What Will Vatican Do?
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro appeared to make a further revelation about child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses when he told the “Today Show” national audience Tuesday that “we have evidence that the Vatican had knowledge of the cover-up.” That is obvious, however, from the statewide investigating grand jury report on those crimes that Shapiro released two weeks ago. Pages 288 and 289 of the report, for example, are a copy of a letter that Scranton Bishop James C. Timlin sent Jan. 20, 1989 to Cardinal Luigi Dadaglio, powerful head of a Vatican tribunal responsible for resolving issues related to the forgiveness of sins. The subject was the Rev. Thomas D. Skotek, who in 1986 sexually assaulted a teenager and impregnated her, then arranged for her to have an abortion. Skotek sought dispensation in 1989, which Timlin recommended in his letter to Rome. “The priest in question undoubtedly acted out of fear and panic,” Timlin wrote. “He had impregnated the girl he assisted in procuring the abortion.” By that analysis, the crime to Timlin was the abortion alone rather than the sexual assault. But not to worry: “I am firmly convinced of the priest’s sincere repentance and his ability to successfully wage the struggle against any future sexual temptations,” Timlin wrote. By the time Timlin sent the letter, he already had reassigned Skotek to a parish in Wilkes-Barre. And, in a sure indication of the culture of secrecy from the Vatican down that allowed sexual abuse of children to flourish for decades, Timlin told Dadaglio: “Although I cannot absolutely give assurance that this priest’s criminal action will never become public, I do not foresee that such would likely be the case.” There was no way for Timlin or the Vatican to foresee the grand jury investigation, but they did manage to keep the Skotek case under wraps for three decades. And, whereas the Pennsylvania report is the most comprehensive report on child sexual abuse, it’s not the first. Prosecutors in Boston and The Boston Globe exposed similar conduct and cover-ups in the Boston Archdiocese more than 15 years ago, and there have been many documented individual cases around the world. The question remains not whether the Vatican knew, but what its going to do about it.