Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Catholic clergy abuse roundup: Top cardinal guilty of abuse of minors

Vol. 36 No. 01 Jan/Feb 2019
Cardinal George Pell                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Cardinal George Pell of Australia, the most senior Catholic Church official to stand trial for sexual abuse, was found guilty Dec. 11 by a Melbourne court.

After nearly four full days of deliberations, a jury rendered unanimous guilty verdicts on five charges related to the abuse of two choirboys in 1996.

“The conviction provides one of the clearest examples of how the sexual abuse scandal has eroded the church’s credibility while ensnaring figures in the upper echelons of power,” the Washington Post reported.

Pell, 77, is the most powerful Catholic in Australia, and the third-highest ranking in the Vatican.

The trial had been subject to a media blackout at the request of the prosecution, and follows a first trial in September ended after a jury failed to reach consensus.

He is on a leave of absence from his post as the Vatican’s secretary for the economy.

In June 2017, Pell was charged by Australian police with “historical sexual assault offenses,” forcing him to leave Rome and return home vowing to “clear his name.”

In May 2018, after a four-week committal hearing, an Australian magistrate struck down some of the more serious charges against Pell, but ruled he must stand trial on five charges related to sexual abuse of minors. The allegations, however, are from two separate periods in the 1970s and the 1990s. Therefore, the decision was made for two separate trials.

The first trial centered on the alleged sexual assault of two choirboys at Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the late 1990s.

Pell has been a key point of reference in English-speaking Catholicism for at least the last two decades, and he was appointed by Pope Francis to his “C9” council of cardinal advisers from around the world in 2013. On Dec. 12, the Vatican announced that at the end of October, Pope Francis had removed Pell, along with two other cardinals, from his council of advisers.

He served as the archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001, then as the archbishop of Sydney from 2001 until his appointment to his Vatican position in 2014.

Earlier this year, the Australian Catholic Church unveiled its official response to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the nation’s highest form of inquiry.

The Royal Commission revealed last year that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children in Australia over the past several decades, and in response, the Catholic Church accepted 98 percent of its 80 recommendations, deciding only against the recommendation that the Church eliminate the seal of the confessional.

Report: Cardinal Wuerl knew of McCarrick allegations

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., knew of sexual misconduct allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and reported them to the Vatican in 2004, church officials confirmed Jan. 10, despite Wuerl portraying himself as unaware of any complaints surrounding the disgraced ex-cardinal, the Washington Post reported.

Robert Ciolek, a former priest who reached a settlement with the church in 2005 after accusing clerics including McCarrick, told The Post he recently learned that the Pittsburgh Diocese has a file that shows that Wuerl was aware of his allegations against McCarrick. The file includes documentation that Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, shared the information with then-Vatican ambassador Gabriel Montalvo.

The content of the document, which Ciolek told The Post he saw in December, clashes sharply with Wuerl’s public statements about McCarrick since the older cleric was suspended in June due to a complaint that he groped an altar boy decades ago.

The allegations against McCarrick, which include two other accusations of abusing minors, as well as those of harassment of seminarians, began a full-blown crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States. Wuerl has rejected allegations that he played a role in it.

Church withholds names of 500 accused of abuse

The Catholic Church in Illinois withheld the names of at least 500 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, the state’s attorney general said Dec. 19 in a report that accused the church of failing victims by neglecting to investigate their allegations.

The report by Attorney General Lisa Madigan determined that the Catholic dioceses in Illinois are incapable of investigating themselves and “will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own.”

The report said that 690 priests were accused of abuse, and only 185 names were made public by the dioceses as having been found credibly accused of abuse.

“The number of allegations above what was already public is shocking,” said Madigan.

At least 16 state attorneys general have initiated investigations of varying scope since August, when a grand jury report in Pennsylvania accused more than 300 priests of sexual abuse over 50 years, and accused bishops of covering up.

