Vatican Warned Irish Bishops Not To Report Child Abuse in 1997

In a discovery that is being called “the smoking gun,” Irish media is reporting that they have a 1997 letter from the Vatican warning Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police. This was from 1997 — less then 13 years ago in the midst of the scandal. This occurred during the tenure of Pope John Paul II.

The letter appears to contradict denials from Vatican officials that they ever discouraged reporting child abuse to the police.

The letter is from the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, who served as Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland (his top diplomat to that country). Storero warns that the policy of Irish bishops to report such crimes “gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature.” He reminds them that both allegations and punishment must be handled within the church and that this canon “must be meticulously followed.”

Source: Yahoo

Jonathan Turley

72 thoughts on “Vatican Warned Irish Bishops Not To Report Child Abuse in 1997”

  1. Mespo,
    Thanks for the quote. That passage was also in his autobiography. My problem is I have it on my Kindle and on that machine, it is difficult to go back and find specific pages, or I haven’t learnt the trick yet. The point which you so ably reinforced was that Twain was quite far from being a doctrinaire believer in religion. His “Joan” book, while and admiring biography scorned her inquisitors and the Church that spurred them on. In the RCC saints and miracles are fine as long as their dead. Usually the saints are non-conformists who are embarrassing to the church while they are alive.

    By the way to anyone who believes I’m particularly anti-RCC would be incorrect. My parents closest circle of friends were
    Catholics, who were religious. I have many wonderful childhood memories of celebrating Christmas with them and indeed I have on at least 3 different occasions attended midnight Christmas Mass. One time in St. Patrick’s in NYC. I enjoyed the ritual, sounds and pagentry of the Mass. If I had to choose between Christian faiths in terms of which one has done more for civilization I would choose the RCC over people like the Southern Baptists anytime. However, I have a strong distaste and distrust for all organized religion, most especially those of the fundamentalist stripe. This includes Judaism.

  2. Elaine makes some very good points in her suggestion about priests being allowed to marry. If memory serves me, the Catholic Church banned marriage for priest for several stated reasons but the one most crucial was “inheritance” …. all that church property being claimed by the wives and children of dead priests.

  3. In case there is interest in learning more about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, and to hear from victims/survivors of clergy sex abuse, there will be a conference in Washington, D.C., from July 8 to 10, 2011, held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel.

    The theme of the conference is: exposing truth and protecting kids!

    The conference is sponsored by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP. To learn more about the conference, the website is:

    I attended the SNAP conference in Chicago last year. It was very enlightening. Some of the 200 deaf men, who were abused by a Fr. Murphy in Wisconsin when they were children, shared their tragic stories. There were victims/survivors from Belgium who told of at least 13 suicides in their country by victims of priest sex abuse.

    I am impressed by the leaders in SNAP. I find them to be humble people who respect what is good in the RCC, and who want to help the RCC to face itself and to deal honestly with the priest sex abuse issues.

    The President of SNAP, Barbara Blaine, is a survivor herself. Barbara got a Masters in Divinity, then a Masters in Social Work, then a Degree in Law, so that she could advocate for the protection of children from abuse.

    I, too, am a survivor. I was sexually assaulted by a Carmelite priest when I was a young doctor working in Dublin. It was hard to know who to talk with in the Church at that time.

    When I found that the Carmelite priest was still hearing confessions and saying Mass when I was visiting family in Ireland a few months ago, I wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, to let him know of my experience.

    The Archbishop called me on my iPhone and wanted to meet. We met for an hour and he said that he would get back to me. True to his word, he and the Discalced Carmelite Provincial were in touch with me by email, when I got home to the Chicago area.

    Since then, the priest has been investigated by the detectives in the Sexual Crimes Unit in Dublin. The priest admitted his guilt and has been removed from active ministry and will be monitored.

    Something must be done to change the leadership and structure of the RCC and to allow all of the People of God to have a voice in our Church, rather than just hearing the voices of single men who have not had to deal with many of the challenges of life, and who have never been married and have never raised children. Mandatory celibacy only started in the 11th century. Priests and bishops were free to be married in the RCC before the 11th century.

