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CNN Special Reports
CNN Special Report, "Abuse and Scandal in the Catholic Church: The Case of the Predator Priest." Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 01, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: And that will do it for me. I'm Alex Marquardt. Thank you so much for being with me this evening. Good night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a happy child. I was an artist. I loved to go to school because I wanted to be with me friends. Unfortunately, something came along. Then I just sort of erupted and I just blurted out, I was abused. If they commit a crime, you look away. If a priest is allowed to go 20 to 30 years there are several hundred victims per priest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have time? When there are vulnerable children. Do you have time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have cases every day of the week. Where there's simply moved and put in the ministry without telling anyone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know who this man is?
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN HOST: We spent the whole morning looking for him. It's been a wild goose chase. He's back in his office. We're heading there now. Rome in all, it's grand some pieces - lighting up the sky. All around is postcard perfect. Behind the high walls, turmoil spoils the Church.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They know better but they're not doing better.
ELBAGIR: The Pope has called a summit to discuss clerical child abuse Bishops from around the world grappling with the scale of the tragedy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed are not even grated.
ELBAGIR: An unprecedented admission abuse survivors gathered to be heard demanding justice and change. The Catholic Church issues new guidelines but survivors say they don't go far enough. There are some worrying gray areas. You may think you know this story. Priests abusing children but there's something you may not know. There are powerful institutions within the Church who are free to self-police.
And in many cases not even the Pope can sanction them the religious orders, the powerful, wealthy and secretive. According to experts, victims, witnesses we spoke with, there's one order that stands out as among the most defiant most unreceptive. The Salesians of Don Bosco the second largest order in the world and the very mission is help vulnerable children.
In a yearlong CNN investigation through Europe, Africa and across the United States we found a pattern of behavior which so many of the Salesian brotherhood protecting each other. Moving alleged abusers from place to place country to country in some cases allegedly threatening whistleblowers and victims across continents, across decades an order meant to protect children but too many times hurts them instead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't just the one priest. It was several of them. They covered for each other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a bigger problem because how many times has he abused in the last 40 years?
ELBAGIR: Two men separated by over 8 decade of time but each is abuse and betrayal bleeds into the others.
ELBAGIR: Lawyer say that when their client was a student at Richmond Salesian high school from 1959 to 1973 local television coverage of a shocking case. And in their lawsuit filed yesterday they say other - at the school knew about it. In the late 60s early 1970s the Salesian High School in Richmond California was a hunting ground for a ring of pedophile priests. A self-protecting cluster anonymous victim John Doe 17 filed a lawsuit that was brought in 2003. John Doe 17 is Joey Piscitelli.
JOEY PISCITELLI, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA DIRECTOR OF SNAP: I was kind of a happy child. I was an artist. I went to a catholic grammar school. I got straight A's for eight years.
ELBAGIR: When did that start to change?
PISCITELLI: We were going to play pool and the priest who was the Vice Principal he sat at the bench and he said you shoot. And I said okay and I shot the ball. I turned around him and told him it's your turn. And I looked at him and he was sitting there masturbating. And I remember I turned all red and started sweating. The hair on my neck was standing up.
And I just stood there frozen. I didn't know what to do. And he said keep playing I want to watch you. And then I turned around and the head of the boys club, Brother Sal was watching this. And he just stood there watching. He did nothing.
ELBAGIR: Joey Piscitelli drew to cope with the abuse. His pictures becoming more vivid and violent mirroring the nightmare he was living. Nightmare that only got worse.
PISCITELLI: This went on for about a year and a half. And then one day he cornered me on the stairs and started molesting me. And told me get upstairs to the all purpose room on the third floor of the school. And he dragged me into the room and attacked me and I was raped. I passed out and blacked out while it happened and I just totally lost sense of what happened after he started attacking me.
When I got home, well, I don't even know how I got home. When I got home I had blood in my under wear. I went in the backyard of the house and I wrapped it around a rock and threw it over the fence in the field to get rid of the evidence or whatever. It was so disgusting and I knew I had been raped.
