Sex Abuse Cover Up Theory Valid, Says Lawyer

August 30, 2007

By: Terri Saunders, Cornwall Standard-Freeholder

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A lawyer at the Cornwall Public Inquiry said Wednesday a known gag order on victims lends credence to the theory the Catholic Church worked hard to cover up allegations of abuse by priests.

In a 1962 Vatican-issued directive, all parties involved in internal diocese investigations into abuse allegations were sworn to secrecy. "If a component of a system of cover up isn't a severe religious oath upon the victim to remain perpetually silent, I don't know what is," said Rob Talach, an attorney representing The Victims Group at the inquiry. The directive, which church officials now say was rarely if ever implemented in dioceses around the country, outlines how abuse allegations were to be handled. Priests, victims and anyone else taking part in the internal hearings were prohibited from ever speaking publicly about the matter.

"The victim couldn't go to the police, he couldn't go to the Children's Aid Society and he couldn't tell his parents," said Talach. "If he did, he would be thrown out of the church. He would become an outsider."

Priests would have risked being ex-communicated if they dared go public about any internal sexual abuse investigations.

"They would have been in trouble," said Rev. Frank Morrisey, an Ottawa-based priest and canon lawyer. "The Vatican wanted an oath of secrecy from anyone involved in the case."

The 1962 policy was superseded by directives put in place in 2001 which were not as severe. Morrisey said he doesn't believe many priests would have had copies of the directive in the 1960s.

"Most people didn't even know about this," he said.

The document suggests anyone involved in the investigation was forbidden to speak about it publicly under any circumstances.

"(Matters regarding abuse allegations) are to be restrained by a perpetual silence," the directive reads.

"Each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way or admitted to knowledge of the matters because of their office is to observe the . . . secret of the Holy Office."

The directive outlines how the alleged victims were to conduct themselves in relation to the hearings.

"The oath of keeping the secret must be given in these cases also by the accusers or those denouncing the priest and the witnesses," the document reads.

Morrisey said under the directive, diocesan officials would have had to tread carefully when it came to conducting the investigations to reduce or diminish the amount of public knowledge in an effort to protect the interests of both the accused priest as well as other priests who may be subject to negative public opinion.

"Many of these allegations were unfounded," said Morrisey, who said diocesan officials would have tried to protect the accused priest's reputation when possible, "or at least exaggerated."

In 1992, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed a report from an ad hoc committee on sexual abuse by clergy called From Pain to Hope. In that report, emphasis was placed on the need for greater transparency and openness on the part of the church when it comes to these types of allegations.

On Tuesday, Alexandria-Cornwall Roman Catholic Diocese Bishop issued a press release about a priest against whom an internal complaint of sexual abuse had been received. Although the matter is not the subject of external investigations, and local Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher suggested the decision to release the information to the community was in part due to the recommendations contained in the 1992 report.

"One of the objectives of 'From Pain to Hope' was to overcome the shroud of secrecy around these issues," Durocher told the Standard-Freeholder.

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