The group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has asked Philadelphia Archbishop Justin Cardinal Rigali to support legal changes and punish church officials who had a role in the local church’s sexual misconduct and abuse of minors. The 4 page letter was delivered at a sidewalk protest outside the archdiocesan headquarters in Center City. The SNAP letter asked that Rigali “publicly endorse and lobby for” a legal window granting adult victims of clergy abuse a year to file civil suits, in spite of the expired statute of limitations. In response to the letter and protest, Archdiocesan officials issued a statement pledging to take any necessary steps to protect young people. It is still too early to tell if the church’s response is more of an empty public relations or a truly meaningful step toward reform and healing. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been rocked by turmoil ever since a grand jury report was made public detailing the nature and scope of the clergy abuse scandal in Philadelphia.
Now I know why Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles refused to disclose his priests’ personnel files. They’re full of stories of sexual abuse cover ups and re-shuffling pedophile and ephebophile clergy. The NY Times got an advance copy of the personnel files of 126 Roman Catholic clergymen that “provides a numbing chronicle of 75 years of the church’s shame,” according to the Times. I think that’s an understatement on the Times’ part. The clergy abuse scandal which doesn’t seem to go away in spite of the bishops’ best efforts is about an egregious abuse of authority and power. The victimization of young people, especially innocent children cries out for justice and reparation.
According to those who have viewed the files, the personnel records have been cleansed so that many of the damaging details have been removed from public viewing. This appears to be another public relations move on the part of the Church rather than an attempt at resolution and healing.
The recently released 422 page Grand Jury report from Philadelphia is a damning condemnation of how the Catholic Church in Philadelphia has used its power and influence over many decades to cover up and excuse horrific child sexual abuse. The report lays out in graphic detail the heinous crimes of priests who continued to abuse children in their care. Probably the most important part of the report is the prosecutor’s call for a change in the local statute of limitations so that these crimes can be prosecuted and victims receive their day in court and some semblance of justice.
The manner in which the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has responded to the report and its treatment of victims make it difficult for new victims to come forward. Very often, they feel guily and marginalized by their own church. The real heroes in this tragedy are the victims who have courageously stepped out of the darkness and told their story.
In a story published in Catholic World News today, Pope Benedict XVI has signed off on a document banning homosexuals from studying for the priesthood. The document is seen as a response to the priest abuse crisis that has dominated the Church, particularly in the West, for the last five years. The new pope has also ordered an investigation into 229 US seminaries which will look for evidence of homosexuality and how celibacy is taught in each institution.
It seems to me that making homosexuals the scapegoats for the sexual abuse crisis doesn’t address the issue at hand. The Catholic bishops are the ones responsible for the crisis. They continued to protect, transfer, hide, and cover up for priest abusers. They were warned, most notably by Rev. Thomas Doyle back in 1985. Rather than listen to the prophetic warnings, the bishops chose to ignore the problem. It’s high time that these men were held accountable for their actions and tragic inaction.
Paul Baier of bishopaccountability.org notes the following:
“The entire text of this guide is important. A few important points that have not been emphasized in the media commentary:
Sexual Abuse Ignored – The sexual abuse crisis, which is the reason for the seminary visitations, is nowhere mentioned in the document.
Homosexuality Scrutinized – The reference to homosexuality (para. B.4.3), which has prompted so much comment, is not the only allusion in the document to this issue (see, for example, the mention of particular friendships in para. B.6.10 and the reference to the Vatican’s Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons in para. B.7.4).
Elimination of Dissent Emphasized – The issues of proper supervision and dissent (e.g., para. B.2.7) are more prominent than homosexuality in the guide. For example, the Visitors to each seminary are to check that moral instruction is based on certain Vatican texts, including the birth-control encyclical Humanae vitae (see para. B.7.4).
Secrecy Enforced – The seminary Visitors (many of whom appear to be American bishops, some with a bad track record during the crisis) are bound by pontifical secret (para. A.2.9).
