Disgraced Ex-priest Dino Cinel Takes His Case to Vatican

By Bruce Nolan
The Times-Picayune
July 23, 2011

Dino Cinel talks to reporters in 1991, after a cache of commercial child pornography and videotapes of him having sex with young men was found in his room in the rectory of St. Rita Catholic Church. G.E. Arnold, The Times-Picayune archive

Dino Cinel, the former Catholic priest whose cache of child pornography and videotaped sex with young men in an Uptown rectory shook New Orleans in 1991, is living in Italy and petitioning the Vatican for justice as a former sexual abuse victim himself.

After months of effort, he has found little or no help for victims there, Cinel recently told SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

But SNAP has extended limited sympathy.

“We don’t doubt that Cinel was sexually abused as a youngster by a priest,” said spokesman David Clohessy. “But no one should lose sight of the fact that he’s a dangerous predator.”

Cinel told SNAP of his mission and shared a letter he said he wrote to Pope Benedict XVI describing his lack of success and his frustration with the Vatican justice system.

He said the Vatican’s formal judicial procedures made no room for the care of victims abused by clergy, and that he has spent months vainly pressing his case, once meeting with Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s chief prosecutor on allegations of sexual abuse.

“I had the feeling that after the physical abuse of many years ago I was now submitted to the intellectual and emotional abuse by not being believed,” he wrote Benedict.

It was not clear what kind of reparation Cinel seeks. Beyond a brief response to an email query from The Times-Picayune, he declined to elaborate on his mission.

Church policies assign local bishops responsibility for the care of sex-abuse victims.

Sex tapes and child porn led to the dismissal of Dino Cinel, seen in a Facebook photo.

Cinel, now 68, said he was abused between the ages of 12 and 16 by an unnamed priest. It is not clear where the abuse occurred, although Cinel is a native of Italy.

Cinel said he is temporarily living in Italy to press his case because he got no response to letters dispatched from the United States.

Quietly managed events

His story rocked New Orleans in 1991. It would prove to be a precursor to the national Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal that erupted in Boston 11 years later.

Cinel, a historian, was on the faculty at Tulane University and living at the rectory of St. Rita Catholic Church in late 1988 when a colleague found in his room a cache of commercial child pornography and homemade videotapes of Cinel having sex with young men.

By telephone, Archbishop Philip Hannan fired Cinel, who was then vacationing in Italy. Hannan suggested he start a new life elsewhere.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Harry Connick allowed the church to keep the videotapes for weeks, so it could try to identify and reach out to victims, the church said. Connick then decided the case was too weak to prosecute.

The case created a firestorm when a former sexual partner who said he was underage at the time of their videotaped encounter sued Cinel. Civil depositions laid bare the quietly managed events involving Cinel, Hannan and Connick 18 months earlier.

Although Hannan and Connick both said they acted appropriately, many read the events to mean that Connick’s cooperation with Hannan amounted to inappropriate collusion — and that Hannan’s advice to Cinel in Italy to start over somewhere else amounted to a tip-off.

Cinel ultimately returned, although not as a priest, and Connick prosecuted him for possession of commercial child pornography. But Cinel was acquitted when he demonstrated that he had acquired the material before a 1986 statute made its mere possession illegal.

By that time Cinel had left the priesthood and married.

Priesthood revoked

Sarah MacDonald, the spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said the Vatican last year formally “laicized” Cinel, formally revoking his priesthood. Both Cinel and the Archdiocese of New Orleans joined in that petition, she said.

From the earliest days of the scandal Cinel disclosed that he was himself a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

In subsequent years he said he underwent extensive therapy that enabled him to marry and have a family.

Now, describing his largely fruitless petitioning in Italy, Cinel told SNAP: “After months of dealing with these gentlemen, it became obvious to me that there is absolutely no interest in acknowledging the existence of the issue, much less to deal with it. The protection of the church is the exclusive interest, protection to be understood as denial of the facts, no accountability, and no help of any kind.”

But SNAP, for its part, has kept its distance from Cinel.

“We concur with him that Catholic officials treat victims terribly, and we are pessimistic about the prospects that the hierarchy will or can reform itself,” Clohessy said. “(But) those who want a safer church for kids should, we feel, focus their energies on lobbying secular authorities, not church authorities.”

Bruce Nolan can be reached at or 504.826.3344.


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