1 Dec 2010

Case of pedophile priest protected by UK's top Catholic puts lie to apologist claims that clergy sex crimes are all historic

The Times - UK April 10, 2010

Britain’s top Catholic ‘protected’ paedophile

by David Brown, Sean O’Neill, Julia Bradshaw

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales presided over a child protection system that allowed a paedophile priest to continue abusing schoolboys despite repeated complaints from victims, an investigation by The Times has discovered.

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, chaired the church’s child safety watchdog in 2001-08 while Father David Pearce was repeatedly investigated by church officials and police. Despite a High Court ruling in 2006 awarding damages to one of his victims, Pearce remained a priest at Ealing Abbey, West London, where he groomed and assaulted one final victim before his arrest in 2008.

Pearce, 68, a Benedictine monk and former headteacher at the prestigious St Benedict’s School, was jailed for eight years in October after admitting a catalogue of sex offences against teenage pupils during 35 years at the abbey.

Archbishop Nichols last night denied any knowledge of the Pearce case while he was chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca).

Church officials said that Archbishop Nichols was not told the full details of Pearce’s child abuse offences until he replaced Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor at Westminster last year.

However, his predecessor knew of the allegations, a spokesman for Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor confirmed. The Cardinal has recently been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to sit on the Vatican body that appoints bishops.

The Pope was further embroiled in the worldwide clerical abuse scandal yesterday by the discovery of a letter which purports to show that he resisted the defrocking of an American priest because of the effect it might have “on the good of the universal church”.

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The Times - UK April 10, 2010

Catholic Church’s bluster over child abuse puts its good work at risk

by Ruth Gledhill

The future Pope resisted pleas to return a paedophile priest to lay status, it emerged yesterday, as the torrent of cases from around the world showed little sign of abating.

A 1985 letter bearing the signature of Joseph Ratzinger undermines, possibly terminally, the insistence by the Holy See that Benedict XVI played no part in protecting paedophile priests. In the letter, Ratzinger, head of the Roman Catholic Church’s disciplinary body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stalled — but also quoting the “good of the universal church” — on a diocesan request for action against Father Stephen Kiesle, a Californian priest.

The news from England is not much better. Nearly a decade ago the Catholic bishops of England and Wales set up a child protection system to catch paedophile priests. It seemed that the Church here had gained the moral high ground in contrast to scandals elsewhere.

But the case exposed today by The Times shows that at least one paedophile priest remained free to abuse children until recently, even after authorities were repeatedly alerted to his actions.

It was not just some junior official who was aware of the pederasty of Father David Pearce, convicted last year for sex offences against teenage boys. The most recent offence was committed in 2007, 15 years after the first allegation and six years after Lord Nolan investigated the problem here and published his “Programme for Action”, with 83 recommendations on how the Church should improve arrangements for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster, was briefed about the case. Yet Father Pearce was able to continue offending, with catastrophic consequences for at least one victim.

A poll by Populus for The Times shows how much trust has been damaged. Asked whether the Catholic Church responded appropriately to evidence of abuse by some priests, 65 per cent of those polled said it had not. Nearly 80 per cent wanted a “fuller and clearer apology” to abused children; 87 per cent, of a weighted base of 744, said that any senior figures in the Church who knew about abuse of children by priests and helped to cover it up should resign.

The Holy See is drawing up new rules that will force bishops to refer paedophile cases to the police. Statements from the Vatican yesterday indicated a change of mood. There seemed to be the beginnings of a willingness to look inwards rather than continue to blame the media, as if the original sin attaches to the drive to expose what has remained hidden for so long, rather than the child abuse itself. The Pope is “willing” to meet more victims of clerical child sex abuse, part of the drive by the Catholic Church to rebuild public trust.

But the good work has been obscured by abortive dismissals of allegations by top cardinals as “petty gossip” or “idle chatter”. One preacher compared attacks on the Pope to anti-Semitism. This would have been laughable had it not been so creepily sincere.

Arguing that there is a “campaign of hatred” against the Pope orchestrated by “powerful lobbies” opposed to his polices on abortion and other moral issues ignores the reality for many people that it is the Church that has for centuries been the powerful organisation, orchestrating campaigns against people and practices it does not like. The latest revelation from California adds to the impression that the attacks on the media by the Church hierarchy are motivated as much by a fear of what journalists will uncover as by any true sense of natural justice.

Next weekend the Pope visits Malta, where a number of victims of clerical abuse have demanded a papal apology. According to the diocesan authorities in Malta, 45 of the 850 priests on the island have been accused of abuse.

Many of the cases emerging around the world are historic, although the cover ups are less so. But some, such as in Brazil, Malta and the latest in England are recent. Nor will the historic cases go away. A German man abused as a boy by Father Hullerman, whose case has been linked to the Pope’s tenure as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, is demanding an apology and compensation “even if the church goes bankrupt”.

The Catholic Church has a devotion to social work which has been effective, especially in the third world. In some countries, where poverty is suffocating, committed clergy and their lay supporters have given the people hope, inspiration and the will to live.

Even in Western countries such as Britain, Catholics are active in drawing attention to social problems such as homelessness and important ethical issues such as abortion. Often the work of committed Catholics has spurred government action. What a tragedy it would be if the child abuse crisis and the Church’s incompetent response destroyed the credibility and effectivness of this vital work.

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