Yesterday evening, Irish television station RTE One broadcast a new episode of their news documentary series “Would You Believe” that came with the title “Unspeakable Crimes.” These unspeakable crimes are described on their website like this:
Just when the Irish bishops were beginning to come to grips with how to deal with the clerical sexual abuse problem, Rome intervened and tried to enforce Vatican policy which put the interests of the priest, not the victim, first.
In a strictly confidential letter seen by WYB, the Vatican threatens the Irish bishops that if they follow their new child protection guidelines it would support the accused priest if he were to appeal to its authority.
The letter tells the Irish bishops that the Vatican has moral reservations about their policy of mandatory reporting and that their guidelines are contrary to canon law.
The letter itself is here [PDF], and it says exactly what RTE claims it says.
The study document referred to in the letter are the 1996 guidelines that the Irish bishops proposed, which included mandatory reporting of abuse to the secular authorities. (PDF of the study document is here.)
The Vatican’s reaction to that section of the study document was to say this: “In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature.” The Vatican goes on to say something to the effect of “you English-speaking people seem to have this problem all over the place, so while WE study what WE want to do about it, you just keep on doing what you’re doing, according to the rules WE laid down earlier in canon law, and forget all about YOUR study and its proposed mandatory reporting clause.” The actual phrasing of that last part is more delicate, of course, but the implication is clear: shut up, and “at the appropriate time” we’ll tell you all what to do.
They also attach a nice theological threat at the end: “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.” IOW, if you don’t follow the old way, and thus punish a priest, and the accused priest appeals to Rome, Rome is going to back the priest and you will end up with a black eye.
Shorter Vatican: “Nice diocese you’ve got here, bishop. It’d be a shame if anything were to happen to it . . .”
The saddest part of the whole thing? This threat worked.
But now, with the revelation of this letter, the tables are turned.
If I were a prosecutor in a state with mandatory clergy reporting laws, I’d be looking back at old files right about now. As of April 2010, those states included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Hmmm . . . speaking of Wisconsin . . .
If I were a prosecutor in Milwaukee, where the archdiocese declared bankruptcy a couple of weeks ago in a move that some suspect was aimed at preventing (or at least postponing) discovery in child abuse coverup cases, I’d have some very, very direct questions I’d aim at the present and former archbishops, their assistants, and their staff members. Those civil cases are one thing, but if the archdiocese did not report cases of abuse in defiance of Wisconsin state law, that’s a criminal offense. And if the Vatican coerced them into doing so, as they clearly did with the Irish bishops, I believe that’s called a conspiracy.
Oh, and among those former Milwaukee diocesan staffers is current New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, now president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Nice diocese you’ve got here, bishop . . .”