Unlock The Secret abuse files – Calderdale lawyer’s fight over church sex scandals

Share Button

The Halifax Courier (UK – halifaxcourier.co.uk)

18 January 2012

Lawyer Richard Scorer.Lawyer Richard Scorer.

Published on Wednesday 18 January 2012 11:45

A CALDERDALE lawyer is leading a campaign demanding the Roman Catholic Church open its “secret archives” on child abuse.

Richard Scorer, who lives in Hebden Bridge, is a senior solicitor with Manchester-based legal firm Pannone.

He is now heading a team of the country’s top lawyers in the field of child abuse, which this week has asked the Government to order a public inquiry to force the Catholic Church to open up its archives to scrutiny.

If successful, the Church will be forced to make public its closely guarded files which for centuries have remained under lock and key and for the eyes only of Catholic Church leaders.

Mr Scorer, who has a 20-year career acting in some of the most infamous Catholic Church paedophile cases, believes it is vital the Church becomes more transparent and accountable and sheds its cover-up culture.

He said: “We have seen clear evidence of cover-ups on some of our cases and we believe these are the tip of the iceberg.

“The culture of cover-up has been embedded in the Catholic Church for decades, if not centuries.”

He asaid the Church was “too compromised” and “failed to police itself effectively” and the only way to gauge the extent of sex abuse was to submit to a public inquiry.

“It will never be effectively challenged without full public scrutiny, something which only a pubic inquiry, with powers to documents, including each Catholic diocese’s secret archive can achieve.”

Mr Scorer said each diocese had a secret archive where complaints of sexual abuse made against its priests would be carefully documented.

“These secret archives, according to canon law, cover matters of morals and criminal cases and historically bishops have kept them under lock and key.

“What usually happens is once a complaint is made against a priest, that priest is moved to another area but then they are free to continue with their abuse with a new set of victims.

“The only way to break this cycle and address the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is through a comprehensive public inquiry and we are urging ministers to do this without delay,” he said.

Mr Scorer said he and his fellow solicitors were aware of 41 Catholic priests who had been convicted of serious sexual offences in “the recent past” but in many cases, the complaints of abuse had been covered up by the Catholic Church.

He said he and his fellow solicitors were heartened that their campaign received a boost from a high-profile figure within hours of being launched.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, wife of the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg is throwing her weight behind it, urging for better protection for abuse victims.

The international lawyer is urging people not to doubt children’s tales of abuse.

Mr Scorer said he believed that because of the success of bringing paedophile priests to book, many more victims were now coming forward.

“We have made great strides over the years and thankfully more victims feel they can come forward without the fear of stigma or shame but there are still many people who are suffering and whose lives have been affected through sexual abuse.”


Lawyer Challenges Catholic Church to Open Secret Archives for Truth about Child Abuse

The Sacramento Bee

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 – 7:37 am

By Pannone LLP

MANCHESTER, England, January 17, 2012 –/PRNewswire/ —

A leading ‘abuse case’ lawyer is challenging the Catholic Church to open its secret archives of documents for independent examination in order to discover the truth about child abuse by its priests.

Richard Scorer, a Partner and specialist in child abuse cases at Manchester law firm Pannone, says, “Every Catholic diocese has a secret archive which is kept locked and has in it secret documents. In the words of the Code of Canon Law, these documents are to be ‘protected most securely’ and contain, ‘matters of morals’ and ‘criminal cases’. Only the bishop is allowed to possess the key and the archive is only to be opened in a case of ‘true necessity’. It is my feeling and that of many of my legal peers that this moment of necessity is here.”

Says Mr Scorer, “It is like something from a Dan Brown novel, but this is not the Da Vinci Code, it is the Code of Canon Law and it has a bearing on the lives of hundreds probably even thousands of people. In every one of those archives there will be evidence of past scandals, if the Catholic Church really wants to help those children its priest’s may have abused in the past, it should open up its secret archives to independent investigation now and cleanse itself of its culture of denial and cover-up. ”

Canon489 of the current code of Canon law provides:

‘There is also to be a secret archive, or at least in the ordinary archive there is to be a safe or cabinet, which is securely closed and bolted and which cannot be removed. In this archive documents which are to be kept under secrecy are to be most carefully guarded.’

