Submission to the United Nations
Committee on the Rights of the Child
BishopAccountability.org submitted this letter and report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to assist in the CRC's historic review of the Holy See’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In our submissions, we discuss the Holy See's knowledge and management of cases of clergy sexual abuse worldwide, its continued refusal to require reporting to civil authorities, and Pope Francis's problematic choice to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
On January 16, 2014, in Geneva, Switzerland, Committee members closely questioned Bishop Charles Scicluna, formerly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the UN. The Committee focused on the Holy See’s replies to the CRC’s July 2013 List of Issues.
See PDFs of our letter and report, or see our web versions below. See also the response to the Holy See Replies filed December 2013 by the Center for Constitutional Rights and SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests); the Holy See’s 2011 report to the CRC; and CCR/SNAP’s February 2013 alternative report. Click here to see all related documents on file with the CRC.
Letter to the CRC from BishopAccountability.org
• Detailed information on abuse cases brought to the attention of the Holy See
• Command and control structures
• Current leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
• The record of Pope Francis in Buenos Aires and in Rome
Report to the CRC
• About BishopAccountability.org
• Key points
• Holy See's previous admission of 4,000 cases
• Most bishops still are not required to report abuse to civil authorities
• Müller re-assigned a convicted pedophile priest in 2004
• The Pope has managed the crisis through denial and silence
• Cardinal Bergoglio and Father Julio Cesar Grassi
Letter to the CRC from BishopAccountability.org
January 11, 2014
Committee on the Rights of the Child
c/o Ilaria Paolazzi
Child Rights Connect
1 rue de Varambé
1202 Geneva, Switzerland
Dear Ms. Paolazzi,
We write to provide input to the CRC’s Consideration of Reports of States Parties, Item 4 of the Provisional Agenda for your Sixty-Fifth Session. The brief attached report provides information that will be useful in assessing the Replies of the Holy See to the List of Issues, dated December 2, 2013. In this letter, we summarize our perspective regarding the Holy See’s Replies.
For ten years, our organization has been monitoring the performance of the Holy See in cases involving the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious and the production and distribution of child abuse images. We maintain the world’s largest archive of documents on these two problems, outside the Holy See’s own archives, and we conduct research on child abuse by priests and religious and on the management of those cases by bishops and their staffs, superiors of religious orders, national bishops’ conferences, and the Holy See.
The Holy See was not responsive in its answer to your Question 11. It did not “provide detailed information on
all cases of child sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy, brothers and nuns or brought to the attention of the
Holy See.” Nor did it provide detailed information, relating those cases to the six specific subpoints in your list of issues:
continued contact of accused persons with minors, reporting to authorities, the supporting and silencing of victims,
investigations and proceedings, numbers of victims assisted and possible confidentiality prerequisites for assistance, and
Tens of thousands of documents in our care pertain to the questions you raise; a detailed exploration of your list
of issues would be voluminous, and its conclusions dire. We would be pleased to explore the issues with you at greater
length, but in this letter and the attached brief report, we make the following four points:
1) Detailed Information on Abuse Cases Brought to the Attention of the Holy See – In the last decade,
according to a statement by Cardinal William Levada, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, at a 2012 conference on abuse sponsored by the Holy See, over 4,000 cases of sexual abuse of children by priests
and religious have been adjudicated canonically by the Holy See. Based on our files, we estimate that approximately
4,000 additional cases were handled by the CDF and other dicasteries 1950–2001 – the years when the CDF did not yet
have sole authority in these matters.
In addition, as we discuss below, the Holy See had systematic access to reports by all its bishops on sexual abuse
cases not formally referred to the Holy See for adjudication. The Holy See’s own files therefore likely contain detailed
records of more than 10,000 cases of sexual abuse of children by priests and religious. Many of those cases entail a
request that a priest be “reduced to the lay state” – i.e., removed from the priesthood – and those requests, which are
called “Vota” in the technical lexicon of the Holy See, comprise detailed descriptions of the alleged sexual abuse and
anthologies of documents, including correspondence between the victims and the bishop or religious superior, detailed
descriptions of the abuse, copies of media coverage of the allegations, and many other types of documents.
