Friday, April 30, 2010

Swedish government rejects bishop’s informal request for abuse probe

Swedish government rejects bishop’s informal request for abuse probe
April 30, 2010
The Swedish government has rejected a call from the nation’s sole bishop to conduct an independent investigation of clerical abuse claims.

“We need to shed light on this matter by someone who does not have any ties to the Church,” said Bishop Anders Arborelius in an interview with a Stockholm newspaper.

The nation’s culture minister responded that although the government would consider a formal request for an independent investigation, “I think the Church should handle this matter itself” in cases that can no longer be brought to trial under the statute of limitations.

Church worker accused of rape on man in Bridgend area

Church worker accused of rape on man in Bridgend area

James Adams will appear at Cardiff Crown Court
A church official who worked at Newcastle Cathedral for 13 years is to appear in court to face charges of rape and indecent assault.

James Adams, 57, is accused of raping and indecently assaulting a man and three counts of indecently assaulting a boy under 16.

All of the alleged offences took place in the Bridgend area of south Wales and date back to the early 1990s.

He is due to appear at Cardiff Crown Court next week.

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.

In Abuse Crisis, a Church Is Pitted Against Society and Itself

April 29, 2010
In Abuse Crisis, a Church Is Pitted Against Society and Itself
VATICAN CITY — As the sexual abuse crisis continues to unfold in the Roman Catholic Church, with more victims coming forward worldwide and three bishops resigning last week alone, it is clear the issue is more than a passing storm or a problem of papal communications.

Instead, the church is undergoing nothing less than an epochal shift: It pits those who hold fast to a more traditional idea of protecting bishops and priests above all against those who call for more openness and accountability. The battle lines are drawn between the church and society at large, which clearly clamors for accountability, and also inside the church itself.

Uncomfortably, the crisis also pits the moral legacies of two popes against each other: the towering and modernizing John Paul II, who nonetheless did little about sexual abuse; and his successor, Benedict XVI, who in recent years, at least, has taken the issue of pedophile priests more seriously.

He has had little choice, given the depth of the scandal and the anger it has unleashed. But when supporters defend Benedict, they are implicitly condemning John Paul and how an entire generation of bishops and the Vatican hierarchy acted in response to criminal behavior.

“The church realizes that it doesn’t have a way out, at least not until it confronts the entirety of its problems,” said Alberto Melloni, the director of the liberal Catholic John XXIII Foundation for Religious Science in Bologna, Italy.

This latest eruption of the scandal, nearly a decade after the costly turmoil in the American church, may just be beginning. Last week, a bishop in Ireland resigned, acknowledging he had covered up abuse, while one in Germany and one in Belgium also stepped down, admitting that they themselves had abused children. Other resignations are expected in Ireland after two government reports documented decades of widespread abuse and a cover-up in church-run schools for the poor.

The question, Mr. Melloni said, is whether the Vatican will hew to old explanations that pedophilia is the byproduct of a sexual revolution it had always fought, or whether it will confront the failures in church leadership that allowed sexual abuses to go unpunished.

Benedict expressed both views in a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics released March 20, his most complete remarks on the sexual abuse crisis. He said that secularism and “misguided” interpretations of the reforms of the liberalizing Second Vatican Council contributed to the context of the abuse.

But he also strongly decried “a tendency in society to favor the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the church and the avoidance of scandal.”

Last weekend, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said, “secrecy and reserve, even in their positive aspects, are not values cultivated in today’s culture. We have to be able to have nothing to hide.”

Yet the culture of the church was for decades skewed against public disclosure and cooperation with the civil authorities.

That secrecy was made bluntly clear in a 2001 letter written by a top cardinal, who contended that this was a policy supported uniformly from John Paul on down. Only this month did the Vatican affirm that bishops should follow civil laws in countries that require reporting pedophilia and other abuse to the authorities.

This month, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, 80, a former head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, made headlines when he said that John Paul had approved of the letter he wrote to a French bishop in 2001, praising him for facing prison rather than handing over a pedophile priest to civil courts.

The priest was convicted of molesting boys, and the bishop received a three-month suspended prison sentence for not turning him in. In a radio interview last week, the cardinal upped the ante, saying the letter emerged from a meeting where the future pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was also present, The Associated Press reported last week.

Father Lombardi confirmed the letter’s authenticity. But in a rare if typically oblique critique of a sitting cardinal, he said it was evidence of “how timely” it was for the Vatican in 2001 to centralize authority over sexual abuse cases with the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Cardinal Ratzinger then headed. Indeed, even some of Benedict’s harshest critics concede that abuse cases have been handled better since then, even if they say they still believe there is a long way to go.

But when supporters defend Benedict, they implicitly criticize John Paul.

Even if few will acknowledge it openly, the sexual abuse crisis has cast a shadow over John Paul’s legacy.

John Paul may have brought the church in line with the tides of history, but on sexual abuse he upheld a vision of the priesthood that critics say ultimately favors the hierarchy over the victims.

Some place John Paul’s defense of priests in the context of his background in communist Poland, where the secret police accused clergy members of sexual crimes to undermine the church.

Yet the pope never met with victims and never apologized for sexual abuse, even long after the end of the cold war.

In contrast, Benedict has met with sexual abuse victims four times, including this month in Malta, but only in private and after intense pressure from the media.

Last year, Benedict confirmed the “heroic virtues” of John Paul, moving him closer to sainthood, but Vatican experts say the renewed attention on historical questions may delay the process.

And protecting the memory of John Paul has not completely silenced supporters of the present pope. They cite two of the most prominent and damaging abuse cases — those of the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the powerful religious order The Legionaries of Christ, and Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna — and contend that Cardinal Ratzinger advocated stronger measures.

In the case of Father Maciel, a close friend of John Paul’s, his supporters say that Cardinal Ratzinger reopened the case and in 2006, he was sentenced to live out his days in prayer and penance. He died in 2008. By the standards of the Vatican, the punishment was extraordinary — impossible under John Paul. To the victims and many outsiders, it amounted to very little against a man who for decades abused seminarians, fathered several children and misappropriated funds.

“While Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was perhaps the most powerful and influential churchman at the Vatican after Pope John Paul II, he would not buck the system to take action against Maciel, or earlier, in the Groër case,” said David Gibson, a biographer of Benedict who writes on religion for “His concern for the proper order of authority, and the clerical culture took precedence.”

Critics and defenders of Benedict say healing the church will require action and a full accounting of the past. That will not be easy on the legacy of John Paul.

And to protect the church Benedict has spent a lifetime nurturing, many are calling on him to explain his own past to show how he understands that the rules of the church do not conflict with the rule of law.

Priest abuse case involving ex-SLU president takes a new turn

Priest abuse case involving ex-SLU president takes a new turn

Former St. Louis University President Daniel O'Connell is at the center of an unusual lawsuit involving allegations of sexual abuse by church clergy.

The breach of contract lawsuit, filed late Wednesday in St. Louis Circuit Court, accuses the Jesuits of the Missouri Province of violating terms of a 2003 settlement, which followed allegations that O'Connell abused a college student. The terms called for the organization to keep the priest out of teaching or ministry positions that would allow one-on-one contact with women.

O'Connell was SLU's president from 1974 to 1978.

The 2003 settlement stems from allegations of a 1983 encounter by an unidentified New York woman involving O'Connell, who was then a chaplain at Loyola University in Chicago. The 20-year-old woman alleged that the sexual relationship took place in Rome, where she was studying abroad through a Loyola program.

Wednesday's lawsuit, which seeks nearly $1 million in damages and other costs, says O'Connell has been allowed, on at least two occasions, to teach seminars and classes — at Georgetown University and at Fordham University.

"Going to a seminar to teach places him in the very same position he was in when he committed the original offense," said Rebecca Randles, the Kansas City attorney representing the woman, who received $180,000 in the 2003 settlement with the Jesuits.

Randles said the case is unusual in that victims rarely, if ever, turn to the courts to enforce a nonfinancial aspect of a settlement involving clergy abuse.

The Jesuit order released a statement Thursday saying it has not yet seen the lawsuit and cannot comment on specific claims. However, the group said it does not believe the 2003 agreement has been violated: "It is the opinion of the Jesuits of the Missouri Province that they have honored the terms and conditions of the agreement."

A spokesman would not discuss whether O'Connell is living among the Jesuits in St. Louis.

St. Louis University officials said O'Connell has had no affiliation with the school since he served as president. "Any allegations against him are unrelated to his time at the university," the school said in a written statement.

The lawsuit also has attracted the attention of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. A small contingent of members gathered outside St. Louis University on Wednesday afternoon for a press conference.

David Clohessy, the group's national director, acknowledged that no allegations of misconduct by O'Connell have been made during his tenure at SLU. But Clohessy urged former students and employees to come forward if they knew of any abuses.

"He held the supreme position of power for years at this university," Clohessy said

Ministry by Priest Broke Deal, Suit Says

April 29, 2010
Ministry by Priest Broke Deal, Suit Says
A woman from New York who says she was abused by a priest from the Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic Church has filed an unusual lawsuit accusing the Jesuits of breach of contract for allowing the priest to perform public ministry even though he was barred from doing so because of a settlement stemming from an alleged sexual assault.

The suit, filed on Wednesday in a Missouri state court, revolves around the Rev. Daniel C. O’Connell, a former president of St. Louis University who was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in 1983. The Jesuits of the Missouri Province, which sponsors the university, found the accusation credible, and agreed in 2003 to pay the woman a $181,000 settlement. The Jesuits also agreed to the stipulation that Father O’Connell be removed from a teaching post at another Jesuit institution, Loyola University in Chicago, and barred from public ministry.

