Paedophilia, Those Who Won't Toe Ratzinger's Line

By Alessandro Speciale
Vatican Insider
February 11, 2012

Benedict XVI

Despite the clear signals being sent out from Rome, many bishops the world over still haven't learned the lesson on how to tackle child abuse in the Church

During the recent symposium at the Pontifical Gregorian University entitled "Towards Healing and Renewal", monsignor Charles Scicluna the promoter of justice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was very clear: "We need to be vigilant in choosing candidates for the important role of bishop and also use the tools that canonical law and tradition give for accountability of bishops."

Monsignor Scicluna spoke of those bishops who have not tackled and still aren't tackling today cases of child abuse committed by priests, in line with Vatican laws which have become tougher in recent years, and do not follow the guidelines set down or those being finalised by their episcopal conferences: "It is not acceptable that when there are set standards, people do not follow the set standards", he added.

In particular, during the press conference he held after his speech at the Gregorian University symposium, the archbishop from Malta seemed to refer to canon law 128 from the Code of Canon Law ("Whoever illegitimately inflicts damage upon someone by a juridic act or by any other act placed with malice or negligence is obliged to repair the damage inflicted"); but in more general terms he stressed how bishops, as members of the clergy, are subject to the same punishments and rules that apply to priests. "It's not a question of changing laws, it's a question of applying what we have," said Scicluna.

However, even if clear signals have been sent out from Rome, especially in recent years and most recently from this very conference organised at the Jesuit university, with a penitential mass to ask forgiveness from victims, presided over by Cardinal Marc Ouellet today there are still bishops who don't seem ready to take responsibility and follow the rules.

There are some astonishing examples: the bishop of Cloyne, monsignor John Magee, was still ignoring Irish bishops' guidelines on abuse in 2009. Just outside Rome, in the diocese of Porto Santa Rufina, the lawyers representing victims of Fr. Ruggero Conti demanded the incrimination of the bishop, monsignor Gino Reali, who testified in court that he knew of the alleged abuses perpetrated by the priest but had not felt it appropriate to inform the Vatican or the police.

However these are not isolated cases. In the "epicentre" of the crisis, the United States, the bishop of Kansas City, monsignor Robert Finn, is on trial for not having reported that one of his priests was in the habit of taking pornographic photographs of underage children. All this happened in 2011 and the first hearing will take place in September.

Even in Poland, according to an enquiry by journalist Jonathan Luxmoore, who has lived in the country for years, the Church still seems very reluctant to take measures: among the various cases he mentions is that of a priest who went back to teaching children despite a ban imposed by a judge and who was reassigned his old parish after having been sentenced to two years on probation.

The critical point here is that his bishop who wrote an open letter assuring the condemned priest of his "sympathy" and criticising the affront "to the good name of our priests" is monsignor Jozef Michalik, archbishop of Przemysl and president of the Polish Episcopal Conference. His deputy, monsignor Marian Rojek, attended the symposium at the Gregorian University, representing Polish bishops.

Poland probably isn't the only country where victims who report abuse become targets of the Church's hostility and that of the faithful. In most cases, as in past decades, those who have suffered abuse don't come forward.

However, even in those countries where there has been a marked change in mentality there's always the risk of going back. Proof of this is an interview released by the former archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, which took place at the same time as the Roman symposium on paedophilia.

Referring to the time when he was bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Cardinal explained that he regretted having written a letter of apology to the congregation of his diocese in 2002: "I should never have said that. I did say if we did anything wrong, I am sorry, but I don't think we did anything wrong."

The time when a prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, could write to a French bishop to congratulate him for having protected a priest accused of abuse during a trial are long gone. However these recent cases prove that as Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, told the symposium "the work necessary to tackle this crisis is far from over".


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