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Pope 'led cover-up of child abuse by priests'

Last updated at 23:22pm on 30.09.06

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Top: Tom Doyle and, bottom, Pope Benedict

The Pope played a leading role in a systematic cover-up of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests, according to a shocking documentary to be screened by the BBC tonight.

In 2001, while he was a cardinal, he issued a secret Vatican edict to Catholic bishops all over the world, instructing them to put the Church's interests ahead of child safety.

The document recommended that rather than reporting sexual abuse to the relevant legal authorities, bishops should encourage the victim, witnesses and perpetrator not to talk about it. And, to keep victims quiet, it threatened that if they repeat the allegations they would be excommunicated.

The Panorama special, Sex Crimes And The Vatican, investigates the details of this little-known document for the first time. The programme also accuses the Catholic Church of knowingly harbouring paedophile clergymen. It reveals that priests accused of child abuse are generally not struck off or arrested but simply moved to another parish, often to reoffend. It gives examples of hush funds being used to silence the victims.

Before being elected as Pope Benedict XVI in April last year, the pontiff was Cardinal Thomas Ratzinger who had, for 24 years, been the head of the powerful Congregation of the Doctrine of The Faith, the department of the Roman Catholic Church charged with promoting Catholic teachings on morals and matters of faith. An arch-Conservative, he was regarded as the 'enforcer' of Pope John Paul II in cracking down on liberal challenges to traditional Catholic teachings.

Five years ago he sent out an updated version of the notorious 1962 Vatican document Crimen Sollicitationis - Latin for The Crime of Solicitation - which laid down the Vatican's strict instructions on covering up sexual scandal. It was regarded as so secret that it came with instructions that bishops had to keep it locked in a safe at all times.

Cardinal Ratzinger reinforced the strict cover-up policy by introducing a new principle: that the Vatican must have what it calls Exclusive Competence. In other words, he commanded that all child abuse allegations should be dealt with direct by Rome.

Patrick Wall, a former Vatican-approved enforcer of the Crimen Sollicitationis in America, tells the programme: "I found out I wasn't working for a holy institution, but an institution that was wholly concentrated on protecting itself."

And Father Tom Doyle, a Vatican lawyer until he was sacked for criticising the church's handling of child abuse claims, says: "What you have here is an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy and to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by the churchmen.

"When abusive priests are discovered, the response has been not to investigate and prosecute but to move them from one place to another. So there's total disregard for the victims and for the fact that you are going to have a whole new crop of victims in the next place. This is happening all over the world."

The investigation could not come at a worse time for Pope Benedict, who is desperately trying to mend the Church's relations with the Muslim world after a speech in which he quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor who said that Islam was spread by holy war and had brought only evil to the world.

The Panorama programme is presented by Colm O'Gorman, who was raped by a priest when he was 14. He said: "What gets me is that it's the same story every time and every place. Bishops appoint priests who they know have abused children in the past to new parishes and new communities and more abuse happens."

Last night Eileen Shearer, director of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults said: "The Catholic Church in England and Wales (has) established a single set of national policies and procedures for child protection work. We are making excellent progress in protecting children and preventing abuse."

Panorama: Sex Crimes And The Vatican is on BBC1 tonight at 10.15pm.

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Reader views (36)

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My Two cousins are priests, I have Aunts who are Nuns, my Uncle a Monsignor in Los Angeles. My Grand Uncle Cannon/Past President of St Fannihan's College Ennis Co Clare, My Mothers 1st cousin, a Bishop In Tipperary.
" To any of you who have difficulty believing"
Read any Irish NOV 27th 2009. newspaper, or on the net
Read all about our pervert Cardinals. Bishops, priests.
Read how they were assisted by the " GARDA "police force of Ireland:' to rape, terrorise, and destroy innocent children's lives: And really get the truth as to how the present "POPE" must really be "SATAN"S emmissary on earth.
What they have done in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save us all, is beyond words.
Sorry if i hurt your feelings, but the truth is a hard pill to swallow.


to those who dont believe the the accusations against the catholic church thinking they can do no wrong.
must be living in a different planet
to be believe that this world was made by some god by someone with one ounce of brain power amazes me.
the whole thing is a illogical, irratinal superstition nonsense.
priests are just men like anyother but also some are perverts.