The woman, now a 47-year-old lawyer whose name is being withheld because of the sexual nature of the accusations, said she learned last year that Father O’Connell had taught seminars at the Jesuit universities Fordham and Georgetown, and had worked in a parish in Germany. She said she wrote a number of letters to local church officials and those in Rome, stating that the appearances were in violation of the agreement.

“For the past year I’ve been ignored,” she said in an interview Thursday. “The only step available was to take it to court.”

The suit comes as the Catholic Church has faced increased scrutiny over its handling of priests accused of sexual abuse. As in some of those cases domestically and abroad, the central issue is a priest who was allowed to continue serving in a post after officials knew of misconduct.

The Jesuits of the Missouri Province declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit because they had not seen it. But in a statement, they said they believed they had “honored the terms and conditions of the agreement” reached with the woman.

The woman said the sexual assault occurred when she was a student at Holy Cross spending a semester studying abroad in Rome. During a weekend retreat, she said, Father O’Connell insisted on getting her a drink. Because she passed out, she said, she believes it was drugged. “I woke up on his bed as he was getting dressed,” she said.

As part of the 2003 settlement with the Missouri Province, the woman received a letter from its leader, the Rev. Frank Reale, saying that Father O’Connell had been “restricted from participating in public priestly ministry.”

“I do find credible your allegation of abusive behavior,” he wrote. “I deeply regret your suffering. My response is grounded on the hope that any future abuse can be prevented and that significant healing can continue to occur in your own life.”

The new lawsuit charges breach of contract and includes a number of related charges; it seeks just under $1 million in damages. (The suit also accuses Father O’Connell of harassing the woman over the Internet using a fake name, though neither the woman nor her lawyer would provide specific details.)

Father O’Connell apparently made at least two appearances at Fordham, one in 2008 and one in 2006 as the headliner at a symposium on scientific psychology versus religious faith, according to documents provided by the woman’s lawyer.

Literature for the symposium described Father O’Connell as “one of the premier psycholinguists in the U.S.A. and abroad.”

The woman wrote to the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, Fordham’s president, who canceled another scheduled appearance by Father O’Connell, and informed the Missouri Province that he was not to return to the campus, said Bob Howe, a Fordham spokesman.

“Father McShane apologized to the woman,” Mr. Howe said, “and he assured her that Father O’Connell would never speak at or appear at any Fordham event.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Legionaries break silence on founder's sex abuse

Last updated April 29, 2010 10:03 a.m. PT

Legionaries break silence on founder's sex abuse

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2004 file photo, Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to late father Marcial Maciel, founder of Christ's Legionaries, during a special audience the pontiff granted to about four thousand participants of the Regnum Christi movement, at the Vatican.

Speaking at Rome daily La Repubblica, Rev. Luis Garza Medina, the No. 2 official in the Legionaries of Christ, has broken his silence on the eve of a Vatican meeting to discuss the fate of the order following revelations that its late founder led a double life, saying he only realized the accusations against Rev. Marciel Maciel were true in 2006, when the Vatican ordered the founder to spend the rest of his life in penance and prayer. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)
VATICAN CITY -- The No. 2 official in the conservative Legionaries of Christ order has broken his silence on revelations that the group's founder had fathered children and abused seminarians, giving an interview on the eve of a Vatican meeting to discuss the order's fate.

The Rev. Luis Garza Medina told Rome's La Repubblica newspaper Thursday that he did not know before 2006 that founder Rev. Marcial Maciel had fathered a child. He also said cases of sexual abuse by priests should be referred to civil law enforcement.

On Friday, five Vatican experts are to discuss their investigation into the order with the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Bertone ordered the probe in 2009 after the Legionaries acknowledged that Maciel had fathered a daughter who is now in her 20s and lives in Spain.

The case against Maciel is being closely watched as the Vatican struggles to show that it is serious about rooting out clerical sex abuse and being more transparent. The Maciel case has long been seen as emblematic of Vatican inaction on abuse complaints, since sex abuse victims had tried in the 1990s to bring a canonical trial against Maciel but were shut down by his supporters at the Vatican.

Only in March of this year did the Legionaries acknowledge that Maciel had also sexually abused seminarians and that two men are claiming to be his sons. One of those men has asked the Legionaries for $26 million and says Maciel had promised him and his two brothers a trust fund when he died as financial compensation for the alleged sexual abuse they endured at Maciel's hands. The third son was adopted.

Maciel died in 2008 at age 87.

The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, has said no decisions on the order are expected after Friday's meeting, although a statement will be issued. Pope Benedict XVI, he said, will make the final decision on the order's future after studying the case.

The Legion, founded in Mexico, claims a membership of more than 800 priests and 2,500 seminarians in 22 countries, along with 70,000 members in its lay arm, Regnum Christi. It runs schools, charities, Catholic news outlets, seminaries for young boys, and universities in Mexico, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. Its U.S. headquarters are in Orange, Connecticut.

The revelations of Maciel's double life raised many questions that the Legion still hasn't publicly answered, including whether any current leaders covered up Maciel's misdeeds and whether any donations were used to facilitate the sexual misconduct or pay its victims.

Garza Medina said he only realized the accusations surrounding Maciel were true in 2006, when the Vatican sentenced Maciel to a "reserved life of penance and prayer."

"It seemed impossible, the behavior of the founder seemed impeccable," Garza Medina told La Repubblica. "With the investigation finished, I verified the paternity that was attributed to Father Maciel; at which point it was clear that the accusations were well-founded."

Asked how even Maciel's closest advisers - including himself - could have been kept in the dark, the Legionaries' vicar general said: "It was difficult to understand that there were such immoral and aberrant actions on his part."

While the Vatican issued its sentence in 2006, neither the Vatican nor the Legionaries have ever said everything that Maciel had done wrong.

Italian news reports say the most likely scenario for Benedict would be to appoint an external "commissioner" with full powers to run the order while reforms are enacted.

What becomes of the current leadership - in particular Garza Medina - is unclear. Veteran Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister recently wrote in Italian newsweekly L'Espresso that Garza Medina heads the holding company that acts as the treasury for the Legion, with assets totaling euro25 billion ($33 billion).

In the interview Thursday, Garza Medina laughed at the figure, saying such estimates were "false." He said any profits that are made are immediately reinvested or put in pensions or medical care funds for its members.

"In 2009, our activities in all the world produced about $40 million, which was reinvested," he said.

Jason Berry, co-author of the book and documentary "Vows of Silence," about victims' attempts to persuade the Vatican to discipline Maciel, said Garza Medina's acknowledgment that he was convinced of Maciel's crimes only in 2006 is problematic, since the order continued holding Maciel up as a role model until 2010.

"Why on earth would he allow a public statement to go out when Maciel had died saying he had gone to heaven?" Berry asked. "They did not apologize to the victims nor acknowledge that the abuse occurred until March of this year."

The Legion was founded in Mexico in 1941 and its culture was built around Maciel. His photo adorned every Legion building, his biography and writings were studied, and his birthday was celebrated as a feast day. Until recently, Legion members took a vow not to criticize their superiors, including Maciel.

Pope John Paul II had long championed the Legionaries for their orthodoxy and ability to bring in vocations and money.

The revelations of Maciel's double life caused enormous turmoil inside the Legionaries and its lay affiliate Regnum Christie, with priests leaving the order and Legion officials steadily announcing changes meant to demonstrate the movement is reforming.

Secret sex in the celibate system

Secret sex in the celibate system
by A.W. Richard Sipe on Apr. 28, 2010 NCR
Examining the crisis

Sexual behavior has a long and well-documented history. Even the current problem of sexual abuse of minors is neither new nor limited to clerics. It is a practice that crosses ethnic, cultural, religious and economic strata and custom. Incest (familial contact) is the most common. However, the sexual abuse of minors by declared celibate clerics poses special issues. There are three factors that draw special attention to the sexual practices of Roman Catholic clerics today.

The moral teaching concerning human sexuality, promulgated by the church, is clear and unequivocal. Catholic bishops and priests under the aegis of the pope hold themselves up as the teachers and arbiters of human sexual morality. Human failure is more remarkable in commanders and not as easily forgiven as transgressions among the troops.

The history of sexual violations of Roman Catholic clergy and church response has been well preserved in church documents from the Council of Ancyra in 315 to the 2001 document, De delictis gravioribus, authored by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

The Council of Ancyra demanded strict penalties: solitary confinement, fasts, isolation and supervision for any cleric caught having sex with a minor. Ratzinger’s document demands that all canonical cases of clergy sex abuse of minors be sent to his office under the requirement for strictest secrecy (forgiveness of a violation is reserved to the pope).

The complete historical record of knowledge of clerical sex provides an impressive body of evidence about transgressions. One of the most striking missives is the 1049 letter to Pope Leo IX from St. Peter Damian, the patron saint of church reform, in which he recommended zero tolerance. He taught that any priest having sex with a minor, mostly boys and young clerics at the time, should be stripped of his clerical office. All of his documents are explicit in their description of various sexual acts from sensual kisses on the mouth and mutual masturbation to anal penetration.

Celibacy was a voluntary ascetic practice of early Christian monks and some clerics, but not universally required of Roman Catholic priests until 1139.

Roman Catholic priests now are mandated to make a promise or vow of celibacy before they can be ordained. Clerical celibacy precludes absolutely any willful sexual release.

