All posts by Joseph H. Saunders

Vatican Cardinal in Charge of Priest Abuse Has His Own History

William Cardinal Levada, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and former Archbishop of San Francisco by way of Portland, is the one responsible for handling priests accused of sexual abuse. Levada is the prelate who succeeded Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Ratzinger) at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the Pope named Levada to replace him, Levada was no stranger to the new Pope. When the Pope was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Levada worked for some time in Rome under the tutelage of Ratzinger. This was prior to Levada’s appointment as archbishop of Portland and then San Francisco. Levada was no stranger to sex abuse cases in both archdioceses. Of course, we could say that about most of the bishops in the United States. What makes Levada’s tenure in San Francisco interesting is what renowned journalist Jason Berry unearthed and published recently in Politics Daily. According to Berry, Levada was successfully sued by a priest Jon Conley. Prior to being ordained a Catholic priest, Conley was an assistant US attorney in Michigan. In 1997, Conley called the police after witnessing a fellow priest, Gregory Aylward, making sexual overtures toward a 14 year old boy in the rectory. Before Conley went to the police, he met with an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco (Levada was unavailable) who told him that “we usually keep these things in-house”. As a former US attorney, Conley knew that it was wrong to not contact the police so he contacted the San Mateo District Attorney’s office. According to Berry, “A chancery priest told Conley not to say “pedophile” or mention the accusations to anyone. The boy quit his rectory job. Conley met the family. The mother wept, saying she just couldn’t force her son to testify about Aylward’s advances, which had been going on for months. When Conley met with Archbishop Levada and a chancery monsignor, he knew the archdiocese was closing the wagons around Aylward.
When I interviewed Conley in 2005 for San Francisco Magazine, he told me that Levada used the word “calumny” when discussing the accusations against Aylward. Since a monsignor was also present, taking notes, Conley pulled out a tape recorder to avoid being set up as a scapegoat. “You don’t trust me?” said Levada. Ordered to turn off the tape recorder, Conley refused, he said. “I’m placing you on administrative leave,” said Levada. “Think about obedience.”
They met again privately, no tape recorder; Levada wanted Conley to undergo psychological evaluation. Conley refused. When a news article on Conley’s forced leave broke in The San Francisco Examiner, an archdiocesan statement said: “The archdiocese investigation determined that the wrestling incident was inappropriate and of poor judgment, but nothing sexual in nature. … The archdiocese instructed [Conley] to report the incident to civil authorities, and strongly supports the reporting of all incidents of suspected child abuse or neglect. It was [Conley’s] behavior subsequent to the reporting which was unacceptable.”
Instead of protecting children and removing a pedophile priest, Levada chose to attack the messenger. Conley was persona non grata. In this instance, there’s no way Levada can claim ignorance. He’d worked closely with Ratzinger at the CDF on these abuse cases. He KNEW better. And yet there’s more. In 1985 when Fr. Tom Doyle, Fr. Michael Petersen, and F. Ray Mouton told the US conference of bishops that the problem of priest sex abuse was a mounting problem that would cost the church billions of dollars, Boston’s Cardinal Law asked Levada to meet with the three and discuss their concerns.
For all these reasons and many, many more, Cardinal Levada is the last person who should be in charge of priest sex abuse cases. He’s part of the problem and can’t possibly be part of the solution.

Chinese Drywall Trial Ends in $2.6 Million Award for Home Owners

A federal judge in New Orleans has awarded seven homeowners $2.6 million in compensation for the damages caused by defective Chinese drywall. The defendant in this case was Chinese drywall manufacturer Taishan Gypsum Co. While the judge’s decision was a victory for homeowners who now face the arduous task of gutting their homes, it may be difficult to make the Chinese company pay the judgment. However, lawyers for the homeowners have said they may try to seize company ships headed for the US in order to ensure proper payment.
This first Chinese drywall trial is the first with more expected to come in June or July. It’s still not too late to pursue justice if you believe your home has been affected by the tainted Chinese drywall.

