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The scandal concerning the widespread sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church gets worse and worse. The latest example showing how deeply entrenched the policy of secrecy and cover up was in the church has been the publication in the Toronto Globe and Mail of a 1993 letter from J. R. Windle, Bishop of Pembroke in Ontario, to the representative of the Vatican in Canada concerning Bernard Prince, a priest in his diocese who had been found to have abused a child.
From the letter, it appears that the priest had acknowledged his crime but the diocese had managed to keep it secret. They did not hand him over to the police or want him transferred to another diocese within Canada but had agreed to have him sent to Rome in 1991 instead. The guilty priest was apparently a friend of Pope John Paul II and the latter had actually decided to promote him, if you can believe it, at about the same time that it emerged that the acts of abuse byPrince had not been limited to a single isolated incident but had gone on for an extended period and that he had abused other children as well.
The Bishop of Pembroke was alarmed that if the abusive priest were promoted, the victims would be so angered that they might make their charges public. Throughout the letter, what becomes disgustingly clear is that the main concern of the bishop was how to get Prince out of his diocese while keeping things secret. Here are some excepts from the letter, with all the italics being mine:
When Fr. Prince was first proposed for his present position in Rome (on the recommendation of the now Archbishop T. Franck), I explained to the then Archbishop Jose Sanchez (now Cardinal Sanchez), in his capacity as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, that, while the charge against Fr. Prince was very serious, I would not object to him being given another chance since it would remove him from the Canadian scene.
Recently it has been brought to our attention that there was not one but four or five victims in all (all minors who talk freely among themselves about their involvement with Fr. Prince), and that several lay people of the Wilno-Barry’s Bay area, as well as a number of priests of the Deanery of Barry’s Bay are aware of these unfortunate events… any papal recognition or promotion would surely result in animosity and “admiratio”, along with other possible ramifications.
The victim assured Monsignor Barry [the Vicar General] that he would not lay any charges (although his counsellor strongly advised him to do so), unless he learned that Fr. Prince was victimizing other individuals and that appropriate steps were not bring taken by his superiors to obviate this possibility through counselling and supervision.
Consequently, Your Excellency, the scenario which exists today is considerably different from when I first spoke with Archbishop Sanchez. At that time we were under the impression that the incident was isolated, in the distant past, and there was little or no danger of any scandal ever emerging.
However, the knowledge and extent of Fr. Prince’s previous activity is now much more widespread among both the laity and the clergy than previously existed. Hence, were he to be honoured in any way it could easily trigger a reaction among the victim(s), or others who are aware of his previous conduct, and this would prove extremely embarrassing both to the Holy See and to the Diocese of Pembroke, not to mention the possibility of criminal charges being laid and a civil lawsuit ensuing.
The next passage shows how the church exploits the ‘respect for religion’ trope (that I have criticized before) and its carefully cultivated mystique of the priesthood to exert coercive power over its victims to keep things quiet.
One redeeming factor is that it would appear that the victims involved are of Polish descent and their respect for the priesthood and the Church has made them refrain from making these allegations public or laying a criminal charge against a priest. Had this happened elsewhere there would be every danger that charges would have been laid long ago with all the resultant scandal. Unfortunately one priest, who was talking with one of the victims who partially revealed. Fr. Prince’s activity while living with him in Ottawa, has been somewhat indiscreet in his comments about Fr. Prince, and has had to be cautioned by the Vicar General in this respect.
The next passage shows the collusion among all the top church officials on the policy of covering up crimes and the need to protect the image of the church over the needs of the abused victims:
I regret both the length and contents of this letter, Your Excellency, but when there is so much at stake for the Church in general and the diocese in particular, given the adverse climate we are currently experiencing, any promotion for Fr. Prince, even for a Papal Honour, but most especially for the Episcopate, would have horrendous results and cause immeasurable harm. All of the Bishops of Ontario who are aware of this situation (and there are several) would most certainly agree with my assessment in this regard.
However, as previously mentioned, a promotion of any kind would indicate to the victim that he is being further victimized and hence we could anticipate that a charge would be laid and a public trial would follow. This has been the pattern which has been followed in recent event s of a similar nature and it is a situation which we wish to avoid at all costs.
Despite these warnings, Pope John Paul II allowed Bernard Prince to serve in the position of secretary-general of the Vatican’s Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith from 1991 until he retired in 2004. He was finally convicted in 2008 of sexually molesting 13 boys between the years of 1964 and 1984 and is now serving a four-year prison term. It took this for him to be finally defrocked in 2009.
The consistent strategy of the Catholic Church has been to cover up abuse cases and get victims to keep quiet. Is it any surprise then that Catholic bishops in Connecticut are currently fighting a proposed law that would eliminate the statue of limitations on child sexual abuse, because that would unravel their whole plan? They have simply no shame.
Pope Ratzinger is due to visit England in September of this year, no doubt to teach people all about Christian morality. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have enlisted the services of two human rights lawyers to see if he cannot be arrested during his visit, the way that brutal Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet was, to be tried for the crimes committed by the organization of which he is head.
This should be interesting.
POST SCRIPT: The real problem