Cardinal Castrillon HoyosThe replacement of Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos as celebrant at a traditional Latin Mass in Washington D.C. on April 24 has highlighted the controversy over a 2001 letter he wrote concerning a French priest who had sexually abused children.

In the letter, which surfaced last week in French news reports, the Colombian Cardinal, who was then prefect of the Vatican department, the Congregation for the Clergy, congratulated French Bishop Pierre Pican on not telling police about Father Rene Bissey, who by then had been sentenced to 18 years in prison. His much quoted words were:

“I congratulate you for not denouncing a priest to the civil administration,” Castrillón wrote, after Pican was convicted of failing to report child sex crimes. “You have acted well, and I am pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of history and of all other bishops in the world, preferred prison to denouncing his son and priest.”

Cardinal Castrillon has defended his attitude by saying that the priest’s conduct had been revealed in Confession and so was under the seal of the sacrament. He has also said that pope John Paul II approved of the letter and instructed him to send copies of it to bishops worldwide.

However, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., criticised the letter in a statement made on April 15:

“This document is proof of the timeliness of the unification of the treatment of cases of the sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competency of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, to guarantee rigorous and coherent action, as effectively occurred with the documents approved by the Pope in 2001.”

CatholicCulture points out that the Cardinal’s invocation of the seal of the confessional is faulty:

Cardinal Castrillon’s invocation of the confessional seal conflicts with a statement from Bishop Pican, who told French prosecutors that Father Bissey admitted his abuse during a private conversation– which, unlike a sacramental confession, would not be privileged under the law. Moreover, if the bishop felt that he was bound by the confessional seal, he could not mention the priest’s misconduct to anyone, including Cardinal Castrillon.

Cardinal Castrillon had been invited by the Paulus Institute, an association that promotes the Sacred Liturgy, to celebrate a Pontifical Solemn High Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in honour of Pope Benedict on the fifth anniversary of his inauguration as Pope. Castrillon was chosen because of his experience with the traditional liturgy.


Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet