View Photo Gallery: Cardinals from around the world gathered inside the Vatican for their first round of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid scandals inside and out of the Vatican and the continued reverberations of Benedict XVI’s decision to retire.
While critics of the Vatican’s handling of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal have breathed a sigh of relief at the news of Pope Benedict’s resignation and many hope that a changing of the guard will mean a change in the handling of current and past sex crimes, we must stop to consider who exactly will be selecting the next pope. As Mary Caplan, a leader in the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), noted, “We’d all like to think there could be a transformation in the church now, but we have to face the reality that the same men responsible for protecting our abusers are going to be the ones casting the ballots.”
First, there is Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Sodano famously described allegations of sexual abuse within the church as “petty gossip” and has been accused of intervening to halt investigations of two of the more notorious sex abuse cases involving his close associates. Although he is ineligible to vote due to his age, Sodano is responsible for convening the process through which the next Pope will be selected and he wields considerable influence and power in that process.
Next, there is Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who served under Joseph Ratzinger before he was pope at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the entity tasked with handling allegations of rape and sexual violence by priests. Together, according to New York Times reporting, Bertone and Benedict decided to halt proceedings in the case of Father Lawrence Murphy, who had been accused of sexually assaulting over 200 deaf students at a Wisconsin school for the deaf, a story told in the new documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” Bertone has also expressed the view that bishops should not be required to report priests they know to be committing acts of rape and sexual assault. Like Sodano, Bertone is a highly influential figure in the conclave that will be voting on the next pope; unlike Sodano, Bertone gets to cast his own vote.
Also voting is Cardinal William Levada. In 2004, a founding member of an independent review board investigating allegations of sexual abuse within Levada’s archdiocese in San Francisco resigned in protest, accusing Levada of blocking the release of the panel’s findings on sexual abuse allegations involving 40 priests. He was also sued by a whistleblower priest for retaliating against the priest for reporting suspected sexual assaults of altar boys by a fellow priest.
Sodano, Bertone, and Levada are three of the most influential people involved in the selection of the next pope. Their role in the ongoing enabling and concealment of rape and child sex crimes throughout the world is so central that they were named in a Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC). On behalf of SNAP, CCR has urged the ICC to investigate high-level Vatican officials – including Pope Benedict himself – for crimes against humanity. With more than 22,000 pages of supporting materials and evidence of the crimes committed by Catholic clergy and their cover-up, the ICC complaint is an unprecedented effort to call to account individuals leading the systematic effort to sweep sex abuse under the rug. CCR is also pressing the case for church accountability in a report filed today with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which will scrutinize the Church’s record on children’s rights later this year.
Sodano, Bertone, and Levada are hardly just three bad apples in the church barrel. The group of church leaders who will be selecting the next pope reads like a who’s who of accessories and accomplices in the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.
Former Los Angeles Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony prevented priests from seeking treatment by California therapists who would have been obligated to report suspected abuse and transferred offending priests to new diocese rather than reporting them to authorities. Under Mahony, diocese officials advised an accused priest to stay out of Los Angeles to avoid lawsuits.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, previously the Archbishop of Milwaukee and now the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, authorized payments of tens of thousands of dollars to abusive Milwaukee priests as an incentive to retire. Both Dolan and Mahony were deposed in separate ongoing abuse cases last week. Such are the men who will be deciding the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Perhaps no single figure in the Catholic sex abuse scandal is more notorious than Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston in 2002 after the Boston Globe revealed his role in the cover-up of 250 priests and church workers who were accused of rape and sexual assault of children. After his resignation, he was appointed to a prized position in Rome. Due to his age, he is not eligible to vote in this election, but as a cardinal he can influence the process.
Others who will be there, like Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland, have in the past enforced vows of silence not to report abusive priests, or like Darío Castrillón Hoyos, praised church leaders who refused to report priests guilty of serial rape to authorities. Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium, meanwhile denied knowledge of sexual abuse that he failed to address despite evidence that he was aware of those cases and was later recorded asking a victim to delay reporting the crime. A Philadelphia grand jury investigation into the archdiocese which was overseen by Cardinal Justin Rigali for part of the period examined, noted “[w]e would have assumed, by the year 2011, after all the revelations both here and around the world, that the church would not risk its youth by leaving them in the presence of priests subject to substantial evidence of abuse. This is not the case.”
The church hierarchy has to date put itself and the church’s reputation above the safety of children and contributed to the worldwide epidemic of rape and sexual violence committed by priests. Vatican officials and church leaders will never be the ones to bring an end to this crisis. It is up to courageous survivors and organizations like SNAP and others around the world to continue to demand accountability and change and the rest of the world to listen.
Vincent Warren is Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights