All posts by Joseph H. Saunders

Diocese of Venice Priest Arrested for Lewd Conduct

A Diocese of Venice Catholic priest was arrested yesterday for exposure of sexual organs and battery. Rev. Bernard Chojnacki, stationed at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Port Charlotte was arrested in Caspersen Beach in Englewood.
Chojnacki, a native of Poland who studied for the priesthood at Orchard Park in Michigan, has been ordained since 2009. The priest will appear in court in July on the sex and battery charges.
This has been a difficult year for priests in the Diocese of Venice. In February, Carmelite priest William Wert, who had been living at a Carmelite retirement center in Venice, FL was arrested and charged with several counts of sex abuse of minors.

Topamax Cleft Palate Cases May Lead to Other Medical Issues

Pregnant women who were prescribed Topamax or one of its generic equivalents may find that their newborn children experience more than cleft palates. These children may be susceptible to dental problems requiring braces and/or surgery as well as nasal/sinus issues. Additionally, there may be an increased risk of hearing loss in children who’ve been harmed by the drug.
Children born with a cleft palate normally require surgery to correct the problem within 12 to 18 months of birth. However, the secondary issues may require surgical intervention even earlier. However, it may be difficult for doctors to spot these secondary issues because they’re often hard to detect.
I spoke with one woman whose child was experiencing difficulty developmentally because the child was malnourished. The issue was caused by the baby’s inability to suck properly. It took some time for doctors to detect the problem causing the malnourishment and this may lead to further developmental delays.
According to the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry women who’ve taken Topamax during pregnancy are at an increased risk of giving birth to children with an oral cleft. Prompt medical attention is required.

Topamax Birth Injury Lawsuit

It’s a sad situation when an adult is injured by a defective product or a bad drug, it’s tragic when an infant is hurt. That’s the case with Topamax, a drug touted to treat migraines and epilepsy. Unfortunately, besides treating these conditions pregnant women have exposed their unborn children to a devastating birth defect-cleft palate.
As a birth injury lawyer, I believe the manufacturer of Topamax along with its generic equivalents, knew about these devastating side effects. Topamax is manufactured by Ortho-McNeil Neurologics. Since the drug has been on the market so long, there are generic equivalents of Topamax (topiramate) made by pharmaceutical companies such as Apotex Corporation, Aurobindo Pharma, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Roxane Laboratories, Inc., and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.
Soon after its introduction to the marketplace in 1998, the FDA became concerned that Topamax was being marketed for uses not specifically approved by the federal regulatory agency. This concern led to a criminal probe and Johnson and Johnson paid $81 million in fines and pled guilty to misdemeanor criminal conduct for “misbranding” Topamax.
Criminal behavior that hurts adults, that’s one thing but when criminal behavior injures innocent babies, that’s quite another, that’s unforgivable.

Are Diocesan Review Boards Effective?

Sounds like a loaded question, right? Actually, the answer depends upon the diocese or archdiocese, more specifically, the bishop or the archbishop in charge. After the Dallas Charter was adopted some nine years ago to deal with the priest abuse crisis in this country, each bishop was asked to form an independent review board within their own diocese to ensure priest sex abuse allegations were investigated and handled properly as well as avoid future occurrences. Most of the US bishops have complied and have active review boards. I can think of two who have refused to comply with the audits mandated by the Dallas Charter-Fabian Bruskewitz and Robert Vasa, the newly appointed bishop of Santa Rosa CA.
Yet, there are problems within the archdioceses and dioceses that have review boards. Some prime examples are the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and the Diocese of Gallup. There are others, but these three serve as prime examples of the inherent problems faced by these review boards. They are only as effective as the bishop allows them to be. In the three instances I’ve cited the bishop in charge didn’t bother communicating everything to the board, rendering their opinions and ability to make decisions ineffective.
In the end, the problem lies with the bishops since they are selective in what information they are allowing their own boards to see. This may be an insurmountable problem for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops when they gather to discuss this in June in Seattle. Each bishop acts as a sovereign in his own diocese. No other bishop can tell him what to do with his review board. Now, the Pope can intervene but no one truly believes he has such inclinations. Perhaps some bishops think it’s easier to ask for forgiveness once they’re caught rather than comply with the Dallas Charter. At least, that’s what the bishops in Philadelphia and Kansas City-St. Joseph have done.

Fosamax Lawsuits Consolidatedin MDL

Fosamax lawsuits have been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation for purposes of streamlining discovery and judicial proceedings in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. Fosamax, Merck’s osteoporosis drug is already facing numerous lawsuits in an MDL in New York for jaw necrosis. However, the new consolidated Fosamax lawsuits are concentrating on femur fractures in those who’ve taken Fosamax for osteoporosis.
Last year, the FDA asked all bisphosphonate drug makers to include an additional warning about atypical femur fractures associated with these drugs, including Fosamax.
The new MDL in New Jersey was requested because the drug’s manufacturer has its headquarters in the Garden State.

