The Sins of the Father
Pope John Paul II knew. Many shocking stories of priestly sex abuse and their subsequent cover-ups are emerging from the once-secret Diocese of Orange priest personnel files. On May 17, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered their release as part of the record-breaking $100 million settlement reached between the Orange diocese and victims of its pedophilic employees.
But from the more than 10,000 pages of documents, by far the most damning account is found in merely four pages: Pope John Paul II knew.
The disturbing revelation is included in the papers of Father Andrew Christian Andersen, who pleaded guilty in 1986 to 26 counts of molesting four boys while working at St. Bonaventure in Huntington Beach. One item is an August 10, 1987, note by Monsignor Oscar Rizzato, then the Secretariat of State for the Vatican, to the Orange diocese. The Secretariat of State, as the Vatican's website describes it, is the arm of the Holy See's bureaucracy "which works most closely with the Supreme Pontiff in the exercise of his universal mission."
Rizzato's letter is brief: just an acknowledgement that the Vatican had received two letters from a non-Catholic outraged at the Orange diocese's handling of the Andersen case. As previously reported in the Weekly(see "Good Cop, Bad Church," Feb. 20, 2004), church officials stymied the efforts of Huntington Beach police detectives who wanted to interview Andersen about the molestation claims. But the man's letter had nothing to do with that incident; instead, according to an undated letter, the man wrote to John Paul II "out of desperation and heartache."
The unnamed man (church officials blacked out his name) told John Paul II about the havoc unleashed after a deacon abused his brother during the 1970s. The man also expressed disappointment that many St. Bonaventure parishioners and church leaders continued to support Andersen even after he admitted to the molestation charges and visited the Servants of the Paracletes facilities in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, a remote compound where Catholic Church officials would send child-molesting priests for counseling. "If the Catholic Church would punish Father Anderson [sic] instead of hiding him in some small church in New Mexico," the man wrote, "perhaps others will look on child abuse as a real threat. I know we are not supposed to be judgemental [sic] and we are to feel compassion, especially for the ill which Father Anderson [sic] is, but is this 'out of sight, out of mind' method of dealing with the crime derived from Godly compassion or mortal embarrassment?"
His Holiness did not answer.
On June 4, 1987, the unnamed man re-sent his original letter to John Paul II along with another plea. "Although I have never been a Catholic member I have always looked to the Pope as a symbol of the true and pure belief in God and Christ," the man confessed. "I guess I need reassurance that you believe in what you say and the Bible's teachings and believe that the children are a great blessing from God that need our protection and love, not only when it is popular but more so when it is not."
His Holiness did not answer.
Instead, Rizzato forwarded the letters to Orange, noting, "no reply has been sent." On that note, an unnamed diocesan official scribbled, "Michael—I will answer if you'd like—but, due to the contents, you might want to." The Michael in question was Michael Driscoll, then head of priest personnel affairs for the Orange diocese, now Bishop of Boise, Idaho. There is nothing in Andersen's files showing that Driscoll or the Vatican ever responded to the unnamed man's concerns.
A couple of years later, Andersen himself wrote to John Paul II, asking that the Holy See defrock him for his pedophilia. The contents of that letter are not known—the Orange diocese has yet to turn it over.
But whatever the Vatican's response, Monsignor Rizzato's inaction is another example of John Paul II's demonic legacy when it comes to the sex-abuse scandal destroying Catholic America. In an extraordinary essay for the June issue of VanityFair,John Paul II biographer John Cornwall argued that the Church will never truly deal with priestly pedophilia until the hierarchy radically alters the approach instituted by the man born Karol Wojtyla. According to Cornwall, John Paul II did not blame individual priests and their conniving superiors for committing and aiding the rapes of innocents—instead, he pointed the finger at the "mystery of evil."
"The comment distances the perpetrators, and indeed the Church, from responsibility," Cornwall wrote, "for it implies that the priests in question did not set out to abuse young people but were enticed to do so by Satan."
That's the philosophical view endorsed to this day by Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown. During a May 17 press conference at Los Angeles' Central Civil West Courthouse following the release of the priest personnel files, Brown constantly referred to the inaction of his diocese and underlings when employees molested children as a "sin." Surrounded by Orange diocese flacks and a clueless media, no one challenged His Eminence's stance.
Finally, one sex-abuse survivor spoke up. From the back of the conference room, he asked Brown why he didn't call the cover-up a crime.
Brown again expressly apologized for the "sins" of his church, and then he moved on.
To download the .pdf file containing the Rizzato memo and the letters to Pope John Paul II, click here.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.