In short, the Holy See possesses the largest archive in the world of child abuse allegations, with voluminous
supporting documentation. In some cases, including the notorious case of the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Vatican
did its own meticulous investigation, and its archive includes transcripts of interviews with dozens of victims and other
knowledgeable persons. In all other cases, its files contain the results of diocesan and religious order investigations and
proceedings, which were conducted in keeping with the Holy See’s own binding rules for such processes – Crimen
Sollicitationis [Offense of Solicitation], published by the Vatican Polyglot Press in 1922 and 1962.
Because of its massive archives and long experience in adjudicating these cases, the Holy See was able to answer
your question in great detail, but chose not to do so. It is useful to compare its stated reasons for noncompliance with the
facts of Vatican processes and procedures.
2) Command and Control Structures – In its Replies, the Holy See presents an elaborate fiction, stating that its
relationship with the middle management of the Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion members is one of encouragement, not
implementation, and that its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is primarily engaged in “assisting” national
bishops’ conferences with the development of Guidelines regarding the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious.
In fact, the Holy See requires that the CDF prefect and his dozens of staff be involved in all cases of the sexual abuse of
children by priests and religious worldwide.
According to the CDF’s prefect in 2005–2012, Cardinal William Levada, the CDF has canonically adjudicated
over 4,000 abuse cases in the last decade. As a direct result of decisions made by the Holy See in those cases, some
priests have been removed from the priesthood and hence from any monitoring by their former dioceses or religious
institute provinces. Other priests and religious have been returned to ministry by the Holy See, and still others have been
ordered to live a life of prayer and penance, apparently without any subsequent involvement by the Holy See in
controlling the terms of their residence or activities. Clearly, the Holy See’s involvement in these more than 4,000 abuse
cases has been extensive, with significant and sometimes devastating effects on vulnerable populations.
But the Holy See’s involvement in abuse cases goes well beyond the direct adjudication of cases by the CDF,
significant as that involvement is. The Holy See maintains a global diplomatic service whose thousands of nuncios and
staff are intimately involved in sexual abuse cases. Our files contain documents showing correspondence between victims
and their families and the Holy See’s diplomatic representatives, and correspondence between the bishops and their staffs
and the Holy See regarding numerous sexual abuse cases. A landmark unofficial report, the 1985 Problem of Sexual
Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy, emerged from the close involvement of the Holy See’s U.S. delegation and
Archbishop Pio Laghi in abuse cases in the state of Louisiana. In 1997, the Holy See’s apostolic nuncio to Ireland,
Archbishop Luciano Storero, intervened to adjust reporting commitments approved by the Irish bishops’ conference.
These are not isolated instances.
The apostolic nuncios also provide short lists when bishops are selected by the Holy See. Every bishop is then
selected by the Holy See, which monitors each bishop’s performance through the system of quinquennial reports and
ad limina visits to the Holy See, which involve meetings with the Pope and with the leaders and staff of the CDF and
other dicasteries. Those reports and discussions include reviews of sexual abuse cases. The Holy See has sole
responsibility for removing bishops and religious order superiors – a power that is exercised in cases of doctrinal
divergence and financial malfeasance, but almost never when a bishop or superior mismanages an abuse case or abuses
minors himself. As discussed above, the Holy See also has full responsibility for removing priests and religious who are
guilty of abusing children.