ELBAGIR: According to Piscitelli he was threatened when he reported it to a staff member.
PISCITELLI: The Principal of the school Father - who is now a convicted molester, told me that he's going to kick me out of the school and fire my mother from the cafeteria because I have a big mouth.
ELBAGIR: Threats and intimidation by the Salesians a pattern you will see throughout this investigation. The Salesians fought Piscitelli's lawsuit at every turn. Like in these court documents when they argued that Father Whelan masturbating in front of a schoolboy is acceptable if deemed funny.
In 2006 Piscitelli won his case and was awarded $600,000. More than that, he won public recognition of the appalling wrongs he suffered at Salesians hands. The Father - the principal who threatened Piscitelli also had a history of abuse. Over a decade before Joey Piscitelli started Salesian high school in Richmond, it was a Salesian. It was where a teenage George Stein first met Bernard.
I know it's not easy to retell or to relive this but could you tell us a little bit about what happened in your sophomore year at the seminary?
GEORGE STEIN, ABUSE SURVIVOR: Sure. You want me to talk about it or the violation.
ELBAGIR: Only if you want to. Only if you're comfortable doing it.
STEIN: I can do it. He basically hugged me and kissed me. And that was inappropriate. And I wasn't expecting it at all. And I told him that this happened and I wanted it to stop. For me it did. It stopped. He remained there for the rest of the academic year and he was reassigned.
ELBAGIR: He was reassigned to another school?
STEIN: Yes, yes.
ELBAGIR: Much later, Stein discovered the true horror hidden at the seminary.
STEIN: At our 40th Anniversary of the Graduation from High School, a third to a half shared that they had occasion to be molested or to be approached.
ELBAGIR: That's an extraordinary percentage of people in that room.
STEIN: Yes. It is.
ELBAGIR: The Church says so much of this horror is in the past. But it's not. Only last year the L.A. Arch had to remove a Salesian Priest from working within its school system after becoming aware of sexual abuse allegations dating back 40 years. Allegations that the Salesians had failed to act on.
Patrick Wolf was himself a religious order priest. And to date has helped to investigate hundreds of clerical abuse cases.
PATRICK WALL, CO-AUTHOR "SEX PRIESTS AND SECRETS CODES": The Salesians are they have refused to put out anything unless it's with a court order or unless the civil authorities force them to do something. In my experience is that Salesians have a highest percentage of perpetrators of any religious order across the world because of their focus.
ELBAGIR: That focus being the betterment of the lives of children which includes creating and teaching at schools youth camp, clubs and missionary work. The Salesians of Don Bosco now a worldwide organization working in more than 130 countries helping millions of children but as our investigation across three continents found, not always protecting them. Coming up, Benjamin fled his home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but his demons followed him.
ELBAGIR: Benjamin Kitobo with the taped confession of his abuser. Capturing it was the start he says of taking his life back. The man on the tape a Father Omar Robecce (ph) a Belgian Priest stationed in Kitobo's then home of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa. It wasn't just one time. Kitobo says it went on for years. At the seminary where he was a teenager studying to be a priest in the 1980s.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He says I don't understand. I repent to God. What more should I do to ask forgiveness.
ELBAGIR: How did that make you feel? How does it make you feel?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's destroying.
ELBAGIR: From his home in St. Louis, Kitobo filed a claim against Rebecce (ph) in Belgian where Bishop of Ghent Lucas Van Looy a Salesian Super-Star took over the handling of the case. Kitobo was awarded compensation and says Van Looy was promised him that - Rebecce (ph) would no longer be around young people as Bishop of Ghent Van Looy had over sight of Rebecce (ph) and he failed to keep him in Belgian failed to keep him away from children.
In 2014 you had discovered that he set up an orphanage and so of course was around children. Did the Bishop of Ghent respond to you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. But they suppose it was just two line yes we do have a monitoring system for suspect --.
ELBAGIR: Van Looy refused CNN's request for an on camera interview and insisted he repeatedly imposed a travel ban on Rebecce (ph) but admitted to us Rebecce (ph) had ignored the ban. Rebecce (ph) is not a Salesian priest but as we left St. Louis, it was clear to us that Senior Salesians such as Van Looy are in positions to affect the handling of abuse allegations even in the case of non-Salesians like Rebecce (ph).
Through our investigation it's becoming clear that even as the Pope recommends universal principles of conduct the orders, the Salesians, continue business as usual. We're in Ghent in Belgian because so many of the allegations lead us back here.
Bishop Van Looy was not just involved in this case of Father Rebecce (ph). There were many other cases like Father Luk Delft.
A Dormitory Supervisor convicted in 2012 regarding previous abuse at a Salesian boarding school in Ghent. Yet, again there was an opportunity to stop an abuser and yet again the Salesians failed. Spurred by concerns, Delft could still be interacting with children, two of the boarding school victims agreed to speak with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was 12 so everybody was 12, 13 years old. Suddenly at night, someone was trying to pull off my blankets. The day after I know I remember I told my one of my best friend that I had a really weird dream involving getting touched in places which were weird.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And at the beginning we were laughing about it because one of the kids told us yes, I had like a dream and I came in my dream because after wards the horrible facts. And the next night I woke up again. And I realize I was really awake. And then I felt someone touching my legs and my genitals and also giving me oral I don't know I have to say.
ELBAGIR: It was Father Luk Delft a dormitory supervisor at the school and a rising Salesian star. CNN has learned Delft was moved by the Salesian order after being confronted over the allegations. He was sent to work with a number of different schools in Belgian. Then the Salesians sent him abroad to one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. Do you know who this man is?
ELBAGIR: Father Luk Delft was - we're told marked for greatness charming, intelligent, expected to rocket up the ranks of his Catholic religious order the Salesians of Don Bosco. He was also a serial pedophile.
In 2001 Delft worked as a bedroom monitor at a Salesian boarding school in Ghent, Belgian.
ELBAGIR: When he sexually assaulted two boys age 12 and 13 at the time. After a few nights of this ordeal, one of the students struck up the courage to speak to someone they trusted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the victims--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELBAGIR: Wim Hanssens was the Deputy Director of the boarding school.
WIM HANSSENS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF BOARDING SCHOOL: There was no moment in my mind when a child comes to tell you this that it happened.
ELBAGIR: You believed him immediately.
HANSSESNS: Yes. The day after wards and another boy came to me and told me the same story. At that moment I wrote down on the paper what these kids told me. I called Luk Delft I showed him on the paper what these children told me. And first he said I just caressed them. I let him read that he touched the genitals of the kids, he confessed. And I asked him to sign the paper which he did.
ELBAGIR: A signed confession. Henssens asked Delft to leave the school and made sure the Salesian order were aware. Henssens says the Salesians promised him and the parents of the boys that Delft would never be around children again. CNN has learned that this promise has been repeatedly broken as Salesian leaders in Belgian moved the confessed pedophile priest from one school to another and allowed him to travel abroad. Ghent, Haiti, India and supervising children on a school trip to the Congo.
In 2012, Luk Delft was convicted for the abuse of children in the Don Bosco dormitory to which he had confessed in 2001. It was only when a former staff member finally did what Salesian leaders had not reported Delft to the authorities.
During the trial it was also revealed that he had twice been caught with child pornography on his laptop. Delft received a suspended sentence. His restrictions clear. No interaction with children for the next ten years. Were he to break the rules he would face a new trial and possible imprisonment. Henssens said he paid a high price for speaking out against the Salesians.
HENSSENS: They can break you. And they broke me. So, yes, I had to leave because I'm like a kind of danger according to them although I think they should be grateful. Otherwise I don't know what would have happened to those victims.
ELBAGIR: He says he was blacklisted from Salesian schools in the area after reporting the inappropriate behavior of a number of priests. The Salesians deny his accusation time and time again we have seen a pattern of behavior by the Salesians to systemically move known pedophiles and intimidate those who want to protect children.
