Church faced with new cases of abuse, declines to discuss some

NEWS 25.03.202315:49
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Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash / ilustracija

Members of the Croatian Bishops' Conference (HBK) have been setting up a system for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons, which mostly refers to special commissions and community education, and commissions in two dioceses have already encountered and dealt with several cases of abuse.

This can be concluded from data which Hina obtained from commissions for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons over the past three weeks, after it sent uniform questions to the email addresses of 14 (arch)diocesan offices.

Hina analysed the commissions’ replies, the availability of reporting mechanisms for victims of abuse, and the commissions’ communication following Hina’s queries.

The commissions responded differently to Hina’s questions, with replies in most cases reflecting confidence and openness to the public, some questions were not answered while some commissions ignored Hina’s request for information.

Cases of abuse

In Sisak Diocese three cases of abuse were registered, of which two were resolved and one is still open, due to the fact that the person who reported abuse has refused further cooperation.

In the first case, in which the victim was a boy, the person identified as the perpetrator was interviewed by a psychologist and a church judge. The case was registered and the Holy See was informed of it, and the perpetrator was suspended, the head of the competent diocesan commission, Marko Cvitkusic, told Hina.

In the second case, the perpetrator was suspended and the necessary documentation was collected, translated and sent to the Holy See.

In the third case, a female person who accused her former religious education teacher of inappropriate physical contact, was contacted by the Sisak Diocese and informed that the person in question no longer worked as a religious education teacher but that the Church did not consider the case closed, but she declined further communication on the matter, Cvitkusic said.

In those three cases, the competent commission collected the necessary documentation and had correspondence with the competent institutions, including courts and the police, as well as the persons involved, Cvitkusic said, declining to provide more details.

Cases of abuse of minors were also reported in a small island diocese, but the competent commission declined further comment, noting that disclosure of additional information “could lead to the possible disclosure of the identity of the person concerned.”

It also noted that there were cases of false or unfounded accusations but did not provide more details.

As for Hina’s remark that this created room for rumours and that the victim’s interests should be the most important criterion, the reply was that “cases of abuse in the Church constitute less than 10% of all cases of abuse”, the other settings being family, school, sports clubs and the like, and that “representation in the media is not quite proportionate.”

Reports of abuse are mostly made by phone or email. Church inquiries were conducted in all cases that were reported to the competent commissions. Church investigations were conducted in all reported cases and depending on the conclusions, church disciplinary proceedings were launched or the reports were dismissed, it was said.

Regardless of the findings of church investigations, reports of abuse are forwarded to the police, it was said.

Sotin case, question of Church’s responsibility

Hina sent questions to two competent county police departments inquiring about the status of the said cases, with the Sisak County Police Department requesting more specific questions without providing concrete answers, and the Rijeka County Police Department not replying.

As Hina gathered these data, the Novosti weekly published an article accusing Đakovo Archbishop Đuro Hranic of omissions and attempts to cover up a case of abuse in Sotin.

Earlier this week Hranic held a news conference dismissing the accusations and saying that he had reported parish priest Zlatko Rajcevac to the police, but did not move him from the parish because he waited for an indictment to be issued. Hranic also said that in its inquiry into his actions, the Vatican did not identify any omissions.

Novosti concluded that with his statements Hranic indirectly suggested that he had tried to cover up the case, trusting the parish priest more than the persons who reported the case. He let the parish priest continue serving in Sotin after he turned 75 because, as he said, he did not want “his world to fall apart.”

Nova TV on Thursday published an interview with a 31-year-old woman, the victim of long-lasting abuse by the said priest.

She said that the priest started to touch her inappropriately when she was 8 or 9, that this intensified during her puberty, and that she tried to tell her family what was going on but they did not believe her. She subsequently developed anorexia and depression and attempted suicide.

Experience with commissions

On 6 March Hina sent emails to the addresses of 14 (arch)dioceses. Five commissions for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons – from Gospic, Hvar, Sisak, Dubrovnik and Zadar – sent answers to its questions, some failed to send any reply, and for some it took more than two weeks to respond.

The HBK Commission for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Persons was the only one with which Hina failed to establish any contact.

The fact that Hina used the phone numbers and email addresses that are also available to potential victims to establish contact leads to the conclusion that victims can have difficulty establishing contact with the competent commissions.

Some commissions, like those in Varazdin, Rijeka and Dubrovnik, have made contact information visible on the first page of diocesan websites, while a smaller number of them keep their contact information on the third or fourth page of their websites, which makes it difficult to find the necessary contact information.

A larger number of heads of commissions for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons said that they did not know if the (arch)bishop had talked with the victims of abuse, suggesting that Hina should ask the (arch)bishop directly.

The impression is that in some cases the perpetrators are given the kind of protection that should be given to the victims. Some of the competent church representatives suggested that the media exert more pressure on the Church due to cases of abuse than on other public entities.