Victims See Vatican Secrecy Policy Boosting Chance of Federal Prosecution

The Associated Press, carried in Providence Journal [Boston MA]
Downloaded July 30, 2003

BOSTON (AP) - Alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse are hoping a 1962 Vatican document instructing church officials to keep sex abuse charges against priests secret will help persuade federal prosecutors to bring conspiracy charges against church leaders.

A group of alleged victims delivered the 38-page document to the office of U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan on Monday, along with a letter asking Sullivan to investigate clergy sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese.

Boston attorney Carmen Durso, who represents 85 alleged victims, said he believes the 1962 document could help federal prosecutors bring charges against church leaders who covered up abuse by priests for decades.

Durso said federal prosecutors could use the document to show that there has been a long and continuous conspiracy within the church to keep clergy sex abuse a secret.

He and other lawyers representing victims of alleged abuse have gone to federal prosecutors after state Attorney General Tom Reilly declined to press state charges against church leaders who shuffled accused priests among parishes rather than report the allegations.

"It's remarkable, the Vatican's willingness to treat sexual abuse of children as a papal secret," Durso said at a news conference.

The document, entitled "On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation," was obtained by Houston-based attorney Daniel Shea, who represents sex abuse victims in the Worcester Diocese.

The instructional document instructs anyone involved in "denouncing" a priest for abuse to take an oath of secrecy. It indicates that all testimony on those matters is confidential, anyone who breaks the "secret of the Holy Office," risks excommunication.

"I always knew about the culture of secrecy, but I didn't know it was stylized and formalized," Shea told The Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence.

Shea said he obtained the document from U.S. Air Force Maj. Thomas Doyle, a Catholic chaplain in Germany who translated the document from Latin into English. Doyle is a canonist who has advised hundreds of Catholics who have taken molestation claims to civil court.

"The Code of Canon Law" is the compilation of church rules and regulations, which sets the policies for Catholic bishops as they run dioceses and for superiors of religious orders. It includes how church leaders are to deal with errant priests.

The current code was issued by Pope John Paul II in 1983 but was mostly completed in the 1970s when clergy sex abuse scandals were rarely mentioned.

Church law emphasizes restoring wrongdoers to active priesthood over removing them from the clergy. And some canonists have complained that the system grants abusers more protection than their victims.

Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the office will review the document. She would not comment further.


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