The Catholic Diocese of Burlington http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=4790947&nav=menu183_2 settled a sexual abuse lawsuit on the eve of trial against a serial predator priest, Fr. Edward Paquette. The settlement is considered the largest settlement in the history of the rural diocese. In a statement after the settlement, the Diocese acknowledged that it had made mistakes in handling allegations against the former priest.
Roger Cardinal Mahony lost his bid to keep secret correspondence between his office and priests accused of child abuse. Mahony had argued that such documents were protected by the First Amendment. The US Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal effectively letting stand a California appellate court’s decision to reject the consitutional appeal. This is good news for prosecutors as well as those interested in protecting children form sexual predators.
In spite of his defense lawyers’ testimony, Monsignor Dale Fushek will face five counts of contributing to delinquency of a minor, two counts of indecent exposure and three counts of assault. Fushek attempted to hide behind the First Amendment arguing that his salacious sex talk in the confessional was protected under the Freedom of Religion provisions in the First Amendment.
In this week’s edition of The National Catholic Reporter, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony talks about his public stance on immigration reform. In one part of the interview, Mahony declares to reporter John Allen that immigration is a life issue just like abortion. When the interview turns to the topic of the sexual abuse crisis in the US church, Mahony fails to make any such correlation. I wonder why? In declaring immigration a life issue, Mahony states that any time an issue involves people, it’s a life issue. Then, why the silence and obfuscation when it comes to dealing with abuse victims?
In the last decade or so, conservatives have claimed for themselves the mantle of “Champion of Family Values” for as they see it, they’ve been on the “right” side of issues such as abortion, education, and prayer in public schools. Yet when it comes to protecting the rights of children abused by predatory adults, these same conservatives have often sided with the institutions that hide and protect the abusers. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, it’s money. The conservatives who have claimed family values as their rallying cry now protect the deep pocketed institutions that support them. An excellent analysis of the situation is given by Professor Marci Hamilton in today’s Find Law http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20060406.html
Sadly, the sexual abuse scandal that has so plagued the Catholic Church in the United States shows no real signs of abating. According to statistics compiled by a commission sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, there were 783 credible charges against Catholic clergy last year. Of the 783, 9 of those charges concerned abuse that occurred last year. The remainder of the charges stem from abuse that happened in the 1960’s or 1970’s. The report also notes that 4,827 priests have been accused of sexual abuse by 12,537 youths-most of whom were boys or young men at the time.
The scandal has touched every diocese and every state in the country. It can not be said to have affected only a certain demographic of the Catholic population. It’s a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution. I don’t see such an approach anywhere on the horizon.
According to the National Review Board set up by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of Chicago was in full compliance with its sexual abuse charter. The charter, designed to protect young children, was implemented in 2002 after the bishops’ meeting in Dallas. In spite of this declaration of “full compliance” the Archdiocese of Chicago failed to act in the case of Fr. Daniel McCormack who supposedly had a checkered past dating back to his days in the seminary.
How effective is the Review Board if it misses such obvious cases as McCormack who’s been indicted on sexual abuse charges as recent as a few years ago? Full compliance is meaningless if it doesn’t protect children.
The Episcopal Church in Florida is now facing a $5 million lawsuit stemming from the sexual abuse of a young girl by deceased Episcopal priest Fr. Joseph Noll. The abuse occurred at St. Stephen’s Church in Jacksonville in 1969. The victim says it started when she was 11 and that the priest locked the door, showed pictures of naked men, undressed and fondled her. She even alleges that the priest made inappropriate use of ceremonial candle.
NIMBY stands for Not in My Backyard. William Cardinal Keeler was in town to speak at Sunday night’s Eternal Light Awards dinner in St. Petersburg. The Cardinal had just been presented with the award for his work on behalf of interreligious dialogue among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Keeler spoke about the importance of bridging the gap between these faith communities. However, his passion for building bridges with other faiths only made the contradiction clearer. Why would a churchman such as Keeler dedicate his life to building bridges and neglect the most important bridge of all-the bridge to victims of sexual abuse?
I have no reason nor intention to impugn the Cardinal’s character. But my question remains-why show so much concern for building bridges between faiths when there is so much repair to be done in your own faith? Why would a man like Keeler lobby the Maryland legislature to drop a proposal that could bring justice and perhaps healing to victims of sexual abuse?
My only answer is NIMBY-Not in My Backyard; let Justice and Compassion spring forth in far off lands-just not in my backyard.
Let peace and reconciliation grow among Jews, Muslims, and Christians-just not in my backyard where some of my flock have been abused by my shepherds.
Many state legislators including those from Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland are considering opening up the civil statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse. However, they are all too often doing so in a very restrictive manner. In Colorado, for instance, legislators are considering opening up the statute for those victimized after 1982 when all the evidence points to the fact that many of those abused suffered in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Such proposals don’t help victims. I have to presume the legislators are trying to do something without offending the powerful Catholic hierarchies in their respective states. It is no secret that local bishops have become powerful lobbyists in state capitols and are pressuring legislators to protect the institution of the church. This is entirely unjust and re-victimizes the victims!