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Colm O'Gorman - "Poor Journalism Saves A Guilty Church"

by Thomas Sutcliffe, Evening Herald and UK Independent 3 October 2006

Added to on October 8, 2006

[ This is interesting because the writer is hostile to the Catholic Church but still believes that Colm O'Gorman's evidence is no good ]

If you measure the success of an investigative report by the fuss it causes then Sunday night's Panorama was surely a triumph. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the Chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, immediately denounced the BBC for sensationalism, misleading editing and prejudice.

Colm O'Gorman's report, which accused the Pope of presiding over a deliberate policy of cover-up, had obviously done nothing to dispel his belief, expressed three years ago, that the BBC as an institution is hostile to the Catholic Church.

As it happened I watched Panorama because, - in a grumbling, muttering, slightly knee-jerk way - I am hostile to the Catholic Church. So it was a surprising experience to find indignation at the impunity of some abusive priests mingling with a whispering disquiet at the editorial approach.

The first doubt occurred when O'Gorman broke down in tears, after visiting the site of an incident of abuse in Brazil. It certainly confirmed the deep trauma of O'Gorman's past abuse at the hands of an Irish priest. But shouldn't his qualification as empathetic victim have disqualified him from the reporting role in this case?

"Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face of the BBC," notes the corporation's editorial guidelines, "they can have a significant impact on the perceptions of our impartiality." That was the problem here. Perceptions.

It wasn't that O'Gorman's investigations were necessarily untrue, but it was all too easy to dismiss him as an impartial weigher of contradictory evidence.

The second doubt occurred when I actually read Crimen Solicitationis, the 1962 Vatican document which was summarised by one of Panorama's interviewees as "an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy." It took me close to an hour to get through it and at a rough guess, would take another 20 years to fully comprehend.

An abstruse, legalistic document of headache-inducing opacity it lays out the procedures to be followed in the case of a specific ecclesiastical crime - solicitation or using the confessional to tempt a penitent towards impure speech or deeds.

It is much preoccupied with secrecy. But much of this furtiveness seems to derive from the fact that the evidence and accusation occur under seal of the confessional, which must somehow be preserved through the subsequent investigation. Happy as I would have been to find hard evidence of a sinister cover up by the Vatican, it simply won't bear the crude description, which, for the sake of journalistic brevity, Panorama gave it.

Crimen Solicitationis is hardly a document any institution should want to stand by in 2006 - let alone one that sets itself up as moral exemplar.

It leaves the impression that the all-important thing is to avoid damage to the church, rather than damage to vulnerable parishioners.

It would be nice to see Archbishop Nichols explicate that line as part of his rebuttal. But I fear it will be too easy for the Church hierarchy to disappear into the small print of canon law and that part of this programme made it easier still.


Added to on October 6, 2006

Irish Times, Letters page, 4 October 2006

Sean O'Conaill (October 3rd) asks what exactly prevented bishops from reporting instances of clerical child abuse to the civil authorities. It may seem like a cruel question for victims and their parents, but what prevented them going directly to the police? When people reported such things to bishops rather than the police, what did they think would happen?

Bishops have no skills in criminal investigation. They have no authority to arrest or detain anyone for questioning. They have no forensic division.

When people reported to bishops they hoped for a shortcut - that "something would be done" which would prevent their suffering any further. And so bishops resorted to psychiatrists, counselling, promises and in many cases simply a move of parishes. But let us not kid ourselves that this sorry mess is all down to bishops. Any parent who went to a bishop instead of the police must accept some responsibility for the situation we are in.

As for the Panorama programme itself, is this supposed to be investigative journalism? An old document that has been in the public domain for years, misrepresentations, and a rather pathetic attempt to implicate the Pope, presumably to facilitate someone's lawsuit?

Unfortunately, what we've come to expect from the BBC.

- Yours, etc,

Christopher McCamley,
Co Louth.


Added to on October 3, 2006

Irish Times, Letters page, 4 October 2006

Canon lawyer Dr Michael Mullaney has defended Pope Benedict XVI against a charge of using the document Crimen Sollicitationis to keep clerical child abuse secret (The Irish Times, October 2nd).

You report Dr Mullaney as saying: "The confidentiality is purely an internal procedure, as with any company. It in no way stops people from making a complaint to the civil authorities."

Dr Mullaney ducks the question raised by Sunday night's Panorama programme - a question that every Catholic parent in the world wants answered: What exactly is it that prevents bishops from reporting instances of clerical child abuse to the civil authorities?

In case after case across the Catholic world bishops have acted uniformly to protect abusive clergy, leaving the protection of children to their parents. As far as is known, there has never been a case of a priest abuser being reported in the first instance by his bishop for the perpetration of this dreadful crime. Instead, bishops make every effort to keep such cases out of the public domain, often thereby endangering other children.

There is every reason to believe that this policy would still be protecting people such as Brendan Smyth, Eugene Green and Sean Fortune in Ireland if the media and the civil authorities had not acted.

