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The Vatican's investigation of sex abuse cases still not transparent

It's very disappointing to have to say this, but a word of advice to anyone who has been sexually abused by a Catholic priest or bishop: if the offense is still within the statute of limitations, do not — under any circumstances — report it to Church authorities, especially those at the Vatican.No, go directly to the police. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that your denunciation will be taken seriously or investigated in any sort of transparent way.

Unfortunately, that is the only conclusion one can draw after several recent attempts by Vatican officials — including Pope Francis — to secretly conduct investigation into high-ranking clerics accused of abuse without even notifying the alleged victims of the process or its outcome.

Among the latest cases was that of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, an Argentinian priest that Francis raised to the episcopacy in 2013 shortly after becoming pope. The bishop was accused of sexually abusing seminarians, but Francis refused to be believe the accusations.

He allowed Zanchetta to resigned from his diocese in August 2017 at age 53 and brought him to the Vatican the following December to take up a new job the pope created especially for him.

Last March a court in Argentina sentenced the bishop to four-and-a-half years in prison but — to the horror of his accusers — he has somehow been allowed to serve his sentence in a monastery.

Keep it quiet, but don't deny it. Then there was case of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops.Media reports in his native Canada revealed last August that an adult woman had denounced the cardinal to Vatican officials in 2021. She said he subjected her to unwanted touching and kissing years earlier when he was archbishop of Quebec.

.When the news become public, a Vatican spokesman admitted that a preliminary investigation had been conducted but the allegations were deemed not credible.

However, it was also discovered that the inquiry did not follow protocols for investigating bishops as spelled out in the pope's "moto propio" Vos estis. That 2019 document was supposed to be a leap forward in dealing with allegations leveled against the Church's most senior prelates.

Search as you may, you will not find the word "transparency" in the text. And, indeed, it is becoming ever clearer that the pope and his men in charge of such investigations into allegations against bishops are — like their predecessors from time immemorial — not very comfortable with the demands of that concept.

Dutch media uncovers another secret investigationThe latest proof of that came this week when a Vatican spokesman admitted that, three years ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) quietly opened an investigation into abuse allegations against Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo SDB, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and independence leader from East Timor.

The spokesman also disclosed that the CDF slapped restrictions on the 74-year-old bishop in 2020 and then intensified them a year later. One supposes it did so because it found the allegations to be credible.Why are we learning of this only now?

Because journalists pressed the Vatican spokesman for a comment after the Dutch news weekly De Groene Amsterdammer published an exposé on Bishop Belo based on testimony gathered over the past two decades.

Had the article never been published would anyone have even known about the CDF investigation or the sanctions against the bishop?

Even if the persons who reported the abuse were privately informed of the investigation's outcome (though it appears they were not), it is clear that the Vatican had no intention of making it public.

Reminiscent of the McCarrick caseLike the investigation into Cardinal Ouellet, the Vatican remained silent until the media uncovered the actions it had taken against Bishop Belo.

And even worse, it appears that — as was the case with the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in the United States — officials in Rome and in East Timor were well aware of the bishop's abusive behavior for many years.

Sure, these were "only rumors", but evidently they were credible enough for Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, then prefect of Propaganda Fide, to take Bishop Belo's resignation in 2002 at the young age of 54, ostensibly because of "health reasons", and then send him to Mozambique.

Like they did to McCarrick, Vatican officials quietly put a number of restrictions on Belo without informing his alleged victims or the general public.

This is serious injustice. Not because abusers should be publicly shamed or humiliated, but because the abused have a right — and a need — to know that the Church's pastors and other authorities believe their testimony.

How many other bishops and priests have been quietly disciplined because of abuse? And how many of the people they abused continue to find it hard to come forward out of fear that no one will believe them?

There have been many promises, numerous documents and very strong words in this pontificate about the need to "prevent and combat these crimes that betray the trust of the faithful" (cf. Vos estis).

But that trust has already been betrayed. And it will not be restored until the pope, the bishops and other Church authorities begin handling all investigations into sexual abuse with complete transparency.

Follow me on Twitter @robinrome


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