[The Code of Canon Law (Can. 399) requires that all bishops submit a detailed report to the Holy See every five years and then come to Rome to discuss the report with the Pope and the various congregations of the Holy See. These so-called quinquennial reports are not public documents, but the quinquennial reports for the Diocese of Wilmington were released in compliance with the nonmonetary terms of the settlement in the Wilmington bankruptcy proceedings. The 1998-2003 Wilmington report provides: 1) a revealing discussion of the “crisis in the church and the Diocese of Wilmington,” including the involvement of the Holy See in abuse cases (02891-02893); 2) biographies of the personnel of the diocesan sexual abuse Review Board (02941); 3) an audit of the diocese's abuse bureaucracy (02942-02945); 4) clergy statistics including accused priests (02975 in 02972-02977); 5) information on the Maryland Catholic Conference’s lobbying on legislation related to sexual abuse (03043 in 03036-03044); and 6) an assessment of media coverage of the abuse crisis (03032). See also the entire report (a 21 megabyte file, also available in easier-to-download parts 1 2 3 4 5 6).
Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s memoirs offer insight into the discussion of sexual abuse in earlier quinquennial reports and ad limina meetings. Weakland writes that in his 1988 quinquennial report he “spoke at greater length about the cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, noting that I sensed it was a sign of the lack of psychological and sexual development of candidates to the priesthood and this experience should bring about a renewed examination of formation in the seminaries.” (Rembert G. Weakland, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of an Archbishop, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009, p. 320). During his 1998 ad limina visit, Weakland writes that he met with Cardinal Ratzinger at the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and “expressed concern over the urgency of certain problems that we were facing in our country and that we were not being given adequate freedom as a local church to solve, for example, the sex-abuse cases” (Ibid. p. 388).]
The command and control system regarding abuse cases, as it is embodied in the CDF, the Holy See’s diplomatic
corps, and the system of quinquennial reports to the Holy See and ad limina visits to the pope and his dicasteries, means
that the Holy See’s involvement in child abuse cases goes far beyond the encouragement and advice asserted in the Holy
Needless to say, these specific management structures and processes obtain within a body of mandated belief
summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (revised in 1997) and within the policies and procedures embodied
in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, together with the collection of particular law that supplements the Code.
3) Current Leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – Since 2001, the CDF has been the
preeminent entity within the Holy See for managing cases of sexual abuse of children by priests and religious. As such,
the CDF must have the finest leadership if the Catholic Church is to comply with its treaty obligations and recover from
the sexual abuse and managerial crimes of the last 60 years. Unfortunately, Pope Francis has recently confirmed in office
Archbishop Gerhard Müller, who mismanaged the case of the Rev. Peter Kramer, a convicted sex offender, during the
years (2002–2012) that Müller was bishop of Regensburg. Müller violated the very Guidelines that the Holy See’s
Replies cite as the CDF’s most important work, and he even threatened to sue his critics in secular courts to punish them
for questioning his decisions and practices. The Committee can have no confidence that Müller will lead the CDF to
greater compliance with the Holy See’s treaty commitments. [See more about Müller in our Report.]
4) The Record of Pope Francis in Buenos Aires and in Rome – The Pope’s tender outreach to marginalized
people and his impassioned attacks on corruption and privilege are commanding worldwide attention and stirring the
hopes of millions. But toward those who have been sexually assaulted by Catholic clerics, Francis has shown a strange
and unsettling silence. [See more about the Pope's record in our Report.] Children still are not safe, thousands of victims still have not received justice or even pastoral care,
and predators are still given sanctuary: this week, Pope Francis refused a Polish prosecutor’s request to extradite
Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, a Polish national, from the Vatican to the Dominican Republic to face charges of sexual
abuse filed by five Dominican boys. Francis's failure as archbishop and now as pope to advance substantive solutions to
the mismanagement of child abuse cases in the Church – coupled with the Holy See’s refusal to provide the detailed
information requested by the Committee – suggest that the Holy See continues to prioritize the rights of accused sex
offenders over those of violated children. Thus this Committee’s review of the Holy See’s compliance with the
Convention is not only unprecedented but of great and urgent importance. We thank you for your courageous and historic
Anne Barrett Doyle
Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
This report is respectfully submitted to the Committee to assist in its review of the Holy See during its 65th session. It has been prepared by BishopAccountability.org, an archival and research organization focused on the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. The points raised in this report pertain to Part I, Issue 11 in the Committee’s July 2013 List of Issues to the Holy See (CRC/C/VAT/Q/2). We provide factual information about the child protection records of two Holy See officials – Pope Francis and Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a Holy See dicastery. This information is responsive to the Committee’s interest in detailed accounts of:
• “[T]he cases where [accused] priests were transferred to other parishes or to other States where they continued to have access to and abuse children” [Issue 11a]
• “[T]he cases where instructions were given not to report such offenses [to national competent authorities]” [Issue 11b]
• “The type of support and protection provided by the Holy See to child victims of sexual abuse party [sic] testifying against their sexual abusers and the cases where children were silenced …” [Issue 11c]
• “[T]he cooperation provided by the State party proceedings engaged in countries where the abuses were committed’ [Issue 11d]
Founded in 2003 by lay Catholics and based in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, BishopAccountability.org is the world’s largest public information resource about the Catholic abuse crisis. Our online library provides 250,000 pages of church documents, court files, and reports. Our site’s most visited feature is a database of nearly 4,000 Catholic clerics in the US who have been accused publicly of child sexual abuse. This year, we compiled for the first time databases of accused clergy in countries outside the US – Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, and the Philippines. Our Argentina database will go live shortly, with information about the Pope’s record of response to child sexual abuse by clergy.
In 2013, our online library served 1.3 million unique visitors. Our library and research are relied upon by prosecutors, investigators, children’s advocates, victims, church officials, journalists, film producers, scholars, and attorneys.
BishopAccountability.org is a non-profit organization and is not affiliated with any governmental, religious, political, or interest group of any kind. We are not an advocacy group. Our purpose is to advance transparency in the Catholic Church. We can be reached at email@example.com.
1. In its recent submission to the Committee, the Holy See asserts that it is powerless to enforce the CRC treaty outside the territorial boundaries of the Vatican City State. Evidence contradicting this assertion abounds, including a Holy See official’s statement that from 2002 to 2012, the Holy See issued rulings on 4,000 cases of accused priests from around the world.
2. The chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an archbishop recently re-appointed by Pope Francis, is unfit to hold this crucial office: he is known in his native Germany for having deliberately re-assigned a convicted pedophile priest to run a parish, violating the German version of the Guidelines, as discussed in the Holy See’s Replies of December 2, 2013.
3. In his papacy to date, Pope Francis has avoided addressing the topic of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. More importantly, he has taken no decisive action to ensure that children attending Catholic schools and parishes worldwide are protected from sexual exploitation and violence. His silence about the issue as pope continues a strategy of avoidance he employed as archbishop. In a recent book, he denies ever having dealt with an abusive priest in Buenos Aires; in the case of Argentina’s most notorious pedophile priest, however, he reportedly worked behind the scenes to discredit young victims after their abuser was convicted.
* * *
1. The Holy See has the power to prevent worldwide child sexual abuse by clergy: it previously has admitted to ruling on thousands of cases of child sexual abuse
In its December 2013 Replies to the List of Issues, the Holy See disclaimed responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of crimes of sexual violence against children by priests that have occurred throughout the world and suggested that its influence over the child-protection practices of Catholic bishops, religious superiors, and clerics is limited to ‘encouragement’ and ‘promotion.’ This assertion is not true: since 2001, every bishop and religious superior has been required by canon law to notify the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) of every credible case of child sexual abuse by clergy. In February 2012, at the Vatican-sponsored Symposium on the Sexual Abuse of Minors, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the CDF, stated, “More than four thousand cases of sexual abuse of minors have been reported to the CDF in the past decade.” In 2010, then-Msgr. Charles Scicluna, who served as Promoter of Justice for the CDF for years, said in an interview that the CDF from 2001 to 2010 had adjudicated canonically “around 3,000” cases of alleged child abuse by diocesan and religious priests from countries throughout the world.
