Profiles of the Summit Attendees
How Presidents of Bishops' Conferences Are Handling Abuse in the World's Largest Catholic Countries
To prepare for the Catholic church’s first global summit on child sexual abuse by clergy, attended by episcopal conference presidents, BishopAccountability.org has looked closely at how the conference presidents from eight of the world's largest Catholic countries have handled the abuse crisis in their home countries.
Representing roughly half of the world's Catholics, these eight prelates include:
- an archbishop who estimates that only one percent of his country's priests have abused children;
- the head of a vast archdiocese who says he has dealt with only one abusive priest;
- a cardinal who has never spoken publicly about the crisis;
- a cardinal who has kept in ministry at least three accused priests.
We further examined the child protection guidelines and actions of the episcopal conferences in all eight countries. They range widely. Some conference websites, like those of France, Mexico, and the U.S., provide abundant information: how to report, the process for handling accusations, advice on prevention. It's a challenge for the visitor to discern which documents are marketing materials and which are canonically binding. At the other extreme are the episcopal conferences of Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On their websites, the crisis is invisible, and no guidelines can be located.
Click on the country name or photo of its conference president to scroll down to our discussion:
172.2 million Catholics
• President Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil (CNBB) 2015-
• Archbishop of Brasilia
• Named cardinal by Pope Francis 2016
• Relator General, Synod for Youth, October 2018
Priest of São Carlos diocese, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Auxiliary bishop of Fortaleza archdiocese, 2001-2007
Coadjutor archbishop of Teresina archdiocese, 2007-2008
Archbishop of Teresina archdiocese, 2008-2011
Archbishop of Brasilia archdiocese, 2011-
The leading bishop of the world’s largest Catholic country, Cardinal da Rocha gained global prominence last fall as a moderator of the Synod for Youth. Yet he has not weighed in publicly about the crisis of sexual abuse by clergy, either as conference president or Brasilia archbishop. He has released no documents, no names of accused priests, no tallies of accused priests, not even an apology to victims.
Brazil's episcopal conference has not published an abuse policy
This silence is maintained by the Brazilian episcopacy as a whole. The Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil (CNBB), led by da Rocha since 2015, still has published no policy for handling allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy. It has not even issued statements on the topic.
The CNBB online archive contains only two official statements on the abuse issue: a 2010 promise to develop guidelines, and a 2012 announcement by then-CNBB president Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis. He said that the conference had developed a policy, Guidelines and Procedures on Sexual Offenses Against Minors, that was awaiting approval by the Holy See.
There has been no public update to the 2012 announcement, and as of January 2019, the draft Guidelines could not be located on the CNBB website.
A Brazilian priest-psychologist who spoke at the Vatican symposium on clergy sex abuse in February 2012 hypothesized that his country’s inattention to abuse by clergy might be due to a greater cultural tolerance for child sexual abuse. Rev. Edênio Vale s.v.d, former president of Brazil’s Conference of Religious, also told the gathering that Brazil’s bishops “have no idea” how to deal with the problem, and thus have no “coherently thought out” response.
Da Rocha's handling of a case in his diocese
In 2016, without explanation to the public, da Rocha assigned an accused priest in his archdiocese to be in charge of a youth ministry. Father Wilson José Santos Pereira was accused in 2008 of sexually abusing an altar boy in Ceilândia, Brasilia over a three-year period, beginning in around 2004, when the boy was 14. The priest was investigated by law enforcement but not charged, due in part to a change in the law that lowered the victim’s actionable age from 17 to under 14. In 2016, Pereira was named spiritual director of O Encontro Pastoreio Jovem (EPJ), a youth-focused ministry that meets regularly at Pereira’s parish in Asa Sul, Brasília.
The scope of the crisis is still hidden in Brazil
In 2010, shocking revelations of a pedophile ring involving four priests in the diocese of Penedo triggered widespread media coverage and a parliamentary inquiry. But in the years following, as the crisis dominated headlines in Europe, the U.S., Australia and Chile, it vanished from public attention in Brazil. The factors that have driven disclosure in other countries – litigation that compels testimony by church officials and the production of secret documents, investigations of dioceses by prosecutors, government inquiries, aggressive media investigations – have been largely absent in Brazil.
Countless accused priests remain unnamed
This inattention is cause for concern, because in an institution as vast as the Catholic church in Brazil, it’s likely the problem is immense. Consider that in the United States, which has 25 percent more priests than Brazil but less than half its number of Catholics, the church has acknowledged alleged child sexual abuse by more than 6,800 clergy. In Brazil, our research found public allegations against only around 100 Catholic clergy. These numbers suggest that thousands of alleged child molesters in the Brazilian priesthood remain unnamed.
Yet the Vatican has long been aware of abuse and cover-up in Brazil. In 2005, the Brazilian investigative magazine ISTOÉ reported that Pope Benedict recently had sent envoys to investigate sexual abuse. According to ISTOÉ, the Vatican investigators issued a report of their findings. It cited allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct against 1,700 Brazilian clergy, and counted 200 clergy who had been sent for psychological treatment in the church’s clinics. The report was never published, and its existence has not been corroborated. According to ISTOÉ , it was “guarded as a confessional secret.”
Shocking case coming to light: An accused bishop and ring of abusers in the Paraíba archdiocese
More recently, in 2016, Pope Francis removed from office the archbishop of Paraíba. Aldo di Cillo Pagotto is accused of both perpetrating and enabling sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults.
The Pope has not commented on the allegations against the archbishop. But thanks to a recent court ruling, the gravity and details of Pagotto's wrongdoing are finally coming to light. In January 2019, a civil court ruled in favor of several victims of clergy sex abuse, ordering the Paraíba archdiocese to pay them 12 million Brazilian real, or US $3,229,740. The historic ruling made headlines, and more victims of Pagotto and Paraíba priests have come forward.
Another case to watch: news broke in 2018 that the Vatican had sent envoys to investigate the current Rio Preto bishop, Tomé Ferreira da Silva. He is accused of sexual harassment and of harboring abusive priests.
110.9 million Catholics
• President Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano (CEM) 2018-
• Archbishop of Monterrey
• Apostolic Administrator of Tampico
Bishop of Tacámbaro, 1996-2001
Bishop of Tapachula, 2001-2004
Bishop of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, 2004-2006
Archbishop of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, 2006-2012
Archbishop of Monterrey, 2012-
Apostolic Administrator of Tampico, 2018-
No bishop in Mexico speaks more forcefully about stopping sexual abuse by priests than Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera, the recently elected president of the Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano (CEM).
Echoing Pope Francis, he has vowed ‘never again’ to abuse and cover-up. He has pledged to be transparent, and he recently called the clergy sex abuse phenomenon ‘a bottomless well.’ In his home archdiocese of Monterrey, he has implemented an abuse-response protocol and set up a safeguarding commission. His vicar general recently spoke along with the leader of SNAP Mexico at the first National Forum for Children’s Rights in the Face of Clergy Pedophilia.
On February 10, 2019, shortly before traveling to the papal abuse summit, Cabrera announced that 152 priests in Mexico had been removed from ministry over the last nine years for alleged child sexual abuse. He didn’t name the accused priests, provide details about the alleged abuses, or say whether the priests had been reported to civil authorities.
The archbishop’s omission of names was addressed in a follow-up statement by the Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM). Promising that “the effort to obtain the full diagnosis of cases of child sexual abuse in Mexico will continue,” the CEM reminded “citizens and authorities” that they are obligated to keep information about both victims and perpetrators secret. Disclosing this information not only breaks the law, the statement says, but “re-victimizes those affected.”
At the February 2019 summit, Cabrera intends to ask the Pope for unusual new faculties for the Mexican bishops’ conference (CEM). The CEM recently approved a ‘National Team for the Protection of Minors’ that would have regulatory power over dioceses. It essentially would act as a ‘second-instance’ review board to deal with cases of sexual abuse when the bishop does not have the ability to resolve them. Cabrera said this is necessary because in some Mexican dioceses, the church still has ‘no training, no expertise or even awareness’ of the gravity of sexual abuse by clergy.
