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Diplomatic Immunity? Predatory priests shouldn't be Vatican envoys

The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, September 3, 2003

A year after Pope John Paul II declared that there is "no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young," we learn that one of his closest advisers knew about just such a priest in the Vatican diplomatic corps – and did nothing to remove him.

The shocking story, reported by this newspaper's Reese Dunklin, moves the American clergy sex scandal into the Vatican's own ranks, and indeed into the papal household, which is overseen by Bishop James M. Harvey. Bishop Harvey, an American who was previously a high official in the Vatican's foreign office, acknowledged that he had been told about the case of Monsignor Daniel Pater, but had not acted because he "presumed ... that there wasn't anything to it or the accusations were false."

That's not true, according to the Rev. Lawrence Breslin, who says he told his friend Bishop Harvey twice about Monsignor Pater's past, and was assured by the bishop that Rome knew everything, and that the problem would "pass over." Monsignor Pater was, until his recent resignation, a Vatican diplomat who had admitted a sexual relationship with an Ohio girl that began in the 1980s, when she was 14. Though he was never charged, the priest's actions amount to statutory rape. It only now comes to public light after Monsignor Pater's victim discovered her rapist was serving as the pope's No. 2 diplomat in India, and spoke out.

How can anyone conclude that this institution is sincere about reform? Consider that the pope's diplomats, like diplomats from every sovereign nation, enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution. The diplomatic dodge is well known to high churchmen. A Cleveland auxiliary bishop speaking at a 1990 canon law meeting advised fellow American bishops to cull their personnel files of evidence against sex offenders, and send it to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, thereby placing incriminating documents under diplomatic protection. How many priests like Monsignor Pater have been shielded like this within the Vatican and its diplomatic outposts worldwide?

And yet – and yet! – Gov. Frank Keating, former head of the National Review Board, was criticized for referring to the "Mafia-like culture of secrecy" of the bishops.

Meanwhile, we are all left to reflect on the reformability of an ecclesial culture in which a man standing at the pope's right hand can know about a priest raping a 14-year-old girl, and is moved neither by a sense of outraged justice, nor of managerial responsibility, nor even the barest human compassion to do anything about it. After all that has happened over the past year and a half, the Catholic bishops still do not get it, and the pope's powerful declaration about clerical sex abusers expresses an ideal that is grievously far from reality.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests