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Vatican Elevated Abusive Priest
Warnings Didn't Stop Rise through Catholic Diplomatic Corps

By Reese Dunklin rdunklin@dallasnews.com
Dallas Morning News
August 31, 2003

The Vatican promoted a U.S. priest through its international diplomatic corps despite high-level warnings in the 1990s that he had sexually abused a girl, according to interviews and records.

[Captions: Monsignor Daniel Pater; Monsignor Lawrence Breslin; Bishop James M. Harvey; the Priest's Words; the Priest's Path]

The case is believed to be the first in which the Vatican has been found harboring an abuser in its ranks. In a message to American Catholic leaders during last year's abuse crisis, Pope John Paul II said: "There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young."

Alerts about Monsignor Daniel Pater went to the Vatican from his home Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a former official at an elite seminary in Rome. That official told The Dallas Morning News that nothing happened after he twice spoke with Bishop James M. Harvey, a friend who was a longtime Vatican state department executive and now heads the pope's personal staff.

Bishop Harvey acknowledged Friday that he had known "there'd been some problems" with the American priest but said that he hadn't known details and was not in a position to affect the priest's career.

"I presumed everything was OK, that there wasn't anything to it or the accusations were false," the bishop said in a telephone interview from Rome. "I just presumed that when he continued, that everything was OK."

In fact, a lawsuit against Monsignor Pater had ended with a confidential payment to his accuser in 1995 and the priest's stay in a treatment center. Monsignor Pater said in a brief interview Friday that he had recently quit his Vatican job and was "very sorry for what happened."

At the time of his resignation, he was the Vatican's No. 2 diplomat in India. He is now visiting family in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, where he abused a young parishioner before joining the Vatican's foreign service in the early 1980s.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Tricia Hempel said Monsignor Pater acknowledged the abuse when first confronted about a decade ago. "The Vatican knew the status of the case," she said.

Ms. Hempel said Monsignor Pater, 50, remains a priest in good standing, even though U.S. bishops passed a one-strike-and-you're-out policy last year in Dallas. His eligibility for ministry will be decided this year by a local review board and Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, she said.

Bishop Harvey said that he had never spoken about Monsignor Pater with the pope, who is on vacation outside his residence, and that he might not have the opportunity to talk with him about the situation in the future.

"It's not like we chitchat a lot or he asks me how things are going in the United States," said the bishop, who hails from Milwaukee but has worked in Rome for about 20 years. "Even though I see the pope, it's not like he would ask me about this, nor would I discuss someone else who works for the Vatican if I wasn't asked."

Bishop Harvey has been head of the papal household for five years. In elevating him to that post and ordaining him a bishop in 1998, the pope referred to him as "dear Monsignor James Harvey for many years my faithful collaborator."

Powerful Position

The bishop is one of the most powerful Americans at the Vatican and one of the few people of any nationality with daily access to the pope. He handles requests for meetings with the pope, arranges his appearances, accompanies him in public and escorts high-level visitors through the Vatican.

Those guests have included President Bush, who told the pope last year that he was concerned about the church's standing in light of the abuse scandal. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, whose protection of abusive priests became worldwide news, stayed in Bishop Harvey's residence in December before resigning.

The bishop said Friday that Monsignor Pater is the first Vatican employee he knows of to be credibly accused of abuse.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a military chaplain in Germany who formerly worked in the Vatican's U.S. embassy, said he believes this is merely the first such case to become public.

He called the situation "profound and shattering, because this connects several dots: A. They did know. B. They kept it covered. C. They didn't act on their own requirements for the United States. In other words, they violated their own code of ethics, their own procedures."

Father Doyle, who wrote a report nearly 20 years ago warning U.S. bishops that a massive abuse crisis was brewing, said Friday that Bishop Harvey "is up at the top of the heap. They could have easily said, 'This is scandalous.' They took a major risk that this would be discovered."

Bishop Harvey said that Monsignor Pater's resignation was appropriate "just to avoid any kind of hint of scandal. You want your officers beyond reproach."

The bishop said the priest was not a particularly public figure.

"He's really functioning as a secretary in a closed environment," he said. "It's not that he'd be posing a danger."

Chapels in Embassies

Vatican embassies typically have chapels at which cleric-diplomats celebrate Mass. Workers at the embassy in the Indian capital of New Delhi, where Monsignor Pater worked, said their chapel is open to the public.

Ms. Hempel, the Cincinnati Archdiocese spokeswoman, said his supervisors overseas "would certainly know" that he should not work with children.

The man who alerted Bishop Harvey about the Pater case [was] Monsignor Rev. Lawrence Breslin, pastor of the Cincinnati Archdiocese church where the abuse had taken place. He formerly was a top official of the Pontifical North American College, a seminary in Rome to which U.S. bishops send some of their most promising priest candidates.

Monsignor Breslin said he first told his friend about the matter in 1995. Bishop Harvey, he said, responded that higher-ranking officials in the Vatican state department knew the priest "had some problems in the States, and it'd pass over."

"I told this man, 'It's not going to pass over,'" Monsignor Breslin said.

He recalled that during their second conversation, in 1999, Bishop Harvey said one restriction had been placed on Monsignor Pater because of the abuse: He would never be promoted to an ambassador post.

"I wasn't surprised, but I think they should have sidelined him," said Monsignor Breslin, who has publicly criticized his own archbishop's handling of other abuse cases in the Cincinnati area. "He'd almost have to murder somebody.

"That's the Vatican," he added. "It's hard to get fired over there."

Bishop Harvey said he did not remember many details of his talks with Monsignor Breslin.

In 1979, Monsignor Pater was a newly ordained priest starting his first job at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Kettering, Ohio, a Dayton suburb.

