Friday, April 30, 2010

Vatican abuse investigator ‘failed to report Californian priest’

From The Times April 30, 2010

Vatican abuse investigator ‘failed to report Californian priest’
Richard Owen, Rome Correspondent
The Pope’s chosen replacement to investigate sex abuse cases in the Catholic Church has been accused of failing to take action against a Californian priest after learning that he had allegedly molested an altar boy 11 years earlier.

Cardinal William Levada, who at the time the alleged offence came to light in 1995 was Archbishop of San Francisco, said in testimony five years ago that he had not contacted police about Father Milton Walsh because he believed that his predecessor had dealt with the case adequately. He also said he had trusted that Father Walsh would not reoffend.

Jeffrey Lena, the lawyer acting for the Vatican in US abuse cases, said that Cardinal Levada acted appropriately according to the standards of the time. There was no evidence that Father Walsh had gone on to commit any further sexual offences.

Father Walsh was removed from active ministry in 2002 when police opened an investigation into his behaviour. In the same year the US Bishops Conference issued a “zero tolerance” policy on clerical sex abuse after being summoned to Rome.

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Cardinal Levada, the highest-ranking American in the Vatican Curia, was selected by the Pope to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body which Benedict headed until his election as Pope in 2005. Its functions include the investigation and defrocking of paedophile priests.

This month the Vatican posted guidelines on its website making clear for the first time that bishops are required to report suspected sex abuse cases to police rather than confining them to internal Church tribunals. Mr Lena said that these rules had not applied at the time of the Father Walsh case. “One thing the law teaches: it is fundamentally unfair to apply standards of conduct retroactively,” he told Associated Press (AP).

He said that an independent psychiatrist had determined that the priest was not a paedophile and there was no risk in him returning to the ministry.

Diane Josephs, the lawyer acting for the victim, Jay Seaman, said that Cardinal Levada had shown little or no concern for victims. “When it comes right down to it, he absolutely never reached out in this clear-cut case” she said.

In his 2005 testimony, obtained by AP, Cardinal Levada said that when questioned ten years previously Father Walsh had confirmed fondling a teenager’s genitals while staying with his family but claimed that he stopped when the boy objected and returned to his own bed.

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