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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 of America.

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 affidavit.

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 magicians.

"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.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests