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Vatican Secret Document Revealed

Aired August 7, 2003 - 19:27   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We told you earlier that a secret Vatican document some 41 years old has been revealed and that it instructed members of the church, from the highest level down, to consider allegations of sexual abuse by priests as the strictest secret. While it's still not clear how influential this document really was, some are saying it makes it very difficult for the Vatican to separate itself from the secretive policies of individual archdiocese.
Phil Saviano founded the New England chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. In 1992, he went public with allegations that he was abused by a priest. He settled out of court. That priest was later sent to prison for 275 years in subsequent cases.

Saviano joins us tonight from Watertown, Massachusetts.

Phil, thanks very much for being with us.

What do you make of this document? Some are saying it's a smoking gun. Do you think that's true?

PHIL SAVIANO, SURVIVORS NETWORK FOR THOSE ABUSED BY PRIESTS: Well, I think it lays out plan that the Vatican had. It's almost as if it's the textbook that all the bishops were taking their lessons from, because, as we've learned in the last 18 months, in diocese after diocese, not only across the United States, but in many other parts of the world, bishops had a plan, whereby victims were silenced, pedophile priests were protected. And none of this was ever reported to civil authorities or revealed to the general public.

COOPER: But, Phil, what I don't understand, if this was disseminated to bishops throughout the United States, how come it has remained secret this long?

SAVIANO: It doesn't surprise me at all. There's a lot of secrecy within the Vatican.

For example, if you look at this document, it's filled with terms like secret archives and perpetual silence and destroying evidence, secret of the holy office I'm just tremendously that, finally ,the document has surfaced and it's being given the attention that it warrants.

COOPER: Let me put up a statement made by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is what they said. I'm going to read it out loud: "A 40-year-old document of the former holy office issued March 16, 1962, is being portrayed by some in and outside the media as a smoking gun, allegedly proving that there was a ground plan for covering up the crime of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. The essential point in response to those making this claim is, they are taking the document entirely out of context, therefore distorting it completely."

Your thoughts?

SAVIANO: I don't think it's being taken out of context at all.

It talks very clearly about investigating crimes against children, swearing all sides to secrecy. There's one part of this document that talks about the victim being forced to put his hands on the Bible and swear that he would keep this a secret, under the threat of excommunication.

COOPER: Does -- I mean what they say in response is this does nothing to prevent and was not an indication that they wanted people to prevent filing civil charges against the alleged victimizer. Do you think that is -- do you think that's true or do you think that's simply false?

I don't see the connection really.

COOPER: Well, the church is saying, you know, that this document doesn't really say anything about pursuing civil -- civil cases or stopping victims from going to authorities. Do you think it does?

Well, I think it does because the victim is sworn to secrecy. I mean, it doesn't even -- there's not a provision in here for a victim who might want or need to go to see a therapist for example. I mean I think this is a very hostile document in the way it treats victims in the way it has no sort of -- no concern for the victims' emotional health or their need to heal from this experience.

COOPER: Do you think this impacts future lawsuits, lawsuits that are ongoing now? There have been some suits in which some diocese declare bankruptcy or threaten to declare bankruptcy, basically, say we don't have the money. There are those who can say if you can link this to the Vatican obviously there's more money there. Is this going to play into that.

You know, I'm not a lawyer, Anderson, but I can tell you that from my interpretation of this it does show that the secrecy goes right to the top of the Vatican and if this is something that lawyers can use, I think it should be tested and I think many survivors as well as many faithful Catholics whose trust in the church has been shattered this past year will be very eager to see how this plays out.

COOPER: I curious, what went through your mind? I mean this has been such -- this is obviously transformed your life, it's something you think about all the time, I'm sure. When you heard about this document, what was the first thing that went through your mind? Well, I had heard rumors of this document for several years, and I had often wondered how it was that each bishop in each diocese was pretty much operating the same way in terms of moving priests from parish to parish and, you know, having victims sign confidentiality agreements. The effort was always on secrecy and protecting the priests. I thought it was very curious that each bishop was acting the same way, and now this sort of answers that because it shows that perhaps there was a document or a plan that everybody was working from.

COOPER: It's a fascinating document. It's really still a developing story, one we're going to be following closely.

I would like to say if your viewers want to see the document they can log on to our Web site And there's a link right on the home page that will to take them directly into the document and they can judge for themselves.

COOPER: All right, Phil Silviano, appreciate you joining us.

SILVIANO: Thank you.

COOPER: We should also point out, we had planned to have ambassador Ray Flynn. We had a technical problem and he wasn't able to join us for that. We apologize for that.


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