Australian bishop testifies on prevalence of child sex abuse in the church
Dying of cancer, Bishop Emeritus Geoffrey Robinson appeared Aug. 24 before the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to testify to the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the church.
He painted a sad picture of a brave and lonely Sisyphus with his band of bishops in tow, pushing a boulder with a reasoned response to the crisis up the Vatican Hill, only to have it pushed back by popes and cardinals who had no idea about the issue and a blindness about the incapacity of canon law to deal with it.
“However great the faults of the Australian bishops have been over the last 30 years, it still remains true that the major obstacle to a better response from the church has been the Vatican,” Robinson told the commission. Most of the Roman Curia saw the problem as a “moral one: if a priest offends, he should repent; if he repents, he should be forgiven and restored to his position. … They basically saw the sin as a sexual one, and did not show great understanding of the abuse of power involved or the harm done to the victims.”
Robinson entered the seminary at 12-years-old, was ordained a priest, and became a canon lawyer and then auxiliary bishop of Sydney. In 1996, when revelations of clergy sexual abuse of children in Australia had reached a crescendo, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference appointed him to find a solution. In 2004, he resigned as auxiliary bishop of Sydney after concluding that the church’s response was still inadequate.
“I eventually came to the point where I felt that, with the thoughts that were running through my head, I could not continue to be a bishop of a church about which I had such profound reservations,” Robinson wrote in a 2008 book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. “I resigned my office as Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and began to write this book, about the very foundations of power and sex within the church.”
He wrote books and went on lecture tours, calling for radical reforms within the church, and in the process lost and gained many friends.
He quickly came to the conclusion after his appointment by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to draw up a protocol to deal with child sexual abuse in 1996, that canon law was so inadequate for cases of sexual abuse that it would be a sham to use it. “We would have to invent something of our own,” he told the Royal Commission.
Prior to 1983, when he was consulted by the Vatican about a new draft of the Code of Canon Law, he found the words “pontifical secret” stamped over the document. He complained that if he were to give a reasoned response, he needed to discuss it with colleagues. He was told: “Just don’t give it to the media.”
In 1996, Robinson devised a protocol called “Towards Healing,” a system that was “outside, and indeed contrary to canon law.” In the first draft, he required these crimes to be reported to the police as the police were not the media. Pope Paul VI’s instruction, Secreta Continere of 1974, imposes the pontifical secret over allegations of clergy sexual abuse of children and contains no exception for reporting to the police. The barrage of statements by senior Curia figures from 1984 to 2002 made it abundantly clear that bishops should not report these allegations to the police.
But that was not the only conflict that “Towards Healing” had with canon law. It had its own system of investigation, and clergy could be placed on permanent “administrative leave.” None of this complied with canon law.
In his perceptive notes of the meeting in the Vatican in April 2000 to discuss child sexual abuse, Robinson wrote that the members of the Roman Curia showed an “an overriding concern to preserve the legal structures already in place in the Church and not to make exceptions to them unless this was absolutely necessary.”
He told the Commission how Italian Archbishop Mario Pompedda told the delegates how they might get around canon law, but he did not want a law that he had to get around. He wanted one he could follow, but “they never came up with it.” Robinson came away from that meeting knowing that the Australian bishops had no choice but to continue to go it alone, irrespective of what the fall out might be.
The extent to which he and the other Australian bishops were prepared to do that is starkly illustrated in the minutes of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference of Nov. 28, 2002, where they resolved to disobey Pope John Paul II’s 2001 Motu Proprio, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela, which required all complaints of child sexual abuse to be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which would then instruct the bishop what to do. They would only refer those cases where there was no admission by the priest that the abuse had occurred. Robinson told the Commission that the purpose behind that was to avoid being told by Rome what to do with those priests who admitted the abuse. That decision was well justified given the figures presented to the United Nations by the Vatican that only one third of priests against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse had been made, have been dismissed. The claim that the Vatican has a policy of zero tolerance is pure spin.
