The “Sins” Of The Father

Pope John Paul II knew.

Of the many shocking stories to emerge from the Orange diocese's recently released personnel files, one is likely to resonate worldwide: the pope knew that Catholic priests were accused of molesting Orange County children as early as 1987–and apparently did nothing to stop the scandal.

That disturbing revelation is included in the papers of Father Andrew Christian Andersen. His file is included in the thousands of pages of documents released May 17 as part of the record-breaking $100 million settlement reached between the Orange diocese and its victims. Andersen pleaded guilty in 1986 to 26 counts of molesting four boys while working at St. Bonaventure in Huntington Beach.

One item in Andersen's file is an August 10, 1987, note to Orange diocesan officials from Monsignor Oscar Rizzato, then Secretariat of State for the Vatican. The Secretariat of State, as the Vatican's website describes it, is the arm of the Holy See's bureaucracy that “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 and was forwarding to Orange 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 Huntington Beach police detectives who wanted to interview Andersen about the molestation claims.

The man, whose name has been redacted, said he was writing John Paul II “out of desperation and heartache.” His letter describes the domestic 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–after he admitted to the molestation charges, even after officials sent him to the Paracletes facilities in Jemez Springs, New Mexico, a remote counseling center for the church's child-molesting priests.

“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 suppose 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 man resent 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 Rizzato's letter, an unnamed diocesan official scribbled, “Michael—I will answer if you'd like—but, due to the contents, you might want to.”

“Michael” 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 man's concerns.

Ironically, it was Andersen himself who sought a kind of justice. A couple of years later, he wrote to John Paul II, asking that the Holy See release him from the priesthood in light of his pedophilia. The contents of that letter are not known because the Orange diocese has yet to turn it over.

Monsignor Rizzato's inaction is another example of John Paul II's passivity in the face of the sex-abuse scandal destroying Catholic America. In an extraordinary essay in the June issue of Vanity Fair, John Paul II biographer John Cornwall argues 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 was could not bring himself to blame individual priests and their conniving superiors for committing and aiding the rapes of innocents. Instead, Cornwall writes, the pope located the source of the crimes elsewhere, in the mysterium iniquitatis, 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 as a “sin.” No one in the media challenged him. The correction was left to a sex-abuse survivor. From the back of the conference room, he asked Brown why the bishop called the crimes “sins” rather than “crimes.”

It was as if Brown hadn't heard the man. He 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.


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