Vatican paper a key to abuse suits
Defendants battle to keep out evidence about church's manual
Kathleen A. Shaw - Worcester, MA Telegram & Gazette
August 24, 2004
Is the 1962 Vatican document called Crimen Sollicitationis a blueprint
for the cover-up of clergy abuse within the Catholic church, or
is it merely an internal policy manual for handling certain kinds
of abuses within the sacrament of confession?
Lawyers are battling this issue out in the context of several civil
lawsuits filed by alleged clergy abuse victims around the country.
The issue moves to Washington, D.C., today as the Rev. John P. Beal,
a canon lawyer who said he has studied the Vatican document, is
scheduled to be deposed this morning in connection with a Texas
civil suit involving the Rev. Thomas H. Teczar of Dudley, Mass.,
a priest of the Diocese of Worcester.
A move to get the document admitted in Massachusetts failed recently
when a Springfield judge ruled the document was irrelevant to a
civil lawsuit alleging clergy sexual abuse.
The Texas suit is one of several pending lawsuits in the United
States in which lawyers for alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse
are attempting to get the document authenticated and entered as
evidence that would show a worldwide conspiracy by the Catholic
church to cover up sexual abuse by priests.
The Fort Worth, Texas, and Worcester dioceses are arguing, however,
that the document is irrelevant to these cases and does not constitute
a conspiracy. Rev. Beal agrees, and in an affidavit submitted in
the Texas case said the document is "no innovation."
Lawyers Tahira Khan Merrit of Dallas and Daniel J. Shea of Houston,
who represent John Doe I and John Doe II in the suit, ordered the
deposition to question Rev. Beal on the document because he said
he has studied it and may be able to provide some salient information.
James Gavin Reardon Jr., lawyer for the Diocese of Worcester, said
the diocese will not oppose the deposition, but said he was told
the Texas judge put restrictions on the "range of questions"
Ms. Khan Merrit and Mr. Shea will be allowed to ask Rev. Beal.
"It is our position that the document is irrelevant,"
Mr. Reardon said. He will not attend the deposition, but said lawyers
representing the Fort Worth and Worcester dioceses will be there.
Mr. Reardon said the dioceses further believe Crimen Sollicitationis
is irrelevant in this particular lawsuit because neither of the
alleged victims is Catholic or has participated in any Catholic
rituals or sacraments.
The men allege they were sexually abused by Rev. Teczar after the
Diocese of Worcester authorized his transfer to the Fort Worth diocese
in 1988. They allege that the Worcester diocese knew the priest
was in trouble in the Worcester area when it allowed the transfer.
He later returned to Central Massachusetts. Rev. Teczar is no longer
allowed to function as a priest, but he has not been defrocked.
Ms. Khan Merrit and Mr. Shea said they believe that Crimen Sollicitationis
is highly relevant because it demonstrates how men at the highest
reaches of the Vatican told bishops to maintain secrecy in handling
allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and authorized the transfer
of priests who had been accused.
Rev. Beal said Crimen is not new, that it replaced previous instructions
from the Vatican on how to handle such issues, and that these documents
date back at least to Pope Benedict XIV in his 1741 constitution
called Sacramentum Poenitentiae.
The first page of Crimen Sollicitationis - which is Latin for crime
of solicitation - said the document was to be sent to all bishops
in the world, kept secret and stored in each diocesan secret archive.
Rev. Beal said although those who received copies of the document
were told to keep it in the secret archive, the document was not
subject to what is called the "pontifical secret." He
called it an "internal manual for criminal investigations"
and said secular law enforcement agencies also do not publish their
internal policy manuals.
Attempts to get the document entered as evidence in Massachusetts
had a setback Aug. 12, when Judge John A. Agostini of Hampden County
Superior Court, Springfield, sided with the Worcester diocese and
ruled that Crimen Sollicitationis was irrelevant and could not be
entered as evidence in a lawsuit brought by Jane Martin of Hampden
County against the Rev. Robert E. Kelley, a Worcester priest.
Texas Judge Len Wade on Thursday declined to quash the subpoena,
a request made by lawyers for the dioceses, and ordered the deposition
to proceed at 10 a.m. today at the Alderson Reporting Services of
Washington, D.C. The subpoena was issued by the District of Columbia
Superior Court at the request of the Texas court. Rev. Beal serves
on the faculty of the Canon Law Department at Catholic University
Rev. Beal said in his affidavit that using Crimen to claim an international
conspiracy to cover up child abuse within the Catholic church is
taking the document "entirely out of context."
The Vatican document surfaced about a year ago in Worcester and
has made its way into civil suits involving the Catholic Church
in places around the United States, including Worcester, Springfield,
Los Angeles and Louisville, Ky.
"Far from being an attempt to shield sexually abusive priests,
the instruction is designed to insure that complaints of solicitation
are promptly and competently investigated and prosecuted to the
fullest extent of the Church's law," Rev. Beal said in his
Rev. Beal has also weighed in publicly on other serious issues involving
the Catholic church, including the question now under discussion
on whether Catholic politicians who vote in favor of abortion policies
should be excluded from Communion.
In a June article in the Catholic weekly America, Rev. Beal said
Catholics who have an abortion or directly participate in the procedure
incur excommunication from the church for their actions. He said
it is impossible to find a causal link between a politician's vote
on an abortion issue and a specific abortion, which means they have
not incurred an excommunication that would bar them from the sacraments.
He noted that the old 1917 Code of Canon Law specifically excluded
"publicly unworthy" people from Communion, and it was
suggested these included pimps, prostitutes, fortunetellers and
"While wags have long accused politicians of bearing uncanny
resemblances to these miscreants, no one has seriously suggested
that politicians constitute a comparable class of practitioners
of an inherently disreputable occupation or cultivators of an intrinsically
immoral lifestyle," he said.