Canon law forbids any documents to be removed from the secret archive under any circumstances and only the bishop is permitted to have the key thereto. Accordingly, as only the bishop will know what is in the secret archive, it is obviously unsatisfactory for anyone else to make the disclosure statement.

Among the documents which must be kept in the secret archive for varying periods of time are:

    • Documents from historic criminal cases (i.e. within Canon law) concerning matters of a moral nature
    • Documentary proof of canonical warnings or corrections when someone has been about to commit an offence, or is suspected of having committed one, or has been guilty of scandalous behaviour
    • Documents relating to preliminary investigations for a penal process that was closed without a formal trial
  • Documents relating to any other matters the bishop considers secret.


27 Responses to Unlock The Secret abuse files – Calderdale lawyer’s fight over church sex scandals

  1. Sylvia says:

    I added a link in the above article to blog I wrote in August 2006. Paul Andre Durocher, then Bishop of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, Ontario, had just testified under oath at the multi-million-dollar Cornwall Public Inquiry that the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, Ontario has no secret archives (“If there were secret archives, I am the one that would have access to them. There are no secret archives in the Diocese of Alexandria- Cornwall.”)

    There was speculation at the time that the diocese’s secret archives had been relocated to the Nuncio’s Palace in Ottawa for the duration of the inquiry. True or false I have no idea. But, if as Durocher said, there were no secret archives in the diocese, where exactly were they?

    Bottom line: Be prepared Richard Scorer! Those secret archives may just, as they did in Cornwall, up and disappear.

  2. Canon 489 of the Code of Canon law states that every diocese is to have a ‘secret archive’. I do not understand how a Bishop could testify under oath that so such thing exists. That would mean that his diocese is in violation of Church law!

    Fr. Tim

  3. Michel Bertrand says:

    I guess that would be lying uh? Is that a venial sin or a cardinal sin or is that just business as usual ?.. I would hate to be one of the black pennies he jingles in pants pocket.

  4. If there were secret archives, I am the one that would have access to them. There are no secret archives in the Diocese of Alexandria- Cornwall.”)

    Or it could read: If there were secret archives that I’m not in liberty to tell, I am the one that would have access to them. There are no secret archives in the Diocese of Alexandria- Cornwall that I know of to tell you!

    Mental reservation at its best!

  5. Michel Bertrand says:

    Pretty interesting that the secret files relate to criminal and moral matters…the text from Canon Law as indicated above.

    Can. 489 §1 In the diocesan curia there is also to be a secret archive, or at least in the ordinary archive there is to be a safe or cabinet, which is securely closed and bolted and which cannot be removed. In this archive documents which are to be kept under secrecy are to be most carefully guarded.

    §2 Each year documents of criminal cases concerning moral matters are to be destroyed whenever the guilty parties have died, or ten years have elapsed since a condemnatory sentence concluded the affair. A short summary of the facts is to be kept, together with the text of the definitive judgement.

    Can. 490 §1 Only the Bishop is to have the key of the secret archive.

  6. Anne C says:

    Secret archives? Bizarre. Why secret? This sounds like little kids making up rules for their secret clubhouse. I think it’s time to re-think the whole ‘canon law’ mandate for the 21st century.

    After the Irish sex abuse report was published, and it was made known that the church turned a blind eye, Fall Irish PM stood up and told the Vatican: “This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011, a republic of laws.”

    I stood up and cheered when I heard this. More countries need to proclaim the same once and for all.

    • Anne: Why the secret archives? Simple answer: it’s where to put files that deal with issues of the confessional. For example, if a priest used the confessional to intimidate, abuse or entreat a victim of his sexual abuse, the matter is to be referred to the Vatican for punishment/sentencing. To protect the identity of the victim, the records are kept secret and eventually destroyed in the manner that Michel states. Further though, remember that when the Canons speak of ‘criminal acts’, the term ‘criminal’ relates to someone who has been convicted of violating Church/Canon law. It’s not referring to priests who have been convicted by civil courts and thus have been identified as criminals in the everyday sense of the word.

