Lawyers in a Florida clergy sex abuse case say the Vatican office then headed by Pope Benedict XVI failed to remove an alleged pedophile from the priesthood for years, even when the priest himself asked to be defrocked, the Associated Press reports.
Attorney Jessica Arbour, who represents an alleged victim of the Rev. Ernesto Garcia-Rubio in a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Miami, also said Wednesday that the Vatican instructed church officials in Florida to shelter the priest after he was forced to leave Cuba, the AP reports.
The lawsuit was filed last year, but the lawyers released more details of the Garcia-Rubio case amid questions about the Roman Catholic church's response to European sexual abuse allegations, and about the role of Benedict as an archbishop in his native Germany and then as head of a Vatican office
The Archdiocese of Miami criticized the lawyers for attacking the archdiocese and Vatican during Holy Week.
"As always, the Catholic Church's concerns are for the victims and a prevailing sense of justice," archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in a statement. "In addition, over these past eight years, it has been forthcoming and taken steps to keep our children safe through training and background screenings."
After arriving in Miami in 1968, Garcia-Rubio served as a church advocate for recent immigrants from Latin America, Arbour said, giving him access to child refugees from Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The priest would take the children in, and then require them to have sexual contact with him, she said. If the child refused, Arbour said, Garcia-Rubio would threaten to deport them. Arbour says her client was 15 when he came to the U.S. by himself from Nicaragua.
"He was given access to a very vulnerable population that had a constant stream of potential victims," she said.
Garcia-Rubio left Florida to work in Honduras in the 1980s. He first petitioned the Vatican in 1994 to remove him from the priesthood, or laicize him, Arbour said, after having gotten married the year before.
The request would have fallen under the jurisdiction of Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Arbour said.
"Six years later, he still hadn't been laicized," Arbour said. "It was because they had lost the paperwork in Rome."Arbour's assertion that the petition was lost could not immediately be verified through the Vatican, but she provided a copy of a letter purported to be from Garcia-Rubio in which he states that an archbishop had told him the papers for his laicization had been lost in Rome.
Garcia-Rubio later re-filed the petition and it was granted, said Arbour, who does not have any evidence the priest abused children after he first entered his petition.
His current whereabouts are unknown. Arbour said his last known address was in Miami a year ago.
Benedict is not specifically named in any of the documents, but as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, Ratzinger should have taken action to remove Garcia-Rubio from the priesthood, Arbour said.
"There's 20 years of opportunities for Ratzinger to stop him and he didn't," she said.
Arbour also released a 1968 letter from the Vatican to the Archdiocese of Miami, stating Garcia-Rubio had been forced to leave Cuba because of "serious difficulties of a moral nature (homosexuality)."
Arbour contends that homosexuality was used at the time by church officials as a code word for pedophilia, though archdiocese officials dispute that.
"I think it means exactly what it says," said Agosta, the archdiocese spokeswoman. "And certainly homosexuality does not equate to child predators."
The letter from an apostolic delegate in Washington goes on to say that the archbishop of Miami "will wish to have this information so that whatever steps are necessary may be taken to protect this priest with your accustomed paternal charity."
Agosta said it came from the Vatican envoy to the United States because there was no communication between churches in the U.S. and Cuba at the time, not because the Vatican was intervening on behalf of a pedophile priest.
Three days after the communique, the archbishop of Miami replied with a letter saying the information about Garcia-Rubio was "a surprise indeed to me."
"At no time did anyone indicate that the problem was of such a nature as that described in your letter," the archbishop said.