Vatican 'ordered abuse cover-up'
BBC News, August 17, 2003
A secret Vatican document, outlining procedures for handling
allegations of sex abuse by priests, has been published in
the US and UK.
Lawyers acting for alleged victims of abuse say the document
proves that for decades the Vatican has systematically obstructed
the course of justice in order to protect Catholic priests.
Church lawyers, on the other hand, argue that the document
referred only to church law and did not order bishops to engage
in criminal cover-ups.
But the US lawyer who uncovered the document told a British
newspaper the archive material is a smoking gun.
The lawyer, Daniel Shea, told The Observer newspaper the
1962 Vatican instruction was "a devious attempt to conceal
It "is a blueprint for deception and concealment",
the Sunday newspaper quotes him as saying.
The document was sent to every bishop in the world, with
orders to keep it under lock and key, the BBC's David Willey
in Rome reports.
Mr Shea, who represents alleged victims of abuse by Catholic
priests, obtained the document from an American priest and
handed it over to US authorities.
It bears the seal of Pope John XXIII, and calls for "strictest"
secrecy in dealing with abuse allegations within the Church.
It threatens to expel from the Church anyone who breaks their
It deals primarily with priests accused of propositioning
congregants during confession, the Catholic rite in which
the faithful tell priests of their sins. Mr Shea says he was
given the document by a clergyman in Germany who has close
dealings with the Vatican.
He handed a copy of the document to US authorities late last
Early in August, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said
that the document, "Instruction on the manner of proceeding
in cases of solicitation", had not been in force for
The conference said it was superseded by later guidelines
introduced in the 1960s, 1970s and in 1983, the Associated
The Vatican's 1983 Code of Canon Law says a priest found to
have abused a minor can be defrocked.
The conference also said the 1962 document "had no bearing
on civil law" and had been misrepresented.
The US Catholic Church has been rocked by revelations of
sexual abuse by priests.
Bishops there have been accused of protecting priests suspected
of sexual abuse, moving them to new parishes rather than confronting
The leader of England and Wales's Catholics, Archbishop Cormac
Murphy-O'Connor, has apologised for relocating priest Michael
Hill when accusations against him arose.
Vatican critics say the 1962 document suggests bishops who
moved priests may have been acting in line with instructions
They also say its age refutes Church claims that the problem
of sex abuse by priests is a new one.
The Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, was forced
to resign late last year after he admitted he had covered
up sexual abuse by priests for many years.
The Church faces hundreds of civil lawsuits by people who
say they were abused.
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