CA Court Finds Drug Company Could Have Warned About Drug Risks

A California appellate court has ruled that the generic manufacturer of Prozac could have changed its own label to warn of the suicide risks of the drug without approval from the FDA.
The case involved a 26 year old man who committed suicide in 2004 after taking fluoxetine, a generic version of Prozac for a little over a month. The lawsuit alleged that Eli Lilly, the generic manufacturer of fluoxetine, had a duty to warn patients of the risks associated with the drug. Lawyers for Eli Lilly argued that the company could not have added a warning about suicide risks because the FDA had already approved the drug for market use.
However, U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz of the Central District of California, ruled against Eli Lilly’s pre-emption argument, relying heavily on the Supreme Court’s Wyeth v. Levine ruling.
This is another important case in which the pre-emption argument, used to prevent injured consumers from seeking justice in state courts because of prior FDA approval, has been denied.

Indian Catholic Priest Won’t Fight Extradition on Sex Charges

Rev. Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul, a priest of the diocese of Ootacamund, India was working as a priest at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Greenbush Minnesota when he allegedly sexually assaulted a young female parishioner in 2004. Currently, the priest is wanted in the United States on two counts of criminal sexual conduct. In December 2006, the bishop of the Diocese of Crookston in Minnesota (where Rev. Jeyapaul had been working) wrote to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning the sex abuse allegations lodged against the Indian priest. While Jeyapaul continues to deny the allegations, the Vatican had recommended to Jeyapaul’s diocesan bishop in India that the priest be removed from the priesthood. Instead, Most Rev. A. Almaraj, Jeyapaul’s Indian bishop ordered the priest to spend a year in a monastery. Currently, he remains a priest and is working with the bishop in the chancery.
This case involving an Indian priest is similar to one I handled a few years ago. Our case involved another Indian priest, Rev. Vijay Vhaskr Godugunuru, a priest of the Diocese of Cuddapah in India. He was convicted in Florida of aggravated assault with the intent to commit a felony. As a result of the conviction, the priest was ordered to leave the United States, obtain counseling, and stay away from children.
Recently, I wrote a letter to Cardinal Levada of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith inquiring as to the priest’s living and working arrangements since he poses a risk to children in India. It’s quite possible this priest is working in a parish or a school with children. Because he is a foreign priest, it is very difficult to determine what sort of restrictions, if any, were placed upon him by his own bishop in India. It also quite possible the Catholics in his diocese are unaware of the priest’s criminal history. Prior to writing the letter to Cardinal Levada, I attempted to contact the Indian diocese but had no luck reaching anyone.
In the cases of foreign priests who come to the United States and abuse our children, it’s very important to make sure they are criminally prosecuted and are given no opportunity to harm other children in their native land.

Pope’s Preacher Hits the Wrong Key

In his Good Friday remarks, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, likened recent criticism of the Pope over his role in the priest abuse scandal to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. Needless to say, his remarks provoked outrage from the Jewish community as well as survivors of sexual abuse. Before writing this blog post, I had the opportunity to read Rev. Cantalamessa’s full remarks on Good Friday. Toward the end of his homily, Cantalamessa quoted from a letter he had received from a Jewish friend who compared the Jewish suffering during the Holocaust to the suffering the pope and Vatican officials have experienced recently. To say the least, the comparison is unfortunate and completely inaccurate. The Pope and bishops are not victims of the sexual abuse scandal. The criticisms lodged against the highest officials of the Catholic Church are warranted (even the Catholic conservative commentator Peggy Noonan admits it in her Wall St. Journal column today).
While the Pope’s defenders continue to cry foul at the criticism it has received. The Pope nor his subordinates have bothered to tend to the real issue at hand. I believe there’s a fairly straightforward reason for this. The Catholic Church has existed as a monarchical institution for more than 2,000 years. It’s not used to being forced to acknowledge mistakes or failures. The Church is not used to being questioned or criticized. When the Church speaks, the world is supposed to obey and take heed. Roma locuta est, causa finita est.
However, times are changing. The priest abuse scandal has not only rocked the church to its core but fundamentally changed the way in which the Church must deal with the outside world. The Pope can continue to call the criticisms of its handling of the sex abuse crisis as “petty gossip”, but the rest of the world doesn’t see it this way. The Church’s own internal documents provide a stark blueprint of how it has handled bad priests. It can’t simply run away from its own history.

