My family’s involvement with a criminal conspiracy

My family’s involvement with a criminal conspiracy February 28, 2012

For the past five years, I’ve been part of a big Catholic family, even before I married into it.

Due to lease logistics, I moved in with my future father-in-law for the five months before my wedding. Three of us lived in that house: me, Pop and my wife’s Uncle Joe, a retired priest. We joked that it was our bachelor pad — the widower, the celibate and the fiancé.

I stayed in a room that had once belonged to another priest — a man who was such a close friend of the family that my wife grew up calling him “Uncle Father.” He spoke at the funeral of her mother and then, three years later, he spoke at Pop’s funeral too.

After the ‘vixen and I got married, Pop sold his house and moved out here to live with us in Chester County, while Uncle Joe moved in with his brother.

Our girls went through confirmation out here. That turns out to be a pretty big deal, with the whole family — aunts and uncles on both the Irish and the Italian sides — in attendance. I even picked up Aunt Bern at the convent so she could be there.

The Reverend Monsignor William Lynn

As a lifelong Baptist, I’d never been to a confirmation before, but it reminded me of my own baptism. There was no dunking, of course, and with dozens of children in every class it was a much larger and somewhat younger crowd, but the gist of it was still familiar, even with all the additional pomp and circumstance. Between my two daughters and two of their cousins, I attended four confirmation services in as many years. At each of them, the children were quizzed on their catechism by a revered veteran priest out here — a monsignor actually.

You may have heard of him. He’s famous now — even got profiled in Rolling Stone. And he was on the news last night here in Philly.

Monsignor William Lynn, as Sabrina Rubin Ederly wrote for Rolling Stone, was:

… a high-ranking official in Philadelphia’s archdiocese. Lynn, who reported directly to the cardinal, was the trusted custodian of a trove of documents known in the church as the “Secret Archives files.” The files prove what many have long suspected: that officials in the upper echelons of the church not only tolerated the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests but conspired to hide the crimes and silence the victims. Lynn is accused of having been the archdiocese’s sex-abuse fixer, the man who covered up for its priests.

Lynn himself is not accused of abusing children. His role was to keep the abusers’ secrets secret. He is accused of covering up and hushing up the scandal on behalf of the archdiocese — protecting the institution by endangering its children. When a priest was discovered to be abusing children, prosecutors say, it was Lynn who saw to it that they were quietly reassigned elsewhere. He shuffled them off to a new location — and not to someplace where they’d be away from children, that might have looked suspicious:

Bill Lynn understood that his mission, above all, was to preserve the reputation of the church. The unspoken rule was clear: Never call the police. Not long after his promotion, Lynn and a colleague held a meeting with Rev. Michael McCarthy, who had been accused of sexually abusing boys, informing the priest of the fate that Cardinal Bevilacqua had approved: McCarthy would be reassigned to a “distant” parish “so that the profile can be as low as possible and not attract attention from the complainant.” Lynn dutifully filed his memo of the meeting in the Secret Archives, where it would sit for the next decade.

Over the 12 years that he held the job of secretary of the clergy, Lynn mastered the art of damage control. With his fellow priests, Lynn was unfailingly sympathetic; in a meeting with one distraught pastor who had just admitted to abusing boys, Lynn comforted the clergyman by suggesting that his 11-year-old victim had “seduced” him. With victims, Lynn was smooth and reassuring, promising to take their allegations seriously while doing nothing to punish their abusers. Kathy Jordan, who told Lynn in 2002 that she had been assaulted by a priest as a student at a Catholic high school, recalls how he assured her that the offender would no longer be allowed to work as a pastor. Years later, while reading the priest’s obituary, Jordan says it became clear to her that her abuser had, in fact, remained a priest, serving Mass in Maryland. “I came to realize that by having this friendly, confiding way, Lynn had neutralized me,” she says. “He handled me brilliantly.”

… In 2005, the grand jury released its 418-page report, which stands as the most blistering and comprehensive account ever issued on the church’s institutional cover-up of sexual abuse. It named 63 priests who, despite credible accusations of abuse, had been hidden under the direction of Cardinal Bevilacqua and his predecessor, Cardinal Krol. It also gave numerous examples of Lynn covering up crimes at the bidding of his boss.

