by priests in Europe
By Sylvia Poggioli
National Public Radio
April 22, 2002
BOB EDWARDS, host:
While the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has received
more attention, sexual misconduct by priests also is a problem in
Europe. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:
As the US crisis grew, Vatican officials appear to pin the blame
on what many of them view as a licentious American culture that
had tainted some members of the local Catholic Church, but pedophilia
is also rocking the Catholic Church in Ireland.
(Soundbite of church bell and music)
Unidentified Man: I'm going to...
Unidentified Woman: ...just wanted to know, why didn't you stop
Unidentified Man: I...
Unidentified Woman: ...abusing young boys?
(Soundbite of church bell)
POGGIOLI: A BBC documentary, aired in Ireland last month, provided
harrowing details of years of molestation of young boys by Father
Sean Fortune. The priest committed suicide in 1999, just before
he was to go on trial. Two weeks after the broadcast, Bishop Brendan
Oliver Comiskey stepped down, acknowledging he hadn't done enough
to stop priests in his diocese from sexually abusing children.
Author Mary Raftery says the broadcast was a watershed in a country
where everyone secretly knew what was going on.
Ms. MARY RAFTERY (Author, "Suffer the Little Children"):
I don't know if anybody thought that this would ever happen in Ireland;
that people would be asking bishops, archbishops, cardinals these
kinds of questions and that they would feel they had to answer them.
POGGIOLI: Mary Raftery has written a book, "Suffer the Little
Children," about decades of physical and sexual abuse of children
in special Irish schools run by Catholic religious orders on behalf
of the state. Three thousand people have already filed allegations
of having been subjected to rapes and beatings. In January, 18 religious
orders agreed to compensate the victims with more than $100 million,
and the sum could reach $500 million.
Ireland is not the only solidly Catholic country in Europe shaken
by pedophile priests. In Poland, the Catholic Church has, for centuries,
been a bulwark of national identity, but now the moral authority
of this key institution in the pope's homeland is being challenged.
Just before Easter, Poznan Archbishop Julius Paetz stepped down
over allegations he had sexually abused young seminarians. His resignation
stemmed from a protest launched by priests, who accused Paetz of
paying night visits to the lodgings of seminarians using an underground
tunnel. The priests had written to the Vatican, but Polish church
officials did not intervene. The scandal became public in February
when the allegations against Paetz were reported by a highly respected
Marik Jeunkovski(ph), professor of sociology at Poznan University,
says the Paetz case has shaken the Polish church hierarchy.
Professor MARK JEUNKOVSKI (Poznan University): This case provoked
many internal tensions within the church itself. I watched some
discussion from TV. For instance, some priests were much more outspoken--they're
the laymen, in fact--condemning the kind of behavior. For some priests,
it was a real act of courage.
POGGIOLI: Jeunkovski says Polish public opinion has been stunned
by the church's abuse of power. Nevertheless, the institution continues
to instill reverence and awe. No victim of sex abuse by priests
has thus far filed legal charges or spoken publicly.
There was no such reticence among Catholic faithful in Austria
over a pedophilia scandal. In 1995, a grassroots protest movement
led to the resignation of the archbishop of Vienna, primate of Austria,
Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, over allegations he had abused teen-aged
boys. Austrian Catholics were so angry at the cardinal's haughty
behavior and the Vatican's silence that more than half a million
people signed a petition. Besides Groer's resignation, the movement,
which came to be known as We Are Church, demanded that priestly
celibacy be optional, that women be ordained priests and that laypeople
have a say in the selection of their bishops.
Hubert Feichtlbauer, one of the movement founders, denounces what
he calls the Catholic Church's old-boys-club mentality.
Mr. HUBERT FEICHTLBAUER (We Are Church): Certainly, ordained priests
in the Catholic Church and bishops don't say publicly anything against
their own peers. This cover-up, this attitude of not harming the
interests of your own club, that is the worst thing, in the opinion
of many of us.
POGGIOLI: But in some European countries, church officials are
beginning to pay for cover-ups. In France, where nearly 30 priests
have been convicted of pedophilia over the last decade, a bishop
was convicted and given a three-month suspended sentence last year
for protecting a pedophile priest, the first such conviction worldwide.
European as well as American Catholics have high expectations for
tomorrow's Vatican meeting. They hope the Holy See and the pontiff
will move beyond hand-wringing over the horror of pedophilia and
tackle the issue of how to deal with criminal behavior by some members
of the clergy. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.