More smoke and mirrors from the Vatican on child sexual abuse


By Kieran Tapsell

Cardinal Desmond Connell, the former archbishop of Dublin, told the Murphy commission in Ireland that mental reservation was deceiving someone without telling a lie. He said it is permissible to use “an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be.”There is an exquisite piece of mental reservation in a recent announcement from the Vatican. According to Vatican Radio, “The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors presented a five point plan to the Pope and his closest advisors at this week’s meeting, including the establishment of a ‘new judicial section’ to examine all cases of bishops accused of abusing their office and failing to report crimes committed by priests in their care.”Kieran TapsellThe ambiguous expression in this case is “failing to report crimes” because it does not say to whom the bishops should have reported. Nearly everyone would understand the expression to mean reporting to the police. That is not what the Vatican means. It means reporting to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in every case and only sometimes to the police.

As the Holy See told the Irish foreign minister in 2011, bishops are the governors of their own diocese, and so far as the church is concerned, the only restraint on them is canon law. Bishops can only be put on trial before this new tribunal for breaching canon law. A bishop who fails to report credible allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is in breach of canon law because that obligation is set out in the decree Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela.

Likewise, canon law in the United States since 2002, and for the rest of the world since 2010, requires bishops to comply with domestic civil reporting laws. A failure to do so constitutes a breach of canon law. The recently resigned bishops — Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché of St. Paul-Minneapolis and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., who was convicted by a Missouri court of failing to report a priest’s possession of child pornography — could be brought before the new tribunal for failing to comply with civil laws on reporting as required by the norms approved in December 2002 by the Holy See for the United States.

Very few jurisdictions in the world have comprehensive reporting laws. Most have reporting laws for children at risk, that is, where they are under the age of 18, but very few have reporting laws that apply to historical abuse, that is, where the abused person is now an adult. In the United States, half the states have such laws and half do not. The United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Canada do not have them. In 2014 and 2015, the Italian and Polish Catholic bishops’ conferences announced that they would not be reporting child sex abuse offenses by clergy to the police because their civil laws did not require it. Their stance is consistent with canon law.

In Australia, only two out of the eight states and territories require the reporting of historical abuse. Figures produced at the Victorian parliamentary inquiry in Australia suggest that historical abuse amounts to more than 99 percent of all complaints. The same inquiry found that of the 611 complaints of child sexual abuse in the four Victorian dioceses between 1996 and 2012, not one of them had been reported by the church to the civil authorities.

This was understandable because prior to 2014, there was no requirement under Victorian law to report any abuse, whether of children at risk or historical abuse. And the bishops on ordination had sworn an oath to obey all ecclesiastical laws, which in this case meant not reporting these crimes to the police in accordance with the pontifical secret imposed by Pope Paul VI’s Secreta Continere and Pope John Paul II’s Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela.

In those jurisdictions without such reporting laws, unless a bishop walks into a priest’s bedroom and finds him in flagrante delicto with a minor, the pontifical secret prevents him from reporting any knowledge of or allegations about such crimes to the police. If he reports the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he has complied with canon law and cannot be charged with “abuse of office,” despite the fact that he has covered up these crimes by not reporting them to the police.

On two occasions now, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee against Torture demanded that the Holy See abolish the pontifical secret for child sexual abuse and order mandatory reporting under canon law, irrespective of whether there are civil reporting laws or not. On Sept. 26, 2014, the Holy See rejected the request.

Many media reports describe the setting up of this tribunal as a breakthrough. There is no breakthrough. The announcement does not do away with the pontifical secret and does not extend reporting requirements to the civil authorities. In many cases of cover-up by bishops, there will be no abuse of office because the cover-up has been required by canon law, as the announcements by the Italian and Polish bishops attest.

The pope has always had jurisdiction to dismiss or punish bishops like Nienstedt, Piché and Finn, who have breached canon law. He even has jurisdiction to dismiss them even where they have not breached canon law, as the case of the Australian Bishop William Morris shows.

This announcement is being dressed up as a measure to protect children when all it is doing is setting up a tribunal that would ensure that bishops accused of breaching canon law have the right to be heard. It is another example of clericalism creating smoke and mirrors to give the impression that better protections are being provided for children when the people being looked after are the bishops. The real breakthrough will happen when the Holy See complies with the demands of the United Nations.
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Children of celibacy: What happens when priests’ vows are too hard to keep

Priests sometimes father children, but everyone involved can be trapped in a web of secrecy.