In the case of Rev. Stanley Gana, accused of “countless” child molestations, Lynn spent months ruthlessly investigating the personal life of one of the priest’s victims, whom Gana had allegedly begun raping at age 13. Lynn later helpfully explained to the victim that the priest slept with women as well as children. “You see,” he said, “he’s not a pure pedophile” – which was why Gana remained in the ministry with the cardinal’s blessing.

Lynn’s devotion to the institution above all else shaped his initial defense. Prosecutors had hoped that serious charges and the threat of serious prison time would get Lynn to roll over, implicating the officials whose orders he was carrying out. But Lynn was a loyal company man, willing to sacrifice himself to protect the archdiocese, its secrets, and its culpability. He was willing to serve as the Wee-Bey for the church, taking the blame and the prison time on himself and thereby protecting others. Eberly describes the courtroom scene from last year:

“You have been charged. You could go to jail,” [Judge Renée Cardwell] Hughes says gravely. “It may be in your best interest to provide testimony that is adverse to the archdiocese of Philadelphia, the organization that’s paying your lawyers. You understand that’s a conflict of interest?”

“Yes,” Lynn replies.

The judge massages her temples and grimaces, as though she can’t believe what she’s hearing. For 30 minutes straight, she hammers home the point: Do you understand there may come a time that the questioning of archdiocese officials could put you in conflict with your own attorney? Do you understand that you may be approached by the DA offering you a plea deal, in exchange for testimony against the archdiocese? Do you realize that is a conflict of interest for your lawyers?

“Yes, Your Honor,” Lynn continues to insist cheerfully.

But that changed last month when Lynn’s former boss died. Once Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua was dead, the archdiocese’s defense team decided that a dead man made an even better scapegoat than a living loyal soldier. Bevilacqua had denied any involvement in or knowledge of Lynn’s work covering up the rape and abuse of dozens of children. But now Lynn’s attorneys are willing to implicate the late cardinal and to paint him as the lone bad apple on whom all the blame should rest.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s John P. Martin reports:

Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua ordered aides to shred a 1994 memo that identified 35 Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests suspected of sexually abusing children, according to a new court filing.

The order, outlined in a handwritten note locked away for years at the archdiocese’s Center City offices, was disclosed Friday by lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former church administrator facing trial next month.

… “Msgr. Lynn was completely unaware of this act of obstruction,” attorneys Jeffrey Lindy and Thomas Bergstrom wrote.

Their motion asks Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to dismiss the conspiracy and endangerment charges against Lynn, or to bar prosecutors from introducing Bevilacqua’s videotaped testimony at trial.

That would be the testimony in which the cardinal perjured himself, swearing that he knew nothing of the list of abusive priests that he had personally ordered his underlings to shred. Martin writes that “The revelation is likely to further cloud Bevilacqua’s complicated legacy in the handling of clergy sex abuse.”

No. It clarifies Bevilacqua’s legacy. He was a liar. He lied to preserve church assets and he lied because the preservation of those assets — money, money, money — was a far greater priority for him than the protection of children or justice and healing for victims. And for this lying and this single-minded devotion to money, Bevilacqua was “elevated” to the position of cardinal.

Let’s be clear here: shredding those documents could never keep the church’s crimes hidden. The crimes Bevilacqua and Lynn worked so hard to conceal had been witnessed by too many people — by the victims themselves. The document-shredding and perjury were simply an attempt to buy time until the statute of limitations was exhausted, shielding the accused priests from criminal prosecution and thus making civil litigation more difficult and, for the archdiocese, less costly. It wasn’t just the statute of limitations they were waiting for either. The victims of such horrific childhood abuse are often prone to self-destructive behavior or even to self-destruction. The longer the cardinal and his lackey could delay their day of reckoning, the fewer victims might be left to testify against them. And the more time the church would have to “investigate the personal lives” and dig up dirt on those survivors brave enough to speak up.

Lynn and his defense team had another bad day in court yesterday:

City prosecutors yesterday continued to pile on the allegations that a former high-ranking official of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia facilitated the sexual abuse of church children by repeatedly looking the other way when confronted with jaw-dropping crimes of predator priests.

“Time and time and time again, they lie to victims because they are not concerned about the victims; they are just concerned about the almighty dollar and mother Church,” Chief of Special Investigations Patrick Blessington said of the Archdiocese, which once employed the four defendants who are to stand trial in March.

