pending final resolution of this situation” and that he would be investigated by the Vatican. To which one columnist replied: “This arrangement is the minimum that can be adopted and seems destined to protect the priest and try to lessen the damage to the corporate image of the Church which has been seriously harmed by inaction in many cases of pedophilia tested in various parts of the world.”
….Bergoglio did not offer personal apologies or financial restitution, even in cases in which the crimes were denounced by other members of the Church and the offending priests were sent to jail.
There is no evidence that Bergoglio played a role in covering up abuse cases. Several prominent rights groups in Argentina say…that Bergoglio’s resolve strengthened as new cases of molestation emerged in the archdiocese and that he eventually instructed bishops to immediately report all abuse allegations to police.
But during most of the 14 years that Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, rights advocates say, he did not take decisive action to protect children or act swiftly when molestation charges surfaced.
“He has been totally silent,” said Ernesto Moreau, a member of Argentina’s U.N.-affiliated Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and a lawyer who has represented victims in a clergy sexual-abuse case. Victims asked to meet with Bergoglio but were turned down, Moreau said. “In that regard, Bergoglio was no different from most of the other bishops in Argentina, or the Vatican itself.”
As pope, Francis has also been silent regarding sexual assaults against children except for acknowledging during an in-flight interview while returning from Brazil that this was a crime.
In April, the Vatican Information Service reported that “the Holy Father recommended that the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith or CDF] continue along the lines set by Benedict XVI.” The press office paraphrased a private conversation between Pope Francis and Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the CDF, yet it has been universally misreported to the present day as a direct quote of a public statement that Francis told Muller to “act decisively against sexual abuse.”
Neither did the pope make any public statement when he made a new law for the employees of the Vatican City State and the Holy See (the name of the worldwide Church government) effective on July 11. The decree “declared sexual violence, prostitution and possession of child pornography as crimes against children can be punished by up to 12 years in prison.”
Perhaps this was not as widely reported because, a week earlier, the Vatican received a list of requests for information from the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child which will evaluate in early 2014 the Holy See’s implementation of the treaty it signed with U.N. protecting children.
One of the requests was “…please clarify the status of the Convention in the Vatican City State and provide information on the measures taken to incorporate its principles and provisions in the domestic legal system of the Vatican City State.”
For all these cases [of sexual violence against children committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns in numerous countries around the world reported to the Holy See], please provide detailed information on the measures in place to ensure that no member of the clergy currently accused of sexual abuse be allowed to remain in contact with children as well as the specific cases where immediate measures were taken to prevent them from being in continued contact with children as well as the cases where priests were transferred to other parishes or to other States where they continued to have access to and abuse children.
No doubt, the world media will neglect to hold Pope Francis accountable for his failure to comply with the U.N. treaty. Just like, except for victims’ advocates, not one single reporter, journalist or commentator that I am aware of noted that Francis failed to mention the subject of child sex abuse in the 12,000-word interview published on Sept. 22.Francis first action as pope was to name eight cardinals who would advise him on governance of the Church. He showed a callous disregard for survivors of sexual assaults by selecting two cardinals with terrible reputations regarding child sex abuse.
The Australian Cardinal George Pell, when asked what he thought was the root cause of the sex-abuse scandals, Pell replied, “it’s obviously connected with the problem of homosexuality.”
In Australia, the number of reports of clergy child sex abuse became so egregious that the state of Victoria (capital Melbourne) initiated a parliament inquiry, the state of New South Wales (capital Sydney) is investigating complaints that the Catholic Church hampered police investigations, and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the formation of a Royal Commission to study child sex abuse by religious and non-government bodies.
Pell’s response was to complain about a “‘persistent press campaign’ and ‘general smears that we are covering up and moving people around,’ and then capped it off with the claim that abuse by Catholic priests had been singled out and exaggerated.”
“Catholic clergy commit six times as much abuse as those in the rest of the Churches combined, ‘and that’s a conservative figure,’” Patrick Parkinson, a Sydney University law professor, told the Victoria inquiry on May 30, 2013. Of thousands of offences, not a single crime was reported by a Church official to the police, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton testified.
On May 24, 2013, Pell appeared as the final witness in the parliamentary inquiry. Like other prelates, Pell made an apology which came across as insincere. “My response to Cardinal Pell’s evidence, being as fair as I can, is that it was to me a rather cynical exercise in damage control,” Dr. Bryan Keon-Cohen QC, president of community lobby group COIN (Commission of Inquiry Now) said. “He offered a lot of words, offered apologies, expressed remorse, but to me it lacked conviction,” according to Keon-Cohen.
During Pell’s testimony, “Many of his responses about his personal empathy for victims were met with laughter and scoffs from the public gallery, which included victims and victims’ advocates.” Anthony Foster, father of two young daughters repeatedly raped by a priest, said Pell showed a “sociopathic lack of empathy typifying the attitude and response of the Catholic hierarchy.” Ian Lawther, whose son was sexually abused by a priest, described Pell’s apology as “full of criminal clichés….It was a kick to the groin of every Australian Catholic, maybe even Christian.”