The vigor of Cabrera's statements and proposals is not reflected in his response to specific abuse cases. He claims to have handled only one abusive cleric in Monterrey, and he has kept even that name secret. He narrowly defines his scope of responsibility, declaring no obligation to act in regard to an abusive religious brother in his archdiocese, and refusing to chastise a complicit bishop in a suffragan diocese.
The archbishop's minimalist approach is made possible by Mexico’s victim-hostile laws. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks Mexico first worldwide "in terms of sexual abuse, physical violence and homicide against children under 14."
Federal law in Mexico requires clergy to report abuse only under limited circumstances, and Cabrera’s archdiocese is in Nuevo León, one of 25 of Mexico's 32 states that do not classify child sexual abuse as a serious crime, according to a senator of the Mexican Congress. Astonishingly, only four Mexican priests have been convicted of child sexual abuse nationwide, the first in 2017 and three others in 2018.
Cabrera says he's dealt with only one abusive priest in six years
In December 2018, Cabrera said that in his six years as Monterrey archbishop, he had encountered only one case of an abusive priest, and the priest’s offense was harassing a minor via text messages: "I've been here six years, I don't have a full history; I've looked at the archives, it's the only case and it was because of messages over the phone. The priest was punished," said Cabrera. He would not name the priest.
Cabrera’s claim is implausible. With four to five million Catholics, Monterrey is among the largest of Mexico’s 92 dioceses. It has roughly the same Catholic population as the USA’s Los Angeles archdiocese, which posts a recently updated list of 296 accused clergy.
It’s also not clear how Cabrera’s claim of one removed priest squares with recent statements by his top aides that eight archdiocesan personnel, lay and clergy, have been reported to civil authorities for child sexual abuse since 2012, and that three people have been removed from their positions since 2015 because of alleged crimes against minors.
Cabrera: Abusive cleric living in Monterrey not his responsibility
When news broke in early December 2018 that a LaSalle religious brother was accused of sexually assaulting six teen girls, Archbishop Cabrera praised the victims for coming forward but said he ‘did not have to do anything’ about the cleric, even though the cleric was living in the Monterrey archdiocese and two of the victims were from Monterrey.
The cleric was not his responsibility, Cabrera said, because the criminal charge had been filed in another state, and the canonical case was the obligation of LaSalle superiors.
Brother Alejandro Gaxiola Parra had been sent to Monterrey by LaSalle religious officials after a young woman informed them that Gaxiola had sexually assaulted her in the state of Durango in 2016, when she was an 18-year-old volunteer with a LaSalle mission program. In October 2018, she filed a complaint of attempted rape with Durango prosecutors. In December, she and five other alleged Gaxiola victims went public with their stories.
Following a flood of news stories, Cabrera amended his position. He announced that in 2019, he will require each religious order to notify the archdiocese of every member working in the archdiocese, and to stipulate formally whether the cleric faces any civil complaint.
It should be noted that the CEM Guidelines, promulgated in 2016, indicate that it is the bishop’s responsibility to find out if a religious cleric has been accused before accepting the cleric into his diocese. [See Guidelines, provision 40.]
Victim: Cabrera urged me not to report complicit bishop
Despite a victim’s plea, archbishop Cabrera issued no public rebuke of a suffragan bishop, Alonso Gerardo Garza Treviño, who in 2017 allegedly obstructed justice and failed to report child sexual abuse by a priest.
Garza is bishop of Piedras Negras, a suffragan diocese of Monterrey. Garza had assured the victim that he would suspend his abuser, Father Juan Manuel Riojas Martínez, who had admitted to the crime. Instead, Garza re-located and re-assigned Riojas, impeding the start of a criminal investigation by four months. Riojas, known as Father Meño, eventually was sentenced in October 2018 to 15 years in prison.
According to the victim, Archbishop Cabrera tried to dissuade him from filing a complaint of complicity against Garza. “He [Cabrera] told me not to lose sight of my objective, that the one who had abused me was father Meño, and not to continue accusing bishop Garza Treviño of cover up,” said the victim.
Cabrera's protocol: Reporting is required only under certain conditions
The Monterrey archdiocesan protocol enacted by Cabrera in November 2018 distinguishes between required and voluntary reporting to civil authorities.
A religious association must notify the “competent authorities” of a possible crime only if it has been “committed on the occasion of our worship or in our facilities” (“cometido en ocasión de nuestro culto o en nuestras instalaciones”).
If the possible crime happens away from church property or not during an occasion of worship, “it is not an obligation” for the church to report it. However, the church will voluntarily do so, because of its ‘commitment to justice,’ although care will be taken ‘not to defame people.’
Aunque no es obligación, por nuestro compromiso con la justicia, aunque las circunstancias de los hechos posiblemente delictivos sean otros, es decir los hechos no hayan sucedido en ocasión de nuestro culto o en nuestras instalaciones, por el simple hecho de tener noticia de un probable delito, sin difamar a las personas, informaremos de ello a la autoridad competente. [See the section entitled Recepción de la Denuncia on this page of the Monterrey archdiocesan website.]
Separately, Cabrera has emphasized that the reporting obligation lies with parents: the “parents should report the situation to the competent authority, which is to say, the Office of the Public Prosecutor.”
Bishops' official abuse policy: no zero tolerance, no mandated reporting, no mandatory reparations paid by the church
In November 2018, one week after Cabrera’s appointment as President, the Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM) announced the formation of a National Group for the Protection of Minors. It consists of bishops, priests, and laypeople, tasked with keeping the church's abuse “policies, protocols, and manuals” up to date.
The CEM currently posts its Guidelines for the Procedure to Follow in Cases of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy (“Líneas Guía del Procedimiento a Seguir en Casos de Abuso Sexual de Menores por Parte del Clérigo”). The guidelines are dated October 2016.
Reflecting universal canon law, the guidelines do not require that a guilty priest be permanently removed from ministry. An offender’s return to ministry or transfer to another diocese, order or religious congregation is prohibited only if, in the bishop’s judgment, “the guilty cleric represents a danger to children or adolescents or there is a risk of scandal for the community.” [See Guidelines, clause 26.]
The Mexican church's understanding of its reporting obligation is stated in bald terms in Criteria of the Archdiocese of Mexico in relation to inappropriate behavior, mainly with minors, that could happen by clergy ("Criterios de la arquidiócesis de México en relación con comportamientos inadecuados, principalmente con menores, que pudieran suceder por parte de clérigos").
Posted in 2007, this abuse policy of the Archdiocese of Mexico (City), the world's largest diocese, appears to still be in effect. In regards to reporting to civil authorities, the policy states: "The Archdiocese [of Mexico] does not have the obligation to report a priest who is guilty of sex abuse. Legal proceedings are only initiated if the victim, or his or her representative, files a complaint.” [For the full text of the Criteria, see pages 250-270 of the archdiocese's January-June 2007 Gazette.]
Nor do the guidelines mandate reporting to civil authorities. The provision states merely that “it always will be important to cooperate” with civil authorities and to comply with reporting laws provided that doing so is “without detriment” to the church’s own internal investigation. [See Guidelines, clause 42]
In regards to compensating victims, “the Mexican State establishes that reparations to victims for damages is the primary responsibility of the guilty.” [See Guidelines, clause 20.]
CEM vice-president: Abuse 'is not a problem of the church'
In September 2018, Carlos Garfias Merlos, archbishop of Morelia, addressed the topic of clergy sex abuse. He said, “Abuse is not within the church, it is an issue of humanity. We see it within families, in schools. It is an issue of sexual education, and it is an issue where the church seeks to do its part and take measures for justice when ‘matters’ are committed. But it is not a problem of the church. It's not that the church has failed.”
Two months later, Garfias was elected vice-president of the CEM.
Notable recent cases
These recent cases appear to be the only criminal convictions of abusive priests in Mexico:
- February 2017: Gerardo Silvestre Hernández, Oaxaca priest, sentenced to 16 years in prison. José Luis Chávez Botello, then archbishop of Oaxaca, who retired in 2016, was accused of cover up in the Silvestre case.
