Posts Tagged “catholic clerical child abuse”

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.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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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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Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford 3, 2009-09-02You could say the archdiocese of Hartford is the gift that keeps on giving … for agnostic bloggers like myself, anyway. Some two and a half years ago, this is the outfit whose attorney, Jack Sitarz, achieved a new high in low, during a civil trial over child abuse by a priest, by not only claiming the abuse wasn’t harmful because the victims “liked it,” but then by doubling down on that claim later in the same trial. (This is in spite of the fact that minors cannot by law be construed as consenting to sexual activity. Even I know this, and I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure how Sitarz got away with it.) Fortunately, the jury didn’t fall for Sitarz’s nasty and reprehensible maneuver (WebCite cached article).

Well, the archdiocese isn’t done scraping up new ways to evade responsibility for the abuse that it knew Fr Ivan Ferguson had been guilty of. They’ve appealed the verdict, the Hartford Courant reports, and demand the Connecticut Supreme Court invalidate the law that allowed the suit in the first place (cached):

The Archdiocese of Hartford is seeking to have the state Supreme Court overturn a $1 million verdict in a priest sex abuse case while at the same time reversing a state law that extended the amount of time in which accusers may file a lawsuit against it.

In February 2012, a jury in Waterbury awarded a former altar boy $1 million after a trial in which the victim, identified in court papers as Jacob Doe, testified that he and another friend were repeatedly molested and sexually assaulted by the Rev. Ivan Ferguson and a friend of the priest.

The diocese is asking the Supreme Court to overturn that verdict based on a variety of claims — including that the trial judge erred by not allowing an expert witness to testify for the church and by allowing the jury to hear testimony from a deposition of Ferguson.

But the most controversial argument is the claim that a state law last updated in 2002 — bumping to 30 years the statute of limitations for when a victim of sexual abuse may file a lawsuit — is unconstitutional and should be stricken.

What the archdiocese conveniently leaves out of the discussion, is just how long ago it knew the abuse had been going on, and even after it knew about the abuse, purposely chose to put Fr Ferguson back in a place where he could abuse more kids:

At the trial, testimony showed that when former Archbishop John F. Whealon confronted him about the 1979 allegation, Ferguson admitted to the abuse. Ferguson was sent to a treatment facility in Massachusetts. Two years later, Whealon appointed Ferguson priest director of a Derby school.

Ferguson and his boyfriend were accused of abusing Doe and his childhood friend at, among other places, the rectory to which Ferguson had been reassigned in Derby. At the time of the abuse, from 1981 to 1983, the boys attended the school. Ferguson died in 2002.

Now, I know some of the Catholic Church’s defenders here in Connecticut. Most of them are convinced no Catholic clergy ever abused any kids; that plaintiffs and their lawyers fabricated claims solely to extort money from a totally-innocent Church. It’s all a pack of malicious lies, you see, cooked up by greedy trial lawyers. While I agree some trial lawyers are greedy, and also agree it’s possible some plaintiffs are exaggerating or lying for profit, the cold facts are:

  1. Clerical child abuse has occurred within the Catholic Church;
  2. It happened all over the world, not just in Connecticut;
  3. The Church hierarchy knew damned well it was going on;
  4. The bishops happily and giddily continued putting kids in harm’s way by redeploying abusive clergy all over the place;
  5. And they actively interfered with secular authorities’ efforts to prosecute it, stifling investigations and even refusing to obey mandatory-reporting laws.

So am I impressed with these apologists’ objections? Fuck no. I’m nowhere near as stupid as they seem to think I am.