In the unusually informative 2010 interview, Scicluna was clear about the CDF’s central role in managing cases of sexual violence perpetrated by clergy around the world. In all cases reported to the CDF, Scicluna explained, “there is an examination of the guilt or innocence of the accused priest,” as well as “a discernment as to his fitness for public ministry.” He provided a breakdown of how the cases were resolved: 20% of cases resulted in a full church trial, normally in the diocese of origin, but “always under our [the CDF’s] supervision;” in 60% of the cases, the priest was disciplined – e.g., assigned a life of prayer and penance -- rather than brought to trial; in ten percent of the cases, the priest was dismissed by the Pope from the clerical state; and in the final ten percent, the priest was granted voluntary dismissal from the clerical state.
Further, in the same interview, Scicluna made the disturbing admission that the Holy See does not require bishops to report sexually violent priests to civil authorities:
Interviewer: A recurring accusation made against the ecclesiastical hierarchy is that of not reporting to the civil authorities when crimes of paedophilia come to their attention.
Scicluna: In some English-speaking countries, but also in France, if bishops become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession, they are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities. This is an onerous duty because the bishops are forced to make a gesture comparable to that of a father denouncing his own son. Nonetheless, our guidance in these cases is to respect the law.
Interviewer: And what about countries where bishops do not have this legal obligation?
Scicluna: In these cases we do not force bishops to denounce their own priests, but encourage them to contact the victims and invite them to denounce the priests by whom they have been abused.
The Holy See’s policy of allowing bishops to not inform civil authorities of crimes against children has had devastating results. It has caused abusers to stay in ministry and children to be raped and sodomized. In August 2013, a criminal court in Argentina had to dismiss a case against a priest who had abused up to 50 boys; the statute of limitations had expired because his archbishop, Cardinal Estanislao Esteban Karlic of the Parana archdiocese, had refused to report the priest’s crimes in 1995. The cardinal instead allowed the priest to move to another Argentine diocese, where he became pastor of a parish. The cardinal’s lawyer applauded the dismissal of the case, saying, “Parents should have made the complaint.”
The Holy See has been deceptive about its policy of non-reporting. In its December 2013 Replies, it responds vaguely and misleadingly to the Committee’s request for information on the Holy See’s reporting policies: “[R]espect should be shown … for civil laws, such as reporting obligations …”
* * *
2. In his papacy to date, Francis has taken only one significant action in response to the abuse crisis, and it is highly problematic: he re-appointed a known enabler of a convicted pedophile priest to lead the Holy See’s office with sole responsibility for abuse cases.
This Committee requested that the Holy See provide detailed information on cases where priest-perpetrators were transferred to other parishes (Issue 11a) and where measures were taken to prevent further sexual violence from taking place in institutions run by the Catholic Church (Issue 11f).
The record of the archbishop who directs the Holy See’s central prosecutorial office bears on both of these concerns.
On September 21, 2013, Pope Francis approved Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the office of the Holy See that has dealt with all sexual abuse cases since Pope John Paul II consolidated its role on April 30, 2001. Müller had been appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI on July 2, 2012, replacing U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, who had himself replaced Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he became Pope Benedict.
Pope Francis made a grave error when he approved Müller, whose performance as bishop of Regensburg (2002-2012) disqualifies him from working on abuse cases, and certainly from heading the department with sole responsibility for those cases. Attention has focused on Müller’s role in the disciplining of U.S. nuns; his friendship with mentor Gustavo Gutiérrez, with whom he wrote a book on liberation theology; and his vigorous defense of orthodoxy in Regensburg. But his extremely poor performance in a sexual abuse case in Regensburg demonstrates that he does not belong at the CDF and should not have been approved by Pope Francis.
When Müller was appointed bishop of Regensburg in 2002, he inherited the case of Fr. Peter Kramer, who had been convicted in 2000 of sexually abusing two boys, ages nine and twelve, in the village church of Viechtach in 1999. Kramer was sentenced to three years probation on July 7, 2000, on condition that he not work with children. But when Müller became bishop, Kramer was already working with children in the parish of Riekhofen, and when Kramer’s probation expired, Müller named him pastor, in violation of the German bishops’ 2002 “binding” guidelines, which forbid appointments to ministry of a priest who has been convicted of abusing a child. Müller concealed Kramer’s conviction from his parishioners.