Questions about mandated clerical celibacy have bombarded general consciousness in light of the onslaught of reports of clerical abuse and its cover-up by church authority. It is fair to ask: What is the connection between the demand for cultic purity and abuse of minors?

The current crisis poses a serious challenge for church authority to answer that question.

To the average person, this demand of Canon Law 277 imposes a seemingly impossible task, namely perfect and perpetual continence. Although the church propagates the myth that bishops and priests are celibate, this is not based on fact. Several modern studies have used various methods to measure the degree of celibate observance. No researcher so far has assessed that more than 50 percent of Roman Catholic clergy at any one time are in fact practicing celibacy.

Sexual abuse of minors is only one type of clerical sexual activity. The 2004 John Jay Report concluded from a survey of church files that 6.5 percent of priests ordained between 1960 and 1984 were involved in sex abuse of minors. My study from ethnological data concluded that 6 percent from that same period were abusers.

It is nonetheless a significant symptom of pathology within clerical culture.

Questions about clerical celibacy have become prominent in discussions about the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis for obvious reasons. What is the connection between this requirement of sexual abstinence and deprivation and sexual activity with minors? If one is going to be sexually active in defiance of a vow, why involve a minor?

Is mandated celibacy alone causal to sex abuse of a minor? As the single factor the answer is no. Vowed celibacy does not drive a bishop or priest to have sex with minors. The answer, however, is also yes. Required celibacy in concert with the clerical culture of entitlement and secrecy is a prominent element for some clergy seeking out minors as sexual partners.

Many priests who abuse minors were themselves abused as special friends of older priests or others. These kinds of liaisons are frequent in seminaries where solitary or mutual masturbation is looked upon as an “innocent” failure. Secrecy about all clerical sex is sacrosanct within the system.

Roman Catholic clerical culture favors doctrinal rigidity, conformity, obedience, submission and psychosexual immaturity, mistaken for innocence, in its candidates. These are the personality elements that lead to advancement and power in the clerical system. Single men are more easily controlled if their sexuality is secret. Double lives on all levels of clerical life are tolerated if they do not cause scandal or raise legal problems. Sexual activity between bishops and priests and adult partners is well known within clerical circles. The secret system forms a comfortable refuge for unresolved gay conflicts. There is a new emerging awareness of the systemic nature of sexual/celibate behavior within the Roman Catholic ministry that is increasingly destabilizing to the church.

Dire consequences will follow the exposure of this sexual system embedded in a secret celibate culture. Authorities who are or have been sexually active, although not with minors, are hard put to publicly correct clerics who are abusing minors. The need for secrecy, the cover-up, extends beyond defending criminal activity of a sex abuser. The power and control that holds the Roman Catholic church together depends on preservation of the celibate myth. The Vatican and Pope John Paul II declared its inviolability.

The truth about secret sex in the celibate system portends grave danger. The reality of celibate violations extends beyond priests who abuse minors and the bishops who hide them.

If celibate violations beyond minor abuse and cover-up are exposed, will the church fall like Humpty Dumpty? Or will the truth about clerical celibacy and its systemic corruption lead to a needed reformation?

[Richard Sipe is a mental health counselor and author who earlier spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest.]

Vatican official left abusive priest in pastor job

Last updated April 28, 2010 4:11 p.m. PT

Vatican official left abusive priest in pastor job

Jay Seaman kneels in a pew at the Our Lady of the Loretto Catholic Church in Novato, Calif. Tuesday, April 27, 2010. This is the church he attended when he was molested as a 13-year-old child. Cardinal William Levada, the pope's hand-picked replacement to oversee abuse cases at the Vatican, did nothing to restrict California priest Rev. Milton Walsh after learning in 1995 that the priest had molested Seaman, then a 13-year-old boy, a decade earlier. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
The pope's hand-picked replacement to oversee abuse cases at the Vatican did nothing to restrict a California priest after learning in 1995 that the priest had molested a 13-year-old boy a decade earlier.

Cardinal William Levada, then archbishop of San Francisco, said in a 2005 deposition obtained by The Associated Press that he did nothing and didn't contact police because he trusted the Rev. Milton Walsh would not re-offend and his predecessor handled the case adequately.

There were no known allegations of later abuse by the priest and a Vatican attorney says Levada acted appropriately under standards of the time.

When Levada learned of the abuse, Walsh had been pastor for six years at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco, a parish of about 1,000 people. He remained there for two more years and was removed from active ministry in 2002, when U.S. bishops passed a "zero tolerance" policy on sex abuse and police started investigating.

Levada is now the highest-ranking American at the Vatican and head of the office that defrocks pedophile priests. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger held the post before he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

The Vatican's lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, says Levada handled the case properly by the era's norms, which have evolved significantly in recent years. The Holy See told bishops this month they should report abuse to police rather than keep cases quiet as had been the practice for decades.

"One thing the law teaches: it is fundamentally unfair to apply standards of conduct retroactively," Lena said. "And yet, even if one were to do so, it must be acknowledged there was no re-offense by the priest. So in this case, the old approach did work."

Levada's critics say it's an example of his disregard for abused children.

"When it comes right down to it, he absolutely never reached out in this clear-cut case. I think that's typical of Levada and that's perhaps why he's in the position he's in," said Diane Josephs, the attorney for Walsh's victim, Jay Seaman.

Levada's involvement with the San Francisco case began shortly after he left his post as archbishop of the Diocese of Portland, Ore., in the fall of 1995.

The victim's aunt wrote Levada to say Walsh molested her nephew in 1984 and complained he was still a minister at St. Mary's. She begged him not to "not let this man slip through the cracks," according to a copy of the Sept. 20, 1995, letter provided by Seaman's attorney.

Levada consulted his predecessor, Archbishop John Quinn, who encouraged Levada to speak with the priest, according to Levada's 2005 deposition to attorneys for alleged clergy abuse victims.

Walsh confirmed he fondled the boy's genitals when staying with the family but he stopped when the boy objected and returned to his own bed, Levada said.

Letters among the family, Quinn and Walsh show Seaman's parents - who were devout Catholics - decided not to go to the police, but instead sought spiritual guidance. Quinn told them he would make sure Walsh received therapy and with time, "the boy will forget."

Walsh soon returned to Rome, where he was studying for his doctorate in theology. He returned the following year and spent four years teaching seminary before being promoted to pastor of the San Francisco cathedral.

Quinn, now 81 and retired, declined to comment when reached at his home in Menlo Park.

Levada said he trusted Quinn's decision and found Walsh "completely frank and truthful."

"He was completely committed - had repented of that action and was completely committed to - to acting in a way that was entirely above reproach in his ministry going forward," Levada said in the deposition.

Lena, the Vatican lawyer, noted that an independent psychiatrist determined the priest was not a pedophile and there was no risk returning him to ministry.

In 1995, the recently extended statute of limitations in California could have covered Walsh's 1984 abuse if it had been reported to police. Walsh was eventually charged with two felony counts in 2002, but the charges were thrown out when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California's law.

Walsh, now 58, continues to live "within the archdiocese," spokesman Maurice Healy said. Archdiocese officials did not return calls seeking an interview with him. An attorney who once represented Walsh did not return a call.

Levada now acknowledges that, in hindsight, he could have better handled allegations of sexual abuse when he was an archbishop and he now understands the limits of therapy.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a leading canon lawyer, said leaving abusive priests in the ministry is a risk too many U.S. bishops took.

"In the normal world, if you were a teacher and the superintendent found out one of the teachers was abusing children, do you think he'd leave him in the classroom?" Doyle said.

Seaman, now 39, is outraged by Levada's current role. As an altar boy, Seaman dreamed of becoming a priest and considered Walsh his spiritual mentor. He was molested the night of his 13th birthday party.

"It really ruined me," said Seaman, who works on a maintenance crew for the Golden Gate bridge. "I believe I'm still a Christian, but I don't go to church to find my religion."


Associated Press Writers Nicole Winfield in Vatican City, Brooke Donald in San Francisco and Greg Risling in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Brazil: Priest charged with 8 abusing boys

Last updated April 28, 2010 3:32 p.m. PT
Brazil: Priest charged with 8 abusing boys

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A Roman Catholic priest in Brazil is facing charges he abused eight boys in cases dating back to 1995, prosecutors said Wednesday, adding to a growing list of allegations against clergy in Latin America.

Father Jose Afonso, 74, is accused of abusing altar boys between the ages of 12 and 16, Sao Paulo state prosecutors said in an e-mailed statement.

Prosecutors said the reported abuses occurred this year, in 2009 and in 2001 in the city of Franca, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Sao Paulo city. At least one case was reported in 1995 in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais.

Afonso remains free while a judge decides if he should be jailed.

Calls to the Franca diocese rang unanswered. After-hours of calls to the offices of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops were not returned.

The case is the latest to hit Brazil, which has more Catholics than any other nation, and Latin America as a whole.

Earlier this month, 83-year-old Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa was detained in northeastern Brazil for allegedly abusing at least three boys after being caught on video tape having sex with a young man, a former alter boy.

He is under house arrest while an investigation continues. Two other priests in the same archdiocese as Barbosa are also accused of abuses.

A priest in Chile was charged recently with eight cases of sexually abusing minors, including a girl he had fathered.

Earlier this month Chile's bishops' conference issued a statement apologizing for priestly sexual abuse and vowing a "total commitment" to prevent it in the future.

Also this month, a Mexican citizen filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. federal court in California against former priest Nicolas Aguilar Rivera and the Roman Catholic cardinals of Mexico City and Los Angeles, claiming they moved the priest between the two nations to hide abuse allegations.

