Abandoning its past practice of encouraging bishops to deal with pedophiles privately, the Vatican has posted the CDF guidelines for dealing with these situations and they state upfront and unambiguously that: "Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed." A benefit of having these guidelines posted online is that we can now hold our hierarchs to them.
On Wednesday, the Pope spoke about his meeting with abuse victims in Malta and promised "church action" to solve the problem. The pontiff's earlier call for the Church to repent was taken up by the bishops of England and Wales who issued a statement that read in part: "We express our heartfelt apology and deep sorrow to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt ignored, disbelieved or betrayed. We ask their pardon, and the pardon of God for these terrible deeds done in our midst. There can be no excuses."
Five Irish bishops have now offered their resignations in light of that country's abuse scandals -- Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare and Leighlin, Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick, Bishop John Magee of Coyne, and two auxiliary bishops of Dublin, Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field. And the bishop of Augsburg, Germany, Walter Mixa, has also written a letter to the pope offering to resign after being accused of using violence against children in his care, and of misusing funds donated to a local orphanage. Earlier this month the Norwegian Catholic Church removed Bishop Georg Mueller, who has admitted molesting a boy in the early 90s. There will be more.
And then there's Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who has been getting a lot of negative press lately as a result of a letter he wrote in 2001 to French Bishop Pierre Pican and published in Golias in which he praised Pican for not denouncing Fr. René Bissey to the police. Bissey was later sentenced to 18 years in jail for sexually abusing 11 boys between 1989 and 1996. "I congratulate you on not having reported a priest to the civil authorities," Castrillon Hoyos wrote to Pican on Sept. 8, 2001. "You have done well, and I rejoice at having an associate in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all the others bishops of the world, will have chosen prison rather than speaking out against his priest-son." Pican was given a three month suspended sentence for "failure to report a sex crime against a minor younger than 15 years old."
Pican alleged -- and Cardinal Castrillon continues to insist -- that he knew of the priest's crimes as a result of confession. But an article in The Telegraph about the bishop's trial belies that version:
...The key witness yesterday was Father Michel Morcel, who was Mgr Pican's right-hand man in the diocese. It was to Fr Morcel that a mother of one of Bissey's victims complained in the winter of 1996. At the time, she did not wish to press charges, though she was keen to alert the church to prevent further abuse. "I reported these acts of paedophilia as they were explained to me," said Fr Morel in a courtroom in Caen yesterday. "I told the bishop everything I knew about this case, all the information that I was able to obtain."Faced with the media brouhaha, Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said that the letter demonstrates why the handling of sex abuse cases was taken out of the hands of the Congregation for the Clergy, headed at that time by Cardinal Castrillon, and put under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, i.e. Pope Benedict XVI.
In January 1997 Mgr Pican met Bissey and advised him to get psychiatric treatment. But Mgr Pican did not instruct Bissey, who he claims was "on the verge of suicide", to give himself up to police. Indeed, Mgr Pican even placed Bissey in a new parish in September 1998.
His defence rests largely upon legal precedent set in 1891 when a French court decided that disclosures made to a priest, even outside the confessional, were still confidential. The prosecution alleges that, because the case came to light through the intervention of a victim's mother and not through Bissey's confessions, the bishop was obliged to report the abuse...
In a speech this week at the Catholic University of Murcia, Cardinal Castrillon asserted that he showed the letter to Pope John Paul II who approved it. He said the late Pope also authorized him to share the letter with other bishops. And in another radio interview today in Bogota, the Cardinal implicated then Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) saying that the letter was the product of a high-level meeting at which Ratzinger was present. "It was a meeting of cardinals. Therefore the current pope (Benedict XVI), who at that time was a cardinal, was present. The pope (John Paul II) was never at those meetings. However the Holy Father was indeed present when we spoke about this matter in the council, and the cardinals ruled."
I'd have some sympathy for Cardinal Castrillon except for the fact that in the same interview he persists in believing he did the right thing. He compared a bishop turning a pedophile priest over to law enforcement to a father turning in a son: "The law in nations with a well-developed judiciary does not force anyone to testify against a child, a father, against other people close to the suspect...Why would they ask that of the church? That's the injustice. It's not about defending a pedophile, it's about defending the dignity and the human rights of a person, even the worst of criminals." Baloney. Even fathers turn their children over to authorities sometimes when it is for their own good or the good of society. It's called "tough love", Your Excellency.