A senior Roman Catholic Cardinal has said that files documenting child sexual abuse were destroyed, allowing offences to continue.
German Cardinal Reinhard Marx told a conference on paedophilia in the Church that procedures to prosecute offenders “were deliberately not complied with”.
“The rights of victims were effectively trampled underfoot,” he said.
The unprecedented four-day summit has brought together 190 bishops from across the world.
The Catholic Church has faced growing pressure amid long-running cases of sexual abuse of children and young men, with victims accusing it of failing to tackle the issue.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created,” Cardinal Marx told the third day of the conference in the Vatican. “Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them.”
He urged greater transparency in the Catholic Church’s response to the issue, adding: “It is not transparency which damages the church but rather the acts of abuse committed, the lack of transparency or the ensuing cover up.”
On Friday, Cardinal Marx – who is one of nine advisers to the pope, known as the C9 – met survivors of abuse and members of the global organisation Ending Clergy Abuse.
Hundreds of victims have protested outside the Vatican, calling for justice and zero tolerance over the issue.
The conference was called for by Pope Francis, who earlier this month admitted that abuse of nuns by members of the clergy had included sexual slavery.
Last week, a former Catholic cardinal was defrocked over historical sexual abuse allegations.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx leaves at the end of a media briefing during a four-day sex abuse summit called by Pope Francis, in Rome on Feb. 23, 2019.Alessandra Tarantino / AP
LONDON — A German Roman Catholic cardinal claims the church “destroyed” documents in an effort to cover up sexual abuse that has engulfed the institution in scandal.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx spoke at a Vatican summit on Saturday, telling 190 church leaders that the harms inflicted on children in youth were the result of “abuse of power in the area of administration.”
The four-day summit convened by Pope Francis aims to address the worldwide issue of sex abuse within the church. Saturday’s discussions were dedicated to issues of transparency and breaking the code of silence that has kept abuse hidden.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created,” Marx said. “Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them. The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution of offences were deliberately not complied with, but instead cancelled or overridden. The rights of victims were effectively trampled underfoot, and left to the whims of individuals.”
Among Marx’s recommendations included the redefining of confidentiality and secrecy within the church, publicly releasing statistics and details on abuse cases and publishing legal proceedings.
“The study indicates some documents were manipulated or did not contain what they should have contained … no specific responsibilities,” Marx told NBC News in a press conference Saturday. “This refers to the Munich diocese, but I don’t think the German case is an isolated one.”
The summit began days after a formerly high-ranking American cardinal Theodore McCarrick was expelled from the priesthood after a Vatican investigation found sex abuse allegations against him were credible.
While church leaders considered hierarchical and procedural changes, survivors gathered in Rome to protest decades of cover-up and demanded accountability. They shouted “Zero tolerance!” as they marched toward the Vatican.
Among the marchers was Alberto Athie of Mexico, one of the first to accuse Legion of Christ founder Rev. Marcial Maciel of pedophilia.
Cardinal admits to Vatican summit that Catholic Church destroyed abuse files
National Catholic Reporter
Pope Francis prays Feb. 22, 2019, the second day of the Vatican meeting on the protection of minors. (CNS photo/Vatican Media via Reuters)
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. Central time.
Vatican City — A top cardinal has admitted that the global Catholic Church destroyed files to prevent documentation of decades of sexual abuse of children, telling the prelates attending Pope Francis’ clergy abuse summit Feb. 23 that such maladministration led “in no small measure” to more children being harmed.
In a frank speech to the 190 cardinals, bishops and heads of religious orders taking part in the four-day summit, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx said the church’s administration had left victims’ rights “trampled underfoot” and “made it impossible” for the worldwide institution to fulfill its mission.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created,” said Marx, beginning a list of a number of practices that survivors have documented for years but church officials have long kept under secret.
“Instead of the perpetrators, the victims were regulated and silence imposed on them,” the cardinal continued. “The stipulated procedures and processes for the prosecution of offences were deliberately not complied with, but instead cancelled or overridden.”