- March 2018: Carlos López Valdez, Mexico City priest, sentenced to 63 years in prison.
- April 2018: Jorge Raúl Villegas, former priest of the León archdiocese, sentenced to 60 years in prison for the rape and sexual abuse of two adolescent girls.
- October 2018: Juan Manuel Riojas Martínez (‘Father Meño’), Piedras Negras priest, sentenced to 15 years in prison
Archbishop Romulo G. Valles leads a church that faces no challenge to be accountable for clerics who commit sexual crimes.
The external mechanisms that have forced accountability by Catholic bishops elsewhere – litigation by victims, probes by prosecutors, governmental inquiries, and hard-hitting media investigations – have occurred little or not at all in the world’s third largest Catholic country.
A measure of the Philippine church’s impunity: In a country with more than 80 million Catholics, not one priest has been criminally convicted of sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, according to Philippine bishop Buenaventura Famadico.
With no legal or cultural pressure to disclose information or practice 'zero tolerance', Valles and his brother bishops still follow a lenient 2003 abuse policy that allows offenders to be returned to ministry and tolerates 'priest-fathers' until they sire a second child.
In a 2017 news article, a retired archbishop who heads the CBCP’s national tribunal acknowledged an annual caseload of 60 clergy misconduct cases, including money scandals, priests fathering children, and priests abusing minors. However, neither individual bishops nor the CBCP as a whole has released names of credibly accused clerics or documents about their handling of allegations.
Accused priests in active ministry in Philippine parishes
In January 2015, BishopAccountability.org collected data on more than 70 accused clergy in the Philippines and published an analysis of twelve key cases. We identified several Filipino bishops who had dismissed credible warnings about the fitness of their priests. At least seven substantively accused priests were in active ministry, working openly in parishes or schools. Several had been banned from U.S. dioceses following serious allegations of child rape and molestation. They included:
- An active priest in Bohol who was convicted of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old in the United States;
- An active parish priest in Laguna who admitted in 2003 to abusing three minor boys a few years earlier;
- An active priest in Sorsogon City described by an American archbishop as someone who “should not be in any ministry involving young people";
- A priest working as an administrator at a Catholic college in Manila who was accused of child sexual abuse in at least three lawsuits in the U.S.
Cardinal Tagle: Zero tolerance, media exposure, and legal action aren’t the “Asian approach”
In a 2012 interview with journalist John Allen, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the popular Manila archbishop, explained that zero tolerance was a subject of debate among his brother bishops: "We’ve had cases in the past ... in which some priests who had offended were given a second chance and turned out to be very good priests.”
In a video interview with UCA News, Tagle explained that the ‘Asian approach’ to clergy sex abuse was pastoral and caring, and therefore opposed to ‘exposure’ of abusers through media or legal action: “I think for us ... exposing persons, both victims and abusers, to the public, either through media or legal action, that adds to the pain.” [See video of UCAN interview, beginning at 10:45.]
Archbishop Valles: It’s time to revisit our existing guidelines for child protection
In late August 2018, a year after he was elected CBCP president, Valles issued his first significant statement on the abuse crisis. Referring to the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the revelations about ex-cardinal McCarrick, he conceded that this time would be “a good occasion for us bishops to revisit and review the existing guidelines that we have for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, and with renewed resolve and commitment to implement them and not cover them up.”
Those “existing guidelines” have disappeared from the CBCP website. We saved them.
The “existing guidelines” cited by Archbishop Valles in his 2018 statement are the "Pastoral Guidelines on Sexual Abuses and Misconduct by the Clergy.” These were drafted and first published on the CBCP website in 2003, and remained there at least until 2015. We cached the Guidelines at that point, which is fortunate, because they no longer can be found on the CBCP website. It’s clear, however, that the 2003 protocol is still in effect, as it’s cited not only in Valles’ 8/2018 statement but in several news articles and the CBCP’s remarkable pastoral exhortation posted in 2016. Our cache of the 2003 Guidelines can be found here.
The Guidelines allow second chances for guilty priests
Adopted in 2003, the CBCP Guidelines are more lenient toward accused priests than the Charter and Norms adopted the previous year by the U.S. bishops.
The Guidelines have nothing resembling ‘one strike and you’re out.’ It is up to the individual bishop to decide whether to remove a guilty cleric: “If the sexual abuse is verified … the bishop or superior will limit the ministry of the individual or even prohibit it, if warranted.” (par. 37.C).
The Guidelines state flatly that bishops will not report priests to civil authorities, since the bishop-priest relationship is "analogous to that between father and son" (par. 36.G).
The Guidelines also stipulate that in many cases, confidentiality oaths are required (par. 36.A). If a priest is falsely accused, the bishop will issue a written defense and may bring the accuser to court (par. 39); there is no similar provision for restoring the reputations of maligned victims.
The Guidelines do not mention making reparations to victims. It refers to paying for the victim’s therapy – as the obligation of the offending priest, not the church:
“The offender should shoulder the expenses attendant to the victim's therapy. Out of charity the diocese, within its means, will assist financially in the healing process to be undergone by victims if the offender needs such assistance. The offender will be required to reimburse the diocese for all expenses incurred in handling the case.” (par. 34)
The “one-child quota system” for "priest-fathers"
The Guidelines focus at length on the situation of priests who father children – "priest-fathers." The first time a priest fathers a child, his ministry "must be saved" if it can be "established with moral certainty that the generation of a child was the result of an isolated fault" (par. 43.B). If a priest fathers a second child, he will be dismissed from ministry (par. 43.B.7).
In February 2012, Cardinal Tagle said that new guidelines were being finalized for presentation to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As of February 2019, this updated protocol had not been published. According to a 2013 book by Philippines journalist Aries Rufo, Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church, the Vatican rejected a new draft because it still contained the provision allowing priests to father one child in ministry – what is scathingly called (Rufo, p. 27) the "one-child quota system" by Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan, a public critic of his colleagues' response to clergy sexual misconduct.
Bishops' 2016 document busts the “stereotype” of the “innocent child victim,” blames parents, celebrates forgiveness of perpetrators
In January 2016, the CBCP issued the Pastoral Exhortation on the Pastoral Care and Protection of Minors. An amplification of the 2003 Guidelines, the document’s purpose was to address child sex abuse in Philippine society generally, and to assure civil authorities of the church’s cooperation in cases of offending clergy.
It is a remarkable and disturbing document. It goes farther than any other episcopal statement we’ve seen in assigning blame to child victims and their parents, while celebrating forgiveness for perpetrator priests.
In a section entitled Nurturing and Protecting Children, the bishops quote from a Second Vatican Council document to remind parents of their duties to educate children in a Christian manner.
The CBCP text continues:
“There is hypocrisy then when the parents of abused and exploited children readily judge others – though these may, in fact, be deserving of judgment – when they, as parents, have failed to do what the Church teaches to be their obligation in respect to children. The parent who has failed in his duties as a parent should be wary about accusing others of neglecting their obligations towards children. [p. 3]”
The text notes that the Second Vatican Council’s teaching about the responsibility of parents is especially relevant in the case of child prostitution, a form of abuse that busts the stereotype of “the innocent child victim.”
Quoting a child prostitution study that says children sometimes initiate their victimization when their alternatives are abuse and violence at home, the bishops write:
“A victimized child is not necessarily one against whose will atrocities have been visited. A victimized child is not necessarily the passive partner in an exploitative relation. Children, therefore, can learn and acquire conduct that may contribute to their own exploitation. And when cases of child abuse of this kind eventually surface, one must, perforce ask, how parents and families failed these children! [p. 3]”
Later in the document, the bishops note that church authorities “are not to impede the legitimate path of civil justice” [p. 5] However, it benefits everyone, they note, when the offending priest can be forgiven:
“We cannot pass over in silence, however, the theme of forgiveness for priests who have erred. They should never be allowed to molest children again, they must not be given the chance and the opportunity to do so, and they must do what the law exacts of them. But they cannot be excluded from the mercy of which the Church is the sign and the sacrament for all. Christ calls his priests in the full knowledge of their frailties. He has not called angels to minister to men and women; he has, instead, called men apart, weighed down by their own infirmities, to attend to others who, like themselves, are wounded by sin. Of pardon, the famous French religious philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, has very instructive insights:
‘Pardon is a kind of healing of memory, the end of mourning. Delivered from the weight of debts, memory is freed for greater projects. Pardon gives memory a future…As the horizon of the sequence sanction-rehabilitation-pardon, pardon constitutes a permanent reminder that justice is the justice of human beings and that it must not set itself up as the final judgment.’
