Lawyers allege evidence supports Vatican cover-up
Policy's wording change questioned
by Richard Nangle, Worcester, MA Telegram & Gazette
July 31, 2003
Two lawyers handling Massachusetts clergy abuse cases say
they have found further evidence of what they allege are Vatican
efforts at a cover-up, bolstering their call for federal investigators
to bring conspiracy charges against Catholic church leaders
The use of the word "how" in a passage from a December
2002 policy adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
was an attempt to keep clergy abuse cases out of the legal
system, according to Houston lawyer Daniel J. Shea, who is
pursuing the matter with lawyer Carmen Durso of Boston.
Both lawyers represent some local alleged victims of clergy
The policy states in part, "Unless the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, having been notified, calls
the case to itself because of special circumstances, it will
direct the bishop/eparch how to proceed."
"The word "how' is an addition to the revised text
from the Nov. 2002 USCCB meeting," Monsignor Michael
Higgins, a canon lawyer at Justice for Priests and Deacons,
wrote in a commentary on the policy.
"It appears at this stage, one must wait for a response
from the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).
The congregation will either call the case to itself or notify
the bishop/eparch how to proceed. The word, how, is an addition
to the revised text from the Nov. 2, 2002 USCCB meeting. It
suggests that the CDF may require a process that differs in
some respects from that currently found in the two codes,"
Monsignor Higgins, who is based in San Diego, runs a Web
site at www.justiceforpriests.org and maintains that priests
and deacons have rights under the church's canon law and should
In a letter to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan of Boston,
Mr. Shea referred to another passage from the bishop's conference
policy statement as "an escape clause."
Mr. Shea quoted from the policy, "The necessary observance
of the canonical norms internal to the church is not intended
in any way to hinder the course of any civil action that may
be operative. At the same time, the church reaffirms her right
to enact legislation binding on all her members concerning
the ecclesiastical dimensions of the delict of sexual abuse
The bishops' policy statement is titled, "Essential
Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations
of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons."
"It's all smoke and mirrors," Mr. Shea said. "These
children are no safer now than they have ever been."
A spokesman for Mr. Sullivan has said the office is reviewing
the Vatican document titled, "On the Manner of Proceeding
in Cases of Solicitation."
A group of victims delivered a copy of the 38-page document
to Mr. Sullivan's office on Monday.
Last week, state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly declined
to press charges against church leaders in the Archdiocese
of Boston who moved accused priests from parish to parish
and did not report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement
authorities. Mr. Shea and Mr. Durso believe the existence
of the secret Vatican paper will aid authorities in determining
that a conspiracy exists to protect priests accused of sexual
Published by the Vatican in 1962, the document states that
it must be stored in "secret archives" and is to
be treated as "strictly confidential." It specifically
tells bishops, archbishops and patriarchs how to handle allegations
that a priest made sexual advances toward a person in the
The document says church officials investigating sexual abuse
claims "are to be restrained by a perpetual silence"
and are required "to observe the strictest secret, which
is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office in all
matters and with all persons, under the penalty of excommunication
..." The oath of secrecy is also required of those accusing
a priest and any witnesses.
Victims who do not come forward within 30 days are also subject
to excommunication, according to the document.
Should an accused priest go before a church trial, "in
every way the judge is to remember that it is never right
for him to bind the accused by an oath to tell the truth,"
the document says.
In a letter to Mr. Sullivan earlier this week, Mr. Shea said
the document is referenced in a footnote to a May 18, 2002,
letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, to all bishops of the Catholic
Richard Nangle can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.