November 5, 2018
The Honorable Callista Gingrich
United States Ambassador to the Holy See
United States Embassy to the Holy See
Via Sallustiana, 49
00187 Rome, Italy
Re: Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse and the U.S. Response to the Vatican
Dear Honorable Ambassador,
We are writing to you as survivors of clergy sexual abuse and human rights advocates from the United States and around the world.
On November 12, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will be convening in Baltimore to address the crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
The meeting takes place in the wake of an unprecedented formal notification by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) directing every Catholic diocese to “not destroy, discard, dispose of, delete, or alter any” documents related to the sexual abuse of children as U.S. officials investigate “possible violations of federal law.”
We are asking you to urge Pope Francis to assert his authority and issue a clear and unambiguous directive to the American bishops to immediately comply with the DOJ notification.
U.S. citizens also need assurances from the Pope that all evidence of criminal conduct by clergy sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has been submitted to U.S. justice officials. Since 2001, the Vatican has ordered all U.S. bishops to forward priest abuse cases to the CDF with no accompanying order that they first be turned over to state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, the nature and extent of the direct involvement of the Vatican’s U.S ambassadors and embassy staff in cases of criminal conduct by clergy, including bishops, needs to be determined.
Finally, Ambassador Gingrich, we are also requesting a meeting with you and leaders of U.S. survivor groups to discuss the crisis and the U.S. government’s response.
As you know, the scope of sexual violence against American children by Catholic clergy, and the concealment of those crimes, is staggering.
Nearly 7,000 clerics have been acknowledged by the U.S. bishops over the past several decades to have committed acts of rape, sexual assault or abuse against tens of thousands of children in the United States. Such widespread acts of criminal conduct against Catholic children could not have occurred without the now well-documented system of institutional and managerial cover up of those crimes by the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church. This has been dramatically confirmed in the findings of the recent Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, which has not only shocked the world but has roused the conscience of lay Catholics and the American public to demand institutional accountability, criminal investigation, and reform.
An investigation by the Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Inquirer has concluded that over 130 U.S bishops have covered up clergy child sex crimes against children. At least 15 living bishops have been alleged to have directly committed sexual abuse. None have been prosecuted.
Of course, this crisis is not limited to the United States. The very same pattern and practice of widespread sexual abuse of children and cover up has been investigated and condemned by governmental commissions and justice officials in dozens of countries around the globe. Two major United Nations bodies, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee Against Torture, have both found the Vatican in violation of several key provisions concerning the basic human rights protections for children. The Vatican is a signatory to both treaties.
The U.S. church hierarchy is under the authority of the Pope, who the American government recognizes as the legitimate head of a sovereign state. Under Catholic church law, only that head of state has the authority to dismiss a U.S. sex offender cleric from the priesthood or remove from office any bishop who has transferred or concealed child sex offenders without reporting to law enforcement officials or making public notification to parishes and communities inside the United States. We remind you that Vatican laws appear to contradict the laws of the United States by which any person who commits this type of crime must be judged, with all the rigor of the law.
The Pennsylvania Grand Jury concluded that the cover up of child sex crimes involved the Vatican state. Evidence of that involvement exists in other grand jury investigations conducted over the past fifteen years, and in hundreds of thousands of pages of internal church documents released from dioceses and religious orders across the U.S.
Since August, fourteen U.S. states along with the District of Columbia have opened investigations of clergy abuse and cover up.
Regarding the DOJ directive to preserve abuse files, the U.S. hierarchy’s response is already raising concerns.
Although the DOJ directed the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, to “immediately” inform all U.S. diocese of the document retention directive and report back compliance, the notification was not sent for over two weeks. This is alarming enough when given the evidence that some bishops may have destroyed records and criminal evidence of the abuse of children by priests in the past. This includes administrative directives to cover up that abuse. DiNardo himself has been identified in a case in his own diocese of covering up abuse by a recently arrested priest.
Furthermore, criminal evidence contained in church operated “treatment centers” or “retreat houses” for abusive clergy, including admissions by offenders, have been shredded in the past, with the result of potentially thwarting or obstructing criminal investigation and civil reporting. These facilities appear to function with little, if any, legal accountability, review or oversight.
Most alarming, however, is that the USCCB has said it has “no authority” to make bishops comply with the DOJ directive.
If the leadership of the American bishops do not have this authority, then only the Pope, as their direct superior and head of the Vatican state, apparently does.
That is why we believe you must gain assurances from the Pope that there will be full cooperation and compliance with the DOJ notification. Indeed, only full cooperation with U.S. law enforcement is an acceptable response by any U.S. bishop. The voluntary surrender from every diocese and religious order of abuse documents, whether under current investigation or not, is a necessary step towards any kind of resolution to the profound betrayal of trust by the American hierarchy.
The U.S. government must assure survivors, Americans, especially American Catholics, that while it fiercely supports and protects religious freedom it will not tolerate or condone criminal conduct and any laws, policies and directives from another foreign state that places U.S. children at risk.
Tim Law, President ECA USA/ECA Board Member
Peter Isely, ECA Member/SNAP Founding Member
Dr. Denise Buchanan, ECA Founding/Board Member