- P. Jones, norfolk england

If this is true, this is absolutely unforgiveable. The facts need to be disclosed now along with any pertinent documentation so that this can be substantiated!!

- Dawn, Nova Scota, Canada

I presume that you will provide the actual document to back up your claims as there is nothing substantial in this article proving what you say. I mean, you could not even get the Pope's name correct. "Thomas" Ratzinger? really?

- Thomas Jones, San Jose, CA

no one knows the whole story of this sex scandal cover-up but God. I am not defending sin and its being covered up, but the Church has reasons for the way it does things. The RCC Church is NOT popular in today's libertine culture. People should keep this kind of thing (and others) in mind when judging the Church. The Church has always wanted to "judge its own" before the secular courts get involved (see the movie BECKET), And even if all that is said about Card. Ratzinger & as stated in secular periodicals.. Humans are sinners.. always will be. That does not change the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is the one established by Christ.. and he only establiished ONE. Jesus promised the very gates of Hell would not prevail over HIS Church.. (St Mt 16:18) Over individuals, yes.. the Church, NO.

- Kathy, oklahoma city, OK

The abominable and explosive report into child abuse within Ireland, as well as many other reports of abuse around the world, has several potential lessons for the Roman Catholic Church. Firstly, it highlights the stupidity of an authoritarian, monarchical, and feudal church located within the modern world. Secondly, the unjust use of its authoritarian power to control the laity and minimize their potential employment for ecclesiastical governance. Thirdly, the use of its authority to exclude women from the priesthood from the end of the twelfth century, according to recent research in the United States. Lastly, the idiocy of imposing celibacy on all Catholic Priests within the western rite of the church as well as outlawing forms of birth control on the laity.

An agenda of reform should include, the rediscovery and reaffirmation of the primacy of the individual conscience, both inside and outside the church. Secondly, she must relax celibacy and invite women to the priesthood. Thirdly, she must embrace all of the documents of the Second Vatican Council without reservation. Fourthly, she needs to invoke a Third Vatican Council that can affect the devolution of power as well as other much needed reforms that would contemporize the church. Fifthly, she needs to invite a broad cross section of the laity to help it make balanced decisions on a permanent and equal basis. Lastly, she needs to truly believe that the secular informs the sacred and vice a versa.

- John Candido, Melbourne Australia

the catholic church has become evil the pope is not only a heritic and apostate but so are these bishops the arrogance is astounding. would jesus think this was representative of his church or would he condemn them. at la sallete the virgin Mary in a locution to a visionary said there would be a counterfit church Rome would lose the faith and become the seat of anti-christ. By their fruits you shall know them jesus says anyone who causes a child to sin it would be beter if he had never been born. benidict i think this refers to you and all pro pervert bishops

- Liam, belfast co antrim

The hierarchy within the Catholic Church do not believe in transparency and accountability, their management style is dogmatic, autocratic and keep mouth shut and do as you are told; 'we are not here to answer your questions, so don't accuse us of anything, we are whiter than white. This style of management went out with Noah's Ark. The Catholic Church will gladly take your money (collections) but, are in their eyes account are accountable to no-one, I have no question with the CATHOLIC FAITH, only with the insiduous hierarchy

- Peter Harriision, Liverpool England

It seems like the true believers miss the Inquisition.

- Pat Kittle, Santa Cruz

As a Roman Catholic and as an American..I'm deeply ashamed at the bowing and grovelling being shown to this horrible man. He gave a speech the other day "apologizing" for the if he hadn't had such a part in protecting the abusers themselves. A large was of spittle hung in the right corner of his lying, duplicitous mouth. He is the devil incarnate in patent leather gucci pumps. Instead of being in a popemobile..he ought to be in the weinermobile..headed for the lock-up.