    I am very impressed with the courage of Archbishop Martin of Dublin. He cares for the victims. Dr. Martin was sent by Pope Benedict from Rome back to Ireland to deal with the problem of priest sex abuse.

    Sadly, Pope Benedict has undermined the authority of Archbishop Martin by reversing the resignations of 2 Irish Bishops who were known to be complicit in the sex abuse scandal in Ireland. Loyalty to one another is more important to the Pope and Bishops than protecting the innocence of children. Archbishop Martin is in a lonely place among his brother priests, because he cares about the victims/survivors of clergy sex abuse.

    Pope Benedict and the hierarchy must no longer be allowed to hide from accountability by claiming diplomatic immunity. People with integrity do not have to hide behind legalisms.

    What can we, as Americans, do to help the leaders in the RCC be accountable and for healing to occur in the RCC?

    Sincerely, Dr. Rosemary Eileen McHugh, Chicago, Illinois,

  4. Blouise,
    As a somewhat fallen Catholic, I would welcome you in. However, If my old brain is working this morning. the Popes hat is kind of rounded at the top and not actually pointed. But, as I think of it, a pointy hat might be more appropriate for the chief Wizard!
    I agree that the pedophile problem would not have been so bad in the Church if priests were allowed to marry as they were originally back in Peter’s time. However, I do not have any proof ot that. It is just unnatural for humans to be celibate for life in my opinion.
    Let me know when your campaign to be Pope begins. I want to get in on the ground floor on that one!

  5. mespo,

    I do think there might have been fewer pedophiles in the Catholic clergy if priests were allowed to marry. I think the Catholic priesthood is a kind of closed society. Having married priests with wives and children would most likely have cracked open that society. It might have become a less secretive group–one in which it was more difficult for pedophiles to hide…or maybe one that seemed less attractive to pedophiles.

  6. Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion–several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven….The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste.

    – Mark Twain (“The Lowest Animal”).

  7. “By the way, if you are looking for a good book to read, I recommend Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc by Mark Twain.”

    Having just finished Mark Twain’s (S.L. Clemens) autobiography I am familiar with his thinking on Joan. He greatly admired her, but he loathed those Church Inquisators who had her burnt at the stake. Among the things he admired was throgh months of torture and trial she stood up to these learned hypocrites and held her own in debate. how you could use her to defend the RCC is an amazing feat of chutzpah. She is an example of how the RCC has found covering up its’ image more important that acting morally or presenting the truth. This pertains to the disgusting coverup of pedophilia which was done on a worldwide scale and in the actions of the current Pope in facillitating the cover up. When it came to religious establishments of any kind Twain was highly skeptical.

  8. mespo,

    Seriously … one of my very good friends was heavily involved in a case against a pedophile priest. The tactics of the Catholic Church and the “Catholic” judges in Cleveland were beyond awful. The pain my friend endured and the strength to endure in spite of the forces arrayed against her were remarkable.

    To this day I find it difficult to discuss the matter with anybody.

  9. If mespo gets the pointy hat and a crooked stick then I will seriously consider converting but I will not become celibate.

  10. Wow! The heavy hitters came out for this one. Thanks for the lessons Dr. McHugh! It is kind of scary to think that the leaders of the Church would be so ruthless.
    Buddha, as to this Mespo for Pope stuff, I don’t think he could handle the vestments, let alone the hat!!

  11. Dr. McHugh,

    Thank you for your words of sanity on an insane subject from one of the Church’s own members. We see a lot of apologists here. It’s good to see that some Catholics – like the several I consider close friends – are appalled at the lack of criminal, civil and social justice surrounding the RCC’s child abuse scandal(s).

  12. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh:

    Interesting questions about Church policy on celebacy for priests, Dr. McHugh. As someone who has represented two of these victims, I don’t think it would have mattered in their cases. Both perpetrators were pedophiles with aberrational behavior that seemed to supplant normal sexual urgings. Thank you alos for the suggested reading.

