Unfortunately, the sex abuse crisis within the Roman Catholic Church is nothing new. In fact, it has been going on for centuries!
In 1962 the Vatican issued a directive entitled Crimen Sollicitationis, which is roughly translated as “In the manner of proceeding in cases of the crime of solicitation.”
The instructions, which came directly from the Vatican, demanded “utmost confidentiality” and “permanent silence.”
The 1962 instruction from the Vatican demonstrates just how long the sex abuse crisis in the church has been continuing. In fact the 1962 document cited an 1867 instruction from the Vatican concerning “permanent silence“ on issues of “solicitation.“
And here’s where it gets problematic: if anyone violates that oath of “permanent silence“ in other words if anyone even talks about a priest molesting a child, the penalty is
“Automatic excommunication.” This sets up the ultimate hypocrisy, a huge disparity in the way pedophile priests were treated by the church compared to those who dared speak about it.
The 1962 pronunciation from the Vatican gives priests accused of molesting children the right to a trial before the bishop or his designee. But anyone affiliated with the church who has knowledge of a priest molesting a child was barred from talking about it, under penalty of “automatic excommunication.” This sets up the ultimate hypocrisy: a pedophile priest has a right to a trial, and more often than not just got moved from one church to another when they were caught molesting children, but God forbid someone spoke out about it to try to stop it: That person was automatically and immediately excommunicated.
A portion of the Crimen Sollicitationis is entitled Crimen Pessimum. This section of the Crimen refers to “obscene acts“ by a cleric in any way with a person of his own sex, or with pre-adolescent children of either sex or with animals. This raises the question: Why does the church seek to treat sexual abuse of pre-adolescent children as obscene, but carve out sexual abuse of young teenagers from their definition of “obscene acts.” This 1962 pronouncement from the Vatican essentially repeated a prior 1922 pronouncement on dealing with pedophile priests, and even cited documents back to the 1860s. There are other documents dating back to 1741 and even 1622 concerning the organized church’s oversight of pedophile priests. This goes to show just how long the epidemic of sexual abuse within the church has been going on, and what a poor job the church has been doing addressing it.
The mandate of secrecy is particularly problematic: Effectively the church’s approach was: “Don’t talk about it. Sweep it under the rug. Never let it get out because it would be “scandalous.”
The strict oath of “secrecy “to avoid “scandal” for the church speaks to the church’s true motivation: to protect its reputation and the reputation of its priests at all costs. Sadly, the church was more concerned with protecting its reputation than with protecting its parishioners and the children of their parishioners. This led to pedophile priests being shuffled from one parish to the next. Effectively the church was enabling repeat offenders.
The official position of most bishops is that they did the best they could based on what they knew at the time, and that based on what they knew, it was OK to send the pedophile priest off to a treatment center, and then put him back in a parish.
There are at least two glaring problems with this approach:
- Its an incredibly low bar.
- They didn’t even adhere to their own incredibly low standard.
Low Bar: The treatment centers didn’t work. Even the people running these treatment centers couldn’t guarantee that the pedophile priest wouldn’t molest another child. Plus, the experience of the church, that these priests “reoffended” time and time again, should have made it clear that their approach wasn’t working.
In fact, what we have seen in many of the priest files we have reviewed, is that the treatment center records have been thrown out. So the church would keep hundreds of pages of records on these pedophile priests for decades, but throw out the one document that allegedly says that there approach was acceptable!
Not only did the church set a low standard for themselves, they refused to even comply with their own poor standards. Priests weren’t necessarily sent to “Treatment” as soon as they were accused of molesting a child. More often than not they were just moved to another parish.
Here is one example of a case involving pedophile priests which we are litigating:
Father Mark Haight:
One priest was accused of molesting a young boy in 1976 and 1977. The church was told about it. The priest admitted it. They moved him to another church. They did not send him for treatment. They did not fire him. They did not report him to law enforcement.
In 1978, the same priest was again accused of molesting a child, and again admitted it. Again, they moved him to another church. They did not send him for treatment. They did not fire him. They did not report him to law enforcement. Instead, they assigned him to be a teacher in a Catholic School. Apparently, they thought it was a good idea to assign an admitted pedophile priest to a school!!! He was ultimately fired from that job, so the diocese reassigned him to another parish, where once again he molested another child.
When they finally, belatedly, decided to send him for treatment, he refused. So the Diocese recommended him to a school in another state!
In that case the priest ultimately went for treatment in 1985-86, and was promptly put back into a parish where he once again started to sexually abuse young boys. He was fired from this church and two more jobs before he was assigned to yet another parish, where he sexually abused and molested another young boy. That young boy is our client.
What is truly awful about the church and its approach to the sexual abuse crisis is its disparate treatment of priests versus the way they treated the children who were abused. When you read enough of these priest files, you see the same words popping up: the priest was just “acting out.“ What you don’t see is any recognition of the devastating and lifelong effect on the child.
To us, “acting out“ is when a three-year-old throws a temper tantrum because they don’t get their way. We would not use the phrase “acting out“ to describe any adult, nonetheless a trusted authority figure like a priest who uses their position of power over a child to slowly but surely groom them, often in plain sight, all the way to the point that they are molesting them and sexually violating them.
The secrecy the church mandated only led to even more sexual abuse.
First of all, when a bishop reassigned a known pedophile priest to a new parish, they wouldn’t even tell the pastor at the next church they assigned the pedophile priest to. How is the pastor expected to be able to supervise this criminal, if he isn’t even informed or made aware of who and what he is dealing with?
And the parents weren’t informed either. So when Johnny asks if he could go up in the priest’s private airplane, what is Mom supposed to say? And that’s how it happens.
We have taken the depositions of priests and bishops. Their official answer is that they didn’t want to tell the parents/parishioners about the priest’s history because then they might not want to come to church any more.
A modest proposal
Because of their decades long enabling of pedophile priests, the Catholic Church fostered and enabled a Sexual Abuse epidemic. Many of the survivors have now sued, seeking compensation for a lifetime of PTSD which they carry around with them every day of their lives.
Here in New York State alone there are thousands of cases against Catholic churches. Some Dioceses have declared bankruptcy. Others have not.
But if the Church really wants to recover some moral authority, there must be also be a moral reckoning. Literally they have to have a Come to Jesus moment. They need to show the victims that they are truly sorry for the pain they inflicted. And you don’t do that by hiding behind a bogus bankruptcy. The church needs to show that it is willing to feel pain themselves.
My Modest Proposal: In order to compensate the thousands of victims, the church has to sell off a portion of their assets: 25% of the art and 25% of the property. This way they show they are willing to feel pain themselves.
If they are not willing to show that they are willing to feel some pain themselves in order to compensate their thousands of victims, then the church can never regain any moral authority. When the church declares bankruptcy, the bankruptcy they declare is not just a legal one, but a moral one as well.
Contact an Sexual Abuse Attorney
If you or a loved one have experienced sexual abuse you should schedule a free consultation with the experienced attorneys at Bonina & Bonina, P.C. Call us at 1888-MEDLAW1 or contact us online for a free consultation. We have decades of experience helping clients injured by sexual abuse, and we can explain your options and help you decide what actions you should take. At Bonina & Bonina, P.C., we come to work every day believing that there should be equal justice for all. Se Habla espaňol. Home and hospital visits are available.