In Ireland, an Old Letter and New Revelations

The AP reports:

DUBLIN – A 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police — a disclosure that victims' groups described as "the smoking gun" needed to show that the church enforced a worldwide culture of covering up crimes by pedophile priests.

Advertisement

The newly revealed letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican's rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland's first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits.

The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church's right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than give that power to civil authorities.

Read the rest here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
david power
6 years 10 months ago
Jimmy Akin is wrong about this bringing down a governement in Ireland.I am an Irishman and know it is not factual.Fr Lombardi is incorrect in saying "they've known about this in Ireland for some time" unless of course the Vatican still limits Irish catholics to the episcopacy. 
What Jimmy Akin wrote about Canon Law contradicts what Austen Iveriegh wrote on this blog some time ago.
  Austen wrote "Where these have failed to act against abusive priests, it has not been because they have resorted to canon law instead of civil law, but because they failed to resort to either canon OR civil law ".Who is correct? Now we have two written threats towards the victims or those who would help them .
The first was when Cardinal O'Connell got a lawyer to send a letter to some victims saying that if they brought the case forward the Church woud play hardball.The second here where an Archbishop writes"The results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same diocesan authorities ".
Basically , your account at the trattoria on Borgo Pio will be cancelled and it will be a long time before you are called to the Eternal city.
It was the same Congregation for the clergy which had as it's head Cardinal Castrillon who wrote the infamous letter backed by the soon to be blessed Pope  John Paul which congratulated a french bishop for going against civil law. In neither case would it be criminal I imagine as I am not responsible for the reporting of crimes. If a bishop does not report the rape of children that is his choice but if he does it is not against canon law.Is this correct ? It can be confusing and reading Jimmy Akin on this occasion has muddied the water further.   

Molly Roach
6 years 10 months ago
Until justice is done, the evidence will continue to surface.
Jane Francis
6 years 10 months ago
It really is tempting but too easy to take another shot at Mr. Smith, who clearly lacks any empathy for the thousands of victims, true victims or even understanding that it is clear a world-wide cover up did happen, whether coordinated and planned or not.  The fact is that until the Church accepts that apolgies that are far too late and ''reparations'' that only go to a few will not end this nightmare, it will never end.  The revelations could go on for years because the abuse and cover up were so widespread - and that's a fact.  I pray the Holy Spirit will inspire the Vatican to step outside its arrogance and indolence - or at least will inspire those true leaders within the Vatican to speak up and demand reform that goes to the ills that allowed the abuse and cover up to continue.  There are good men within those walls but they lack the courage to speak and to act and in the meantime, they are being edged out.  Corruption eats from within.  The Church must take steps to cut the cancer out - to cure itself by returning to its roots - a church decentralized but still united under the Gospel, following the Gospel...a church less secretive and more nurturing and pastoral...a church less powerful, yet more influential because it will be seen to have reformed itself.  Without this, the Church will continue to decay in its soul from the inside out. 
Bill Mazzella
6 years 10 months ago
"Without this, the Church will continue to decay in its soul from the inside out."

When you talk about Church hear you mean the hierarchy. But the real definition of the church is the 'gathering' or the community assembled or the people of God. The era we live is the first one in centuries where the people are coming together to demand that leaders put the gospel over dogma, humility over power and the beatitudes over the magisterium. So there is a lot to rejoice about. The People of God, the church, is alive and well. That is great.  
ed gleason
6 years 10 months ago
When US  bishops were asked under oath in Federal grand juries whether they received instructions /orders from the Vatican or Nuncio about NOT reporting abuse to civil authorities and they answered they were never given such orders or instructions... they should say hello to Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and Gov, Blago. Feds love big name perjury trials.  
Martin Gallagher
6 years 10 months ago
David Power,

Did Cardinal O'Connor instruct the lawyer to write that letter to the victim? Do you have a link?   I would certainly disagree with him if this were true.  However, Cardinal O'Connor certainly does not represent the Vatican (unless someoene instructed him to take that approach).

How do you get from the archbishop stating, "The results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same diocesan authorities" to a threat "Basically , your account at the trattoria on Borgo Pio will be cancelled..."  I think that's a stretch.

