Posts Tagged “catholic clerical abuse scandal”

General Audience with Pope FrancisAfter being tossed from the Vatican’s priestly-pedophilia review panel, abuse victim Peter Saunders has a bit to say about that project. And what he said, in his interview with AFP, isn’t good at all (WebCite cached article):

“Of course Pope Francis has established he is part of the problem,” Peter Saunders said in an interview with AFPTV, during which he insisted he had not resigned and that only the pontiff himself could force him to quit the Vatican commission.

“That breaks my heart because when I met him 18 months ago I thought there was a sincerity and a willingness to make things happen, and I am afraid that has been dashed now.”…

But Saunders now says he realises the commission was always going to be about “smoke and mirrors” and that he is convinced the Church will never act alone to cure the “cancer” in its midst.

Saunders confirmed my suspicion that his removal from the panel was caused by something more recent than his criticism of Cardinal George Pell some eight months ago:

Saunders said the move was triggered by tensions that arose after a fellow commission member told him about being approached by two priests from an Italian diocese who had discovered a colleague was a serial abuser of children.

He also tackled something I’ve been talking about for years:

Saunders said the notion that clerical sex abuse was a problem of past decades — an argument Vatican officials have assiduously promoted — had to be challenged.

“This is not in any sense a historical issue or problem,” he said. “It has to be tackled now. The Pope could do so much more and he is doing next to nothing.

“This is a societal problem — but if the Church, the so-called moral leadership of the world, does not take a lead in this area it would quite rightly be considered morally bankrupt in every other area.”

Saunders is 100% correct. The Church has, in fact, repeatedly insisted that priestly pedophilia is a “historical problem” (and using that very phrase), yet as we all know, it’s not “historical,” it’s “ongoing.” As long as the Church refuses to admit that, it will remain possible for abusive clergy to go on abusing kids.

So much for the notion that Pope Francis might deal with this scandal better than his predecessors. All he managed to do, by creating this commission, was to come up with yet another way of deflecting it. How disappointing. The little bit of respect I’d had for Pope Francis is now gone.

Photo credit: Catholic Church England & Wales, via Flickr.

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Crepuscular Rays at Noon in Saint Peters Basilica, Vatican City (5939069865)When Pope Francis ascended to the papacy, he was hailed as a reformer, and many expected he’d handle the worldwide Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal much better than either Benedict or John Paul had. As I’ve blogged many times, Francis has in fact gone his own way, many times and over many issues.

Whether he’s been able to make a real difference, though, is another matter. And the clerical child-abuse scandal appears to be one in which he’s gotten nowhere. It’s not as though he’s done nothing at all … back in late 2013 he announced the creation of an advisory panel on the matter, which included abuse survivors (WebCite cached article). Unfortunately, that commission hasn’t done much. Its meetings have been infrequent, and its impact has been minimal.

And now, as CNN reports, it seems someone in the Vatican has decided to kick one of the abuse survivors off the panel (cached):

One of two sex abuse survivors on Pope Francis’ commission on the abuse of minors by the clergy has taken a leave of absence, the Vatican announced Saturday.

But Peter Saunders, an outspoken critic of the papal commission, responded: “I have not left and I’m not leaving.”

Founder of the London-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood, Saunders told reporters, “I was appointed by His Holiness Pope Francis and I will only talk to him about my position.”

A Vatican statement said the “direction and purpose” of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was discussed at a Saturday meeting.

“It was decided that Mr. Peter Saunders would take a leave of absence from his membership to consider how he might best support the commission’s work,” the statement said.…

At a news conference after the Vatican’s announcement, Saunders said he was blindsided by the decision.

“I was asked to consider my role or what my role should be with the commission,” he said.

“I did not make a decision to take or accept any decision on a leave of absence. I said I would reflect on what I would do.”

Saunders said he learned about his supposed leave after the statement’s release.

