Posts Tagged “priestly pedophilia scandal”

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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“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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The Rev. Michael Fugee, seen here after his arrest in May, has been expelled from the priesthood after admitting he violated a ban on ministry to children. (John O'Boyle / The Star-Ledger)One of the mantras repeated endlessly by the Catholic Church, whenever it’s asked why it didn’t deal more sternly with abusive clergy within its ranks, is that the process of throwing clergy out (which most of us call “defrocking,” but the Church calls “laicization”) is a long, arduous, and costly one. It can’t be rushed, you see, so often the better tactic is to leave abusers with their titles but just move them somewhere else and hope they won’t torment more kids (which, all too often, they ended up doing). Another point they make is that once a priest is defrocked — er, laicized — the Church no longer has any hold on them and they might go do something really, really bad.

Well, it turns out the former contention may not really be true. As the (Newark) Star-Ledger reports, it took only a few months to arrange the defrocking — er, laicization — of a child-abusing priest (WebCite cached article):

Acting with uncustomary speed, the Vatican has expelled a New Jersey man from the priesthood for repeatedly defying a lifetime ban on ministry to children.

Michael Fugee, 53, who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors despite signing a court-sanctioned decree forbidding such activities, has been returned to the lay state, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark.

“Very recently all the procedures were completed,” Goodness said Monday night. “He is no longer a priest of the archdiocese.”

The Vatican typically takes a year or longer to expel priests, a process known as laicization. In some cases, the procedure drags on for several years.

An astute reader might ask how the quick defrocking — er, laicization — of Fugee squares with the Church’s portrayal of that process as lengthy and gut-wrenching; well, so too did the SL:

Asked about the swift pace of Fugee’s removal, Goodness said the former priest’s petition for laicization was “given a good amount of attention when it was submitted.”

That’s the answer, then. It’s merely a matter of “attention.” If a diocese “gives a good amount of attention” to a defrocking — er, laicization — that’s pending, then it can move along quickly. So all the hand-wringing over the protracted defrocking — er, laicization — process turns out to be not as bad as they’ve claimed, after all.

What’s more, the idea that a diocese can control the actions of an abusive priest if they hold onto him, also turns out not to be true. As I’ve blogged previously, the case of the late Fr Stephen Foley here in Connecticut is evidence of that. He’d been removed from the active ministry — including losing his status as a state police chaplain — in the mid-90s after some abuse complaints, and moved onto the grounds of St Thomas Seminary, yet the archdiocese of Hartford was unaware that, over ten years later, he’d been driving around in a police cruiser, decked out with sirens, lights, etc. which he wasn’t legally entitled to drive — even had he still been chaplain, which he wasn’t (page 2, cached; page 3, cached; page 4, cached). Foley had used this illegitimate police cruiser as a lure to ensnare more child victims … right under the noses of his archdiocesan superiors (who, it appears, didn’t give a flying fuck what he was driving or what he was doing).

The number of lies the Catholic Church continues to tell about how it dealt with abusers in its midst continues to pile up, as do the excuses it propounds for why it refused to punish or eject them, or for why it has found itself engulfed in this worldwide scandal. Don’t be fooled by anything the hierarchs tell you about it; ultimately, they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. In their minds this scandal is entirely fictional, woven from whole cloth by any number of malefactors, ranging from the children themselves to the Devil to “masonic secularists” to Jews to … well, you name it.

Photo credit: John O’Boyle / The Star-Ledger.

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St. Peter's Basilica, VaticanI’ve blogged many times already about how the Roman Catholic Church blames the worldwide Catholic clerical abuse scandal on anyone and everyone other than itself or its own personnel. The blame-game is old and tired, but it seems the Church just won’t give up playing it. The latest example of this comes in the wake of a UN committee’s report on how the Vatican obstructed justice and aided abusive clergy around the world for decades. As the AP reports via CBC News, the Vatican denounced this report, blaming its content on “pro-gay ideologues” (WebCite cached article):

The Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a UN human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report hailed by abuse victims, the UN committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

The Vatican promptly objected and its UN ambassador accused the committee of having betrayed the international body’s own objectives by allowing itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues. He said it appeared the committee simply hadn’t listened when the Holy See outlined all the measures it has taken to protect children.