“What they’re talking about is the archdiocese as a whole,” protested Lynn’s attorney Jeffrey Lindy. He’s right. The criminal conspiracy goes far beyond his client. And “the archdiocese as a whole” should be investigated under RICO as a criminal enterprise.

Oh, and there was one more list of names. Beyond the 63 priests listed in the original grand jury report and the 35 named in the memo Bevilacqua tried to destroy, there was another list of 21 priests suspended “because of allegations of sexual abuse or other inappropriate behavior with minors.”

One of the priests on that list was Uncle Father.

You remember him — he’s the man who twice briefly lived with my wife’s family when she was a kid. They gave him a place to stay when he was between parish assignments. This was years before Lynn’s tenure as secretary of the clergy for the diocese. There was a different fixer handling things back then.

That last list, like the grand jury report and the charges against Lynn, didn’t become public until after Pop died. I’m glad of that. I’m glad that he was spared that bit of ugly truth about why the friend he trusted was between assignments. It was, he had been told, just a routine situation — nothing out of the ordinary. And that much, I guess, was true.

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  • Dan Audy

    The 1-3% is those with a sexual preference for pre-pubescent or early pubescent children.  It is relevant to note that it is typically a preference rather than an exclusive attraction.  If it were ‘anyone who so much as ogles a female before the exact minute of their 18th birthday’ the rates would be virtually 100% of the heterosexual male population.  It isn’t considered disordered to be attracted to mostly/fully physically developed girls.  Even acting on that attraction isn’t considered disordered despite being illegal and probably harmful to them.

  • FangsFirst

    It’s not considered psychologically disordered in a medical context, but that’s what I meant by “depends on who did the study,” myself.

    Still…in my late teens I wandered messageboards (after my mainstay lost its hosting space), and some were heavily populated by teenagers, leading my sister to once worry at my mother that I was a pedophile. Which gave me a complex, made that much worse when I spent years 20-23 of my life having every woman that decided to flirt with me be either visibly 16 or admit to it. No one seemed very comfortable with that (including me, though I was flattered, of course).

    It was bad enough that the first time my SGF flirted with me, my coworkers would pull me to the side and tell me to be careful and otherwise show concern, because she looks very young. In fact, I was concerned about it, but one of my rather clever friends, as she was ringing up the purchase my SGF was making at the time, asked her where she went to school. She named a university in the area. Still–one of my coworkers thought she looked twelve.

    (as it happens, she’s all of two years younger than me, and that’s all–but this is, at least, a common problem. She’s dropped off her younger brother/gone to pick him up/gone to see his teachers at middle then high school and been told to get back to class…sometimes so insistently she has to pull out ID…)

    I’d say there’s enough stigma for someone to look down on it enough to include it–though, no, not psychologists by and large.

  • Alicia

    I think that’s the thing for me, that makes them worse than almost every other organization that’s been linked to coverups of child abuse. Not only do they refuse to apologize, refuse to take even token steps at making sure this doesn’t happen again, they also get to set themselves up as this holy order that is far above secular laws and regulations. At the same time they’re screaming about how being forced to provide equal health coverage to their female employees is a violation of their rights, they’re systematically violating the rights of their own people and ignoring all of the laws at the same time.

    I feel as if you can be either sanctimonious or corrupt, but both is just way too much for me. The hypocrisy is unbearable.

  • Nathaniel

     Your posts communicate that you are far more interested in carrying water for the Catholic Organized Crime Syndicate them going after organizations known to harbor child rapists.

  • Anonymous

    And “the archdiocese as a whole” should be investigated under RICO as a criminal enterprise.

    I do so long to see that happen.  I may be showing ignorance, but I wonder why it hasn’t yet?  The DA in my city is using RICO to go after members of penny-ante small gangs, so you’d think some eager prosecutor would have already tried RICO prosecution of the RCC’s systemic cover up of child rape. 

  • Anonymous

     Your
    posts communicate that you are far more interested in carrying water
    for the Catholic Organized Crime Syndicate them going after
    organizations known to harbor child rapists.

    Wow, does that seem fair to you?

    I do so long to see that happen.  I may be showing ignorance, but I
    wonder why it hasn’t yet?  The DA in my city is using RICO to go
    after members of penny-ante small gangs, so you’d think some eager
    prosecutor would have already tried RICO prosecution of the RCC’s
    systemic cover up of child rape.

