The Catholic Church faces accusations of abuse of minors in different countries of the globe. Ireland, the United States, Chile and Germany concentrate the main scandals and the curia and their governments try to tackle the problem with different measures.
The investigation of a grand jury of Pennsylvania, which revealed in August abuses to more than a thousand minors for more than 300 religious in seven decades, it has been an earthquake. At least six states have announced that they will promote inquiries to local dioceses and the Episcopal Conference has admitted that it is necessary to facilitate the allegations of alleged victims and the imposition of punishments on clerics.
The only positive note is that there are hardly any cases after 2002. The trigger was the revelation by the The Boston Globe of abuses by more than 70 priests, who scarcely suffered consequences to be protected by the ecclesiastical leadership and local authorities.
Under intense pressure, the episcopal conference agreed that year a "zero tolerance" statute for abuses. The document, which was signed by all the dioceses except one in Nebraska, urges to communicate to the police authorities all the accusations. It also establishes that, after any act of abuse, once it has been judicially proven, the priest "must be permanently removed from the ministry", which means that he can not officiate Masses but he can keep his salary.
All the dioceses have adhered to the 2002 regulation, which also involves submitting to an annual audit. However, the Episcopal Conference can do nothing to force dioceses to participate or keep a tally on the number of allegations of abuse. It is each diocese that decides to divulge them.
On September 13, Daniel DiNardo, president of the Episcopal Conference met with the Pope. And after six days, measures were taken to prevent abuses. It was approved to create a confidential communication system for complaints; and the green light was given to draft restrictions on religious accused of abuses and to elaborate a code of conduct for alleged pedophiles and their superiors.
In 2004, an investigation by John Jay University in New York concluded that, between 1950 and 2002, 10,667 people in the United States accused 4,392 clerics of child sexual abuse, equivalent to 4.3% of religious personnel. However, only 252 were convicted and 100 imprisoned.
A major obstacle to prosecution is the statute of limitations on crimes, something that several states try to change in their parliaments. That has not stopped numerous dioceses from reaching millionaire agreements with victims to avoid trials. In total, the American Church has paid more than 3,000 million dollars in compensation, which has left dozens of dioceses bankrupt.
Path to redemption
Since the report of the first official investigation was published in 2005 on cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church of Ireland -270 demolition pages centered on the parish of Ferns-, the avalanche of discoveries has sunk the prestige of what was a fundamental institution in a country so deeply religious. And it has confronted the authorities and the Parliament with the Vatican. In 2006, the Murphy report described a scenario of systematic abuse in the diocese of Dublin between 1975 and 2004, and denounced the way in which the Church had "obsessively" hidden them. The archbishops who were informed worked harder to protect the reputation of the Church than to safeguard the welfare of the children, the report said.
In 1996, in a further attempt to save face, the Church published some norms of action without rank of canonical law that did not force to transfer the issues to the ordinary jurisdiction. It had to be 10 years later, before the thousands of cases brought to light and public pressure and political institutions, when the National Council for the Safeguarding of Children (CNSI) was established. Funded by the episcopal sees, the congregations and the missionary societies, it acts with full independence and has taken the first steps to solve the climate of distrust.
His latest report, this June, includes "135 suspicions, complaints or concerns" that were sent to him. Most, the document explains, refer to incidents between 1940 and 2000. A total of 104 of these allegations are specifically cases of sexual abuse. "Sometimes, the fact of seeing or listening to those who have suffered abuse provides the determination to denounce," says Teresa Davlin, the council president.
"In Ireland it is mandatory that any accusation based on credibility be notified to the Gardaí (police) and Tusla (Child Protection Agency), or their equivalent organizations if the abuse occurs in Northern Ireland," confirms Ger Kenny, of the department of CNSI communication.
Omissions and concealment
After his visit to Chile in January, the Pope entrusted an exhaustive investigation of the abuses and cited in an unprecedented way the Chilean bishops to Rome. In those days of reflection, he was presented with the resignation and the pontiff has accepted the departure of seven of them.
At the beginning of October they remained open 126 cases involving 221 priests and eight bishops. Among those investigated, there was a priest of 90 years. So far this year, in addition, the Public Ministry has raided in search of evidence in 16 buildings of the Church. One of the most famous causes involves the priest Óscar Muñoz for five cases -some of his nephews- and he is accused as an alleged cover-up by the leader of Catholicism in Santiago, Ricardo Ezzatti.
The investigations into the case of Muñoz – who was arrested in mid-July – are being carried out by the prosecutor of the O'Higgins region, Emiliano Arias. In an interview with El País a few months ago, the persecutor was already questioning the way in which the Catholic Church takes charge of the denunciations: "We know that Chilean religious destroyed evidence of sexual abuse." After the priest Muñoz self-reported to the ecclesiastical authorities and made public by a press release, the prosecution requested the information of the file, but this was denied. "It was pointed out to me that having been consulted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it would have indicated that the antecedents were secret. I think that's a negative. "
Arias has publicly criticized that priests have no obligation to denounce abuses against minors in civil justice. Although it recognizes the secret of confession granted by the law, the prosecutor points against the so-called pontifical secret that keeps certain precedents in reserve. "It is good that they self-regulate in this way and keep it (the secret) between them, but we believe that it can not be possible to declare it expanded for common justice," he said months ago in an interview with Tele13 Radio.
In Chile, the Catholic Church has been running a National Council for the Prevention of Abuses since 2011, and that year a protocol was also updated in response to complaints against clerics. Together with establishing internal investigation regulations and the mechanisms to refer the antecedents to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it is made explicit that the "Church respects and values the work of the courts of justice and does not impede their actions".
3,667 cases in 70 years
In Germany, the scandals of abuses of minors uncovered in a Jesuit school in Berlin in 2010 they were the beginning of a wave of complaints that caused the Church to commission an investigation that has just been published and in which they figure in 3,677 cases of sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy in the last 70 years. A spokesman for the Episcopal Conference explains that the president, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, has transferred to the Pope a summary of the study.
In the wake of those scandals, the Church toughened a protocol of action for cases of child abuse, which had been drafted in 2002 and is now under review again, as reported by the spokesman. The protocol indicates that the bishop of the diocese will designate two persons who will be in charge of evaluating the reports of abuses and who will not be active members of the staff of the diocese. The protocol obliges anyone in the diocese who has knowledge of a case of abuse to contact those persons or the head of the institution. If there are suspicions that the acts constitute a crime contemplated in the German penal code, you must inform the local prosecutor's office or other competent authorities.
Within the framework of canon law, an investigation shall be initiated which, in the event of finding abuse, shall be communicated to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith so that it may adopt the necessary measures. A psychiatrist will evaluate the aggressor, who must undergo therapy and be removed from any role that involves dealing with minors. The new superiors of the aggressor's new destination must be informed in writing of the aggressor's background.
The procedure established by the current protocol differs from the practice in dioceses in recent decades. The report presented at the end of September by the episcopal conference indicates that only a third of the cases analyzed were subjected to a procedure of canon law and that the transfer of the aggressor to a new diocese has been one of the most recurrent sanctions. In these latter cases, the new diocese was often not informed of the reason for the transfer or the danger of the newcomer.
With information from Joan Faus (Washington), Rafa de Miguel (London), Rocío Montes (Santiago de Chile) and Ana Carbajosa (Berlin).