If the 1962 Vatican directive Crimen Sollicitationis is not the explanation for this uniform policy of covering up, what is the explanation?

To leave this question hanging over the church is to invite the kind of conspiracy programme that Panorama has produced, gravely damaging the authority of the papacy. It is also to bankrupt the symbolism of the bishop's staff of office. It tells us that the crozier, the shepherd's crook, exists to protect abusive priests at the expense of children. The Pope, as the supreme shepherd, is also compromised by this tragic fact.

Our church simply cannot survive such a disgrace. - Yours, etc,

SEAN O'CONAILL, (Co-ordinator, Voice of the Faithful - Ireland),
Greenhill Road,
Coleraine, Co Derry.

The Church And Its Critics

Added to on October 4, 2006

Irish Independent, October 4th 2006

The only thing that is 'grossly incorrect' about the BBC Panorama broadcast is Michael Mullaney's blatently unfair and factually obfuscatory denunciation of it's content (Irish Independent, October 3).

Fr Mullany and his culpable church should be keeping their collective head down and pursuing a policy of solicitous caring and profound penitential apology, rather than reacting in unfounded criticism and downright lies to a fair and balanced broadcast.

The 1962 Crimens Solicitationis document, a highly secret church directive, made public in defiance of church policy only in recent years, was indeed concerned with secrecy from scandal, a major concern of the Roman Catholic Church.

The church was very well aware at that time of the existance of rampant homosexuality and frequent incidental paedophilia within it's ranks. No amount of obstanate denial or arcane canonical kant will deny this basic truth.

Anyone in the church hierarchy who was ignorant of these realities was living in cloud cukoo land, a place that should be very familiar to Fr Mullany, if not to the then papal eminance grise, Cardinal Ratzinger.

"Misleading, malicious, false and inaccurate" are adjectives used by Fr Mullaney about the BBC program that better describe his own church's initial reaction to the scandal, rather than the BBC broadcast.

Moreover, 2001 was a bit late in the piece for the reluctant church's action which was painfully slow in coming.

The atrocious conniving by the CORI group in negotiating the apportionment of the lion's share of the settlement costs to the Irish taxpayer on behalf of the church, the largest landowner in the country, during a major property boom still beggars belief.



Programme on Rome Sex Abuse Cover-Up was 'Grossly Incorrect'

Added to on October 3, 2006

Irish Independent, October 3rd 2006

GRAVELY misleading claims were made in the BBC 'Panorama' programme about the Church document Crimen Sollicitationis and a supposed global conspiracy by the Vatican to cover up clerical sexual abuse.

The programme also set out to inflict maximum damage on Pope Benedict XVI by portraying him as the architect of this cover-up. The basis of this malicious, false assertion was the misleading, inaccurate interpretation of sections of the document.

The document does not invite bishops or any ecclesiastical authority to cover up sexual abuse. Rather, it is a compendium of rules and procedures required to carry out an investigation of an allegation of misuse of the sacrament of confession by a priest - a rare but very serious allegation.

It is relevant to the issue of clerical sexual abuse of minors in so much that it equates, as far as penalties go, the most serious crime of sexual abuse with other very serious sexual crimes.

Unfortunately, the programme attempted to construct a theory that this document authorised bishops to follow a policy of cover-up. Tragically, this turned out to be the primary aim of the programme, as it deflected from the horror of child abuse.

The Church has always had internal disciplinary processes for dealing with serious crimes committed by priests. These processes in no way impede civil investigations or prejudice civil courts from imposing penalties.

It is claimed the document imposed secrecy; in fact, this was nothing more than hat we understand as the good practice of confidentiality when concerning the reputations of people against whom allegations have been made. This is normally understood as a right of natural justice, not conspiracy.

The document contained penalties for Church personnel who were indiscreet with this information, and it asked the same discretion of witnesses interviewed during a process; but does not contain any automatic penalty, as asserted in the programme.

As head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger has taken a consistently tough line on priests who have abused children, scrupulously working to rid the Church of this "filth", as he described it. He has dismissed five priests from the diocese of Ferns and many others throughout the world who have been convicted of this crime.

He has strongly and consistently asserted, in line with his predecessor, that there is no room in the Catholic priesthood or religious life for anyone who would harm the young.

Fr Michael Mullaney is a senior lecturer in Canon Law at St Patrick's College, Maynooth

Canon Lawyer Denies Code Silenced Sex Abuse Victims

Added to on October 2, 2006

Irish Times, 2 October 2006 by Alison Healy

A Panorama documentary, "Sex Crimes and the Vatican", shown on BBC 1 last night, claimed that a church directive, which was updated by Pope Benedict when he was a cardinal, was being used to silence the victims of clerical sex abuse.

However, this was rejected as "misleading, totally false and wrong" by Irish canon lawyer Dr Michael Mullaney last night. He said it was a "misrepresentation and misuse of the document" and said the claims were "a thinly veiled effort" to malign Pope Benedict.