L.A. bishop resigns after misconduct allegations

A Los Angeles auxiliary bishop who served as an ethics cleric resigned after “credible” allegations surfaced of prior sexual misconduct with a minor.

Pope Francis accepted Bishop Alexander Salazar’s resignation on Dec. 12. Salazar most recently was vicar for the Office of Ethnic Ministries of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

“I regret to inform you that in 2005, a year after he had been ordained a bishop, the Archdiocese was made aware of an allegation against Bishop Salazar of misconduct with a minor,” Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said in the statement.

Gomez said the accusation against Salazar stemmed from alleged misconduct in the 1990s when he was a parish priest and not an ordained bishop.

“Although the allegation was never directly reported to the Archdiocese, it was investigated by law enforcement in 2002, and the district attorney did not prosecute,” the archbishop said. It was not immediately clear why the case wasn’t prosecuted.

11 predator priests names to be kept secret in Pennsylvania

The names of 11 priests cited in the bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sex abuse will be kept secret to protect their reputations, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Dec. 3.

The grand jury report, released in mid-August after a two-year investigation, identified records of more than 1,000 children being abused by 301 priests in six of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. The 11 priests were kept anonymous because they contested the allegations against them as false. The Supreme Court decision said identifying these priests would raise due process issues.

“In our prior opinion authored by Chief Justice Saylor, we stressed that an individual’s right to his or her personal reputation was regarded by the framers of our organic charter as a fundamental individual human right — one of the ‘inherent rights of mankind,’” the court decision reads.

The majority of the disclosed crimes took place years ago and were covered up, making it difficult to hold the perpetrators accountable, since victims of child sex abuse in Pennsylvania only have until their 50th birthday to file criminal charges and until their 30th birthday to file civil lawsuits.

Proposals would require clergy to report sexual abuse

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Virginia say they plan to propose legislation that adds clergy to the list of people mandated by law to report child abuse or neglect.

The efforts hit at the hot-button intersection of child protection and religious liberty, but lawmakers are expected to give them an open reception at a time when recent sexual abuse scandals in churches and others involving athletes have prompted conversation about broadening legal responsibility to extend beyond positions such as teachers and doctors.

The ideas under consideration by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine include not exempting confidential conversations for any mandatory reporters, possibly including those that occur in the Catholic Church’s confessional. Texas, West Virginia and a few other states do not exclude the confessional in mandatory reporting laws, but it has been a stumbling block in many other places.

French cardinal, 5 others, on trial for cover-up of abuse

A French Catholic cardinal and five other people went on trial Jan. 7, accused of covering up for a pedophile priest who abused Boy Scouts — France’s most important church sex abuse case to date, the Associated Press reports.

The case poses a new challenge to the Vatican, amid growing demands in overwhelmingly Catholic France for a reckoning with decades of sexual abuse by the clergy.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, 68, appeared in a Lyon court along with other senior church officials accused of failing to protect children from alleged abuse by the Rev. Bernard Preynat. The top Vatican official in charge of sex abuse cases, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, is among the accused — but won’t appear in court because the Vatican invoked his diplomatic immunity.

Nine people who said the priest abused them in the 1970s and 1980s brought the case to court. The victims say top clergy were aware of Preynat’s actions for years, but allowed him to be in contact with children until his 2015 retirement.

At least six California priests named in child sex abuse report

At least six Catholic priests who worked in parishes throughout San Luis Obispo County in California were among those named in a recently released Diocese of Monterey report on clergymen accused of sexually abusing children.

Some of the priests were defendants in sex abuse lawsuits filed in the early 2000s, while others had never been accused publicly. The diocese oversees parishes in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.

The report was released weeks after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra began soliciting information about clergy sexual abuse incidents in the state in November.

The Diocese of Monterey report names 30 “credibly accused” clergymen — a term that includes priests, deacons, religious men and candidates for ordination — as part of a list compiled by the law firm Weintraub Tobin.