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The Mystery of
the 'Smoking Gun' Papal Letter

Steps of this Controversy

catholicIn his article The Papal Letter, A.S. Guimarães offered a reason for why the Pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Law in December 2002.

catholicObjection -  A reader in Overland Park, Kansas states that according to his research the sources used by Guimarães were not sound.

catholicResponse -  Guimarães brings new evidence to reinforce his first comments.

catholicOriginal Documents -

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A Reader's Letter to the Editor of The Remnant

Objections Dear Editor:

This story regarding the Pope's involvement in the sexual scandal policy apparently began back in December with an interview from an MSNBC reporter with Joe Gallagher of the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors. The story was based on a document that was exposed after the Boston diocese was forced to open its files to Eric Macleish, the attorney involved in the case/s. Mr. MacLeish allowed certain parties to be privy to the document, which the diocese did not intend to include in its files to be made public. Mr. Guimaraes later used the MSNBC story as a basis for his opinion on the matter of Cardinal Law's removal. I quote only one paragraph from Mr. Guimaraes' opinion piece below with certain statements underlined. My comments and findings on this topic will follow.

The third fact - this one curiously has been forgotten by the media, but in my opinion it is the strongest reason for the resignation - is this: On December 10, 2002 a group called the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors stated publicly that among the numerous files the Archdiocese released December 3, it had come across a document revealing that Pope John Paul II himself had written a letter, May 25, 1999, counseling the cover-up of pedophile priests. He advised that "a defrocked Catholic priest who had a history of molesting boys should leave the areas where his 'condition' was known - or stay put as long as it caused no scandal" (MSNBC News, "Smoking Gun in Church Crisis?" December 11, 2002, Online edition). The leader of the group, Joseph Gallagher, commented: "That would explain why (other) Bishops have done the same thing as Cardinal Law - they've moved sexual offenders from parish to parish without notifying the parishioners" (ibid.).

Mr. Matt, not only has the media curiously forgotten this story, they have removed it from their sites, i.e., MSNBC no longer posts the story even in its archives. The reason for this is because it is not, as Mr. Guimaraes says, a fact. Or at least not a provable one.

I called the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors and spoke with the director and assistant director, Joe Gallagher and Anne Doyle respectively. I asked both of them if anyone from their organization had ever stated publicly that among the numerous files the Archdiocese released December 3, it had come across a document revealing that Pope John Paul II himself had written a letter, May 25, 1999, counseling the cover-up of pedophile priests. They both replied with an emphatic no.

While there is a document that comes from the Vatican and was discovered by Eric MacLeish and shown to the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, this document was not signed by the Pope nor does it refer to any priest molesting boys. The Coalition of Catholics and Survivors did discuss this document with the press, but did not say the things mentioned in Mr. Guimaraes' opinion piece. In fact, I asked Mrs. Doyle for the text of the document and she kindly forwarded the pertinent portion to me along with email communications made amongst their members regarding the text.

It's a document from the Robert M. Burns file. I don't believe the Globe has posted it, but I got a copy at MacLeish's news conference. In my copy of the (selected) Burns file, only the relevant page of this document is included, so there is no title page or date. But Eric said he had never seen a Vatican document like this before, and it was probably included by mistake. The text is as follows:
6. The priest dismissed from the clerical state, dispensed from ecclesiastical authority, or a fortiori who is married, ought to live away from the places where his previous condition is known. However the local Ordinary of the suppliant, the Ordinary of his [prior] incardination, or his major religious superior, is able to dispense from this clause of the decree if it is foreseen that the presence of the suppliant will cause no scandal.

The Boston Herald reported about an official Vatican Document which detailed the policy of moving abusive priest (se below). I am working on a one page handout for the crowd tomorrow and I would like to include a copy of the Vatican Document.

Has anyone seen this online anywere? I did not see it at Boston Globe or Herald.

thx. Paul
What is the Vatican Involvement?

