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Vatican Letter to Irish Bishops on Sex Abuse: A 'Smoking Gun' in Conspiracy?

3 years ago
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The Vatican is scrambling to tamp down yet another crisis in the ongoing clergy sexual abuse scandal, this time over the revelation of a 1997 letter from a senior Vatican official telling the bishops of Ireland not to implement their new policy of reporting abusive priests to law enforcement authorities.

Advocates for victims and other critics say the letter from the Vatican's envoy to Ireland at the time is a "smoking gun" proving their claims that the Vatican helped direct an effort to conceal abuses for years.

"The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican's intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere," said Colm O'Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of the human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The January 1997 letter is from papal nuncio Archbishop Luciano Storero to the Irish hierarchy. It states that the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy, which oversees policies for the more than 400,000 priests around the world, said the bishops' new policy of mandatory reporting of suspected sex crimes by priests to police "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature."

Storero (who died in 2000) wrote that canon law, which governs abuses and legal matters within the church, "must be meticulously followed" and any bishop who took actions that did not follow canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of being overturned on appeal in Rome. Such a result would be "detrimental" to the bishop in question, the Vatican warned.

The letter closes with a stern admonition to the bishops that Vatican policies must be "meticulously" adhered to.

The newly revealed letter was obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press.

The bishops of Ireland had adopted their new policy in 1996 as the first wave of clergy abuse scandals was being made public and the letter represented the Vatican's first official reaction.

Vatican officials on Wednesday sought to downplay the letter's importance and to shield Pope Benedict XVI -- formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top Vatican official during the era of scandals -- by noting that the Vatican had begun dealing more forthrightly with abuse cases in 2001 when the late John Paul II gave Ratzinger responsibility for coordinating Rome's efforts on clergy abuse cases.

In addition, Jeffrey S. Lena, a U.S.-based lawyer for the Vatican, said the letter from Storero had been "deeply misunderstood."

"In stark contrast to news reports, the letter nowhere instructed Irish bishops to disregard civil law reporting requirements," Lena said in a statement.

Ireland had no reporting requirements for the sexual abuse of children at the time, and the policies adopted by the Irish bishops were actually ahead of civil laws in that regard. The Vatican is still developing a comprehensive policy for the world's bishops to deal with clergy abuse cases, and it was only last April, amid a firestorm of criticism over its handling of cases, that the Vatican published a set of informal guidelines that said civil law "concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed."

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, on Wednesday took a somewhat different tack from Lena, saying that the letter's "ideas about collaborating with civil authorities" have been "surpassed."

"It refers to a situation that we've now moved beyond," Lombardi said.

Lombardi also said that people in Ireland had been aware of the existence of the letter. "It's not new," he said, according to The New York Times. "They've known about it in Ireland for some time."

In fact, sources had spoken to Irish media about the letter but its exact contents had never been published. And in many respects the 1997 letter reflects what was already known about the Vatican's endemic culture of secrecy. The head of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy at the time, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, was a sharp critic of media efforts to cover the scandal, and last April it emerged that Castrillon had praised a French bishop who risked jail rather than report child abuse by one of his priests to police.

But the publication of the letter to the Irish bishops was understandably galling to victims advocates and others, as it seemed to put the conspiratorial church culture in black and white.

"Time and time again, Vatican officials have denied telling bishops to conceal child sex crimes," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the leading U.S.-based victims organization. "Now, however, it's clear that they did, at least in Ireland (and we suspect elsewhere as well)."

The letter's emergence is also problematic given that the Vatican recently announced that Benedict will beatify John Paul on May 1, a highly anticipated event that will put the late pontiff one step from sainthood, but just as some of the uglier aspects of his administration are emerging.

The 1997 letter may not burnish Benedict's reputation either.

As new abuse revelations swept across Europe last year they hit Ireland particularly hard. The pope finally responded with a letter to Irish Catholics that expressed his sorrow at the abuse but also blamed the abuse on "fast-paced social change" and a lack of religious devotion by ordinary Irish Catholics, who until recent years have been the most devout Catholics in the world.

Benedict's letter also chided the bishops for the "often inadequate response" of Ireland's hierarchy to the abuse and pointed to "a tendency in [Irish] society to favor the clergy and other authority figures."

Apparently, that tendency may have been more of a problem in Rome than in Dublin.

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7 Comments

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frogosopher

Ah-ha.
At last we have it: it's "a lack of religious devotion" that's to blame for all those Irish buggerings.
If those Irish kids had just been saying more "Ave's"...the predators would likely have moved on to more unworthy souls.
And every pedophile should know those "sinful" rectums are so much more savory.
Those damn kids tempting these poor priests--how could they distract God's plan?

January 21 2011 at 8:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rgschaab@aol.com

After experiencing the defrocking of three priests from the parish I've attended for over 40 years and only discovering this many years after the events happened involving their separate lives, I've decided it's 3 strikes and "I'm out". But it's apparent from this letter from the Pope's representatives that a "see and don't tell" code was in existence for decades, and the comment that Ireland's religious members have changed their strict
adherance to the quiet secrecy of "THE CHURCH", has now diminished, thus blaming it on the Irish, for the lack of follow up from the Hierarchy at the Vatican.
It's likely "the Church" will reluctantly admonish one of it's extremely wealthy parishoners.
It's been sad to be a part of an organization that once I gave such credence to.

January 20 2011 at 11:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
themightyabelard

Another example of why one cannot take seriously the church's pronouncements on what consitutes moral or immoral behavior. Zero credibility factor. Clean up your own act before you try to pass judgements on others. Payments of over a billion dollars to victims of demented clergypersons would indicate this issue's been mishandled for decades. No pedophile, regardless of profession, should be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution.

January 19 2011 at 6:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
queckie1

Papist world wide club is a criminal organization. It needs to be brought under USA RICO Act of organized criminal conspiracy.
Not much difference between papist's and wall street.
both suck money from the innocent

January 19 2011 at 5:24 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Kyle

More Priests rapin' children. Not surprised. What purpose does following God is there exactly? Sounds like a rather dull, boring life if you have to resort to that. "Following God", pfffff.

January 19 2011 at 4:59 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kyle's comment
elnpet

These sick priests are not following GOD. They and this pope knew about the abuse and covered it up. This pope should step down and be replaced with some one who cares about children and the faith of the Cathoic Church, which has gone corrupt since he was a cardinal and I question John Paul 11 and being made a saint as he also knew this also and did nothing. .

January 19 2011 at 10:31 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
cruisegal43

Reading of another attempt to block immoral behavior is sad however the new pope I do not believe should blame the Catholic community in Ireland for a serious immoral and cruel abuse. MEN OF THE CLOTH SEXUALLY ABUSED THE INNOCENT. Plain and direct. This only proves that priest should be allowed the natural course of life and that is to be married. Ministers from various faiths have proven they lead a rewarding and dedicated life as family people. Why can't the church see this as an honorable union of couples who are devoted in their service to God. By denying a man or woman the gift of nature created by God isn't the church making sex an immoral act even though it was instituted by God?

January 19 2011 at 2:51 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
pjmqone05

This is an ongoing criminal conspiracy and ALL involved needs to go to prison.
The church is just like the US goverment- the people are the foundation but the powers the be care more about the institution then the people it serves.
But when you care more about the institution then the people, you loose sight of what matters and wind up doing more harm then good

January 19 2011 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
rock121645

The goal of the Catholic Church was always to protect itself and not the children. Once everyone understands this they will then fully understand what the Catholic Church did and continues to do.

January 19 2011 at 11:55 AM Report abuse +11 rate up rate down Reply

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