A letter sent by the Vatican to Irish bishops in 1997 shows that they blocked attempts to report pedophile priests to the police. A new documentary reveals the contents of the letter and claims that, on two occasions, the Vatican intervened and stopped attempts made by Irish bishops to defrock pedophile priests.
The letter was obtained by Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE and details the Vatican’s rejection of an initiative introduced in 1996 by Irish churches, which would see religious orders help police identify pedophile priests.
The document emphasizes the church’s right to investigate all child-abuse allegations and determine appropriate punishment within the Vatican rather than transferring that power to civil authorities.
The letter advises Irish bishops that the new policy of reporting suspected crimes to the authorities "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature".
Signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland, the document states that canon law "must be meticulously followed."
Storero warned that any bishops who attempted to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of having their recommendations overturned on appeal in Rome.
"The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican's intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere," Colm O'Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International, told the Associated Press.
Bryan Maguire, abuse survivor and spokesperson for the Voice of the Faithful organization said the letter changes the way he feels about the clerical abuse. He said “It certainly puts a different complexion on the way in which the Irish bishops acted and points a finger right back to Rome.
"At root what we’ve got is not just abusive priests and bishops that cover up, but an entire system that has enabled and facilitated those bishops and priests.
"What we want is for the Church to take a mirror to itself and not to just push the problem down to a local problem.”
The letter is the subject of a documentary which will be aired on Ireland’s national broadcaster, “Unspeakable Crimes”, reveals the details of the cover-ups.
In a High Court cast last month an order was given to publish Chapter 19 of the Murphy Report, which looks at the clerical abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese. This chapter shows that the bishops made moves to dismiss Tony Walsh from the priesthood. However the Vatican instead sought to send him to a monastery for 10 years.
“Unspeakable Crimes” shows that Walsh went on to abuse another child after a Church court recommended that he be laicized. In the documentary the mother of the child who was abused points the finger directly at Rome.
It also shows that an Irish archbishop threatened to resign because of a certain case in the 1990s. The Department of Public Prosecution declined to prosecute the priest and the archbishop recommended he be dismissed from the clergy. He was overruled by the Vatican.