Vatican Document Instructed Secrecy in Abuse Cases

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
July 29, 2003

The hierarchy of the Catholic church has been instructed by the Vatican at least since 1962 to keep certain cases of clergy sexual abuse secret under pain of excommunication, according to Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso.

A copy of the directive was sent yesterday to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan at his Boston office by Mr. Durso, who said he believes the church has been obstructing justice.

Mr. Durso said it might also explain why Cardinal Bernard F. Law and bishops of the Boston Archdiocese and elsewhere covered up sexual abuse of children by clergy.

Mr. Durso yesterday asked Mr. Sullivan to find legal grounds under federal laws to prosecute those in the hierarchy who have covered up these sexual abuse cases.

Houston lawyer Daniel J. Shea provided Mr. Durso with a copy of the Vatican document, called "On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation" (Latin title: "Crimen Sollicit[ati]on[i]s"). Both lawyers are representing alleged clergy abuse victims in Central Massachusetts.

Paul Baier, president of Survivors First, a victims' advocacy group, who is also familiar with the document, called the church's action in concealing instances of sexual abuse "a coordinated effort of conspiracy."

Bryan Smith of Hubbardston, Worcester area leader of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said people in the church who covered up for priests "should be prosecuted.

"If it were anyone else, they would be in jail by now," he said.

Mr. Durso's action came after Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly issued a grand jury report last week that was critical of the hierarchy of the Boston Archdiocese for its failure to protect children from abusive priests. He said he had no grounds for criminal charges. He determined that at least 800 children were sexually abused by 250 priests in the archdiocese dating from 1940.

"This document may provide the link in the thinking of all of those who hid the truth for so many years," Mr. Durso said. "The constant admonitions that information regarding accusations against priests are to be deemed "a secret of the Holy Office' may explain, but most certainly do not justify, their actions," Mr. Durso told the federal attorney.

"Indeed, the directions regarding both the hiding and the destruction of documents should be evaluated in terms of the crime of obstruction of justice," he said.

Mr. Durso, accompanied by representatives of various statewide victim advocacy groups, went to Mr. Sullivan's office in Boston, where he hand-delivered the letter.

The 40-page document, which was obtained by the Telegram & Gazette, was promulgated in 1962 by the Supreme and Holy Congregation of the Holy Office under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII and was printed by the Vatican Press. It is marked confidential and states it is to be stored in the "secret archives" and is to be treated as "strictly confidential."

It specifically tells bishops, archbishops and patriarchs, including those of the Eastern Rite, how to handle allegations that a priest made sexual advances toward a person in the confessional. Confession is a sacrament of the Catholic Church.

Two civil suits in the Worcester Diocese involve allegations that a priest made improper advances to children in the confessional and subsequently sexually abused them. The allegations were made by Karen Pedersen of Fitchburg in her suit against the Rev. Robert E. Kelley and by Timothy P. Staney of Worcester in his suit against the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon. The priests have denied the allegations.

One section states that the bishop, who is called the ordinary, has control over such investigations and in cases of accused members of religious orders, the superior can remove the accused priest from ministry and "will also be able to transfer him to another (assignment), unless the ordinary of the place has forbidden it because he has already accepted the denunciation and begun the inquisition."

The document said that because of the great care necessary with these cases, those investigating "are to be restrained by a perpetual silence" and are required "to observe the strictest secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office in all matters and with all persons, under the penalty of excommunication..."

The oath of secrecy also is required of those accusing the priest and any witnesses.

The directive also says the person who is solicited in the confessional must report the incident to the bishop within a month or to the Holy Office. The accused confessor is required to warn the person confessing of this duty.

A person who knowingly failed to denounce the priest incurs excommunication.

The directive calls for destruction of documents if the investigators find an accusation "totally lacks a foundation." If the accusation is "vague and indeterminate or uncertain" the records should go to the archives in case "something else happens in the future."

If the accusation is considered "serious enough" but not sufficient to begin an accusatorial process, information should go to the archive.

Should an accused priest go before a church trial, "in every way the judge is to remember that it is never right for him to bind the accused by an oath to tell the truth."

Mr. Shea in a separate letter to Mr. Sullivan explained that the 1962 Vatican document appears in a footnote to a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated May 18, 2002, to all bishops of the Catholic church.

Samantha Martin, a spokesman for Mr. Sullivan, said he would have no immediate comment.

"We have received the letter from the group and we also have a copy of the (attorney general's) report, and all the materials are under review," Ms. Martin said.


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