It’s long past time the archdiocese of Hartford stopped making ridiculous excuses, such as “the victims liked it,” grew the hell up already, and owned up to what they did. In this case, that was was to knowingly put Fr Ferguson in a place where he could abuse Jacob Doe and his friend. Pitching fits and whining in court over “unfair” legislation, is not accountability, and not what anyone ought to expect of Jesus’ representatives on earth. If you’re a Catholic and don’t like hearing this … well, it’s time you fucking grew up too, and started holding your own Church accountable, even if your bishops refuse to do so on their own.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Michael Jarrell (Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)For a very long time I’ve compared Roman Catholicism’s hierarchs to the Mafia. The parallels are rather obvious: They’re dodgy, secretive, require an initiation to get inside, and are worked up when the authorities get all up in their business. A few days ago, a Louisiana bishop exhibited yet more Mafia-like ethics when, as the Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser reports, he refused to disclose the names of several known abusive priests (WebCite cached article):

Ten years after admitting the Diocese of Lafayette and its insurers paid more than $26 million to the families of children molested by priests, Bishop Michael Jarrell this week refused to release the names of those priests.

“Bishop Jarrell sees no purpose in such action,” Monsignor Richard Greene, media liaison, wrote in response to The Daily Advertiser’s request for the priests’ names.…

The names of those priests were never made public despite policies by the Catholic Church to be transparent about child sexual abuse issues.…

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005 adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that outlines policies and actions church leaders are to follow in responding to allegations of sexual abuse of minors.…

The Charter also states that dioceses are “to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy,” report allegations of abuse to “public authorities” and cooperate with their investigation, and if the allegation is deemed not substantiated, take every step possible to restore the priest’s good name.

So Jarrell is disobeying even the meagre “reforms” of the USCCB. Those of us with brains unclouded by a desire to protect the Catholic Church at all costs, understand the compelling reason for naming abusers: So families can keep their children the hell away from perverts! Bishop Jarrell, apparently, doesn’t know that. Apparently he thinks nothing of letting abusers get to kids. Of course, that may be because he has no kids of his own and never will have them, so it’s something he doesn’t need to concern himself with and doesn’t consider it worthwhile. I guess.

As I’ve been saying … the hierarchs are little different from mafiosi.

Photo credit: Paul Kieu/The Advertiser.

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Pope Francis in IsraelThe current pope, Francis, has been in office for over a year. During that time he’s skirted the edges of a number of controversies, and even kicked up a few of his own (such as the astonishingly raw outrage engendered by his having washed the feet of — gasp! — women, of all people, during a Maundy Thursday rite). But so far he’s had little, if anything, to say about the worldwide “priestly pedophilia” scandal that’s swirled through and around his Church for many years now.

But that changed this past weekend. As the New York Times reports, he delivered a rare (for Popes, anyway) apology and asked forgiveness from the scandal’s victims (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children.

By meeting with six victims from three countries, Francis was trying to show resolve — and personal empathy — to address an issue on which he has faced criticism in what has otherwise been a popular papacy. While some advocates for victims praised the meeting, others dismissed it as little more than a publicity stunt.

Francis first greeted the six victims — two people each from Ireland, Britain and Germany — on Sunday after they arrived at a Vatican guesthouse. On Monday morning, he led them in a private Mass at a Vatican chapel, where he offered a strongly worded homily condemning an abuse scandal that began to surface decades ago under John Paul II. Francis also met with each victim individually in sessions that, in total, lasted more than three hours.

For a pope … and considering he hadn’t yet addressed the scandal squarely … he was remarkably frank:

“Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you,” Francis said during his homily, according to a text released by the Vatican. “And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”

In his homily, Francis also vowed “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and declared that bishops would be held accountable for protecting minors. He said the abuse scandals had had “a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.”

Since this admission and request for forgiveness is virtually unprecedented, I can see why a lot of the Church’s critics are unimpressed. It’s one thing for the Pope to say all of this; it’s another entirely to put those words into action. Just a few days ago, for example, the Pope’s own minions in the Holy See told the Australian commission investigating clerical child abuse in that country to go fuck itself (cached). That position directly and materially contradicts the Pope’s claims that his hierarchs are to “be held accountable for protecting minors.”

Given that — and given the Church’s consistent and many-years-long pattern of denying the scandal and blaming it on anything and everything but itself — I’m not really sure Francis means what he said. I’m really not. Only time will tell … but I don’t expect time will reveal any meaningful change within the Church.