When the father of the Viechtach victims learned of Kramer’s new assignment, he objected; Kramer was removed, additional victims came forward from Riekhofen, and Kramer was again convicted of child abuse. Müller combatively disclaimed responsibility for the children who had been abused because of his decision, and even threatened legal action against his critics. When the bishop of Fulda, Heinz J. Algermissen, affirmed the bishops’ guidelines, that a priest who has abused children must not be permitted further contact with children, Müller countered that “there is no space free of children and youth.”
Müller demonstrated in Regensburg a terrible carelessness for the welfare of children and an unwillingness to take responsibility when his decisions harmed children. He violated the guidelines of his own bishops’ conference, and threatened constructive critics with legal action, claiming that he had been defamed. Müller should not be heading the Holy See’s department dealing with the abuse crisis worldwide.
It should be emphasized that Müller and his Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have full responsibility under the Holy See’s Substantive Norms for alleged sexual abuse of children by priests and religious in every country, not only within the Vatican City State. Müller and the CDF are not merely responsible for “the provision of Guidelines to assist Episcopal Conferences throughout the world” (the Guidelines Müller himself violated), as the Holy See’s Replies would suggest. The CDF has handled thousands of child abuse cases in the last decade, removing some men from the priesthood, allowing others to return to ministry, and restricting the ministry of others. It has sole responsibility within the Holy See for these cases, and its decisions have a significant impact on the safety of children wherever the accused priests and religious reside and work.
* * *
3. The Pope to date has managed the abuse crisis through silence and denial
Given the Holy See’s assertion that the Holy See consists of “the Roman Pontiff, in the narrow sense,” the child protection record of the Pontiff obviously is of direct relevance to the question of whether the Holy See will comply with its obligations under the Convention.
Francis has said little about clergy sexual abuse in his ten months as pope. Given his openness about other controversial topics and his passionate devotion to the marginalized and powerless, it is notable that he chooses to stay silent about the plight of children sexually abused by Catholic priests. His recently announced child protection commission, with a sprawling mandate that promises only study and discussion, actually seems a step backward from the Holy See’s modest but discernible progress at the end of Benedict’s pontificate: its May 2011 “Circular Letter” urging bishops’ conferences worldwide to establish guidelines for removing abusers, and its February 2012 conference on sex abuse that acknowledged 100,000 victims in the US alone.
Silence has been the pope’s pattern. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, s.j., was Archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013, a period of worldwide revelations about child sexual abuse in the Church. As his brother bishops in the US and Europe began addressing the problem and promising reform – and even as Popes John Paul II and Benedict made public statements – Bergoglio disclosed nothing and said nothing. He released no documents, no names of accused priests, no tallies of accused priests, not even an apology
to victims. In his many homilies and statements (archived on the Buenos Aires archdiocesan website), he attacked government corruption, wealth inequities, and human sex trafficking, but he said nothing about sexual violence by priests.
In On Heaven and Earth (first published in Spanish in 2010), a wide-ranging collection of conversations with Argentine rabbi Abraham Skorka, he suggests that the problem did not exist in his archdiocese (bold face added):
In my diocese it never happened to me, but a bishop called me once by phone to ask me what to do in a situation like this and I told him to take away the priest’s faculties, not to permit him to exercise his priestly ministry again, and to initiate a canonical trial.
Given many data – including the Holy See’s recent admission of 4,000 reports of sexual abuse in ten years -- Bergoglio’s assertion of no abusive priests during his 15-year tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires is implausible. Buenos Aires is Argentina’s largest diocese, and Bergoglio managed it during a period when tens of thousands of victims were reporting their abuse to the Church.
