Church under Fire As Papers Point to Child Abuse Cover-up

By Caroline O’Doherty
One in Four [Ireland]
Dowloaded September 3, 2003

THE Catholic Church was under fire again on the issue of clerical child sex abuse last night after the discovery of papers which appear to show the hierarchy had orders from the Vatican to cover up the scandal.

The Conference of Irish Bishops moved to play down the significance of the papers which, they said, were “open to interpretation” but survivors of abuse said their discovery would blow apart attempts by the Church to maintain it didn’t know what was going on.

Lawyers for abuse victims in the United States discovered the official Vatican document which contains instructions to Catholic bishops to maintain complete secrecy about all complaints or allegations of sexual abuse or risk excommunication.

It is dated 1962, during the papacy of Pope John XXIII, leading the Church’s chief child protection officer in this country to label it “historical”, but Irish campaigners said it would have major implications for present-day abuse inquiries and legal proceedings here.

Colm O’Gorman, of the One in Four organisation, said he had no doubts that the document was known about and adhered to by the hierarchy in Ireland. “It was a papal instruction. It would have gone to every Catholic bishop in the world,” he said.

“What is most significant about it is not the fact that it proves the Catholic Church at the highest level had awareness of sexual abuse, but that it reveals the lengths they were prepared to go to keep it quiet.”

The 69-page Latin document, translated for release in the US, focuses mainly on procedures for dealing with sexual approaches made by priests to any member of their congregation through the confessional. But it goes on to refer to what it calls the “worst crime”, that of sexual abuse of children and bestiality, and it instructs bishops to pursue all cases with utmost secrecy and silence under threat of being cast out of the Church.

While the Catholic Church in Britain yesterday confirmed the authenticity of the document, Paul Bailey, executive director of the Child Protection Office set up by the Irish Bishops Conference, said doubts remained as to whether it was actual Canon Law or a policy discussion document drawn up by a Vatican adviser.

“It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to what we do now because since 1996 we have had a policy of mandatory reporting of all abuse allegations, so the idea of anyone who speaks of this being excommunicated is nonsense,” said Mr Bailey.

But he conceded that public confidence in the Church, dented by a series of revelations of cover-ups, especially in the Dioceses of Ferns and Dublin, could be further damaged by the document.

“It certainly warrants closer examination and it’s something we need to look at with the help of Canon lawyers, but perhaps some clarification from the Vatican as to what this was and what it was intended to do would help,” said Mr Bailey.

The document is to be raised in the inquiry into clerical abuse and cover-ups under way in Ferns and a further one planned for Dublin. Lawyers acting for abuse victims in the courts are also expected to use the document to support their case that the Church deliberately hid the problem of abuser priests.


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