By Anita S. Bourdin
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 16, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A Vatican spokesman is affirming the timeliness of Pope John Paul II’s decision to transfer cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy to Church authorities in Rome.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, stated this Thursday evening after the French news agency Golias publicized a 2001 letter written by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, who was at that time prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, to Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, who was at that time dealing with a case of sexual abuse by a priest in his diocese.
Father Lombardi stated that this document “is proof of the timeliness of the unification of the treatment of cases of the sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competency of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
He affirmed that this served “to guarantee rigorous and coherent action, as effectively occurred with the documents approved by the Pope in 2001.”
Bishop Pican had already been tried by the civil court in 2001 and sentenced to three months of prison for failing to report the abuse to the authorities.
The priest, Abbot Renè Bissey, was already serving an 18 year sentence for the abuse of minors.
In a Sept. 7, 2001 statement, the bishop said, “After taking some time to reflect, I have decided not to appeal the decision of the correctional court of Caen, dated Sept. 4, 2001, which has sentenced me to three months of conditional prison for not having denounced sexual abuses to minors.”
He reported a desire to underline “vital principles referring to respect of persons, through conscientious objection and professional secrecy of the ministers of worship.”
The prelate lamented this “restriction of the ambit of professional secrecy,” which he called “a source of worry.”
“I could not forget the trial suffered by the victims.” Bishop Pican said. “Although some didn’t perceive it, I have always carried within me the magnitude of their tragedy, and the sufferings that have been expressed during this trial have marked me profoundly.”
He continued, “I have thought much about my diocese, about the Church, about all those that, in many ways, have been affected by this situation.”
Cardinal Hoyos’ letter, dated Sept. 8, the day after the bishop’s statement, expressed support for the prelate’s actions in this incident. The resurfacing of this letter, although in relation to a case almost a decade old, has sparked outcry.
In an interview published last month, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who handles cases brought against abusive priests for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explained that “in some English-speaking countries, but also in France, if bishops become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of confession, they are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities.”
“This is an onerous duty,” he acknowledged, “because the bishops are forced to make a gesture comparable to that of a father denouncing his own son.”
“Nonetheless, our guidance in these cases is to respect the law,” he said.
The priest said that in 2001, when “the crime of paedophilia” became “our exclusive remit,” Cardinal Ratzinger “displayed great wisdom and firmness in handling those cases, also demonstrating great courage in facing some of the most difficult and thorny cases.”
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On ZENIT’s Web page:
Monsignor Scicluna’s interview: http://zenit.org/article-28634?l=english