Where’s the Vatican coverup tribunal?

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The Scandal of Secrecy, by Stephen Alcorn

Greenberg Center

The Scandal of Secrecy, by Stephen Alcorn

The Scandal of Secrecy, by Stephen Alcorn

The Scandal of Secrecy, by Stephen Alcorn

A couple of days ago, the AP’s Nicole Winfield reported that Pope Francis’ tribunal to judge bishops who covered up abuse of minors by priests “is going nowhere fast.” It was nine months ago that the pope’s nine-member cardinal advisory board agreed to establish the tribunal as a special disciplinary section within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Thus far the promised secretary for the tribunal has not been appointed and procedures for handling cases have not been promulgated.

Unless and until the tribunal is up and running, the Vatican cannot claim to have addressed the abuse crisis.

The United State Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” adopted in Dallas in 2005 and revised twice since then, promulgates excellent rules for bishops to deal with allegations of sexual abuse of minors. But as the cases of Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City and Archbishop John Nienstedt in St. Paul have recently demonstrated, excellent rules are meaningless if bishops don’t play by them. And while there can be no ironclad guarantees, the best assurance that they will do so is a judicial process where allegations of episcopal misconduct are brought, investigations conducted, trials conducted, and verdicts rendered.

No doubt there are difficult procedural questions to be resolved. Who will have standing to bring complaints? Will there be a statute of limitations? Can cases be brought against retired bishops? Should there be a range of sanctions? How open will the proceedings be?

Since freelance journalist Jason Berry reported on the case of serial abuser Gilbert Gauthe in Louisiana three decades ago, the real scandal has been at the top — the bishops who covered up the abuse and enabled it to continue. The scandal will only come to an end when the Vatican creates a clear and effective process for holding them accountable.

  • samuel johnston

    It’s a question of who knows where the bodies are buried. So many secrets, so little time.

  • Betty Clermont

    “Unless and until the tribunal is up and running, the Vatican cannot claim to have addressed the abuse crisis.” Remember when Pope Francis removed the “Bishop of Bling” and demoted Cardinal Burke? Right now, immediately, Pope Francis can remove or demote any bishop for aiding, abetting, covering-up and/or failing to report sex abuse to civil authorities – hierarchs who are making front page news right now in Chile, France, Italy. But he doesn’t.

  • drwho13

    I’ve always believed that Cardinal Law knows where many bodies are buried, and he’s just one example of a corrupt prelate. I knew about it when I was a seminarian. If a lowly seminarian knew what was going on, every pope knew exactly how severe the problem was, e.g., “Saint JPII” LOL! This type of protection has been going on for centuries, and I don’t expect any substantive change to come out of the Vatican.

    “Pope John Paul II named Law archpriest of one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, and its most magnificent: Santa Maria Maggiore, the first church dedicated to Mary.
    A few months later, Law presided at the anniversary of the basilica’s dedication more than 16 centuries earlier.”


  • Ben in oakland

    From my Rome travelogue last year

    Santa Maria Maggiore is example of the reliance of the Church on the credulity of its congregants to finance its operations. Apparently, a Roman patrician and his wife were without heirs, and made a vow to donate their possessions to the Virgin Mary, who for some reason had need of them, or at least of new digs. Perhaps being Queen of Heaven didn’t pay as well then as appearing on a taco does now. Thus, they prayed that she would tell them how to get their corporeal swag into her hands. She told them to look for snow in Rome. It just happened to appear that very night, in the height of the very hot Roman summer, on the summit of the Esquiline Hill, which hardly qualifies as a hill, let alone a snow-capped mountain. She also didn’t explain why she chose unseasonable snow over making a chapel appear, or curing an amputee, which would have been very nifty and practical miracles. But then, she wouldn’t have needed the swag.

  • Ben in oakland

    Sent to the SF Chronicle

    Your editorial on the Vatican’s sexual abuse problem calls it a “scandal more than a decade old.” How about a millennium?

    Many current allegations about predatory priests date to the ’70’s. A century ago, there were the Magdalene Laundry scandals in Ireland. Historian Karen Liebreich wrote “Fallen Order”, concerning sexual abuse scandals and the too-familiar coverups by ecclesiastical authorities in the Piarist Order nearly 400 years ago. Further evidence is found in Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

    About 1050, St. Peter Damien wrote a scathing treatise addressed to Pope Leo IX, Liber Gomorrhianus, concerning the clergy’s vices, which included sexual abuse of minors and Church superiors hiding the crimes.

    All of this exposes the moral vacuity– putting it mildly– of the Church, with molesting or abusing priests and nuns getting a pass from the church hierarchy, whose own sins are increasingly publicly…

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    Mark, now, wait just a minute. Do you really expect this Vatican Tribunal do take action against their own leadership? There has yet to be a bishop or cardinal in the worldwide RCC removed specifically for failing to protect children from clergy sexual abuse or moving a credibly accused clergy from one diocese to another, one country to another.