“We come full circle then when the indictment of the offender, the appropriate action against him, the atonement and the satisfaction lead to the healing both of a wounded child, a wounded church and a wounded offender!" [p. 5]
Cardinal Daniel Nicholas DiNardo
72.3 million Catholics
• President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2016-
• Archbishop of Galveston-Houston
cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI 2007
Coadjutor Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, 1997-1998
Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, 1998-2004
Coadjutor Bishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, 2004-2004
Coadjutor Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, 2004-2006
Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, 2006-
Elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2016, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo spoke forcefully in August 2018 in response to the McCarrick revelations and shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report.
The cardinal described the situation as a "moral catastrophe" and blamed it on "the failure of episcopal leadership."
In subsequent news reports, however, it was revealed that DiNardo himself allegedly mismanaged several accused priests
In the early 2000's, as bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, DiNardo allowed a suspended priest, Rev. George McFadden, to say daily noon Mass at the Cathedral in Sioux City. The Cathedral abutted a high school and was across the street from a grade school. At this time, two people already had reported to the diocese, accusing McFadden of sexually assaulting them as children. McFadden now stands accused by dozens of victims and has admitted to a sexual addiction.
Rev. Manuel La Rosa-Lopez is a Galveston-Houston priest. Until September 2018, when he was arrested for charges of indecency with children, he was pastor of St. John Fisher Catholic Church in Richmond TX. LaRosa-Lopez had first been reported to the archdiocese in 2001. DiNardo himself had met with two alleged victims, in 2011 and 2018, yet kept the priest in ministry until his arrest.
In late January 2019, DiNardo allowed Rev. John Keller to say Mass just hours before the archbishop released a list of accused Galveston-Houston clergy that named Keller. The priest had been reported to the archdiocese in 2003, but DiNardo had consistently dismissed the allegation as not credible.
U.S. bishops’ ‘zero tolerance’ norm is heavy on bishop's discretion and due process for accused
On June 14, 2002, the U.S. bishops meeting in Dallas approved a Charter and Norms that set up new policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of children by priests. The Norms were revised by the Vatican and became "particular law" of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. on December 8, 2002. The Norms were revised and promulgated again on May 5, 2006. In both the 2002 and 2006 versions, the Norms contain the well-known "zero-tolerance" provision.
8. When even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accordance with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants.
Unfortunately, the phrase that we have bolded – "after an appropriate process in accordance with canon law" – gives wiggle room to bishops, allowing them to keep sex offenders in active ministry for months or years. The process was described in the Manual for Canonical Processes for the Resolution of Complaints of Clerical Sexual Abuse of Minors, presented to U.S. bishops in 2003, by Charles Scicluna, then-Promoter of Justice for the CDF.
U.S. Norms don’t mandate reporting to law enforcement
- June 2002: US bishops approve Norms as particular church law for the United States, including the requirement [Norm 10] to report to law enforcement: "The diocese/eparchy will report to the public authorities any allegation (unless canonically privileged) of sexual abuse of a person who is currently a minor."
- October 14, 2002: Letter from the Vatican after reviewing the June Norms: “[T]he "Norms" and "Charter" contain provisions which in some aspects are difficult to reconcile with the universal law of the Church.”
- October 29, 2002: Mandatory reporting is deleted from the final Norms, following a Vatican-ordered review by a committee of senior Vatican officials and US bishops. The provision is replaced with weaker language: bishops will “comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations” [Norm 11, Revised Norms]
- December 2002: Mandatory reporting remains in the final version of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, causing the public erroneously to assume that US church officials now must report crimes by priests. However, the Charter, unlike the Norms, has no canonical status. The Charter's reporting provision, therefore, is not a matter of church law.
Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti
58 million Catholics
• President of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (CEI, 2017-
• Archbishop of Perugia 2009-
• Named cardinal by Pope Francis 2014
Bishop of Massa Marittima-Piombino, 1994-1998
Bishop of Arezzo-Cortona-Sansepolcro, 1998-2009
Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve, 2009-
Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti and the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (CEI) recently began paying closer attention to clergy abuse in Italy, home to 50 million baptized Catholics and ranked the fifth “most Catholic” country in the world. Yet despite a flurry of statements and activity in late 2018 and early 2019, CEI has not been transparent. It has provided no numbers of victims or abusers, and it solicited no victim input to an updated abuse policy that will be kept secret until May 2019.
Italian bishops still in office have transferred abusive priests to other dioceses, angering survivors and their families, who now demand action from their archdioceses and the Vatican. The abuse crisis -- as experienced in the U.S., Chile, and Ireland – has not fully erupted in Italy. But public activism and a scathing new U.N. report may spur Bassetti and the CEI to disclose more information and enact reforms.
Italy’s bishops’ conference has special relationship with the Vatican
CEI enjoys a special relationship with the Vatican, due to proximity, policy, and personalities. Italy is the only country in which the head of the episcopal conference is appointed by the Pope rather than elected by fellow bishops. Crux writes: “The president of the Italian bishops’ conference is probably the most powerful such figure in the world. This is due both to his direct appointment by the pope, and because of the vital role the Church still plays in public affairs in Italy.”
Pope Francis selected Bassetti (one of three names suggested by CEI as part of a new process) to lead the conference in 2017. He is seen as “cut from the same cloth” as Francis, often speaking about the plight of workers and working to improve the Church’s social services in his archdiocese.
Currently, there is some tension between CEI and Italy’s government, specifically over migrants and taxation. The new U.N. report, which calls on the Italian government to increase prosecution of abusive priests and to revisit two old treaties, could increase the friction.
U.N. blasts Italy’s failure to stop child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy
In February 2019, the U.N. Committee for the Rights of the Child released a critical report about Italy’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases. In its Concluding observations on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Italy, the Committee cited its concern “about the numerous cases of children having been sexually abused by religious personnel of the Catholic church in the State party and the low number of investigations and criminal prosecutions.”
The Committee urged Italy to:
- “establish an independent and impartial commission” to examine all cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic personnel [See Concluding Observations, 21b];
- “ensure the transparent and effective investigation” of all cases of clergy abuse, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators, and rehabilitation and reparations for victims [See Concluding Observations, 21c];
- make it mandatory for religious personnel to report any case of alleged sexual abuse of minors to the Italian government [See Concluding Observations, 21g].
In addition, the Committee urged Italy to revisit two European accords:
- the Lateran Treaty, which established diplomatic boundaries between Italy and the Vatican: Many experts believe the treaty’s fourth article allows clerics to skirt reporting abuse to civil authorities;
- the Lanzarote Convention, which requires an amendment to ensure that Catholic personnel are clearly covered by its regulations aimed at protecting minors.
Scope of abuse by clergy unknown in Italy
Since 2001, when the clergy abuse crisis broke in Boston, the Italian church has failed to produce any documentation on the number of abuse cases, survivors, or trials (canonical or civil). As recently as January 16, 2019, CEI’s Secretary General, Father Stefano Russo, told reporters, “I’m not able to give any numbers.” He echoed what Bassetti himself said on November 15, 2018: “For now we have no data on the phenomenon in Italy… The CEI has no precise data in hand, if I knew I would tell you. I do not know and I cannot tell you."
Rete L’Abuso, Italy’s major clergy abuse survivors’ organization, estimates there are nearly 300 accused clergy, more than 700 sexual abuse victims, and 17 clinics for priests throughout the country. “It’s absurd that we keep track of it and the state does not,” said survivor and Rete L’Abuso president Francesco Zanardi, “especially given what is happening in the rest of the world.” Zanardi and his group have twice provided documents and testimony to the U.N. committee that examined abuse in Italy.
