Now, Religion in the News—a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from CBS News.com, August 6, 2003, with the headline: “Sex Crimes Cover-up by Vatican?—For decades, priests in this country abused children in parish after parish while their superiors covered it all up. Now it turns out the orders for this cover-up were written in Rome at the highest levels of the Vatican.
“CBS News correspondent Vince Gonzales has uncovered a church document kept secret for 40 years. The confidential Vatican document obtained by CBS News lays out a church policy that calls for absolute secrecy when it comes to sexual abuse by priests. Anyone who speaks out could be thrown out of the Church.
“The policy was written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. The document, once stored in the secret archives of the Vatican, focuses on crimes initiated as part of the confessional relationship and what it calls ‘the worst crime—sexual assault committed by a priest, or attempted by him with youths of either sex, or with brute animals.’ Bishops are instructed to pursue these cases in the most secretive way, restrained by a perpetual silence, and everyone, including the alleged victim, is to observe the strictest secrecy, which is commonly regarded as ‘a secret of the holy office,’ under the penalty of excommunication.
“Larry Drivon, a lawyer who represents alleged victims, said, ‘This document is significant because it’s a blueprint for deception.’ Drivon said the document proves what he has alleged on behalf of victims and priest-abuse lawsuits—that the church engaged in Mafia-style behavior, racketeering. ‘It’s an instruction manual on how to deceive and how to protect pedophiles,’ Dryven said, ‘and exactly how to avoid the truth coming out.’
“’The idea that this is some sort of blueprint to keep this secret is simply wrong,’ said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Bishops. The conference said the document is being taken out of context—that it’s a church law that deals only with religious crimes and sins, and that the secrecy is meant to protect the faithful from scandal. ‘This is a system of law which is complete in itself and is not telling the bishops in any way about how to handle these crimes when they are considered as civil crimes,’ Maniscalco said.
“But Richard Sipe, a former priest who has written about sex abuse and secrecy in the Church, said the document sends a chilling message. ‘This is the code for how you must deal with sex by priests—you keep it secret at all costs,’ Sipe said. ‘And that’s what’s happened. It’s happened in every diocese in this country.’
“According to Church records, the document was a bedrock of Catholic sex-abuse policy until America’s bishops met last summer and drafted new policies to address the crisis in the Church.”
Tom: Dave, as I am looking at this article, this is CBS News again, so this isn’t something that just showed up on the internet.
Dave: Now, don’t disparage the internet. You’ve got some factual stuff there.
Tom: Yeah, but you have to be discerning. My point is, I am looking at one item here—it says that “Bishops are instructed to pursue these cases in the most secretive way, restrained by a perpetual silence, and everyone, including the alleged victim, is to observe the strictest secrecy, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the holy office under the penalty of excommunication.” You know, when we talk about a legalistic system, which Roman Catholicism is, bondage, you are really in bondage here, but that a child or young boy, just as an example, would be threatened with excommunication—I mean, this is damned to hell, according to the teachings of the Church. This is unbelievable but it’s true!
Dave: That’s right. Well, the popes held emperors in fear and bondage, and empires by the threat of excommunication, because back in those days, it was everyone almost believed that if you were out of the Church, you went to hell. There was no salvation outside the Church.
But, Tom, it’s not surprising. I mean, we have known this. I have files—I know you have as well—probably three or four inches thick by now, of sex abuse. Not just pedophilia, not just homosexuality, but you remember a group of women who came from France…maybe this is, probably, six or eight years ago…went to Rome and pleaded with the pope. They said, “We represent thousands of women who have children by priests, and we can’t tell our children who their fathers are. You’ve got to stop this rule of celibacy! It has to be changed. It’s just wreaking havoc in the Church.”
Of course, the pope refused to see them, and again it was covered up.
So, this has been going on for centuries. Now, Tom, in the early days, as you know, a former—well, no, a former Catholic wouldn’t necessarily know—but you do a little research, you know the popes made no bones about this in the early days. Popes had so many concubines and lovers and they even married—some popes even presided over the marriage of their children in St. Peters, and that went on for centuries. But today, of course, it’s covered up, and the Church, apparently, at least Pope John Paul II, is not going to compromise on this. He thinks celibacy somehow elevates the priests and puts them in a different position. But you know the reason for that, because then they don’t pass on their property to their children, but they pass the property on to the Church.
Tom: And the Church is in a little bit of trouble. I’m looking at an article here—this is August, the Associated Press: “The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has offered $55 million to settle more than 500 clergy sex abuse lawsuits, according to a document obtained by the Associated Press. A recent report from the State Attorney General estimated that more than 1,000 children were abused over 6 decades [and of course $55 million—none of the lawyers are going to accept that. So it’s going to get larger and larger and larger. Well, to continue on with this article]. The resolution to this case has been illusive since the abuse crisis exploded. The crisis forced Cardinal Bernard Law to step down as Archbishop in December, apologizing for the Church’s failure to protect children and punish priests. Yet…”
Dave: Failure to protect—but it was a deliberate policy.
Tom: Right, and that’s the problem.