Vatican official accused of mishandling case

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The Irish Times

Saturday, April 24, 2010

PADDY AGNEW in Rome

 AN ITALIAN advocacy group that defends the rights of paedophile victims has accused Vatican chief prosecutor Msgr Charles Scicluna of mishandling the case of alleged paedophile priest Don Ruggiero Conti, who is on trial in Rome.

 At a Rome news conference yesterday, Roberto Mirabile, president of La Caramella Buona, said that he had had a meeting with Msgr Scicluna on July 18th, 2007.

 He had requested the meeting because his association had received several reports alleging paedophiliac activity by Don Ruggiero, based in the Rome parish of Natività di Santa Maria Santissima.

 During the course of a 30-minute meeting with Msgr Scicluna at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Mr Mirabile showed the Vatican prosecutor extensive documentation containing various allegations against Don Ruggiero.

 At one point during the meeting, Msgr Scicluna left the room and returned 10 minutes later to say that he had no information about Don Ruggiero, adding that La Caramella Buona could take the matter further themselves if they wanted. Furthermore, Msgr Scicluna handed back the incriminating documentation.

 Almost one year later, in June 2008, Don Ruggiero was arrested while still serving as parish priest at Santa Maria Santissima. Police investigators claim that he continued to abuse minors until March 2008, nine months after Mr Mirabile’s meeting in the Vatican, prompting La Caramella Buona to claim that had Msgr Scicluna or some other church figure intervened, other crimes of sexual abuse of minors could have been avoided.

 Msgr Scicluna was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon. In a recent interview with Spanish daily El Pais , however, he expressed his regret that “La Caramella Buona is against me, but when I met them, they weren’t able to provide me with signed statements”.

 Further from Rome, the clerical sex abuse scandal provoked fresh embarrassment for the Holy See yesterday when it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Belgian bishop Roger Vangheluwe.

 In a statement yesterday, Dr Vangheluwe admitted that he had sexually abused a minor when he was a priest, and “for a certain period at the beginning of my episcopate”.

 Archbishop Andre-Mutien Léonard, primate of the Belgian Catholic Church, said that Dr Vangheluwe had resigned “out of respect for the victim and his family, and out of respect for the truth”.

 In a separate case, the Vatican yesterday claimed that a US lawsuit against the Holy See was “without merit”.

 Filed on Thursday in a Milwaukee federal court by Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has represented many abuse victims in cases against US dioceses, the lawsuit, John Doe 16 v Holy See , names Pope Benedict, the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and former secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano as defendants.

 The lawsuit has been brought by an unidentified plaintiff who was allegedly abused by Fr Lawrence Murphy, who taught at a Catholic boarding school for the deaf in Wisconsin from 1950 to 1974 and who has been accused of abusing some 200 deaf boys.

 The suit alleges that in the 1990s, Pope Benedict, in his previous role as Prefect of the CDF, had failed to take action against Fr Murphy, stalling those US church officials who had discovered the abuse, had reported it to the Vatican and had wanted Fr Murphy defrocked.

 The Vatican’s US lawyer, Jeffrey Lena, yesterday dismissed the lawsuit, saying: “The case against the Holy See and its officials is completely without merit. Most of the complaint rehashes old theories already rejected by US courts. While legitimate lawsuits have been filed by abuse victims, this is not one of them.”

 All previous attempts to sue the pope have failed, with US courts ruling that the Vatican enjoys diplomatic immunity. For example, Cardinal Ratzinger, in his CDF role, was sued in 2004 by three victims of clerical sex abuse in a District Court in Harris County, Texas. One year later, Cardinal Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict, and the court ruled that he was covered by “head of state immunity”.

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