Brazilian cardinal accused of downplaying priest’s alleged abuse of teen

Brazilian cardinal accused of downplaying priest’s alleged abuse of teen

Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo is pictured celebrating Mass at the São Paulo Cathedral in 2013. (Credit: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters via CNS.)

When he was 17-year-old, Elissandro Nazare de Siqueira was trying to make a living for himself in São Paulo when he met Father Bartolomeu da Silva Paz, a priest known for his lively Masses and his charitable enterprises.

ROME – When he was 17-year-old, Elissandro Nazare de Siqueira was trying to make a living for himself in São Paulo when he met Father Bartolomeu da Silva Paz, a priest known for his lively Masses and his charitable enterprises.

Siqueira is from Manaus, in Brazil’s Amazon region, and never finished school. He describes himself as shy, and at the time he met the priest was working in a cafeteria.

At first, he saw Paz as a savior, since the priest found him a small room in the house of one of his parishioners, and he became the handyman of the parish of Nossa Senhora de Monte Serrat.

Yet soon Siqueira claims an abusive relationship began: He said that in a secluded house owned by the parish, the priest got him drunk and raped him.

The alleged abuse would continue for three years, between 2014 and 2017. Siqueira claimed he continued to live under the thumb of the priest out of fear and desperation, until his girlfriend gave him the support needed to come forward.

He found a lawyer who helped him present his case both to civil and church authorities. The original allegations were of exploitation for work and sexual abuse.

The attorney, Guilherme Dudus, is a parishioner at Nossa Senhora de Monte Serrat.

Brazil’s labor court ruled the case was not under their competence, since the age of consent in Brazil is 14.

Cardinal Odilo Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo, received the allegations and opened an investigation to determine if they were credible. The archdiocese determined that relationship was consensual and not abusive.

Crux has reviewed a series of documents, both from the lawyer’s office and bearing the archdiocesan stamp, as well as from the Vatican, in particular, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), that is in charge of reviewing allegations of sexual crimes by priests against minors.

Among the documents provided by the alleged victim and his lawyer is a letter by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, dated April 12, 2019, addressed to Scherer, where he writes that “seeing the information presented by the cardinal,” the case in considered pro nunc repanatur, meaning the case is closed for the time being.

The archdiocese has argued that Siqueira was an adult, despite the fact that his national ID card proves that he was 17 when the abuses reportedly began: Canon law stipulates that the age of sexual consent is 18, and it’s considered a crime in church law.

According to a canon lawyer with knowledge of the case, this contradiction alone is a serious matter and should be investigated. But regardless of Siqueira’s age – either 17 or 18 – he is a vulnerable person, comparable under Pope Francis’s 2019 law on sexual abuse, Vox Extis Lux Mundi. Though the alleged crime took place before the document was released, it was investigated by the Archdiocese of São Paulo after it went to effect.

The Rome-based canon lawyer also said the cardinal breached his duty to comply with article five of Vox Extis, which calls on ecclesiastical authorities to ensure that those who state that they have been harmed, together with their families, are to be treated with dignity and respect.

The penal administrative procedure conducted by the archdiocese ended in Feb. 27, 2020: The priest was found guilty of maintaining a homosexual relationship with Siqueira.

The March 11, 2020 decree signed by Scherer and seen by Crux argues that though “behaviors and actions of a homosexual tendency and of infidelity to the promise of celibacy, with scandal, and not consistent with the dignity of the priesthood,” were committed, but said  “crimes of sexual abuse involving a minor, nor a crime against the Sixth Commandment, perpetrated with violence, threats or publicly,” were not proven.

“Conscious of the need to protect the salus animarum and that neither fraternal correction nor warning, nor the removal from the priestly ministry were enough to correct or repair the scandal, being necessary the application of an expiatory penalty,” the decree orders “the suspension from ministry, for three years,” of Paz. During this period, the priest is banned from saying Mass in public, is expected to receive a year-long treatment at an “institution that helps priests,” regular spiritual direction with a priest named by the archdiocese, as well as psychological accompaniment.

There was no mention of Siqueira in the decree, nor indications that he too should receive some sort of accompaniment from the archdiocese.

After Veja, Brazil’s largest magazine, published a story on the case, a second man, Wellington Carvalho Ribeiro de Jesus, 33, came forward accusing Paz of abusing him, back in 2004, on Christmas Eve, when he was 17: the priest reportedly gave him a few beers, and when he felt ill, offered the young man a bed. Carvalho woke up to the priest masturbating in his face.

When he woke up again, in the morning, he was greeted by a cleaning lady, who offered him breakfast. He refused and left,  never to speak with the priest, or about what had happened, again, until he learnt of what had happen to Siqueira.

Although the statute of limitations has expired, Dudus filed a formal allegation against priest to civil authorities on his behalf in January of this year because it could help Siqueiras’s case.

Crux contacted the Archdiocese of São Paulo, but they refused to comment on the canonical process since there’s an ongoing case in civil courts and would not confirm if they are investigating the second accusation.

In another document reviewed by Crux, a 7-page letter by Scherer to his the cardinal’s lawyer dated July 2, 2020, he argues that during the archdiocesan process against the priest the accused seemed “lost … and fragile,” hence the decision not to apply the highest penalty, which would have been the removal from the priesthood, but “penitential measures” instead: A three-year suspension from ministry.

Throughout the document Scherer tries to undermine both the accuser and his lawyer, saying that this is a vengeful action by a young man after the relationship with the priest ended, and saying Dudus was a known figure in the archdiocese after his alleged request to be accepted into seminary was refused. The lawyer denies ever applying to enter seminary, though acknowledges that he had gone to the accused priest for vocational discernment.

The cardinal also notes that the lawyer began a “smear” campaign against him, falsely accusing him of cover-up, of protecting a criminal, of connivence and of not following Pope Francis’s demands about the fight against clerical sexual abuse. He also accuses Dudus of being after the Church’s money.

Speaking with Crux, both the lawyer and the accuser argued that they are not seeking money, despite the fact that they have presented a $900,000 civil suit against the cardinal, the auxiliary bishops of São Paulo, the accused priest and the archdiocese. What they hope for, they said, is for the Vatican to investigate Scherer for cover-up.

The documentation accusing Scherer of cover-up and the cardinal’s argument on which he based his decision to suspend the priest for three years instead of removing him from the priesthood have been presented to the CDF by Vincent Doyle, the founder of Coping International, an organization that tries to help children of Catholic priests.

Though helping victims of clerical sexual abuse is outside of the scope of Coping, it’s a mandatory reporting organization. Doyle told Crux that he had decided to forward all the documentations to the CDF after “speaking with an archbishop connected with the congregation, who told me that the information needed to be formally brought up immediately, as the victim was a minor.”

“The reason why I brought this back to the attention of the CDF is not only because Eli was 17 at the time, but also because the cardinal’s actions are wrong: He should face canonical penalties for allegedly deceiving the CDF at the very least,” Doyle said.

Eduardo Campos Lima contributed to this report from Brazil.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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