The Vatican's child-protection policies today remain in legal limbo. It currently advises bishops worldwide to report crimes to police only in a legally non-binding lay guide, but it does not mention this in the official legal document provided by another powerful church body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which continues to stress the secrecy of canon law. The central message of Storero's letter was reported second-hand by two priests as part of Ireland's mammoth investigation into the 1975-2004 coverup of hundreds of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese. The letter itself, marked "strictly confidential," has never been published before.
Lawyer Greg Stack says a leaked Vatican letter about child sexual abuse could have an impact in Newfoundland and Labrador.(CBC)
A Vatican letter leaked to the Irish press this week might have an effect on unresolved lawsuits involving sexual abuse by clergy in western Newfoundland, a St. John's lawyer says.
But Greg Stack, who has spent years representing more than 80 clients who suffered child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy and others, said the Vatican's secrecy and unique status pose formidable problems in gaining access to important documents.
The 1997 letter suggested that the Vatican had warned Catholic bishops to not report all suspected child abuse cases to the police.
Stack believes more documents like that could be found inside the Vatican that are relevant to sexual abuse cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, the first province in Canada to see large revelations of abuse by clergy as well as the lay Christian Brothers order.
"I believe there are. That's my belief," Stack told CBC News Thursday.
The arrest of Father Jim Hickey — a priest well known for crusades against pornography — in 1987 triggered a series of other such arrests and was followed by bombshell revelations in 1989 of widespread sexual abuse in the mid-1970s at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's.
A judicial inquiry into the Mount Cashel scandal investigated how two Christian Brothers were relocated to another province in 1975 in return for no criminal charges being laid.
The Winter Commission was appointed in 1989 by the Archdiocese of St. John's to investigate abuse by clergy. Its report detailed how priests were moved from one parish to another after complaints were made about abuse.
Stack noted that the former diocese of St. George's, which was based in Corner Brook and responsible for western and southern Newfoundland, sought bankruptcy protection after it was ordered to pay millions of dollars to the victims of one molesting priest, Kevin Bennett.
Since that diocese no longer exists, Stack said, the Vatican could be the place to take the legal fight.
"The reorganization of the Corner Brook diocese is a factor that has to be looked at when we strategize and try to decide if we're going to go and try to involve the Vatican in those lawsuits," Stack said.
However, he said, suing the Vatican would be complicated because it is considered a sovereign state, and the public does not have open access to its records.
There is nothing misunderstood at all, these people are now making excuses for their crimes on children and on God's law, they all should be in jail servering a very long sentence, god's laws will punish them for what they have done to children..
Cathlic-ism is a disease now that makes excuses for child molesters in the church..
Vatican says leaked letter misunderstood
Last Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi says a leaked letter about the reporting of sex abuse in the church has been misunderstood.(Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)
The Vatican says its letter in 1997 warning Irish bishops about reporting sex abuse to police has been misunderstood.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Holy See wanted to ensure Irish bishops follow church law precisely so pedophile priests would not have technical grounds to escape church punishment.
"That letter has been given biased treatment by some media outlets, who have presented it as proof of an instruction from the Vatican to cover up cases of sexual abuse of minors," Lombardi said in a statement released Wednesday.
"It must be noted that the letter does not in any way suggest that national laws must not be followed." He declined a CBC interview request.
Lombardi was responding to a letter marked "strictly confidential" that was leaked to the Irish television network RTE by an Irish bishop. It suggests that the Vatican ordered Irish Catholic bishops to cover up cases of child sexual abuse.
Victims' advocates said the revelation should end all doubt that the Vatican was involved in a systematic, top-down effort to keep abuse cases under wraps.
Colm O'Gorman wrote a book chronicling widespread abuse in the Irish church. As an altar boy, he was repeatedly raped by a priest.
"This wasn't some sort of muddled or confused failure on the part of the individual bishops, but rather a concerted approach directed by the Vatican," O'Gorman said.
The letter directs Irish bishops to "meticulously" observe canon law, which dictates that abuse cases be dealt with internally instead of going to police.