I am in favor of getting to the truth behind the scandal, punishing the guilty, and fairly compensating victims.  However, I am strongly opposed to a witch hunt. The accused do have rights. I also fear that many are levaraging this scandal to bludgeon Christ's Church.
david power
6 years 10 months ago
@Martin,

Sorry I do not have a link.It is etched in my mind as it was a newspaper article in about 1997/1998 .
I believe it was Colm O Gorman who made the claim.There was also a print of the lawyer's letter .O Gorman is the main voice of victims in Ireland and has made documentaries and many TV appearances .He has an axe to grind but is often fair in his comments.But it is Cardinal Desmond Connell ex of dublin not Cardinal O Connor ex of New York. If I track it down I will post it on here.  
On the second issue of the "threat" , I dont see how you can read it any other way than a threat. In very eloquent language but a threat nonetheless.What is he referring to as "detrimental"?. If the mafia said to a person "by all means go to the police but you may find it embarrassing and detrimental to yourselves" how would you read it. It could mean that they will  look bad in the eyes of the Irish people .Or it could mean that they will pay a price for speaking out.The "threat" stands or falls on wether you believe there was a cover-up of sexual abuse. If you believe  there was then the meaning of detrimental is that in Rome they will pay a price. Perhaps the reason Cardinal Law is the Archpriest of St Maria Maggiore is that really he was not guilty at all but just "following orders".Getting to the truth is of course they key.Good luck with that.If you believe that the Roman Curia  shares your desire for the Truth you are a very devout soul.
Those who are bludgeoning the Church of Christ are those who maintain the mendacity at all costs. I have no doubt that Laurie Goldstein is hostile to the Church and reports in an incorrect way even if Pope Benedict thinks the real enemies are inside the Church.But the Irish would never have gotten a papal letter without Laurie.If it is not splashed on the New York Times it does not exist to the Curia or as another said "if it doesn't happen on TV it doesn't happen".That is the mentality we are dealing with.Christ is outsmarting the curia at every step and is using His "enemies" to good purpose.  To a person I would say that all the previous commentators wrote what they wrote from love and not from hate. The Church should love the Truth and not fear it,the Church is founded on the Truth incarnate.          
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
Sorry that I'm getting to this story one day late but is anyone disputing the existence of this letter? It really is a damning document.
JOHN SULLIVAN
6 years 10 months ago
The bureaucrats in the Curia have done a better job of bludgeoning Christ's church than all the victims and lawyers/media could possibly do. Until the truth of this cancer is confronted, and the perpetrators/enablelers are held accountable, the Church will continue to suffer. The Church universal will prevail as Christ promised, even though some in the hierarchy and Curia are doing ( unwttingly I hope ) their best to destroy it.

I continue to have hope based on past and present experience of encountering the many good and faithful servants-laity,religious and priests, I have been blessed to know.
ed gleason
6 years 10 months ago
here you go again.. David.... lets forget the coverup...it all about the money.
Jane Francis
6 years 10 months ago
   Oh for goodness sake Mr. Martin and Mr. Smith - you barely acknowledge that wrong was done.  I am so tired of these trite apologists whose lame excuses for the wrongs done must ring hollow except to those most set on ignoring facts.  Even if you take every story in the light most favorable to the Church, the story of what happened in country after country after country would indeed, does indeed, make only but the willfully ignorant cry out. (The sheer breadth of it is mind numbing and a horror of its own.) These were children and you hide behind sophmoric arguments or symantics.  You quibble around the edges gnawing on this little error or that in any given story attempting to prove that one flaw undermines all accounts but those you endorse - those that would leave no one accountable and would indeed continue to blame the victims for coming forward and speaking out.  You are most certainly not on the side of the angels but rather on the side of whomever it is that seeks to hide evil and protect the perpetrators. Shame on you. Shame.
JOHN SULLIVAN
6 years 10 months ago
Amen! Well said Jim Franciosi, thank you.
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
Jim Franciosi is exactly right.  I've been reading this blog space for a couple of years and every time some evidence that indicates the culpability of the church hierarchy emerges David & Co. always-without fail-rush to the defense of the hierarchy.  I know, I know-sometimes this documents aren't entirely open-and-shut, but, c'mon: the overwhelming weight of the evidence points to a deep culture of denial and defense of privilege. The junior varsity high school debate tactics and parsing of small matters in order to draw totally unwarranted conclusions that excuse the boys at the top defies any logic or reasonable sense of justice.