By Mark Woods


Roman Catholic priests take vows of lifelong celibacy. Probably the majority see it as a gift and a calling, and are content to sacrifice a sexual relationship and a family life for the sake of their ministry.

However, for some, a vow made with every good intention is not so easily kept – and sometimes children are the result. In historically Catholic countries like Ireland, this can result in terrible tensions, with the natural desire of parents to bring up a child together at war with shame, social disapproval and a desire for secrecy. Almost inevitably, it is the children – and often their mothers – who come off worst, with the children not told the identity of their fathers.

Six months ago, a new website aimed at helping support such children was set up in Ireland and has already received around 15,000 hits. COPING – Children of Priests International – was founded to help children come to terms with their experiences. It has had visitors from the United States, Italy, India and Australia as well as from Ireland.

COPING points to the particular pressures on priests’ children, including forced emigration, late night abusive phone calls and exclusion. Mothers have been forced to sign confidentiality agreements in order to get help with childcare expenses and have been encouraged to remain silent about the parentage of their children. COPING says that such agreements “actively silence an individual, encourage the notion of taboo and encourage shame”.

“It is the considered opinion of Coping that such agreements, whether past, present or future are unconscionable and are founded upon undue duress,” it says. The organisations stresses that lay people as well as clergy are responsible for such behaviour.

COPING is supported by Prof Patricia Casey, a senior psychiatrist and conservative Catholic commentator, who believes that children deserve to know their father’s identity. “The desire to know ones’ origins and all connected with this is very powerful and can only become more apparent and acceptable as the numbers conceived in non-traditional ways increase,” she argues.

The website includes testimonies from children of priests and their mothers, including women whose lovers had died and who felt unable to tell their stories to anyone, including their children.

It has won backing from the Catholic Church and cites the support of the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, who said: “I pray that COPING will be able to find ways which will bring the children of priests and their natural parents together for the benefit of both.” Its website also quotes Pope Francis, who as Cardinal Bergoglio said: “If a priest comes to me and tells me that he has gotten a woman pregnant…I remind him that the natural law comes before his right as a priest…just as that child has a right to his mother, he has the right to the face of his father.”

The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference has said: “The Bishops are anxious to ensure that appropriate support is being offered to all children. In particular they appreciate the sensitivity required in any pastoral outreach to children of priests.”

Referring to the Church’s counselling programme, the statement says: “The Bishops are actively collaborating with Towards Healing so that Towards Healing will be in a position to provide appropriate counselling / support to children of Catholic Clergy.”
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Vatican orders former archbishop Jozef Wesolowski to stand trial for sex abuse

A Vatican prosecutor on Monday ordered the trial of a former Roman Catholic archbishop accused of paying for sex with children while he was a papal ambassador in the Dominican Republic and of possessing child pornographic material.vatican-envoy-josef-wesolowski

Jozef Wesolowski, a Pole who had been defrocked by a Vatican tribunal, last year became the first person to be arrested inside the Vatican on paedophilia charges.

A statement said the trial, the first on paedophilia charges to be held inside the Vatican City, would start on July 11.

It said allegations of crimes committed in the Dominican Republic were based on an investigation by police there.

The others were based on a Vatican investigation that found child pornography on his computer after he was arrested last September.

Wesolowski was recalled to Rome by the Vatican in 2013 when he was still a diplomat in Santo Domingo and he was relieved of his duties after Dominican media accused him of paying boys to perform sexual acts.

The former archbishop, who later lost his diplomatic immunity, could face up to 12 years in jail, the Vatican said at the time of his arrest.
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Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt resigns after charges over abuse scandal



The Vatican on Monday (June 15) launched a major housecleaning of the scandal-plagued Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accepting the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt along with that of Nienstedt’s top aide, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché.

The moves come little over a week after authorities charged the archdiocese for failing to protect children from an abusive priest and days after Pope Francis unveiled the first-ever system for disciplining bishops who do not act against predator clerics.

In April, Bishop Robert Finn of Missouri, who three years earlier became the first bishop convicted of failing to report a priest suspected of child abuse, was forced to resign, effectively the first bishop in the decades-long crisis to lose his job for covering up for an abuser.

bishop Lee Piche

bishop Lee Piche

Observers say this latest move seems to signal an unprecedented effort by Rome to hold bishops accountable in the abuse crisis.

Almost from the time he took over in the Twin Cities in 2008, Nienstedt, 68, became a polarizing figure as an outspoken conservative, especially with his focus against gay rights and same-sex marriage.