Classified Report – No provision is made for reporting the results of the visitation to the laity, who have been so harmed by poorly trained priests, or even for reporting to priests, seminarians, and most bishops. Only the bishop or major superior who is responsible for a seminary will get that seminary’s report.
Seminary History Not Included – Aside from an invitation to recent seminary graduates (para. A.2.7), no provision is made for investigating the sexual abuse history of the seminary. But that history is the reason for the visitation.”
I’d imagine that childhood sexual abuse will get a lot of attention this week after Laveranues Coles’ revealed he had been the victim of sexual abuse. The popular receiver for the NY Jets came forward last week so that others won’t be victimized. “If it gets one kide to come out and say, ‘Look, this is happening to me,” Sexual abuse of a child is the most horrific crime that our society has had to endure. When we can’t protect our children from expoloitation and abuse, it’s not a good sign for our society. Hopefully, Laveranues Coles’ courage will spare other children from what he had to endure as a child.
The following is an excellent editorial in the National Catholic Reporter:
Issue Date: September 9, 2005
Bankruptcy: the gamble that backfired
Words matter. More for a church than for other institutions because religion purports to be about truth. These truths, especially in the Catholic church, are largely conveyed through words — scripture, pastoral letters, encyclicals, books, homilies, even newspapers.
And, of late, in court documents.
In the two-plus decades we have reported and commented on the clergy sex abuse scandal, we have witnessed church leaders torture the language to avoid accountability.
Mistakes were made say some bishops, wary of attaching a personal pronoun to the criminal behavior of church officials who transferred child molesters from one kid-rich environment to another.
We treated the problem as a sin, not a crime, say other church leaders, as if the two are mutually exclusive.
We relied too heavily on the therapeutic community, say some bishops, which may be true but is hardly exculpatory.
Most famously, perhaps, was then-Bridgeport, Conn., Archbishop Edward Egan’s 1997 testimony that the priests of the diocese were not employed by the church, and therefore answerable to him, but were instead independent contractors. Egan subsequently became the cardinal archbishop of New York.
On the other side of the country, the language is as tortured in the bankruptcy proceedings of the dioceses of Spokane, Wash., and Portland, Ore. There, the church’s high-priced legal teams designed a too-clever-by-half, two-pronged strategy: First, forestall civil litigation against the church (and define its parameters) by voluntarily seeking the protection of federal bankruptcy courts and next, limit potential payments to creditors by shrinking the size of the pot established to pay off claimants.
The first aspect of the plan worked. Those who had a potential claim on diocesan funds stepped forward and have been counted.
On Aug. 26 in Spokane, the second part of the strategy — limit the scope of the assets available to claimants — failed. It did so because it is built on an assertion that any Catholic would recognize as false.
The Spokane diocese argued that the bishop has virtually no control over the parishes in his dominion. Therefore, those with claims against the diocese would have to settle for some percentage of the funds and the proceeds of sold property directly controlled by the chancery.
The diocese’s argument flew in the face of state law, under which the bishop is the “corporation sole,” the man who by virtue of his office “owns” the real estate and assets of the church in Spokane. Previously, in unrelated court proceedings, the diocese argued precisely that point: that the bishop was the owner of parish property. (Historically, the church supported the corporation sole provisions of civil law — a centralized approach to governance — as a reaction against potentially unruly lay parish trustees.) The diocese, implied Judge Patricia Williams, was talking out of both sides of its mouth. She ruled that all the assets of the church — its schools and social service centers, hospitals, retreat houses and parishes — must be considered in play.
The diocese also argued that the court should accept its interpretation of canon law as a basis for limiting the pot. Church law, said the diocese, sees parishes as “juridic persons” unto themselves. To even question that argument, said the diocese, was to trample on the church’s religious freedom.
To which Williams said: Canon law has no standing in a civil bankruptcy proceeding. If the church wanted to avoid an adverse ruling on the point, it should never have voluntarily filed for bankruptcy.