Per Boston Herald report on the recently released documents: "The Vatican page explains that the priority of the church is to have the priest in question shifted by fiat to a region in question far enough away that his past acts would not be known to local citizens. But a prelate is able to dispense from this clause of the decree if it is foreseen tha the presence of the suppliant (priest) will cause no scandal." " (Dec. 4, p. 24)

As you can clearly see, this text is not what Mr. Guimarães thought it was. He believed otherwise because of the MSNBC report, which is no longer posted - I believe because it was found to be erroneous - though I have not been able to get MSNBC to reply to my inquiry. Mr. Gallagher's statement: "That would explain why (other) Bishops have done the same thing as Cardinal Law - they've moved sexual offenders from parish to parish without notifying the parishioners" (ibid.), did not refer to the language found in the MSNBC report but rather to the actual text of the Vatican document, which the MSNBC reporter apparently distorted.

So the issue is that the document is a Vatican policy where "scandal" is concerned. I don't argue that the policy is probably a bad one, but it says nothing about priests molesting boys. Also, it is not signed by the Pope, so the issue - whether actually true or not - seems to die there as there is not proof to support Mr. Guimarães' opinion on why Cardinal Law left Boston. As Mr. Gallagher pointed out to me, this scandal is getting worse by the hour in Boston and around the country, not to mention other countries around the world. The Vatican's policy has clearly been to cover these horrid crimes up for one reason or another. I believe you may find an interview with Mr. Gallagher very interesting for a future Remnant issue. I would be happy to give you his contact information.

It seems that a retraction is in order on the part or Mr. Guimarães and/or the Remnant simply because, quite frankly, it would have been very easy to discover the facts by making the two phone calls I made. Obviously, dragging the Pope directly into this scandal is extremely serious and would require, I would think, more than second-hand information before publishing a piece that first, gives anti-traditionals fuel for their fires, and second, is ultimately untrue based on the actual facts at hand - thus giving anti-traditionals even more fuel.


     Steve Sanborn (An avid reader of The Remnant)
     Morgan Ross, Overland Park, KS

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Guimarães' Rebuttal


  I thank you for sending me in advance the letter of Mr. Sanborn, in order to allow me to publish my answer along with his objection.

First, I want to congratulate Mr. Sanborn for his integrity in making several calls in order to check the objectivity of my sources on the topic. It was a laudable effort, without a doubt. Lamentably, Mr. Sanborn did not take a similar approach regarding the news item of MSNBC that I quoted in my column. After a quick inquiry he concluded that it was inaccessible and put it aside. However, he could have called me as well and I would have provided him with the documentation I used. I have the MSNBC news report of December 11, 2002 at hand and I am placing it here so that Mr. Sanborn or anyone else can examine it. It says precisely what I quoted in my comments.

Second, regarding the affirmations of Mr. Joe Gallagher about the “smoking gun” letter reported by MSNBC, Mr. Sanborn reached the conclusion that the news agency had falsified what Gallagher stated. This conclusion is based on the telephone conversation Mr. Sanborn had with Gallagher in which Gallagher denied having said what he is reported to have said. So, on one side we have Gallagher stating “I didn’t say that,” and on the other side we have his quote by MSNBC: the score is 1 to 1.

Third, unfortunately for Gallagher, after writing my column, I received another source quoting him saying the same thing in another circumstance. I am referring to an online article by Mr. Robert Blair Kaiser (“Rome Diary 46,” Just Good Company, December 23, 2002). Kaiser is associate editor of The Washington Post, correspondent for Newsweek in Rome, and editor of the online magazine Just Good Company.

In this piece, Kaiser comments on a discussion that Mr. Jason Berry, a known author on pedophilia and other topics, had with Gallagher on the telephone about the “smoking gun” letter against the Pope. Berry, who had access to the complete document (not the incomplete one that Mr. Sanborn found in his research), reported the discussion to Robert Kaiser.