Bishops give second chances to accused priests
In its extensive online archive, Rete L’Abuso documents how bishops have transferred priests following abuse accusations and allowed them to continue working elsewhere with children.
Here are a few notable cases:
- Silverio Mura: According to Rete L’Abuso, this accused priest is still teaching religion to children under a false name, Saverio Aversano. Mura is accused of sexually abusing Arturo Borrelli as a teen in Ponticelli, near Naples; as many as 10 other victims have come forward.
After Borrelli’s accusations, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Archbishop of Naples, moved Mura out of the diocese. Mura later relocated a second time and agreed to work under an assumed name. Borrelli has written and talked to Pope Francis about his abuse. On February 4, 2019, he chained himself himself to a Vatican gate in a desperate attempt to learn about the status of his case. Ten days later, he and his lawyer were received at the Vatican. Borrelli meet with Father Paolo, a priest delegated by Pope Francis to follow his case while his attorney presented documentation to CDF officials. Father Paolo promised Borrelli that a legal decision about Mura, who may be defrocked, will be made by May.
- Mauro Galli: The former parish priest of Rozzano was sentenced in September 2017 to 6+ years for raping Alessandro Battaglia in 2011 when he was 15. Galli’s trial revealed that the current Archbishop of Milan, Mario Enrico Delpini, covered up for Galli when Delpini was the number two church official in Milan. Rather than denouncing Galli, Delpini moved him to Legnano, where he continued to work with young people. Battaglia recently went public about his abuse and is calling on the Pope to remove Delpini and subject him to an ecclesiastical trial. Over the years, his family has sent dozens of letters about his case to church leaders in Milan and the Vatican, including a lengthy, detailed open letter to Pope France published in October 2018.
- Lucio Gatti: This case unfolded in Perugia, where Bassetti has been archbishop since 2009. Gatti faced multiple accusations of sexual harassment and violence within the Caritas recovery community he managed. Although it is unclear when Bassetti first heard about Gatti’s abusive behavior, the archbishop opened an investigation in October 2011. In April 2012, Bassetti suspended Gatti from the priesthood for five years. To end his high-profile criminal trial, Gatti negotiated a two-year sentence without admitting guilt. He is no longer a priest: he asked to return to lay life in 2018.
CEI ramped up in response to abuse in Italy in the weeks leading up to the Vatican summit. In addition to Borrelli’s February 14 meeting, Bassetti met with abuse survivors for the first time on the same day. He has said CEI will meet more survivors in March. Other recent actions include:
- February 2019: CEI created a national commission to “advise and support the CEI, the bishops and the major superiors in promoting the protection of minors and vulnerable adults”
- January 2019: Bassetti led CEI’s meeting to discuss guidelines to protect minors, as requested by Pope Francis
- November 2018: CEI established a National Advisory Center to aid victims and clergy; Bassetti promised better screening of candidates for the priesthood
- November 2018: CEI rewrote the norms for handling clergy abuse cases. These will not be made public until May 2019, when bishops will vote on them. Victims were not included in the process of updating the policy.
Current policy contains no ‘zero tolerance,’ no mandated reporting, no reparations
Pending the publication of its updated policy in May 2019, the CEI’s effective norms remain those they adopted in 2014. These were the conference’s first set of norms dealing with abuse. The Vatican-approved policy makes no provisions for reparations. Nor does it require that guilty priests be removed from ministry:
“The canonical measures applied against a cleric recognized as guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor are generally of two types: 1) measures that restrict the public ministry in a complete way or at least by excluding contacts with minors. Such measures may be accompanied by a criminal precept; 2) ecclesiastic penalties, among which the most serious is the dismissal from the clerical state.” (from Section I-3)
While the document encourages cooperation with civil authorities, it clearly affirms the bishops’ legal right to withhold abuse allegations from civil authorities.
“Le misure canoniche applicate nei confronti di un chierico riconosciuto colpevole dell’abuso sessuale di un minorenne sono generalmente di due tipi: 1) misure che restringono il ministero pubblico in modo completo o almeno escludendo i contatti con minori. Tali misure possono essere accompagnate da un precetto penale; 2) le pene ecclesiastiche, fra cui la più grave è la dimissio dallo stato clericale. In taluni casi, dietro richiesta dello stesso chierico, può essere concessa pro bono Ecclesiae la dispensa dagli obblighi inerenti allo stato clericale, incluso il celibato.”
“In the Italian legal system, the Bishop, not holding the status of public official or of public service officer, has no legal obligation - except the moral duty to contribute to the common good - to report to the state judicial authority the news he has received on illicit matters that are the object of these Guidelines” (from Section II-5. Cooperazione con l’autorità civile)
Under these norms, bishops also are allowed to withhold from civil authorities documents and other information connected to abuse.
“Nell’ordinamento italiano il Vescovo, non rivestendo la qualifica di pubblico ufficiale né di incaricato di pubblico servizio, non ha l’obbligo giuridico – salvo il dovere morale di contribuire al bene comune – di denunciare all’autorità giudiziaria statuale le notizie che abbia ricevuto in merito ai fatti illeciti oggetto delle presenti Linee guida.”
“Bishops are exonerated from the obligation to testify or exhibit documents concerning as known or held by reason of his ministry (see articles 200 and 256 of the Code of Criminal Procedure; Articles. 2, paragraph 1, and 4, paragraph 4, of the Agreement of 18 February 1984, which brings modifications to the Lateran Concordat of 11 February 1929, between the Italian Republic and the Holy See [L. March 25, 1985, n. 121]).” (from Section II-5. Cooperazione con l’autorità civile)
Will the new norms, drafted in 2018, close the loopholes that allow bishops to conceal information about abusers and child sex crimes? We will know when the CEI makes the document public in May 2019.
Vescovi sono esonerati dall’obbligo di deporre o di esibire documenti in merito a quanto conosciuto o detenuto per ragione del proprio ministero (cfr. artt. 200 e 256 del codice di procedura penale; artt. 2, comma 1, e 4, comma 4, dell’Accordo del 18 febbraio 1984, che apporta modificazioni al Concordato lateranense dell’11 febbraio 1929, tra la Repubblica italiana e la Santa Sede [L. 25 marzo 1985, n. 121]).
48.3 million Catholics
• President of the La Conférence des évêques de France (CEF), 2013-
• Archbishop of Marseille
Bishop of Digne (-Riez-Sisteron), 1988-1996
Bishop of La Rochelle (-Saintes), 1996-2006
Archbishop of Marseille, 2006-
Since Archbishop Georges Pontier was first elected president of the Conférence des Évêques de France (CEF) in 2013, the French church has entered a era of reckoning.
The new phase began in late 2015 and early 2016, when French prosecutors pressed criminal charges against Rev. Bernard Preynat, a serial pedophile who first admitted his crimes to the Lyon archdiocese in 1991.
The arrest of Preynat led to revelations of cover-up by his archbishop, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, and the emergence of a resourceful survivors’ group, La Parole Libérée.
In the past three years, many victims have come forward, and dozens of French clergy have been accused publicly for the first time. Media outlets published in-depth investigations, including this Mediapart report citing cover-up by 25 French bishops.
Most remarkably, a former bishop, André Fort of Orléans, was convicted of failing to report an abusive priest, and Cardinal Barbarin was put on trial, also for failing to report.
New initiatives by the French bishops' conference
Faced by unprecedented public demand for transparency and reform, Pontier and the French bishops’ conference have launched a flurry of initiatives.
Soon after the 2016 revelations of Barbarin’s failure to remove and report Preynat, the CEF created a special website devoted to child sexual abuse. Like the U.S. bishops in 2002, the CEF also created a lay advisory panel, staged listening sessions with survivors and parishioners, and launched abuse-prevention trainings for church personnel.
In January 2018, the CEF published its periodic report on the crisis, citing a mere 72 criminally charged or convicted priests and deacons out of an active priest force of 15,000. “Be aware of the magnifying effects” of negative media coverage, the CEF spokesman warned.