Colm O'Gorman, director of the One in Four charity for abuse victims, was the reporter on the programme and asked US canon lawyer Fr Tom Doyle about the 1962 directive Crimen Sollicitationis. Fr Doyle said the directive was "indicative of a worldwide policy of absolute secrecy and control of all cases of sexual abuse by the clergy".

The programme claimed the directive imposed an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest and any witnesses in an abuse case. Breaking the oath would mean excommunication. "What you really have here is an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy, to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by churchmen," Fr Doyle said.

Dr Mullaney said the directive was about the misuse of the confessional. If someone complained about inappropriate behaviour of a priest in a confessional, then the priest and those dealing with the complaint had to treat it in a confidential manner because of the seal of confession. However, this did not prevent the complainant from bringing the complaint to the civil authorities if a crime was suspected. "The confidentiality is purely an internal procedure, as with any company. It in no way stops people from making a complaint to the civil authorities," he added.

The programme interviewed one abuse victim, Aida Doyle, who told how he was sexually assaulted by a priest at an Irish school. When he told another priest about it, the priest applied the seal of confession to the conversation, "so that you will never talk about this and it will be kept secret".

He said: "I was simply told: you don't talk about this again. It's over. You'll get over it. It will fade away in time."

The programme also heard from Judge Anne Burke, who sat on the US's National Review Board which examined the extent of clerical abuse of children. She said the abuse was endemic, with the same percentages of child sexual abuse in all dioceses.

Fr Doyle said the abuse and cover-up was not just happening in the US. "This is all over the world. You see the same pattern and practice no matter what country you go to." Mr O'Gorman also travelled to Brazil where he interviewed the grandmother of a boy who was raped by a priest when he was five years old in 2002. The priest had been first accused of abuse more than 10 years earlier and had been moved at least four times, continuing to abuse children in each parish.

Mr O'Gorman read extracts from the priest's diary which detailed how he targeted children. He sought boys from poor families, preferably without a father, and said it was very important to ingratiate himself with the family. "See what the boy is like and then ask the boy to give himself to me as payment for receiving a present," the diary read. Last year the priest received almost 15 years in prison for abusing this boy and another child.

Retired US district attorney Rick Romley, who convicted eight paedophile priests in Phoenix, told the programme: "The secrecy, the obstruction that I saw during the investigation was unparalleled in my entire career as a DA". When he wrote to the Vatican asking it to instruct three priests to return to the US after they had fled to Rome to escape prosecution, the letter was returned unopened, he said.


O'Gorman 'Maligned' the Pope

Irish Independent, October 02 2006 by John Cooney

A SENIOR church lawyer last night accused Colm O'Gorman, the founder of the One in Four victims' support group, of "maligning" Pope Benedict XVI.

In last night's BBC 'Panorama' programme, Mr O'Gorman named Pope Benedict as the churchman responsible for the Vatican's worldwide cover-up of child-abusing priests.

In an angry reaction, Fr Michael Mullaney, a lecturer on canon law at St Patrick's College, Maynooth, told the Irish Independent: "Mr O'Gorman has made false charges against the Pope, who has taken strong steps to deal with the crime of clerical child abuse.

"Mr O'Gorman has misunderstood and misinterpreted the Vatican's approach to allegations against priests suspected of abusing children. This is a thinly-veiled effort to malign Pope Benedict."

Mr O'Gorman, a Dail election candidate for the Progressive Democrats, travelled around the world for the TV investigation, titled 'Sex crimes and the Vatican'.

The programme examined the impact of what it claimed was Rome's secretive implementation of a 1962 policy document, 'Crimen Sollicitationis' (The Crime of Solicitation), which few outsiders have seen.

Mr Gorman, who campaigned to highlight the extent of clerical child sexual abuse in the diocese of Ferns after being raped by the late Fr Sean Fortune, claimed the document silenced victims and helped priests evade prosecution.

The programme also claimed that "at the heart of this scandal sits Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI".

It added: "For 20 years he controlled the Vatican department that enforced 'Crimen Sollicitationis' and in 2001 he created its successor." He was referring to 'Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela' - the protection of the most holy sacraments'.

Accusing Mr O'Gorman of "total distortion" and of "some false" statements about the documents, Fr Mullaney said the 1962 document "does not deal specifically with child abuse". Rather, it concerned the misuse of the confessional. "The programme confused the misuse of the sacrament of confession and the immoral attempts of a priest to silence a sex-abuse victim."

Fr Mullaney insisted that the 2001 document was an internal document which "does not in any way stop anyone from reporting a sexual assault to the civil authorities".

The documentary has caused an outcry in Britain. The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, is to make a formal complaint to the head of the BBC over the programme.

In the programme, an Irish victim of clerical abuse spoke publicly for the first time about how, as a boy attending a Catholic school, he was sexually abused by a priest.

Aiden Doyle said that, when he told another priest about what had happened, the priest said he was going to apply the seal of confession, indicating that he would have to keep quiet about the abuse.

The programme also featured Limerick-born paedophile priest Oliver O'Grady, speaking about his preference for young boys and girls.