It said a 1996 Irish church policy of mandatory reporting of abuse to police gave rise to "serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature."
The document is a rare record that challenges the Vatican's claims that it was unaware of coverups and leaves it vulnerable to lawsuits from victims around the world, said O'Gorman.
"The rules and approaches that apply in Ireland will be the same applied in other jurisdictions. So it does open the church up for further lawsuits."
Vatican letter on sex abuse from '97 revealed
Confidential message to Irish clergy could feed lawsuits around world
Last Updated: Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The Associated Press
The Vatican intervened in a 1997 letter, obtained by The Associated Press this week, to advise the Irish church against reporting all allegations of sexual abuse by clergy to the police. (Associated Press)
A newly revealed 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland's Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police — a disclosure with the potential to fuel more lawsuits worldwide against the Vatican, which has long denied any involvement in coverups.
The letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican's rejection of an Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests.
The letter's message undermines persistent Vatican claims that the church never instructed bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. Instead, the letter emphasizes the church's right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than hand that power to civil authorities.
Catholic officials in Ireland declined requests for comment on the letter, which RTE said it received from an Irish bishop.
Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter should demonstrate, once and for all, that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them. A key argument employed by the Vatican in defending dozens of lawsuits over clerical sex abuse in Canada and the United States is that it had no role in ordering local church authorities to suppress evidence of crimes.
"The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican's intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities," said Colm O'Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International. "And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere."
To this day, the Vatican has yet to endorse any of the Irish church's three major policy documents since 1996 on reporting suspected child abuse to civil authorities. In his 2010 pastoral letter to the Irish people condemning pedophiles in the ranks, Pope Benedict XVI faulted Ireland's bishops for failing to follow canon law and offered no explicit endorsement of child-protection efforts by the Irish church or state.
Policy in place for years?
O'Gorman — who was raped repeatedly by an Irish priest when he was an altar boy and was among the first victims to speak out in the mid-1990s — said evidence is mounting that some Irish bishops continued to follow the 1997 Vatican instructions and withheld reports of crimes against children as recently as 2008.
A third major state-ordered investigation into Catholic abuse coverups, concerning the southwest Irish diocese of Cloyne, is expected to be published within the next few months.
Two state-commissioned reports published in 2009 unveiled decades of coverups of abuse involving tens of thousands of children since the 1930s.
Irish church leaders didn't begin telling police about suspected pedophile priests until the mid-1990s. In January 1996, Irish bishops published a groundbreaking policy document spelling out their newfound determination to report all suspected abuse cases to police.
But in the January 1997 letter seen Tuesday by the AP, the Vatican's diplomat in Ireland at the time, Archbishop Luciano Storero, told the bishops a senior church panel in Rome, the Congregation for the Clergy, had decided the Irish church's year-old policy of "mandatory" reporting of abuse claims conflicted with canon law.
Irish church told to follow 'canon law'
Storero emphasized in the letter that the Irish church's policy was not recognized by the Vatican and was "merely a study document." He said canon law, which required abuse allegations to be handled within the church, "must be meticulously followed."
Storero, who died in 2000, wrote, without elaborating, that mandatory reporting of child-abuse claims to police "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature."
He warned that bishops who followed the Irish child-protection policy and reported a priest's suspected crimes to police ran the risk of having their in-house punishments of the priest overturned by the Congregation for the Clergy.
The letter, originally obtained by the RTE religious affairs program Would You Believe? said the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome was pursuing "a global study" of sexual-abuse policies and would establish worldwide child-protection policies "at the appropriate time."
The Vatican's child-protection policies today remain in legal limbo. It currently advises bishops worldwide to report crimes to police only in a legally non-binding lay guide, but it does not mention this in the official legal document provided by another powerful church body, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which continues to stress the secrecy of canon law.
The central message of Storero's letter was reported second-hand by two priests as part of Ireland's mammoth investigation into the 1975-2004 coverup of hundreds of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese. The letter itself, marked "strictly confidential," has never been published before.