Bringing you the issues since 1986

View Online Print Edition


Allegations of Vatican cover up of sexual abuse escalate

May, 2010

Scarcely a day goes by that the media do not carry another story on the priestly sexual abuse scandal enveloping the Catholic Church.

Now a bishop in Belgium has admitted to pedophilia and has resigned. Another bishop in Germany has submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict for the same reason.

Also, the pope has announced that the Vatican will take direct control of the Legionaries of Christ, a wealthy conservative confraternity of priests and seminarians whose superior, now deceased, has been discovered to have sexually abused young people, to have fathered two children and to have had several mistresses.

The Kansas-based National Catholic Reporter has been on this story since 1985. It reports that the senior Catholic bishop in Norway has resigned after confessing to sexual abuse of an altar boy 20 years ago.

Two new cases from the pope’s past have come to light. The first involves an Arizona priest who was accused of molesting children as far back as the 1970s. Allegations surfaced in the 1980s and the case was reported to then-Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1992. It took 12 years before the Arizona priest was defrocked in 2004. Critics see the long gap between accusation and penalty as another instance of a slow response from the Vatican.

The second case involves a priest from India who is accused of sexually molesting two teenage girls while working in Minnesota from 2004 to 2005. A prosecutor in Minnesota says she has been trying to extradite the priest from southern India to face the charges filed against him.

The priest returned to India when the allegations came to light in 2005. He works as a priest in the diocesan school office, handling administrative tasks. The priest has denied the charges and says he would be willing to return to the United States to clear his name. The American lawyer representing one of the priest’s alleged victims claims the Vatican has tried to keep the case quiet. “They kept it a secret because they were concerned about the protection of their reputation and not about the children who are at grave peril.”

Two other developments indicate how widespread is the crisis and how pressure is building on the Vatican and on the pope himself. In England, some are calling for the pope to be served with a criminal indictment when he visits the country in September.

This would happen under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which permits judges to issue arrest warrants for visitors accused of serious crimes, no matter where they live. In the same vein, former UN appeals court judge Geoffrey Robertson has called for the summoning of the pope before the International Criminal Court.

The veteran Vatican watcher, John Allen, says this is not just sensationalism. “The idea of an arrest warrant for the pope may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, given that all it takes is one activist judge willing to test the waters. That’s a scenario that becomes more likely as fresh revelations sour public opinion against the pope.

“To date, more than 10,000 people in Great Britain have reportedly signed a petition opposing the pope’s four-day visit, expected to cost tax-payers roughly $22.5 million.”

Meanwhile, two of the five victims of sexual abuse who met Benedict in Washington in April 2008 have announced plans for a massive gathering of victims and supporters in Rome in late October. The two men, Bernie McDaid and Olan Horne, hope to marshal 50,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. They also plan to invite the pope.

The two men are calling the event a Day of Reformation. They are aware of the provocative nature of that term in light of its 400-year historical association with Rome.

Furthermore, the scandal has spread to Italy. The media report that Italian civil authorities have investigated about 130 accusations of sexual abuse by priests against minors over the last decade, with arrests and convictions in several instances. According to press reports, not one of the cases was referred to the police by the local bishop.

The respected British Catholic journal The Tablet states that the scandal is so serious that “if any clear dereliction of duty on his (the pope’s) part is proven, there is nothing discreditable in calling for his resignation.”

Sadly for the Church of Rome, the scandal raises other questions about governance. More and more people, including Catholics, are beginning to see a Church where women are second-class citizens, homosexuality is seen as a disorder, and bishops lack accountability. Unless these anomalies are tackled – and soon – it is difficult to see how the pope can right the ship.



Post a Comment