  13. As a Catholic family physician, I have met many who have been sexually abused by priests. One wonders if there would be so many cases of priest sex abuse if priests had the freedom to marry and have children of their own. I think that mandatory celibacy has a role to play in the priest sex abuse scandal. It is likely that the Pope, Cardinals, and Bishops would be more caring towards the victims/survivors of priest sex abuse, if they lived more balanced lives and had children of their own.

    Americans are financing the Vatican. Americans are also protecting the Pope’s nebulous claim to immunity from prosecution. The Vatican is less than a 2 acre piece of land inside the city of Rome. Diplomatic immunity began to be claimed from 1929.

    From what I have read, some lawyers believe that the Cardinals chose Joseph Ratzinger to be Pope, so that he could claim diplomatic immunity, and then he and the hierarchy would be protected from prosecution in the worldwide clergy sex abuse scandal.

    I recommend reading the new book, THE CASE OF THE POPE, written by Geoffrey Robertson, Queen’s Counsel, human rights lawyer, and judge for the United Nations. I believe that he gives a balanced view of Joseph Ratzinger’s role as Cardinal and as Pope Benedict, in allowing the priest sex abuse scandal to flourish worldwide.

    Something must be done to stop this tragedy from continuing. The RCC has shown that it cannot be trusted to police itself. I believe that the diplomatic immunity status of the RCC has to be challenged and the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, and priests, who have been complicit with or guilty in clergy sex abuse, must be fully investigated by the police and prosecuted as needed.

    Sincerely, Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., Chicago, Illinois,

  14. Buddha is Laughing:

    If nominated I will not run. If elected, I will not molest. However, I will wear the pointy hat and wield the crooked stick.

  15. “As mentioned, in 1979 the Church commissioned a scientific study of the image of the apparition left on the tilma (cactus cloak) of the peasant Juan Diego. Using infrared photography, the scientists concluded that, although many elements were added to the image at some later date, the composition of the original form was “inexplicable.”


    Not so inexplicable:

    “In fact, during a formal investigation of the cloth in 1556, it was stated that the image was “painted yesteryear by an Indian,” specifically “the Indian painter Marcos.” This was probably the Aztec painter Marcos Cipac de Aquino who was active in Mexico at the time the Image of Guadalupe appeared.

    In 1985, forensic analyst John F. Fischer and I reported all of this evidence and more in “a folkloristic and iconographic investigation” of the Image of Guadalupe in Skeptical Inquirer. We also addressed some of the pseudoscience that the image has attracted. (For example, some claim to have discovered faces, including that of “Juan Diego” in the magnified weave of the Virgin’s eyes-evidence of nothing more than the pious imagination’s ability to perceive images, inkblot-like, in random shapes) (Nickell and Fischer 1985).

    Recently our findings were confirmed when the Spanish-language magazine Proceso reported the results of a secret study of the Image of Guadalupe. It had been conducted – secretly – in 1982 by art restoration expert José Sol Rosales. Rosales examined the cloth with a stereomicroscope and observed that the canvas appeared to be a mixture of linen and hemp or cactus fiber. It had been prepared with a brush coat of white primer (calcium sulfate), and the image was then rendered in distemper (i.e., paint consisting of pigment, water, and a binding medium). The artist used a “very limited palette,” the expert stated, consisting of black (from pine soot), white, blue, green, various earth colors (“tierras”), reds (including carmine), and gold. Rosales concluded that the image did not originate supernaturally but was instead the work of an artist who used the materials and methods of the sixteenth century (El Vaticano 2002).”

    Oh what to believe? That the laws of physics were suspended to convert an uneducated group of indigenous people to Catholicism, or someone lied to convert an uneducated group of indigenous people to Catholicism?


  16. (To be read in the voice of a carnival barker) “mespo for pope! Get your ‘mespo for Pope’ T-shirts here! Only $5! Buy two and get a fire-proof hand basket for free! mespo for Pope! Make someone you respect wear a silly hat! mespo for Pope! Get your t-shirts here!”

