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Secrecy called a Vatican mind-set

Kathleen A. Shaw
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
August 12, 2003

Although a 1962 Vatican document detailing how certain sexual abuse allegations are to be handled shows the mind-set of secrecy of the Catholic hierarchy, it may not be as crucial as some people want to believe, according to the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle.

"The Vatican document did not cause the clandestine mode of dealing with clergy sex abuse," he said.

Rev. Doyle, now an Air Force chaplain in Germany, is the canon lawyer who wrote one of the original reports in the 1980s alerting American bishops that they had a problem with clergy sexual abuse and needed to take action.

His report was initially disregarded and was not acted on by the bishops. He has since been speaking out for the rights of clergy sexual abuse victims.

Construing the document as "a substitute for civil law action" or as a way to hide clergy who commit sex crimes may be "stretching a bit too far," he said.

Rev. Doyle said that if it turned out "the document actually has been the foundation of a continuous policy to cover clergy crimes at all costs, then we have quite another issue.

"There are too many authenticated reports of victims having been seriously intimidated into silence by church authorities to assert that such intimidation is the exception and not the norm.

"If this document has been used as a justification for this intimidation, then we possibly have what some of the more critical commentators have alleged, namely, a blueprint for a cover-up. This is obviously a big "if' which requires concrete proof," he said.

"It should not be too difficult to see why so many have seen in the 1962 Vatican Instruction a smoking gun. Over the past 18 years, but especially since January 2002, we have witnessed wave after wave of deception, stonewalling, outright lying, intimidation of victims and complex schemes to manipulate the truth and obstruct justice," Rev. Doyle said.

Although canon lawyers have one view on the document, civil lawyers handling sexual abuse lawsuits have a different understanding. Canon lawyers deal with the laws that govern operation of the church, which has its own legal system.

Houston lawyer Daniel J. Shea and Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso recently presented a copy of the 1962 document to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan in Boston and urged him to act on what they see as an international conspiracy by the church to hush up sexual abuse issues.

Mr. Shea said yesterday that canon lawyers and civil lawyers may see the issue differently, but he stands by his assertion that the document shows the Vatican has been behind the "cover-up" of clergy sexual abuse for years.

Rev. Doyle said the Vatican document was sent to every bishop in the world but he believes "detailed awareness" of the content might be limited, although it has been discussed by canon lawyers and Vatican officials.

The 1962 document, sometimes called by its Latin name Crimen Sollicitiones, provided for secrecy because of the nature of the crimes, which involved sexual abuse of children and of animals.

"It may seem to be some sort of clandestine plan, but in fact it is an expansion, with added detail, of the procedural laws to be followed," Rev. Doyle said.

Imposing strict secrecy is not unusual and is imposed for a variety of reasons, he said. The secrecy was intended to "assure witnesses that they can speak freely" and to protect reputations until guilt or innocence is determined, he said.

Rev. Doyle said the "almost paranoid insistence on secrecy" is probably related to "the scandal that would arise were the public to hear stories of priests committing such terrible crimes," he said. The other is "protection of the inviolability of the sacrament of penance."

Although the concept of secrecy might have been understandable in the time the document was written and approved by Pope John XXIII, it has helped in "preventing both justice and compassionate care for victims," he said.

"It has enabled the widespread spirit of denial among clergy, hierarchy and laity. The secrecy has been justified to avoid scandal when in fact it has enabled even more scandal," Rev. Doyle said.

He said some assertions that the document was obscure and was unknown by the majority of bishops might be true but he said copies "have been stored in church offices throughout the world."

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the document deals exclusively with solicitation of a person during the sacrament of Confession "and does not concern sexual abuse crime."

Although the document specifies solicitation of sexual crimes in the confessional or in the context of Confession, two of the civil lawsuits in the Worcester Catholic Diocese involve allegations that children were sexually abused by priests in the context of the confessional.

Karen A. Pedersen of Fitchburg said in her suit that her alleged sexual abuse by the Rev. Robert E. Kelley involved the confessional. A similar allegation has been made by Timothy P. Staney of Worcester in his allegations involving the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon.

Mr. Donohue accused Mr. Shea and Mr. Durso of being behind an "invidious caper." He also called them "irresponsible lawyers."

Copyright 2003 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.

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