Reports of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests have led to a worldwide scandal that has caused millions to leave the Church and shaken the institution to its foundations. The Vatican’s begrudging response even to acknowledge the extent of the abuse has been woefully inadequate. According to a 431 page report issued yesterday by the Irish government, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland was still covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests as recently as two years ago.
The report found that the Diocese of Cloyne, a rural part of County Cork, did not act on complaints of sexual abuse of children against 19 priests from 1996 to 2009. The report, which was drafted by an independent investigative committee headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, found that while two allegations were reported to the police, there was no follow-up investigation. As the New York Times says, the report provides stark evidence that the Church’s earlier promises to report all abuse cases since 1995 to civil authorities were just so much talk.
Quite contrary to its message of helping the vulnerable and weak, the Church has systematically covered up crimes and sought to protect priests, not children.
Too often, the Church has been allowed to handle complaints of abuse against its priests internally. But on Wednesday, bishops in Germany — where record numbers left the Church last year — said that outside investigators would be allowed to look for abuse cases in diocesan personnel records dating back at least 10 years, and even all the way to 1945. However, as the New York Times comments, there are “indications that some crucial records may have already been destroyed.”
In 1996, the Church in Ireland issued child protection guidelines. But not only did civil authorities still fail to investigate allegations of sexual abuse, the Church seems to have felt that it did not need to follow the guidelines. A senior Vatican official in Ireland even suggested that these policies, put in place to protect children following horrifying reports of abuse for decades, were in violation of the Church’s canon law.
Most damaging, the report said that the Congregation for the Clergy, an arm of the Vatican that oversees the priesthood, had not recognized the 1996 guidelines. That “effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures” and “gave comfort and support” to priests who “dissented from the stated Irish church policy,” the report said.
The report gave details of a confidential letter sent in 1997 by the Vatican’s nuncio, or ambassador, in Ireland to Irish bishops, warning them that their child-protection policies violated canon law, which states that priests accused of abuse should be able to appeal their cases to the Vatican. The nuncio also dismissed the Irish guidelines as “a study document.”
Included in the Cloyne report are allegations that John Magee, the bishop of Cloyne since 1987 and the private secretary to three popes — he was “the first Vatican official on the scene when John Paul I was found dead in his quarters,” states the Guardian — not only took “little or no active interest in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008,” but had himself been accused of improper behavior with a young seminarian. Cardinal Sean Brady, the senior bishop in Ireland, defended Magee, says the Cloyne report.
Bishop Accountability, which has documented the seeming flood of cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, said that the Cloyne Report was “eerily similar” to a 120- page report by the district attorney of Philadelphia. This report, issued in February, said that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had failed to stop the sexual abuse of children, more than five years after a report documenting abuse by more than 50 priests had made the extent of the problem more than clear.
As was recently noted:
“And like most scandals this wasn’t about the scandal itself and the underlying conduct, this was about the attempts to cover it up. When people cover up things, they are not fit and proper to run something.”
These words were said yesterday by Mark Lewis, the lawyer for the family of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old British school girl whose voice mail was hacked and messages deleted by the British tabloid News of the World in 2002. The deleted messages — which could have provided vital evidence for police — led Dowler’s family to think she might still be alive. Last week, News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch said News of the World would be shut down in the wake of the hacking scandal which has grown into a full-scale Parliamentary investigation, with Murdoch, his son James and chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks all required to testify.
Unethical wrongdoing, cover-up, scandal, investigation, more cover-up: This same pattern is apparent in what seems to be the Catholic Church’s attempts to cover up the extent of the scandal of abuse of children by priests. Too often, the Church protected abusive priests by moving them to different parishes without informing people about their past crimes and certainly not informing law enforcement — and thereby tacitly letting more abuse, more crimes, more pain and suffering occur. How much longer can the Vatican deny the depth of the problem that is staring them in the face, and undoing the Church more each day?
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