Priest Wrote to Vatican in 1962 About Priest Sex Abuse

Almost a year to the day, I blogged about Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, a priest of the Servants of the Paraclete who had personally written to Pope Paul VI about the priest abuse problem. Now, we have another letter dating back to April 11, 1962. This time, Fitzgerald is writing to the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), at the
Congregation’s request “for information and suggestions regarding the tremendous problem presented by the priest who through lack of priestly self-discipline has become a problem to Mother Church.”
The letter is significant in two ways. First, Fitzgerald’s letter was solicited from the Vatican in order to figure out the scope of the problem. In other words, top Vatican officials knew about the priest abuse problem and wanted Fitzgerald’s assessment. Secondly, Fitzgerald’s analysis of the problem and subsequent recommendations went unheeded. Instead of applying the priest’s experience in dealing with abusive priests, the Vatican issued a document ordering all the world’s bishops to handle the problem under the “pontifical secret”. Fitzgerald foresaw the problems that would come if bishops transferred these abusive priests rather than removing them from the priesthood. Unfortunately, his advice was largely ignored and he was castigated as an alarmist and a problem (much like Tom Doyle has been treated since 1985).
In spite of the church’s protestations, they can’t continue to say they didn’t know about the problem and the devastating effects it would have on the church and the lives of these children. Half a century later, the church is reaping what it had sown. This is too bad for the church, and, more importantly, tragic for the survivors of this sexual abuse.

Pfizer Found Guilty of Violating RICO Act

Normally, the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) has been associated with organized crime. However, this past week a Boston jury found pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had violated the RICO Act in marketing its Neurontin drug for uses that the FDA never approved. The fine for the violation is $47.4 million. Since the jury found Pfizer violated the RICO act, the fine was tripled.
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals argued in court that Pfizer misled the insurance company in believing that Neurontin was an effective treatment for such off-label uses as treating migraines and bipolar disorder even though Neurontin had been approved to treat epilepsy in 1993.
Kaiser officials claim the false marketing claims made by Pfizer cost the insurance company in excess of $90 million.
Interestingly, Pfizer’s own studies found that Neurontin was no more effective than a placebo in treating migraines and bipolar disorder. These findings were not shared with doctors.

Vatican Defends Its Lack of Action

A few hours after the NY Times broke the front page story about a Milwaukee priest’s abuse of 200 deaf children, Vatican officials angrily denounced the story as an attack on the pope himself. L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper stated, “clear and despicable intention” to strike at Benedict “at any cost.” This in spite of the fact that the NY Times was quoting from the church’s own documents when writing the story about Fr. Lawrence Murphy a Wisconsin priest who was allowed to abuse deaf children for 3 decades in spite of the knowledge of 3 Milwaukee archbishops.
The Vatican newspaper declined to make any comment about why the church allowed the abusing priest to continue in ministry in spite of widespread knowledge that he was abusing children. Even a Wisconsin bishop was prevented by the Vatican from proceeding with a canonical trial against Fr. Murphy.
According to the latest in the Wall St. Journal, “Bishop Raphael Fliss, objected, saying in a letter to Cardinal Bertone that “I have come to the conclusion that scandal cannot be sufficiently repaired, nor justice sufficiently restored, without a judicial trial against Fr. Murphy.”
Bishop Fliss and Archbishop Weakland then met with Cardinal Bertone in Rome in May 1988. Archbishop Weakland informed Cardinal Bertone that Mr. Murphy had no sense of remorse and didn’t seem to realize the gravity of what he had done, according to a Vatican summary of the meeting.
But Cardinal Bertone insisted that there weren’t “sufficient elements to institute a canonical process” against Murphy because so much time had already passed, according to the summary. Instead, he said Murphy must be forbidden from celebrating Mass publicly outside his home diocese.
Archbishop Weakland, likening Mr. Murphy to a “difficult” child, then reminded Cardinal Bertone that three psychologists had determined he was a “typical” pedophile, in that he felt himself a victim.
But Cardinal Bertone suggested Murphy take a spiritual retreat to determine if he is truly sorry, or otherwise face possible defrocking.”