HENSSENS: It's always a system. Move that person to another place. And we'll see.
ELBAGIR: But once convicted, would the Salesians really risk giving Delft access to children again? We set out in search of Delft. Much of what with know about his movements are from his social media posts. Our research is zeroing in on a remote town in the Central African Republic. That's where we're heading.
The only safe way for us to get to the town is on a United Nations humanitarian flight. It's taken us about two days, three different planes to get up here to the north of the Central African Republic.
If you were trying to disappear, this would definitely be suitably remote.
UNICEF has called it one of the worst places in the world to be a child. Falling to the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index. A shaky peace deal is barely holding. United Nations forces are constant watch. The day we arrived; the threat level is almost at its highest.
When Father Delft arrived here, part of his work involved caring for families and children forced from their homes by violence, incredibly vulnerable families and children. The young, training to be altar service. The Catholic Church has a strong presence in this community and throughout the country.
Four years ago, the Pope came and blessed the Christians of the Central African Republic. Hundreds of people celebrating. In the crowd, we spot Luk Delft.
TEXT: I am sorry to say but very little has changed. The displaced people are still here. There is very little help from abroad.
ELBAGIR: And in this promotional video for Caritas, the Catholic Church's relief agency, he's even featured as a key director for the agency. Delft was sent here by the Belgian Salesians, well aware of the court restrictions on him. The Catholic compound in Kaga-Bandoro, right behind, is a school. This is where the Caritas office was and still is.
This is where Luk Delft was based. Caritas here under Delft, was in charge of looking after internally displaced people, providing food, education, and medicine. We have been told that it was during this period that Delft was, once again, abusing children.
Our local producer has found the family of an alleged victim, who may be willing to speak with us. It's proven really difficult to get people to speak to us on camera. People are really afraid. We're going to jump out here and try one last time.
TEXT: You must tell her that it's very stressful, what the white man did to my son. This act is ingrained in his memory.
PRODUCER: She's very sorry for this situation. If you don't want your son to talk, you can say something about the situation.
TEXT: You must tell her that there is not much to say about this subject. This priest -- but when justice returns to this town, we will get resolution.
ELBAGIR: As we drive away, we passed the burned down courthouse. A reminder that there are no real avenues for justice here. Next, a race against time to track down this known pedophile. We spent the whole morning looking for Father Delft. It's been a bit of a wild goose chase, but now we're hearing that he's back in his office. And we're heading there now.
Hello, Father Delft.
FR. LUK DELFT, CONVICTED PEDOPHILE: Yes.
ELBAGIR: The halleluiah rings out. A choir boy leads the congregates in song, as the Pope over sees a mass at the Vatican, celebrating the work of Caritas, the Catholic Church's relief charity. We found Father Luk Delft, convicted pedophile, among the congregation.
Head bowed. He accepts the blessed sacrament. As director of Caritas, in the Central African Republic, Delft traveled freely, attending this service only a month before we were trying to visit him. We've heard that Delft has continued to abuse children. But so far, no one is willing to speak on camera.
It's here in Kaga-Bandoro that Delft first worked for Caritas, the Catholic charity. Their mission, to protect the most vulnerable. It's also here that we're hearing whispers of possible new victims. Finally, a breakthrough, at the local displaced camp on the outskirts of town, Alban and his father agree to speak to us.
Do you know who this man is?
ALBAN ALAIN, ABUSE SURVIVOR: Luk. We were friends. He would buy me clothes and he would often give me money. Every morning I would greet him before he would go to work. It was the basis for our friendship.
ELBAGIR: He became your friend. What happened?
ALAIN: It was a horrible thing that he did to me. When you showed me his picture, it upset me. I don't even want to see his face. It upsets me very much.
ELBAGIR: It's clear Alban is too upset to talk much more, so we asked his father if he can explain what happened.
What did Father Delft do?
