c. 2006 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY _ Canadian police are calling for a retired Vatican official, formerly in charge of promoting Catholic missionary activity worldwide, to return to Canada and face charges of sexually assaulting a minor decades ago.
Monsignor Bernard Prince, 71, the former secretary-general of the Pontifical Work for the Propagation of the Faith, was charged in late October after his alleged victim, now in his late 40s, reported having sex with the cleric in 1969 when he was only 12 years old.
Prince, who currently resides in Italy but holds Canadian citizenship, is believed to be the first Vatican official to face sex abuse allegations.
Reached by phone in the town of Morlupo, about 35 miles north of Rome, Prince declined to comment on the charges and said he had not decided whether to return to Canada.
“I’m waiting for news from the lawyer,” Prince said, asserting that Canadian authorities had never informed him of the charges.
“I have heard of no warrant and the lawyer hasn’t either,” he said. “Someone has got their stories mixed up.”
According to Sgt. Kristine Rae-Cholette of the Ontario Provincial Police, the warrant for Prince’s arrest was issued in late October, charging him with “buggery and indecent assault-male” _ language that conforms to 1969 law.
Police informed him of the warrant shortly after it was issued, she said, and issued a public statement about the charges on Wednesday (Feb. 1).
“We know that (Prince) is aware of the charges. We’re waiting to see if he’s going to return to Canada on his own,” Rae-Cholette said.
Rae-Cholette said Canadian authorities are considering whether to request Prince’s extradition from Italy. Additional charges could be brought against him based on complaints that have already been filed by other accusers, she said.
There is no statute of limitations for sexual abuse in Ontario, Rae-Cholette said.
It was unclear whether Prince is entitled to claim citizenship in Vatican City, which is a sovereign state and does not have an extradition treaty with Canada. Asked over the phone if he was currently a citizen of the Holy See, Prince responded “no.”
A Vatican official who reviews clerical sex abuse cases said he was unaware of the allegations against Prince.
According to Wednesday’s press release from the police, Prince is charged with abusing the boy during a retreat at his private cottage in Wilno, about 80 miles west of Ottawa. Prince was serving at the Vatican’s embassy in Ottawa at the time.
Ordained in 1963, Prince left Canada in 1991 to join the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s chief administrative body. Prince also attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, where he received a master’s degree in divinity in 1976.
As secretary-general of the Pontifical Work for the Propagation of the Faith, Prince traveled the world, overseeing efforts to promote and finance Catholic missionary work. He retired in 2004.
Prince, who has Polish heritage, was highly regarded for his personal connections to the late pope John Paul II. The two reportedly met during a trip Prince made to Poland, prior to John Paul’s election in 1978.
KRE/JL END RNS