Secrecy called a Vatican mind-set
Kathleen A. Shaw
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
August 12, 2003
Although a 1962 Vatican document detailing how certain sexual
abuse allegations are to be handled shows the mind-set of
secrecy of the Catholic hierarchy, it may not be as crucial
as some people want to believe, according to the Rev. Thomas
"The Vatican document did not cause the clandestine mode
of dealing with clergy sex abuse," he said.
Rev. Doyle, now an Air Force chaplain in Germany, is the canon
lawyer who wrote one of the original reports in the 1980s
alerting American bishops that they had a problem with clergy
sexual abuse and needed to take action.
His report was initially disregarded and was not acted on
by the bishops. He has since been speaking out for the rights
of clergy sexual abuse victims.
Construing the document as "a substitute for civil law
action" or as a way to hide clergy who commit sex crimes
may be "stretching a bit too far," he said.
Rev. Doyle said that if it turned out "the document actually
has been the foundation of a continuous policy to cover clergy
crimes at all costs, then we have quite another issue.
"There are too many authenticated reports of victims
having been seriously intimidated into silence by church authorities
to assert that such intimidation is the exception and not
"If this document has been used as a justification for
this intimidation, then we possibly have what some of the
more critical commentators have alleged, namely, a blueprint
for a cover-up. This is obviously a big "if' which requires
concrete proof," he said.
"It should not be too difficult to see why so many have
seen in the 1962 Vatican Instruction a smoking gun. Over the
past 18 years, but especially since January 2002, we have
witnessed wave after wave of deception, stonewalling, outright
lying, intimidation of victims and complex schemes to manipulate
the truth and obstruct justice," Rev. Doyle said.
Although canon lawyers have one view on the document, civil
lawyers handling sexual abuse lawsuits have a different understanding.
Canon lawyers deal with the laws that govern operation of
the church, which has its own legal system.
Houston lawyer Daniel J. Shea and Boston lawyer Carmen L.
Durso recently presented a copy of the 1962 document to U.S.
Attorney Michael J. Sullivan in Boston and urged him to act
on what they see as an international conspiracy by the church
to hush up sexual abuse issues.
Mr. Shea said yesterday that canon lawyers and civil lawyers
may see the issue differently, but he stands by his assertion
that the document shows the Vatican has been behind the "cover-up"
of clergy sexual abuse for years.
Rev. Doyle said the Vatican document was sent to every bishop
in the world but he believes "detailed awareness"
of the content might be limited, although it has been discussed
by canon lawyers and Vatican officials.
The 1962 document, sometimes called by its Latin name Crimen
Sollicitiones, provided for secrecy because of the nature
of the crimes, which involved sexual abuse of children and
"It may seem to be some sort of clandestine plan, but
in fact it is an expansion, with added detail, of the procedural
laws to be followed," Rev. Doyle said.
Imposing strict secrecy is not unusual and is imposed for
a variety of reasons, he said. The secrecy was intended to
"assure witnesses that they can speak freely" and
to protect reputations until guilt or innocence is determined,
Rev. Doyle said the "almost paranoid insistence on secrecy"
is probably related to "the scandal that would arise
were the public to hear stories of priests committing such
terrible crimes," he said. The other is "protection
of the inviolability of the sacrament of penance."
Although the concept of secrecy might have been understandable
in the time the document was written and approved by Pope
John XXIII, it has helped in "preventing both justice
and compassionate care for victims," he said.
"It has enabled the widespread spirit of denial among
clergy, hierarchy and laity. The secrecy has been justified
to avoid scandal when in fact it has enabled even more scandal,"
Rev. Doyle said.
He said some assertions that the document was obscure and
was unknown by the majority of bishops might be true but he
said copies "have been stored in church offices throughout
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the
document deals exclusively with solicitation of a person during
the sacrament of Confession "and does not concern sexual
Although the document specifies solicitation of sexual crimes
in the confessional or in the context of Confession, two of
the civil lawsuits in the Worcester Catholic Diocese involve
allegations that children were sexually abused by priests
in the context of the confessional.
Karen A. Pedersen of Fitchburg said in her suit that her alleged
sexual abuse by the Rev. Robert E. Kelley involved the confessional.
A similar allegation has been made by Timothy P. Staney of
Worcester in his allegations involving the Rev. Jean-Paul
Mr. Donohue accused Mr. Shea and Mr. Durso of being behind
an "invidious caper." He also called them "irresponsible
Copyright 2003 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.