A similar narrative is about to unfold in Portland, where the diocese will make almost identical claims to those made by Spokane.
The arguments made by the dioceses of Spokane and Portland bring to mind Marx’s (Groucho’s not Karl’s) famous question: Are you going to believe me or your own eyes? The niceties of canon law aside, power in the U.S. church, ownership if you will, clearly resides with individual bishops in their dioceses. That power is wielded benignly by some, less so by many, but it is disingenuous to say that it doesn’t exist. Bishops answer to Rome and, presumably, to God, but not to their pastors and certainly not to the people in the pews.
It is a bankrupt church in more ways than one.
National Catholic Reporter, September 9, 2005
In spite of their protestations to the contrary, the Diocese of Gary in Indiana told parishioners this past Sunday that there are more sexual abuse allegations against Fr. Richard Emerson, who abused one of my clients while stationed in Orlando Florida. It takes a great deal of courage for young people to come forward and face their abusers. They are real heroes who deserve our support.
I want to share with you a letter I sent today to the Bishop of Pensacola Tallahassee in Florida:
Most Rev. John H. Ricard SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Monsignor James Amos Pastoral Center
11 North B St.
Pensacola, FL 32501
I am writing you this day to urge you to repudiate the Motion to Dismiss which was sent to me by the lawyers for your Diocese. As you know, I represent a victim of Monsignor Richard Bowles, a priest of your Diocese whom you removed from the ministry a few years ago after you had deemed other abuse accusations as credible.
In legal terms, the Motion to Dismiss is an affirmative defense available to you and your lawyers in civil cases brought against the church in Pensacola-Tallahassee. In the civil realm, it is within your rights to counter with such a defense.
However, as a bishop you have been charged with the care of souls, not the least of whom is my client Paul Tugwell, a victim of Monsignor Bowles and brother of one of your priests. He needs you to step in and do the right thing. He was abused as a young teenager by a priest whom he admired and trusted. As a result, Paul’s faith has been shattered. Perhaps a man of the Gospel could help restore that faith by doing what is right at this time.
You are very well aware that the prevailing law of the moment does not ensure justice and equality in all circumstances. One need only remember the landmark Supreme Court decision of 1954, Brown v. Board of Education. Before that ruling, African-Americans were subjected to an inferior education because of their color. It took a Supreme Court ruling to correct the inequity. However, that decision only addressed education. It would be another long 10 years before African Americans would win another important decision in their quest for justice. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities.
Sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church is also a civil rights issue. The children who’ve suffered abuse have been denied their civil rights. Their quest for justice is often stymied by antiquated or restrictive statute of limitations laws. That is why I appeal you personally to intercede for one of your own flock.
You have the power to do the right thing. Let Paul Tugwell continue his quest for justice. I look forward to your reply.
Joseph H. Saunders
Last year, Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore and a dozen priests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore knelt before 100 parishioners at a Maryland church in a public act of atonement for what some of their fellow priests had done to young parishioners. Yet, in spite of this highly publicized confession, the Archdiocese of Baltimore is unyielding in actually providing real help to victims. In fact, the church’s response throughout the United States has been inconsistent at best and at times cold and calculating. The document the bishops approved “The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” urges dioceses to reach out and “demonstrate a sincere commitment” to the spiritual and emotional well-being of all victims. However, the rhetoric has not been followed up with action. The Charter called for measures and standards to treat victims but glossed over the most important aspect that would promote healing, namely, components of empathy and compassion.
Bishop Anthony M. Pilla is facing more than lawsuits in Cleveland these days. The former head of the NCCB is accused of perjuring himself in testimony he gave at a deposition in a Cleveland clergy sex abuse case. In an unrelated matter that happened on the same day Pilla was accused of perjury, three women stood on the steps of the cathedral and said that Bishop Pilla had reneged on promises he made to them regarding their priest abuser. They also contend that Pilla hid the abuse and shuffled around abusive priests.