3 Feb 2011

Leaked confidential letter reveals Vatican's intention to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities

The Guardian - UK January 18, 2011

Vatican letter told Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report child abuse


Policy to tell police about priest suspects was vetoed, as lawyers say proof at last of cover-up by papacy

by Associated Press in Dublin





A copy of the 1997 letter from the Vatican, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to AP, warning Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police. Photograph: AP


A letter to Ireland's Roman Catholic bishops has been revealed by the broadcaster RTE that contradicts the Vatican's frequent claim it has never instructed clergy to withhold evidence or suspicion of child abuse from police.

The 1997 letter documents rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to help police identify paedophile priests. Signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's envoy to Ireland, it instructs bishops that their new policy of making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature".

Storero wrote that canon law, whereby allegations and punishments are handled within the church, "must be meticulously followed"; any bishop who tried to go outside canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of being overturned on appeal in Rome.

A 2009 Irish state report found this actually happened with Tony Walsh, one of Dublin's most notorious paedophiles, who exploited his role as an Elvis impersonator in a popular "All Priests Show" to get closer to children. In 1993, Walsh was defrocked by a secret church court, but successfully appealed to a Vatican court, and was reinstated in the priesthood in 1994. He raped a boy in a pub restroom that year. Walsh since has received a series of prison sentences, with a 12-year term imposed last month. Investigators estimate he raped or molested more than 100 children.

Catholic officials in Ireland and the Vatican declined requests from the Associated Press to comment on the letter, marked "strictly confidential"; RTE said it had been given it by an Irish bishop.

"The letter is of huge international significance," said Colm O'Gorman, director of the Irish section of Amnesty International. "It shows that the Vatican's intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here [in Ireland], it applied everywhere."

Joelle Casteix, a director of the US advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, described it as "the smoking gun we've been looking for." It was certain to be cited by lawyers acting for victims seeking to pin responsibility directly on Rome, not the dioceses.

To this day, the Vatican has not endorsed any of the Irish church's three documents since 1996 on safeguarding children. Irish taxpayers, rather than the church, have paid most of the €1.5bn to more than 14,000 abuse claimants dating back to the 1940s.

In a 2010 letter to Ireland condemning paedophiles in the ranks, Pope Benedict XVI faulted bishops for not following canon law and offered no explicit endorsement of child-protection efforts by the Irish church or state. He was widely criticised in Ireland.

O'Gorman (who was raped repeatedly by a priest in the 1980s when an altar boy) said evidence is mounting that some Irish bishops continued to follow the 1997 Vatican instructions. A state investigation of Cloyne diocese is to come out soon, citing crimes concealed as recently as 2008.

This article was found at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/18/vatican-irish-bishops-child-abuse

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Yahoo! News - Associated Press January 18, 2011

Vatican warned Irish bishops not to report abuse


By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press



DUBLIN – A 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police — a disclosure that victims' groups described as "the smoking gun" needed to show that the church enforced a worldwide culture of covering up crimes by pedophile priests.

The newly revealed letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican's rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland's first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits.

The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church's right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than give that power to civil authorities.

Signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland, the letter instructs Irish bishops that their new policy of making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature."

Storero wrote that canon law, which required abuse allegations and punishments to be handled within the church, "must be meticulously followed." Any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome, he wrote.

Catholic officials in Ireland and the Vatican declined AP requests to comment on the letter, which RTE said it received from an Irish bishop.

Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter demonstrates that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them.

"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 human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Joelle Casteix, a director of U.S. advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, described the letter as "the smoking gun we've been looking for."

Casteix said it was certain to be cited by victims' lawyers seeking to pin responsibility directly on the Vatican rather than local dioceses. She said investigators long have sought such a document showing Vatican pressure on a group of bishops "thwarting any kind of justice for victims."

"We now have evidence that the Vatican deliberately intervened to order bishops not to turn pedophile priests over to law enforcement," she said. "And for civil lawsuits, this letter shows what victims have been saying for dozens and dozens of years: What happened to them involved a concerted cover-up that went all the way to the top."

To this day, the Vatican has not endorsed any of the Irish church's three major policy documents since 1996 on safeguarding children from clerical abuse. Irish taxpayers, rather than the church, have paid most of the euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) to more than 14,000 abuse claimants dating back to the 1940s.

