Letter shows church officials in Canada tried to hide abuse

Advised Vatican against promoting accused priest

By Rob Gillies
Associated Press / April 10, 2010

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TORONTO — A letter written by a late Canadian bishop shows that church officials in Canada knew of sexual abuse allegations involving a priest before his promotion to a top Vatican post and then discussed with Vatican officials how to keep the scandal from becoming public.

The four-page letter was written on Feb. 10, 1993, by the late Bishop Joseph Windle of Pembroke, Ontario, and sent to the pope’s envoy to Canada, Carlo Curis.

The letter raised concerns about Monsignor Bernard Prince, a friend of the late Pope John Paul II. Prince was secretary general of the Vatican’s Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith, which works with missionary societies, from 1991 until he retired in 2004.

Windle advised the Vatican to avoid honoring or promoting Prince in any way because it might anger abuse victims and lead them to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits. “The consequences of such an action would be disastrous, not only for the Canadian church but for the Holy See as well,’’ the bishop wrote.

The Vatican embassy in Ottawa referred all requests for comment to the Pembroke diocese and to the Vatican in Rome. He confirmed that the letter had been written by Windle. Vatican officials in Rome did not answer their phones.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the Ontario Provincial Police received a complaint from a man claiming that he had been molested by Prince in 1969. Prince is currently serving a four-year sentence after being convicted in 2008 of sexually molesting 13 boys between 1964 and 1984. He was dismissed from the priesthood last year by Pope Benedict XVI.

But in 1990, a man complained to Ontario church officials that he had been abused by Prince as a boy. The man told the Associated Press that he indicated to a Pembroke church official that he wouldn’t contact the police, but wanted to make sure that Prince would be supervised and counseled by church officials.

The man, a 53-year-old who cannot be identified because of a court publication ban, said the Pembroke diocese clearly knew of allegations against the priest a year before Prince became a top Vatican official in 1991.

“That’s the sad thing. He was promoted,’’ the victim said.

In his letter, Windle said other Canadian bishops were informed of the complaint, and the Toronto archbishop had indicated that Prince was no longer welcome in his archdiocese unless he underwent psychiatric treatment.

Windle wrote that when Prince was first proposed for the Vatican position, he had advised at least one Vatican archbishop, Jose Sanchez, now a cardinal, about the complaint against Prince. However, Windle said he advised Sanchez that he believed the Vatican appointment should proceed.

Windle’s letter said that he had previously discussed the Prince case with the papal nuncio by telephone and fax. The letter was entered as an exhibit this week in a civil lawsuit filed by abuse victims against the Pembroke diocese.

Prince was ordained in 1963 and held various administrative posts in Ottawa and Toronto before being moved to the Vatican in 1991.