Sex Crimes Cover-Up by Vatican?

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Sex Crimes Cover-Up by Vatican?

Newspaper article

By: Vince Gonzales

Date: August 6, 2003

Source: Vince Gonzales. CBS News. "Sex Crimes Cover-up by Vatican?" 〈〉 (accessed March 10, 2006).

About the Author: In 1990, Vince Gonzales graduated from the State University of New York, Brockport with a bachelor's degree in political science and communications/journalism. He then studied journalism at Columbia University Graduate School. Gonzales then participated in a training program with CBS affiliates until he joined CBS News as a correspondent in 1998. He was awarded two Columbia University awards, an Emmy, and awards from the Society for Professional Journalists.


In 2002, claims began to surface regarding alleged sex abuses by Catholic priests, many dating back several decades. Though claims of sex abuse against priests certainly did not begin in 2002, their number skyrocketed that year, leading to a public outcry and eventually a response by the Vatican. The first allegations began to surface in 1985, when Reverend Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer for the Vatican, wrote a confidential memo to the bishops of the United States citing thirty cases and one hundred victims of alleged sex crimes perpetrated by priests. He estimated a cost of $1 billion over ten years to the church. At the same time, writing for the National Catholic Reporter, Jason Berry published a nationwide examination of the allegations against priests. Four years later, in 1989, Joseph Ferrario became the first American bishop accused of molestation. These charges were eventually dismissed by the court. By 1992, the U.S. bishops agreed on a set of principles by which to handle accusations of sex abuse. At the same time, Berry continued to document the cases against priests, which by this time numbered over four hundred cases.

January of 2002 brought a floodgate of charges against priests, beginning with the conviction of defrocked Boston priest John Geoghan. He was accused of abusing over 130 children and faced charges of indecent assault and battery. As Geoghan was sentenced to nine to ten years' incarceration, the archdiocese began to face accusations of cover-up due to the number of priests involved and the documentation of claims against priests. In April 2002, Pope John Paul II called a meeting of the U.S. cardinals and tasked them with the creation of a policy to handle allegations and prevent future cases from occurring. The pope stated, "There is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young." In response to the pope's admonishing, the U.S. bishops met in June of 2002 and agreed on a policy which would remove accused clergy from their positions, but not automatically defrock them from the priesthood. Priests who have become "notorious and [are] guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors" would be submitted to a special process whose role is to defrock the priest. The Vatican initially rejected this document and in November of 2002, the bishops passed an amendment which would immediately remove any priest convicted of engaging in the sexual abuse of a minor. By this time, over 325 of the nation's 46,000 priests had been reassigned due to allegations of sexual misconduct. By December, the Vatican accepted the new policy toward sexual predators within the priesthood. In addition, Cardinal Bernard Law, of the Boston Archdiocese, resigned his position under pressure from the public.

In 2004, the U.S. Catholic bishops created the National Review Board to act as an overseer of the new policies. The board released two studies regarding the sexual abuse cases that had faced the church. One study covered the alleged abuses between 1950 and 2002, finding 10,667 cases against priests. The second study placed the responsibility for the continued abuse on the U.S. bishops for insufficiently addressing allegations.


For decades, priests in this country abused children in parish after parish while their superiors covered it all up. Now it turns out the orders for this cover up were written in Rome at the highest levels of the Vatican.

CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales has uncovered a church document kept secret for 40 years.

The confidential Vatican document, obtained by CBS News, lays out a church policy that calls for absolute secrecy when it comes to sexual abuse by priests—anyone who speaks out could be thrown out of the church.

The policy was written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani.

The document, once "stored in the secret archives" of the Vatican, focuses on crimes initiated as part of the confessional relationship and what it calls the "worst crime": sexual assault committed by a priest or "attempted by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals."

Bishops are instructed to pursue these cases "in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone (including the alleged victim) … is to observe the strictest secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication."

Larry Drivon, a lawyer who represents alleged victims, said, "This document is significant because it's a blueprint for deception."

Drivon said this proves what he has alleged on behalf of victims in priest-abuse lawsuits: that the church engaged in a crime—racketeering.

"It's an instruction manual on how to deceive and how to protect pedophiles," Drivon said. "And exactly how to avoid the truth coming out."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the document is being taken out of context, that it's a church law that deals only with religious crimes and sins. And that the secrecy is meant to protect the faithful from scandal.

"The idea that this is some sort of blueprint to keep this secret is simply wrong," said Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the Conference.

"This is a system of law which is complete in itself and is not telling the bishops in any way about how to handle these crimes when they are considered as civil crimes," Maniscalco said.

But Richard Sipe, a former priest who has written about sex abuse and secrecy in the church, said the document sends a chilling message.

"This is the code for how you must deal with sex by priests. You keep it secret at all costs," Sipe said. "And that's what's happened. It's happened in every diocese in this country."

According to church records, the document was a bedrock of Catholic sex abuse policy until America's bishops met last summer and drafted new policies to address the crisis in the church.


In 1962, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani held the position of Prefect of the Holy Office, which is now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Ottaviani's office oversaw the creation of the document titled "Instruction on proceeding in cases of solicitation." According to the Catholic Church, the document is not, as the CBS report suggests, a blueprint for the cover-up of sexual abuses by priests. The document, according to the Catholic World News, deals with the act of solicitation on the part of the priest, an act considered an ecclesiastical crime. The intent of the document is to create a procedure to investigate priests who are accused of using the Sacrament of Penance (or confession) to entice a penitent, or parishioner, to engage in sexual activity. If the act of solicitation results in actual sexual activity, the rules of secrecy provided in the document no longer apply. The document cites in section 18 that every Catholic has a duty to bring charges against a priest who engages in solicitation, not, as the report suggests, that an accuser will be excommunicated. The church asserts that the document allows for criminal charges to be brought against a priest, while at the same time the priest could be charged in an ecclesiastical court. It also holds that the procedure outlined in the document is intended to protect the secrecy of the confessional, not the actions of an errant priest.


Web sites

Catholic World News. "CBS News Distorts 1962 Vatican Document." 〈〉 (accessed March 10, 2006).

CBS News. "Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation." 〈〉 (accessed March 10, 2006).

CBS News. "Taint of Church Sex Scandal Lingers." 〈〉 (accessed March 10, 2006).