Little Chance of Vatican Co-operation with Royal Commission due to Francis' Poor Record on Child Abuse
The Wall Street Journal this week revealed further evidence that Pope Francis is unlikely to break with longstanding Vatican tradition and surrender secret Vatican files on Australian child sexual abuse cases to the Royal Commission.
Despite claims of a humbler, simpler regime under Francis, there is growing evidence the new pope is as incapable or unwilling as other Cardinals of putting the safety of children above protecting the interests of the institution.
It is hard to see Pope Francis complying with the Royal Commission's requests for this vital evidence, when, as head of the Argentinian Bishops' Conference, he could not even comply with the Vatican's own request to to prepare guidelines for dealing with allegations of abuse.
Catholic officials have been ignoring, hiding and enabling child sex crimes for decades, if not centuries. Compared to what could and should be done to prevent these crimes, writing an abuse policy is an extraordinarily minimal move.
Even when consistently violated, such a policy must be better than no policy at all. Unfortunately the man now ultimately responsible for worldwide church policy on this issue does not take it seriously enough to ensure even this tiny step forward is done within twelve months of the expiry of the Vatican's deadline.
And worrying as this new evidence is, it is not the only example of Francis' lack of compassion for victims or desire to protect children.
Also in contravention of Vatican guidelines, the new pope, during his time in Argentina, refused multiple requests to meet with victims. Such meetings are vital to understanding the harm caused by these crimes, and to changing the self confessed "lack of understanding" of this issue.
Yet one of Francis' first actions as new Pope was to meet with disgraced fugitive Cardinal Law, who is being protected from the reach of US law by the Vatican. Such a poor choice so early in Francis' reign sends a ca chilling message to victims desperate for signs of a more responsible Vatican.
Francis is also reported to have intervened to help free a convicted Argentinian priest.
These decisions are particularly concerning since much of the key evidence the Royal Commission needs to examine about Australian Catholic child sexual abuse cases is believed to have been shipped to the Vatican on the orders of Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI. It is believed the requirement to keep these cases secret and send the files to the Vatican has never been revoked.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the new papal nuncio to Australia, replaced disgraced Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto. Lazzarotto refused to even respond to requests for Vatican files from the equivalent of our Royal Commission during his time in Ireland. Gallagher has already talked about co-operation while at the same time wheeling out the identical feeble excuse used by Lazzarotto in Ireland.
We are deeply concerned this is groundwork for a similar performance as was seen in Ireland. Especially as this is not, and never has been, a matter between one sovereign country and another. This matter is between the head office which exerts autocratic control over a local institution responsible for so much harm to Australian children, and the body responsible for investigating the institution's role in these crimes.
Our concern is in no way helped by the fact the Vatican is considerably more than a decade overdue in total and has missed delivering three compulsory reports to the UN on its efforts to safeguard children, under the requirements of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. A Vatican spokesperson told the UN in 2009 that a report was being finalized as we speak.
We expect to hear this excuse used to delay and deflect requests for compliance from the Royal Commission as well.
It is imperative the Australian Government and the Royal Commissioners identify suitable actions to force a reluctant Vatican to comply with legal requests for vital evidence. The Vatican has flouted US law, Irish law, and the laws of many other countries, and even the UN. The International Criminal Court is currently considering charges against leading Vatican officials for crimes against humanity. None of these have yet succeeded in forcing any real change in the Vatican's actions on this issue, though the PR message has been changed over time to give the impression of change and to shift blame from those in charge.
It would be dangerously naive to expect the Vatican to suddenly change and comply with Australian law without a potent disincentive for non compliance. Certainly it is totally inappropriate for state and federal governments to continue to provide generous tax concessions and other forms of government funding to any institutions which display such arrogant disregard for our laws and the safety of our children.
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