The Vatican’s reasoning here is absurd: They’re saying they shouldn’t be held accountable for child abuse and obstruction of justice in the past, because they’re better about them, now. Applied elsewhere, this sort of thinking would promptly be dismissed as ridiculous. For example, take a guy arrested for a murder a couple years after it happened; should he be able to insist that he shouldn’t be prosecuted for it, because he hadn’t killed anyone since then?

As usual, the R.C. Church once again complains it’s being attacked; in this case by these “pro-gay ideologues” who, they think, are trying to destroy them. This latest whine is just one more example of the Church’s denials: They continue to insist their clergy never abused any kids and their hierarchs never protected them. It’s all fabricated. The Church, its spokesmen, and defenders have cited plenty of other bogeymen in the past, ranging from “masonic secularists” to the Jews to the Devil, and even to the abuse victims themselves.

Clearly the Church hierarchy is committed to its ongoing plan to repeatedly deny and blame, deny and blame, then deny and blame some more. They cannot and will not admit fault, nor will they willingly allow themselves to be held accountable for what they did. Nevertheless, they claim to be the world’s sole remaining arbiter of morality. That’s the sort of hypocrisy that their own Jesus explicitly condemned … but like most Christians, they happily engage in it anyway.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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This 2011 file photo shows the Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena, Mont. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy protection Jan. 31 in advance of proposed settlements for two lawsuits that claim clergy members sexually abused 362 people over decades and the church covered it up. (Photo: Ron Zellar, AP)For what I believe is the tenth time over the last decade, yet another Roman Catholic diocese has been forced to declare bankruptcy, in the face of allegations it allowed its clergy to abuse children. As USA Today reports, this would be the Helena, MT diocese (WebCite cached article):

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena planned to file for bankruptcy protection Friday as part of a proposed settlement of $15 million for hundreds of victims who say clergy members sexually abused them over decades while the church covered it up.

Diocese spokesman Dan Bartleson said the bankruptcy reorganization plan comes after confidential mediation sessions with the plaintiffs’ attorneys and insurers, resulting in the deals to resolve the abuse claims.

Those bastions of Christian charity managed to hand off most of the bill for this:

The church anticipates paying at least $2.5 million of the costs, with the rest paid by insurers, which were part of the settlement talks, he said. Bartleson said the diocese does not expect to have to liquidate any of its assets or close any programs because of the filing.

Gee, how convenient … no? In this case the Church managed, successfully, to prevent its personnel from being prosecuted, and avoided most of the payout to victims.

Photo credit: Ron Zellar/AP, via USA Today.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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Cardinal-Francis-George 110516 photoby Adam-BielawskiYet another archdiocese has been forced to release documentation that it was complicit in the abuse of children by its clergy. This time it’s the Windy City, as the Chicago Tribune reports (WebCite cached article):

Thousands of pages of secret church documents [cached] released Tuesday as part of a court settlement provide an unprecedented and gut-wrenching look at how the Archdiocese of Chicago for years failed to protect children from abusive priests.

The documents provide new details and insights into how the nation’s third-largest archdiocese quietly shuttled accused priests from parish to parish and failed to notify police of child abuse allegations. The paper trail, going back decades, also portrays painfully slow progress toward reform, accountability and openness.

Most of the 30 clergymen tied to the documents were not prosecuted. They were shielded by Roman Catholic Church officials who thought the men could be cured with counseling or bishops blinded by a belief in second chances and forgiveness.

