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SEX ABUSE BY ROMAN CATHOLIC CLERGY

Excerpts from the BBC program
"Sex crimes and the Vatican"

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The program "Sex crimes and the Vatican" was broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on 2006-OCT-01. 1 They have placed the complete transcript online. 2

We can only discuss general themes from the program, and show short excerpts of the text because of copyright restrictions.

bulletColm O'Gorman was the program host. He claims that he was repeatedly raped by Father Sean Fortune in Ferns, Ireland at the age of 14. The church was aware that Fortune was an active hebephile -- a person who sexually abuses post-pubertal youths. But it simply moved him from parish to parish as accusations of abuse arose. Fortune was eventually exposed. On the eve of his trial, he committed suicide. Dr. Brendan Comiskey, later resigned as Bishop of Ferns.
bulletO' Gorman later became director of one of Ireland's largest non-profits specializing in the support of victims of child abuse. He pressured the government into conducting a government inquiry. In 2005-OCT, the Ferns Report was made public. He said:

"It details allegations of the rape and abuse of over 100 girls and boys, made against 26 priests from this small, rural diocese. It says that there was a culture of secrecy, and a fear of scandal, that led Bishops to place the interests of the Catholic church ahead of the safety of children."

bulletThe Fern Report was the first to link church actions to a secret 1962 Vatican document called "Crimen Sollicitationis."
bulletAiden Doyle described a rape by a priest of the Ferns diocese. He disclosed the assault to another priest, who ordered Doyle to never reveal the abuse to anyone. The priest said:

"I'm going to apply the seal of confession to you, so that you must never talk about this, and it will be kept secret."

"I was told that.. simply told you don't talk about this again. It's over, you'll get over it, it'll fade away in time, it'll go away, you've nothing to worry about. You know it's all about forgiveness, it's all about forgiving your offender as well as the offender forgiving me. They were judge, jury and everything else. I didn't have any opportunity to receive understanding. There was no understanding brought about. I didn't know what this meant other than that I must never talk about it again."

bulletFather Tom Doyle, a senior Vatican canon lawyer, said that the document:

"Crimen sollicitationis is indicative of a world-wide policy of absolute secrecy and control of all cases of sexual abuse by the clergy. But what you really have here is an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy, to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by churchmen. You've got a written policy that says the Vatican will control these situations, and you also have, I think, clear written evidence of the fact that all they're concerned about is containing and controlling the problem. Nowhere in any of these documents does it say anything about helping the victims. The only thing it does is say that they can impose fear on the victims, and punish the victims, for discussing or disclosing what had happened to them."

bulletThe program narrator, Paul Kenyon, said that the intent of the document was to protect priests' reputations until a proper investigation had been completed. In practice, it has been used to create cover-ups.

Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from about 1981 to 2005. He enforced the document. He issued an updated version of Crimen Sollicitatiois in 2001. It was considered so confidential that the bishops were instructed to keep it locked in a safe. He introduced a new principle: Exclusive Competence. All child abuse allegations were to be handled by the Vatican.
bulletO' Gorman noted that:

"At the same time as the scandals were erupting in Ireland in 2002, hundreds of cases were emerging ... in the United States. A US report tells us that almost four and a half thousand US priests have been accused of raping or sexually abusing children."

bulletPatrick Wall, a former Benedictine Monk once applied Crimen Sollicitationis in the Minnesota diocese. He has since resigned and joined lawyers acting on behalf of abuse victims. He said:

"I was part of the system that was getting chewed up and being used deceptively, and it was a real dark night of the soul. Everything that I had trained for, you know, well over a decade to do, I found out that I wasn't working for a holy institution but an institution that was wholly concentrated on protecting itself.

"... most of the cases never saw the light of the day, hence we were successful. That is really the ultimate definition of success for the church, when it comes to a case of sexual abuse of a minor, that no one ever finds out about it, that it gets shut down, that it's kept quiet. If a payoff is needed, or if some kind of a settlement is needed, it's done. We had a $7 million budget in 1996 to do such things. ... but the thing that we had to have was a confidentiality order where it absolutely had to be agreed that everything was quiet. And you work with the victims as best you can, but the ultimate desire is to maintain stability, peace and calm, and the biggest thing you have to do is absolutely shut down the scandal.

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bulletThe Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. responded to the abuse crisis by creating a independent National Review Board in 2002. Judge Anne Burke was on that board from 2002 to 2005. She noted that the board found that abuse wasn't an epidemic, where one the abuse was limited to one or a few dioceses. It was endemic: across America, the same percentages of criminal sexual assault against minors occurred in every diocese.
bulletIn 2003, the head of the Board, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating compared some church leaders to La Casa Nostra. In his letter of resignation, Keating wrote:

"To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church."

bulletJudge Burke continued:

"We haven't seen sufficient evidence to show that we are satisfied with what has been done, and I think we're not able to trust. And that's getting reinforced periodically with the watering down of the charter, the failure of some diocese' to remove priests when there's an allegation. So I think we cannot trust at this point. We would have thought that the last four years would have taught us enough, and would have taught the Bishops enough to handle the situation. But we see every week, every month, something new happening that would lead you to believe that perhaps they didn't learn from the past mistakes."

bulletThe Church adopted similar reforms in other countries. For example the church in Britain has introduced comprehensive guidelines for child protection. But these have been piecemeal effort; the Vatican does not have a global global child protection plan.
bulletFather Doyle said:

"There's no policy to help the victims, there's absolutely no policy to help those who are trying to help the victims, and there's an unwritten policy to lie about the existence of the problem. Then, as far as the perpetrators, the priests, when they're discovered, the systemic response has been not to investigate and prosecute, but to move them. To move them from one place to another in a secret way, and not reveal why they're being moved. So there's total disregard for the victims, total disregard for the fact that you're gonna have a whole new crop of victims in the next place. Now this is just... this is not in the United States where this is happening. This is all over the world. You see the same pattern and practice no matter what country you go to."

bulletRick Romley is a former District Attorney in Phoenix, AZ. He has convicted eight abusive priests and obtained a written confession from the bishop admitting that he knowingly hid child sexual abuse from the police. Romely said:

"I will tell you that the secrecy, the... I mean the obstruction that I saw during my investigation was unparalleled in my entire career as a DA here in Phoenix Arizona. It was so difficult to obtain any information from the church at all. In fact we knew of certain meetings that had taken place, and yet no documentation was ever produced to be able to ... show that that meeting had even occurred."

"... we came across, in the canons for the church, that there are supposed to be secret archives to where this type of material is to provided and not given to civil authorities no matter what the circumstances. We had information that there is an instruction from the Nuncio, who is Ambassador status, to shift all this ... incriminating type of information to him because ... under the law we could not subpoena that material because he would have protected status as an Ambassador from the Vatican. I think that that's really what the story is. Is that the church.. the church's failure to acknowledge such a serious problem. But more than that, it is not a passiveness. It is a.. it was an openly obstructive way of not allowing civil authorities to try to stop the abuse within the church. I mean they fought us every step of the way.

bulletFather Doyle continued:

"Cardinal Ratzinger, who now is Pope, could tomorrow get up and say 'here's the policy for throughout the church. Full disclosure to the civil authorities. Absolute isolation and dismissal of any convicted cleric. Complete openness and transparency. Complete openness of all financial situations. Stop all barriers to the legal process. Completely cooperate with the civil authorities everywhere.' He could do that."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
 
  1. "Sex crimes and the Vatican" Panorama, BBC One, 2006-SEP-29, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/

  2. Transcript of the program is at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-OCT-08 
Latest update: 2006-OCT-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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