When the first of what would become an avalanche of accusations of child sex abuse against Catholic priests came out in Ireland during the 1990's, I was not surprised at all. I felt relieved and vindicated. Finally there might be some justice. It was always understood within the church that these things were handled internally, which meant that the offenders received "counseling" and were moved to another parish where they were free to begin molesting boys all over again.
The church has always maintained publicly that it had reported any known sex offenders within its ranks to authorities and had always assisted with criminal investigations. Adult survivors of pedophile priests have always maintained that in many cases, the church did know, because numerous complaints had been filed over the years.
The Associated Press reports that it has uncovered a letter from the Vatican that was sent out to Irish church officials in 1997, warning them about the consequences of cooperating with the police.
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.Advocacy groups for survivors of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic priests are calling this document the evidence they've been looking for that proves that the Vatican is directly responsible for covering up the global epidemic of child molestation in its ranks:
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.
Signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland, the letter instructs Irish bishops that their new policy of making the reporting of suspected crimes mandatory "gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature."
Storero wrote that canon law, which required abuse allegations and punishments to be handled within the church, "must be meticulously followed." Any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome, he wrote.
Catholic officials in Ireland and the Vatican declined AP requests to comment on the letter, which RTE said it received from an Irish bishop.
Joelle Casteix, a director of U.S. advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, described the letter as "the smoking gun we've been looking for."For the record, Papa Ratzi has also alternately blamed the church's pedophile problem on the gays and society.
Casteix said it was certain to be cited by victims' lawyers seeking to pin responsibility directly on the Vatican rather than local dioceses. She said investigators long have sought such a document showing Vatican pressure on a group of bishops "thwarting any kind of justice for victims."
"We now have evidence that the Vatican deliberately intervened to order bishops not to turn pedophile priests over to law enforcement," she said. "And for civil lawsuits, this letter shows what victims have been saying for dozens and dozens of years: What happened to them involved a concerted cover-up that went all the way to the top."
To this day, the Vatican has not endorsed any of the Irish church's three major policy documents since 1996 on safeguarding children from clerical abuse. Irish taxpayers, rather than the church, have paid most of the euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) to more than 14,000 abuse claimants dating back to the 1940s.
In his 2010 pastoral letter to Ireland's Catholics condemning pedophiles in the ranks, Pope Benedict XVI faulted bishops for failing to follow canon law and offered no explicit endorsement of Irish child-protection efforts by the Irish church or state. Benedict was widely criticized in Ireland for failing to admit any Vatican role in covering up the truth.