The CNN article implies Saunders was thrown off the panel because of his harsh criticism of Australian Cardinal George Pell, but that happened eight months ago (cached). In most cases, that passage of time would suggest the two events aren’t linked. Then again, this is the Vatican we’re talking about, and it’s a proverbially slow-moving institution. Still, I’m not sure there’s a lockstep association here. It’s possible that Saunders has been causing internal problems for them during the intervening months, leading to this decision. That’s not to say any problems Saunders may have created for them are undeserved, or that he’s been unreasonable: The robed denizens of the Vatican probably just don’t like an abuse survivor calling them out on what they — and the rest of the hierarchy — did, and possibly are still doing.

That the Vatican didn’t even have the decency to tell Saunders he’d been dismissed before announcing his forced departure, is just another example of their moral deficiency and their sense of entitlement.

Was Pope Francis behind this low maneuver? Maybe … but maybe not. It’s hard to say how the Vatican operates these days. It’s true the Popes are nearly absolute monarchs, and technically in charge of everything that happens there. But there are times — both historically and now — when the machinery of the Vatican moves on its own, responding to its internal bureaucratic momentum. We’ll have to see what Francis does about this … but we’ll also have to keep in mind that, whatever we do hear, will have been filtered through that same machinery, since the Vatican is the Pope’s public-relations engine.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Trento DuomoThe sad parade of Roman Catholic Church officials who blames the “priestly pedophilia” scandal on anything and everything other than the Church’s own personnel, just keeps on going. Clearly the Church is having difficulty accepting responsibility for its own actions, or inactions as the case may be. The latest example of this phenomenon comes from an Italian priest who — like several other clergy before him — blamed pedophilia on the child victims themselves. Religion News Service reports on what Fr Gino Flaim said about what he thinks caused the scandal (WebCite cached version):

A priest has lost his post in northern Italy after saying he can “understand” pedophilia within the church. The priest appeared to blame children for sexual abuse and described homosexuality as a sickness.

“Pedophilia I can understand, homosexuality I don’t understand,” the Rev. Gino Flaim, a priest in Trento, told Italy’s La7 channel [cached]. “Unfortunately there are children that look for affection, because they don’t have it at home. And perhaps if they find a priest, he could also give in.”

Asked if the accusations against pedophiles were justified, Flaim said: “It’s a sin, and as with all sins they also become accepted.”

These remarks echo those of the late Fr Benedict Groeschel of EWTN three years ago, and of Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemyśl, Poland some two years ago. And they also echo the excuse-making, reported by an Irish abuse victim, of an abusive priest himself decades ago, and more recently by an Ecuadorian priest who’d worked in Newark.

What all of this means, is that Fr Flaim’s victim-blaming is not a unique phenomenon. It can’t, therefore, be taken as just one guy mouthing off like an idiot on his own. No, quite the opposite must be the case: If the same idea has been expressed over the course of years by Catholic personnel in various parts of the world, it must reflect some deeper philosophy simmering deep within the bowels of the Church.

The RNS reports that Fr Flaim has been removed from his post, but this hardly means much in light of how pervasive this expressed trope is. If there are more Catholic personnel who think as he does … as I suspect is the case … then there must be many more firings and a lot more reform. The only way this will happen is if Catholics make it happen … but I doubt they will. I mean, the priestly-pedophile scandal has been a worldwide phenomenon for some 15 years now. If the laity hasn’t figured out they need to force their own Church to change, in that time, they’re not going to figure it out at all.

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Looking north from a hill in Branch Brook Park, at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on a sunny midday.Among the R.C. Church’s rationales for protecting abusive clergy within its ranks is a presumption that the victims are to blame for it, and — perversely — that the abusers are the true “victims.” The Church doesn’t say so out loud very often, but once in a while someone lets this presumption slip, here or there. The most recent example of this, as NJ Advanced Media reports, came from a Newark priest who’d fled to his native Ecuador in 2003 when faced with allegations he’d abused a teen (WebCite cached article):

In an extraordinary admission of wrongdoing, a priest sought by authorities in New Jersey has acknowledged engaging in a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old boy, but he deflected blame for the incident by saying the teen “wanted” it and had “evil in his mind.”