Church reaction to the controversy around the globe has angered many who think the Vatican leadership has not acted strongly enough.

Pope Benedict XVI's second-in-command outraged many this month in Chile when he said homosexuality and not celibacy was the primary reason for the abuse. The comments by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, were condemned by gay advocacy groups, politicians and even the French government.

Late Tuesday, a top Vatican official said the pope may issue a strong apology for the church's handling of clerical sexual abuse cases when he attends a meeting of the world's clergy in June.

Cardinal William Levada, who handles the abuse cases as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made the comments in an interview broadcast on U.S. public broadcaster PBS, his first interview since the scandal erupted several weeks ago.

"It's a big crisis. I think no one should try to diminish that," Levada said.

He acknowledged the Vatican was caught by surprise, even though it was well aware of the scope of scandals in the U.S. and Ireland, but he also blamed "a certain media bias" for keeping the story alive.

Benedict has come under increasing pressure to admit some form of higher responsibility on the part of the Vatican for fomenting a culture of secrecy that allowed abuse to fester unchecked for decades.

Benedict has expressed sorrow and shame for the abuse, he has wept with victims and promised new measures to protect children and bring justice to pedophile priests. But he has admitted no personal or institutional responsibility, blaming instead the abusers themselves and their bishops for mishandling cases when they arose.


Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Allegations mount against Catholic Church in Sweden

Allegations mount against Catholic Church
Published: 28 Apr 10 08:33 CET

The sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic church in Sweden continue to grow as a further victim alleges that she was abused by her parish priest.

•Bishop 'ready to resign' over sex abuse silence (26 Apr 10)
•Swedish Catholic Church hid sex abuse claims (25 Apr 10)
•'Catholics in Sweden must challenge Rome' (14 Apr 10)
The woman, who is now in her forties, claims that she was repeatedly abused as a four-year-old by a priest who was active in the parish.

The woman lived at the time at a Catholic Church children's home in Sweden.

"It has had catastrophic consequences for my life, and my family's life," the woman told Christian website Dagen.

According to the woman, the priest was later transferred to a post overseas. The woman has also since moved abroad.

The abuse has been reported to the Catholic Church in Sweden, but the woman claims that she has neither received any apology nor been met with any understanding for her ordeal.

The Catholic Church has condemned the abuse in a letter to the website and pledged that it "will get to the bottom" of the allegations.

Potentially explosive trial being held in the shadow of the Vatican

CNNApril 27, 2010 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church face another challenge with the high-profile trial of Rev. Ruggero Conti in Rome.STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Rev. Ruggero Conti denies charges of child molestation at trial in Rome, Italy
Potentially explosive trial being held in the shadow of the Vatican
Conti, former adviser to mayor of Rome, was arrested in June 2008
Church has been rocked by allegations of child abuse by Catholic clergy in Europe

Rome, Italy (CNN) -- A priest accused of child abuse denied the charges Tuesday in a high-profile trial taking place in the shadow of the Vatican.

"I am not a monster. I am innocent," the Rev. Ruggero Conti said in court.

Conti is accused of molesting seven young boys at the Nativita di Santa Maria Santissima parish in Rome. He faces charges of committing sexual violence and prostitution.

Two alleged victims told police that Conti masturbated them and forced them to perform oral sex on him in his home, where he often invited them to dinner and to watch movies, according to court documents.

Anti-abuse activists say Conti's superiors knew of allegations against him as early as 2006 but did not do enough to stop him.

Prosecutors say they will call Conti's bishop, Monsignor Gino Reali, to testify. Reali was interrogated by police as part of their investigation into Conti, the activists say.

Putting a bishop on the stand in Rome, the capital of deeply Catholic Italy, would be potentially explosive, particularly against the background of a European-wide scandal.

The Catholic Church has been rocked this year by allegations of child abuse by Catholic clergy in Ireland, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, following similar accusations in the United States in the past decade. A damning Irish government-backed report last year said the Dublin Archdiocese had systematically covered up the allegations.

Pope Benedict XVI met this month with a group of men in Malta who say they were abused. He prayed and cried with them.

He has repeatedly insisted the church will do everything in its power to prevent child abuse.

But the trial taking place on his doorstep may undercut such assurances, not least since the alleged abuse of boys took place well after the scandal came to light in the United States.

Conti, a former adviser to the mayor of Rome, was arrested in June 2008, more than a year after an anti-pedophilia organization says it brought accusations against him to Catholic Church officials.

Roberto Mirabile, the president of the organization, said his group was warned about Conti by another priest in the spring of 2007. The group, La Caramella Buona, met with the alleged victims and their families, Mirabile told reporters on Friday.

Mirabile himself went to top Vatican officials, including the man responsible for prosecuting alleged child abusers within the Catholic Church, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, he said.

Scicluna told the child-protection activist there was no Vatican record of complaints about Conti and advised him to go to the police with his concerns, Mirabile said.

Mirabile accused Scicluna of washing his hands of the matter.

Scicluna did not respond to CNN attempts to contact him about the case.

Caramella Buona officials did go to the police, who launched an investigation in November 2007.

Conti was arrested as he prepared to go to World Youth Day in Australia in June 2008. Police believe he continued abusing children until March 2008, Mirabile said.

Conti's superior, Bishop Reali, told police in December 2008 he knew of vague accusations against the priest two years before he was arrested but did not take action, according to court documents.

Nino Marazzita, a lawyer for La Caramella Buona, provided CNN with what he said were transcripts of the prosecutor's interrogation of the bishop.

"You know that there are so many 'rumors,' " Reali told investigators, according to the lawyer. "And I can't run after each one of them."

Conti accused La Caramella Buona of being ideologically opposed to him in his testimony Tuesday. The group denies it.

Reali did not respond to CNN attempts to contact him by phone and e-mail.

Another Catholic abuse case in Australia

Maitland Newcastle diocese document confirmed church's stance
28 Apr, 2010 04:00 AM
A MAITLAND Newcastle diocese document sent to Denis McAlinden and filed under Michael Malone's name only days after he was made bishop confirmed the official church attitude towards McAlinden had not changed.
"I regret that one of my first duties as Bishop is to continue Canonical procedures against one of the priests of the Diocese," the document, dated November 2, 1995, said.

"Because of the gravity of the allegations against you, the evidence supporting those allegations, and after full and continual consultation with Bishop [Leo] Clarke over many months, I have no alternative but to reaffirm the contents of Bishop Clarke's letter to you of October 19," the document said.

It confirmed that Bishop Clarke's "speedy resolution" time frame of seven weeks "still stands".

"In conclusion may I emphasise the seriousness of the allegations and the real possibility of police intervention," the document ended.

Bishop Malone refused last week to comment on whether the Vatican was petitioned about McAlinden.

McAlinden's movements are not known between October 1995 and 1999, when the Maitland Newcastle diocese advised the church's Professional Standards Resource Group that McAlinden was "in England celebrating his Golden Jubilee" as a priest, noting he was doing so "despite the fact that his facilities have been removed since 1993", so he was acting as a priest without church approval.

"We suspect that he will come back to Australia late in August and reside somewhere in the Bunbury region of Western Australia," the diocese's letter noted.

The church paid compensation to two of his victims in 2001 and 2002, and further payments to other victims last year.

McAlinden died in a St John of God villa in Western Australia in November 2005.

In October 2007, after a series of articles in The Herald, the Catholic Church was forced to confirm that the Irish-born McAlinden, who arrived in Australia in 1949, aged 26, to work as a priest in the Maitland Newcastle diocese, was a serial sexual predator of children over many years.

In those articles, Archbishop Philip Wilson confirmed he handled complaints against McAlinden in 1985 and 1995.

In a statement at the time he said he was diocese secretary when he spoke to a woman at Merriwa in 1985 who believed her daughter had been abused by McAlinden.

He said he "asked her to report her concerns to the police, but she decided not to do so".

"I reported this outcome to the Bishop [Leo Clarke]," Archbishop Wilson said.

In response to The Herald's investigations Bishop Malone in October 2007 issued a statement acknowledging "all victims of abuse by church personnel, including those of Father Denis McAlinden".

"The distress and lifelong impact of Father McAlinden's actions on all those affected has not been publicly acknowledged until now," Bishop Malone wrote.

Bishop Malone declined to comment last week on his role in the attempted secret defrocking of McAlinden.

"I will not comment on issues pertaining to deceased members of the diocese" who did not have a "right of reply".

"I am on record with your paper and others saying that I could have handled earlier matters of historical sexual assault better," he said.

"Mistakes were made but we have moved forward."

Should the Pope be Thrown in Jail?

Should the Pope be Thrown in Jail?
Washington Post

Should Pope Benedict XVI be thrown in jail for his role in covering up the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church? I am not a lawyer, so I push the legal issues aside. But is not this a matter that cries to Heaven about simple justice? Since the violation of children was so heinous and the cover-up so systemic, should not the penalty be harsh?
I insist this scandal is the greatest example of corruption that Catholicism has faced since the Renaissance popes []. I favor harsh penalties against corruption in high places, but I also feel punishment should be targeted upon the guilty. Pope Benedict should not be made a scapegoat for the sins of others. While he is not innocent of blame for having followed in the 1980s what was then the reigning modus operandi of the Church, he should get credit for reversing the policies of Pope John Paul II. Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, began the process of cleaning up the "filth of the Church" (his words). Moreover, he most recently has taken on the hierarchy who want to continue to hide priests and crimes from civil authority. It is at his reissued directives on "serious crimes" [] that the Church universal is now to abide by many of the directives of Catholic America and turn over clergy and relevant records to civil authorities.
There are hierarchs deserving of punishment. Pope John Paul II is dead, so he will not be put in jail for his role in the cover-ups. But Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos who previously headed up the Congregation on the Clergy needs to be taken to court. It was this Cardinal [] who congratulated a French bishop for shielding a priest (later found guilty of sexual abuse). "I congratulate you on not having spoken out to civil authorities against a priest," he wrote. When confronted by the media, the Cardinal claimed that his letter of praise for the cover-up was authorized personally [] by Pope John Paul II. Moreover, this was not the only incident of Castrillon's defense of pedophiles. [] It is noteworthy that even if civil authorities lacked jurisdiction in the case, concerned Catholics prevented the same Cardinal from presiding [] at a Mass at the National Shrine in Washington.