P.S. Oh, and you Catholic apologists who always stamp and fume that child abuse is reported only in relation to your precious Church … take a look at the bottom of this Times article. Under “More In Europe,” you’ll see a link entitled to another Times article about the UK investigating decades-old government-related abuse allegations that reportedly had been hushed up by that same government (cached). So put away your laughable fucking martyr complex and just admit what you damned well know your Church did. That other institutions, religious and otherwise, pulled the same shit doesn’t make any of it right; using the whiney crybaby claim that the mass media is out to destroy your Church has gotten ridiculous. Quite obviously the media are not ignoring other groups’ similar transgressions so they can make it seem only your Church is guilty of systemic child sexual abuse. Grow up and get the hell over it already.

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Seattle St James - pano 02Another year is almost half over, and that means another Roman Catholic institution has been forced to settle up with “priestly pedophilia” victims. This time, as the Seattle Times reports, it’s the Seattle archdiocese (WebCite cached article):

The Archdiocese of Seattle has agreed to pay $12.125 million to 30?men who say they were sexually abused as students decades ago at Seattle’s O’Dea High School and Briscoe Memorial School in Kent.

In lawsuits filed in King County Superior Court, the men alleged the archdiocese failed to protect them from known abusers, including two former O’Dea teachers who were members of the Roman Catholic Christian Brothers order, which filed for bankruptcy in April 2011.

The Christian Brothers operated O’Dea and Briscoe, a former orphanage and boarding school for boys, but both schools were owned by the Seattle Archdiocese.

“I deeply regret the pain suffered by these victims,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said Tuesday in a statement. “Our hope is that this settlement will bring them closure and allow them to continue the process of healing.”

The allegations in these cases dated back as long ago as the 1950s, and documentation from the 1960s indicated that problems were known, at that time:

In court papers, [plaintiffs’ attorney Mike] Pfau and law partner Jason Amala cited a 1966 letter from one of the Christian Brothers at Briscoe to an official at the Catholic order that described a “damaging atmosphere” that had reached “immoral and unethical limits.”

These men of God spent decades working very hard keep their nasty secrets from leaking out. I’m sure they’re all very proud of their efforts.

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Robert J. Carlson is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. RNS image by Jerry Naunheim Jr., courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Communications and Planning / via RNSFor the second time today, I find I must post about some news concerning the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal. It turns out to be an item that, while both sad and unaccceptable, is really not much of a surprise any more. The Religion News Service reports yet another Catholic hierarch admitted he hadn’t realized that child abuse was, like, illegal (WebCite cached article):

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday (June 9).

During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was a crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.

However, it’s not entirely clear that Carlson was as fuzzy on the matter as he’d said in the deposition:

Yet according to documents released Monday (June 9) by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Carlson showed clear knowledge that sexual abuse was a crime when discussing incidents with church officials during his time in Minnesota.

In a 1984 document, for example, Carlson wrote to the then-archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis — John R. Roach — about one victim of sexual abuse and mentioned that the statute of limitations for filing a claim would not expire for more than two years. He also wrote that the parents of the victim were considering reporting the incident to the police.

So maybe Carlson’s admission during the deposition … i.e. that he hadn’t known whether child abuse was a crime … is some kind of clever legal posturing. Who knows?

At any rate, as I remarked at the beginning of this post, this is definitely not the first time a Catholic hierarch has admitted being unaware that it’s illegal to harm children. Former archbishops Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee and Roger Mahony of Los Angeles have said the same thing. (Mahony, please note, has even less of an excuse than the others to have thought so, since he’d been trained as a social worker, of all things.)

At times I’ve accused the Roman Catholic hierarchy of having something of a mafiosi mentality. They tend toward secrecy and don’t feel any shame about breaking laws to do so. But I’m not sure this comparison is really apt any more. The Church and the mafia definitely differ on at least one point: Most mobsters know they break laws. But at least some Catholic bishops aren’t even aware of that much.

Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr. & Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Communications and Planning, via Religion News Service.

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