The New York Times
Missing Mandate From
From the Web, January
The Vatican’s insistence that it
never impeded criminal investigations of pedophile priests has been thrown into
doubt by a 1997 letter from the pope’s representative in Dublin warning against
a mandate by Irish church leaders for full cooperation with criminal
Throughout the mushrooming scandal, Rome officials have denied trying to foil
secular law by allowing child-abuse allegations to be shrouded in halfhearted
diocesan inquiries and cover-ups. But the newly discovered letter
undermines those claims and reinforces evidence of foot dragging that still has
not been adequately addressed by the Vatican.
The letter from the papal representative rejected a 1996 decision by Dublin
church leaders to respond more candidly to the suppressed scandal in Ireland by
ordering that child-abuse allegations be referred for criminal investigation.
The “strictly confidential” letter from Rome — leaked this week amid continuing
inquiries into the Irish scandal — emphasized the priority of in-house handling
of pedophilia cases under church, not civil, law.
This was hardly the needed prescription for what an Irish government
investigation eventually described as “endemic” abuse of thousands of children
over decades by rogue priests who were routinely shielded from criminal
It was disclosed recently, for example, that Tony Walsh, a notorious abuser of
children who was convicted and defrocked in a secret church court in Dublin in
1993, got his collar back a year later when a Vatican court believed his appeal
and reinstated him as a priest. He was eventually imprisoned after raping
and molesting scores of youngsters.
Rome officials insist that the letter from Rome is outdated, misinterpreted and
superseded by tougher church rules. Unfortunately, the latest policies of
the Vatican do not mandate the zero-tolerance reforms that ranking officials in
the United States and elsewhere were forced to proclaim as the scandal
demoralized church faithful worldwide.
It is commendable that Pope Benedict XVI has been apologizing and promising a
firmer hand. But current Vatican policy, updated last year, offers merely
a nonbinding advisory — not a firm mandate — that diocesan officials should
report crimes to police.
This is cold comfort to worried Catholic parents or anyone else relying on the
rule of law.