In his 2010 pastoral letter to Ireland's Catholics condemning pedophiles in the ranks, Pope Benedict XVI faulted bishops for failing to follow canon law and offered no explicit endorsement of Irish child-protection efforts by the Irish church or state. Benedict was widely criticized in Ireland for failing to admit any Vatican role in covering up the truth.

O'Gorman — who was raped repeatedly by an Irish priest in the 1980s when he was an altar boy and was among the first victims to speak out in the mid-1990s — said evidence is growing that some Irish bishops continued to follow the 1997 Vatican instructions and withheld reports of crimes against children as recently as 2008.

Two state-commissioned reports published in 2009 — into the Dublin Archdiocese and workhouse-style Catholic institutions for children — unveiled decades of cover-ups of abuse involving tens of thousands of Irish children since the 1930s.

A third major state-ordered investigation into Catholic abuse cover-ups, concerning the southwest Irish Diocese of Cloyne, is expected to be published in the next few months documenting the concealment of crimes as recently as 2008.

Irish church leaders didn't begin telling police about suspected pedophile priests until the mid-1990s after the first major scandal — involving the Rev. Brendan Smyth, who had raped dozens of children while the church transferred him to parishes in Dublin, Belfast, Rhode Island and North Dakota — triggered the collapse of the Irish government. That national shock, in turn, inspired the first victims to begin suing the church publicly.

In January 1996, Irish bishops published a groundbreaking policy document spelling out their newfound determination to report all suspected abuse cases to police.

But in his January 1997 letter seen Tuesday by the AP, Storero told the bishops that a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided that the Irish church's policy of "mandatory" reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.

Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church's policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was "merely a study document."

Storero warned that bishops who followed the Irish child-protection policy and reported a priest's suspected crimes to police risked having their in-house punishments of the priest overturned by the Congregation for the Clergy.

The 2009 Dublin Archdiocese report found that this actually happened in the case of Tony Walsh, one of Dublin's most notorious pedophiles, who used his role as an Elvis impersonator in a popular "All Priests Show" to get closer to kids.

Walsh was kicked out of the priesthood by a secret Dublin church court in 1993 but successfully appealed the punishment to a Vatican court, which reinstated him to the priesthood in 1994. He raped a boy in a pub restroom at his grandfather's wake that year. Walsh since has received a series of prison sentences, most recently a 12-year term imposed last month. Investigators estimate he raped or molested more than 100 children.

Storero's 1997 letter — originally obtained by the RTE religious affairs program "Would You Believe?" — said the Congregation for the Clergy was pursuing "a global study" of sexual-abuse policies and would establish worldwide child-protection policies "at the appropriate time."

Today, the Vatican's child-protection policies remain in legal limbo.

The Vatican does advise bishops worldwide to report crimes to police — in a legally nonbinding guide on its website. This recourse is omitted from the official legal advice provided by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and updated last summer. That powerful policymaking body continues to stress the secrecy of canon law.

The central message of Storero's letter was reported secondhand in the 2009 Dublin Archdiocese report. The letter itself, marked "strictly confidential," has never been published before.

This article was found at:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110118/ap_on_re_eu/eu_ireland_catholic_abuse

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New York Times January 19, 2011

Missing Mandate From Rome

EDITORIAL


The Vatican’s insistence that it never impeded criminal investigations of pedophile priests has been thrown into doubt by a 1997 letter from the pope’s representative in Dublin warning against a mandate by Irish church leaders for full cooperation with criminal authorities.

Throughout the mushrooming scandal, Rome officials have denied trying to foil secular law by allowing child-abuse allegations to be shrouded in halfhearted diocesan inquiries and cover-ups. But the newly discovered letter undermines those claims and reinforces evidence of foot dragging that still has not been adequately addressed by the Vatican.

The letter from the papal representative rejected a 1996 decision by Dublin church leaders to respond more candidly to the suppressed scandal in Ireland by ordering that child-abuse allegations be referred for criminal investigation. The “strictly confidential” letter from Rome — leaked this week amid continuing inquiries into the Irish scandal — emphasized the priority of in-house handling of pedophilia cases under church, not civil, law.

This was hardly the needed prescription for what an Irish government investigation eventually described as “endemic” abuse of thousands of children over decades by rogue priests who were routinely shielded from criminal penalties.

It was disclosed recently, for example, that Tony Walsh, a notorious abuser of children who was convicted and defrocked in a secret church court in Dublin in 1993, got his collar back a year later when a Vatican court believed his appeal and reinstated him as a priest. He was eventually imprisoned after raping and molesting scores of youngsters.

