More mixed messages out of the Vatican on priest scandal

Pope Benedict responded angrily over the weekend after civil authorities in Belgium raided Church property, confiscating documents relating to allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests.

In recent months, the Vatican has stepped up its assurances that the scandal would be handled more aggressively, with the Pope himself apologizing to victims and acknowledging serious shortcomings within the Church.

But Church officials still haven’t said unequivocally that evidence of suspected sexual assaults will be turned over in all cases to civil authorities for an independent investigation.

Indeed, in his letter to Belgian officials on Sunday, Pope Benedict suggested that the Church should have “autonomy” in pursuing its own internal investigations of this kind of criminal behavior.

“On several occasions I have personally reiterated that such serious issues should be attended to by both civil and canon law, with respect for their reciprocal specificity and autonomy.”

This ambiguity is sure to inflame the Church’s critics and to raise new questions about the Vatican’s handling of the crisis.

If a priest or other church official is suspected of sexual assault — or of attempting to cover up a sexual assault — why shouldn’t the allegations and any available evidence simply be turned over to police and prosecutors?

What role should “canon law” (or for that matter, the internal rules of any faith or private organization) play in cases where someone is suspected of criminal activity?

Even if the Church hadn’t already strained its credibility on this matter, it would be extraordinary to ask for this kind of license — the permission, in effect, to self-police in potential felony cases.

Hopefully, it will turn out that this raid was unnecessary — and perhaps even undiplomatic.  Church officials appear confident that no damaging evidence will be turned up.

But the Church — especially here in the U.S. — can still do itself a good turn by clarifying this important point.

Will Bishops commit to notifying police immediately, in all cases, when one of their own is accused (or suspected) of sexual assault?

6 Comments on “More mixed messages out of the Vatican on priest scandal”

  1. Judy Jones says:

    Definition for “autonomy” : The capacity to manage one’s affairs and make decisions : independence, freedom, liberty, self-determination, self-reliance, self-rule.

    Isn’t that what the Vatican has been doing for hundreds of years? ..and look what has been the result. Thousands of kids were unnecessarily sexually abused because they made their own decisions.

    Thank you to the Belgium police for doing the right thing. It is time for these crimes against innocent kids to get stopped.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
    “Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”

  2. mervel says:

    I think that they should, but I do think we should be consistent. Right now that is the policy in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

    The Church should operate within the law no doubt about it I totally agree. I would think we would say that Churches would follow the same standard as schools, colleges, and other institutions that deal with young people.

    If someone claims they were raped at St. Lawrence and tells a professor or RA; does the school automatically report the accusation to the police? Or does the school go through their own internal process first to determine if the accusation has merit, does it ask the victim to contact the village police or does it suggest the victim contact St. Lawrence police and St. Lawrence staff? I don’t know the answer to that question I have heard that indeed colleges handle these cases themselves and make their own decisions. All I am saying is that we should be consistent.

  3. Jeannie Guzman says:

    Are people, the world over, so sickened by news coming out of the Vatican that they even care any more? Believers and former believers in many countries, also have had “continued frustration,” with the RCC, the Vatican and local bishops, archbishops and cardinals, as in every country on the planet, it seems that they all have taken the grand, papal “Art of Obfuscation” to new heights! Finally, no doubt due to the constant red-tape and roadblocks that the local bishops have placed in front of Belgium’s legal authorities, the government decided to act! Bravo, Belgium! From another account that I read today, it was suggested that the Vatican didn’t have “a Concordat” with Belgium. Again, Bravo, Belgium! How could have the Belgians escaped Pope Pius XII’s grand efforts, as Papal Nuncio, to form Concordats with EVERY Fascist government in Europe: Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Croatia! Perhaps, tiny Belgium just wasn’t worth Pius XII’s efforts? Or perhaps Belgium just wasn’t Fascist enough? In any event, tiny Belgium has shown the world that it will stand up to Papal and Hierarchical tyranny, and that’s a pretty big thing! It’s something that no other country has stepped up the plate to do! Hats off to them! Long live Belgium, where 75% of the population is “Supposed to be Catholic,” but where only about 5% actually practice their faith! Again, Right On!

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  4. Kathy says:

    Who can police themselves? It is absurd for the Church to expect to be granted this, especially given their record. The only way to move forward in this difficult and horrible situation is for law enforcement authorities to be given, or take, the records. The Church only cares about the Church, in spite of the pope’s words. Good for the Belgians.

  5. Judy Jones says:

    This is the most telling and depressing indication of Pope Benedict’s true priorities.

    It took years before he even acknowledged clergy sex crimes and cover ups, much less begin to express solidarity with victims. But just days after a handful of his colleagues in Belgium were inconvenienced for a few hours, the Pope vehemently rallies to their defense. Because they share his occupation, nine potential wrong-doers merit more prompt and vigorous support from the Pope than hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded child sex abuse victims and still-vulnerable children across the globe.

    According to the Associated Press, Benedict “also repeated that such crimes are handled by both civil and canon law ‘respecting their reciprocal specificity and autonomy.’” It is reckless and arrogant to equate civil and canon ‘law.’ In most nations, civil law is drawn up by a wide range of individuals and interests in open discussion, not strictly by a small, narrow, homogeneous handful of church men behind closed doors. In most nations, civil law is enforced by independent institutions and processes, not by a distant monarch.

    One key reason why priests are still raping kids and bishops are still concealing these crimes is because the Pope and most of the Catholic hierarchy still refuse to accept that investigating child sex crimes and cover ups is the role of law enforcement.

    (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

    Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell)

  6. Pete Klein says:

    I would only add one thing to what you posted, Brian.
    Would people please go to the police and never go to anyone in the church when they want to make a sexual abuse complaint.
    I never have been able to figure out why anyone would make a complaint to the church about something that is criminal.
    Would you complain to the church if Father So and So shot at you?

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