- Christine Craft, san francisco,California usa

In 2006, a film called "Deliver Us From Evil" was released in the USA, that won several awards and was nominated for the Oscar for best feature documentary. It concerns the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. The filmmakers interviewed three California victims (two women and a man) of the same priest, as well as the families of the victims and the priest himself, who confessed, was ultimately convicted and spend time in prison before being returned to Ireland to roam free. The film makes it very clear that higher-ups within the Church, particularly Cardinal Roger Mahony, knew exactly what was happening with this particular priest, and lied and schemed to protect him from the wrath of his parishioners by moving him from one town to another in California for many years so that he could continue to compulsively abuse children. The film also exposes the current Pope's long term leadership in the overall strategy of suppressing the evidence and allowing paedophile priests to go unpunished. The film makes clear that not all paedophiles are homosexuals; in fact, this particular priest was a typical paedophile whose interest was not his victim's gender, but their age. Catholics who close their eyes to this awful tragedy are doing their beloved church no good. Reform it and fix it. Expose the demons before nothing is left. Sadly, what the BBC documentary reveals is only the tip of the iceberg.

- Phyllis, Brooklyn, NY

Of course he did, just like the bishops across the land protected the ranks, they knew, and as such the partook in the abuse of our children. As for why, I do not need to mention the #1 reason. But a among the unspoken obvious, there was and is the issue of money, and all of their vast land holdings in each of our communities. And when the huge settlement payouts came what did the good Pope do? He sold land for money. Whose land, ask the nuns that have lost their retirement homes.

- Angela Kortz Funke, Pewee Valley, KY USA

The hubris from the current Pope is really disheartening. I would attend mass more often if I felt in my heart of hearts that it was about a communion with God rather than a getting at my wallet during the collection. His Holiness does a great disservice to those loyal and loving men and women of the cloth who do not act with the ignorance or anger that is evidenced in Rome.

- Hayden, Austin, Texas, USA

As you can see, the sources are disgruntled lawyers. Gives this article about as much credibility as a political consultant who gets fired by a candidate and then tries to get back at them by speaking out against their former employer.
Of course, this type of accusation is all too welcome for anti-catholic atheists and some groups of protestants who resent the Catholic church.

- Bob, KS, USA

I saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

- Michael, San Marcos, Texas, USA

Makes you wonder why this pope would want to inflame Muslims with his anti-Muhammed (peace be upon him) 'quotes' and then this. When you don't act righteously, then what is it that you are doing? "By the fruits ye shall judge them.." Jesus/Isa (peace be upon him) was so right.

- Omar F, NYC, USA

The authority of the church had the audacity to define God, who cannot be defined. That's when the deceit began, and it's rampant today. The message brought by Christ has been twisted beyond recognition. Either they do not hear the message or they choose to ignore it.

When the true church emerges, and it will, all will be welcome.

- Kaynkansas, Lenexa, KS USA

True, the BBC and most media do bash the Catholic Church. But If it wasn't for the media, the whole sex abuse thing would still be a Vatican secret. The Vatican knew that homosexuals were getting ordained, were informed of pedephile priests were being moved around rather than arrested and it was the Vatican who gave us many homosexual bishops. The corruption in the Vatican is beyound belief.

- Robert P. Kosak, Nassau, NY, USA

How interesting that the Holy Father's intention for September, 2006 (planned a year or more in advance) was for the mass media. Let us pray for truthfulness in reporting, for the Church, and for all victims of sexual abuse.

- Ann, Los Angeles,USA

True to form "sensation" information is coming to the public via the media presented as bona fide documents. The Holy Spirit continues to work through all of this, continues to sanctify each member of the Church, continues to guide the faithful despite the working of the devil in our time. May we continue to pray for those in authority, those who have been abused, those who condoned the abuse, those who seek to destroy the Church.

- Simone O'K, Denville, USA

Whilst there are "bad people" in every organisation, I do not think the Pope is one of them.

Of course I deplore child molestation, but I think in this case (as in other recent cases) the BBC is attacking the Pope in this way because he's an easy target and he does not issue Fatwas.