Another of Pope Francis’ “gang of eight” is Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, the retired archbishop of Santiago, who made headlines in Chile for protecting Fr. Fernando Karamina, a spiritual leader among Santiago’s most influential families.
Church officials were warned as early as 1984 about Karadima’s “improper conduct.” The first known reports of abuse by Karadima reached Errázuriz in mid-2003. In 2006, a priest appointed by Errázuriz to investigate the claims made his report to the cardinal, stating that he believed “the accusers to be credible.” Errázuriz wrote in a public letter that he did nothing because he thought the allegations were beyond the statute of limitations.
In April 2010, a civil criminal complaint was filed against Karadima for child sex abuse by four men who were once his devoted followers. The claims were dismissed by a court ruling stating there was not enough evidence to charge him. One of the claimants protested, “We would have liked to appeal, but with defense attorneys like his, who have the Appeals and Supreme Court eating out of their hands, and a number of powerful people who continue to protect Karadima, we knew it would be an uphill battle that we were likely to lose.”
In January 2011, a judge ordered that Karadima be interrogated. According to court testimony, Church officials, including Errázuriz, tried to shame accusers into dropping claims, refused to meet with them or failed to carry out formal investigations for years.
The criminal case against Karadima was dismissed in November 2011 because the statute of limitations had expired but the court also determined that the allegations were “truthful and reliable.” The Vatican “sanctioned” Karadima by ordering him to a life of “penitence and prayer,” but he remains a priest in good standing.
Karadima is the “worst scandal” of the Chilean Catholic Church, Chilean political analyst Ascanio Cavallo, Dean of the Journalism School of the Adolfo Ibáñez University, stated. “Power is the true point of the case. The abuses were not possible without a network of political, social and religious power working for 50 years,” said Cavallo.
When Pope Francis appointed Errázuriz as one of his closest advisers, one of the claimants who had accused the cardinal of covering up Karadima’s crimes called it “a shame and a disgrace.”
On Sept. 15, Errázuriz, referring to the compensation requested by Karadima’s victims from the Archdiocese of Santiago for failing to protect them or to investigate their accusations, said they should be asking for compensation from Karadima. Errázuriz denied that the archdiocese had any responsibility for their “tremendous pain.”
On Sept. 21, Pope Francis reconfirmed Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith even though the archbishop has followed none of the instructions reportedly given him by the pope as described by the Vatican Information Service in April. Müller was told he must promote measures for the protection of minors, offer assistance to those who have suffered abuse, carry out due proceedings against the guilty and help formulate and implement the necessary directives in this area “that is so important for the Church’s witness and credibility.” The press release had ended with “The Holy Father assured that victims of abuse are present in a particular way in his prayers for those who are suffering.”
“The institution is not what it appears in its public pronouncements, ritual manifestations, and glorious vesture….Only willful blindness and pathological denial can allow one to overlook the reality that the symptom of clerical abuse reveals a Roman Catholic Church as dysfunctional and corrupt sexually and financially as during the time of the Protestant Reformation.” August 30, 2013 by A. W. Richard Sipe, Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor, former Benedictine monk and priest, and recognized authority on celibacy and priest sex abuse.
Victims of Argentina’s pedophile priests say Pope was little help
BUENOS AIRES — The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, Mar. 19 2013, 9:10 PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Mar. 19 2013, 9:27 PM EDT
A Roman Catholic activist group said Tuesday that Pope Francis was slow as head of the Argentine church to act against sexual abuse by clergy and urged him to apologize for what it called church protection for two priests later convicted of sexually assaulting children.
A lawyer for some of the victims, meanwhile, said the future pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had not met with or helped victims, and charged that mid-level church officials who covered up the problem haven’t lost their jobs.
The Buenos Aires archbishop’s office didn’t immediately comment on the complaints, which came as Francis was being installed as pope in a Vatican ceremony seen around the world.
The U.S.-based Bishop Accountability group cited the cases of two priests: Father Julio Cesar Grassi, who ran the “Happy Children” foundation and was convicted of pedophilia in 2008, and Father Napoleon Sasso, convicted in 2007 of abusing girls at a soup kitchen in suburban Buenos Aires, where he was assigned after being accused of pedophilia elsewhere.
Grassi is currently free pending appeal, thanks partly to a court filing on his behalf by the Argentine church, which was headed by Bergoglio as archbishop of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio oversaw Argentina’s bishops conference when Sasso was assigned to the soup kitchen at a chapel, said the victims attorney, Ernesto Moreau.
Bishop Accountability co-director Anne Doyle said those events show Bergoglio was behind the curve in the Catholic Church’s global struggle to deal with sex abuse by its priests, which erupted in 2002 after thousands of cases became public in the United States and around the world.
