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1997 Letter Warns Irish Bishops Not To Report Child Abuse


Picture courtesy of Rachmaninoff via Flikr

Having grown up in a very Catholic family it pains me a little that the Church has been the focus of so many revelations of child abuse. That is more than balanced by my complete and total outrage that the Vatican and the entire Church hierarchy clearly has done everything they can to minimize embarrassment at the expense of young victims, not just in the United States, but world wide.

There has been a lot of evidence leaking out over the last decade about the way that the Church sought to move pedophile priests out of parishes where they crimes against children became known and move them to other diocese without notifying the parishioners, only to have them once again abuse the power and trust of their office by molesting children again.

The New York Times is reporting today that a letter from 1997 has that tells Irish priests and Bishops that they should not report allegations of child sexual abuse by priests to the authorities, but rather that it must be handled internally, as a matter of canonical law.

The Vatican is doing what it always does, it is playing this down saying that it not new and that they have acted to strengthen the protections of children in their schools and parishes. This all sounds very good, however it rings a little hollow to me.

The number of defrocked priests in vanishingly small compared to the number of reported cases of abuse. The Irish government’s investigation of abuse of children by in Catholic schools called the problem ‘endemic” and that this abuse went on for decades. That jibes with what my familial experience. While none of my relatives has been abused there have always been the dark comments and jokes about certain priests.

There is also the pattern of behavior by the Church itself. It is seen, time and again, in the U.S, in Ireland, in Holland and the Netherlands that there were known pedophile priests who instead of being turned over to the authorities to deal with as any other criminal were protected by the Church and subjected not to the laws of the nation they resided in but to the laws of the Catholic Church.

I understand that the Church believes it is a law onto itself. That because it is supposed to be the representative of God on this planet that it might think it is above the laws of man, but it is time to end that myth. There can be no greater good achieved by harboring criminals, especially pedophiles whose crimes often scar their victims for the rest of their lives by robbing them of their ability to trust.

Unfortunately things are not likely to change very much in regard to the policies of the Church, at least for the foreseeable future. The current pope, Benedict XVI was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which started handling abuse allegations in the same year the letter was written. There are indications that then Cardinal Ratzinger was instrumental in making sure that all matters of clerical sexual misconduct were kept within the Church. Since he is now the pope there is little chance that there will be an investigation that exposes all the actors in this ongoing criminal conspiracy.

It is sad that an organization which purports to be a force for good is more interested in protecting itself from scrutiny than it is in protecting children from its own predatory priests. Compared to the total number of priest the number of abusers is probably pretty small. It should be easier to just disavow them, to throw them and those that protected them out than bear the constant drip, drip, drip of new revelations. All the we can be left to think is that to do so would devastate the upper ranks of the Church and that is something no organization secular or religious will do to itself.

So the victims and their families will probably have to wait until this generation of Popes, Cardinals and Bishops dies. Then perhaps, there can be an open discussion of what happened and how to prevent it. Dr. King said “Justice delayed is justice denied” for the decades of victims it seems there will not be justice, all in the name of preserving the power and prestige of the Catholic Church.

The floor is yours.

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Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for