At a child protection summit in Rome called by Pope Francis came a stunning admission: the global Catholic Church deliberately destroyed documents on priests who abused children.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich, told 190 church leaders gathered in Rome that procedures to investigate and punish paedophile priests had often been ignored.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed, or not even created,” he said.
Australia’s royal commission found “secrecy prevailed” in the Catholic Church, and documents on abuse allegations were often not kept.
The cardinal’s comments infuriated many survivors of abuse whose perpetrators were moved from parish to parish across the globe.
Peter Isely, from Ending Clergy Abuse, questioned whether cardinals had referred bishops who covered up crimes to civil authorities.
“They have destroyed criminal evidence of children that were raped. Cardinal Marx knows who it is,” he said.
The Vatican has various agencies to investigate crimes, but Cardinal Marx criticised the use of the “pontifical secret” for some cases.
“The Church must not operate below the quality standards of public administration of justice, if it doesn’t want to face criticism that it has an inferior legal system that’s harmful to people,” he said.
Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said he was aware of a “backlog” of cases that had been referred to investigators at the Vatican, including some from Australia.
“I do know there has been something of a bottleneck … in a sense I think they’ve been swamped, they’ve asked for all of these cases to go to Rome.”
‘Hypocrisy and complacency’ enabled abuse, nun tells bishops
The most stirring address at the Pope’s meeting on the protection of minors was delivered by one of the few women invited to participate.
Nigerian nun Sister Veronica Openibo said the Catholic Church must face up to its failings.
“We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church,” she said.
Sister Openibo blasted the church for parading itself as “the custodians of moral standards” when cases of abuse of children had been hushed up around the world.
“Why did we keep silent for so long?”