Even if you are well versed in the clerical sexual abuse scandal, you probably don’t know the name Dino Cinel. He was just murdered in Colombia by his lover. From the New Orleans Advocate, some background on this criminal:
Cinel was a historian on the Tulane University faculty and was living at the rectory of St. Rita Catholic Church in late 1988 when a fellow priest discovered him with child pornography and homemade tapes of Cinel having sex in the rectory with young men.
The story did not become public at that time, and the official response raised immediate controversy when it finally became known more than two years later.
Upon first learning of the discovery, Archbishop Philip Hannan fired Cinel, who was on vacation in Italy at the time. But some suspected the archbishop was giving Cinel a heads-up that authorities were onto him, said Bruce Nolan, who covered the ensuing scandal for The Times-Picayune.
Then-District Attorney Harry Connick, a St. Rita parishioner, let the church hold onto the video recordings for weeks, which church officials explained by saying they were trying to identify and contact any victims involved. Connick later concluded that the evidence in the case was not strong enough to prosecute Cinel.
At one point, a former sexual partner who said he was underage at the time he had a recorded encounter with Cinel sued him in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
And in 1991, WDSU-TV reporter Richard Angelico aired stories on the dispute featuring audio clips from the sex tapes as well as video depositions showing Cinel calmly recounting the acts.
Cinel then added to the scandal by going on rival WWL-TV to talk about how his privacy had been invaded and to apologize to parishioners about a compulsion he promised was behind him.
“He was very bold and brash about what he’d done, thought it was no big deal, and that people didn’t understand it,” Nolan recalled. “He was not chastened. He was in some sense defiant and dismissive.”
Here, from a 1991 (!) report in Vanity Fair, is more background on Cinel:
Or so it seemed until last spring, when the parishioners at St. Rita’s finally learned from the news media about the activities of one of their favorite priests. Father Dino Cinel, a charming Italian-born priest who lived at St. Rita’s for nearly a decade, was discovered to have stockpiled an enormous cache of commercially produced pornographic films, photographs, and magazines featuring young children as sexual objects. “Little Brother Wants a Kiss!” reads one magazine. “Yes! A minor is loads of fun!” Another shows pictures of children in black leather performing oral sex on each other; one headline advertises “Big Prick Dream Boy.” A how-to article entitled “Young Boys Are Fun in Bed” instructs “fellow boy-fu*kers” on how to seduce children, from hanging around near schoolyards to striking up conversations—”Be nice”—to initiating sex (“A few drinks or a pipe of hashish … will help you a lot”).
The mere possession of such material carries a mandatory jail sentence in Louisiana, which has one of the strictest child-pornography laws in the nation, but there was more. Also found in Father Cinel’s room were 160 hours of homemade pornographic videotapes in which the handsome priest performed anal sex, oral sex, group sex, and a dizzying array of other diversions (often including his fluffy white lapdog) with at least seven different teenage boys. His voice as soft as a caress, he was relentlessly persuasive as he urged one boy to have sex with his brother on-camera, another to have intercourse with his mother and to bring in his sister and her boyfriend to make a group-sex video they might sell in Denmark. At one point one of Cinel’s partners reported back on his mother’s reaction when he tried to seduce her: “She got real upset,” he said plaintively. “She never reacted the same to me after that. It blew her mind.”
Hers wasn’t the only mind that was blown. To the horror of the parishioners at St. Rita’s, many of the videotapes were made in the rectory, in Father Cinel’s modest little suite of rooms right under the noses of the other priests in residence there. But the uproar last spring was only the public eruption of a scandal that the church had kept secret for more than two years and that was finally revealed not by diocesan officials but by Richard Angelico, an outstanding investigative reporter on WDSU-TV, the local NBC affiliate. Father Cinel’s cache of contraband had been discovered at the end of December 1988, and although he himself was discreetly ousted as a parish priest shortly thereafter, the archdiocese held on to his collection of pornography for three months before turning it over to the district attorney’s office, prompting a barrage of later questions about whether the tapes had during that time been purged of sequences involving minors or parishioners. In addition to the resulting charges of a church cover-up, when the news became public the district attorney immediately came under fire for his failure to prosecute Cinel.