Does our Faith demand that we circle the wagons at all cost? Why?
Martin Gallagher
6 years 10 months ago
David Power,

I appreciate your comments.  I find them well-reasoned.  I still do not find anything in the letter to be a threat - veiled or otherwise.  Perhaps that's just how I see thhe world.

Jim Franciosi,

I don't know if you were responding to me (first name is Martin, not the last).  If your respose was directed at me, I found it to be completely off base and inappropriate.  Did you read #23?  I, (as was written), " am in favor of getting to the truth behind the scandal, punishing the guilty, and fairly compensating victims." 

We must do this thoughtfully and fairly, though.  Just because great evils were done, does not mean that every accused is guility. Just because some bishops were complicit in concealing the crimes does not mean that every Vatican communication urging prudence is part of an elaborate cover-up. 

Instead of lashing out at those who don't view this particular letter (if you haven't read it, look at Mandy's comment #9) as a "smoking gun" of an elaborate cover-up, provide some arguments as to why you think it is.  David Power did.  I disagree with him, but now better appreciate that point of view.  How do you think the Irish bishops would have proceeded had they not gotten that letter?
Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
From the letter: "[T]he situation of 'mandatory reporting' gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature".
Mani Chandy
6 years 10 months ago
For those interested, here's the actual letter: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/Ireland-Catholic-Abuse.pdf

JOHN SULLIVAN
6 years 10 months ago
So, Mr. Smith the lawyers are to blame for this latest revelation? It's hardly about money, but instead the  grave sin committed on the Body of Christ. Until the deceit and cover-up end, this scandal will continue to fester.
Joseph O'Leary
6 years 10 months ago
The Vatican in 1997 had misgivings about "mandatory reporting" - what's so sensational about that?
Carolyn Disco
6 years 10 months ago
Thank you to those responding to David Smith's comment.

I recommend Law Professor Timothy Lytton's book: Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse (Harvard Univ. Press) http://www.albanylaw.edu/lytton/ 

The lawyers are heroes who listened to survivors when no one else would, and forced the Church to release documents. Without those lawsuits and document releases, we would know nothing, repeat nothing, about the widespread corruption of bishops: lies, perjury, criminal endangerment, obstruction of justice, and fraudulent concealment, for starters. Countless bishops escaped liability by keeping the secrets long enough so that statutes of limitation kicked in.

I know lawyers who almost lost their firm, went into debt to help survivors, had to have counseling themselves to make it through, and waited up to a decade for any compensation. They deserve every penny.

And how about some research on the tactics of Church lawyers: holding parents liable for not monitoring their children, bruising depositions ''Did Father X use his right or left hand?'' ''Did you enjoy it?''; countersuits for defamation, endless scorched earth motions to hide evidence; distorting the First Amendment to give bishops the right to be as negligent as they wanted, etc. etc.

Enough said. Happily, it is the threat of civil liability and exposure that makes bishops sit up straight. I hope the release of this nuncio's letter furthers the outstanding cases against the Holy See. It only clarifies what so many have known from the beginning, but lacked the power to force into the open.

Something about what has been done in darkness...
Jim McCrea
6 years 10 months ago
David Smith @ #8:  if the only way to bring this institution to its senses about dishonesty, covering up, duplicity, clericalism and other things that have contributed to this terrible situation is the fact victims have to resort to the legal system to get action, then this institution may indeed need to be destroyed - or at least to its knees so badly that the only way it can look is up from the swamp to which it has sunk in this matter.

“The (Catholic) Church is an institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.”  Hillaire Belloc

"...there is developing within me, an inborn and profound opposition to what is usually regarded as the form, the hopes and the interests that are Christian. What can you expect: in the Christian world as it is presented in our ecclesiastical documents and the catholic gestures or conceptions, I suffocate absolutely, physically...We are no longer in fact 'Catholic'; we are defending a system, a sect."   attributed toTeilhard de Chardin, 1926 (citation unavailable)

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

It has more to do with prophecy than politics.
Jonathan MerrittDecember 11, 2017
iStock photo
A federal judge wrote that it is unlikely church officials would be able to prove that their constitutional rights were being violated.
Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 11, 2017
The ‘chaos candidate’ is now our pyromaniac president.
Margot PattersonDecember 11, 2017
At first Father Flanagan rejected the idea of a film, but he signed on after he saw a script that he liked.
Kevin LawlerDecember 11, 2017