Over the course of the past week, a CNN investigation has highlighted the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy when it comes to protecting children from pedophile priests.
The situation is all the more galling because it involves the Salesians of Don Bosco, an order whose mission focuses particularly on justice for the young:
The Lord made it clear to Don Bosco that he was to direct his mission first and foremost to the young, especially to those who are poorer. We are called to the same mission and are aware of its supreme importance… With Don Bosco we reaffirm our preference for the young who are ‘poor, abandoned, and in danger’, those who have greater need of love and evangelisation, and we work especially in areas of greatest poverty.
Yet for nearly twenty years, the Salesians have been harboring a Belgian priest who has sexually abused multiple children, promoting him to increasingly important directorial positions within the organization. The Salesians have given him cover for disobeying court orders and allowed him greater access to vulnerable children.
The saga of Father Delft began when he confessed to molesting two boys at a Belgian boarding school where he worked as a dormitory monitor. The Salesians removed him from the school environment… but they also strongly discouraged the victims and their families from pressing charges by emphasizing the dire psychological impact of a court case.
Meanwhile, Delft got a transfer to another school under the stipulation that he must have “no direct pedagogical contact with young people,” a requirement that was ultimately not honored as he accompanied minors on a school trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008.
Delft worked at that school until he was caught with child pornography on a work laptop in 2009. At that point he was shifted to the Salesian’s NGO, DMOS-COMIDE, which focuses on youth education in the Global South. He was given a directorial position, presumably with the commensurate salary and benefits, as well as the opportunity to travel to disadvantaged communities across the world.
In 2010, Delft came to the attention of the authorities in Belgium. In 2012, he was formally convicted of child abuse and possession of child pornography. He was consequently banned from all contact with children until 2022.
It seems like the Church didn’t take that ban particularly seriously. In 2013, he travelled to the Central African Republic (CAR) as the Director of Catholic Charity for Caritas Centrafrique.During his time there, Delft sexually abused at least two children, encouraging their silence with gifts of money or necessities like clothing.
To put this in context, Caritas is one of the most important aid organizations in the displacement camps of CAR, overseeing the distribution of essential supplies as well as the education of the region’s internally displaced children. UNICEF has described the conditions as “desperate.” The money Delft gave to children may have amounted to $5 or less, but approximately 75% of CAR’s population lives on less than $2 per day.
Caritas Centrafrique lists “advocacy regarding sexual violence against women and vulnerable persons” as one of its primary concerns. As a result of Delft’s actions, the United Nations has now suspended its relationship with the charity. Caritas Internationalis released a statement, expressing “compassion and solidarity with the children and their families.” As for their relationship with Delft, they’re washing their hands of him:
Caritas Internationalis understands that those responsible have ensured that the accused is no longer in the Central African Republic, and both civil and religious authorities have been notified and are investigating the allegations. Caritas Internationalis is assisting the local Caritas in the Central African Republic as it investigates the allegations.
In other words, the responsibility for Delft’s current whereabouts rests on the Salesians alone… and the Salesians chose to place him on a Church property, knowing a summer camp for children was taking place during his tenure there.
Delft’s superior, Father Carlo Loots, argued that the children were adequately protected because Delft had agreed to restrictions on his freedom of movement and because other priests were available to check on him.
Former priest Patrick Wall, who left the priesthood to investigate pedophile priests, is considered one of the world’s primary experts on clergy sexual abuse. He says that, when it comes to religious orders, the Salesians have one of the highest percentages of abusers in the world. Orders like the Salesians answer to different rules than the hierarchy of parish priests, bishops, and cardinals, and they are not subject to some of the sanctions that have been placed on diocesan priests.
Plus, since religious orders are typically international, it is easy to move pedophile priests out of the reach of the law. Says Wall:
You get them out of the state. You avoid any kind of criminal liability because you get them out of the area, so that the statute of limitations can run. But you keep them in the family.
It makes sense that priests with intent to abuse would be drawn to an order like the Salesians whose mission focuses on children… but that should make them more committed to rooting out pedophiles like Delft, not less. But when it comes to the Salesians, “the young who are poor, abandoned, and in danger” clearly do not take priority over the organization’s image.