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US TV network brings 1962 'cover up' document into the open

A confidential Vatican document drafted more than 40 years ago set out a policy that demanded total secrecy in cases of sex abuse by priests, CBS News reported yesterday.

The policy was written in 1962 by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, and said that anyone who spoke out about sexual abuse could be excommunicated, the report said.

The document was titled Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation. It referred specifically to sexual misconduct suggested or carried out by a priest in the context of offering sacramental confession.

Asked about the status of the document, Archbishop Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts and the Vatican's top canon lawyer, told reporters yesterday that the norms have been superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law and new 2001 norms for dealing with serious crimes involving the sacraments.

According to the CBS report, the 1962 document dealt with what it called the "worst crime" - "sexual assault committed by a priest" or "attempted by him with youths of either sex or with brute animals." It called on bishops to pursue such cases "in the most secretive way...restrained by a perpetual silence...and everyone (including the alleged victim) to observe the strictest secret, which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office...under the penalty of excommunication."

A Vatican official, who asked not to be identified, told Catholic News Service yesterday that the document's invocation of secrecy was not meant to protect guilty priests, but to ensure a fair trial and safeguard the reputations of innocent priests and of the penitent making the claim.

A spokesman for the US Conference of Bishops, Monseignor Francis Maniscalco, told CBS the text was being taken out of context, and that it was meant to deal only with religious crimes and to shield church members from any scandal.

But Larry Drivon, a lawyer who represents alleged victims of sexual abuse, called the document "a blueprint for deception."

"It's an instruction manual on how to deceive and how to protect paedophiles," Drivon told CBS.

The Age/Catholic News Service

Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation (PDF): Latin | English translation
CBS news story distorts 1962 Vatican document (Catholic World News)
Sex Crimes Cover-Up By Vatican? (CBS News)
Hidden Vatican document insisted on secrecy in sex abuse cases (Yahoo)

8 Aug 2003