In late 2018, with the scandals unabated, Pontier announced the CEF’s commission of an ‘independent’ investigation of the French church’s handling of child sexual abuse since 1950. The study will take 18 to 24 months.
Although prolific in generating statements, anti-abuse programs and marketing materials, the conference has stayed silent about the documented complicity of its own members. Neither Pontier nor the CEF issued a public rebuke of convicted bishop Fort or of Barbarin’s failure to remove and report Preynat.
The bishops have also sent a discouraging signal to potential whistleblowers. Shortly before the start of the CEF’s November 2018 assembly, the outspoken priest Pierre Vignon was informed he would be no longer needed as a judge on the interdiocesan ecclesiastical tribunal, located in Lyon. A high-profile advocate for victims, Rev. Vignon had launched an online petition for Barbarin’s resignation that had garnered more than 100,000 signatures. The decision to remove Vignon was made by Barbarin and the other 11 bishops of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Vignon had served on the tribunal for 25 years.
Pontier: Only one percent of French priests guilty of pedophilia
In October 2018, Pontier said he estimates only one percent of French priests have committed an act of pedophilia. By comparison, U.S. bishops concede an accused priest rate of six percent from 1950 to 2017, and the Australian bishops admit to an accused priest rate of seven percent from 1950 to 2010.
Pontier: Cover-up not deliberate, might have emerged from a 'collective unconscious'
The CEF president also denies that there has been ‘conscious’ cover-up: “Personally, I have never perceived it as an organized process. However, perhaps there was a collective unconscious involved in the collective practices. It is the job of historians to discern that.”
The CEF has published an educational brochure and a set of norms -- and neither mandates reporting or enacts ‘zero tolerance’
The CEF abuse-related website prominently features the bishops’ brochure Luttercontre la pédophilie (The Fight Against Pedophilia), first published in 2003 and updated in 2010 and 2017.
The brochure positions the church as authorities on abuse detection and prevention. Its stated purpose is “to raise awareness among the general public of the need to prevent and denounce such acts.”
The more important document, harder to find on the site, is titled Directives pour le Traitement des Cas D’abus Sexuel Commis par des Clercs à L’égard de Mineurs (Guidelines for the Treatment of Cases of Sexual Abuse Committed by Clerics to Minors). Promulgated in 2015, this is the set of canonical norms that govern French bishops’ responses to abuse allegations.
A careful review of both the brochure Lutter contre la pédophilie and the Directives pour le Traitement des Cas D’abus Sexuel Commis par des Clercs à L’égard de Mineurs (hereafter called Guidelines) shows that French bishops have latitude in reporting abuse cases and disciplining guilty priests.
No zero tolerance provision
“The journey to zero tolerance has begun in a firm and visible way,” said Bishop Luc Crepy, head of the permanent commission for fighting pedophilia, in November 2018.
However, current CEF policies do not include ‘zero tolerance’ as it is defined in the U.S. bishops’ policy - the permanent removal of a guilty priest from ministry.
The Guidelines instead allow a bishop to reinstate a priest if the bishop believes he poses no risk. The norm states: “A priest should not be returned to public ministry if the ministry presents a danger for minors or a scandal for the community.”
“Le retour du clerc au ministère public est exclu si ce ministère présente un danger pour les mineurs ou un scandale pour la communauté.” [Guidelines, page 9]
The concept of “faits précis” or “precise facts” can circumvent mandatory reporting
Canon law does not require bishops to report allegations to civil authorities; it says instead that bishops should comply with applicable civil laws. In France, the laws on reporting are complex. In their brochure Lutter contre la pédophilie, the bishops emphasize that the obligation to report involves knowing the ‘precise facts’ of a case:
“When someone is made aware of a crime (it should be noted that rape is a crime) or precise facts concerning privation, mistreatment or sexual assault on minors of less than 15 years of age, they must inform the justice authorities.”
“Lorsque quelqu’un a connaissance d’un crime (rappelons que le viol est un crime) ou de faits précis concernant des privations, mauvais traitements ou atteintes sexuelles sur des mineurs de moins de 15 ans, il doit en informer la justice [Lutter contre la pédophilie, pages 37-38 of 2010 edition].
The term “precise facts” is crucial, as it removes the obligation to report suspicions or hazy allegations. A lawyer for Cardinal Barbarin invoked this concept during his 2019 trial for failing to denounce Preynat, a known abuser, saying, “Bishop Barbarin had no elements before 2014 to denounce. To know a rumor is not to know precise facts. He is criticized for things that are not accurate.”
"Professional secrecy" also limits what clergy are required to report
The brochure Lutter contre la pédophilie devotes more than a page to professional secrecy, the notion that certain people in certain situations are not obligated to report a crime; in fact, they can be penalized for violating confidentiality. According to the CEF, professional secrecy covers ordained clergy and applies to ‘any confidential information’ received in the line of duty, in or out of the confessional:
“This concerns, in the Catholic Church, ordained ministers (deacon, priest, bishop) as well as laity in charge who have received a mission letter from the bishop. The secret is not limited to only confidences received by priests in confession, but focuses on any confidential information received by religious ministers as part of their ministry.”
“Cela concerne, dans l’Église catholique, les ministres ordonnés (diacre, prêtre, évêque) ainsi que les laïcs en responsabilité ayant reçu une lettre de mission de l’évêque. Le secret ne se limite pas aux seules confidences reçues par les prêtres dans le cadre de la confession, mais s’attache à toute information confidentielle reçue par les ministres du culte dans le cadre de leur ministère.” [Lutter contre la pédophilie, page 40]
According to the CEF, French courts are still defining the precise contours of professional secrecy and the policy reflects this ambiguity. On one hand, a clergy member may choose to report a crime without facing a penalty. “But he is not obliged, the law recognizing a ‘conscience option.’”
“Mais il n’en a pas l’obligation, la loi reconnaissant une « option de conscience.” [Lutter contre la pédophilie, page 40]
However, the CEF states “on the other hand, professional secrecy cannot be invoked to oppose the material investigations of a judge, who must receive the cooperation of all, without exception, in his search for the truth.”
“Et d’autre part que le secret professionnel ne peut pas être invoqué pour s’opposer aux investigations matérielles d’un juge d’instruction, qui doit recevoir la coopération de tous, sans exception, dans sa recherche de la vérité.” [Lutter contre la pédophilie, page 41]
Current CEF policies do not provide for restitution to victims. After meeting survivors in November 2018, Pontier said “the bishops wish to offer a financial gesture” to victims. The CEF may consider this issue at its 2019 plenary meeting.
In 2018, less than a year into Archbishop Óscar Urbina Ortega’s tenure as president of the Conferencia Episcopal Colombiana (CEC), a major media investigation revealed reckless present-day practices by Colombia’s bishops.
The two-year probe by W Radio examined active cases involving 37 accused clergy, focusing particularly on seventeen priests in the archdiocese of Medellín. Among the report’s disturbing revelations (part 1; part 2): Medellín archbishop Ricardo Antonio Tobón Restrepo currently allows a convicted sex offender to work in a parish and hospital; and until last year, another abusive Medellín priest was in active ministry in Brooklyn, New York with Archbishop Tobón’s knowledge and approval.
Archbishop Tobón is Urbina’s vice-president at the CEC.
Convicted child molester back in ministry
The convicted Medellín priest restored to active ministry by Tobón is Fr. Mario Castrillón. In 2009, Castrillón was sentenced to 100 months in prison for sexually abusing two boys, ages 9 and 11. According to the prosecutor, the priest subjected the 11-year-old child to “systematic” assaults that involved “genital touching, reciprocal oral sex, masturbation and anal penetration.”
After Castrillón completed his sentence, likely between 2015 and 2017, he was reinstated to active ministry in Medellín. According to W Radio’s report in March 2018, as well as the current archdiocesan website, he now works as an assistant at San Juan Apóstol parish in Medellín and as a chaplain at a clinic in El Rosario.
Asked by W Radio why he had reinstated Castrillón, Tobón said “He served his time, he's a priest who served his time.” Moreover, the archbishop noted, “in the canonical investigation, there were no elements that constituted evidence in this case” and therefore the archdiocese “ did not issue a sentence.”