This defiance of canon law was never going to last. Patrick Parkinson, professor of law at Sydney University, appointed by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to review “Towards Healing,” pointed out the problems of a local protocol that conflicted with canon law: priests permanently removed from the ministry simply appealed to Rome which ordered their reinstatement. The bishop had to comply or be sacked. Robinson told the Commission that “Towards Healing” was initially successful because a number of priests accepted that they could not continue to work as a priest, but “it later fell down because both sides changed.” Priests started to defend themselves with canon lawyers, and the victims went to civil lawyers.
Robinson was very critical of Pope John Paul II for a lack of leadership on this issue, and particularly his imposition in 1983 of a five-year limitation period that effectively meant that there could be no prosecution of priest paedophiles under canon law because their crimes had been “extinguished.” Prior to 1983, there was no limitation period for these crimes. After 1983, if a child was abused at the age of 7, and did not complain by the age of 12, there was no possibility of dismissing the priest under canon law.
Figures presented to the Commission indicate that in Australia, the limitation period meant that only 3 percent of accused priests could be dismissed, and that figure only increased to 19 percent with the extension of the period to 10 years from the 18th birthday of the victim in 2001. Robinson said the church has still not had the appropriate leadership on child sexual abuse from Pope Benedict XVI and not even from Pope Francis.
Robinson also criticized Australian Cardinal George Pell for refusing to join the other Australian bishops in adopting the “Towards Healing” protocol. Pell was party to the two-year consultations leading up to its adoption in November 1996, but, without reference to anyone, announced he was setting up his own system, the “Melbourne Response,” and then claimed he was the first in Australia to do something about clergy sexual abuse. Apart from accusing Pell of destroying a unified response from the Australian bishops, Robinson said he was an “ineffective bishop” for having lost the support of the majority of his priests who wished for him to be transferred somewhere else. Their wish was fulfilled. He is now in charge of the Vatican finances.
A reading of the many documents tendered to the Royal Commission provides even more evidence that the Vatican’s all but useless disciplinary system caused far more children to be abused than would otherwise have occurred. Robinson fought the good fight, but was ultimately defeated and resigned, exhausted.
In the end, the Australian bishops abandoned the courage they displayed under his leadership, and followed the lead of Pope Benedict XVI who, in his 2010 Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, ignored the Murphy Commission’s criticisms of canon law, and blamed the Irish bishops for failing to follow it. In submissions to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and to the Royal Commission, the Australian bishops ignored what they knew of canon law’s failings, and blamed their predecessors for making “terrible mistakes” when their predecessors were demonstrably complying with canon law.
Australia has a peculiar cultural habit of creating heroes who struggle in vain, and are defeated — from the bushranger, Ned Kelly to the soldiers who were massacred at Gallipoli in the First World War. The Catholic church needs some heroes. Robinson, now terminally ill, is one of them.
[Kieran Tapsell is the author of Potiphar’s Wife: The Vatican Secret and Child Sexual Abuse (ATF Press 2014).]
The strange disconnect between Pope Francis’ words and actions about sex abuse
By Oct. 1, 2015|
On his tour of the United States, Pope Francis has forcefully reminded the world about the importance of looking after the planet and the perils of climate change. His criticisms of the world economic system and the plight of the poor are timely and welcome. There is very little that Pope Francis can personally do about either of these things except to do what he has done — warn and exhort.
But there is one thing that he can personally do about child sexual abuse, and that is to change canon law by abolishing the pontifical secret over allegations of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and religious.
In an address to bishops in Philadelphia, Pope Francis said:
“The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors cannot be kept secret any longer. I commit myself to the zealous watchfulness of the church to protect minors, and I promise that all those responsible will be held accountable.”
The maintenance of secrecy for these crimes is imposed by Article 25 of Pope John Paul II’s motu proprio, Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela of 2001 and by Article 30 of its revision by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, which impose the pontifical secret on all allegations and proceedings relating to child sexual abuse by clerics. The footnotes to Article 25 and Article 30 apply Article 1(4) of Pope Paul VI’s instruction, Secreta Continere, which defines the pontifical secret as the church’s highest form of secrecy, and like the secret of the confessional, is a permanent silence. Since becoming pope two and a half years ago, Pope Francis has made no attempt to change this maintenance of secrecy, the very thing he condemned in Philadelphia.