Some of the abuse and cover-ups in this document cache involves the current archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, as the Tribune explains. The most outrageous quote in the article comes from the good Cardinal himself, referring to the abuse and cover-ups:

“That’s in the past, we’re hoping,” Cardinal Francis George said in an interview Sunday.

He’s “hoping” it’s “in the past”? He merely “hopes” his archdiocese’s custom of protecting abusive clergy is “in the past”? Seriously!?

The man is the fucking archbishop! What he says in his archdiocese, goes. The man needs to pull up his big boy pants and make this not just a “hope,” but a “reality.” As archbishop it’s entirely within his power to make it so. He’s in charge, and needs to fucking act like it. Yet, he doesn’t seem to want to.

If anyone wondered how decades of child abuse could have occurred at the hands of Catholic clergy and under the watch of the Catholic hierarchy, now you know why. Because not even a powerful Catholic hierarch is willing to take ownership of his own archdiocese and run it the way he sees fit. No. He just “hopes” it will be run better from now on.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Cathédrale Catholic de Churchill au Manitoba (Cathédrale Saints-Martyrs-Canadiens-et-Reine-des-Martyrs), via Wikimedia CommonsNote: There’s been some news about this case; please see below.

Although I’ve condemned the Roman Catholic Church for the many decades it allowed its personnel to abuse children in its care, and protected those abusers by moving them around so they wouldn’t get caught, that’s not the entirety of the scandal. The Church couldn’t have pulled all this abuse off, without the willing assistance of other elements of the societies in which it operated, including secular officials who granted the Church a wide berth.

One example is that of Connecticut’s own Fr Stephen Foley, a Catholic priest and state police chaplain who, in the 1990s, had been accused of assaults; despite a criminal investigation that ended with Foley being fired as a chaplain by the state police and as a parish pastor by the Hartford archdiocese, he was never charged with anything (WebCite cached article). Foley went on to abuse more children afterward. The state police went so far as to allow him to drive a police cruiser, complete with lights, sirens and police-radio scanners, even though he was no longer a chaplain (cached) … and despite the fact that, had he remained a chaplain, he still wasn’t legally entitled to drive such a vehicle!

Another example of criminal-justice officials being complicit in a priest evading prosecution, came to light recently in Canada. The Canadian Press reports via the CBC about this cringe-worthy story that dates back to 1995 (cached):

A priest who this week is to face 76 sex charges involving Inuit children might have been tried years ago but for a quiet nod from Canada that allowed him to leave the country, says a church leader.

Georges Vervust is the top official with the Belgian Oblates, an order of Catholic priests that sent Eric Dejaeger to several communities in what is now Nunavut.

Vervust sheds light on questions that have troubled Dejaeger’s alleged victims for nearly a decade: How was a man facing child abuse charges allowed to leave the country days before his trial? And why did it take so long for him to be returned?

“What I have heard is that he got advice from people from the Justice Department, off the record, that he should leave,” Vervust said in a Belgian documentary. He confirmed his comments to The Canadian Press.

The CP goes on to tell the details of this story. It includes evasiveness and excuse-making by Justice officials at that time, including whines about being understaffed and the charges against Dejaeger not being a big deal. Ultimately, Dejaeger ended up on trial for his abuse many years after he fled the country, not because anyone in Canada bothered tracking him down, but quite accidentally:

In the end, it was an immigration violation, not an extradition order, that brought him back to face the charges he ran away from 18 years ago.

Dejaeger was eventually returned in January 2011 when a Belgian journalist realized that Dejaeger had lost his Belgian citizenship in 1977 when he became a naturalized Canadian. He had been living in Belgium since 1995 without a visa and was kicked out.

As I said, it’s not possible for the Church to have gotten away with child abuse, over the course of decades and in so many places around the world, if people around the Church weren’t willing to let them get away with it. At this point, societal collaboration with the Church appears much less of a problem than it once was, but it’s something we must always guard against.

Update: Canada’s National Post reports Dejaeger was convicted of 24 counts (cached).

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

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