In Colombia, criminally charged priests aren't jailed pre-trial
A side note relating to the power of the Church in Colombia: From the time of Castrillón’s arrest in 2007 until 2010, when the Supreme Court rejected his final appeal, he was confined to a casa cural, a clergy house, instead of jail. The prosecutor had tried to put the priest behind bars pending trial, arguing that he posed a risk to the community. But the archdiocese prevailed, invoking Colombia’s 1973 Concordat with the Holy See , which prohibits the jailing of criminally charged priests prior to final conviction:
"In the detention and arrest before and during the criminal procedure, they [clerics and religious] may not be detained in common jails, but if they are ultimately convicted the ordinary rules will apply to them on the execution of their sentence. [Article XX, Concordat between the Republic of Colombia and the Holy See 1973]"
En la detención y arresto antes y durante el proceso, no podrán aquellos ser recluidos en cárceles comunes, pero si fueren condenados en última instancia se les aplicará el régimen ordinario sobre ejecución de las penas. [Articulo XX, Concordato entre la República de Colombia y la Santa Sede 1973].
Another abuser was allowed to re-locate to a New York diocese
Another stunning revelation in W Radio’s 2018 investigation: the transfer by Archbishop Tobón of a known abuser to New York. In 2012, Tobón wrote to Brooklyn bishop Nicholas DiMarzio granting authorization for his priest Rev. Roberto Cadavid to serve in the Brooklyn diocese. Tobón wrote to DiMarzio again in 2015, authorizing Cadavid’s continued work in Brooklyn and thanking DiMarzio for his “benevolent reception of this priest.” Tobón didn’t mention in either letter that he had suspended Cadavid in early 2012 for sexually abusing children in Medellín. The Brooklyn diocese said it did not learn of Cadavid’s history until 2017, when the W Radio investigation was underway and Cadavid was called back to Medellín. W Radio first reported on the Cadavid story in March 2018, and it published Tobón’s signed letters in October 2018. See the letters here.
Little is known about Urbina’s handling of abusive priests
No media investigation has reported extensively about the response to abuse by CEC president Urbina. We know that during his ten-year tenure as Villavicencio archbishop, two of his priests have been criminally convicted.
- In 2010, Fr. Hernando López Morales was convicted of sexually abusing a 10- year-old girl and sentenced to four years in prison. Urbina appears to have made no statement on the case until January 2013, when an appeals court upheld the sentence. His only reported comment was that “López has not exercised his ministry since the sex abuse case was made known.”
As of February 2019, López Morales is listed on the archdiocese of Villavicencio’s website as a priest of the archdiocese. It’s not clear whether this means he was returned to ministry after completing his four-year sentence.
The second conviction of a Villavicencio priest was of Fr. Fausto Coronel Riveros, sentenced in the fall of 2018 to 16 years and two months after admitting to sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy on at least five occasions. Urbina has neither publicly acknowledged the priest’s guilt nor issued an apology to the victim.
Urbina recently saluted Vatican official who famously praised French bishop for not reporting an abusive priest
In May 2018, in his capacity as CEC president, Urbina issued a statement upon the death of his countryman and former Vatican official, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos. Urbina praised Castrillón Hoyos for his ‘courage’ and ‘lucid discernment:’ “The world will remember him as a great servant, a lucid person in the moments of discernment, guidance and courage in the proclamation of the Gospel.”
Urbina’s statement was striking; he's surely aware that for many Catholics, Castrillón personifies the institutional church’s obstruction of civil justice. In 2001, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Castrillón wrote a congratulatory letter to French bishop Pierre Pican, who recently had been criminally convicted for not reporting the rapes and sexual assaults of ten boys by Fr. Rene Bissey, one of Pican’s diocesan priests.
Castrillón wrote that he was “delighted to have a fellow member of the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of other bishops, would prefer to go to prison rather than denounce his priest-son,” adding that he would be copying the letter to every bishops’ conference in the world to encourage other bishops to act likewise “in this delicate matter.” [See original letter and English translation.]
Former CEC president argued for mandatory reporting to civil authorities
In July 2015, the CEC issued a code of conduct for church personnel and a set of abuse-handling guidelines for dioceses. The Líneas - Guía para la Redaccion de los Decretos Diocesanos de Protección de Menores (Guidelines for the Drafting of Diocesan Decrees of Protection of Minors) do not mandate reporting to civil authorities, despite urging for such a requirement by then-CEC president, Cardinal Jesús Rubén Salazar Gómez, archbishop of Bogotá.
"We cannot be accomplices -- we have to do everything in our power to have these cases denounced and reach justice,” said Salazar during the drafting of the document.
It’s not clear whether Salazar ultimately was outvoted by his peers, or if the provision appeared in an initial draft and was deleted by the Vatican. In any case, on February 12, 2019, Salazar enacted a protocol specific to the Bogotá archdiocese that requires anyone with information about sexual abuse to report it to civil authorities. According to a church official, the other Colombian dioceses will eventually adopt a similar policy.
Current CEC Guidelines require reporting to the church, but not to the state
“Church personnel are obligated to inform the competent ecclesiastical authority of any...acts of sexual abuse or suspicion of sexual misconduct......Having informed the ecclesiastical authorities of any case of child sex abuse neither limits the right nor exempts from the obligation of the individual to report the alleged criminal acts to appropriate civil authorities.”
El personal eclesial está en la obligación de poner en conocimiento de la autoridad eclesiástica competente cualquier falta a las normas establecidas en el presente manual así como eventuales actos de abuso sexual o sospechas de conducta sexual inapropiada….La puesta en conocimiento de eventuales casos de abuso sexual de menores a las autoridades eclesiásticas, no limita el derecho o exime de la obligación de cada individuo de poner los presuntos hechos delictivos en conocimiento de las autoridades civiles competentes. [Section 3.1 and 3.2, CEC Guidelines for Codes of Conduct]
“The victim or accuser will be expressly informed of their right and duty to report the alleged criminal conduct to appropriate civil authorities, and that right will be expressly supported…Under no circumstance will the accuser, alleged victim or their family be dissuaded from reporting the case to civil authorities.”
Se informará expresamente a la víctima o al denunciante sobre su derecho y deber a poner los presuntos hechos delictivos en conocimiento de las autoridades civiles competentes y se apoyará, explícitamente, dicho derecho….Por ningún motivo se intentará disuadir al denunciante, a la presunta víctima o a su familia de denunciar el caso ante las autoridades civiles. [Articulo 16, CEC Guidelines for the Protection of Minors]
Guidelines omit ‘zero tolerance’ - guilty clerics will receive ‘just penalties’
The CEC Guidelines do not include a zero tolerance provision like that of the U.S. bishops -- that is, the policy does not require guilty clergy to be removed permanently from ministry. Instead, using language from the CDF’s 2011 Circular Letter, the Guidelines stipulate that a guilty cleric “is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.”
“Cuando se haya admitido o se haya demostrado la perpetración de delito sexual contra un menor, el clérigo infractor deberá recibir una justa pena y, si la gravedad del caso lo requiere, será expulsado del estado clerical.” [Articulo 43, CEC Guidelines for the Protection of Minors]
Echoing again the Circular Letter, the Guidelines imply that a guilty cleric can be returned to ministry if certain conditions are met: “The return of a cleric to public ministry is excluded if such ministry is a danger for minors or a cause of scandal for the community.”
“Se debe excluir la readmisión de un clérigo al ejercicio público de su ministerio si éste puede suponer un peligro para los menores o existe riesgo de escándalo para la comunidad. [Articulo 44, CEC Guidelines for the Protection of Minors]
Reparations are the responsibility of the abuser, not the church
The Guidelines state: “The criminal actions of the offending cleric and any civil or criminal consequences, including possible reparations for damages, are the exclusive responsibility of the defendant...”