Harry Connick Sr., the father of the singer, is a devout Catholic and a parishioner at St. Rita’s as well as the longtime D.A. of Orleans Parish, New Orleans being a town so Catholic its counties are called parishes. Although Connick had lobbied hard for Louisiana’s tough new child-pornography statute, he had also entertained Father Cinel in his home, and the sociable priest had even performed the rites at the wedding of Connick’s brother-in-law. In a television interview with Angelico, the D.A. admitted that one reason he hadn’t prosecuted the case, despite a recommendation by his own investigators that he do so, was his unwillingness to embarrass “Holy Mother the Church.” The ensuing outcry drove him from public view, although the D.A.’s office did finally file a single, unspecific charge of possession of pornography against Cinel—a move so halfhearted that it elicited still more criticism, since hundreds of charges could technically have been filed based on the commercial pornography collection alone.
Indeed, the Cinel case is being described as the largest documented case of priest pedophilia in the history of the crime. Federal authorities are expected to file additional charges this fall based on violations of customs and postal regulations, since Cinel admitted he had smuggled some of his stash into the country from Europe. Then there are the civil lawsuits: two so far, one by each of Cinel’s most long-standing boyfriends, citing not only the priest but also the church for its failure to protect them from Father Cinel’s predations.
“What is so staggering to me is not that there are a lot of pedophile priests, because child molestation affects all layers of society,” says [journalist] Jason Berry. “What staggers me is the stupidity of the bishops who simply are afraid to do the morally correct thing. The Cinel case is a Watergate kind of story, because ultimately every one of these cases is a tragedy. You have the hubris of power—the raw arrogance, the blindness, the myopia. Every one of these stories is about the abuse of ecclesiastical power, and about the ecclesiastical power structure trying to conceal the internal corruptions that have long been tolerated.”
The alleged agreement with the D.A. isn’t the only deal Cinel claims to have made: when another priest finally blew the whistle on him, Cinel says, the archbishop agreed that if he departed quietly the material discovered in his room would not be used against him. The circumstances of Cinel’s downfall were ironic. He had just been driven to the airport by Linda Pollock, his future wife, who was to use his car while he made a lecture trip to Italy. She promptly locked the keys in the car and called the rectory to ask another priest to check Cinel’s room for an extra set. Father James Tarantino began poking around in Cinel’s desk, where he found piles of child pornography. Archbishop Hannan was notified and called Cinel in Italy the next day. Both Cinel and Hannan agree that the archbishop’s first request was that the errant father simply stay in Italy; Hannan doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with having encouraged a priest who had just been discovered to have committed criminal acts to become a fugitive from justice. But Cinel refused to disappear. “He replied, to my great surprise, that he resented the invasion of privacy of his room, and didn’t show any kind of remorse,” Hannan reports. The rest of their conversation is a matter of bitter dispute. “Of course I did not make any deal at all,” protests Hannan. “Those charges are ridiculous.” Indeed, Hannan has repeatedly expressed outrage that anyone would even question his word against that of someone like Cinel. “Father Dino was a real number-one con man,” he says indignantly.
However, Hannan’s version of events is contradicted by others as well. One key issue is whether the archdiocese notified Tulane University when the tapes were discovered. The first time I ask Hannan whether he told Tulane, he stammers and hedges. “I’m trying to think … I don’t remember what we did about Tulane,” he says. Half an hour later, his memory suddenly improves, and he calls me back with a new answer, saying that he had indeed informed the school. “It was all done within twenty-four hours,” he says briskly. “I took care of notifying some of the people, and Bishop Muench notified some of the others—right away.”
Read the whole thing. This was 1991! The John Geoghan case, which would finally break the dam, was eleven years in the future. But there it all was in New Orleans: A priest who befriended lonely boys and raped them; an archbishop and archdiocesan machinery who preferred to protect a serial child rapist (and the image of the Church) instead of seeking justice; a Catholic DA and establishment that rallied around the institutional Church; and aggressive local media breaking the story.
Nothing that happened in 2002 was new.
And now, Dino Cinel is dead, murdered in Colombia by an 18-year-old lover. Cinel escaped justice in this world, but I suspect he will not be so lucky in the next.