In a telephone interview with NJ Advance Media, in email exchanges and in a lengthy post he shared publicly on Twitter, the Rev. Manuel Gallo Espinoza said it was a “mistake” to have sexual contact with the boy in the rectory of a Plainfield church in 2003. He said he fled to his native Ecuador after the victim told a nun and another priest that Gallo Espinoza raped him.

“One thing that I am conscious (of) is he was at that time a teenager, and it is a big mistake for me. But I didn’t force him to do anything he didn’t want,” Gallo Espinoza wrote. “He was older (sic) enough to walk away, but I think that I was attracted to him, that is the only explanation that I can think right now.”

Gallo Espinoza added: “He had something evil in his mind. He approached me many times.”

Amazingly, Gallo Espinoza had been rather public about all of this:

Using the screen name “Unforgetables Unforgettables,” he also wrote an 864-word comment [cached] beneath the July 30 story about him on NJ.com. Gallo Espinoza, who identified himself by name in the comment, later shared a copy of it on Twitter [cached], along with one of his emails to NJ Advance Media.

For the record, here is that July 30 story (cached).

Because the victim sued the archdiocese of Newark, this vile creep even indulged in the “it’s-all-about-greedy-plaintiffs” whine:

Gallo Espinoza made reference to Ramirez’s lawsuit in his correspondence, saying the victim had revived the issue after 12 years to cash in.

“The explanation that I find to begin again with this incident after many years is ‘EASY MONEY,'” Gallo Espinoza wrote.

So in addition to having already admitted he abused a boy, the priest tried to insinuate the incident had been fabricated for money. Nice touch there, fella. Really nice!

Another nice touch in this case is that the victim’s uncle and youth minister, to whom the victim had reported the abuse and who’d confronted Gallo Espinoza about it, warned him an investigation had been started and that he should flee the country:

While the circumstances of Gallo Espinoza’s abrupt departure have never been fully disclosed, he said in the telephone interview it was [youth leader Antonino] Salazar and [victim’s uncle Jeivi] Hercules who told him to run. Hercules, who has since entered the priesthood, is now parochial vicar at Queen of Peace Church in North Arlington.

Wonderful people, eh? How marvelous of these men — whom the victim had trusted enough to report the incident — to take that trust and crush it into the dirt. All in defense of a pedophilic priest and the Mother Church to which he belonged.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Archbishop John Nienstedt celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in April 2015 at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Jennifer Simonson | MPR NewsHere’s a follow-up to my last blog entry. Archbishop John Nienstedt is out, Religion News Service reports, as the head of the archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis (WebCite cached article):

The Vatican on Monday (June 15) launched a major housecleaning of the scandal-plagued Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accepting the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt along with that of a top Nienstedt aide, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche.

The moves come a little over a week after authorities charged the archdiocese for failing to protect children from an abusive priest and days after Pope Francis unveiled the first-ever system [cached] for disciplining bishops who do not act against predator clerics.

As noted in the article, not only has Nienstedt had trouble dealing with allegation of abuse by his priests, including the possibility that someone on his staff may have destroyed evidence in a criminal case, he’s engaged in some questionable behaviors of his own.

Nienstedt’s resignation, therefore, has been a long time coming … too long, as it turns out. Although some have praised Pope Francis for this and other similar moves, the cold fact is that it’s too little, too late. The Pope finally got around to closing the barn door only after nearly all the horses got out.

