For­mer Vatican diplo­mat to Wash­ing­ton in­dicted on child porn al­le­ga­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY CLEVE R. WOOT­SON JR. AND JULIE ZAUZMER cleve.woot­son@wash­post.com julie.zauzmer@wash­post.com

A Catholic priest who once was one of the church’s top diplo­mats in Wash­ing­ton was in­dicted by the Vatican on ac­cu­sa­tions of pos­sess­ing and shar­ing “a large quan­tity” of child pornog­ra­phy.

In a state­ment ob­tained by Reuters, the Vatican said Mon­signor Carlo Capella would face a trial start­ing June 22. He is be­ing held in a cell in the Vatican’s po­lice bar­racks.

Au­thor­i­ties in the United States and Canada had been in­ves­ti­gat­ing Capella for nearly two years. Cana­dian po­lice said the priest al­legedly up­loaded child porn from a so­cial net­work­ing site over the 2016 Christ­mas hol­i­day.

In Au­gust, the U.S. State De­part­ment no­ti­fied the Vatican of a “pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tion of laws re­lat­ing to child pornog­ra­phy images” by a diplo­mat. Soon after, the Vatican re­called Capella, who as a diplo­mat was one of four staff mem­bers who had im­mu­nity from prose­cu­tion in the United States. The Vatican de­nied U.S. ef­forts to have Capella pros­e­cuted in an Amer­i­can court.

The 50-year-old’s wide-rang­ing ca­reer in the church brought him to the United States only this past year. Born in the town of Carpi in north­ern Italy, he was or­dained as a priest in 1993, pur­sued a de­gree in canon law and then en­tered the Vatican’s corps of diplo­mats in 2004, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. In that role, he was posted in In­dia and then Hong Kong be­fore an­other stint at the Vatican.

In 2008, ac­cord­ing to a doc­u­ment from the Arch­dio­cese of Mi­lan, Pope Bene­dict XVI con­ferred the rank of “Chap­lain of His Ho­li­ness” on Capella — a recog­ni­tion of ser­vice to the church that be­stowed on him the ti­tle of mon­signor.

In Vatican City, Capella could face con­se­quences in two dis­ci­plinary sys­tems. Un­der church law, he could be de­frocked as a priest, and un­der civil law in the Holy See, which is also an in­de­pen­dent na­tion, he could face crim­i­nal penal­ties. The city-state’s crim­i­nal law says peo­ple con­victed of pos­sess­ing child pornog­ra­phy face up to two years in prison and $12,000 in fines, and those con­victed of pro­duc­ing or dis­tribut­ing the images face steeper penal­ties.

The ar­rest is an­other blow for the church, which has faced abuse scan­dals for decades. The Vatican has a zero-tolerance vow on child sex­ual abuse, but crit­ics have ac­cused Pope Francis of not do­ing enough.

The Catholic Church in some coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly the United States, has laid out elab­o­rate safe­guards and screen­ing sys­tems to pro­tect chil­dren from abuse and spent many millions on such sys­tems, but how closely dio­ce­ses and re­li­gious or­ders ad­here to them isn’t fully known.

A week ago, Francis met with a group of priests from Chile who were re­port­edly trained in a cult­like com­mu­nity and suf­fered sex­ual and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. The El Bosque com­mu­nity had been led by the Rev. Fer­nando Karadima, a pow­er­ful preacher in Chile who was sen­tenced by the Vatican in 2011 to a life­time of penance and prayer for hav­ing sex­u­ally and spir­i­tu­ally abused young parish­ioners.

The pope came un­der crit­i­cism in Jan­uary, when he ap­peared to raise doubts about the vic­tims’ claims as he spoke in sup­port of one of Karadima’s pro­teges, Bishop Juan Bar­ros. “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Bar­ros, I’ll speak,” Francis said, ac­cord­ing to the AP. Francis ap­pointed Bar­ros to his cur­rent dio­cese in 2015 after the bishop de­nied all ac­cu­sa­tions against him.

Francis later re­tracted his state­ment, and last month, all 34 bish­ops in Chile of­fered to re­sign after a three-day emer­gency meet­ing at the Vatican. And on May 31, Francis be­came the first pope to de­nounce pub­licly a “cul­ture of abuse and coverup” in the Catholic Church, as the church launched an­other in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the abuses in Chile.

Francis has also cre­ated an am­bi­tious re­form com­mis­sion, but one of the two sur­vivors of clergy sex­ual abuse serv­ing on the body quit in March out of frus­tra­tion.

“The pope cer­tainly does un­der­stand the ef­fects of abuse, the hor­ri­ble dam­age it does to vic­tims, and he has made an ef­fort. But on the other hand, we haven’t seen an enor­mous amount of change,” Marie Collins, an Irish sur­vivor of clergy sex­ual abuse, told The Wash­ing­ton Post ear­lier this year. “I was more hope­ful a few years ago than I was now, be­cause I’ve seen close up how dif­fi­cult it is to get change. It can’t all be laid at the feet of Pope Francis.”

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