Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sexual Abuse of Children by Clergy and the Accountability of the Roman Catholic Church

In a hard-hitting report applauded by victims as a landmark in the Roman Catholic Church’s clerical sexual-abuse scandal, a United Nations committee on Wednesday called on the Vatican to remove all child abusers from its ranks, report them to law enforcement and open the church’s archives so that bishops and other officials who concealed crimes could be held accountable.

The report, issued by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, is likely to put pressure on Pope Francis to make concrete changes in the way the church handles abuse cases and put some muscle into the commission on abuse that he announced in December (2013), whose members and mission have not yet been specified.

The Vatican responded on Wednesday that it had already made many of the changes called for in the report, and that the report’s conclusions were out of date.

The report, however, was sharply critical of the church’s current practices, not just those of the past. “The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report concluded.

The criticism came from a panel that examined the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international agreement signed by 140 sovereign entities, including the Vatican. The panel held a hearing on the issue last month (January 2014), the first time the Vatican faced public examination by an international body of its record on sexual abuse, and heard testimony from Bishop Charles J. Scicluna, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sexual abuse cases until 2012, who told the panel that “the Holy See gets it.” (The New York Times, February 5, 2014)

Two months thereafter . . .

Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the "evil" damage to children caused by sexual abusers in the clergy. He said the abuse was a "moral damage carried out by men of the Church", and that "sanctions" would be imposed. The statement, made in a meeting with a child rights group, is being described as his strongest [on] the issue so far. (BBC News Europe, April 11, 2014)

But here's the rub . . .

In December 2013, the Vatican refused a request from the UN's Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) for data on abuse, on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.

Also in December 2013, Pope Francis announced that a Vatican committee would be set up to fight sexual abuse of children in the Church.

The Holy See is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding instrument which commits it to protecting and nurturing the most vulnerable in society.

It ratified the convention in 1990 but after an implementation report in 1994 it did not submit any progress reports until 2012, following revelations of child sex abuse in Europe and beyond.

Hence . . .

"It seems to date your procedures are not very transparent." Further, "The view of committee is that the best way to prevent abuses is to reveal old ones - openness instead of sweeping offences under the carpet," Kirsten Sandberg, chairwoman of the 18-strong CRC, told the Vatican delegation.

On prosecution of offenders, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said priests were "not functionaries of the Vatican but citizens of their countries and fall under the jurisdiction of their own countries".

A member of the CRC asked about the Church's practice of moving priests suspected of abuse.

"It is a no-go simply to move people from one diocese to another," said Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's former chief prosecutor of clerical sexual abuse.

He insisted it was "not the policy of the Holy See to encourage cover-ups" but added: "The Holy See gets it that there are things that need to be done differently." (BBC News Europe, January 16, 2014)

To wit . . .
  1. Pope Francis said sanctions would be imposed on sexual abusers in the clergy;
  2. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said priests fall under the jurisdiction of their own countries; and
  3. Bishop Charles Scicluna said it is a no-go to simply move people (offenders) from one diocese to another and that things need to be done differently.
Recently known history of sexual abuse of children by the Roman Catholic clergy . . .

The sexual abuse of children was rarely discussed in public before the 1970s, and it was not until the 1980s that the first cases of molestation by priests came to light, in the US and Canada.

In the 1990s, revelations began of widespread abuse in Ireland.

In the new century, more cases of abuse were revealed in more than a dozen countries.

US paedophile priest John Geoghan - in court in 2002
US priest John Geoghan was jailed for his crimes, and later killed in prison by another inmate

