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Shea stands by that assessment today, and as you might expect, several plaintiff's attorneys agree with him. One such is Khan Merritt. "Crimen shows that [the "cover-up"] has been going on a long time, that there's a pattern and that the church has a procedure in place," she says.
Boston's Carmen Durso wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan claiming that Crimen "may provide the link in the thinking of all of those who hid the truth for so many years. The constant admonitions that information regarding accusations against priests are to be deemed 'a secret of the Holy Office' may explain, but most certainly do not justify, their actions."
The faithful saw it differently. A Canadian oblate — Father Francis Morrisey of Saint Paul University in Ottawa — told the National Catholic Reporter in 2003 that there was nothing in it that prevented a crime against a minor being reported to the police. "Of course, a bishop couldn't use this document to cover up denunciation of an act of sexual abuse," Morrisey said. "The document simply wasn't made for that purpose."
The Reverend Ladislas Orsy S.J., a professor of canon law at Georgetown, had what some would term a typically nuanced, Jesuitical spin on the document. "This document reflects a mentality and a policy. I do not think [Crimen] initiated it."
You would expect the faithful to spin the document one way and plaintiff's attorneys another. One of the closest approximations to an honest broker in the Crimen affair has been Father Thomas Doyle, a dissident priest, canon lawyer and dogged pursuer of pedophiles in the church. Doyle, who has been an expert witness for dozens of victims, was something of a voice crying in the wilderness on the subject long before the scandal broke. He has since often stated what he thinks the Church should do now: Defrock the priests, turn them over to the cops and stop trying to sweep the scandals under the rug.
Doyle's interpretation of Crimen has been maddeningly inconsistent. In 2006, he was featured in a BBC documentary that is still online and uncorrected saying that Crimen was "an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy [and] to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by the churchmen." He also said that Crimen was "clear written evidence of the fact that all they are concerned about is containing and controlling the problem."
In March of this year, he published a paper that seemed to indicate that he had changed his mind. "[Crimen] and its predecessor from 1922 are not proof of an explicit world-wide conspiracy to cover up clergy sex crimes," he wrote. "It seems more accurate to assess both statements as indications of an official policy of secrecy rather than a conspiracy of cover-up."
"An official policy of secrecy, once you're keeping secret a criminal act, is called obstruction of justice," Shea retorts. "Tom doesn't understand that. He is not a civil lawyer. He only understands the common term 'cover-up.' Legally, it is known as obstruction of justice.'"
Doyle imputes some of this policy of secrecy to more or less noble motives, such as the protection of the sacrament of confession and the prevention of false accusations, but also grants that much of the desire for secrecy came from a desire to avoid scandal and damage to the reputation of the clergy. Crimen "did not create the obsession with secrecy," he writes, but is a result of a centuries-old policy of silence.
Doesn't matter, says Shea. It's still obstruction of justice. He even says an FBI agent agreed with him seven years ago.
Shea recalls mailing an agent — who now works for another agency and did not want to be identified — Crimen and other documents. At first, the agent told him that his case might not fly, as John Ashcroft's Talibanesque Justice Department was not all that interested in pursuing cases against religious organizations.
Nevertheless, Shea says the agent called him back the next day and left him a message saying that after reviewing the documents, she believed they constituted "nothing less than an international conspiracy to obstruct justice." The agent told him she was "gonna run it up the flagpole."
Shea says he called the agent back the very next day, only to find that she had been transferred. "They yanked that flagpole right out from under her," Shea says. (For her part, the agent says that her transfer had nothing to do with Shea, and that she doesn't recall if she told him he had a conspiracy on his hands.)
All this is important because of what happens when you let these people off the hook, Shea says. Take Patiño-Arango, for example...Let's just say that were it not for the fact that Colombia has no extradition treaty with the United States, perhaps he might not be so bold as to have a Facebook page under his own name. But since the United States does not, he does. And very many of the thirtysomething's latest new Facebook friends look to be about the same age as the three John Does in the lawsuit.
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