Like Pope Benedict XVI in his 2010 pastoral letter to the people of Ireland, Pope Francis ignored the role of canon law in the cover up, and said, “I deeply regret that some bishops failed in their responsibility to protect children.” There was not a word about the fact that in most cases such bishops were complying with the pontifical secret under canon law, and its requirement to try and cure the priest before any attempt was made to dismiss him.
A dispensation to allow reporting to the police where the civil law requires it was granted by the Holy See to the United States in 2002 and to the rest of the world in 2010, but where there are no such civil laws, the pontifical secret still applies. Very few countries have comprehensive reporting laws.
Francis is the Bishop of Rome, but his own Italian Bishops Conference, of which he is the primate, announced in 2014 that Italian bishops would not be reporting these crimes to the police because Italian civil law under the 1929 Lateran Treaty with the dictator, Mussolini, did not require them to do so.
On Jan. 31, 2014, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child requested the Holy See to abolish the pontifical secret over allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy and to impose mandatory reporting. On May 22, 2014, the United Nations Committee against Torture requested the same thing.
On Sept. 26, 2014, The Vatican responded and rejected these requests, stating that mandatory reporting under canon law would interfere with the sovereignty of independent nations. If that were true, the church should not even have a canon law that applies to Catholics all over the world. Canon law only interferes with such sovereignty when it requires Catholics to disobey the civil law. Where there is no conflict between canon and civil law, canon law has no more effect on a nation’s sovereignty than the rules of golf. Mandatory reporting under canon law would only interfere with national sovereignty if the civil law of a country prohibited the reporting of child sexual abuse by clergy. No such country exists.
On March 19, 2014, Pope Francis said that Pope Benedict had supported “zero tolerance” for clergy who sexually abused children. On May 26, 2014, he pledged to apply the same “zero tolerance” standard. But the figures produced by the Holy See’s representative at the United Nations, Archbishop Tomasi, show that the Holy See’s tolerance is not zero but 66 percent. Less than one third of all priests against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse of children have been made have been dismissed.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI dismissed Fr. Mauro Inzoli, who was accused of abusing dozens of children over a 10-year period. In 2014, Pope Francis reinstated him and required him to live a life of “prayer and penance”, the same punishment that Pope Benedict XVI handed out to the notorious Fr. Marcial Maciel. When Italian Magistrates asked the Vatican to have access to the evidence submitted to Inzoli’s canonical trial, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith refused, stating, “The procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are of a canonical nature and, as such, are not an object for the exchange of information with civil magistrates.” Pope Francis himself maintains the secrecy that this week he condemned.
In matters of child sexual abuse, Pope Francis has no constitution, no Congress, no Senate and no Supreme Court that could restrain him from changing canon law. He has no obligation even to consult anyone. He is the last of the absolute monarchs.
He can take out his pen at breakfast, and write on his napkin an instruction to abolish the pontifical secret in cases of child sexual abuse and to order mandatory reporting everywhere. He can instruct it to be translated into Latin and to have it published on the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. It then becomes canon law.
On Jan. 21, 2014, after the United Nations hearings, Thomas C. Fox, the publisher of this paper, wrote that Pope Francis “does not understand the full magnitude of the related sex abuse issues, or, if he does, is yet unwilling or incapable of responding to it.”
One can only hope that Pope Francis means what he says in his address in Philadelphia, but up to the present time, there is a strange disconnect between what he says and what he, personally, has done. Cardinal Francis George wrote in an article in 2003 that if you want to change a damaging culture, you first have to change the laws which embody it. The buck for maintaining secrecy over the sexual abuse of children within the church truly stops with Pope Francis.
[Kieran Tapsell is the author of Potiphar’s Wife: The Vatican Secret and Child Sexual Abuse (ATF Press 2014).]