Rome officials insist that the letter from Rome is outdated, misinterpreted and superseded by tougher church rules. Unfortunately, the latest policies of the Vatican do not mandate the zero-tolerance reforms that ranking officials in the United States and elsewhere were forced to proclaim as the scandal demoralized church faithful worldwide.

It is commendable that Pope Benedict XVI has been apologizing and promising a firmer hand. But current Vatican policy, updated last year, offers merely a nonbinding advisory — not a firm mandate — that diocesan officials should report crimes to police.

This is cold comfort to worried Catholic parents or anyone else relying on the rule of law.

This article was found at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/opinion/20thu3.html

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Yahoo! News - Associated Press January 19, 2011

Vatican: 1997 Irish abuse letter 'misunderstood'

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press



VATICAN CITY – In a new round of damage control, the Vatican insisted Wednesday that a 1997 letter warning Irish bishops against reporting priests suspected of sex abuse to police had been "deeply misunderstood."

The Associated Press on Tuesday reported the contents of the letter, in which the Vatican's top diplomat in Ireland told bishops that their policy of mandatory reporting such cases to police "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature."

The newly revealed letter, obtained originally by Irish broadcaster RTE from an Irish bishop, has undermined persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never told bishops not to cooperate with police.

An Irish government-ordered investigation into decades of abuse cover-ups in the Dublin Archdiocese concluded that Irish bishops understood the letter to mean they shouldn't report suspected crimes.

And victims groups say it's a "smoking gun" that shows that the church enforced a worldwide culture of concealing crimes by pedophile priests of which Rome bears ultimate — and legal — responsibility.

"The letter confirms that the cover-up goes as far as the Vatican, that Vatican officials knew exactly what was going on, and that they proactively sought to deter Irish bishops from cooperating with civil authorities in Ireland," said Andrew Madden, a former Dublin altar boy who was raped repeatedly by a priest, Ivan Payne, in the 1980s.

"This letter also documents how the church remained of the view that it is a law unto itself, how its rules and regulations regarding the handling of a criminal offense take precedence over civil society's laws," said Madden, who in 1995 became the first victim in Ireland to go public with a lawsuit against the church.

On Wednesday, the Vatican insisted the 1997 letter was only intended to emphasize that Irish bishops must follow church law meticulously. The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Holy See wanted to ensure that pedophile priests wouldn't have any technical grounds to escape church punishment on appeal.

It by no means instructed bishops to disregard civil reporting requirements about abuse, added the Vatican's U.S. lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, who said the letter had been "deeply misunderstood" by the media.

At the time, there were no such reporting requirements in Ireland. In fact, the Irish bishops were ahead of Irish lawmakers in pledging cooperation with law enforcement as dioceses were hit with the first lawsuits by victims of abusive priests.

Yet as a result of the 1997 letter, most Irish dioceses never implemented the 1996 commitment to report all suspected abuse cases to police, according to the conclusions of the government-mandated investigation into the Dublin Archdiocese published in 2009.

"This in fact never took place because of the response of Rome," the commission said in its report, although it quoted Dublin Archdiocese officials as saying it was implemented there.

That eight-year inquiry interviewed two senior Dublin Archdiocese canon lawyers involved in handling abuse complaints. They were quoted as saying the letter discouraged bishops from pursuing their 1996 initiative for fear of being overruled by Rome, as had already happened in one notorious case of a serial pedophile.

The AP has requested interviews with both officials, Monsignors Alex Stenson and John Dolan. But the Dublin Archdiocese said Wednesday that no officials would be available to comment on either the 2009 investigation or the publication of the Vatican's 1997 letter.

In that letter, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland, Archbishop Luciano Storero, told the Irish bishops that their 1996 policy contained procedures that appeared to contradict canon law and stressed the need to follow that law "meticulously" or risk having their canonical trials overturned on appeal.

The Irish bishops' policy makes clear, with dozens of citations, that canon law must be followed when a bishop learns of an abuse allegation. That raises questions about what — beyond the police reporting requirement — the Vatican was so concerned about in its letter.

Lombardi said Wednesday the Vatican was chiefly concerned about protecting the church's right to deal with crimes that occurred within the sacrament of confession. The Vatican has particular norms with dealing with the crime of soliciting sex from a minor within the confessional that require church proceedings be kept strictly secret.

