Vatican Document Instructed Secrecy in Abuse Cases

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
Downloaded July 29, 2003

The hierarchy of the Catholic church has been instructed by the Vatican at least since 1962 to keep certain cases of clergy sexual abuse secret under pain of excommunication, according to Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso.

A copy of the directive was sent yesterday to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan at his Boston office by Mr. Durso, who said he believes the church has been obstructing justice.

Mr. Durso said it might also explain why Cardinal Bernard F. Law and bishops of the Boston Archdiocese and elsewhere covered up sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Mr. Durso yesterday asked Mr. Sullivan to find legal grounds under federal laws to prosecute those in the hierarchy who have covered up these sexual abuse cases.

Houston lawyer Daniel J. Shea provided Mr. Durso with a copy of the Vatican document, called "On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation" (Latin title: "Crimen Sollicitones"). Both lawyers are representing alleged clergy abuse victims in Central Massachusetts.

Paul Baier, president of Survivors First, a victims' advocacy group, who is also familiar with the document, called the church's action in concealing instances of sexual abuse "a coordinated effort of conspiracy."

Bryan Smith of Hubbardston, Worcester area leader of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said people in the church who covered up for priests "should be prosecuted.

"If it were anyone else, they would be in jail by now," he said.

Mr. Durso's action came after Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly issued a grand jury report last week that was critical of the hierarchy of the Boston Archdiocese for its failure to protect children from abusive priests. He said he had no grounds for criminal charges. He determined that at least 800 children were sexually abused by 250 priests in the archdiocese dating from 1940.

"This document may provide the link in the thinking of all of those who hid the truth for so many years," Mr. Durso said. "The constant admonitions that information regarding accusations against priests are to be deemed "a secret of the Holy Office' may explain, but most certainly do not justify, their actions," Mr. Durso told the federal attorney.

"Indeed, the directions regarding both the hiding and the destruction of documents should be evaluated in terms of the crime of obstruction of justice," he said.

Mr. Durso, accompanied by representatives of various statewide victim advocacy groups, went to Mr. Sullivan's office in Boston, where he hand-delivered the letter.

The 40-page document, which was obtained by the Telegram & Gazette, was promulgated in 1962 by the Supreme and Holy Congregation of the Holy Office under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII and was printed by the Vatican Press. It is marked confidential and states it is to be stored in the "secret archives" and is to be treated as "strictly confidential."


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