Contradictory Vatican advice on priest abuse allegations


THE VATICAN: Contradictory signals and advice appear to be emanating from the Catholic Church leadership to dioceses facing allegations that priests have abused children.

An article published on Friday by an influential canon law lawyer, the Rev Gianfranco Ghirlanda, in the Jesuit magazine Civilita Cattolica, and circulated in translation by the Catholic News Service, has argued that bishops are not under an obligation to pass on to the authorities details of allegations made to them and should try to resolve such problems first internally. He argues they should also not be required to open all their files to prosecutors.

The article by Dr Ghirlanda, the dean of the canon law faculty at the Gregorian University in Rome, is the second indication of Vatican concern at the direction being taken by US church leaders who are seen as likely to adopt an automatic reporting policy at their meeting in Dallas next month.

Church observers say there is concern in Rome that a determinedly transparent stance being adopted by the US church may become a precedent which others will followed. The letter also reflects the Vatican's view that the US crisis is very much one specific to the US, and its desire to insulate the rest of the church from its consequences.

Dr Ghirlanda, who is also an appeals court judge, says "from a canon law perspective, the bishop and the superior are neither morally nor judicially responsible for the acts committed by one of their clergy". Culpability arises if the superior knowingly tolerates the continued abuse by the priest or fails to investigate it.

"The cleric doesn't 'work' for the bishop or for the superior, but is at the service of God," he wrote. The church was not like a corporation; the relationship was not employer-employee.

The article, reviewed before publication by the secretariat of state at the Holy See, also argues that a priest's new congregation should not be told if he has been successfully treated after a history of sexual abuse. "He would be totally discredited in front of his parochial community and, in fact, would be blocked from any effective pastoral action."