      Like everything in life, it can be abused and the Church has been revealed as being culpable of the human failings of its clergy so I don’t doubt that it has been abused. A secret archive can become a convenient hiding place to tuck away items that the Bishop or Chancery office didn’t want to become public. Clearly though, it was never intended to be used this way. It cannot be a place to hide pedophiles. If it is used in such a way, I suspect that whoever did so would be in a world of trouble with God, the Vatican and the courts!

      In summary then, a secret archive is intended to be used to protect people… never to abuse or permit the abuse of people. That would be a perversion of what the code it was intended to do.

      Fr. Tim

    • Larry Green says:

      Who was this rant against ?

      • Larry Green says:

        I’m asking Anne.

        • Larry Green says:

          Anne C , you do understand that Fr. Tim Moyle is not the only priest that reads these comennts don’t you ? Many of the others could take some of YOUR rants very personal. Should you be making it ‘ uncomfortable’ for them to read on here? Maybe you should start being a little nicer in your comments about other priests too. Remember , they are watching you Anne C.

  7. Sorry. That last sentence should read: ‘That would be a perversion of what the code intended it to do.’

  8. Anne C says:

    Thank you for the reply. This is very enlightening. The law is meant to protect the identity of a person who enters a confessional believing they will remain anonymous. This makes sense. I wish the rest did (i.e. a person also enters the confessional not expecting to be sexually abused – or to have their “sin” used as blackmail to keep quiet – which I expect happens in many of these child abuse cases.)

    What I am still wondering is: aren’t priests subject to criminal laws as well? When does canon law end, and criminal law begin? Can’t a country enforce its own laws?

    I know when you reply to this board you potentially put yourself at the receiving end of personal rants etc, so thanks again.

    • Anne: No problem at all! Yes, priests are bound by all the criminal laws as are any other citizen. It is an essential element of our society that everyone is supposed to be equal under the law. Now some folks can afford to be a little more equal than the rest of us… but that should never be a shield to protect predators from being held responsible for their crimes whether they are priests or not.

      As to your question about the relationship between Canon and Civil criminal laws, they two systems work in parallel. It’s not a question of where one starts and the other ends. Priests are subject to both systems. If there is a question of which takes precedence over the other, the civil code reigns with only one exception: priests are not permitted to violate the seal of the confessional, even if it means being charged in civil criminal courts. Aside from that one exception, I believe that the law of the land trumps the law of the Church.

      Fr. Tim

      • Larry Green says:

        Anne, should I know you from somewhere?

      • Anne C says:

        Thank you Fr. Tim. Appreciate the up front response.

      • Lina says:

        Forgive me Fr. Tim Moyle for interrupting you here.

        Are you that priest that was at St. Columbkille Cathedral Church in Pembroke ON years ago when a elderly lady at a very early Sunday Mass was mugged and even her rosary was stolen?

        Also are you that same priest that wrote a letter to the editor in Pembroke Observer newspaper denouncing this crime?

          • Lina says:

            I don’t remember your face Fr. Tim but I do remembe at one of your homily you said we would not like to see you in early morning before you had some coffee. Something about being grumpy? It seem you were able to make this coffee in your room. That really made me smile.

            As for the newspaper letter to the editor I recall thinking this priest really does go that extra mile. He cares about what happened to that poor elderly lady.

            I recall it was very unusual for a priest at that time to speak so plainly trying to relate to his flock that you were human just like the rest of us.

            After all this time it was you all along who was that mystery priest that I use to come into my mind now and then.

            Believe Fr. Tim, it’s so nice to remember something positive about a priest. Especially these days.


          • Lina: Thank you for your very kind words.

            Fr. Tim

  9. Larry Green says:

    I think so.

  10. Larry Green says:

    It’s a small world.

  11. Sylvia says:

    Fr. Tim, I can’t reply to your last post to Larry on being as human as everyone else – there is no reply option to that thread so I will pick it up here. Let it go please.

Leave a Reply