  17. Chris Bouquet:


    On this law professor’s blog, I don’t think it is completely out of order to ask if you would be so kind as to provide some support for your statements –eg, 1) Pope Benedict “threatened punishment against those who would have exposed the crimes”; 2) the Pope personally “visited a living Hell on those least able to defend themselves”; 3) that from top to bottom the church had an “unofficial” policy of promoting child abuse.”

    Sure let’s go over it again in no particular order. Maybe it’ll sound better to you the second time around:

    [Visited Living Hell]

    “Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church…”

    The Times also reports that “while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.”

    “The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.”


    [Policy promoting cover-up of child abuse]

    In a 2006 article, “Pope ‘led cover-up of child abuse by priests,’” the London Evening Standard reported,

    “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.”

    [Threatened Victims]

    Yes, the BBC reported four years ago that Pope Benedict XVI threatened sex abuse victims they would be excommunicated if they repeated allegations of sexual abuse of minors.”


    Do I really have to educate you about the misdoing of your own Church, or is this mere sophistry to repeat the Big Lie about the Pope’s non-indolent in the hopes that it will be forgotten? No amount of pious manners and gentle admonitions will let this wolf in sheep’s clothing avoid his responsibility and no apologist like you will convince those with the abilities to read, understand, and empathize from calling an abuser and abuser when we see it.

    Gentle admonitions and pious platitudes about love and forgiveness won’t cover the stench of your Church. Maybe tell us why you continue to defend the indefensible. Surely it can’t be because it does good works. If so, I await your equally impassioned defense of Hamas which does similar good work among the Palestinians even as it engages in heinous crimes against humanity. I do see the obvious parallel though.

  18. Chris,

    Thanks for the heads up, I love Twain. However, having read quite a bit of Twain’s writing, I’m pretty sure that any suggestion that Twain seriously considered that God may have been working through Joan of Arc is just wrong.

    For those interested Project Gutenberg has a copy of the work available (it’s in two volumes, here’s the first)

  19. Chris B.,
    A day late and a dollar short. It is easy for the Pope to apologize for the Church’s sins of the past. Why is it so hard for the Church to turn in its criminals?

  20. PS-

    Below are the words of Pope John Paul II at Yad Vashem in Israel in 2000 concerning the Church’s repentance for the sins of its members against the Jews:

    “The words of the ancient Psalm, rise from our hearts: “I have become like a broken vessel. I hear the whispering of many — terror on every side — as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord: I say, ‘you are my God.”‘ (Psalms 31:13-15)

    In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah.

    My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the war. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbors, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain.

    Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children, cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale.

    We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.

    How could man have such utter contempt for man? Because he had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a godless ideology could plan and carry out the extermination of a whole people.

    The honor given to the ‘Just Gentiles’ by the state of Israel at Yad Vashem for having acted heroically to save Jews, sometimes to the point of giving their own lives, is a recognition that not even in the darkest hour is every light extinguished. That is why the Psalms and the entire Bible, though well aware of the human capacity for evil, also proclaims that evil will not have the last word.

    Out of the depths of pain and sorrow, the believer’s heart cries out: “I trust in you, O Lord: ‘I say, you are my God.”‘ (Psalms 31:14)

    Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we overcome evil with good. We remember, but not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible crimes of the past.

    As bishop of Rome and successor of the Apostle Peter, I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church, motivated by the Gospel law of truth and love, and by no political considerations, is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place.

    The church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being.

    In this place of solemn remembrance, I fervently pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in the 20th century will lead to a new relationship between Christians and Jews. Let us build a new future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians or anti-Christian feeling among Jews, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord, and look to Abraham as our common father in faith.

    The world must heed the warning that comes to us from the victims of the Holocaust, and from the testimony of the survivors. Here at Yad Vashem the memory lives on, and burns itself onto our souls. It makes us cry out: “I hear the whispering of many — terror on every side — but I trust in you, O Lord: I say, ‘You are my God.”‘ (Psalms 31:13-15)

    Pope John Paul II – March 23, 2000

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