First, the letter warns the Irish bishops that if they were to adopt policies which violate the church’s Code of Canon Law, cases in which they remove abusers from the priesthood could be overturned on procedural grounds. Were that to happen, the letter says, “the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental.” In other words, a main concern of the letter is to ensure that when a bishop takes action against an abuser, his edict should stick suggesting a fairly tough line on abuse, rather than a drive to cover it up.
Second, the letter does not directly forbid bishops from reporting abusers to police and prosecutors. Instead, it communicates the judgment of one Vatican office that mandatory reporting policies raise concerns. It’s not a policy directive, in other words, but an expression of opinion.
That's true, as the NYT's change of headline confirms. But it's still troubling to me on such a clear-cut case of illegal and immoral conduct that any resistance was offered to immediate notification to the civil authorities. Then, alas, more excuses:
Third, the Congregation for the Clergy at the time was under the direction of Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, whose reservations about bishops reporting their priests to civil authorities have been already well documented. In another celebrated case which generated headlines last year, Castrillón wrote to a French bishop in September 2001 congratulating him for refusing to denounce a priest.
When that 2001 letter came to light, Vatican spokespersons conceded that it revealed a debate among senior Vatican officials about how aggressive the church ought to be in streamlining procedures for sex abuse cases a debate, spokespersons said, which Castrillón Hoyos eventually lost to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, today Pope Benedict XVI.
In that light, the 1997 letter seems less a statement of Vatican policy than an expression of what would eventually be the losing side in an internal Vatican power struggle.
Get Religion backs Allen:
The opinion of one Vatican official that mandatory reporting policies raise concerns is different than the Vatican forbidding or dictating to the bishops in anything.
My point, however, stands. It is that there should never have been an internal Vatican power struggle in dealing with allegations of child and teen abuse and rape. If this isn't clear-cut in terms of morality and the law, nothing is.
And the man ultimately responsible for resolving this power-struggle - even as more children faced more horrors by his own priests and bishops - was John Paul II. I don't believe the church should run roughshod over its centuries' old practice of a long delay between death and sainthood - especially when promoting one of its own, whose legacy has not been able to be judged in full and in proper perspective.