The leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is embroiled, once again, in a sexual abuse scandal or, more properly speaking, another aspect of the same sexual abuse scandal that has haunted the Church for over 20 years.
It has come to light, in the ongoing investigations and litigations of sexual abuses by Irish clergy, that the Irish bishops took part in a cover-up of the abusers specifically because of instructions from the Vatican contained in a 1997 letter, made public this week.
The Pope in 1997 was the widely popular and beloved John Paul II, who is currently being fast-tracked by the current pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, for sainthood.
Some Catholics are calling for a halt to that process, at least until all the information is made public about what role John Paul II played, not only in the letter to the Irish clergy, but in other cover-ups of predatory priests around the world.
It is clear to an objective bystander that John Paul II was the leader of the Vatican's cover-up of sexual abuse by clergy, said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org. The facts that have come to light should absolutely delay the current effort to canonize him.
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Facing a growing scandal over sexual abuse by Irish priests, the leaders of the Irish Catholic Church in 1996 put together a protocol for handling the crisis, which included instructions to bishops to cooperate with law enforcement regarding suspected predator priests.
But in 1997, the Irish bishops received a letter from the Congregation for the Clergy - in other words, the Roman Curia which is, together with the Pope, the governing body of the Catholic Church.
The letter, stamped Strictly confidential, remained so until an Irish bishop handed a copy to a reporter earlier this week.
The letter referred to the Irish bishops' document and said it contains procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems.
Advocacy groups for victims of sexual abuse by clergy immediately called the letter a smoking gun, revealing that Vatican denials over the years that it never instructed bishops to cover up were false.
Church officials and supporters at once responded that the letter was in no way telling Irish bishops not to cooperate with civil authorities.
Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican's U.S. lawyer, said the letter had been deeply misunderstood by the media. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Holy See sent the letter because it wanted to make certain that pedophile priests would not escape punishment by the Church due to a technicality of a bishop or priest breaking the confidentiality of the confessional.
But victims groups pointed out that the vast majority of sexual abuse cases did not involve the confessional. Other priests, bishops and civilian authorities almost always learned of sexual abuse incidents outside the confessional from the victims or the victims' parents. Irish bishops have also told civilian authorities that the letter from the Vatican caused them to stop cooperating with civil investigations.
When you are familiar, as I am, with how the Vatican words things, there is no doubt what the letter meant. It basically says, 'Don't turn these priests in,' said Thomas Doyle, a Roman Catholic priest and no relation to Anne Barrett Doyle.
Doyle has been a priest for 40 years and for the last 27 years has been working on the sexual abuse and cover-up issues. He warned high-ranking Church officials in 1985 of the enormity of the problem and the consequences of not addressing it. He was ignored.
When the sexual abuse scandal started coming to the surface in 1985 in a case in Louisiana, the Vatican was alerted, Doyle said. I know because I saw the letters. The Vatican did nothing.
Doyle said the pattern was repeated for the next decade and beyond.
The Pope received notices from bishops and others of the situation, of the abuses and the cover-ups, and he did not respond. He did not even acknowledge the letters, Doyle said.
Doyle said that Pope John Paul II stopped the Vatican investigation into the actions of Marcial Maciel, the Mexican priest who founded the Legion of Christ and has been proven to be a bigamist and a dope fiend, as well as a pederast who sexually abused over 100 young seminarians.
Barrett Doyle from BishopAccountability.org said it has also been shown that John Paul II covered up for Hans Groer, the notorious Cardinal of Vienna who eventually was removed from his post for numerous cases of pedophilia.
In 2010, the current Cardinal of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn, told an Austrian television station that Pope Benedict XVI, in 1995, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger and an advisor to Pope John Paul, wanted a full investigation of Groer. But Curia officials persuaded John Paul II that the case was exaggerated and an inquiry would only cause bad publicity.
Schoenborn said Ratzinger told him that the other side won, regarding a probe of Groer.
In 1998, Groer was removed from his position, as his egregious behavior became an embarrassment for the Church.
Schoenborn, in 2010, accused the former Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, of blocking the church investigation into Groer's activities. Pope Benedict XVI then publicly chastised Schoenborn for publicly criticizing a church official.
John Paul knew precisely what was going on and did not address it, Thomas Doyle said. When the matter came up publicly, he blamed secularism, he blamed the media, he blamed the priests. But he never blamed the bishops or the Vatican. And now they want to make him a saint.
Thomas Doyle has paid a price for being a whistleblower within the Church.
I'm ostracized. My career in the Catholic Church is long dead. But I would rather do what's right,' he said.
Bill Donahue, president of the New York City-based Catholic League, and a well-known defender of the Church, admitted that the sexual abuse scandal is a blot on John Paul II's tenure.
The scandal did not start on his watch, Donahue said, citing a study that said most of the sexual abuse by clergy incidents occurred between 1965 and 1985.
The Church was a moral failure during those years, Donahue said. And there is no question that Pope Benedict has done a better job in dealing with the crisis than John Paul.
But while describing John Paul's actions regarding the scandal as not his proudest moment, Donahue did not think John Paul II's bad marks on that issue sufficient to block his course to sainthood.
His achievements far outweigh his failures, Donahue said. And the momentum is there to make him a saint.
When asked if he would vote for John Paul II's canonization, Donahue begged off, saying he was only a layman.
I will leave it to the Vatican to make that decision, he said.
Barrett Doyle, on the other hand, was willing to weigh in. Noting that, for sainthood, the Church requires that at least two miracles be attributed to the candidate, she said:
The second miracle for John Paul II's canonization should be the purification of the Church, and to accomplish that miracle they would have to voluntarily disclose all they know about sexual abuse by the clergy, all the documents, all the names of the abusers and all the bishops and other involved in covering up. That would truly be a miracle and it would clearly show that John Paul II was the leading architect of the cover up, Barrett Doyle said.