Vatican concealed sexual abuse
By Rachel Zoll - ASSOCIATED PRESS
July 11, 2004
Leading advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse are directing
their criticism beyond U.S. Roman Catholic bishops to the
highest levels of the church. They're now accusing Vatican
leaders of hiding the scope of the molestation problem worldwide
-- and demanding reform.
Another sex abuse lawsuit was filed last month naming the
Vatican as a defendant -- this time in Kentucky. Separately,
Minneapolis attorney Jeff Anderson, who specializes in clergy
abuse lawsuits, has filed two others that target officials
Many church experts say complaints of a Rome cover-up are
baseless, meant only to gain advantage in the hundreds of
still-pending abuse cases against U.S. dioceses. Millions
of dollars in potential settlements are at stake.
But advocates say the revelations that many American bishops
sheltered offenders in their own dioceses are just one small
part of what they call long-term, systemic wrongdoing.
"The Vatican has been vitally involved," said Richard
Sipe, a psychologist and former monk who researches sexuality
in the priesthood and advises people suing dioceses. "The
Vatican is in the know and has documented its knowledge throughout
Sipe, the Rev. Thomas Doyle and former monk Patrick Wall
-- all well-known victim advocates -- have compiled a more
than 300-page document claiming Vatican officials have known
about sex abuse by priests going all the way back to the fourth
century and have consistently kept quiet about it.
"It is a calculated cover-up of epic proportions,"
the authors wrote.
Jason Berry, whose reporting in the 1980s first drew national
attention to clergy sex abuse, published a book this year
entitled, Vows of Silence, The Abuse of Power in the Papacy
of John Paul II.
Co-authored with Gerald Renner, it contends Vatican leaders
blocked an inquiry into sex abuse claims against the Rev.
Marcial Maciel, the prominent founder of the Legionaries of
Christ, a conservative order strongly favored by Pope John
Paul II. Maciel says he's innocent.
No one has ever successfully sued the Vatican over molestation,
and some legal experts have dismissed such lawsuits as publicity
stunts. The Vatican is a sovereign nation and, therefore,
considered to have diplomatic immunity from lawsuits.
But the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine
America and an expert on the Vatican, said it was unfair to
call the entire church hierarchy out of touch -- or say the
Vatican is legally liable for priests who victimized children.
Reese said it was true that some Vatican leaders had been
slower to react to the problem than U.S. bishops, who spent
years convincing officials in Rome that offenders should be
removed from the priesthood more quickly -- even as some prelates
kept abusers in ministry. Local bishops -- not Vatican leaders
-- supervise diocesan priests.
"The Vatican has got lots of canon lawyers who are concerned
about proper procedures and due process and being considered
innocent until proven guilty," Reese said. And sometimes
that's seen as stonewalling when it's simply trying to make
sure everyone's rights are protected. It's complicated."
Berry and Renner say there is a need for an independent church
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
the church's orthodoxy watchdog, vets all abuse claims against
priests worldwide. Bishops arrange church trials for accused
priests, and bishops answer only to the pope, the advocates
"There is no internal mechanism of accountability,"
Berry said. "There is no separation of powers, and the
Vatican will not allow lay people to have any say in removing
The Rev. Joseph Fessio, president of Ignatius Press and chancellor
of Ave Maria University in Florida, said the global church
already has the necessary tools to deal with the crisis: its
teachings on sexuality.
He is among many conservative Catholics who believe the scandal
wouldn't have occurred if Vatican officials and U.S. bishops
had properly enforced church beliefs.
"The reform that's needed is not of structures,"
Fessio said. "It's a needed reform of the human heart."