29 Nov 2010

1963 letter by church expert on pedophile priests shows Pope Paul VI and Vatican officials ignored warnings to expel problem priests

The Guardian - UK April 1, 2010

Vatican was told 50 years ago to act against paedophile priests

Expert's warning proves Catholic church should have known about failings in dealing with abuse cases, says lawyer

by Owen Bowcott and agencies

A former pope was warned that paedophile priests should be removed from active ministry and repeat offenders expelled from the church, according to a clerical communique that has emerged following a US lawsuit.

The letter, written in August 1963 by the head of an order that specialised in the treatment of priests accused of abusing children, suggests that the Vatican and Pope Paul VI should have known about failings in procedures for dealing with such cases, according to the lawyer who produced it.

A senior church official swiftly dismissed the claim, suggesting it was unlikely the document would have been seen by the then pope nearly 50 years ago.

The letter has been released as plaintiffs in Kentucky attempt to sue the Vatican for allegedly failing to alert police or the public about priests who molested children, part of a series of abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic church and left the current pope, Benedict XVI, struggling to defend its reputation.

The document, produced by Anthony DeMarco, a lawyer who acted for plaintiffs in a separate US compensation claim settled in 2007, was written by the Rev Gerald MC Fitzgerald, the head of the Servants of the Holy Paraclete, an order based in New Mexico.

His submission appears to have been drafted at the request of the pope. Fitzgerald opens the five-page letter by thanking the pope for an audience the day before and says he is summarising his thoughts at the pope's request on the "problem of the problem priest" after 20 years working to treat them.

He tells Paul VI that treatment for priests who have succumbed to "abnormal, homosexual tendencies" should include psychiatric, as well as spiritual, counselling but goes on to warn about the dangers of leaving those individuals in ministry.

"Personally, I am not sanguine of the return of priests to active duty who have been addicted to abnormal practices, especially sins with the young," Fitzgerald wrote.

"Where there is indication of incorrigibility, because of the tremendous scandal given, I would most earnestly recommend total laicisation [defrocking]," he wrote. "I say 'total' … because when these men are taken before civil authority, the non-Catholic world definitely blames the discipline of celibacy for the perversion of these men."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles defended the church, insisting it was unlikely Paul VI had ever seen the 1963 letter. "The fact of the matter is, the prevailing ideas at the time about how to deal with abusive behaviour were not adequate," he said. "Clearly, society and the church have evolved new understandings of what causes sexually abusive behaviour and how to deal with it."

The Catholic church has come under sustained criticism across Europe and in North America for its practice of transferring priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes, rather than reporting the abuse to civil authorities and removing them from ministry.

DeMarco maintained that Fitzgerald's letter showed the pope had known how pervasive and destructive the problem was. "He says the solution is to take them out of the priesthood period, not shuffle them around, not pass them from diocese to diocese," the lawyer added.

Fitzgerald's views about how to treat abusing priests have been highlighted before. At one stage he proposed buying an island where priests attracted to men and boys could be segregated. He even made a $5,000 down payment on a Caribbean island.

In 1960, he sent two priests from the Paracletes to the island of Tortola to investigate the location but his dream ended when the new archbishop of Santa Fe overruled him.

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CNN - April 3, 2010

U.S. Catholics urge Vatican reforms in wake of abuse scandal

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN

(CNN) -- As the priest abuse scandal continues to roil Europe, a growing chorus of American Catholics pressed the Vatican to adopt the same reforms that the U.S. Catholic Church did in 2002, following revelations of a similar abuse scandal.

The American reforms, adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops the same year the Boston, Massachusetts, scandal broke, include a zero tolerance approach toward priests who are known to have abused children; mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to authorities; and the creation of local boards of lay Catholics to respond to such allegations.

"The tragedy is that the Europeans didn't get their house in order when they saw what was happening in the United States because they thought [abuse by priests] was an American problem," said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest at Georgetown University. "If they had adopted our reforms, they would be in a much better situation today."

Though the 2002 reforms were adopted as binding church law in the United States, neither the Vatican nor the Catholic Church in Europe or other parts of the world followed suit. This week, Reese and other prominent Catholics began calling for the Vatican to do so.

"There is no need to reinvent the solution to the problems in Europe," said Nick Cafardi, dean emeritus of Duquesne University's School of Law, who has advised the U.S. church on abuse. "We already have one, and it's the canon law in the United States. It needs to be made law for the entire world."

Bishops' conferences in some European countries have already informally adopted certain American reforms, particularly the so-called one strike and you're out rule for abusive priests. "In many European nations, the groundwork has already been laid," said John Allen, CNN's Vatican analyst.

But it's difficult to know if the Vatican will follow the American church's lead, even as the abuse allegations have been piling up in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. That's because bishops generally avoid publicly giving advice to the pope -- the lone church official who could institute a global church reform.

With the Catholic Church facing hostile governments in some countries, church experts say the Vatican is unlikely to globalize the U.S. rule requiring church officials to report abuse allegations to the police.

But Vatican watchers say some sort of reforms are possible. "Developments in Europe have kick-started the Vatican on a couple levels," said Allen, who is also senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. "One is that they need to do something, but another is on a PR level -- of showing that they're doing something."

There is disagreement over how effective the American reforms have been. Many American Catholics say the 2002 reforms -- called the Dallas Norms after the Texas city where they were adopted -- have been shown to work.

The reforms require an annual report from the U.S. bishops on the number of abuse allegations against the church and a tally of confirmed offenders. The most recent report, issued in March, found the fewest number of victims, allegations and offenders since 2004.

Critics say the reports lack credibility because they depend on bishops' self-reporting allegations and cases of confirmed abuse.

"These are the same bishops that got us into this mess to being with," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims' group. "After hiding these crimes for decades, we're supposed to think that they did a 180 [degree turn] and are now fully forthcoming?"

Clohessy's group and other victims' organizations want the church to open its archives on abuse charges and have called for the firing of bishops who covered up the abuse.

"To be honest, we would oppose the Vatican adopting the U.S. norms because they are so vague and weak and are only sporadically enforced," Clohessy said. "The evidence has shown that no institution can police itself."

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