ONONO ALAIN, FATHER OF ALBAN ALAIN, ABUSE SURVIVOR: What he did to my son is not a good thing. There are plenty of women he could have had sex with. He preferred to sodomize my son. We called him Father, Father, Father. As director of Caritas, he was entrusted with distributing aid, but instead he took advantage of his position to sodomize my son.
ELBAGIR: That was clearly really tough for both of Alban and his father. But we had to show them this picture. We had to know that the man that Alban says abused him, is Father Luk Delft. What happened in there clearly came at such great cost for both of them.
But it was something that they told us again and again, they needed to do because justice is not easy to get up here. We leave Kaga-Bandoro, it's time to track down Delft. This is Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. We've traveled here from the north, where we met Alban. Caritas Centrafique headquarters is here. Sunday, and we get an early morning wake up call.
Our contacts are telling us he regularly celebrates mass in the area. We try the churches. He's nowhere to be found. We try him at his residence. But he hasn't spent the night. Nothing.
We spent the whole morning looking for Father Delft. It's been a bit of a wild goose chase. But now we're hearing that he's back in his office. And we're heading there now.
Hello, Father Delft.
ELBAGIR: Hi. We spoke to the prosecutor in Belgium. We'd like to speak to you to ask you some questions about breaking the terms of your sentence. We also spoke to some children up in Kaga-Bandoro who had some really disturbing stories to share with us. And, of course, we want to hear what you have to say about it, Father Delft.
ELBAGIR: What do you mean, nothing?
ELBAGIR: You're a priest, you're a man of God. These children are accusing you of abusing them and you have nothing to say for yourself?
ELBAGIR: Do you know Alban? Do you remember Alban? He said he was 13, when you abused him. Do you remember him? Alban? Alban, in Kaga-Bandoro, at the compound, the Catholic compound. He and his father spoke to us. He was crying. He said that you told him you loved him and then you hurt him. You have nothing to say?
ELBAGIR: It doesn't disturb you to hear that children said this about you?
DELFT: Alban, no.
ELBAGIR: Do you want to say anything?
ELBAGIR: OK. Well, we will, of course, be speaking to the managers of Caritas about our findings. Thank you for whatever this was.
He had absolutely -- he had nothing to say for himself. He was utterly blank. He didn't care. He did not care. He didn't remember. You could see it in his eyes that he didn't remember that little boy's name. The things that that little boy told us, the bravery that that little boy showed in speaking to us. And that man in there didn't remember him.
We traveled back to Belgium to share the evidence we have gathered with the Salesian order. Maybe we can get answers here. Father Carlo Loots has been handling allegations of child abuse for the Flemish region of the Salesian order for almost a decade. The orders work with young children, he tells us complicates the question of where to relocate abusers.
FR. CARLO LOOTS, HEAD OF ABUSE CASES, SALESIAN FLEMISH REGION: That's one of the greatest challengers what to do with abusers. We have to move them to another place. And that we don't have so much --
ELBAGIR: So, specifically in the case of Father Delft, as you remember it, how was it handled?
LOOTS: He abused two members of the boarding school in Ghent. He also immediately removed from the boarding school. The decision was clear, no direct (INAUDIBLE) contact with young people. So, he became a coordinator, administrator of a center, for recreational and educational training in Sint-Pieters-Woluwe.
[20:45:12] ELBAGIR: Sint-Pieters-Woluwe, which is a school, though. So, the center is housed within a school?
LOOTS: Yes, but separately.
ELBAGIR: But there were children on the campus?
LOOTS: There were children on the campus. Yes.
ELBAGIR: Eventually, Delft got into trouble, again.
He was found with child pornography on a laptop that he had access to.
LOOTS: Yes. ELBAGIR: Were you aware that in 2008, Luk Delft went on a school trip with children to Lubumbashi in the Congo?
LOOTS: When you -- yes. When you -- no, when you say it to me, yes.
ELBAGIR: And yet, still the Salesians sent him to the Central African Republic, where CNN found his latest accusers.
What will you do now with Father Delft?
