VATICAN CITY: The Vatican’s new sex crimes prosecutor has insisted on the need for transparency about the church’s failures to protect children from sex abuse by priests.
In his first public comments since taking office, the Rev. Robert Oliver quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying the church must recognize the “grave errors in judgment that were often committed by the church’s leadership.”
For decades, bishops around the globe actively covered up abuse by priests in their care, while Vatican officials in Rome often turned a blind eye.
The comments came days after thousands of pages of personnel files for the abusive priests were released by court order in Los Angeles. They showed how retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top archdiocese officials protected the church by shielding priests and not reporting sex abuse cases to authorities.
The archdiocese agreed to release the files as part of a $660 million settlement with abuse victims in 2007.
Attorneys for individual priests have fought for five years to prevent the papers from being made public and the archdiocese tried to blot out large sections of the files, including the names of hierarchy involved in decision-making. The AP and LA Times fought successfully to have the names of Mahony and top church officials made public.
Without citing Los Angeles by name, Oliver, previously a canon lawyer in the Boston archdiocese – ground zero of the U.S. abuse scandal – said Tuesday that the pope had spoken clearly about the need for transparency and justice in order to regain the trust of the faithful.
“We must confront the current situation, including our failures, with courage and determination, carried out with honesty and transparency,” he said, citing Benedict.
He added that bishops must follow civil laws and report abusive priests to police, where such laws require it.
Oliver was named the Vatican’s “promoter of justice” or chief prosecutor in December. His office in the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith reviews all cases of clerical sex abuse, telling bishops how to proceed against accused priests.
Oliver spoke Tuesday at a symposium marking a year since the Pontifical Gregorian University hosted bishops from around the world for a workshop on drafting guidelines to prevent abuse, help victims and better screen priests to make sure abusers aren’t ordained. The Vatican released his remarks Wednesday.
Oliver said his office averaged 600 cases per year in 2010-12, with the majority of cases stemming from abuse committed in 1965-85, down from the peak of 800 cases received in 2004.
In Los Angeles, police are now reviewing the personnel files to see whether any crimes were committed by church authorities in failing to report abuse. California clergy were not required by law to report child abuse until 1997. Experts say it’s unlikely any criminal charges will be filed given the statute of limitations.
Mahony’s successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, publicly rebuked Mahony after the documents were released and imposed administrative sanctions on him, preventing him from carrying out any public or administrative duties in the archdiocese – an unprecedented public dressing-down of a cardinal.