    That is why the focus has changed to the public forums, specifically, the extension and or elimination of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. Here, in PA, the recent release of the Grand Jury Investigation and Report in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has added urgency to these efforts; included in the evidence is a “payout schedule” based on the nature, location and severity of the type of sexual abuse perpetrated on children and young adults in the diocese.

    Two things are certain in the world of law enforcement, Mark. The cold steel of handcuffs is indeed a game changer and everyone looks good in orange prison garb.

  • drwho13

    “Two things are certain in the world of law enforcement, Mark. The cold steel of handcuffs is indeed a game changer and everyone looks good in orange prison garb.”

    Spot-on Michael, and they should be treated as common street criminals, not white-collar (black-collar) criminals. That’s part of my philosophy to diminish them whenever and wherever possible. By disrespecting the prelates, and not funding them, we usurp their authority. This softens them up; which breaking down their image, thus making them more susceptible to legal actions by the civil authorities.

    The RCC had been given decades to act, and they’ve been ineffective.
    It’s time for civil authorities to act decisively, and take down these worthless ‘moral leaders’ just like they took down the Mob.

  • Ben in oakland

    Decades to act? They have had centuries to act, and continue in the cycle of molest, covers, transfer, and repeat.

  • drwho13

    Centuries for sure! I was just dealing with our contemporaries

    The leadership of the RCC seems to use Plato’s “The Symposium” as their playbook for sexual morality. “…the Love of Heavenly Aphrodite is homosexual, focused on a love for boys. Though some within this group inappropriately pursue pre-pubescent lads, the ideal beloved is a young boy approaching manhood, one whose mind is beginning to form, and one with whom the lover could spend the rest of his life” (Plato).

    “…the ideal beloved is a young boy approaching manhood, one whose mind is beginning to form…” Perhaps that’s why many abusers, have themselves been abused.

    “The Symposium” was required reading in one of my pre-theology philosophy classes at a Catholic College. Some of the pevert priests have clearly taken it to heart.

  • drwho13

    “I think I’m just not into ancient Greek sausage fests. And in 2016, there are better texts about love without the pedophilia and women hating” (anonymous).

  • samuel johnston

    For many years I thought that as information about the Church became widely disseminated, the institution would wither in the spotlight of its’ own history. I was naive. As long as there is a following for miracles, magic, and wonderful childlike stories, to soothe the pain of the weak and the unlucky, there will be a market for the priests to pray upon (pun intended), and the long childhood of man will continue.

  • drwho13

    In seminary we were taught that the power to forgive sin gives the priest power over the people.

    As long as one continues to believe that an ontological change gives a priest the the power to forgive sin they own you!

  • samuel johnston

    Protestantism abandoned the idea of intermediaries, yet the magical kingdom survives. Mormonism’s success demonstrates that the whole of the Christian scheme can be replaced in a traditionally Christian country. Primitivism and superstition, (like astrology) go on forever, because they have their root in man’s psyche (desire for closure and meaning). My rejection of same is not due to the power of my reason (a weaker force), but by a revulsion (anger) at the exploitation of the weak by those who claim to be their saviors.

  • BillWAF

    There is a perfectly good way to solve the bishop/cardinal problem. It has two steps. First, either victims; family of the victims; or friends of the victims should kill an offending bishop or cardinal. Second, a jury should refuse to convict the killers. After the first few instances, the conduct of the Church and the bishops would probably change.

  • Debbo

    Ben, that is hilarious!

  • Debbo

    Bill, that would indeed be very effective. Not very Christian, but effective.

  • Manuel Giraldes

    Meanwhile, Vatileaks II trial has just begun. It seems that messing with Vatican’s secret papers is a really serious crime. Not a minor one.

  • Manuel Giraldes

    Very good point.

  • patrick

    @ Betty Clermont, drwho13 :

    Your comments are indeed mine.

    However, please don’t refer to ” civil authorities ” ,when sexual-child-abuse is a ” CRIME ” to be reported to ” CRIMINAL authorities “.

    Remember Jerry Sandusky of Penn State who was tried and convicted of 45 CRIMES of child-sexual-abuse and is now serving a min of 30 yrs in prison.

    When a bishop moves or covers-up for a pedophile priest, he becomes an accessory to a CRIME and should be treated as such.

  • I believe that God forgives, the problem comes when the church does not. Yes,
    in the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian systems priest to have the “power” to
    forgive sin, but ultimately its God who does so. If the church refuses to “forgive”
    someone it is at fault, not God. If one is truly sorry and you believe in God and
    the church gives you problems, TRUST GOD. Always trust God over human