The smoking gun we’ve been looking for

Quote of the Day for Tuesday, January 18th, 2011:

Priestcraft hysteria breaking out in an AP article by Shawn Pogatchnik, as published on this evening, relating to the release today of a 1997 letter allegedly implicating the Vatican in a “cover up” of clerical sexual abuse:

Any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the "highly embarrassing" position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome, [Apostolic Nuncio Luciano Storero] wrote.

Catholic officials in Ireland and the Vatican declined AP requests to comment on the letter, which RTE said it received from an Irish bishop.

Child-abuse activists in Ireland said the 1997 letter demonstrates that the protection of pedophile priests from criminal investigation was not only sanctioned by Vatican leaders but ordered by them.

"The letter is of huge international significance, because it shows that the Vatican’s intention is to prevent reporting of abuse to criminal authorities. And if that instruction applied here, it applied everywhere," said Colm O’Gorman, director of the Irish chapter of human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Joelle Casteix, a director of U.S. advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, described the letter as "the smoking gun we’ve been looking for."

Sigh. It really is sad – pathetic even – watching this persistent group of “watchdogs” trying to nail the Catholic Church – and especially the Vatican. Casteix is right, though: a smoking gun is exactly what they’ve been looking for, and looking for… If it wouldn’t be such a cynical thought on my part, I’d have to wonder if they wouldn’t in fact be delighted to find one.

Bishops, of course, have no punishments to impose outside the confines of canon law, so I’m not sure the poor writer of this article has even the most basic grasp of the subject he is trying to enlighten the world on. But the sources he quotes (anonymously or not) should really have been given the opportunity to read the “smoking gun” letter before they embarrassed themselves with this kind of silly hyperbole – not to mention slander. I mean, I can only assume they didn’t read it, right?

Not that a mere dissociation of fact from accusation will get in the way of another round of priestcraft hysteria, mind you… But isn’t it interesting that all the publications I found promoting this story this evening printed small jpegs of the letter, instead of actually printing the contents of the letter? Hmmm… [Update: The New York Times included a full-sized, readable PDF of the letter with their article – credit to them, but they did dust off that magical “defrock” vocabulary, so I call that a wash ;-)]

The reality is that the letter advised the bishops that certain specifics of their proposed policy did not comply with existing canon law, which therefore might well produce the “highly embarrassing” result of a guilty priest having his canonical (not criminal!) punishment overturned on appeal, on account of a technicality. This is roughly the equivalent of a high court advising a legislature that a piece of draft legislation was unconstitutional and unenforceable, and therefore needed to be reworked in order to achieve its goal. Smoking gun… Oy vey!

Since left-wing tools like the AP only want to provide the public “information” that will agitate them to support the “progressive” agenda (like, discrediting the Catholic Church), the rest of us who care about life on this tender planet need to somehow pick up the slack. Here, then, is the actual text of the letter, for anyone more interested in facts than hysteria:

Dublin, 31 January 1997

Strictly Confidential

Your Excellency,

The Congregation for the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the document entitled "Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response”, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee.

The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.

The text, however, 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. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.

In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature".

Since the policies on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many of the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them. At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.

For these reasons and because the above mentioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document, I am directed to inform the individual Bishops of Ireland of the preoccupations the Congregation in its regard, underlining that in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.

Asking you to kindly let me know of the safe receipt of this letter and with the assurance of my cordial regard, I am

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Luciano Storero

Apostolic Nuncio

To: the Members of the Irish Episcopal Conference