A New York Times lead editorial on Thursday has stated that a 1997 letter from the Vatican to Irish bishops (see below) makes clear that cover ups of pedophile priests was tolerated by the Vatican despite their denials to the contrary.
The Times wrote: “Throughout the mushrooming scandal, Rome officials have denied trying to foil secular law by allowing child-abuse allegations to be shrouded in halfhearted diocesan inquiries and cover-ups.
“But the newly discovered letter undermines those claims and reinforces evidence of foot dragging that still has not been adequately addressed by the Vatican.”
The letter, written by the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland took issue with an Irish bishop’s advisory group recommendation to report pedophile priests to police.
It was signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland.
The letter instructs Irish bishops that their new policy of reporting of suspected crimes "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature." and said such decisions to go to civil authorities could be overturned.
The Times wrote that “The letter from the papal representative rejected a 1996 decision by Dublin church leaders to respond more candidly to the suppressed scandal in Ireland by ordering that child-abuse allegations be referred for criminal investigation.
The “strictly confidential” letter from Rome — leaked this week amid continuing inquiries into the Irish scandal — emphasized the priority of in-house handling of pedophilia cases under church, not civil, law.
This was hardly the needed prescription for what an Irish government investigation eventually described as “endemic” abuse of thousands of children over decades by rogue priests who were routinely shielded from criminal penalties.”
The Times notes the case of one of the worst abusers “It was disclosed recently, for example, that Tony Walsh, a notorious abuser of children who was convicted and defrocked in a secret church court in Dublin in 1993, got his collar back a year later when a Vatican court believed his appeal and reinstated him as a priest. He was eventually imprisoned after raping and molesting scores of youngsters.”
The Times points out that “Rome officials insist that the letter from Rome is outdated, misinterpreted and superseded by tougher church rules.
However, they say present day rules do not go far enough. “Unfortunately, the latest policies of the Vatican do not mandate the zero-tolerance reforms that ranking officials in the United States and elsewhere were forced to proclaim as the scandal demoralized church faithful worldwide.”
The Times concludes by saying that “It is commendable that Pope Benedict XVI has been apologizing and promising a firmer hand. But current Vatican policy, updated last year, offers merely a nonbinding advisory — not a firm mandate — that diocesan officials should report crimes to police.
This is cold comfort to worried Catholic parents or anyone else relying on the rule of law.”
TEXT OF LETTER:
Dublin, 31 January 1997
The Congregation for the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the document entitled “Child Sexual Abuse; Framework for a Church Response”, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops Advisory Committee.
The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.
The text, however, contains “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.
In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.
Since the policies on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many o[f] the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them. At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.
To: the Members of the Irish Episcopal Conference -their Dioceses
For these reasons and because the above-mentioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document, I am directed to inform the individual Bishops of Ireland of the preoccupations of the Congregation in its regard, underlining that in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.
Asking you to kindly let me know of the safe receipt of this letter and with the assurance of my cordial regard,
I am Yours sincerely in Christ