LOS ANGELES – The head of a Roman Catholic order that specialized in the treatment of pedophile priests visited with then-Pope Paul VI nearly 50 years ago and followed up with a letter recommending the removal of pedophile priests from ministry, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Associated Press on Wednesday.
In the Aug. 27, 1963, letter, the head of the New Mexico-based Servants of the Holy Paraclete tells the pope he recommends removing pedophile priests from active ministry and strongly urges defrocking repeat offenders.
The letter shows that the Vatican knew, or should have known, about clergy abuse in the U.S. decades ago, said Anthony DeMarco, a plaintiff attorney in Los Angeles who provided the letter. The accusation comes as plaintiffs in Kentucky are attempting to sue the Vatican for negligence for allegedly failing to alert police or the public about priests who molested children.
The letter, written by the Rev. Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, appears to have been drafted at the request of the pope and summarizes Fitzgerald’s thoughts on problem priests after his Vatican visit.
Fitzgerald opens the five-page letter by thanking the pope for an audience the day before and says he is summarizing his thoughts at the pope’s request on the “problem of the problem priest” after 20 years working to treat them.
He tells Paul VI that treatment for priests who have succumbed to “abnormal, homosexual tendencies” should include psychiatric, as well as spiritual, counseling – but goes on to warn about the dangers of leaving those individuals in ministry.
Fitzgerald’s letter shows the pope knew how pervasive and destructive the problem was, DeMarco said.
“He says the solution is to take them out of the priesthood, period, not shuffle them around, not pass them from diocese to diocese.”
The letter was released in Los Angeles by attorneys who represented more than 500 victims of clergy abuse in their record-breaking $660 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007.