Vatican Mute on Priest Who Molested More than 200 Kids

The NY Times is running a major story above the fold today that is emblematic of the priest abuse scandal. It involves a priest, Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest transferred from diocese to diocese after allegations that he molested children while serving at a prominent school for the deaf in Wisconsin. The fact that he molested such a large number of children is testament to the fact that church officials failed to act and protect children from this sexual predator.
Fr. Murphy was ordained in 1950 and arrived at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis Wisconsin that same year. In spite of numerous allegations and complaints of sexually abusing school children at St. John’s, Fr. Murphy becomes head of the school in 1963. According to church documents uncovered during litigation involving Fr. Murphy, the Archbishop of Milwaukee was first informed of the abuse in 1955. According to notes taken concerning the incident, Murphy even admitted the abuse. In spite of this, he continues at st. John’s and gets the promotion in 1963.
In 1974, a group of former students band together, compose a mock “Wanted” poster of the pedophile priest and stage a protest outside the cathedral in Milwaukee. The church does not respond to the protest nor the mounting allegations of abuse. Later that same year, Murphy is granted “sick leave” status and moves to northern Wisconsin. Murphy spends the last 24 years of his life working in the Diocese of Superior. During this time, he has unfettered access to children, working in parishes whose members have no idea of the danger Fr. Murphy posed to their children and grandchildren.
According to church documents, three successive Milwaukee archibishops (Meyer, Cousins, and Weakland) were told about Fr. Murphy’s abuse of minor children and did absolutely nothing. None of them reported the abuse to civil authorities nor informed the Vatican until 1996 when Archbishop Weakland contacted the Vatican (more specifically, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in order to seek Murphy’s removal from the priesthood. In his letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith whose dicastery handled cases involving priest sex abuse, Weakland mentioned the Murphy case may involve situations in which children were solicited in the confessional.
After a year of waiting with no response from Cardinal Ratzinger, Archbishop Weakland wrote a second letter this time to a different Vatican office. In the letter Weakland noted, ““true scandal in the future seems very possible.” Finally, Weakland discovered why he had not received any response from Cardinal Ratzinger or his undersecretary Cardinal Bertone.
According to the Times, “Archbishop Weakland said this week in an interview, “The evidence was so complete, and so extensive that I thought he should be reduced to the lay state, and also that that would bring a certain amount of peace in the deaf community.”
What Weakland didn’t know was that the Murphy case had been dropped after Fr. Murphy wrote a letter to Ratzinger personally appealing for leniency. When Archbishop Weakland wrote the second letter it was intended to provoke a response from the head of the Apostolic Signatura (the Church’s Supreme Court). However, the cardinal in charge of the Signatura wrote back saying it was Ratzinger’s Congregation in charge of the Murphy case. Archbishop Bertone (now Cardinal and Secretary of State) instructed the bishop of the Diocese of Superior to proceed with a canonical trial to remove Murphy from the priesthood. After Murphy’s personal appeal to Cardinal Ratzinger, Bertone contacted the bishop of Superior instructing him to drop the canonical trial. Instead, Bertone advised the bishop to use “pastoral measures”. In explaining his change of heart, Bertone told the bishop that his reversal was the result of Murphy’s letter to Ratzinger.
It’s sad to note that the top officials in the Vatican, Ratzinger and Bertone, are solicitous of Fr. Murphy’s requests while completely uninterested in the plights of the hundreds abused by Fr. Murphy. When asked by NY Times reporters why church officials did not punish Fr. Murphy, Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, stated, “the Code of Canon Law does not envision automatic penalties.” This is simply not true. Canon law does provide for automatic penalties in cases such as solicitation in the confessional. Lombardi is a well-educated churchman whose answer is somewhat curious. Was it another “slip” or another attempt at cover-up and conspiracy?

Boy Scouts and Catholic Church Follow a Similarly Destructive Path

The Boy Scouts of American and the Catholic Church have been well respected institutions in American society for decades. The Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church have cultivated a public image that is wholesome, healthy, and good. Now, their reputations are threatened by institutional ineptitude in the face of a crisis the scale of which neither has faced before. As new revelations come to us in Chinese water torture fashion, the institutions themselves are beginning to show signs of crumbling from a lack of trust. The road that led to this erosion of public trust is eerily similar for both institutions. Let’s look at their similarities for a moment:
1)both have had numerous allegations of sexual abuse of minors, 2)both have been slow to respond to those allegations, often preferring to dismiss the allegations or waging an attack campaign against their accusers, 3)both have documented their own scandal in secret archives or secret folders the institutions have kept serving as their own indictment, 4)both have refused accountability and transparency.
Organizations and public institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America won’t survive without the public trust. Once that public trust is gone, the institutions will cease to be effective. Unfortunately, as of this posting, both groups seem to be hell bent on self destruction. On the one hand, we have revelations that the Pope himself mishandled at least one abuse case involving a priest in the 1970’s which allowed the priest two decades’ worth of access to more children. This week, the damning evidence of cover-up and concealment has been revealed in the Boy Scout trial underway in Oregon.
Secrets, cover-ups, conspiracie to cover-up-these are not the hallmarks of great American institutions.