We estimate conservatively that more than 100 predatory priests were known or reported to Bergoglio and other top Buenos Aires church officials. We derive this estimate from data that has been disclosed in Catholic dioceses in the US and Europe. [Note: The average numbers of priests for the dioceses cited below were derived from statistical tables found at catholic-hierarchy.org.]
• In the tiny diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, with less than one half the priests of Buenos Aires, the Attorney General‘s office documented alleged abuse by 98 Catholic clerics from 1950 to 2009; most of these clerics were reported after 2002.
• In the Providence, Rhode Island, USA diocese, which has had on average one half the number of priests as Buenos Aires, a bishop admitted to 125 accused priests since 1971.
• In the Los Angeles CA archdiocese, about 1.5 times larger than Buenos Aires (measured by number of priests), 265 clerics have been accused publicly.
Pope Francis’s involvement in the case of Father Julio César Grassi
In 2009 and 2010, when Pope Francis was president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, he intervened behind the scenes in the case of a priest convicted for child molestation, according to reports by Argentine news outlets and the Washington Post. The Pope’s advocacy for Father Julio César Grassi, a convicted sex offender, and his effort to discredit young victims raise fundamental questions about the Holy See’s current willingness to protect children, punish predators, and support victims who testify against their abusers (Issue 11c).
Father Grassi is founder of a charity that still operates homes for street children. He was arrested for child molestation in October 2002, the day after the broadcast of a TV exposé of his alleged abuse of five boys. In June 2009, he was convicted of the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy, “Gabriel.”
Following Grassi's conviction, Cardinal Bergoglio, in his capacity as president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, secretly authorized an extensive critical examination of Grassi’s prosecution and of the three victims who originally brought charges. Bergoglio approved the hiring of a leading criminal defense lawyer and legal scholar, Marcelo Sancinetti, to do the private investigation.
The resulting study vigorously asserted Grassi’s innocence and reportedly denied even the prevalence of child sexual abuse itself. It reportedly was circulated to judges who had yet to make determinations in the case. The first volume, with 423 pages, impugned the credibility of “Ezequiel,” of whose abuse Grassi was acquitted; volume two, with 646 pages, attacked the credibility of “Gabriel,” of whose abuse Grassi was convicted. As of spring 2013, a third volume had been produced, and a fourth and final volume was expected.
The bishops’ commissioned exoneration of Grassi was revealed in December 2011 by Juan Pablo Gallego, an attorney for the Comité Argentino de Seguimiento y Aplicación de la Convención Internacional de los Derechos del Niño (CASACIDN), the Argentine committee charged with overseeing
the country’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Gallego had represented the victims at the trial. Gallego called the study a "scandalous instance of lobbying and exerting pressure on the Court" and accused the bishops of "further hindering a process that has outrageously granted the condemned priest a situation of almost unthinkable freedom."
Perhaps because of this intervention by Cardinal Bergoglio and the Argentine bishops’ conference, Grassi remained free, a potential danger to children, until September 2013, when the Buenos Aires provincial Supreme Court rejected his appeal. He was ordered to immediately begin serving his 15-year sentence. He is still a Catholic priest.
With its long experience with abuse cases and its massive abuse archive, the Holy See could have responded fully to the Committee’s requests for detailed information. It chose to withhold this information instead. Contrary to popular impression, the Holy See continues to condone the practice of not reporting abusive priests to law enforcement. With the authority and power it exercises over all Catholic dioceses and religious orders, the Holy See could protect children in every country from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. It instead continues to prioritize the rights of accused clergy over the rights of children – as shown in its apparent resistance this week to sending Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski back to the Dominican Republic to face charges of sexual abuse by five boys. The Committee is the first international entity to hold the Holy See publicly accountable for its obligations to keep children safe from sexual violence. This inquiry is profoundly constructive and urgently needed. We hope it leads to more responsible practices by the Holy See and to more scrutiny of the Holy See by other international bodies.
Terence McKiernan, President, BishopAccountability.org
Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, BishopAccountability.org