DePuy Pinnacle Hip Lawsuits Consolidated

DePuy Pinnacle hip replacement lawsuits will be consolidated in a multidistrict litigation in a Texas federal court. The MDL allows all claims to share discovery and streamline the discovery process as the lawsuits proceed through federal court.
Presently, there are about 57 DePuy Pinnacle hip lawsuits to be consolidated. Like the DePuy ASR XL lawsuits which are consolidated in federal court in northern Ohio, the Pinnacle hip replacements are failing at a higher than acceptable rate. As a metal-on-metal hip replacement similar to the DePuy ASR XL, the Pinnacle replacement hips may shed metal particles that flow into the bloodstream causing a potentially dangerous situation known as metallosis.
Recently, the FDA called on hip medical device manufacturers to submit data to the FDA as well as contact all hip implant patients in order to obtain information about failure rates, symptoms and problems with the hips, as well as information about which hips are failing and the causes relating to the failures.

Bishop Finn and Child Safety

It all began last December when Fr. Shawn Ratigan had a technician work on his laptop. The technician found image of child pornography on the laptop and promptly turned the computer over to officials at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph where Ratigan was incardinated. Ratigan’s bishop, Robert Finn acknowledged that he knew back in December about the images but he was told they weren’t pornographic. (This in spite of the fact that media reports note the image include “up skirt” photos of young girls under the age of 12 and one nude photo of a young girl’s genitalia).
Diocesan officials copied the images and returned the laptop to Ratigan’s family. Ratigan attempted suicide after he found out the Diocese knew about the images. At this time, it’s not clear who contacted a police officer. The officer was not shown the images but they were described to him. During this entire time, the Diocesan Review Board was never told about Ratigan or the images found on his laptop. Review Board members found out when Ratigan was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography.
Bishop Finn, who has promised transparency in all abuse matters, failed to tell his own Review Board about the pornography and appears to have been less than forthcoming with law enforcement about Ratigan. His inaction could have endangered more children since Ratigan continued to be around children until his arrest last week. Finn defended his actions by stating that he spoke with Ratigan and ordered him to stay away from children. That’s not good enough. Children could have been harmed and some may have been harmed by Shawn Ratigan because of Finn’s desire to keep it quiet.

Infuse Spine Device Linked to Male Sterility

A new study by a Stanford physician shows a possible connection between Medtronic Inc.’s spine device Infuse with male sterility. The study is significant since earlier studies funded by Medtronic showed no such correlation. Infuse is a bone growth protein that has been used in spinal fusions since 2002.
The NY Times quoted Dr. Eugene J. Carragee who performed the study, ““It is important that men who are considering having children have the opportunity to weigh the risks of the various available procedures,” said Dr. Carragee, who based his study on 240 patients he treated several years ago with Infuse or a bone graft.
The procedure in which Infuse is used is called an anterior lumbar fusion. There are approximately 80,000 such procedures performed each year.
The new Stanford study renews the debate concerning the accuracy and effectiveness of studies that are funded by the companies themselves. Two surgeons who published favorable Infuse results had financial arrangements with the maker of Infuse, Medtronic, Inc.
In publishing his findings, Dr. Carragee noted that his study was prompted by a complaint he received from a Croatian doctor. “Since 2006, an orthopedic surgeon in Croatia, Dr. Tomislav Smoljanovic, has written more than 35 letters to medical journals questioning the claims. In their 2002 report, Dr. Burkus and Dr. Zdeblick reported that a major clinical study involving Infuse had found no adverse effects with the product, including the sterility-related complication.”

Priest Sex Abuse

Four days ago and one day after the $1.8 million John Jay study on the root causes of priest sex abuse, a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, was arrested for possession of child pornography on his computer.
Incredibly, that’s not the disturbing part of the story. According to the Kansas City Star, diocesan officials, including the bishop, knew about the computer pornography since last December but failed to tell anyone. Of course, he was transferred (that’s the protocol). The information wasn’t shared with the Diocesan Review Board or the parish where the priest had been assigned prior to his transfer.
“We haven’t been presented the case; we haven’t been asked to look at the case,” said Jim Caccamo, who serves on the board and said he first learned of the allegations against Ratigan after hearing news reports of his arrest.
“There’s nothing normal about this,” Caccamo said, referring to the delay between when the diocese first learned of Ratigan’s possession of child pornography and the priest’s arrest.
“My question will be: Why did it take five months?”
Bishop Robert Finn apologized for his behavior only after getting caught. His response to distraught and angry parishioners: “Trust our Lord Jesus Christ. Trust his church.” Isn’t he supposed to be representing Christ to Catholics whose faith has been shaken once again? His response isn’t good enough. This behavior can’t continue to be tolerated.
Review Boards and expensive reports don’t mean much when the bishops themselves remain the sole arbiters in priest abuse cases. In spite of all the talk and public relations spin, the bishop still gets to decide who stays and who goes when an allegation is made about the sexual abuse of a child. Perhaps, bishops should be held criminally liable for such actions. Perhaps, that would force much needed change.

Episcopal Reflux

After enduring withering criticism to its John Jay study on the root causes of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, some bishops and members of the John Jay study have come out publicly to try to stem the tide against the findings of the study.
However, their responses have been a regurgitation of the same tired explanations and responses previously offered, leaving the public and some Catholic faithful to wonder when the Church will finally respond in a transparent, forthright manner to a crisis that’s overwhelmed the life of the Catholic Church.
In 2002, when the crisis bubbled to the surface, it was thought by Church insiders that this was a uniquely American problem. In the past year, that premise has been soundly defeated as abuse scandals erupted in South America, Germany, Ireland, and Africa. It’s indeed a catholic (universal) problem.
While the scandal has proven to be parochial, the Church’s response has been parochial and flat-footed.