God vs Gavel
Philadelphia Dysfunction and Guam Success
Yesterday, Cardinal Rigali, the leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, announced that he was taking decisive action to respond to the charges in the 2011 Grand Jury Report that there are thirty-seven credibly accused priests in active ministry. He had already named and suspended three priests, because the Report named them, and he had literally no choice.
He announced he was placing on "administrative leave" twenty-one priests. One step forward, but another step back: he did not name them. Instead, he said that their names would be released individually to each "affected" parish after mass on this Ash Wednesday.
Here is what he continues to get wrong—because of his and his predecessor's practice of moving known child predators from parish to parish, all parishes are affected. In fact, all Philadelphians are affected, because you can be sure that offending clergy have not limited themselves to the current, diminishing number of church-attending Catholics. If he really wanted to hear from every victim so as to cleanse the Archdiocese of dangerous clergy, he would have named the alleged perpetrators. That is what brings victims out of from their shells of suffering and silence. But the goal is, once again, protecting the Church from as much scandal as possible, for as long as possible.
It is not as though the names are being kept private. They are being announced publicly, just not to the general public. When the information stays "in-house," you know the Philadelphia Archdiocese is still solidly dysfunctional. The point of the Grand Jury Report was to increase child safety, period.
And you may be wondering about those other accused priests, because thirty-four minus three minus twenty-one, leaves ten. Well, some of those clergy are inactive (which means they have more time to seek out children), and some are with Orders. So Rigali essentially said, "Not my problem." Since the center of the universe is the Archdiocese, not children, that apparently makes sense to him.
Attorney Gina Maisto Smith has taken on the thankless task of performing an "independent" investigation into the twenty-one. She announced yesterday that the Archdiocese was "permitting" her to hire experts to aid her, including a psychiatrist, a social worker, and a psychologist, among others. It is not clear what their role will be—are they there for the perpetrator or the victim? And why does an investigation into criminal and tortious activity need psychological support anyway?
The 2005 and 2011 Grand Jury Reports, which provide the only unvarnished truth to escape from the Archdiocese to date, were the result of ordinary citizens looking at the evidence presented by witnesses who had to swear to tell the truth. It would have been best if the Archdiocese had cooperated fully with the District Attorney's Office, instead of withholding files on many of the thirty-seven still in ministry, as the 2011 Grand Jury Report states.
Here is where Smith is going to be hampered. She is being told, apparently, that all of the Archdiocese's files are open to her. For those who have labored in these vineyards before, she comes across as a starry-eyed naïf. Here are some questions she might want to ask Cardinal Rigali:
- When you say "files," do you mean ordinary files, or secret archive files, or super-secret archive files?
- When you say "all," do you mean all of the files I need to determine the truth or all of the files you think I need? (We know for a fact that John Jay College was not permitted to see many secret archive files by bishops across the country when it conducted an investigation into abuse for the United States Conference of Bishops.)
- How many files involving accused priests have Cardinal Krol, Bevilacqua, and you sent through diplomatic channels to the Vatican, as has been the practice in many dioceses? How do I get them back?
- Will I have full access to all priests who have ever served in the Archdiocese to corroborate victims' stories, or provide fresh evidence? Will they be required to tell the full truth about theirs and their colleagues' activities, including swimming naked with local school boys on a regular basis at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary? Or does their silence to date prove that they understand they must observe the rule against scandal?
- Am I limited in my investigation to only this twenty-one? What happens if I learn of other perpetrators?
- Do I get to use the dictionary definition of "credible" or yours?
- Will my report be made public or will it only be read by you and your attorneys?
- What role will the statute of limitations play in your decision whether to follow my recommendations?
- While I am investigating nearly two dozen credibly alleged child abusers in ministry on your watch, will your lobbyists continue to spend parishioners' donations on fighting child sex abuse statutes of limitation reform for all child sex abuse victims in the Pennsylvania legislature?
If I did not get answers to these questions that fully satisfied me, I'd quit in order to protect my reputation.
The Good News for Child Sex Abuse Victims
There was good news for all child sex abuse survivors yesterday, though, in two locations. In Guam, the Governor signed into law a window that will permit victims two years to bring civil claims despite expired statutes of limitations and another law that eliminated the statutes of limitations. In Hawaii, a bill with similar provisions passed the full Senate and now moves to the House.
In both Guam and Hawaii, the Archdiocesan lobbyists fought hard to kill the bills. And in both places they were defeated, with legislators choosing child victims over the bishops' demands. The tipping point for the liberation of child sex abuse victims from oppressive statutes of limitations has arrived.
Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge, 2008) and God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2005, 2007).