Justice Getting Lost in the Translation

By E.J. Montini
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
August 10, 2003

You have to figure that there are guys in the Vatican who speak English, though you might not know it from the response Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley got to the letter he sent to Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Romley asked for the Vatican's help in bringing a couple of suspected sexual predators to justice. But the cardinal and his associates took one look at the prosecutor's letterhead and told the Vatican postmaster to ship it back with a note that read, "Sir, the item, here enclosed, is returned to the sender because refused by the rightful addressee. Best regards."

It was not exactly the cooperazione - cooperation - that Romley was hoping for. Particularly since he believes that the letter was opened, looked at, then resealed and returned. Particularly in light of the church's recent promise, at least in Phoenix, to assist prosecutors who are investigating accusations of sexual abuse by clergy. Particularly since the suspects, Father Patrick Colleary and Father Joseph Briceno, are alleged by Romley to be "actively ministering." One in Ireland, one in Mexico. Which puts them near potential victims who probably know nothing of their legal problems.

"I am requesting that you direct Father Colleary and Father Briceno to surrender to civil authorities in the United States to face these charges," Romley wrote.

According to the county attorney's spokesman, Bill FitzGerald, prosecutors hoped that the church "would use its authority over these individuals to assist us." But, no.

Perhaps it was a language problem. Perhaps a Vatican official looked at the letter, which was in English on Romley's official stationery, and said, "Non capisco" - I don't understand.

With that in mind I contacted the Phoenix Diocese, which is now under the control of Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan. Romley has praised Sheehan for cooperating with prosecutors. "There is a good-faith effort, I believe, to truly make a difference," Romley said.

Perhaps the archbishop could make a phone call and put in a good word for the county prosecutor. Maybe he'd even ask his bosses to make Colleary and Briceno turn themselves in. Or, if propriety required a more formal request, perhaps Archbishop Sheehan could write his own letter to the Vatican asking officials there to honor Romley's request. I contacted the Phoenix Diocese last week and asked if that was a possibility. Or if, in the spirit of cooperation, it already had been done.

But it had not. And it would not. In the friendliest possible way, diocese spokeswoman Mary Jo West (who once was the first female TV news anchor in Phoenix) told me that no direct contact between the local diocese and the Vatican would be made. Instead, she wrote in an e-mail, "Our people have told the county attorney that the best way to get what he needs is to contact the State Department, which in turn will work with the Vatican officials."

Romley already is doing that. Besides, could that really be the church's policy? If so, then what would happen if a parishioner visited a priest and asked for some advice about turning in a friend? What if the authorities told a parishioner that they were looking for an associate of his whom they suspected of having committed terrible crimes against children? What if they asked the parishioner to help them locate the suspect? Would the priest tell the parishioner not to do so? Would he tell the parishioner to give police the runaround, protecting a person who is suspected of sexually assaulting children? Is that any different from the church not helping Romley?

Language and protocol aside, the need to protect kids is not something that should get lost in translation. If that's what is happening, there's one word I can think of that they'd definitely understand in Rome. Disgustoso. Disgusting.


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