“These are all events that sharply contradict what the Church should stand for,” said Marx, the archbishop of Munich and Freising, head of the German bishops’ conference, and a member of Francis’ advisory Council of Cardinals.
Marx spoke to the prelates Feb. 23 after Nigerian Holy Child Jesus Sr. Veronica Openibo, who eloquently blasted what she called a culture of “mediocrity, hypocrisy, and complacency” that she said had brought the church to a “disgraceful and scandalous place.”
In a moving oration that may draw parallels to Franciscan Sr. Thea Bowman’s speech to the U.S. bishops in 1989, Openibo criticized priests who supported accused brethren over victims, expressed serious concerns about current formation practices and even addressed Francis’ own record on abuse.
Turning directly to the pontiff as he sat one chair over on the rostrum in the Vatican’s Synod Hall at the end of her speech, Openibo called him “Brother Francis” and said she admired him for being “humble enough to change your mind, to apologize and take action” about sexual abuse in Chile.
Francis’ abuse summit is continuing through Feb. 24.
The third day of the summit has been focused of the theme of transparency. Each day of the event begins with a prayer service and includes three presentations and then time for working in small language groups.
The Vatican is providing a live feed of the general presentations, but not of following brief question-and-answer session with the presenters, or the small group sessions.
Marx’s admission to the church’s destruction of files may have special significance in his native Germany, where an exhaustive September 2018 report on abuse in the country detailed cases involving 3,677 children but said files in at least two dioceses had been changed or destroyed.
Francis was criticized during his 2018 visit to Chile for defending a bishop accused of knowing about abuse by a priest. The pope has since apologized in a public letter to the people of the country and has accepted the resignations of several Chilean bishops accused of abuse or cover-up.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich speaks at a briefing on the third day of the meeting on the protection of minors Feb. 23 at the Vatican. Also pictured are Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, superior general of the Society of Jesus, and Nigerian Sr. Veronica Openibo, congregational leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Marx focused his half-hour talk Feb. 23 on the need for better administration by bishops in the church. He stressed the need for transparency, but also “traceability,” so as to allow victims and Catholics to follow abuse cases as they develop.
The cardinal said that management in the church “should take place in such a way that people feel accepted in administrative procedures, that they feel appreciated [and] that they can trust the system.”
He said the importance of such management could be seen in the negative experience suffered by many abuse survivors, which he summarized as: “If the church claims to act in the name of Jesus, yet I am treated so badly by the church or its administration, then I would also like to have nothing to do with this Jesus.”
Marx also condemned the use of pontifical secret, or confidentiality, in abuse cases.
“Pontifical secrecy would only be relevant if compelling reasons could be shown … As things stand, I know of no such reasons,” said the cardinal.
Openibo, who leads her order and is also a member of the executive board of the Rome-based umbrella group International Union of Superiors General, focused on how the church had failed to be open about the various ways it had done wrong in abuse cases.
The sister said that the church must live “visibly and perceptibly what we claim to be.”
“We proclaim the Ten Commandments and ‘parade ourselves’ as being the custodians of moral standards and values and good behavior in society,” said Openibo.
“Hypocrites at times?” she asked. “Yes! Why did we keep silent for so long?” she asked, letting that question hang in the air.
Openibo said she had heard some fellow Africans and Asians say that clergy sexual abuse is not an issue for the church in their countries but only for “Europe, the Americas, Canada and Australia.”
“I worked throughout Nigeria in the area of sexuality education for nine years and heard the stories and counseled many people,” she said, before recounting several of her experiences.
On issues of formation, Openibo said it “worries” her “when I see in Rome and elsewhere the younger seminarians being treated as though they are more special than everyone else.”
“What damage has that thinking done to the mission of the church?” she asked. “Have we forgotten the reminder by Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes of the universal call to holiness?”
Continuing, Openibo also said the church must “ask responsible and sensitive lay people and women religious to give true and honest evaluation of candidates for episcopal appointments.”
Openibo is one of 10 sisters invited to the abuse summit. She thanked the pope during her speech for inviting them and mentioned that at synod gatherings normally only three women religious are invited.
The Vatican summit began Feb. 21 with five video testimonies from abuse survivors.