“We would be alarmed if the Archbishop Bergoglio had done this in the ‘60s or ‘70s. That would be sad and disturbing,” Doyle told The Associated Press. “But the fact that he did this just five years ago, when other bishops in other countries were meeting victims and implementing tough reporting laws, it puts him behind some of his American counterparts, that’s for sure.”
The group said that to send a message of zero tolerance in the church around the world, the new pope should tell the Buenos Aires archdiocese to release the complete files on the Grassi and Sasso cases, publicly identify any other priests who are “credibly accused” of sex abuse and endorse mandatory reporting by church officials to law enforcement of suspected abuse.
The pope himself should admit that he was wrong to defend abusive priests, apologize to the victims of Grassi and Sasso, and offer to meet with the victims, the group said.
Noting the pope’s coronation, Doyle said: “The victims of these two priests are the very children of God about whom he was speaking in his homily today. They are the most vulnerable of the poor. We hope that Francis will seize this as a priority and reach out to the victims and rectify his terrible insensitivity to them when he was archbishop.”
No one has presented evidence that Bergoglio was directly involved covering up sex abuse.
But Moreau told the AP that Bergoglio, as the top authority for the Argentine church, was ultimately responsible for the treatment of the victims, who have yet to get medical treatment or compensation.
“Bergoglio has been the strongest man in the Argentine church since the beginning of this century,” Moreau said, and yet “the leadership of the church has never done anything to remove these people from these places, and neither has it done anything to relieve the pain of the victims.”
At the Vatican, Francis will be ultimately responsible for the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which last year told the church’s bishops conferences around the globe to draw up comprehensive guidelines to deal with sexual abusive clergy. It gave the bishops a year to draft guidelines to better screen priests, root out potential abusers, educate laity about the problem, and require bishops to report suspected abuse to civil authorities where civil reporting laws exist.
The pope’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, told the AP before Bergoglio was elected pope last week that he had drawn an increasingly tough line on clergy abuse. Bergoglio insisted that accused priests face trial, and imposed a thorough screening process in an attempt to weed out future problems, Rubin said.
In the 2012 book On Heaven and Earth, in which Bergoglio and Rabbi Abraham Skorka engage in a religious dialogue, the future pope said the church should not ignore the sexual abuse of minors by priests.
“When that happens, we must never turn a blind eye. You cannot be in a position of power and destroy the life of another person,” he said, adding that priests guilty of such offences should be stripped of their right to perform priestly duties.
But Bishop Accountability said the cases of Grassi and Sasso show that Bergoglio and the Argentine church were slow to recognize the problem and act against it.
Grassi was well known in Buenos Aires for persuading celebrities to donate to his “Happy Children” foundation, which ran orphanages and social outreach programs. Before he was convicted of abusing a child, Grassi praised Bergoglio for “never abandoning him.” He’s free while appealing the conviction.
Sasso was assigned to the soup kitchen, which was at a chapel where his bedroom shared the only bathroom, after living in a home for wayward priests where he had been sent after accusations of pedophilia were raised against him in remote San Juan province.
“The bathroom had two doors. The girls would come in through the outside door, and the priest would bring them into his bedroom through the other, sexually abusing the girls,” Moreau said. “These were really poor people, who were there for free meals while their parents worked. They found an enormous amount of child pornography in his computer, semen, condoms.” It was a medical priest and a nun who discovered that Sasso had abused 25 girls aged 3 to 16, but when they informed church officials, they were told to “remain patient,” and nothing was done, Moreau said.
Eventually, they sought out higher authorities and the case was taken up by the criminal courts, but the middle- level officials who covered up are still in their posts, while the priest and nun were forced to work elsewhere, the lawyer said.
Sasso later became a fugitive and hid out for a year inside church property in the same diocese where the abuse occurred, Moreau said.
Sasso now gets one-day monthly furloughs from prison after serving half of a 17-year sentence for abusing five girls.
In the United States, confidential files on hundreds of pedophile priests have been released either through civil litigation, settlements or court order. The contents have revealed how top church officials worked behind the scenes to control the sex abuse scandal and keep it from authorities as well as parishioners.
Similar broad releases of confidential priest files haven’t happened in Latin America, where victims are less likely to come forward and even less likely to file a civil claim.
Ramon Luzarraga, an expert on the Catholic Church in Latin America, said justice has come more slowly in Argentina in part because its society has until recently avoided public discussions of sexual humiliation, which was used as a tactic in the “dirty war” waged against leftists by the 1976-83 military dictatorship.
Also, he said, “Argentina’s democracy is still comparatively young and, compared to the United States, people are not as acclimated to being outspoken in the face of injustice.”
That leaves clergy abuse victims in the U.S. and their supporters to hold the pope to account on questions of priest abuse everywhere, said Luzarraga, who teaches theology at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
The hundreds of confidential priest personnel files that have been made public in the U.S. have bolstered critics because they can see with their own eyes how the American church dealt with abusive priests, he added.