Earlier this week, an Irish bishop gave a 1997 letter from the Roman Curia to a reporter, which apparently instructed Irish bishops not to cooperate with civil authorities who were probing reported incidents of sexual abuse by priests.
The letter has re-fueled the sexual abuse and cover-up scandal that has plagued the Church for decades and calls into question the Vatican's many denials of non-cooperation with civil authorities. The Irish letter has also led some Catholics to call for a halt to the canonization process underway for Pope John Paul II, who was pontiff at the time the letter was written
The 1997 letter is somewhat vague in its wording, although most who have read it agree that the message is clear enough. But the 1984 Vatican letter, released today by BishopAccountability.org, leaves no doubt.
John Paul II was also the pope in 1984.
The Tucson letter was written by Silvio Angelo Pio Cardinal Oddi, who was from 1979 to 1986 Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy - that is, the Curia, which is, together with the Pope, the governing body of the Catholic Church -- and is addressed to Bishop Manuel D. Moreno of Tucson. It was written in response to Moreno's request for guidance in how proceed regarding a badly behaving priest.
After telling Moreno that there was not any need for engaging in the so called 'due process' procedures, Cardinal Oddi answers Moreno's question: Should we allow or disallow civil lawyers from obtaining Father's personnel records from our Chancery files?
...under no condition whatever ought the afore-mentioned files be surrendered to any lawyer or judge whatsoever. Oddi said The files of a Bishop concerning his priests are altogether private; their forced acquisition by civil authority would be an intolerable attack upon the free exercise of religion in the United States.
The Curial cardinal goes to say that Moreno should make known immediately and with clarity that no priest's files will be sent to any lawyer or judge whatever.
We should be clear and resolute, for failure in this regard might initiate a movement toward a most unfavorable precedent in law and - no less importantly - frighten and upset not a few priests whose files are perhaps less than flattering, Cardinal Oddi concluded.
The priest's name was expunged from the letter by Terence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org because the priest was not accused of sexual abuse in the letter.
BishopAccountability.org is an online archive of sexual abuse by clergy and cover-up cases throughout the United States.
Although this priest is not accused of sexual abuse, and his name does not turn up in our database, Cardinal Oddi's letter certainly indicates the Vatican's mentality and its position regarding cooperation with civil authorities, McKiernan said. The Vatican sees itself as an entity separate from civil authority. It's prohibition against cooperation transcends the sexual abuse issue.
There are two hand-written comments on the letter. McKiernan said they were written by Pio Cardinal Laghi, who was the Vatican's Apostolic Delegate/Pro-Nuncio to the U.S. from 1980 to 1990.
The note on the first page reads, servet in exemplum. McKiernan explained that the words mean let it serve as an example and indicate that the letter was meant to be taken as a policy document.