- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The global crisis of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church is hitting home this weekend as a Vatican official who lauded a bishop for refusing to denounce a priest-rapist is scheduled to celebrate Mass in Washington.

A group of Catholic activists is demanding that Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl intervene to prevent Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, 80, of Colombia, from celebrating a high Latin Mass on Saturday at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Cardinal Hoyos was exposed last week for lauding — in a 2001 letter — French Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux for refusing to denounce the Rev. Rene Bissey in that section of Normandy.

“This is the wrong man sending the wrong message at the wrong time,” David Clohessy, executive director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said Tuesday.

The upcoming Mass, which planners are calling a “historic” event, will be the first Tridentine rite celebrated in half a century from the Shrine’s high altar. It will include three choirs, about three dozen priests and a small army of deacons and acolytes. Thousands of worshipers are expected to attend the Mass, which will commemorate Pope Benedict XVI’s fifth year in the pontificate. Cardinal Hoyos will be its chief celebrant.

The cardinal’s letter is the latest embarrassment for the Vatican for its handling of the clergy sex-abuse crisis in Europe. Once its contents were divulged Thursday by a French website, the Vatican quickly scrambled to defend Cardinal Hoyos, who oversaw the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy from 1996 until 2006, when he retired.

And over the weekend, Cardinal Hoyos defended himself during a speech in the Spanish city of Murcia, saying he ran the letter by Pope John Paul II before sending it.

Dated Sept. 8, 2001, the missive to Bishop Pican is about Father Bissey. The bishop kept Father Bissey in parish work even though the priest admitted he was a pedophile.

The bishop later said he did not tell police about the perpetrator because he was obliged to keep the seal of the confessional. According to news reports, the bishop also had been informed about the abuse outside the confessional by the mother of one of the victims.

The priest was later sentenced to 18 years in jail for repeated rape of a boy and sexual assaults on 10 other young men.

Bishop Pican received a suspended three-month jail sentence for not immediately suspending the priest. The 2001 verdict against him marked the first time in France that a bishop was convicted for failing to disclose sexual abuse of minors by his clergy.

A few months later, the cardinal wrote Bishop Pican, congratulating him for falling on his sword. The letter was made public on the website of the French magazine Golias.

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Cardinal Hoyos wrote. “You have acted well and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

A Vatican spokesman said little about the letter on Thursday, only pointing out that the year the letter was written was the same year the Vatican centralized all reporting of sexual abuse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican department that Benedict headed up while he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Paul King, who heads the Paulus Institute, a Bethesda group planning the Tridentine Mass, has refused comment on the cardinal.

Jacqueline Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Shrine, said it is not involved in planning the event.

On Tuesday, members of SNAP demanded that Archbishop Wuerl ask Cardinal Hoyos not to preside.

“The fact the cardinal is saying Mass here is an indication the church is conducting Mass-as-usual no matter what abuse has been revealed,” said Mark Serrano, a local SNAP spokesman. “The Vatican may distance themselves from his remarks but where were they when he wrote that letter? And what kinds of decisions did that cardinal make that endangered children?”

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said Archbishop Wuerl will not attend Saturday’s Mass because he will be returning from a trip to Atlanta that day. She also said that a cardinal has “universal faculties” — meaning that he can celebrate Mass, especially at a private event like this one, anywhere without having to ask permission of the local bishop.

• Julia Duin can be reached at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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