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Catholic Church Sex-Abuse Reports Reveal Mixed Messages

5 years ago
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The discovery of a letter from Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos that praised French Bishop Pierre Pican for refusing to report a priest/abuser to civil authorities shows the disconnect on handling sexual abuse of minors between the bishops in the United States and at least one Vatican congregation in Rome. It even shows a disconnect among offices in the Holy City.

Cardinal Castrillon wrote his letter in 2001, when he was prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy. His view stood in contrast to that of the U.S. bishops, who nine years before, in 1992, had issued their five principles for dealing with accusations of sexual abuse. No. 3: "Comply with the obligations of civil law as regards reporting of the incident and cooperating with the investigation."

The bishops repeated that mantra into the 21st century. Reporters who covered religion could recite it, having heard it about a thousand times. Given the cardinal's attitude in his missive to the French cleric in 2001, it's no wonder Pope John Paul II decreed the same year that cases of sexual abuse of minors must go not to the Clergy Congregation or other congregations that oversaw priests and religious, but to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

The U.S. bishops strengthened their 1992 recommendation when they pledged to report sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities as they adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. The Holy See implanted canonical teeth into the pledge when it approved the Essential Norms to make the Charter canon law for the United States. There's no wiggle room when it comes to making a police report.

Article 4 of the Charter states: "Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities. Dioceses/eparchies are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question."

"Diocese/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor. In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right."

The Essential Norms have ecclesial muscle and do not mince words. Norm No. 11: "The diocese/eparchy will comply withal applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and will cooperate in their investigation. In every instance, the diocese/eparchy will advise and support a person's right to make a report to public authorities."

If that's not clear enough, footnote 7 of the Norms states: "The necessary observance of the canonical norms internal to the church is not intended in any way to hinder the course of any civil action that may be operative."

The Essential Norms are the official policy of the Holy See pertaining to the church in the United States. They count for a lot more than a buck-up letter from Cardinal Castrillon to Bishop Pican, who earned a three-month suspended sentence for not reporting abuse and violating French law. The priest/abuser got 18 years.

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