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Vatican Knew of Clergy Child Abuse for Decades

The head of a Roman Catholic order that specialized in the treatment of pedophile priests visited with then-Pope Paul VI nearly 50 years ago and followed up with a letter recommending the removal of pedophile priests from ministry, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Associated Press.

In the Aug. 27, 1963, letter, the head of the New Mexico-based Servants of the Holy Paraclete tells the pope he recommends removing pedophile priests from active ministry and strongly urges defrocking repeat offenders.

Read full story here at the New York Times


The letter shows that the Vatican knew, or should have known, about clergy abuse in the U.S. decades ago, said Anthony DeMarco, a plaintiff attorney in Los Angeles who provided the letter. The accusation comes as plaintiffs in Kentucky are attempting to sue the Vatican for negligence for allegedly failing to alert police or the public about priests who molested children.

Yet the problem was very well-known to Rome well before the 1960s. The 1917 code of canon law criminalized sexual abuse of minors. Five years later, the Vatican penned a document outlining detailed procedures for handling such cases. In 1962, that document was updated and has been used in many of the lawsuits by victims against U.S. diocese and the Vatican itself.

The letter, written by the Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, appears to have been drafted at the request of the pope and summarizes Fitzgerald’s thoughts on problem priests after his Vatican visit.

Fitzgerald opens the five-page letter by thanking the pope for an audience the day before and says he is summarizing his thoughts at the pope’s request on the ”problem of the problem priest” after 20 years working to treat them.

He tells Paul VI that treatment for priests who have succumbed to ”abnormal, homosexual tendencies” should include psychiatric, as well as spiritual, counseling — but goes on to warn about the dangers of leaving those individuals in ministry.

The letter proves that Vatican officials knew about clergy abuse decades ago and should have done more to protect children, plaintiff attorney DeMarco said.

The church has come under fire for transferring priests accused of sexual abuse to other parishes, rather than reporting the abuse to civil authorities and removing them from ministry.

The problem of clergy abuse has been known to Rome well before then. The 1917 code of canon law criminalized sexual abuse of minors. Five years later, the Vatican penned a document outlining detailed procedures for handling such cases. In 1962, that document was updated and has been used in many of the lawsuits by victims against U.S. diocese and the Vatican itself.

Fitzgerald’s letter shows the pope knew how pervasive and destructive the problem was, DeMarco said.

”He says the solution is to take them out of the priesthood period, not shuffle them around, not pass them from diocese to diocese.”
Attorneys working on the Los Angeles cases found it among court papers related to clergy abuse cases filed in New Mexico in the late 1980s and early 1990s and fought to get it unsealed.

Thousands more pages of confidential priest personnel files from the Los Angeles cases were to be released as part of the 2007 settlement after a review by a retired judge overseeing the process. The review, however, has dragged on for nearly three years.

The letter released Wednesday is different from a 1957 letter made public last year in which Fitzgerald seeks help from the Bishop of Manchester, N.H. in finding a placement for a priest leaving the treatment program.

Attorneys also released a 250-page, redacted transcript of the 2007 deposition of the Rev. Joseph McNamara, who took over the Paraclete order after Fitzgerald.

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