Vatican faces into torrid week with focus on clerical abuse

Meeting of senior clergy take place as book claims 80% working in Catholic HQ are gay

Pope Francis called this week’s Rome meeting to raise awareness globally about clerical child sexual abuse, highlighting it is not just a “western” problem. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Pope Francis called this week’s Rome meeting to raise awareness globally about clerical child sexual abuse, highlighting it is not just a “western” problem. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


A four-day meeting of Catholic bishops and other senior clergy begins at the Vatican on Thursday to address the issue of clerical child sexual abuse.

The long-awaited gathering may be overshadowed by a credible book being launched this week about unsavoury goings on at the Vatican itself.

And all this against an emerging scandal – again – of seemingly widespread sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops, publicly acknowledged for the first time by Pope Francis last week. A torrid week ahead seems likely.

The book, In the Closet of the Vatican, will be launched by London-based Bloomsbury Publishing. It claims that senior clergy in the Catholic Church and at the Vatican who have most vociferously attacked homosexuality are themselves gay.

It also says that approximately four out of five priests, or 80 per cent, of those working at the Vatican are gay. Though not all are actively so.

The 570-page book is by French journalist Frédéric Martel who spent four years researching it, according to the English Catholic weekly The Tablet.

A former adviser to the French government, Mr Martel claims to have spent lengthy periods in Rome, as elsewhere, conducting 1,500 interviews while researching the book, including with 41 cardinals, 52 bishops and monsignors, 45 papal nuncios or diplomatic officials, 11 Swiss guards and more than 200 priests and seminarians.

He also claims that the late Colombian cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, a dogmatic defender of traditional church teaching on homosexuality and contraception, enjoyed the company of male prostitutes.

It was Cardinal Trujillo who, in 1992, began the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families, the most recent edition of which took place in Dublin last August. Its purpose is to promote the traditional view of marriage as between a man and a women.

In the Closet of the Vatican is described by Bloomsbury as “a startling account of corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Vatican” which “exposes the rot at the heart of the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church today”.

It promises to be grist to the mill of all those groups planning to be in Rome this week calling for proper accountability and transparency in the church internationally when it comes to clerical child sexual abuse. They have plans for an evening “Vigil for Justice” near the Vatican during the week and a “March for Zero Tolerance” to St Peter’s Square.

Zero tolerance

They are calling for zero tolerance for all clergy convicted of child sexual abuse and their immediate removal from the priesthood. Vatican sources, however, have dampened such expectations, noting for instance that the legal definition of a child is not consistent throughout the world.

Indeed Pope Francis himself has also been toning down hopes of what may arise from this week’s meeting, which he called in September. Last month he warned against “inflated expectations” of the meeting.

“The problem of abuse will continue. It’s a human problem” that exists everywhere, he said.

But the consequences of Rome not getting this issue right, or doing so too late, can be gleaned from the Irish experience and Pope Francis’s visit last August when, according to the Office of Public Works, just 132,000 attended the papal Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

Pope Francis: has acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops is another scandal with which the Vatican is confronted. Photograph: Andrew Medichini
Pope Francis: has acknowledged the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops is another scandal with which the Vatican is confronted. Photograph: Andrew Medichini

Attendance at the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago was 180,000, according to the Vatican’s news website. The lower Irish attendance cannot simply be explained away by rain and super-stringent health and safety regulations in Dublin.

It is a remarkable fact that attendance at a papal Mass in an avowedly Muslim country at the heart of Islam should exceed that in what until recently was seen as the most traditionally Catholic English-speaking country in the world.

Pope Francis called this week’s Rome meeting with the primary intention of raising awareness globally about clerical child sexual abuse, highlighting in particular that it is not just a “western” problem but happens everywhere.

It is also hoped it will encourage a culture of accountability and transparency throughout the worldwide church when it comes to dealing with the issue.

Ten women

In attendance will be the presidents of about 115 bishops’ conferences, heads of eastern churches, prefects of Vatican congregations directly involved with the issue, eight delegates from the men’s Union of Superiors General, 10 delegates from the women’s International Union of Superiors General, three members of the pope’s Council of Cardinals who are not presidents of their bishops’ conference and four members of the organising committee.

Of the participants, estimated at between 160 and 180, just 10 will be women, those from the International Union of Superiors General.

Ireland will be represented by the president of the Irish Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Eamon Martin, whose credentials include having been a member of the original National Board for Safeguarding Children at Maynooth.

It put in place, and supervises on an ongoing basis, some of the most effective child-safeguarding measures in the Catholic sphere. Archbishop Martin has much constructive advice to offer his colleagues, should he be listened to, which is not always the Irish experience where the Vatican and abuse is concerned.

This was brought to mind for many again recently when Pope Francis acknowledged for the first time that the sexual abuse of nuns by priests and bishops was another scandal with which the Vatican is confronted.

‘Sexual slavery’

He was speaking to media on the flight back to Rome after his visit to Abu Dhabi and responding to questions following the resignation last month of Fr Hermann Geissler, chief of staff at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has responsibility for dealing with sexual abuse issues.

The priest has been accused by a former nun of making sexual advances to her in confession, which he has denied. Pope Francis said that this latest sex scandal was a continuing problem. Some priests, he said, have been suspended.

“Should more be done? Yes,” he said. “Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”

His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, he said, had been “a strong man” on the issue and had sought to remove priests who committed sexual abuse and had even been involved with “sexual slavery” involving nuns.

It should not have been news to many as in 1994 late Irish nun and Medical Missionary of Mary Sr Maura O’Donoghue submitted an extensive report to the Vatican on the sexual abuse of nuns by priests in 22 countries, including Ireland.

In February 1995, she met Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, then prefect of the Vatican’s congregation for the religious life, to discuss the matter. Nothing happened.

In 2001 then Vatican spokesman Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls acknowledged that “the problem [clerical sexual abuse of nuns] is known about”.

And there it rested.