BBC Documentary Highlights Child Abuse By RC Priests

National Review Board member: “perhaps they [the Bishops] didn’t learn from the past mistakes.”

The BBC’s news programme Panorama has just broadcast a documentary on child sex abuse by Catholic priests. The presenter, Colm O’Gorman, interviews various victims and investigators, and discusses two Vatican directives on the subject, issued in 1962 (Crimen Sollicitationis) and 2001 and both penned by Joseph Ratzinger. His conclusion is that despite the scandals of recent years, all is far from well. Judge Anne Burke, who formerly served on the National Review Board set up by the church to examine cases of abuse in the USA, offers perhaps the most alarming perspective:

We haven’t seen sufficient evidence to show that we are satisfied with what has been done and I think we’re not able to trust, and that’s reinforced periodically with the watering down of the charter, the failure of some dioceses to remove priests when there’s been an allegation, so I think we cannot trust at this point…perhaps they [the Bishops] didn’t learn from the past mistakes.

There’s also an interview with Rick Romley, the Phoenix District Attorney who secured the convictions of eight priests and a confession of cover-up from a bishop. Romley wrote to Cardinal Sodano, then the Vatican’s Secretary of State, to ask him to instruct four wanted US priests living in Rome under Vatican protection to turn themselves in – his letter was returned with a note saying that Sodano had “refused to accept the correspondence”. Romley believes that the church’s instructions on the subject of abuse are not merely passive but “openly obstructive”, and points to a strategy of passing evidence into the possession of the Papal Nuncio, who is protected from sub poena by diplomatic immunity.

O’Gorman also looks at the case of Tarcisio Tadeu Spricigo, a priest who was convicted of abuse in Brazil in 2003; the priest had been under investigation in Sao Paolo, but was moved by his bishop into an impoverished rural parish where he abused a young boy – who, O’Gorman claims, has received no support from the church since. The boy’s grandmother told O’Gorman that she was placed under extreme pressure to drop the allegation, and suffered social ostracism. We also see footage of Oliver O’Grady, an Irish priest formerly based in California, giving chilling court testimony of his career as an abuser.

The documentary has now been denounced by the church; BBC News reports:

…Archbishop [Vincent] Nichols, speaking on behalf of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, said of the programme: “It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope.”

He added that the editing, which used old footage and undated interviews, was misleading, and said the BBC should be ashamed of the standard of its journalism.

…Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has written to the BBC’s director general, Mark Thompson, to complain.

The 2001 document was discussed on this blog here. I have to agree that there was a whiff of sensationalism about bringing Ratzinger into the programme; although the Latin documents loom large in the documentary’s graphics (with words like “excommunication” being highlighted and Latin voice-over added for effect), in fact neither the documents nor Ratzinger are discussed in any real depth. Father Tom Doyle’s interpretation of the 1962 document appears on the Panorama website here. The programme itself will be online until next Sunday here.

2 Responses

  1. Abortion is the ultimate child abuse.

  2. And this is relevant to this discussion because…?

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