In short, I feel the BBC is constantly taking pot-shots at the Catholic faith in a way that it would not dare do if the religion was Islam.

- Martin, London, UK.

You will never hear the truth from the BBC.

- John, USA

The document deals with those who solicit sex within the confessional and not generally with those who do so outside the confessional. The secrecy seems to be to protect the seal of confession and to punish those who violate it in any regard. A sin is a sin and an outreage, but the church takes solicitation in the confessional as even a worse sin if that were possible.

- Terik Ororke, USA

As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse this isn't news to me. All one has to do is follow the scandal from city to city - Boston, LA, the recent Chicago, Santa Rosa, where the Bishops protected the priests and/or moved them.
No matter where you look, they consistently do the same thing.
In their system of hierarchy one can only conclude that they do this because of orders from Rome.
There was a letter written by the then Cardinal Ratzinger that spells out the Rome has "jurisdiction in cases where abuse has been 'perpetrated with a minor by a cleric." Meaning they don't have to report it to authorities. It had been submitted as evidence in some legal cases in the USA. Rome never denied it's authenticity. Their response as reported in the April 24, 2005 edition of the Guardian -
"A spokeswoman in the Vatican press office declined to comment when told about the contents of the letter. 'This is not a public document, so we would not talk about it,' she said."

- Skip Shea, Uxbridge, Massachusetts

Julie is dead right. It is truly a war waging against the Catholic Church. BBC actually stands for By British Cowards. May God have mercy on those who slander our chosen leader. But we as Catholics, draw comfort from Christ, who said the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.

- Marianne Johnpillai, Nawala, Sri Lanka

I do not believe that Cardinal Ratzinger would have ever sent a document, as described in this "shocking documentary". First of all the translation from Latin to English is no doubt erroneous, like most of their translations are, so they can twist the meaning into obscurity.

- Hilda West, Alachua, Fl

I believe the conclave of Cardinals has made a very big mistake in choosing this man as pope to lead us. In the picture of him here he looks like something evil. I beleive he will lead the church downhill as long as he is pope. There will never be another John Paul II but I beleive they should have chose the Cardinal from Africa to be our pope.The church will steadly decline with the pope we now have now.

- Bill Hutchinson, Paramount USA

Open season has been declared on Pope Benedict and all Catholics. It was the BBC after all who took Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech out of context only to put his life and the lives of Christians everywhere in danger. God bless Sister Leonella Sgorbati. As Christians, she forgave the Muslim who shot her, and I forgive the BBC and the New York Times for being responsible.

- Julie, Texas

I happen to be a Catholic and know of at least one case where a priest was falsely accused of sexual abuse. His case was taken care of by the legal authorities in his area and later on the local church authorities investigated the accusation. Lastly, it went to the Vatican. Why is it that people have to use lies and deception to gain attention? All of those that are slurring the reputation of this holy man will someday be accountable to the Creator of all of us, whether they believe in Him or not.

- Anita, Boca Raton USA

I don't abelieve it!

- Betty G. Armendarez, Owensboro

I have first hand experience with presenting a case of physical abuse and knowing how quickly and attentively it was responded to.

I was never asked to keep it quiet, I was never threatened with excommunication.

Stop this anti-Catholic rant. And if I can still be part of the Church after what happened to me by evil, misguided perpetrators, who are you to attack my church and my Pope!

- David Anthony Domet, Toronto, Canada

This report is absurd.

- William V., Boston, MA, USA

I am an ex Catholic, now a born again Chrisitian Minister. It sickens me what the Pope is doing to cover up the sins and perversion of priests and other Catholic clergy. Why should they be exempt from paying for their crimes?

- Ouis , Albany NY USA

This is totally absurd!

- Philip Figueroa, California

God I hope this report is wrong... why do I have the gut feeling that it's true?

- Diana, New Hampshire USA

This is a horrible accusation. Where is the documentation to prove such a terrible allegation?

- Rose Marie Benoit, N. Dartmouth, MA USA

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