Las acciones delictivas del clérigo infractor y sus eventuales consecuencias civiles o penales, incluido el posible resarcimiento de daños, son responsabilidad exclusiva del acusado y no del Obispo diocesano o de la Circunscripción eclesiástica, ni de la entidad diocesana en la que el clérigo prestaba su servicio. [Articulo 51, CEC Guidelines for the Protection of Minors]
The Cali archdiocese recently modeled this merciless approach. During the 2015 trial of Cali priest William Mazo, who eventually was sentenced to 33 years for sexually abusing four children, the Cali archdiocese argued it should not have to compensate the victims. The archdiocese blamed the parents, stating that the parents had “...violated the duty of care, duty of custody, safeguarding, vigilance and protection of children and relatives...who at that time were 10 or 11 years old...under the rule of the institution of the family,” and were victims of an “excess of confidence and passivity” by their guardians.
Convictions of Colombian priests
The W Radio investigation found that only seven priests have been criminally convicted for child sexual abuse in Colombia. This modest total is notable given Colombia’s size: according to Vatican statistics, it has 43 million Catholics, making it the world’s seventh largest Catholic country.
The convictions include:
October 2018: Fausto Coronel Riveros, Villavicencio priest, sentenced to 16 years and 2 months for sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy.
- April 2015: William Mazo Pérez, Cali priest, sentenced to 33 years for sexually abusing four children, three of whom were siblings.
August 2014: Carlos Mario Cadavid Gallego, Antioquia priest, sentenced to 12 years for sexually abusing a nine-year-old girl. In March 2018, he was captured and sent to prison.
- December 2010: Hernando López Morales, Villavicencio priest, sentenced to 4 years for sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl. In January 2013, a superior court upheld the conviction.
June 2009: Mario Castrillón, Medellín priest sentenced to 100 months for sexually abusing two young boys, ages 9 and 11.
2009: Luis Enrique Duque Valencia, Tolima priest, sentenced to 18 years for sexually abusing two minors, one age seven and another age eight or nine. Fled justice but captured in May 2010. In a ruling without precedent, the Supreme Court in 2015 ordered the Diocese of Líbano-Honda, in Tolima, to pay $800 million pesos in reparations for victims.
Msgr. Marcel Utembi Tapa
As president of the Conference Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO), Archbishop Marcel Utembi Tapa represents the largest contingent of Catholics in any African country and one that is important to the Vatican. Like its neighbors, however, the church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has not reckoned publicly with the clergy abuse crisis. The bishops’ conference has published no abuse policy – and, indeed, not even an official statement on the crisis. This reflects the shame and secrecy surrounding sexual abuse in Congolese society at large. Reporting of abuse is sparse while victim-shaming persists.
The church is the most stable institution in Democratic Republic of Congo
The Catholic Church is one of DRC’s most powerful and stable institutions. Catholics make up 40 - 50% of the 80 million people living in DRC and the bishops are held in high esteem. CENCO had a leading role in trying to move DRC toward democracy during the 18-year rule of former president Joseph Kabila. During the national election in December 2018, the church deployed 40,000 observers to monitor voting. In addition, the church operates many of the country’s schools, hospitals, clinics, and social welfare organizations.
Violence and conflict abound in DRC, including a disputed presidential election, an ongoing Ebola outbreak, and armed rebels in the eastern part of the country. Several Catholic clergy members have been murdered or kidnapped in just the past two years. Sexual violence is so prevalent that a top U.N. official called it “the rape capital of the world” after visiting in 2010, stating that impunity is the rule in DRC, not the exception. In 2016, UNICEF reported that DRC has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence against children in the world and that violence against children “is widespread in all walks of life, including families, schools and communities.”
DRC church is important to the Holy See
The church in DRC – and more broadly, Africa – is important to the Vatican as a region of growth. According to the Vatican’s Annuarium Statisticum, the number of baptized Catholics in Africa grew 19.4% from 2010 to 2015, while the number of seminarians grew 7.7%. Africa is the only place where seminaries are growing, prompting the Vatican to call it “the geographical area with the greatest potential.” DRC had 42.3 million Catholics in 2015, giving the country the ninth-largest number of Catholics in the world. There are 6.3 million Catholics in the archdiocese of Kinshasa alone, making it the world’s second largest diocese.
Another indicator of the DRC’s importance: Its senior churchman, Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, was a member of Pope Francis’ inner circle until recently. Pasinya served on the Council of Cardinals (also known as the C-9) since its inception in April 2013. In late 2018, at age 79, he resigned as the archbishop of Kinshasa and finished his stint on the C-9.
CENCO mum on sexual abuse
Despite its size and central, Utembi and CENCO have said little about sexual abuse in the church or its many affiliated institutions. CENCO has not published an abuse policy on its website. Nor has a regional organization of bishops, Association des Conférences Episcopales de la Région de l’Afrique Central (ACERAC), to which CENCO belongs, or the continent-wide Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
Utembi mentioned abuse very briefly in his comments concluding CENCO’s plenary session in July 2018. He listed ten topics the bishops discussed; #9 was: “the attitude to adopt regarding the obligation of bishops to denounce any act of sexual abuse committed by clerics on minors.”
“No. 9 l’attitude à adopter relativement à l’obligation des Evêques de dénoncer tout acte d’abus sexuel commis par les clercs sur les mineurs.”
Few abuse stories have come out in the DRC – so far
The world has not yet heard the stories of clergy abuse victims in DRC – save for activist Benjamin Kitobo. Kitobo, who now lives in the U.S., was abused by a Belgian missionary in a case that shows bishops repeatedly failing to take action against an accused priest.
Kitobo was abused for four years as an adolescent by Father Omer Verbeke, who reportedly had been sent to Zaire (now DRC) because of an abuse complaint in Belgium. When Kitobo’s abuse became known in 1987, his parents were told he was to blame for seducing the priest, and the boy was ostracized. Archbishop Emeritus Floribert Songasonga Mwitwa (then bishop of Kolwezi) sent Verbeke back to Ghent, Belgium, where the priest resumed active ministry, abused a young girl in his parish, and then moved to Rwanda to work with orphans. As of spring 2018, Verbeke was believed to be still a priest, and the bishops who failed to protect children from him retained their standing in the church.
The victim-blaming that young Kitobo experienced in the 1980s persists today, as depicted in Maman Colonelle, the prize-winning documentary about a DRC police officer.
In addition to the abuse of minors, sexual assault of nuns by priests is another untold story in DRC. A 1994 report prepared by Sister Maura O’Donoghue for the Vatican documented the abuse of nuns by priests in 20 countries, including Zaire (now DRC). The Vatican reportedly shelved her findings. With nuns recently reporting such abuse in Africa, India, Latin America, and Europe, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the problem for the first time last month.
The revelations are coming, experts say
In interviews with Catholic News Agency, African clerics recently acknowledged abuse and coverups. “Africa is also affected like any other continent, but to what extent, I am not sure,” said Precious Blood Sister Hermenegild Makoro, general secretary of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (which does not include DNC). “I think the cover-up is very strong,” said Father Joachim Omolo Ouko Ouko of Kisumu, Kenya.
A comprehensive report by Australia’s Centre for Global Research in 2017 predicts many abuse cases in Africa will come to light eventually. “I think in the developing countries and in some of the European countries, there hasn't been a precipitating event to raise the issue into the public arena and I'm thinking particularly of countries in Asia and Africa,” wrote co-author Professor Des Cahill.
In one small acknowledgement of the abuse problem, CENCO sent a nun to Rome in 2016 for several months of training on preventing sexual abuse. Upon her return, Sister Henriette Atandjo Otemanyo said she hoped to work through CENCO to teach others about preventing abuse, especially in schools.
Note: The bishops and priests included in this accounting and in our Database of Accused Priests meet the conditions described in our posting policy. This table and the database do not state or imply that individuals facing allegations are guilty of a crime or liable for civil claims. The reports
contained in the database are merely allegations. The U.S. legal system presumes that a person accused of or charged with a crime is
innocent until proven guilty. Similarly, individuals who may be defendants in civil actions are presumed not to be liable for such claims
unless a plaintiff proves otherwise. Admissions of guilt or liability are not typically a part of civil or private settlements.
This page was last updated February 19, 2019.