Secrecy Has Hurt Children, the Church

Kansas City [Kansas City MO]
Downloaded August 10, 2003

A recently uncovered Vatican document ordering secrecy in sexual abuse cases has put an already beleaguered Catholic Church further on the defensive. It is a deeply disturbing statement.

In light of the current abuse scandal in the church, the 1962 document looks particularly loathsome. It calls for complete secrecy in handling sexual abuse by priests, and even threatens to excommunicate victims who speak out. The approach it mandates is exactly what has caused so much harm.

However, CBS News, which first reported the document's existence, incorrectly said that it had remained in effect until American bishops adopted a more open policy on handling abuse cases last summer. In fact the 1962 document's provisions were revised in the late 1960s, again in 1983, when the whole Code of Canon Law was updated, and again recently.

The 1983 rules said priests found guilty of abusing children could be defrocked. After the priest abuse scandal broke last year in Boston, American bishops adopted an even stricter policy, which the Vatican eventually approved in a slightly altered form that gave more attention to the rights of priests.

The 1962 Vatican document, however, is a window on church thinking 40 years ago. It reveals an approach that put the well-being and reputation of the church ahead of the needs and rights of children. That's the attitude that later led such leaders as Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of the Boston diocese, to move abusive priests from parish to parish without warning the new parish. It was unconscionable behavior.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently issued a long statement ( saying the 1962 policy "deals primarily with the canonical procedures to be followed when a priest is accused of soliciting in the confessional." It "has no bearing on civil law," the bishops said, and "does not forbid the civil reporting of civil crimes."

But the document does reflect a secretive approach that has hurt children and tarnished the church.


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