    We can all probably think of a pretty obvious reason why local politicial officials might be more comfortable going after penny-ante street gangs than the largest single organized church in the world!

    (I’m not saying that this is a good or a valid reason, but these are elected officials and recent events have proven — if it isn’t obvious already — that the Catholic Church is pretty damn good at political manuevering. The feds don’t want to mess with them, and neither does the sheriff of Bumbleton County, Alabama (pop. 3500 and a mule))

    Whatever the actual reason, government prosecutors are unlikely to attempt to indict the Vatican, even though their behavior fits well within the legal definition of “racketeering”. Successful civil lawsuits have been filed against the Church under the RICO statute but from the perspective of a victim seeking relief their attorneys are much more likely to seek relief under doctrines like vicarious liability (in short, the Church is guilty because its agent did something wrong) or a negligence tort.

    It’s not so much that your idea is bad — it makes a lot of sense just from a legal perspective, but it’s so tricky politically that it would be hard to convince either a risk-averse elected official or a traumatized victim of abuse to pursue the riskiest path possible for relief.

  • Keromaru

    Yeah, can we please cool it?  I’m not Catholic anymore, myself, but was raised that way, and I don’t appreciate the whole tradition and the laypeople of the Catholic Church being dragged through the mud along with the corrupt clergy.  Catholicism is so much bigger than the men in charge.

  • mmy


    Your posts communicate that you are far more interested in carrying water for the Catholic Organized Crime Syndicate them going after organizations known to harbor child rapists.

    And exactly how is calling someone out for not challenging the patriarchy carrying water for a patriarchal organization?

  • mmy

    Lori — I am just suspicious of people who turn up suddenly (and Patrick is not a long time poster) to vent their spleen about one, and only one, patriarchal organization.

    And from reading his posts I get a sense that he is using those children instrumentally — this is he sees them mainly a tool against an organization he hates rather than as ends in and of themselves to be honoured and cherished.

  • Dan Audy

     I think using RICO charges against an organisation that is clearly not criminal in focus, even if the bishops engage in widespread criminal conduct, would dangerously expose how abused those RICO laws are and lead to a strong public push to either eliminate them or tighten them dramatically to only apply to actual organised crime which would take a very powerful tool out of the prosecutors toolbox.  Further it would be a disaster of a prosectution both from a legal standpoint and from a public perception standpoint. 

    Legally, they would be up against the First Amendment where sins are confessed and forgiven.  They would have to make a very challenging argument that RCC’s right to practice their faith is overriden by mandatory reporting laws or the potential harm to unspecified children.  Given that the courts have allowed Jehovah Witness’ to refuse blood transfusions for their children causing actual harm to identified individuals, I think that the only hope to a favourable ruling would be if the judge let the fear behind child rape weigh higher than established caselaw.  Beyond the First Amendment issues is also the fact that the RCC is so well capitalized that it could drown the state under legal fees the way the state typically does to other defendants.

    On a public perception stance it is a nightmare.  No matter how much a handful of hyperbolic screamers might claim it is obvious that the purpose of the Roman Catholic Church is not criminal in nature and using RICO laws against it would be abusing the intent and spirit of the law to use overly broad language.  People are pleased that Al Capone got caught on the tax evasion loophole because they recognize that he was a criminal, when non-criminals are caught in loopholes it damages trust in the entire justice system.  The Catholic community would be enraged over the criminalization of an entire organisation over the behaviour of a few, other religious communities would recognize how easily the same process could be abuse against them, and even non-religious and atheists could be angered over the blantant abuse of the law.

  • JohnK

    I think using RICO charges against an organisation that is clearly not
    criminal in focus, even if the bishops engage in widespread criminal
    conduct, would dangerously expose how abused those RICO laws are and
    lead to a strong public push to either eliminate them or tighten them
    dramatically to only apply to actual organised crime which would take a
    very powerful tool out of the prosecutors toolbox.

    That’s not abuse. The model federal law might have been designed to combat the Mafia but state legislatures who copied it deliberately intended it for use against any organization that involves itself in pervasive criminal conduct. No one can argue that an anti-abortion organization, a police department, or a corporate franchise are inherently “criminal in focus” to the point that they’re akin to the Mob but state and federal civil suits have been permitted against them. I agree with you that a prosecution is a nonstarter but it’s not because doing so would be an “abuse” of the statute that was written for that purpose.

