Vatican charity knew in 2017 of Africa sex abuse concerns

NICOLE WINFIELD
Workers secure a 26mt (85 feet) tall fir tree in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. The tree, which will be trimmed as a Christmas tree, comes from the Asiago Plateau in north-eastern Italy and was donated by the Veneto region. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

TOKYO (AP) — The Vatican’s Caritas Internationalis charity says it learned in 2017 of pedophilia concerns involving its Central African Republic director, but left it for his superiors to investigate and he remained in place and in ministry until this year.

CNN revealed the scandal over the Rev. Luk Delft this week, reporting that the Belgian Salesian priest was appointed to lead the Vatican’s main charity in the poverty-stricken country despite a 2012 criminal conviction in Belgium for child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.

CNN identified two new alleged victims in Central African Republic since he was posted there.

Michel Roy, former secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis from 2011-2019, said in a statement Saturday he didn’t know about the criminal conviction until this year.

But he said he had been informed in 2017 by a therapist that Delft shouldn’t be in contact with children.

“I informed Caritas CAR about the therapist's letter and asked them to ensure that the issue was followed up with his order,” Roy said in a statement. “I was told that the issue had been resolved.”

Bangui Archbishop Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga was in charge of Caritas Central African Republic at the time, and Delft was its country director. Roy relayed the concerns in the therapist’s letter to Nzapalainga, who relayed them to the Salesians.

The letter contained information from a therapist who reported that a patient had “concerns” but not evidence of pedophilia involving Delft, and said he shouldn’t be allowed to be around children given his past, said Andre Azzopardi, the head of safeguarding and integrity for Caritas Internationalis.

Azzopardi said the Salesians in 2017 informed Nzapalainga about the 2012 conviction, but he was left in his position, and in ministry, until the new Caritas Internationalis secretary-general was appointed this year. A new complaints committee reviewed the case, and Caritas Internationalis told Nzapalainga he should be removed, and he was soon thereafter.

“A person with this background should have never entered the Caritas family let alone be a director,” Azzopardi said. “Not enough was done in 2017.”

CNN identified two alleged victims of Delft’s in Central African Republic, meaning he allegedly continued to abuse after he was sent to the country by the Salesians. He was appointed country director in 2015 by Nzapalainga. It wasn’t clear what, if any, information the Salesians provided him about Delft’s background at the time.

Roy said he had told Filipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, president of Caritas Internationalis and the archbishop of Manila, what he planned to do with the therapist letter in 2017. But Roy said he didn’t update Tagle “who considered then that the issue was resolved.”

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation and doesn’t have the authority to appoint or fire staff at its autonomous national organizations, which are headed by national bishops’ conferences.

In 2017, its policies were to inform those responsible for Delft’s employment — in this case the Bangui archbishop and head of the Central African Republic bishops conference — and ensure the allegations were investigated.

New safeguarding policies were approved in 2018 at Caritas Internationalis, including the creation of a complaints committee and the appointment of Azzopardi as a safeguarding officer this year.

Azzopardi said a canonical investigation has been launched against Delft, as well as a criminal investigation.