Some prelates acted in ways that constituted cover-ups. Many of them have accepted blame for errors and made public statements of apology. Others, like Cardinal Law, formerly of Boston and Archbishop Burke, formerly of St. Louis, have been "kicked upstairs" to the Vatican. Not only have no apologies come directly from them, one wonders if such prelates might be liable for criminal action in the USA for obstruction of justice []
concerning the way they handled pedophilia cases.

To say Catholic laity is conflicted on this subject is to understate the dilemma. None of us wants the Church pilloried for mistakes that in large measure have been rectified at great cost in legal settlements and with almost draconian reforms to separate inferior clergy from the Church so that they can be prosecuted by government. On the other hand, as Pope Benedict has said, the Church must repent and do penance for this error [] that endured all too long.

I propose that bishops in Catholic America follow up the papal call to repentance with an organized effort in each of a diocese's parishes. Just like the bishops use visual and audio media to ask for money or to promote vocations, it seems to me they should now address Catholic America about the positive steps that have been taken, and to elicit lay cooperation in reporting violations.

Most importantly, this kind of "Repentance Sunday" can be the chance to praise the 95% of good Catholic priests who have been unfairly stigmatized In addition to the apologies of the bishops, I think laity should be given the opportunity to speak publicly in praise of priests who have labored under these difficult burdens.

It is part of Catholic theology that none of us is without sin - including bishops and priests. But the glory of our faith is that we have a sacrament of reconciliation and the grace of God to rise up from our fall.

Will Bishops Handle Abuse Cases Differently?

April 27, 2010
Will Bishops Handle Abuse Cases Differently?
In Rare TV Interview, Cardinal William Levada Said Catholic Church's Sex Abuse Scandal Could Lead to More Resignations

(CBS) The head of the Vatican's office for enforcing church doctrine, Cardinal William Levada, says the Catholic Church's sex abuse crisis could include more bishops resigning, reports CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano.

"There is no way of predicting that but I wouldn't be surprised," Quijano said in an interview Monday with PBS' "NewsHour."

The interviewer, Margaret Warner, asked if there was a new standard for bishops to meet in the way they handle clergy abuse cases.

"I think the standard is not new but it's being applied more rigorously than in the past," Levada said.

Levada, who once served as an archbishop in Oregon and California now holds the office previously held by the Pope. He called the crisis particularly grave.

"This is anything but being a good shepherd when you abuse children and you violate their innocence. This is a crisis, if you will, that I think caught most of us by surprise," Levada said. "One bishop told me 'This isn't the cruise I signed up for,' but that's in fact what has happened."

Legion of Christ Child Abuse Probe Tests Pope
Belgium Bishop Resigns after Admitting Sex Abuse
Vatican Claims No Role in Abuse of Wis. Priest

That surprise is likely to spark outrage among abuse victims who maintain their warnings to bishops went unheeded for years. Levada was asked how many times pedophile priests had been moved.

"Well the question about how many times priests were transferred is not something that we have here," Levada answered. "It may be included in the file or it may not."

But would the church ever publicize their names?

"The names are public," Levada said. "I mean they are public in the dioceses."

As for Pope Benedict, Levada noted his meetings with abuse victims should serve as an example for bishops. And is a public apology forthcoming?

"We'll have to wait and see, but I wouldn't be surprised," Levada said.

Archbishop Burke ‘kicked upstairs’ because of handling of abuse allegations

Washington Post: Archbishop Burke ‘kicked upstairs’ because of handling of abuse allegations
April 28, 2010
The web site of The Washington Post has published the astounding claim that Archbishop Raymond Burke, former Archbishop of St. Louis and current Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, was “kicked upstairs” because of improper handling of sexual abuse allegations.

“Some prelates acted in ways that constituted cover-ups,” writes Anthony Stevens-Arroyo. “Many of them have accepted blame for errors and made public statements of apology. Others, like Cardinal Law, formerly of Boston and Archbishop Burke, formerly of St. Louis, have been ‘kicked upstairs’ to the Vatican. Not only have no apologies come directly from them, one wonders if such prelates might be liable for criminal action in the USA for obstruction of justice concerning the way they handled pedophilia cases.”

Notorious abuser Gauthe lives as transient

Notorious abuser Gauthe lives as transient
April 28, 2010
The notorious Louisiana priest whose abuse of dozens of children led to the first major American clerical abuse scandal is living as a transient, thus enabling him to avoid publicizing his address. Under Texas law, registered sex offenders must list a permanent address unless they are transients.

Gilbert Gauthe-- whom the late Bishop Gerald Frey of Lafayette appointed diocesan Boy Scout chaplain despite allegations of homosexual abuse-- was released from his latest prison sentence because he previously failed to register as a sex offender.

New York municipalities, school officials oppose lifting statute of limitations

New York municipalities, school officials oppose lifting statute of limitations
April 28, 2010
The New York State School Boards Association and the State Association of Counties are opposing a measure that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases, allowing victims to seek legal redress up to 40 years after they turned 18. The bill, which originally focused on the Church, has been expanded to include other public institutions.

Mexican archbishop suspends priest accused in US

Mexican archbishop suspends priest accused in US
April 28, 2010
Following a Washington Post story, Archbishop Emilio Carlos Berlie Belaunzarán of Yucatán has suspended a 70-year-old priest amid allegations that he abused a teenage girl in San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Father Teodoro Baquedano Pech denies the allegation.

The Mexican archdiocese had earlier pledged to restrict Father Baquedano’s access to children after being informed of the alleged abuse by officials of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. That pledge was reportedly not kept; the priest was photographed baptizing a baby this Easter.

Catholic Church must remember who and what it’s supposed to serve

Catholic Church must remember who and what it’s supposed to serve

By Jerry Moore, Suburban Life Publications
Posted Apr 27, 2010 @ 01:08 PM
Western suburbs — The Roman Catholic Church is on the verge of losing what little credibility it has left.

For more than 20 years, a sexual-abuse scandal has been deteriorating the church’s moral authority. Recent reports that Pope Benedict XVI, in a previous role, may have been an obstacle in dealing with the controversy diminishes the church’s position that it’s seriously addressing the problem.

The scandal has struck the western suburbs like it has most regions of the country. Robert E. Mayer, a former priest, was convicted in 1992 of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl at St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn, where he served as pastor from 1990-91. He previously served as pastor of St. Dionysius Parish in Cicero from 1988-89.

Mayer was accused of sexually abusing children at several parishes where he served. He was assigned to the parish in which I grew up, but I was not aware of any accusations against him until he was charged in 1991.

What perplexes me is that although he was suspected of being a pedophile for many years, the Chicago Archdiocese simply passed Mayer along from church to church. What’s worse, he was named a pastor of two different parishes after officials became aware of these allegations.

Earlier this year, the Rev. Alejandro Flores of Shorewood was charged with sexually abusing a child for five years. The boy, who’s 13 and lives in St. Charles, is the priest’s godson.

The Associated Press recently published a letter signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1985 that showed the Vatican dragged its feet in dealing with a priest who previously pleaded no contest to tying up two boys and molesting them. A few years earlier, the cardinal had been named to lead a Vatican office that later, in 2001, took full authority to investigate accusations of sexual abuse.

Pope Benedict’s connection to this and another case raise questions about how seriously the church is taking this scandal. If the pope is viewed as part of the problem, how are parishioners expected to maintain their faith in this institution?

When an organization grows larger than its mission, it loses perspective on who or what it’s supposed to serve. The emphasis shifts to protecting the hierarchy.

When that happens, the occurrence of evil is only a matter of time.

Rome priest on trial for abuse defends pope

Last updated April 27, 2010 2:12 p.m. PT

Rome priest on trial for abuse defends pope

ROME -- A politically connected priest on trial for allegedly sexually molesting young boys proclaimed his innocence Tuesday and denounced what he said was "mud" being thrown on the pope concerning the clerical abuse scandal.

The Rev. Ruggero Conti made a spontaneous declaration during a court hearing in Rome. He is accused of sexual violence and prostitution concerning seven young boys who frequented his parish in a working class neighborhood of Rome.

In police interrogations, the boys - some as young as 13 at the time of the alleged abuse - said Conti would masturbate them and force them to perform oral sex on him in his home where he frequently invited them to eat dinner and watch movies.

The case is being closely watched because Conti served as an adviser to Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno and worked in the Vatican's backyard.

In his declaration Tuesday, Conti proclaimed his innocence and linked his case to the criticism the pope has been weathering in recent weeks as the clerical abuse scandal swirls around the Vatican.

"Here I am, Mr. President, and I am not a monster, I am innocent, I say it with clean conscience, humbly," Conti said.

"I am a priest, the infamies of which I am accused accumulate other hatred, not only on myself, but it (the hatred) bounces off immediately like a stone on the water to hit the Church and hurt the Holy Father," Conti said, denouncing the "mud" that has been thrown at the pontiff.

Conti was arrested June 30, 2008, as he prepared to travel with youths from his parish to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia.

Conti's bishop, Monsignor Gino Reali, has acknowledged in a prosecutors' interrogation that he knew of vague accusations two years before Conti was arrested by police, yet didn't remove him from pastoral work or otherwise report him to authorities.

Reali said he told Conti not to let boys visit his home but acknowledged he wasn't in a position to enforce such a measure.

Lawyers for the victims plan to put Reali on the stand May 20. They have said that if Reali testifies he knew of the abuse yet didn't take measures to report it to police or his superiors, that could constitute aiding and abetting a crime.

Caramella Buona, a nonprofit organization that has been providing legal assistance to Conti's alleged victims, denounced Conti's declaration Tuesday, saying he was out of line to equate his plight with that of the pope.

"Don Ruggero and his friends are losing their patience because the proof against him is becoming overwhelming," said the organization's president, Roberto Mirabile.

Chile Catholic church hit by abuse claims, bomb

Last updated April 27, 2010 4:28 p.m. PT

Chile Catholic church hit by abuse claims, bomb

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile's Roman Catholic Church was shaken by a series of dramatic televised interviews of men alleging they were abused by a respected former priest, followed hours later by a bombing that damaged a church's facade.

Four men detailed their claims - which also are the subject of police and church investigations - on a state channel Monday night. Now adults, they said the alleged abuse by Father Fernando Karadima began about 20 years ago when they were between 14 and 17 years old, in his residence at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in an elegant neighborhood of Santiago.

Dr. James Hamilton, now a surgeon, said between sobs that the abuse began with an act of masturbation when he joined the priest's Catholic youth group and continued for years.

Three others, including seminarians who saw Karadima as their spiritual leader, made similar allegations.

Chilean church officials said earlier this month that 20 of the country's priests have been accused of sex abuse, including five who were convicted.

Archbishop Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Santiago, while asking the faithful for their understanding, acknowledged Sunday that he had suspended a church investigation of Karadima in 2005. The probe was renewed last year.

Karadima, now 80 and retired but still living in the church residence, has not responded publicly to the allegations. He is strongly defended by other bishops and members of his church.

Jose Manuel Ossandon, mayor of the neighboring town of Puente Alto, says Karadima is being made a sacrificial lamb by the church, an idea that prompted an angry response from the president of Chile's Episcopal Conference of bishops, Alejandro Goic.

"We want total transparency and total truth. The idea that the church is using Father Karadima to clean its image is an infamy that we cannot accept," Goic said.

The allegations in Chile come amid a growing church abuse scandal in Latin America, where the large majority of more than 500 million people are Roman Catholics.

Early Tuesday, a bomb exploded in front of a Catholic church in Chile's south, destroying its front and the windows of neighboring buildings, but causing no casualties. The bombing took place in the city of Temuco.

Temuco police said they suspected anarchists, not a group involved in the church abuse issue. Pamphlets claiming responsibility were left by a group calling itself "Native Orchestral Chaos Three," police chief Alfonso Fernandez said.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Catholic sex abuse scandal could trigger donations slump, Vatican warns

Catholic sex abuse scandal could trigger donations slump, Vatican warns
Dip in Italian taxpayers donating share of income to the church likely as row over paedophile priests takes toll on believers
John Hooper in Rome, Monday 26 April 2010 16.54 BST

Many Catholics across Europe say the sex abuse scandal has robbed them of their faith. Photograph: Danilo Krstanovic/Reuters

Vatican officials fear the clerical sex abuse scandal could have a devastating effect on the finances of the Italian church, undermining what until now has been a bastion of the faith.

Italian taxpayers have until the end of July to declare their income for 2009 and, under a system in force in several European countries, they can opt for a proportion of their taxes to be paid to the church.

In Italy, 0.8% of income tax revenue is divided between state-run aid organisations and recognised denominations and religions according to the preferences expressed by taxpayers on their returns.

"The media always talk of class actions, compensation for the victims of abuse by the clergy and the legal fees which, since 2001 have forced the American dioceses to sell schools, hospitals, convents and universities," the daily La Stampa quoted a Vatican source as saying. "But in fact the biggest economic damage is done by the collapse in donations."

In Italy, among those who expressed a preference, the proportion of taxpayers earmarking a share for the church rose to a peak of 90% in 2004. It fell slightly to 87% in 2008. That percentage was far higher than the proportion attending Mass each Sunday, perhaps because only predominantly middle-class non-wage earners have to fill in a tax declaration. Last year, they earned the church some €900m (£776m) from the state.

With many Catholics across Europe saying the scandals have robbed them of their faith, there is a risk that this year's income could be much lower. In Germany, where church membership is registered and has a direct impact on church funds, pollsters for Focus magazine this month found that 26% of Catholics were reconsidering their religious allegiance.

A Better Chance at Justice for Abuse Victims

April 27, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor
A Better Chance at Justice for Abuse Victims
LAST week, Pope Benedict XVI told victims of sexual abuse by priests in Malta that the Catholic Church was doing all it could to investigate abuse accusations and find ways to safeguard children in the future. With the pope’s pledge, and the resignation in recent days of three European bishops involved in the sex abuse scandal, it might appear that the church is finally taking responsibility for failing to protect children against molesters for hundreds of years.

But the church is not doing everything in its power to help victims. In fact, it is worsening the sins of the past by taking a leading role in preventing abused children from getting the compensation they need to help remedy past abuse.

I saw this behavior firsthand when I represented a victim of child sexual abuse in a case brought against a nonsectarian private school in New Jersey. The trial court in that case had held that a state statute immunizing charities against negligence also protected the school even if its employees acted “willfully, wantonly, recklessly, indifferently — even criminally.”

I volunteered to help appeal that ruling of absolute immunity, and get it reversed. On the other side were lawyers for the insurance company that would have paid the bill if the school had been found liable. Their position was completely understandable: An insurance company has an obligation to its shareholders.

What was truly astonishing was the appearance of the New Jersey Catholic Conference in the case. As its Web site explains, the conference “represents the Catholic bishops of New Jersey on matters of public policy,” because “the Catholic Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.”

Yet the “well-formed consciences” of the conference had not entered the case on behalf of the weak and the vulnerable. The Catholic Conference had filed a brief in support of the insurance company, to defend a rule that would have left institutions — like the church — immune from responsibility even if employees “criminally” protected an abuser.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled against the insurers in 2006. But representatives of the Catholic Church have continued their work against the “weak and the vulnerable” here in New York. New York has one of the nation’s most restrictive statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, requiring victims to sue within five years of turning 18, whether or not they have recognized the psychological harm caused to them by their abuse.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a Queens Democrat, has introduced a bill to give victims another five years to seek compensation, plus a one-year window for victims blocked by the old limitations to now bring suit. That legislation has passed the Assembly three times, yet the Senate has refused to consider it. It has now been reintroduced into the Assembly.

At the core of the opposition to this bill is heavy lobbying by the New York Catholic Conference; according to published reports, the conference has hired top-dollar lobbyists to kill the bill. At least one bishop is reported to have threatened to close schools and parishes in legislators’ districts if they vote for the bill. And as Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Cardozo University, has written, bishops “publicly rail against statute of limitation reform as though it were the equivalent of mandatory abortion.”

If the New York Catholic Conference stops this reform, it will achieve three things. First, it will protect its own wealth. Second, it will assure that potentially thousands of victims who have been abused by priests will have no opportunity for compensation. And third, it will help preserve a system of irresponsibility that makes it too easy to ignore child sexual abuse, because the costs of ignoring it are lower in New York than in most other states.

If Pope Benedict and the church want redemption for the crimes of Catholic priests, there must continue to be confessions of those past sins. But just as important, the church must look at what it is doing today and end its campaign to block the weak and the vulnerable from receiving help to deal with the consequences of criminal sexual abuse.

Lawrence Lessig is a law professor and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard.

Cardinal Castrillón must feel trapped

Cardinal Castrillón must feel trapped
by John L Allen Jr on Apr. 23, 2010 All Things Catholic

Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos must feel trapped in a "Twilight Zone" episode, in which, in a flash, the whole course of his life has turned out differently. Now 80, not long ago Castrillón was a consummate Roman powerbroker, a man admired for the nerves of steel that once allowed him to stand up to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez at one point hailed his fellow Colombian as "this rustic man, with the profile of an eagle."

Cardinal Darío Castrillón HoyosFor most of the last two decades, Castrillón, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy from 1996 to 2006, was widely considered a serious contender to become the first Latin American pope.

Today, even if he weren't almost 81, Castrillón would have about as much chance of becoming pope as Sinead O'Connor. As the then-president of a Vatican commission that deals with traditionalist Catholics, he took the blame for the Holocaust-denying bishop fiasco in January 2009. Now Castrillón has achieved global infamy in light of a September 2001 letter he dispatched to a French bishop congratulating him for refusing to report an abuser priest to the police.

Though the letter was actually published on the Internet in 2001, it languished in relative obscurity until a French Catholic publication brought it back to life a couple of weeks ago. Given the current media climate, it immediately became a cause célèbre. Outrage has made Castrillón such a lightning rod that he was forced to back out of a Mass tomorrow at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., over what organizers described as concerns for "tranquility and good order."

