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Boston priest named Vatican's top sex-abuse prosecutor; victims' groups complain

December 24, 2012

A Boston priest has been named the Vatican’s top prosecutor in sex-abuse cases.

Father Robert Oliver, who has been an assistant for canonical affairs in the Boston archdiocese, will become the “promoter of justice” at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He replaces Msgr. Charles Scicluna, who had established a reputation for toughness in sex-abuse investigations before he was appointed an auxiliary bishop in his native Malta.

The appointment of a Boston priest drew some criticism from spokesmen for groups representing sex-abuse victims, who pointed out the Father Oliver had advised Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign as Archbishop of Boston because of revelations that he had covered up evidence of sexual abuse. But Father Oliver began advising the cardinal only after those offenses had been brought to light.

“We don’t have evidence that Father Oliver helped conceal clergy sex crimes in Boston,” admitted David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group that has been invariably critical of Church leadership. “But likewise there’s no evidence whatsoever that he tried to chart a new course.” Actually Father Oliver did chart a new course in Boston, helping to draft the new sex-abuse policies that the archdiocese adopted in 2003, after Cardinal Law’s departure.

Critics also observed that the Boston archdiocese has found a relatively high number of accused priests innocent of sex-abuse charges after investigation—a criticism that is damaging if all priests are presumed guilty.

In Rome, informed sources described Father Oliver as a strong advocate of the “zero tolerance” approach that has been in place at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Before leaving his office there, Bishop Scicluna assured a reporter that those policies would remain in force after his departure. “It’s not Scicluna” who has insisted on a tough approach, he said. “It’s the Pope.”


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