Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children are hiding from authorities abroad, often with the assistance of church officials, according to an extensive newspaper investigation. The Dallas Morning News has conducted a yearlong investigation of priests who are accused of sexually abusing minors, finding that they avoid law enforcement, often with the help of church officials, by moving from country to country. In some cases, the church leaders who participated in moving accused priests were also accused of molesting children themselves. Police and prosecutors in many cases failed to take basic steps to thwart them. Furthermore, “dozens” of priests accused of sexual abuse of minors in the United States have moved on to positions in ministries abroad.
The News has focused so far on the Salesians of Don Bosco, one of the largest Catholic orders, which concentrates on helping poor children. The Salesians are one of the most outspoken orders when it comes to not cooperating with authorities in pedophilia cases. “For me it would be a tragedy to reduce the role of a pastor to that of a cop É I’d be prepared to go to jail rather than harm one of my priests,” said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, according to the News. Rodriguez himself recently sheltered a priest accused of child molestation, and he has been an ardent defender of Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, who resigned from his position in 2002 for mishandling sexual abuse allegations in his archdiocese, according to the News.
In one case involving a priest of the Salesian order, the Dallas Morning News reports that Rev. Frank Klep of Australia, who is accused of molesting at least six young boys at a boarding school near Melbourne in the 1970s, was sent to Rome in the early 1980s shortly after some of the victims’ parents threatened to sue. He then moved to the United States, where he helped at Masses in New York City while pursuing his Masters’ degree. When he returned to Australia, he was accused of sexual abuse by more former students, and after being questioned by police he was transferred by his order to Samoa, where he remains today.
Australian police inaction also aided Klep in his escape to Samoa. Though Klep was questioned and fingerprinted by police officers in 1996 when he was accused of molesting yet another former student, he was not arrested at that time. He was reassigned to Samoa in 1998, shortly before police sought to question him further. One of the investigators assigned to Klep’s case could not explain why it took more than two years for authorities to file charges. Law enforcement officials in Australia were supposed to contact the Samoan government about Klep, even though Australia has no extradition treaty with Samoa, according to the Associated Press. However, Samoan officials told the News they were never contacted.
The Dallas Morning News will continue to publish the results of their investigation over the next few months.