By way of background, Castrillón's letter was addressed to Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, France, sentenced by a French court to three months in prison in 2001, though that term was suspended, for failing to denounce Fr. René Bissey, convicted in October 2000 for sexual abuse of eleven minor boys between 1989 and 1996.

"I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate that, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons and priests," Castrillón wrote.

A stampede for distance

Over the last two weeks, the rush among church leaders to distance themselves from Castrillón has turned into a mini-stampede.

First up was the Vatican itself. In a rare case of "rapid response," the official Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, had a statement out to reporters almost immediately after stories broke in France.

The letter, Lombardi's statement said, offers "another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

In effect, that was a polite way of saying that Castrillón was part of the problem against which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, had to struggle in streamlining Vatican procedures for dealing with sex abuse cases.

After Castrillón's appearance in Washington became a bone of controversy, Archbishop Donald Wuerl likewise put space between himself and the Colombian cardinal. Through a spokesperson, Wuerl let it be known that he would not attend Saturday's Mass due to a scheduling conflict. There was no statement of support for Castrillón, no complaint about unfair media coverage.

Wuerl's spokesperson also said that as a cardinal, Castrillón enjoys "universal faculties" -- an indirect way of saying that he didn't need, or ask, Wuerl's permission to show up.

Yesterday, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops' conference, posted a blog item bluntly saying that Castrillón's 2001 letter illustrates a "disconnect" between the American bishops and one Vatican congregation [presumably, she meant the Congregation for Clergy], as well as possibly inside the Vatican itself. Walsh went on to argue that there is no "wiggle room" in the American sex abuse norms when it comes to cooperation with civil authorities, and that counts for a lot more than a "buck-up letter" from Castrillón to a French bishop.

Needless to say, public talk of a "disconnect" between the American bishops and Rome, or inside the Vatican, is not the usual fare from an official spokesperson for the U.S. bishops.

Bottom line: At least as far as the Vatican and the American bishops are concerned, Castrillón is on his own.

A broader climate

On April 16, Castrillón spoke at a conference on the legacy of John Paul II at a Catholic university in Murcia, Spain, in which he asserted that he had shown his 2001 letter to the late pope who authorized him to send it. Far from being a previously secret "smoking gun," Castrillón said that he had posted the letter at the time on the Web site of the Congregation for Clergy.

According to media accounts, Castrillón draw warm applause from the audience, which included a couple of senior Vatican cardinals.

Given how far and fast many Catholic leaders are running away from Castrillón, it's tempting to conclude that he's a sort of rogue cardinal speaking only for himself. In truth, there's an element in his letter that does reflect a broader climate of opinion at senior levels in the church, even if there's also widespread embarrassment over how Castrillón expressed it.

In a nutshell, there is still considerable ambivalence about the idea of bishops turning their own priests over to the police.

For one thing, Castrillón asserted in Spain that he was congratulating Pican for defending the seal of the confessional. That's a bit murky, given that Pican has given somewhat conflicting accounts of how he learned of Bissey's crimes, especially how direct the connection was to the sacrament. (Under French law, confessional secrets are protected under a category of "professional secrets," though the law makes an exception for crimes committed against children.)

If the issue is truly whether bishops should be willing to go to jail rather than betray the seal of the confessional, then Castrillón would hardly be alone in suggesting that the answer is "yes."

Yet the 2001 letter seems to make a broader argument, which is that putting bishops in the position of reporting priests disrupts the family bond a bishop is supposed to have with his clergy. Traditional Catholic theology teaches that a bishop is both a "brother" to his priests, meaning a fellow member of the clergy, and a "father."

The objection to "mandatory reporting" requirements is therefore that just as a son should be able to share something in confidence with his father, a priest shouldn't have to worry that if he bears his soul to his bishop, the bishop's next phone call will be to the cops.

Some of that ambivalence came through in a recent interview with Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's top prosecutor on sex abuse cases, in the newspaper of the Italian bishops. Scicluna said the Vatican's policy is that in countries where bishops are required by civil law to report abuse themselves, they should comply.

"That's a very grave matter," Scicluna nonetheless said, "because these bishops are being forced to take a step comparable to a parent who denounces his or her own child."

Where bishops are not required by law to make a report, Scicluna said, they should encourage the victims to make the report -- the idea being that the police need to know what happened, but the bishop should also protect a zone of confidentiality with his priests.

Beyond that concern, prelates such as Castrillón are also old enough to remember what happened in regimes hostile to the church -- whether police states of Latin America, or Communist governments in Eastern Europe -- where clergy were encouraged to inform on one another in order to weaken the church from within, and where refusal to do so was considered a mark of heroic virtue. (Bishops from former Soviet states and from Latin America have sometimes warned against an uncritical embrace of "mandatory reporter" requirements for exactly that reason -- it's a sort of Anglo-Saxon delusion, they say, to believe one can always trust the police and the courts.)

To be sure, even bishops inclined to share those concerns would hardly extol Castrillón's letter -- especially because there's no word of compassion in it for the victims of the French priest, and no condemnation of the broader phenomenon of sexual abuse within the church.

Still, the letter points to an important insight about where things stand in the church with regard to the crisis: By now, there's wide consensus that crimes by a priest should be reported to the police, but how and by whom remains contentious.

Ratzinger and Castrillón

Finally, a footnote about the impact of the Castrillón episode: Ironically, resurrecting that 2001 letter may have doomed Castrillón, but it could actually help Pope Benedict XVI.

Throughout the most recent round of media coverage, there's been a serious mismatch between Pope Benedict's actual record on sex abuse -- as the senior Vatican official who took the crisis most seriously since 2001, and who led the charge for reform -- and outsider images of the pope as part of the problem.

While there are many reasons for that, a core factor is that the Vatican had the last ten years to tell the story of "Ratzinger the Reformer" to the world, and they essentially dropped the ball. That failure left a PR vacuum in which a handful of cases from the pope's past, where his own role was actually marginal, have come to define his profile.

One has to ask, why didn't the Vatican tell Ratzinger's story?

At least part of the answer, I suspect, is because to make Ratzinger look good, they'd have to make others look bad -- including, of course, Castrillón, as well as other top Vatican officials. Lurking behind that concern is a deeper one, which is that to salvage the reputation of Benedict XVI it might be necessary to tarnish that of Pope John Paul II.

In this case, however, Castrillón has inadvertently licensed the Vatican and church officials around the world to use him as a foil, effectively waiving a cardinal's traditional immunity from criticism.

From here on out, when spokespersons insist that Pope Benedict fought inside the Vatican for reform, the world will have a much clearer picture of what his opposition looked like. At stake wasn't just the question of cooperation with the police. Castrillón was part of a block of Vatican officials who thought the sex abuse crisis was fueled by media hysteria, that "zero tolerance" was an over-reaction, and that removing priests from ministry without lengthy and cumbersome canonical trails is a betrayal of the church's legal tradition.

That's important to keeping the record straight, because the truth is that the real choice in Rome over the last ten years vis-à-vis the sex abuse crisis was never between Ratzinger and perfection -- it was between Ratzinger and Castrillón.

Pedophile priest was volunteer in Dutch church

Last updated April 26, 2010 12:25 p.m. PT

Pedophile priest was volunteer in Dutch church

AMSTERDAM -- The Dutch Catholic Church rejected criticism Monday for failing to check the background of a volunteer who had served a seven-year prison sentence in the U.S. for child abuse.

Defrocked Irish priest Oliver O'Grady did volunteer work for a church in Rotterdam for less than two years, and left the Netherlands in February before his identity became known.

O'Grady was the subject of an award-winning 2006 documentary, "Deliver Us from Evil," in which he spoke openly of abusing more than 20 children and acknowledged that he was allowed to remain a priest after confessing to his bishop about the molestation.

A statement from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests in the U.S. said the Dutch church "should be severely disciplined for failing to do even the most simple background check on this dangerous predator."

Peter Kohnen, spokesman for the Dutch Bishop's Conference, said the community was "shocked" when Dutch television aired the documentary earlier this month and some parishioners recognized O'Grady.

But Kohnen said the diocese had no reason to investigate him, since he was a volunteer and did not seek any official function.

Kohnen said O'Grady helped at a Rotterdam church that catered to expatriates, mainly by selecting the music. No one knew who he was, and he was using a different name.

"If they had checked, they wouldn't have found anything," he said.

O'Grady had a job in Rotterdam working for a fast food restaurant, Kohnen said.

O'Grady was deported to Ireland in 2001 after serving his sentence in a California state prison for molesting two brothers. Since then, the Diocese of Stockton has faced several lawsuits from alleged victims.

Rome priest on trial for abuse in Vatican backyard

Last updated April 26, 2010 10:10 p.m. PT

Rome priest on trial for abuse in Vatican backyard

ROME -- The bishop responsible for a politically connected priest accused of molesting seven boys has admitted in court papers obtained by The Associated Press that he knew of the allegations for two years but didn't remove the priest from working with children.

The case of Rev. Ruggero Conti, who once advised Rome's mayor on family policy issues, resumes in court on Tuesday after a several-week break as attention increasingly turns to clerical sex abuse in the Vatican's backyard.

A week after Pope Benedict XVI wept with victims of clerical sex abuse in Malta and promised everything in the church's power to protect children and bring abusers to justice, Italian victims are now seeking a papal audience.

And Benedict on Sunday indirectly acknowledged that Italy has had its fair share of cases by praising the work of an Italian anti-pedophilia group headed by a Sicilian priest, Don Fortunato di Noto. The pope said he wanted to "encourage all those who are dedicated to prevention and education."

