Four American campaigners for the victims of clerical sex abuse were this morning detained by police after holding an “unauthorised” demonstration on the edge of St Peter’s Square to protest against decades of Church “silence”.
Barbara Blaine, Peter Isely, John Pilmaier and Barbara Dorris from the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) were talking to reporters about sex abuse cases, including revelations by the New York Times about the alleged role of Pope Benedict XVI in covering up the case of the late Father Lawrence Murphy in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, when they were approached by police and asked for their passports.
They were then taken away in a police car. Barbara Blaine, the leader of SNAP, was heard several times asking the police what they had done wrong. Before being detained the group held up banners reading “Stop the secrecy now” and “Expose the truth”, and accused Pope Benedict of having imposed secrecy on clerical sex abuse cases when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before being elected Pope five years ago.
The SNAP activists are on a trip taking them to Germany, Austria and the Netherlands as well as Rome. SNAP said that Pope Benedict’s letter last weekend to the Irish bishops on the sex abuse crisis over their handling of a half-century of sexual abuse of minors by clergy was inadequate because it made no reference to the Vatican’s own responsibility. SNAPS said that Benedict should “do more to help victims heal, discipline clergy members and prevent future abuse”.
Before leaving for Europe Ms Blaine said: “We’re extremely concerned about what’s coming out of Rome. We’ve been hearing from so many victims from across the globe. We’re going to be meeting with some of the survivors and advocates. We’re hoping to possibly meet with government officials as well.”
She added: “We’re hoping to spread the word that the bishops shouldn’t be investigating themselves. We’re hoping that the governments and police agencies will launch investigations, and we’re going to encourage anyone who has been abused, or witnessed or suspects abuse to speak up and report what they know to the police. We hope that by their doing so, they could protect others from these dangerous predators and they could begin their own healing.”
In a statement Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesman, said: “The tragic case of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, involved particularly vulnerable victims who suffered terribly from what he did. By sexually abusing children who were hearing-impaired, Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.”
He said that “during the mid-1970s, some of Father Murphy?s victims reported his abuse to civil authorities, who investigated him at that time; however, according to news reports, that investigation was dropped. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was not informed of the matter until some twenty years later.”
Father Lombardi said that suggestions of a relationship between an instruction from the then Cardinal Ratzinger as head of doctrine applying secrecy to sex abuse cases and “the non-reporting of child abuse to civil authorities” were false. “In fact, there is no such relationship,” he said. Neither the instruction nor the Code of Canon Law “ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities”.
He said that no action had been taken by the Vatican against Father Murphy because he was “elderly, in very poor health and living in seclusion, and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years”.