The time for the R.C. Church to have taken strong and decisive action against abusive clergy and their enablers in the hierarchy, was a dozen years ago or so when the abuse had been known and the worldwide scandal really began to snowball, with various countries’ investigations coming in and demonstrating just how extensive it was. The abuse happened for decades — if not centuries — and by virtue of the hierarchy’s (until-recently) successful cover-ups and resistance to doing anything, a lot of the perpetrators and their enablers managed to evade punishment. For every cover-up artist like Nienstedt who’s now forced to resign, a dozen predecessors had already managed never to be held accountable for what they did. It’s a travesty — especially in an institution that claims to be the sole remaining arbiter of morality on the planet. The truth about them is that they wouldn’t know morality if smashed them in the face and knocked them out.

Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson / Minnesota Public Radio.

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St Paul Cathedral 2012Note: There’s been some news today about this archdiocese; see my next blog post for information.

The worldwide Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal continues slowly to churn out news stories, because the R.C. Church’s hierarchs continue covering up for abusive priests — years after they’d said they’d do a better job of policing them. The latest such story, as reported by the New York Times, comes out of Minnesota and involves an archdiocese, not a person, criminally charged with complicity (WebCite cached article):

Prosecutors in Minnesota filed criminal charges on Friday against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accusing church leaders of mishandling repeated complaints of sexual misconduct against a priest and failing to follow through on pledges to protect children and root out pedophile clergymen.

The charges [cached] and accompanying civil petition, announced by the Ramsey County prosecutor, John J. Choi, stem from accusations by three male victims who say they were underage when a local priest, Curtis Wehmeyer, gave them alcohol and drugs before sexually assaulting them from 2008 to 2010.

The criminal case amounts to a sweeping condemnation of the archdiocese and how its leaders have handled the abuse allegations — even after reforms were put in place by church leaders to increase accountability — and the charges are among the most severe actions taken by American authorities against a Catholic diocese.

This case involves a catastrophic, consistent refusal to monitor and discipline Fr Wehmeyer, over the course of about 15 years or so. The archdiocese was repeatedly told about Wehmeyer’s antics, yet the abuse continued unabated. Wehmeyer finally was convicted in 2013 — not that the archdiocese did much to help bring that about.

At any rate, as this story explains, Fr Wehmeyer continued abusing kids in his care many years after the US R.C. bishops supposedly established a new “zero tolerance” policy, back in 2002. I guess “zero tolerance” must not mean what most of us think it means.

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“Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:23, New American Bible)I’ve blogged before about Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, who some 2½ years ago had been convicted of failing to report the abuse of a minor (WebCite cached article). In the real world most of us live in, being convicted of criminal wrongdoing while on the job usually results in an automatic firing from that job.

But in the strange, surreal, alternate universe of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, that doesn’t hold true. The bishops don’t generally like to have to pay too much attention to insignificant little things like criminal courts. They’re above all that, you see. So Finn was able to keep his post.

Until today. As Religion News Service reports, at long last — 2½ years after his conviction — the Vatican deigned to allow Finn, finally, to resign (cached):

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of an American bishop who was found guilty of failing to tell police about a suspected pedophile priest.

The Vatican on Tuesday (April 21) said the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, who led the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri.

The resignation was offered under the code of canon law that allows a bishop “who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause” to resign.

What’s remarkable about this is not that it took so long for the Vatican to act, or for Finn to quit. The Church had long resisted admitting Finn had done anything wrong in the first place — even after his conviction. But what’s remarkable is that he was let go after 2½ years. That amount of time strongly suggests there had originally been no intention of having him leave. Something changed — maybe 1½ to 2 years later — that made this happen … but what was it? I have no idea.

The other thing I’ve noticed, in reporting on this, is that media outlets (including the RNS article I cited, plus many others) make little or no mention of the 2½ year delay between Finn’s conviction and his resignation. I can’t imagine why that’s the case. This delay is certainly noteworthy, and anyone reporting on it ought to have mentioned it … even if only to concede there’s no known reason for it. Religion reporters appear to have taken a pass on that part of the story. It’s hard to imagine why, but they have. For this reason, I’m marking this as an example of a “journalism FAIL.” The delay should have been reported, if not thoroughly investigated — but it wasn’t.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic, based on Mt 7:23, NAB.

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