Di­plo­mat ex­its U.S.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JULIE ZAUZMER, MICHELLE BOORSTEIN AND CAROL MORELLO julie.zauzmer@wash­post.com michelle.boorstein@wash­post.com carol.morello@wash­post.com Ste­fano Pitrelli in Rome and Michael Birn­baum in Brus­sels con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Af­ter U.S. of­fi­cials found ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing a Vatican di­plo­mat in a child pornog­ra­phy case, and re­ported the pos­si­ble crime, the priest was re­called.

U.S. of­fi­cials found ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing a Vatican di­plo­mat in a child pornog­ra­phy case, the Vatican said Friday, lead­ing of­fi­cials in Rome to re­call the priest to the Holy See. The case drew at­ten­tion again to Pope Fran­cis’s ef­forts to strengthen anti-abuse sys­tems in the church and to de­bate about how well they’re work­ing.

The Vatican said in a morn­ing news re­lease that the State Depart­ment con­tacted the Vatican’s Sec­re­tariat of State on Aug. 21 to re­port a pos­si­ble crime in­volv­ing child pornog­ra­phy. The United States said it was al­legedly com­mit­ted by a mem­ber of the diplo­matic corps based in Wash­ing­ton.

Ac­cord­ing to a se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial, the Vatican di­plo­mat is a mem­ber of the ad­min­is­tra­tive and tech­ni­cal staff who has diplo­matic im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion for most crimes un­der the Vi­enna Con­ven­tion — like diplo­mats of all for­eign na­tions. The State Depart­ment for­mally re­quested that the Vatican waive im­mu­nity, but the re­quest was de­nied, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to speak more frankly about a crim­i­nal probe.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing the seat of the Catholic Church, the Vatican is also a sov­er­eign na­tion within the bor­ders of Italy. Pope Fran­cis is both spir­i­tual leader and head of state.

The Vatican re­called the priest-di­plo­mat in ques­tion from Wash­ing­ton to Vatican City and opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion there. The Holy See said of­fi­cials are work­ing on col­lab­o­rat­ing with for­eign in­ves­ti­ga­tors to gather ev­i­dence in the case. It did not re­lease the name of the di­plo­mat.

Ac­cord­ing to the Vatican 2017 year­book, its D.C. em­bassy has four diplo­matic staff mem­bers. Peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the struc­ture of the of­fice say there are an­other dozen or so lo­cal hires. The em­bassy is led by Arch­bishop Christophe Pierre, a French priest who is the nun­cio, or am­bas­sador from the Vatican to the United States. Pierre ap­peared in Ne­wark on Thurs­day night at a Mass hon­or­ing the arch­bishop there, Car­di­nal Joseph Tobin, and Tobin’s close re­la­tion­ship to Pope Fran­cis.

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a U.S. Je­suit and colum­nist with the Re­li­gion News Ser­vice, said the per­son would be dealt with at the Vatican un­der two sys­tems: church law, which could re­sult in los­ing his sta­tus as a mem­ber of the clergy if he is found guilty, as well as un­der Vatican civil law if he com­mit­ted a crime.

Vatican crim­i­nal law deems that pos­ses­sion of child pornog­ra­phy is pun­ish­able by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $12,000. Pro­duc­ing or dis­tribut­ing child pornog­ra­phy is sub­ject to more se­vere penal­ties, as would also be the case if the of­fender pos­sessed a “con­sid­er­able quan­tity” of ma­te­rial.

In 2014, the Vatican rat­i­fied the Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child and is there­fore legally ob­li­gated to com­ply with it. Among many other things, the con­ven­tion bans child pornog­ra­phy.

“In these sit­u­a­tions I think of it as good news and bad news,” said Reese, who has writ­ten for decades about church power. “The bad news is we have a scan­dal, but the good news is he got caught. And they’ll have to deal with it. Twenty years ago, this would be put un­der the rug. To­day . . . that can’t be done.”

The pres­i­dent of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops — the church’s or­ga­niz­ing body in the United States — re­leased a state­ment Friday:

“This is a se­ri­ous is­sue. We hope the Holy See will be forth­com­ing with more de­tails,” said Car­di­nal Daniel DiNardo, arch­bishop in Galve­ston-Hous­ton. “While we don’t know all the facts, con­sis­tent with our Char­ter, we reaf­firm that when such al­le­ga­tions oc­cur, an im­me­di­ate, thor­ough and trans­par­ent in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be­gin in co­op­er­a­tion with law en­force­ment and im­me­di­ate steps be taken to pro­tect chil­dren. The pro­tec­tion of chil­dren and young peo­ple is our most sa­cred re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

The fric­tion be­tween the Vatican and the State Depart­ment comes as the po­si­tion of U.S. am­bas­sador to the Vatican is in flux. Cal­lista Gin­grich, the nom­i­nee, has not been con­firmed yet. Louis L. Bono, who pre­vi­ously served on the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, is the charge d’af­faires run­ning the em­bassy un­til an am­bas­sador is con­firmed.

A lead­ing ad­vo­cacy group for clergy abuse sur­vivors called Friday for strong ac­tion from Pope Fran­cis.

“The crime of pos­ses­sion of child pornog­ra­phy is not a vic­tim­less crime,” said Bar­bara Dor­ris, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Sur­vivors Net­work of Those Abused by Priests. “The chil­dren in the pho­tos are be­ing sex­u­ally abused. Just be­cause this un­named di­plo­mat — who is a priest — has been re­moved to Rome, does not mean that he is still not in pos­ses­sion of porno­graphic im­ages or may still not pose a threat to chil­dren wher­ever he is sta­tioned.”

“Pope Fran­cis must move swiftly in two ways,” Dor­ris said. “One, he must bring the di­plo­mat back to the United States in or­der to ad­here to his prom­ises of com­ply­ing with in­ves­ti­ga­tions by civil au­thor­i­ties in cases of child sex­ual abuse. Two, he must com­mand his diplo­matic corps to co­op­er­ate fully. If he is un­able to this, Pope Fran­cis must turn over all ev­i­dence to In­ter­pol — not en­gage in se­cret tri­als with un­known out­comes — now that the di­plo­mat has re­turned to Italy and no longer has im­mu­nity.”

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

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.