ISSUED ‘MOTU PROPRIO’
SACRAMENTORUM SANCTITATIS TUTELA
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II
BY WHICH ARE PROMULGATED
NORMS ON MORE GRAVE DELICTS
RESERVED TO THE CONGREGATION
FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH*
The Safeguarding of the Sanctity of the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist and Penance, and the keeping of the faithful, called to communion with the Lord, in their observance of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, demand that the Church itself, in her pastoral solicitude, intervene to avert dangers of violation, so as to provide for the salvation of souls “which must always be the supreme law in the Church” (CIC, can. 1752).
Indeed, Our Predecessors already provided for the sanctity of the sacraments, especially penance, through appropriate Apostolic Constitutions such as the Constitution Sacramentum Poenitentiae, of Pope Benedict XIV, issued June 1, 1741;1 the same goal was likewise pursued by a number of canons of the Codex Iuris Canonici, promulgated in 1917 with their fontes by which canonical sanctions had been established against delicts of this kind.2
In more recent times, in order to avert these and connected delicts, the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, through the Instruction Crimen sollicitationis, addressed to all Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, and other local Ordinaries “even of the Oriental Rite” on March 16, 1962, established a manner of proceeding in such cases, inasmuch as judicial competence had been attributed exclusively to it, which competence could be exercised either administratively or through a judicial process. It is to be kept in mind that an Instruction of this kind had the force of law since the Supreme Pontiff, according to the norm of can. 247, §1 of the Codex Iuris Canonici promulgated in 1917, presided over the Congregation of the Holy Office, and the Instruction proceeded from his own authority, with the Cardinal at the time only performing the function of Secretary.
The Supreme Pontiff, Pope Paul VI, of happy memory, by the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, issued on August 15, 1967,3 confirmed the Congregation’s judicial and administrative competence in proceeding “according to its amended and approved norms.”
Finally, by the authority with which we are invested, in the Apostolic Constitution, Pastor Bonus, promulgated on June 28, 1988, we expressly established, “[The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] examines delicts against the faith and more grave delicts whether against morals or committed in the celebration of the sacraments, which have been referred to it and, whenever necessary, proceeds to declare or impose canonical sanctions according to the norm of both common or proper law,”4 thereby further confirming and determining the judicial competence of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as an Apostolic Tribunal.
After we had approved the Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine,5 it was necessary to define more precisely both “the more grave delicts whether against morals or committed in the celebration of the sacraments” for which the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith remains exclusive, and also the special procedural norms “for declaring or imposing canonical sanctions.”
With this apostolic letter, issued motu proprio, we have completed this work and we hereby promulgate the Norms concerning the more grave delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Norms are divided in two distinct parts, of which the first contains Substantive Norms, and the second Procedural Norms. We therefore enjoin all those concerned to observe them diligently and faithfully. These Norms take effect on the very day when they are promulgated.
All things to the contrary, even those worthy of special mention, notwithstanding.
Give in Rome at St. Peter’s on April 30, 2001, the memorial of Pope St. Pius V, in the twenty-third year of Our Pontificate.
POPE JOHN PAUL II
* This unofficial translation is based on a translation of the motu proprio by the USCCB and revised by Joseph R. Punderson and Charles J. Scicluna. The translations of the canons of the CIC and the CCEO are from the translations published by the Canon Law Society of America in 1999 and 2001 respectively.
1. Benedict XIV, Constitution Sacramentum Pœnitentiae, June 1, 1741, in Codex Iuris Canonici, prepared at the order of Pius X, Supreme Pontiff, promulgated by the authority of Pope Benedict XV, Documenta, Document V in AAS 9 (1917), Part II, 505-508.
2. Cf. Codex Iuris Canonici anno 1917 promulgatus, cann. 817; 2316; 2320; 2322; 2368, §1; 2369, §1.
3. Cf. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Regimini Ecclesiae Universae, On the Roman Curia, August 15, 1967, n. 36, AAS 59 (1967), p. 898.
4. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus, On the Roman Curia, June 28, 1988, art. 52, in AAS 89 (1988), p. 874.
5. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine, June 29, 1997, in AAS 89 (1997), pp. 830-835.
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