BBC and Catholic Church in row over child sex abuse
The Roman Catholic Church and the BBC are involved in a furious row over a Panorama documentary programme, 'Sex Crimes and the Vatican', which was broadcast on BBC 1 at 10.15pm last night.
The programme accused the church of systematically covering up the problem, and directly implicated Pope Benedict XVI. But the Church accuses the internationally-renowned broadcaster of gross distortion and misrepresentations.
This morning, the president of the Catholic Bishopsí Conference in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy OíConnor, wrote to the director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, protesting about the programme in the strongest terms.
The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, who chairs the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA), has also issued a detailed statement which claims that the Church has responded to ìoffences of child abuse with absolute thoroughness and scruple.î
The Panorama programme examined a secret document that apparently sets out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. It claimed that Crimen Sollicitationis, was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope Benedict.
The 39-page document, written in 1962, apparently instructed Bishops to deal with claims of child sex abuse through an approach which includes an oath of secrecy, enforceable by excommunication, which critics claim inevitably hinders outside investigation and prosecution.
Expert Father Tom Doyle, a canon solicitor sacked from the Vatican after he criticised its handling of child abuse, interpreted the document for the BBC. He said it explicitly covered up cases of child abuse and emphasised the ìtotal control of the Vaticanî while giving no mention to the victims.
However the Archbishop of Birmingham hit back: ìAs a public service broadcaster, the BBC should be ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict XVI. Viewers will recognise only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the programme, which uses old footage and undated interviews.î
These comments are taken to refer to earlier rows between the Church and the BBC, both in England and Wales and in Scotland.
Archbishop Nicholsí statement continued: "There are two strands to the Panorama programme 'Sex Crimes and the Vatican'. The first is a graphic and explicit account of the evil of child abuse and the personal damage it causes to its victims. This is horrific and deeply distressing. Those abused as children have been grievously offended. This is especially so when the abuser is a priest.î
He declared: ìThe film is a reminder to everyone of the need to work ceaselessly in the protection of children and in response to the needs of victims. The Catholic Church in England and Wales is doing so, with transparency and care, and, in every case, cooperating fully and immediately with public authorities.î
The Archbishop went on: "The second strand of the programme is an attack on the Vatican and specifically on Pope Benedict XVI. This aspect of the programme is false and entirely misleading. It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope.î
"The first document, issued in 1962, is not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional. This has always been a most serious crime in Church law. The programme confuses the misuse of the confessional and the immoral attempts by a priest to silence his victimî, he declared.
"The second document, issued in 2001, clarified the law of the Church, ensuring that the Vatican is informed of every case of child abuse and that each case is dealt with properly. This document does not hinder the investigation by civil authorities of allegations of child abuse, nor is it a method of cover-up, as the programme persistently claims. In fact it is a measure of the seriousness with which the Vatican views these offences.î
Archbishop Nichols added: "Since 2001, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [formerly The Inquisition], took many steps to apply the law of the Church allegations and offences of child abuse with absolute thoroughness and scruple."
Sexual abuse has become a worldwide scandal for the Roman Catholic Church. Critics say that it has been allowed to develop in an atmosphere of unaccountable hierarchy, secrecy, denial, and confusion in the Churchís teaching about sexuality.
Ecumenically, the churches in Britain and Ireland have worked together to ensure tough action against abuse and full cooperation with the authorities. But some in the Catholic hierarchy were unhappy about aspects of a hard-hitting report, Time for Action, published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) in December 2002. The book was commended by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams.
[Also on Ekklesia: Pope faces controversy on gay priests and HIV/AIDS; Vatican inquiry into child abuse may go ahead; Irish Catholic archbishop opposes gay priest ban; Church group backs child porn amnesty; Catholic voters urged to focus on family and schools; Theologians appeal for critics of late Pope to come forward; Mennonites respond to sexual abuse challenge; Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches ó Carolyn Holderread (book)]