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Saturday, March 8, 2014
- As the Roman Catholic Church gets ready for the conclave that will select a new pope, activists and victims worldwide are stepping up their efforts to keep cardinals directly or indirectly involved in cases of paedophilia from participating in the papal election process.
Pressure has been brought to bear on at least five cardinals who protected priests accused of sexual abuse, including Norberto Rivera of Mexico, one of the 117 cardinals under the age of 80 set to choose the successor to Benedict XVI, who stepped down on Feb. 28.
“In order for the Church to recover its moral stature and to go back to what it was before, the next pope must be chosen by people who are moral,” Mexican activist Joaquín Aguilar told IPS.
“In order for the Church to pull out of the terrible crisis into which it has fallen because of the concealment of sexual abuse, those who have been accused must withdraw from the conclave,” said Aguilar, Mexico director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
“All around the world, if someone is an accomplice of a crime, or faces charges or has been sentenced, their political rights are suspended, which means they can’t vote or be voted for,” he said. “Why doesn’t the Vatican do this, if it claims to be a moral institution? It is a disgrace for the Church. The accused scoff at the victims and their demands.”
As a seminary student, Aguilar was a victim of sexual abuse in 1994, by Father Nicolás Aguilar (no relation).
Father Aguilar served as a parish priest in the central Mexican city of Puebla in the 1980s, before he was transferred to Los Angeles, California.
According to documents that the Los Angeles archdiocese declassified in February by court order, Norberto Rivera – who is now a cardinal – transferred Father Aguilarto that U.S. city to protect him.
A court in Mexico found him guilty of the sexual abuse of boys. But he remained free on bail, and his whereabouts are currently unknown. He is also wanted in the United States for allegedly molesting at least 26 boys.
Joaquín Aguilar has brought a lawsuit in Los Angeles against Rivera for covering up the sexual abuse committed by the priest, when Rivera was a bishop in Puebla in the 1980s.
The legal action also targets U.S. Cardinal Roger Mahony, who was archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, when he retired amidst a scandal over his role in concealing sexual abuse by priests in his archdiocese.
On Feb. 1 he was stripped of his remaining duties after the archdiocese, under court order, released thousands of declassified personnel files for 122 priests accused of molesting children. The documents shed light on Mahony’s involvement in covering up sexual abuse. On Feb. 23 he testified in court.
But this week, Mahony confirmed that the Vatican had invited him to participate in the conclave.
The cardinals who have been urged by victims of sex abuse not to attend the conclave include Sean Brady, the Catholic primate of Ireland. In 2010, it was revealed that as a priest, Brady was present at meetings in 1975 where two teenagers signed vows of silence over their complaints of abuse by another priest.
Activists are also calling on Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who headed the Church in his country from 1979 to 2010, to stay away from the conclave.
Newspapers in Belgium reported that the cardinal had been notified at least 40 times about child molestation by priests under his jurisdiction.
The most recent case is that of the former head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was forced to resign in late February by Pope Benedict.
The British daily The Observer had reported that three priests and a former priest in Scotland had complained to the Vatican about “inappropriate” behaviour by O’Brien, and had demanded his immediate resignation.
O’Brien, who has announced that he will not take part in the conclave, admitted in a Mar. 3 statement that his sexual conduct “fell below standards,” for which he apologised.
“This is a question of justice for victims of sexual abuse, and of ethics within the College of Cardinals, when they are about to choose someone who should make sure justice is done. They can’t do that if they have been complacent,” the executive secretary of the non-governmental Observatorio Eclesial (Church Observatory), Gabriela Juárez, told IPS.
Of the cardinals who have come under fire, only O’Brien decided not to take part in picking a new pope.
Victims of sexual abuse complain that Pope Benedict – Joseph Ratzinger – frequently apologised for the harm done by priests but never took effective action to rectify it.
In his 2010 book “Abusos sexuales en la Iglesia Católica” (Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church), Argentine journalist Jorge Llistosella points to more than 9,000 cases of abuse by priests worldwide in the last five decades, which he says is just the tip of the iceberg as it only includes cases that were publicly reported.
In the United States, 4,450 priests were accused of sexually abusing minors between 1950 and 2002, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In Mexico, SNAP reports that at least 65 priests have been accused of sexual crimes.
In a Jan. 25 report, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed deep concern to the U.S. government about its failure to properly deal with “sexual abuse committed by clerics and leading members of certain faith-based organisations and religious institutions on a massive and long-term scale”.
The Committee also stressed “the lack of measures taken by the State party to properly investigate cases and prosecute those accused who are members of those organisations and institutions.”
“The only way to make reparations is to begin to punish people,” said SNAP’s Joaquin Aguilar. “Civil authorities also have to be pressured. We are at a critical juncture, when a new pope is about to be chosen, but we also have to lay our cards on the table regarding this question once and for all.”