Turco (Radicals) on paedophilia and the Catholic Church: “No-one is above the law.”


Il Velino

“The conclusions of the meeting between the Pope and the American bishops are dangerous for society and further expose the potential victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Not a word has been said on the relationship between ecclesiastical ‘justice’ and civil justice.”
This was the comment by the President of the Radical MEPs, Maurizio Turco, the day after the summit between Pope John Paul II and the American cardinals called to Rome to discuss the cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States, on the outcome of the meeting. An outcome that Turco considers insufficient, to the extent that he claims that the Vatican hierarchies are “guilty of protecting both the perpetrators and their accomplices (even though they are Vatican passport-holders) from civil justice”.
Interviewed by Il VeLino, the Radical MEP explains his views on the issue:
“I believe increasingly firmly that the Church must not, in the face of crimes that cannot be confused with sins, allow ecclesiastical trial and punishment to take the place of civil trial and punishment, and that governments must not allow this to happen. I also want to point out,” adds Turco, “that I abhor summary trials, even those carried out by the Vatican.” The issue of alleged crimes by members of the clergy is so delicate and controversial that even Turco himself admits that he has found little backing from lay sources on the need for a binding link between ecclesiastical justice and civil justice. “In fact I have had some criticism, even from within Radical circles,” admits Turco, though he goes on to point out that there has also been some agreement from an authoritative Vatican source, “albeit only as the manifestation of a principle”. “On 24 April, in fact, Monsignor Amédée Grab, the President of the European Bishops, claimed that in his opinion it is necessary ‘to collaborate with the law and to give an adequate response in terms of civil justice and compensation’. If people are scandalised by this, it can only be put down to the usual sanctimonious moralism which has nothing to do with a sacrosanct principle. The American dioceses have, as we know, begun to pay compensation to the victims,” Turco continues, “These are considerable sums, and if the same amounts are awarded for the cases already in progress or expected for the future - a total of around 3,000 - it could cause serious damage to the presence of the Catholic Church in the United States.”

THE PRIORITIES FOR THE CHURCH

There are essentially three problems, of different natures, that the Vatican must deal with: “The first and most pressing regards what has happened so far in the Church, that is the silence and the lack of action in the face of the sexual abuse of children, young people, or adults. I think that it is in the interests of the Church to carry out a thorough investigation, punish the sinners and report those who have committed crimes to the police. The second regards the measures to be taken to reduce the presence of paedophiles, or rather molesters and rapists, among the clergy. I have read that the American cardinals have instructed the bishops to send representatives to the seminaries to weed out young men with homosexual tendencies. I hope that this harebrained idea will be put back in the drawer, because in line with this approach they would then have to deal with nuns with lesbian tendencies. It would also be difficult to understand why priests or nuns with heterosexual tendencies should be “spared”, since sexuality in general is prohibited.” The third problem, says Turco, is more deeply-rooted, and concerns the way in which the Catholic Church deals with the problem of the freedom and responsibility of the individual with respect to sexuality and the family. “On this subject I would like to call once again on Monsignor Grab, who has recalled that ‘paedophilia is a disease and not a scourge that afflicts the clergy in particular: from the statistics it emerges the sexual abuse of minors also takes place within the family itself’. Monsignor Grab is right. On the basis of data provided by the CENSIS two years ago, out of 100 cases of sexual abuse of minors 90 take place within the family, 8 are committed by so-called ‘figures of authority’ (teachers, priests, etc.), and only 2 by strangers.” In response to the claim made by Gianni Baget Bozzo, that the scandals in America are the result of a campaign orchestrated by the powerful Protestant sects against the Catholic Church, Turco says that “Baget Bozzo’s reading of the issue is partial, though it may contain a basis of truth. For the moment, however, the people who have stopped giving money to the American dioceses are Catholics. Unless we wish to believe that it was Protestants who were providing these funds, and that they have stopped doing so as part of a plot to destroy the presence of the Catholic Church in the United States.” As a representative of the European institutions, Turco recalls that all nations (and not only those which are part of the EU) must find a juridical solution so that crimes committed by representatives of religious institutions can be prosecuted. “I believe that the principle of aggravating circumstance should apply to ministers of religion, along the lines of the principle applied to public officials in the exercise of their duties. This seems to me to be above all a safeguard for the Church itself.” Finally, Turco warns that the “Vatican bureaucracy, like all bureaucracies, is trying and will try in every way to defend its privileges and immunity. As far as privileges are concerned, this is an internal matter, and the Church can rule as it sees fit. As far as immunity is concerned, it is a matter that regards us all as citizens.” Certain important figures, who are more exposed than the average citizen, must be defended, according to the leader of the Radical MEPs, from hurried, prejudicial measures, but impunity, he concludes, must not be granted “even to the Pope”.