A spokesman for Mexico’s Roman Catholic bishops said the church would not give statistics on alleged clerical abuse of minors and another said it should not even report crimes to authorities.
“Dirty laundry is washed at home,” Jalapa Archbishop Sergio Obeso, president of the Social Pastoral Commission, told a news conference on Thursday during the annual assembly of the Mexican Episcopal Conference. The remarks were widely reported Friday by Mexican newspapers and broadcasters.
“The church always recognizes civil authority, but it is not up to us to hand over our sons, the sons of the church, to civil authorities,” said Ciudad Juarez Bishop Renato Ascencio Leon. “It us up to us to try them according to our own laws.”
The statements contrast with increasing openness by U.S. church leaders, who have been shaken by a revelations about abuse of minors by a small percentage of priests.
Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy, meeting at a retreat in Cuautitlan Izcalli, near Mexico City, seemed confused about how to respond to the scandal in the United States and several other countries.
Early in the week, at least two bishops denied there were any reports at all of priests molesting minors in Mexico. Several insisted the problem in Mexico was minimal. Two days later, some admitted there were such cases. A few said cases could be turned over to police. Others said they would be dealt with within the church.
“It is not easy to establish the point at which the opening to society in all matters is a service and at which it works against itself, which puts us in a delicate situation,” said Obeso, the archbishop of Jalapa.
In an editorial on Friday, the newspaper La Jornada called the statements “thoughtless and worrisome” and said the suggestion the church should avoid notifying prosecutors of crimes is “unacceptable, scandalous and probably criminal in itself.”
“If you break the law, I’m sorry, but it’s jail,” newscaster Jorge Berry said Friday on Mexico’s largest television network, Televisa.
Ascencio said that “certain interests” who want to damage the church were behind the scandal in the United States. But he also said it would prompt the church to take more care in choosing priests.
Several of the bishops also noted that some allegations were false and Ascencio urged reporters to remember “there are so many saintly priests.”
Asked what happens to priests who molest minors, church spokesman Guillermo Ortiz, auxiliary bishop for Mexico City, said “there is dialogue. Those who have committed it are helped to find their faults and are given necessary support.”
Asked if they are left in their parishes, he replied, “It depends on the circumstances.”