Two major reports into Irish allegations of paedophilia in 2009 revealed the shocking extent of abuse, cover-ups and hierarchical failings involving thousands of victims, and stretching back decades.
In one, four Dublin archbishops were found to have in effect turned a blind eye to cases of abuse from 1975 to 2004.
A fresh scandal erupted in March 2010 when it emerged the head of the Irish Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, was present at meetings in 1975 where children signed vows of silence over complaints against a paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth. This prompted Pope Benedict XVI to apologise to Irish victims.
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Pope John Paul II blesses Father Marcial Maciel - Nov 2004Father Marcial Maciel enjoyed the support of Pope John Paul II for many yearsIn Mexico, the founder of the Legion of Christ order, Marcial Maciel, long admired by Pope John Paul II, was disciplined by the Vatican in 2006 over the abuse of boys and young men over a period of 30 years. The Legion insisted his was an isolated case, but seven more priests of the order have been investigated.Cardinal Bernard Law - April 2002Cardinal Bernard resigned in 2002 over the mishandling of sex abuse cases
In the US, the Boston Archdiocese has been worst hit, with the activities of two of its priests, Paul Shanley and John Geoghan, causing public outrage. Cardinal Bernard Law resigned over the scandal in 2002.
The bishop of the Belgian city of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in 2010 after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy for years.
What about the Philippines?

For starters, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Philippine and the Vatican should quit pussyfooting on the likes of Monsignor Cristobal Garcia and Bishop Cirilo Almario--see excerpts below. The results of the Church's internal investigations should be disclosed to the local authorities and prosecuted to the fullest extent. If the Ombudsman has finally evolved to have sufficient courage and conviction to file a long-overdue plunder case against one of the Philippines' Untouchables, Juan Ponce Enrile, then it's high-time these cowards and perverts in Church (who are enjoying cushy retirements beyond the reach of authorities) are convicted and punished as well.

Excerpts on Bishop Cirilo Almario taken from the book entitled, "Altar of Secrets" by Aries Rufo:

"Based on interviews with three sources, the case involved the carnal corruption of several young seminarians. Almario, who was already in his 60s, and several priests were reportedly involved. It was not clear whether it had been going on for some time before it was discovered. But one seminarian was willing to reveal the homosexual activities that went on within the gated seminary. Another source said there were other seminarians who were also sexually abused.

Legaspi said he submitted his report to Rome and it was the Holy See that decided on Almario's case. Asked if Almario was denied due process and that the sanction was too punitive, Legaspi replied, "I do not think he was denied due process. I can assure you that. He was given the chance to explain his side."

As the standard practice for bishops involved in sexual misdemeanors, Rome asked Almario to resign. On January 20, 1996, Almario tendered his resignation.

With all the sexual scandals besetting the Church, Legaspi said Rome acted decisively on Almario's case. "If it involves minors, Rome is very strict." The seminarians at the Minor Seminary were all in their teens. Also ordered removed were the seminary rector and other priests teaching there. Acting on strict orders, Legaspi only prepared a single report and was instructed, under pain of sin, not to share his findings with other bishops. To do so would be in grave violation of the confidentiality imposed on the case. "If it means destroying the computer or laptop that you used in preparing the report, you have to do it," one Church lawyer explained.

The secrecy and the confidentiality somehow worked. Long-time priests in Malolos we talked to said they were not aware of the scandal. Current Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros, who was ordained as bishop in 2000, also said he was not aware of the incident. It was as if it never happened.

*     *     *

On November 8, 2012, on my third try, I chanced upon Almario alone, praying the rosary at the chapel inside the convent. Informed by the nurse that he had a visitor, the bishop cut short his prayers and said he had received the two earlier interview requests. "I have nothing more to say. That was a long time ago," he said and dismissed us.

He resumed praying the rosary before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I interrupted him, saying that I knew what had happened at his beloved seminary. I also told him that we were going to publish the story and that it was important that I get his side. "I'm done as a bishop. I have amnesia," he said in a tone that sought understanding.

When I pressed on, he said: "If you are going to besmirch me, I hope you won't. I am about to die and [am] just waiting for the Lord to take me," he said, avoiding my gaze and looking directly at the statue of Our Lady. "I hope you won't come up with the story." Then, showing me ten beads on his rosary, he said, "I'm offering these ten Hail Marys for you."

*     *     *

What happened to the victim or victims of sexual abuse?

Legaspi could not say for sure what had happened. "My orders were just to prepare and submit the report." But one thing is sure: there was no complaint filed in the courts.

Links to various related articles:

U.N. Panel Questions Vatican on Handling of Clergy Sexual Abuse
U.N. Panel Criticizes the Vatican Over Sexual Abuse

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