But casting a harsher spotlight on abusive priests in Italy is the court date Tuesday for Conti, who is on trial in Rome for allegedly molesting seven young boys at the Nativita' di Santa Maria Santissima parish in a working class neighborhood of the capital.

Conti has denied in court that he abused any of the boys. But he has admitted that he was fond of them, saying that he would cuddle or pat them - using the Italian word "coccole," which implies paternal affection.

"I can only think that these boys had a distorted interpretation, that their stories have crossed," Conti said during a 2008 hearing.

In police interrogations, the boys - some as young as 13 at the time of the alleged abuse - said that Conti would masturbate them and force them to perform oral sex on him in his home where he frequently invited them to eat dinner and watch movies.

Conti's bishop, Monsignor Gino Reali, admitted in a prosecutors' interrogation obtained by the AP that he knew of vague accusations two years before Conti was arrested by police, yet didn't remove him from pastoral work or otherwise report him to authorities.

Conti was arrested June 30, 2008 - as he prepared to travel with youths from his parish to World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia - and is on trial on charges of sexual violence and prostitution.

The Conti trial is being closely watched as the clerical abuse scandal swirls around the Vatican since it involves a priest who was so well regarded that he served as a family policy adviser to Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno during his 2008 mayoral election campaign.

The Vatican's sex crimes prosecutor, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, has acknowledged he learned about the case in July 2007, a year before the arrest, when an anti-pedophilia group met with him seeking advice on how to proceed against him. Scicluna has said he advised the group, Caramella Buona ("the good candy"), to go to police, which they did.

In the December, 2008 interrogation Reali admitted that he first heard about the accusations from Conti himself in September 2006. He said he continued to hear reports, including from a youth who told him that he had been molested by Conti during a summer retreat. At a certain point Conti asked to leave the parish, but returned.

Reali said he asked Conti if there was any foundation to the reports, and said the priest denied there was any basis to them. Reali said he told Conti not to let boys visit his home but acknowledged he wasn't in a position to enforce such a measure.

Pressed by Prosecutor Francesco Scavo why he didn't pursue the case even after one of Conti's colleagues complained, Reali responded: "Yes, they're serious facts, but it's not like I can do an investigation of this type unless there's a precise complaint."

"You know that there are so many 'rumors,'" Reali continued. "And I can't run after each one of them."

Attorney Nino Marazzita, who is representing two of the youths in the trial, has said he plans to put Reali on the stand. If Reali testifies he knew of the abuse yet didn't take measures to report it to police or his superiors, that could constitute aiding and abetting a crime, the lawyer said.

"Silence is always a form of moral complicity," he told reporters last week.

Reali's office has declined repeated requests for comment.

Reali also admitted in the interrogation that in 2005 he sent back to Spain a priest who had been accused by some parents of sending explicit text messages to young boys. The Spanish diocese of Getafe, outside Madrid, has said it wasn't informed in advance of the Rev. Jose Poveda Sanchez's problems in Italy.

The Getafe diocese said it learned of the probe in 2008 from the priest himself, and transferred him to work at a nursing home in Aranjuez.

As the Conti case continues, an Italian anti-pedophilia group, Prometeo, has asked for an audience with Benedict so he can meet with Italian victims of abuse. Benedict has met with U.S., Australian, Canadian and Maltese victims.

"The time has come for them (the Vatican) to take seriously the enormity of the phenomenon, healing the wounds of the past and preventing new ones from opening," the group's head Massimiliano Frassi said in a statement.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Did the Pope know about US sex abuse?

Did the Pope know about US sex abuse?

By Helen Grady
BBC News
Sunday mass at Milwaukee's Catholic Cathedral is quieter than it used to be.

For weeks, the American media has been dominated by claims that Church leaders covered up child abuse and failed to punish paedophile priests.

As a result, Fr Carl Last's congregation is getting smaller.

"People are getting fed up with the Church and deciding not to attend," he says. "If they do come to mass - many are holding back their financial contributions."

Milwaukee is at the centre of allegations that are affecting the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.

For more than 20 years, Church leaders here failed to take decisive action following warnings that Fr Lawrence Murphy was sexually abusing boys while running the St John's School for the deaf.


The Archbishop of Milwaukee has admitted that his predecessors made mistakes in handling the case. Fr Murphy was removed from his teaching role in 1974, but never prosecuted or stripped of his priesthood.

But now one of Fr Murphy's victims is seeking to pin the blame higher up the Church hierarchy. The unnamed man has filed a lawsuit against the Pope.

His lawyer Jeff Anderson says he wants to prove the Vatican was negligent and force it to release any files it has on abuse cases involving priests.

Mr Anderson told BBC Radio 4's The Report: "We want the Vatican to come forth with all documents containing evidence of crimes against children.

"Until then, there is a grave and serious problem and all trails and responsibility leads directly to one place - the Vatican, to the Pontiff and his predecessors."


But is there any hard evidence that Pope Benedict XVI covered up or failed to act in the Fr Murphy case?

The Vatican has described the lawsuit as "without merit".

It says that the first it knew of allegations about Fr Murphy was in 1996, when the then Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, forwarded the case to the Church's watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The man in charge of the CDF was the current Pope - then known as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. He has been accused of failing to respond to two letters from Archbishop Weakland asking for help to defrock Fr Murphy.

So was the Pope dragging his heels in order to protect the priest?

Fr Timothy Radcliffe had regular dealings with the CDF when he was Master of the Dominican order in the 1990s. He sees a more banal explanation for the delay.

"The CDF is a very small organisation. In 1996, it employed around 40 fairly young and inexperienced priests and most of their time was taken up dealing with matters of doctrine.

"For disciplinary matters, you would typically have one priest responsible for the whole of the United States, so I think it's entirely possible that these letters simply fell between the cracks."


But the Pope has also been accused of intervening to prevent Fr Murphy from being stripped of his priesthood.

In 1998, Fr Murphy wrote directly to Cardinal Ratzinger asking him for mercy.

BBC Radio 4, Monday 26 April, 2030 BST
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Four months later, his deputy, now Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, wrote to Archbishop Weakland suggesting that he seek a "pastoral solution" involving tighter restrictions on Murphy, instead of defrocking him.

This letter mentions Fr Murphy's appeal to Cardinal Ratzinger and has been interpreted as evidence that the man who is now Pope ordered clemency for a serial sex abuser.

But did Cardinal Ratzinger see Fr Murphy's letter and did he push for his Church trial to be stopped?

A former CDF insider has told the BBC that, on matters of doctrine, Cardinal Ratzinger would see every letter addressed to him. Cases could then be delegated to junior clerics, but would always cross Cardinal Ratzinger's desk again before a final decision was made.

But Fr Timothy Radcliffe does not think this was the case for disciplinary matters in the 1990s.

"Ratzinger is a theologian and he concerned himself with doctrinal issues," he said. "That was his expertise and what interested him.

"I think he delegated everything he possibly could because his own desire was to get on with teaching and studying and writing. I doubt this would have crossed his desk."

Victims' hurt

Archbishop Weakland says that he was disappointed when, after a meeting with Cardinal Bertone in Rome, he received a memo from the CDF reiterating the suggestion that he tighten restrictions on Fr Murphy rather than proceeding with the Church trial.

"I would have liked to continue with the case and have it judged and be sure Fr Murphy was stripped of the priesthood," Archbishop Weakland told the BBC.

"I got he feeling that the CDF's canon lawyers were not attuned to the pastoral implications, the hurt of the victims."

Shortly after receiving the memo from Rome, Archbishop Weakland halted Fr Murphy's Church trial.

Two days later, Fr Murphy died.

But the Church lawyer who helped Archbishop Weakland prepare the case against Fr Murphy says that he was not under orders to halt the trial.

"I've seen sharper letters from Rome," said Fr Thomas Brundage, who was also the presiding judge in the Murphy case. "It did seem to leave open the door to us saying no because it was not a direct order."

Fr Brundage added that, far from being obstructive, the CDF had lifted the time limit for abuse allegations to allow the case against Murphy to go ahead.

"They could have stopped it in its tracks at very beginning," he said. "But they didn't.

"People get the sense from the secular press that Cardinal Ratzinger was directly responsible for this case, but you've got to show proof. Speaking as a judge, I have not seen proof in either direction."

The BBC has learned that Papal representatives in America were informed of allegations about Fr Murphy twice in the 1970s - long before Cardinal Ratzinger was at the CDF.

Although the CDF did not have formal responsibility for child abuse cases until 2001, the Murphy case should have been referred to the Congregation because it involved solicitation in the confessional - one of the most serious offences under church law.


Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi refused to answer specific questions about the Murphy case, but said that allegations that the Pope failed to act were unfair.

He told the BBC: "The Pope is in reality the leader of the line of transparency and clear-decision making to solve this problem and not to have any more any aspect of covering up such problems."

Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena described the lawsuit as "an attempt to use tragic events as a platform for a broader attack" on the Church.

Since 2001, the process for dealing with abuse by priests has been streamlined and all cases are referred to a team of 10 priests at the CDF.

But back in Milwaukee, there is anger that Fr Murphy went unpunished even though the church received reports of his abuse as early as the 1950s.

Steven Geier, a former student at a school for the deaf, was 14 when Murphy molested him. Nearly 50 years on, speaking through an interpreter, his anger is still raw.

"I started complaining when I was 15. I told three different priests and the police. All those years, but no-one listened to me.

"Fr Murphy should have been in jail. He was very lucky because he was out until he died. It didn't do me any good at all."

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