Plaintiffs' lawyers have charged that those norms mandated non-reporting to police; Lena has argued in court papers they did no such thing.

Irish victims' groups described Lombardi's explanation as nonsensical and irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of thousands of abuse cases, which did not involve the confessional.

They said almost without exception, church officials learned of sexual assaults by priests outside the confessional — from victims or their parents who generally were seeking to prevent the priest from attacking anyone else.

They noted that the Vatican has consistently ignored letters from several Irish investigations seeking church documents, such as the 1997 letter, that would shed light on the scope of Catholic child abuse and any cover-up.

"Even within the narrow confines of canon law, raising the question of the sacrament of confession as a credible reason for withholding child-abuse reports to police makes zero sense in Irish experience and, presumably, global experience of the church's actual pattern — to cover up and conceal crimes regardless of whether an act of confession was involved," said Maeve Lewis, director of Ireland's abuse victims support group One in Four.

She said the real reason the Vatican didn't want bishops to report abuse was to shelter the church from scandal and lawsuits.

"We know from bitter experience that the letter's threat to overturn any punishments imposed by the Irish church was real and perversely executed in the case of Tony Walsh," she said.

Walsh was defrocked by a canonical court in Dublin in 1993, but appealed the punishment to Rome, which decided the next year he should be reinstated as a priest and instead sent to a monastery.

Cardinal Desmond Connell, former archbishop of Dublin, got Walsh defrocked only after his criminal trial in Dublin had begun and Connell had made a personal plea to John Paul, explaining that no Irish monastery was willing to take him.

U.S. attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who has filed lawsuits against the Holy See and its officials in Oregon and Wisconsin, said the letter bolstered his argument that church officials in Rome were part of a "conspiracy to suppress evidence of sexual abuse by priests." In a statement, he said he believed that there were other "smoking guns secretly vaulted away in the bowels of the Vatican fortress in Rome."

Plaintiffs' attorneys have repeatedly sought to have discovery of Vatican documents and to question Vatican officials under oath to boost their claims. So far the Holy See has avoided their attempts by arguing U.S. courts don't have subject matter jurisdiction over the Vatican because it enjoys foreign sovereign immunity.

The Vatican also insisted Wednesday that the Irish policy was a mere "study" document that it reviewed, not a policy document of the bishops' conference. Yet at the time it was issued, Irish bishops announced it effectively as policy: A full press conference was held to release it and announce the new pledge to report abuse, and the church's top prelate in Ireland said in the forward of the report that it should be enacted by all dioceses.

The 1997 letter cited the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, which had reviewed the Irish document and expressed reservations.

At the time, the Congregation for the Clergy was led by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who has routinely defended the church's practice of not reporting abuse to police in favor of guarding the rights of accused priests. At the height of the Vatican's sex abuse scandal last year, Castrillon Hoyos told a Colombian radio station that no one should be forced to report abuse.

"The law in nations with a well-developed judiciary does not force anyone to testify against a child, a father, against other people close to the suspect," Castrillon told RCN radio. "Why would they ask that of the church? That's the injustice."

Lombardi in his statement noted that the letter was issued before the Vatican in May 2001 instructed bishops worldwide to send abuse cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for review.

The Vatican has insisted that its 2001 shift marked a turning point in the way it dealt with abuse. It has cited its 2001 norms as evidence that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, intended to get tough with pedophile priests.

The 2001 norms, however, say nothing about the need to report abuse to police and repeat the need for the canonical proceedings to be kept under pontifical secret to protect the reputations of all involved.

Later that same year, Castrillon Hoyos congratulated a French bishop in a letter for receiving a suspended prison sentence — his punishment for concealing knowledge of a priest convicted of raping and sexually abusing minors.

Only last year did the Vatican post a nonbinding, unofficial guide on its website saying bishops should follow civil reporting laws where they exist. Significantly, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith updated its norms last summer, it again made no mention of the need to report abuse; the Vatican has said such a reference would be an incongruous melding of civil and canon law.

Two Irish government-commissioned reports — into the Dublin Archdiocese and workhouse-style Catholic institutions for children — unveiled decades of cover-ups of abuse involving tens of thousands of Irish children since the 1930s.

Online:

Irish bishops' 1996 document, http://bit.ly/dQgZFD

Dublin Archdiocese investigation, http://www.dacoi.ie/

Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this report.

This article was found at:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110119/ap_on_re_eu/eu_ireland_catholic_abuse


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