LOOTS: We have an advisory commission about cases about sexual abuse. And for us, these are new facts and I will bring together that commission and then we will discuss how to handle concretely. But, at least, give us the time to think about it. When people --
ELBAGIR: Father, do you have time? When there are vulnerable children, do you have time?
LOOTS: At least, we met first, Friday, now it's Tuesday. And now you proved me that there are new cases. So, also you took some time. So, we will not take time in the sense of months, of weeks, and a very short time. I will bring people together who can help us what has to be done concretely and what will be the most appropriate way to handle.
ELBAGIR: You've been handling child abuse cases now for eight, nine years.
ELBAGIR: How is that? How does that feel?
LOOTS: It's shame.
ELBAGIR: But shame doesn't help the survivors we spoke with. We traveled to the Vatican for answers.
ELBAGIR: We came to the Vatican to share the evidence that we were able to unearth, over a year-long investigation. Evidence of abusers being moved, evidence of refusal to defrock abusers, evidence of lives being destroyed. But many of the key institutions refuse to even speak to us. And that doesn't give much hope for the church's commitment to transparency and change.
How is it that even presented with evidence, allegations of a convicted pedophile's continuing abuse, Father Luk Delft was not immediately recalled from the Central African Republic.
Caritas Internationalis' new head of safeguarding says the Salesians did not contact them about the current allegations against Caritas' former director, Luk Delft.
So, you were only made aware when we contacted you?
ANDREW AZZOPARDI, HEAD, CARITAS INTERNATIONALIS: Yes, and from what information you shared with us, there are -- there are new allegations there which needs to be investigated, hopefully by the police or at least internally by the church to take action against Father Luk and any other person who was responsible for Father Luk's behavior.
ELBAGIR: And in order for that to happen?
AZZOPARDI: We need to have systems at work. We need to have people that follow that systems and when the systems are not followed, there needs to be consequences.
ELBAGIR: Yet again, the Salesians appeared to have withheld information from others, in the church. We are still looking to understand how this is possible. But the Vatican says things are changing and they are encouraged by the new papal guidelines issued just this year.
Father Hans Zollner is on the Pope's commission for the protection of minors. He was one of the few people who agreed to talk with us.
FR. HANS ZOLLNER, MEMBER, PONTIFICAL COMMISSION FOR THE PROTECTION OF MINORS: This is a very important step forward in the development of a culture of accountability.
ELBAGIR: Does this apply, though, to the Holy Orders? Because the Holy Orders will not directly fall under that bishop.
ZOLLNER: Now, the congregations and the religious orders follow a different type of structure and legal procedures. Many people think the Catholic church is a monolithic block with one CEO, who is the Pope, and he presses a button, and every bishop and every priest and every Catholic, actually, salute and they follow what he does.
And that is not the case. In some cases, in way too many cases, the religious superiors did not follow through canon law.
ELBAGIR: But the fact is, they did not follow through canon law. And there was no oversight mechanism that made any note of that, so there are no sanctions. There have been no sanctions for that.
An order that is almost untouchable, even by the Pope. Religious orders like the Salesians, are left to act with almost no external accountability.
ZOLLNER: When you put the institution first, and not the people, for whom you serve, then that is the biggest problem.
ELBAGIR: In the centuries of its existence, this is the heart of the battle within the church. Could these new papal guidelines make a difference? The way they are written makes it unclear how they will even be applied to religious orders. Survivors tell us it's impossible to have faith in a church that isn't holding everyone equally to account. Meanwhile, they're the ones left to struggle with the hurt.
TEXT: As a result of CNN's findings, Luk Delft was recalled to Belgium. Delft was kept under supervision at the order's residence, according to the Salesians. The residence has a school on its campus and was holding summer camps during this period. The Salesians have since moved Delft from this location and his current whereabouts are unknown.
Authorities in Belgium and the Central African Republic have begun investigations off the back of CNN's reporting. Caritas and the Salesians have begun internal investigations. The U.N. has suspended its work with Caritas in the Central African Republic.