Leaked Cables Show Vatican Tensions and Diplomacy With U.S.
By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: December 10, 2010
ROME — Recently released diplomatic cables show the Vatican fighting to shore up its eroding control over sexual abuse scandals in the United States and Ireland, highlighting complex tensions between the Vatican hierarchy, local bishops and civil authorities.
The cables were obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to The New York Times and other news organizations. They do not appear to contain any bombshells about the Vatican, but they provide a telling glimpse of how American diplomats often rely on the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide network of prelates for intelligence.
Some cables read in part like thrillers, like when Opus Dei, the powerful religious order, took pains to distance itself from one of its members: Robert P. Hanssen, an F.B.I. agent who in a dramatic case in 2001 pleaded guilty to being a longtime Russian spy.
Others reveal some of the complex diplomacy between the United States and the Vatican during the abuse scandal that hit the United States in 2002.
A cable sent that year by the United States Embassy to the Holy See said that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope John Paul II’s last secretary of state, “took the bulk of his initial meeting” with Ambassador James Nicholson “to register his displeasure with the several lawsuits filed in U.S. courts that have been served at the Vatican.”
It added that Cardinal Sodano “complained about the ‘aggressive attorneys’ who had started in on the Vatican with the sexual abuse scandal and had also filed suits about Nazi-era gold allegedly acquired by the Holy See.”
“It’s one thing for them to sue bishops,” the cable quoted him as saying, “but another thing entirely to sue the Holy See.”
Cardinal Sodano urged Ambassador Nicholson to help defend the Holy See’s sovereignty.
In 2005, the State Department argued that Pope Benedict XVI should be immune from a lawsuit accusing him of conspiracy to hide abuse because he was a head of state. A federal judge later dismissed the case.
The sovereignty issue emerged again more recently in Ireland, where two government-appointed commissions released reports in 2009 revealing a widespread cover-up of abuse, shaking the Irish church to its core.
According to a cable sent in February from the American Embassy to the Holy See, requests by Irish investigators “offended” many in the Vatican “because they saw them as an affront to Vatican sovereignty.”
“Our contacts at the Vatican and in Ireland expect the crisis in the Irish Catholic Church to be protracted over several years, as only allegations from the Dublin Archdiocese have been investigated to date. Investigations of allegations from other Archdioceses will lead, officials in both states lament, to additional painful revelations,” the cable read.
It added that the Vatican had “learned some important lessons from the U.S. sex abuse scandal of 2002,” including “acting quickly to express horror at allegations, to label the alleged acts both crimes and sins, and to call in the local leaders to discuss how to prevent recurrences.”
Other cables show the Catholic Church to be deeply involved in local politics worldwide and a useful source of information for American diplomats, especially in places like Cuba and Venezuela. One cable from 2006 said that a Venezuelan clergyman might be a good source on President Hugo Chávez.
The Holy See has also had full diplomatic ties with Iran for decades. A cable briefing President Obama ahead of his meeting with Benedict at the Vatican in July 2009 said that the Holy See was “deeply concerned” about the violence during the Iranian elections the previous month.
“It has been publicly silent to date on the current crisis, in part to preserve its ability to act as an intermediary if an international crisis emerges,” the cable read, adding, “it is unclear how much clout the Vatican really has with Iran, however.”
A cable from November 2008 cited Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s longtime point person on Catholic-Jewish relations, as saying that Benedict was “not likely to move forward” with the beatification of Pius XII, who led the church during World War II, “until the Vatican finishes the process of opening its archives to outside researchers, which is expected to take several more years.”
Jewish groups have protested that Pius did not do enough to save Jews during the Holocaust and have called on the Vatican to open its archives. Last year, Benedict moved Pius one step closer to sainthood.
A 2002 cable said that “despite the real progress” under John Paul in the Vatican’s relations with Judaism, some in the hierarchy still “manifested remnants of anti-Semitic sentiments.”
It cited “an older desk officer of French origin” who complained that the United States government’s “strong interest in modern European anti-Semitism stemmed from the ‘excessive influence of Jews in your media and government,’ ” while another curial official said some lawsuits against the Holy See “were the result of ‘Jewish judges having too much influence.’ ”
In one of the most mysterious cables in the lot, in March 2001, the chancellor of the Prelature of Opus Dei, the Rev. Thomas G. Bohlin, “requested an urgent meeting” with the chargé d’affaires at the American Embassy to the Holy See. “Bohlin said that Opus Dei had conducted an accounting of all financial contributions” made by Mr. Hanssen, then accused and later convicted of spying for Russia.
Father Bohlin “claimed that Hanssen contributed $4,000 through 1992 and made no contributions after 1992” and added that when arrested he was still “a member in good standing.”
“Request for urgent meeting struck post as unusual. This is the first time Opus Dei has officially asked for a meeting,” the cable continued. “It appears that Opus Dei is attempting to preempt any charges that it profited financially from alleged activities of Hanssen.”
Saturday, December 11, 2010
NY Times Wikileaks Vatican Cables
RCC greatly concerned about lawsuits, B16 said to delay Pius XII beatification until after a period of Vatican archive access, with numerous indications of a persisting anti-Jewish mentality, deeply involved in politics around the world, with particular mention of Iran, “It has been publicly silent to date on the current crisis, in part to preserve its ability to act as an intermediary if an international crisis emerges”