  • Anonymous

    They would have to make a very challenging argument that RCC’s right to practice their faith is overridden by mandatory reporting laws or the potential harm to unspecified children

    Holy Smokes!  Would that really be considered a challenging argument to have to make?  Wouldn’t the potential harm to children satisfy, I dunno, a rational basis review?

     The Catholic community would be enraged over the criminalization of an entire organisation over the behaviour of a few

    I think that’s one of the questions – is it really just a few?  Of course I agree  that the majority of regular parish priests are decent, committed men doing their best.  But as Lori pointed out in an earlier comment, the higher up you go in hierarchy, the more clergy were involved in the criminal conspiracy.  We’re talking about the Cardinal here – he didn’t get to that high a position by being a maverick who did things his own way. 

  • Anonymous

    it’s so tricky politically that it would be hard to convince either a risk-averse elected official or a traumatized victim of abuse to pursue the riskiest path possible for relief

    Yes, that might be true for a little while longer, but I think the facade could be cracking – I mean, they’re already being prosecuted, and that prosecution is bringing to light some very unsavory things.

  • Nathaniel

     By suggesting that desire to punish the Catholic Crime Syndicate is due to an ulterior motive.

    When it comes to stopping the Catholic Crime Syndicate, I don’t particularly care about people’s motives. I care about stopping children from getting raped.

  •  

    Holy Smokes!  Would that really be considered a challenging argument
    to have to make?  Wouldn’t the potential harm to children satisfy, I
    dunno, a rational basis review?

    I’m almost positive you’re thinking of strict scrutiny there. that’s a really high standard. most laws don’t make it, right?

  • Anonymous

    Right, most don’t –  but you’d think preventing child abuse would pass even strict scrutiny, wouldn’t you?  Also, maybe I am misunderstanding Dan Audy’s comment, but is he saying the RCC is now presently exempted from mandatory reporting laws? 

  • P J Evans

     At least one CofE bishop changed churches because he didn’t think women should be ordained. (There also are a lot of churches that have trouble with the idea that QUILTBAG doesn’t mean ‘second-class person’.)

  • P J Evans

     I don’t think they’re supposed to be exempt from mandatory reporting laws, but as I understand it. the higher up you go, the more likely you are to run into members of the hierarchy who think that there’s still a clerical exemption from laws, as there was in the middle ages. I suspect there’s enough evidence to indict several bishops and archbishops (including some with red hats) for covering up crimes, though. I’m pretty sure that Mahony was one of them. I suspect every archbishop is, even if they’ve managed to hide all the evidence.

  • Anonymous

    Right.  Which is why, even though I don’t entirely disagree with the posters who pointed out the difficulties of a RICO prosecution, I still don’t think you can rule it out forever and ever

  • Lori

    And from reading his posts I get a sense that he is using those children instrumentally — this is he sees them mainly a tool against an
    organization he hates rather than as ends in and of themselves to be
    honoured and cherished. 

    This assumes that he is not himself one of those children. I’m not defending and instrumental attitude, but I also don’t think I’m in a position to know if he has good reason to hate the Church or he’s his trying to honor and cherish himself.

    We’ve had one person in this thread (anonymously) acknowledge that he’s both victim and abuser because of priest abuse and the Church’s cover-up. I don’t know what Patrick O’Malley’s situation is and he does not in any way owe it to me to tell me, but it wouldn’t exactly be a stunning surprise if his intense hatred of the Church has a perfectly reasonable basis.

    There are tens of thousands of direct victims of pedophile priests and their enablers, there are hundreds of thousands of people who love someone who was a direct victim and we will never know how many secondary and tertiary victims the Church has racked up through it’s vile conduct. That’s a lot of rage.

  • Lori

    The Catholic community would be enraged over the criminalization of an entire organisation over the behaviour of a few, other religious communities would recognize how easily the same process could be abuse against them, and even non-religious and atheists could be angered over the blantant abuse of the law.

    I agree with your general point about why it would be inappropriate to use RICO against the RCC, but I’m going to say again that we are not talking about criminalizing of an entire organization over the behavior of a few. We’re talking about an organization that, to a truly disturbing degree, gave itself over to criminal conduct by not only covering up crimes, but facilitating them. How many people in how many layers of a hierarchical organization need to be involved in misconduct before we acknowledge that the organization itself is effectively corrupt?