There, he met a 13-year-old girl, who is now a woman in her mid-30s still coping with what happened in her childhood and frustrated with the way the church hierarchy has dealt with the priest she once revered.

Monsignor Pater, she said, sometimes saw her in the neighborhood and offered an occasional glass of lemonade or ride home. Then, in 1980, a family tragedy brought him more directly into her life.

One of her older brothers was killed when he rode his bicycle through a stop sign and was struck by a car. Several clergy members stepped in to console the family, but it was Monsignor Pater, she said, who focused on her.

Counseling sessions, the woman said, opened the door to hugging, kissing, playful wrestling and finally, when she was 14, molestation - at the parish rectory, at the archdiocese's Alter High School and in a parked car. Sometimes, she said, the encounters happened after he gave her wine at dinner.

Monsignor Pater told her not to reveal what was happening, the woman said, and assured her that his sexual advances were proper in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

The woman's mother said that at the time she had few reasons to be suspicious of the priest, who frequented the family's house and once told her husband, "I feel like you're my dad."

"He really worked his way in," the mother said. "It was an honor to have a friend who's a priest. We knew he was slated for bigger and bigger things. My husband and I said, 'We might be visiting the Vatican later.'"

Joined Academy

In 1982, Monsignor Pater embarked on his career in the Vatican. He joined a small number of Americans invited into the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome, which has trained the Vatican's diplomatic corps and has produced five popes.

Back home on a visit, he wrote this note, dated Oct. 1, 1982, in the girl's high school yearbook:

"My best and closest friend during my time at Saint Charles. I hope that this love and understanding lasts into the years."

While in Vatican City, Monsignor Pater took an interest in church archaeological sites and architecture. He was so knowledgeable that he was picked to give National Geographic a tour of the Vatican grounds.

In the magazine's 1985 article, Monsignor Pater was asked about his fellow diplomatic students: "They are people I like. I can live among them without keeping up my defenses."

On his trips back to the United States, he would meet the girl and have sex with her, she said. This continued into the early 1990s, after she'd become a young adult - and after Monsignor Pater had begun his diplomatic service, in Australia and then Zaire (now the Congo).

Monsignor Pater sometimes bragged about a benefit of his Vatican job, the woman said. "He used to tell me if he got a speeding ticket, he wouldn't have to pay because he had diplomatic immunity, and no one could touch him," she said.

As Monsignor Pater moved up through the diplomatic ranks, the woman's personal life was crashing. She said she was drinking heavily to cope with the effects of the abuse and entered therapy.

In the fall of 1992, after years of silence, she began confiding in the Rev. Tom Stricker, whom she had met at a school where she was teaching. He told The News that he became convinced that "she was telling me the truth" and urged her to report the matter to the archdiocese, which she did. Archdiocese officials said this was the first and only complaint they received about Monsignor Pater.

Mr. Stricker said he later quit working for the Cincinnati Archdiocese, in part because of its handling of the case.

The woman met with the archdiocese's priest personnel director at the time, Ken Czillinger, who has since left the priesthood. He, too, told The News that he found her "to be a very credible person."

From there, the woman said, she encountered resistance. In a meeting with an archdiocesan investigative panel, she felt humiliated and left before it was over.

"The questions they were asking me made it seem like it wasn't his fault," she said. "I didn't feel safe in that environment."

Words about Abuse

Monsignor Pater kept his collar even though the archdiocese's leader, Archbishop Pilarczyk, had declared earlier in 1992 that one case "of a priest sexually abusing one child is one too many."

"Far more aggressive steps are needed to protect the innocent, treat the perpetrator and safeguard our children," he said at a meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, of which he was president. "Action is what matters most."

In the summer of 1993, the woman sued Monsignor Pater, archdiocesan officials, the parish and her high school. All defendants except Monsignor Pater were eventually dismissed.

For a brief time, the priest's career slowed. He was placed on administrative leave, left Zaire and underwent treatment at St. Luke Institute in Maryland, to which abusive clergymen from around the globe have gone. It deemed him fit for ministry and not a threat to children, the archdiocese spokeswoman said.

Monsignor Pater was back in Africa by 1994. In court filings, the woman's attorneys accused him of refusing to return to answer questions in a deposition.

His lawyers said Monsignor Pater was "out of the country pursuant to assignment by church authorities" but was willing to be deposed in Zaire, a country they described as "fraught with social and political unrest."

Sanctioned by Judge

A judge sanctioned Monsignor Pater for missing the deposition and refused to accept additional statements from him. The judge noted that the priest's departure from the country kept the court from ordering him to appear.

The suit dragged through the following year before the sides agreed to a confidential financial settlement. Monsignor Pater paid the bulk, records show.

Through it all, the woman said, no one in the archdiocese offered her an apology, which was what she wanted in the first place: "They said it wasn't part of the lawsuit."

By 1997, Monsignor Pater had earned a promotion, becoming second in command at the Vatican Embassy in Turkey.

Back in Ohio, the woman said she lost track of his whereabouts until recently. While on the Internet, she discovered that he had moved on to the Vatican Embassy in India and served, temporarily, as the ambassador.

Monsignor Pater, reached at a family member's home outside Cincinnati, was asked if he had resigned as a diplomat because of the abuse case.

"It's just - considering what's been going on," he said. "I'm very sorry for what happened. I can't do anything about that now. I don't want to keep anybody in any discomfort or embarrassment."

The priest said he wouldn't answer further questions, then hung up.

His victim said she had long felt that Cincinnati Archdiocese leaders were failing to remove abusive priests.

"But I still had faith in the Vatican," the woman said. Now "it seems like it's not happening from the very top position down."

 
 

Original material copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
     
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