The Letter That You've Made Public Is Still a Secret

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Letter That You've Made Public Is Still a Secret

The press and blogosphere have been abuzz over this article in Sunday's Observer (London, U.K.). Disturbing, but not at all surprising ...
Pope Benedict XVI faced claims last night he had 'obstructed justice' after it emerged he issued an order ensuring the church's investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret.

The order was made in a confidential letter, obtained by The Observer, which was sent to every Catholic bishop in May 2001.

It asserted the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood. The letter was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was elected as John Paul II's successor last week.

Lawyers acting for abuse victims claim it was designed to prevent the allegations from becoming public knowledge or being investigated by the police. They accuse Ratzinger of committing a 'clear obstruction of justice'.

... [The letter] orders that 'preliminary investigations' into any claims of abuse should be sent to Ratzinger's office, which has the option of referring them back to private tribunals in which the 'functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests'.

'Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret,' Ratzinger's letter concludes. Breaching the pontifical secret at any time while the 10-year jurisdiction order is operating carries penalties, including the threat of excommunication.
But this is my favorite part of The Observer article:
A spokeswoman in the Vatican press office declined to comment when told about the contents of the letter. 'This is not a public document, so we would not talk about it,' she said.
In other words, this Vatican spokeswoman is saying: The Ratzinger letter instructing priests to keep sex abuse allegations secret is itself a secret, and we don't talk about secrets.

So even though this letter has been quoted by a major newspaper and is, therefore, a fairly "public" document, the Vatican prefers to pretend it's still a secret. Denial is an amazing thing.

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