Sexual Abuse Investigations Stymied by the Vatican at the Expense of Truth
By Brian Mark Hennessey
Canonists are currently tying themselves in knots to find justification (excuses) for Bishops and Heads of Religious Orders for not reporting child sexual abuse to civil authorities. Most of the arguments centre on the the 1974, “Secreta Continere” of Pope Paul VI. Previous to that Pope Pius XI’s 1922 “Crimen Solicitationes” was in force. In 1962 Pope John XXIII had added “Crimen Pessimum. Neither of the 1922 or 1962 documents prevented reports of paedophile behaviour being made to the Civil Authorities. Yet, Paul VI, found justification – somewhere in Scripture I must assume – to prevent heinous crimes of child sexual abuse committed in civil jurisdictions by paedophile clerics from being reported to the law enforcement authorities of those very same civil jurisdictions.
Unsurprisingly, I have not yet discovered the Biblical reference upon which it hinged. Presumably, there must be a reference somewhere for going back a few years, those Australian bishops who wanted to be very open about child sexual abuse in the Australian Catholic Church were famously summoned to Rome and were obliged to sign a “Statement of Conclusions” that referred to a crisis of faith in the Australian Church. The document insisted that the “Church does not create her own ordering and structure, but receives them from Christ Himself”. So – there must be a biblical reference somewhere. I just cannot find it. I’ll start at page 1 again and read it more carefully.
The case of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, who is being investigated by the French State for another failure to report abuse to the French civil authorities is a further case in point – and is in the headlines at the moment. According to one canonist Barbarin’s failure to follow the civil laws of France was justified as he was acting in accordance with the overwhelming weight of opinion of the church’s most senior cardinals and canon lawyers about his moral, ethical and canonical obligations at the time. His holy, Christ inspired, duty was go to jail rather than report the crime. Bit odd to me! Sounds immoral! Yet, historically there have been other cases which have cast doubts about the morality of the Vatican’s resort to secrecy to protect its own image.
One such case was that of Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, France, who was given a three-month suspended jail sentence in 2001 for failing to inform authorities about a serial paedophile priest. In September 2001, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, at the time the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, wrote to Pican congratulating him for the “cover up” and his letter reads: “I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and all the others bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons, a (paedophile, criminal) priest.” The brackets are mine! Hoyos said that he was sending a copy of his letter to all the bishops of the world, holding up Pican as a model to follow. He also said his congratulatory letter was approved by Pope St John Paul II. Similar statements condemning the reporting of paedophile priests to the police by bishops were made in 2002 by high ranking prelates in the Roman Curia and Church leaders in France, Germany, Belgium and Honduras.
More recently, in 2015, the Holy See would not assist the civil authorities in the case of Fr. Mauro Inzoli, accused of abusing dozens of children over a ten year period. The priest was dismissed by Pope Benedict in 2012, but Pope Francis reinstated him (would you believe it) with restrictions on his ministry. When Italian investigating magistrates wanted to see the documentation of his canonical trial, the Holy See refused, saying: “The procedures of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are of a canonical nature and, as such, are not an object for the exchange of information with civil magistrates.”
Quite where the Vatican finds evidence for the concealment of crimes of child abuse and the protection of criminal paedophile clerics in the Gospels and Epistles puzzles me. I thought I knew them pretty well – having received a copy of both the Old and New Testaments from my father as a Christmas present (I was deflated at the time) as far back as 1956! I still have the same Bible today and have pretty much read all of it. I was taught and have subsequently always deduced that to tell the Truth was always a matter of an outstanding, higher, moral obligation to do so. I always believed that priests, priors, abbots, bishops, Cardinals and Popes thought the same as me! Indeed, as the pre-eminent regard of the very Canon Laws all the canonists at the Vatican keep quoting is the protection of the integrity of the Doctrines of the Disciples and Apostles in the Gospels and the Acts, then there is no better Biblical proof of the moral obligations of the Church’s ministers than in James the Just (James 4:17): “Whosoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is a sin”. Moreover, any over-riding duty to conceal the truth in order to avoid “scandal” does not feature in my copy of the Bible either! At least, it was not condoned by St Paul famously when he stated “Quench not the Spirit” in Thessalonians 5:19 – which is widely accepted as meaning that the Truth must “always” be told despite any of the adverse consequences of doing so. My Bible is the Knox Version – a translation from the Latin Vulgate and from Hebrew and Greek Originals. It’s a Catholic version in one volume. Is it the wrong one?