‘Unspeakable Crimes’ by Catholic Priests

By Louise Vella
Times of Malta
October 1, 2010

I refer to the editorial on the sexual abuse of children by the clergy (September 28). Indeed they are “unspeakable crimes” and not just sins. Crimes must be dealt with by the state (the police and the courts) and not by the Church with its funny in-house justice system.

But Pope Benedict XVI did not take the logical next step of saying that crimes committed by priests must be punished in the same way as crimes committed by laymen.

Much less did he recognise the Church’s duty to pass all the information it holds about these crimes to the state. In Belgium the police and the courts had to intervene to extract this information from the Church.

Bringing child abusers (priests and non-priests) to justice has a threefold purpose – to punish them for their crimes, to deter possible future offenders and to provide publicity to warn parents and children about whom to avoid. It’s the publicity that the Church is most afraid of. It depends on people’s trust and publicity about priest child molesters undermines this trust, the same trust that is abused by offending priests.

“The culture of silence has been well and truly discredited”, the editorial rightly says. The Times advises that “the Church in Malta and Gozo should… update the people of these islands on what she is already doing and planning to do”.

The Church has improved its PR. Archbishop Cremona is the smiling face of the Church, but behind him lurks a more sour reality. As regards priest child molesters, the only change has been a mere sleight-of-hand. There was a response team, chaired by retired judge Victor Caruana Colombo (before whom I appeared as a witness in 2000). There is now a second one, chaired by another retired judge. New cases will be assigned to the second response team and the first one will be phased out without actually being disbanded and discredited, even though it has been partly responsible for “the culture of silence”.

Hundreds of cases of priest child molesters and resulting cover-ups have been exposed all over the world.

The Church covered them up to safeguard its reputation and that of the priests involved.

The Pope has apologised and it’s business as usual at the Vatican.

By failing to act to bring offenders to justice, the Pope is still complicit. The Holy See isn’t doing enough, or still doesn’t get it.

The Pope may tell us he’s sorry every time he is in front of a camera; but he still refuses to turn over records of paedophile cases to the police. Actions speak louder than words.

So far the Pope’s inaction implies that he would rather protect the reputation of the Church than the innocence and security of children. Every day that child molesting clerics and their complicit colleagues and supervisors remain hidden is a day that children are needlessly put in harm’s way. The Pope and the bishops must find the courage to face the truth, suspend their colleagues, tell the public, call the police and take steps to safeguard the vulnerable and heal the wounded.


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