Former senior Catholic diplomat charged with sharing 'large quantity' of child abuse images

Monsignor Carlo Capella was under investigation for nearly two years but had immunity from prosecution in the US  

Cleve Wootson,Julie Zauzmer
Tuesday 12 June 2018 13:52 BST
A cardinal attends a Mass of Pentecost at Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on 20 May 2018.
A cardinal attends a Mass of Pentecost at Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on 20 May 2018. (REUTERS/Remo Casilli)

A Catholic priest who once was one of the church's top diplomats in Washington was indicted by the Vatican on accusations of possessing and sharing "a large quantity" of child abuse imagery.

In a statement obtained by Reuters, the Vatican said Monsignor Carlo Capella would face a trial starting on 22 June. He is being held in a cell in the Vatican's police barracks.

Authorities in the United States and Canada had been investigating Capella for nearly two years. Canadian police said the priest allegedly uploaded material featuring sexual abuse of children from a social networking site over the 2016 Christmas holiday.

In August, the US State Department notified the Vatican of a "possible violation of laws relation to child pornography images," by a diplomat. Soon after, the Vatican recalled Capella, who as a diplomat was one of four staff members who had immunity from prosecution in the United States. The Vatican denied US efforts to have Capella prosecuted in an American court

The 50-year-old has had a wide-ranging career in the church that brought him to the United States only this past year. Born in the town of Carpi in Northern Italy, he was ordained as a priest in 1993, pursued a degree in canon law and then entered the Vatican's corps of diplomats in 2004, according to the Associated Press. In that role, he was posted in India and then Hong Kong before another stint at the Vatican.

In 2008, according to a document from the Archdiocese of Milan, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the rank of "Chaplain of His Holiness" on Capella - a recognition of service to the church that bestowed on him the title of monsignor.

In Vatican City, Capella could face consequences in two disciplinary systems: Under church law, he could be defrocked as a priest, and under civil law in the Holy See, which is also an independent nation, he could face criminal penalties. The city-state's criminal law says people convicted of possessing material showing child sex abuse face up to two years in prison and $12,000 in fines, and those convicted of producing or distributing the images face steeper penalties.

The arrest is another blow for the church, which has faced abuse scandals for decades. The Vatican has a zero-tolerance vow on child sexual abuse, but critics have accused Pope Francis of not doing enough.

The Catholic Church in some countries, particularly the United States, has laid out elaborate safeguards and screening systems to protect children from abuse and spent many millions on such systems, but how closely dioceses and religious orders adhere to them isn't fully known.

A week ago, Francis met with a group of priests in Chile who were reportedly trained in a cult-like community and suffered sexual and psychological abuse, according to The Associated Press. The El Bosque community had been led by the Reverend Fernando Karadima, a powerful preacher in Chile who was sentenced by the Vatican in 2011 to a lifetime of penance and prayer for having sexually and spiritually abused young parishioners.

The pope came under criticism in January, when he appeared to raise doubts about the victims' claims as he spoke in support of one of Karadima's proteges, Bishop Juan Barros. "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I'll speak," Francis said, according to the AP. He added: "There is not one shred of proof against him. It's all calumny. Is that clear?" Francis appointed Barros to his current diocese in 2015 after the bishop denied all accusations against him.

Francis later retracted his statement, and last month, all 34 bishops in Chile offered their resignation after a three-day emergency meeting at the Vatican. And on May 31, Francis became the first pope to denounce publicly a "culture of abuse and coverup" in the Catholic Church, as the church launched another investigation into the abuses in Chile.

In an eight-page pastoral letter, Francis once again thanked the Chilean victims for their "valiant perseverance" in denouncing abuse and searching for the truth "even against all hopes or attempts to discredit them," according to the AP. He included himself with the guilty authorities. "With shame I must say that we didn't know how to listen or respond in time."

Francis has also created an ambitious reform commission, but one of the two survivors of clergy sex abuse serving on the body quit in March out of frustration.

Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clergy sexual abuse, told The Washington Post earlier this year: "The pope certainly does understand the effects of abuse, the horrible damage it does to victims, and he has made an effort. But on the other hand, we haven't seen an enormous amount of change."

"I was more hopeful a few years ago than I was now, because I've seen close up how difficult it is to get change. It can't all be laid at the feet of Pope Francis."

The Washington Post

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