On abuse, Vatican keeps on failing (from The Tablet, issue dated 8 July 2017)
The Tablet05 July 2017 If reports are correct, it is impossible to see how the newly appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer SJ, can take up his new post. Together with the then Prefect, Cardinal William Levada, he is said in 2012 to have put his name to a letter calling for secrecy “lest it cause a scandal amongst the faithful”, about a parish priest convicted – by a tribunal inside the Vatican itself – of several counts of the sexual abuse of children. The fear of causing scandal is precisely what lies behind the numerous cases where abuse has been covered up by church authorities, which has caused such uproar all over the world.
But there is worse. The priest was laicised. The Italian daily, La Repubblica, reports that because his previous record as a paedophile was kept secret thanks to this letter, he was appointed as a soccer coach to a boys’ team. He went on to abuse at least one other child. He was arrested and convicted, and is now serving a sentence of eight years. Other cases are still being investigated by the police. Had the authorities been properly informed, it is unlikely children would have been abused by this priest after his laicisation.
That is not the end of the matter. Under its previous Prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the CDF had been dragging its feet in investigating bishops alleged to have covered up abuse cases. Before his appointment to succeed Cardinal Müller, Archbishop Ladaria had been the Congregation’s secretary. The Congregation had been charged with creating a disciplinary tribunal to deal with such allegations, and has not yet done so. Two members of the papal commission dealing with child abuse left it after expressing concerns about obstruction by the CDF over this issue.
Cardinal Müller’s departure from the top of the CDF seems likely to be because he was out of tune with some of the approaches Pope Francis was taking, for example regarding the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to Holy Communion. The cardinal was close to Pope Benedict, who was adamantly against such a change during his pontificate. If the intention behind appointing Archbishop Ladaria was to have someone more amenable in such a key position, Pope Francis will now have to think again.
He has lost another right-hand man, for the time being at least, as a result of the decision of the Australian police to lay charges against Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of both Sydney and Melbourne. He has effectively been the Pope’s finance minister, disentangling the Vatican’s labyrinthine financial arrangements to make them more transparent and less susceptible to corruption. The Australian charges, which are flatly denied by Cardinal Pell, are thought to include allegations of actual sexual abuse but may also relate to his alleged failure to report cases to the authorities.
The cardinal will be able to respond to the allegations against him. If he has been guilty of child sexual abuse, or of related offences, there must be a reckoning. Even deliberately taking steps to bring about a cover-up ought to be regarded as criminal, given the danger that unidentified paedophiles in the community represent to children – as demonstrated by the shocking La Repubblica allegations.