Diplomatic Immunity? Predatory priests shouldn't
be Vatican envoys
The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, September 3, 2003
A year after Pope John Paul II declared that there is "no
place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would
harm the young," we learn that one of his closest advisers
knew about just such a priest in the Vatican diplomatic corps
and did nothing to remove him.
The shocking story, reported by this newspaper's Reese Dunklin,
moves the American clergy sex scandal into the Vatican's own
ranks, and indeed into the papal household, which is overseen
by Bishop James M. Harvey. Bishop Harvey, an American who
was previously a high official in the Vatican's foreign office,
acknowledged that he had been told about the case of Monsignor
Daniel Pater, but had not acted because he "presumed
... that there wasn't anything to it or the accusations were
That's not true, according to the Rev. Lawrence Breslin,
who says he told his friend Bishop Harvey twice about Monsignor
Pater's past, and was assured by the bishop that Rome knew
everything, and that the problem would "pass over."
Monsignor Pater was, until his recent resignation, a Vatican
diplomat who had admitted a sexual relationship with an Ohio
girl that began in the 1980s, when she was 14. Though he was
never charged, the priest's actions amount to statutory rape.
It only now comes to public light after Monsignor Pater's
victim discovered her rapist was serving as the pope's No.
2 diplomat in India, and spoke out.
How can anyone conclude that this institution is sincere
about reform? Consider that the pope's diplomats, like diplomats
from every sovereign nation, enjoy immunity from criminal
prosecution. The diplomatic dodge is well known to high churchmen.
A Cleveland auxiliary bishop speaking at a 1990 canon law
meeting advised fellow American bishops to cull their personnel
files of evidence against sex offenders, and send it to the
Vatican Embassy in Washington, thereby placing incriminating
documents under diplomatic protection. How many priests like
Monsignor Pater have been shielded like this within the Vatican
and its diplomatic outposts worldwide?
And yet and yet! Gov. Frank Keating, former
head of the National Review Board, was criticized for referring
to the "Mafia-like culture of secrecy" of the bishops.
Meanwhile, we are all left to reflect on the reformability
of an ecclesial culture in which a man standing at the pope's
right hand can know about a priest raping a 14-year-old girl,
and is moved neither by a sense of outraged justice, nor of
managerial responsibility, nor even the barest human compassion
to do anything about it. After all that has happened over
the past year and a half, the Catholic bishops still do not
get it, and the pope's powerful declaration about clerical
sex abusers expresses an ideal that is grievously far from