But in the past few years questions about his alleged failures to take a hardline on abusive clerics, especially a former priest not in jail, Curtis Wehmeyer, have made him a target of criticism from all sides.

Persistent questions about Nienstedt’s own personal conduct also became an issue; last year Nienstedt gave Piché, 57, the job of investigating allegations of misconduct against him, one of two separate probes of Nienstedt’s personal behavior.

In charging the archdiocese earlier this month, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said prosecutors were alleging “a disturbing institutional and systemic pattern of behavior” over the course of decades at the highest level of leadership in the archdiocese.

Nienstedt was not personally charged, but authorities said the investigation was continuing and further charges could be filed.

Francis appointed Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who is currently in New Jersey preparing to take over the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., next year when Archbishop John Myers is expected to retire, as the interim leader in Minneapolis-St. Paul until a permanent replacement is found.

A brief note from the Vatican provided no details on Nienstedt’s resignation. It said only that he resigned under under the provision of canon law that states that a bishop “who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”
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Bernard Lynch – the ‘Aids Priest’


IT’S no surprise that Father Bernàrd Lynch’s life fills not one but three Channel 4 documen­taries. Nicknamed by newspapers “The Aids Priest”, Bernàrd, 67, spent almost four decades ministering to people with HIV and Aids in America and the UK. Based in Camden since 1992, he chairs the Camden LGBT Forum and the London Irish LGBT Network.

Bernard Lynch

Father Bernàrd Lynch

“Camden Town reminded me of New York – Greenwich Village and the East Village. It had all that bohemianism and artistic edge,” he says. “I’m at home here because it is truly catholic in the secular sense of the word.”

Bernàrd has publicly railed against inequalities in the Catholic Church and society. As an openly married gay man, the Church revoked his licence in 1989 yet he continues to perform mass at the behest of parish priests and works as a psychotherapist. A handsome, softly spoken man, the only outward symbol of his faith is the Celtic sign of hope he wears on a chain, subtly bringing it up to his lips at the mention of the gospel.

“I prefer to be called Bernàrd but I don’t make an issue of it,” he says. “As a priest, like a doctor or all caring professions, people come with all kinds of expectations, and some people need to call me ‘Father’ because that is the kind of relation­ship they want and that’s OK but it’s not my choice.”

The lightning speed at which Aids ravaged comm­unities in the 1980s has already been relegated to history; the misinforma­tion, the rumours, slurs and prejudice somehow mislaid. “But I will never forget,” he says. “I read in First World War memoirs ‘how does one go back to bagging corn from being in the trenches?’ Well, I’m back bagging corn. No one knows and that’s part of the pain.”

It was sectarian violence in Northern Ireland that triggered Bernàrd ’s campaigning spirit. Aged 17, he began training in the African Missions college near Belfast. There he found a definite separation between the seminary and contemporary politics. “I didn’t start out as a radical or a rebel, anything but. I was radicalised by what I saw,” he says. “I happen­ed to be in Northern Ireland for Bloody Sunday in 1972. The seminary was a very closed community but after seeing that massacre of 14 un­armed teenagers shot in the back they released us en masse to march against the atrocity and that was my first exposure to politics.”

Bernàrd cared for hundreds of men dying from Aids in New York. Time and time again he would encourage mothers to touch their sons. “It was incredible, the sense of contamina­tion,” he says. “I was literally taking their hands and saying you cannot get it, it’s OK. And they would thank me like I had done a miracle.” A week later he could be officiating at the funeral, always introduced as “a friend of the family”.

He remembers working with Mother Theresa in New York. She and her sisters would not allow gay partners at patients death­beds because they were “occas­ions of sin”.

“My own church blamed people for getting the disease. Can you think of anything more unchris­tian? A lot of Catholic men died in despair because of their church. At a time when the church should have been their hope, their way of easing them into their death, it became in fact the arbiter of hate.”

Yet Bernàrd’s faith stayed strong. He continues to separate his belief from the religion, distilling it into two words – “love and justice”.

Last month Bernàrd, with the London Irish LGBT Network, watched the results of the Irish marriage equality referen­dum at Ku Bar in Soho. It was a mixed crowd and though ecstatic at the overwhelming victory Bernàrd was moved by the stories he heard. Young men and women told how they had moved to London away from homophobic discrimination.

“I couldn’t delight more with the result and that isn’t anti-Cath­olic,” he says. “It’s good for the Church and that is certainly better for the Irish nation. The Church, in my mind, has no right to get into bed with anybody, that is not its business.”
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