Fresh allegations in the Catholic child-abuse scandal have emerged from France, where it has been alleged that a Vatican cardinal in charge of clergy around the world congratulated a French bishop for not denouncing a sexually abusive priest.
The congratulatory letter is said to have been written in 2001, according to a Reuters report on France24.com.
Reuters says the letter was posted to a French website by Golias, a critical lay Roman Catholic magazine based in Lyon, and it is “the most explicit of a wave of recently published internal church documents in showing past Vatican encouragement to cover up sexual abuse by priests.”
The letter is dated September 8, 2001. In it, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos is said to have backed a decision by a French bishop, Pierre Pican, to not denounce a priest who was later sentenced to 18 years’ jail for the repeated rape of a boy and sexual assaults on 10 others.
“Under fire in recent weeks for its secretive handling of abuse cases, the Vatican has insisted the fact that other published documents did not explicitly instruct bishops to inform police of abuse,” says Reuters.
A Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, is said not to have disputed the letter’s content but said it confirmed “how opportune it was to centralise treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
The then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, “instructed Catholic bishops around the world on May 18, 2001, to report all case of clerical sexual abuse of minors to the Congregation, the top Vatican doctrinal office that he headed,” says the news agency.
Pican received a suspended three-month jail sentence for not denouncing sexual abuse of minors, and admitted in court he had kept Rev. Rene Bissey in parish work in spite of his having privately admitted committing acts against young people.
“The case shocked France and prompted its bishops to declare that all abuse cases must be reported to civil authorities,” says Reuters, which quotes the letter from Castrillon Hoyos as saying: “I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration. You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”
The cardinal said in the letter that relations between bishops and priests were not simply professional but had “very special links of spiritual paternity.” Bishops therefore had no obligation to testify against “a direct relative.” he said.
The letter went on to cite Vatican documents and even an epistle of St Paul to bolster its argument about special bishop–priest links.
“To encourage brothers in the episcopate in this delicate domain, this Congregation will send copies of this letter to all bishops’ conferences,” wrote Castrillon Hoyos.
The cardinal, a staunch conservative from Colombia, headed the Vatican department for priests from 1996 to 2006. He also ran, from 2000 to 2009, a commission dealing with traditionalist rebels who broke from Rome in 1988 and were excommunicated.
The child-abuse scandal shows little sign of letting up, as new revelations continue to fill the world’s media. It has led the noted atheist authors Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great) to back a legal move to have the Pope arrested when he visits the UK in September.