In his article Kaiser reproduces the data Berry passed on to him. This is the information of interest to us: The letter was not signed by the Pope, but was written in the name of the Pope. It was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship under the responsibility of Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, then the prefect of that Congregation. The document had no signature, but the name of the prefect was written at the end. According to Robert Kaiser: “Berry tried to persuade Joe Gallagher not to blame the Pope, but Gallagher insisted he must: and so Gallagher became the prime source for a long story on MSNBC that dealt with the smoking gun…”

Therefore, Gallagher repeated to another person, Jason Berry, the same statement that was reported by MSNBC. The score becomes 2 to 1 against Gallagher.

Fourth, is one to think, then, that Robert Kaiser and Jason Berry are falsifying Gallagher’s position? Or should one conclude that Gallagher changed his story? A simple comparison of the two online reports by MSNBC and Robert Kaiser seems to indicate that Gallagher actually said in December what he is now denying. If this is the case, he did not tell the truth to Mr. Sanborn. Then the episode ends at the same point where it began: the text of MSNBC was not falsified regarding Gallagher’s statement on the “smoking gun” letter against the Pope.

Fifth, there is one point of the MSNBC news report that needs a correction: that is, the document, according to Robert Kaiser and Jason Berry, was not signed by the Pope, but was issued in the name of the Pope. I do not think that this point diminishes responsibility of John Paul II. Everyone knows that an official document of a Roman Congregation has the approval of the Pope, is issued in his name, and can be attributed to him even when he does not sign it. In short, Gallagher and MSNBC news would have been more precise if they would have qualified the document “a letter in the name of the Pope,” instead of “a letter signed by the Pope.” I can understand, however, that neither Gallagher nor the MSNBC reporter who wrote the news piece was concerned about this kind of detail.

Sixth, Mr. Sanborn blames me for having used “second-hand information” before publishing my comments. One would say, therefore, that he imagines he went to the primary sources. But here an important distinction needs to be made. Certainly Gallagher is the primary source for the statements he made to MSNBC news in December. But regarding the document in question, which is the crucial point, the only strict primary source in the case is the original letter signed by Cardinal Medina Estevez. Any other reproduction that is not officially and explicitly authorized – a simple Xerox, a normal fax, the complete typed text that Jason Berry had, or the incomplete text of Mr. Sanborn – is not a primary source. What Gallagher had at hand, found among the documents released to the Boston Court was also an unapproved reproduction. Therefore, all of us are working with secondary sources.

Seventh, should I make a retraction for the small lack of precision (see 5th point) in the news report I used? Certainly the detail that the letter was in the name of the Pope and not signed by the Pope puts Cardinal Medina Estevez in the first line of fire. Nonetheless, the responsibility of John Paul II with regard to the document is enormous, even greater than that of Medina Estevez. Therefore, it does not change the nature of my comments, even though if I had been aware of Robert Kaiser’s piece before I wrote my column, I would have been more specific.

Should I make a retraction for not having gone to the primary sources as Mr. Sanborn did and asked me to do? The bad fruit of his research does prove that sometimes is better not to go to “primary sources.” He only came up with a contradictory affirmation by Gallagher that has all the appearances of a lie and an incomplete document. His “primary sources” were not as good as he assumed.

Eighth, what is amazing to me is that Mr. Sanborn is not seeing the facts he describes inserted into the general panorama of the cover-up of pedophile crimes. He witnessed a momentous change in the opinion of Joe Gallagher and the mysterious disappearance of the MSNBC news report from its files with no explanation proffered. No one can access the original news report of December 11, 2002.

How can this “coincidence” be explained? In the general ambience of covering up pedophile priests by Bishops, Cardinals and others, we have seen duplicitous ecclesiastical authorities use all their strength and resources, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to silence witnesses with their first concern not being justice but to save their prestige. This being the case, why should one now dismiss the idea that the same policy could have been applied to put aside the MSNBC news report and to change Gallagher’s mind about what he said? If one admits this possibility, the letter under discussion really is a crucial piece in the scandal. Then, to silence anyone who brings it to the public would fit quite well into the cover-up policy employed by the ecclesiastical structure.


     Atila Sinke Guimarães


Blason de Charlemagne
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