UPDATE: See this post for my latest coverage on this story.
A Vatican diplomat who was working in Washington DC has been recalled to Rome following the discovery by U.S. officials that the diplomat was involved in a child-pornography case.
The Vatican on Friday morning announced that the U.S. State Department contacted the Vatican in August to report a possible child-pornography case. It was allegedly committed by a member of the Vatican diplomatic corps in Washington.
A member of the State Department, who spoke anonymously because this is an open criminal case, has stated that the diplomat was a member of the administrative and technical staff. He has diplomatic immunity, however, and so the State Department requested that the Vatican waive the immunity. Unsurprisingly for anyone who has been paying attention to the Vatican’s history of protecting their priests in cases of child rape and abuse, the Vatican denied the State Department’s request.
The Vatican instead recalled the priest/diplomat, whose name has not been released. Vatican officials are working on their own investigation into the matter. The Vatican can deal with this diplomat with two different law codes. Church law can be applied, where he can be stripped of his status as a member of the clergy. Vatican civil law can also be applied, as the Vatican is its own sovereign nation. Under Vatican civil law the diplomat could serve up to two years in prison and be fined for up to $12,000 if he is found guilty of possessing child porn. If he is found guilty of producing or distributing child pornography then more severe punishment could be applied.
The Catholic Church’s work under Pope Francis in the last few years to put a stop to the abuse of children by the clergy has proven again and again to be failing to live up to expectations. This year alone has seen Cardinal Pell from Australia finally face criminal charges related to child sexual abuse after years of allegations and then back in March Marie Collins, who is a survivor of abuse by the clergy herself, resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors because the commission was not actually accomplishing anything. And then just in the last few weeks, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, affirmed that he would rather face prison than report child abuse to the authorities if either the victim or the perpetrator revealed it in confession.
Because the case of the diplomat has only just been revealed, it is still too early to tell how the Vatican will handle this case, but I am not particularly optimistic. It is another sad reminder of the Catholic Church’s power, its inability to reform itself quickly enough, and its deep-seated corruption.