Vatican congregation backed abusive priests, Aussie prelate says

In the 1990s, a Vatican congregation consistently discouraged bishops from acting against priests accused of child abuse, an Australian archbishop says.

Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide was giving evidence at Sydney hearings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Archbishop Wilson said the Congregation for Clergy had a history of hindering bishops’ efforts to deal with child abuse allegations against priests.

“Bishops, especially in the US, were trying to deal with these cases involving abuse and the Congregation for the Clergy consistently made things difficult for them in trying to deal with that,” he said.

“The Congregation for the Clergy always came down on the side of the priest,” he explained.

“The instructions that they gave to the bishops were that what they had done had to be stopped or put aside, and allow the priest to go back into ministry.”

The commission was considering the case of a former Wollongong parish priest, Fr John Nestor.

In 1996, he was convicted of indecently assaulting a teenager, but was acquitted the next year.

Archbishop Wilson was Bishop of Wollongong at the time.

Fr Nestor was ultimately dismissed as a priest by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008.

This was after nearly 20 years of decrees, challenges and counter-challenges and after more abuse accusations surfaced.

Archbishop Wilson said a letter from the Vatican in 1998 indicated that Australia’s Towards Healing protocols lacked the authority to remove a priest.

The Congregation for Clergy objected that the protocols did not have the authorisation of the Holy See.

Archbishop Wilson says he was prepared to take the matters involving Fr Nestor to Pope John Paul II, and he considered resigning.

In 2001, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger succeeded in wresting control of sex-abuse cases away from the Congregation for Clergy.

Since that time, accusations of abuse have been handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has approved disciplinary action in several hundred cases.

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who was prefect of the Congregation for Clergy from 1996 to 2006, acknowledged in a 2010 interview that he encouraged bishops to protect priests from prosecution for sexual abuse.


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