    Criminal activity is not the purpose of the Church, but over the last 6 decades criminal activity became pervasive in all but the lower levels of the hierarchy. The last two heads of the Church were corrupt on this issue and considering the situation with the Cardinals I have no reason to think that the next Pope won’t also be someone with dirty hands. I have no issue with lay Catholics as a group and I know that the majority of parish priests are not abusers, but the problem in the RCC doesn’t lie with a “few” and if the organization is criminalized the RICO statutes won’t be to blame.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Now I’m wondering which one is more successful: the Catholic Church or the Witness Protection Program.

  • Lori

    It depends on how you define success. If you’re talking about permanently keeping the identity of protected people secret then WitSec is way ahead on points. In spite of the Church’s very best efforts the names of criminal priests are coming out by the hundreds and to the best of my knowledge WitSec has never had a breach anywhere near that severe.

    If you define success as criminals being protected while continuing to commit crimes then it’s the Church all the way. WitSec has had it’s problems with that, but they certainly don’t have a near 100% recidivism rate. That’s because, with some notable exceptions, if you’re in the program and you get busted they throw you out.

  • Dan Audy

    Criminal activity is not the purpose of the Church, but over the last 6
    decades criminal activity became pervasive in all but the lower levels
    of the hierarchy. The last two heads of the Church were corrupt on this
    issue and considering the situation with the Cardinals I have no reason
    to think that the next Pope won’t also be someone with dirty hands. I
    have no issue with lay Catholics as a group and I know that the majority
    of parish priests are not abusers, but the problem in the RCC doesn’t
    lie with a “few” and if the organization is criminalized the RICO
    statutes won’t be to blame.

     Don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t believe that ‘the Church’ as a whole should be punished because I believe that collective guilt is an abhorrent concept.  However, I believe that any priest, bishop, or cardinal that can be shown to have known about and participated in covering up or relocating abusing priests should be criminally charged on an individual basis.  I’m pretty sure the Pope can’t be charged due to diplomatic immunity covering the head of state but he deserves to be. 

    How many people in how many layers of a hierarchical organization need
    to be involved in misconduct before we acknowledge that the organization
    itself is effectively corrupt?

    Judging corruption is very different when talking about from a moral standpoint versus a legal standpoint.  I’m quite confident in opining that the Catholic Church is immensely corrupt and has been for centuries.  From a legal standpoint I am extremely uncomfortable with the way RICO criminalizes membership in an organisation rather than actual conduct which seems to violate freedom of association in an extremely troubling way particularly when looking at a religious organisation.  I don’t know at what point to draw the line between a corrupt organisation (from a legal standpoint) and one that has been taken advantage of by corrupt individuals but I feel that the defining points need to be knowledge of and intent to participate in criminal conduct.

  • Dan Audy

     

    Holy Smokes!  Would that really be considered a challenging argument to
    have to make?  Wouldn’t the potential harm to children satisfy, I dunno,
    a rational basis review?

    Because Catholic religious practice requires the confession of sins, I believe that having the laws override the First Amendment would require it to meet the standards of strict scutiny.  I believe that it has a chance of passing strict scutiny (which is often described as where laws go to die) but given the deference courts tend to treat freedom of religion I would say that it would really be a coin flip either way.

    Right, most don’t –  but you’d think preventing child abuse would
    pass even strict scrutiny, wouldn’t you?  Also, maybe I am
    misunderstanding Dan Audy’s comment, but is he saying the RCC is now
    presently exempted from mandatory reporting laws?

    Not the RCC in specific but pastoral communication is considered confidential communication on similar standing to that with a lawyer.  The hodgepodge of state laws across the US mean the answer is different in many places but while clergy are mandatory reporters in 26 states only 2 of those specifically deny priviledge to pastoral communication in the case of abuse.  What that means is that the clergy is required to report any evidence of abuse that they witness but not any admissions of abuse that occur in a part of religious practice (for example confession).

  • mmy


    This assumes that he is not himself one of those children. I’m not defending an instrumental attitude, but I also don’t think I’m in a position to know if he has good reason to hate the Church or he’s trying to honor and cherish himself.

    Speaking only from my personal experience and from case studies I have read — those who have been abused (that I know of) tend to lash out more at the underlying authority structures and less on the specific manifestation of those structures. Also I have been recently interviewing people who remember when bias against particular religious groups was codified into local law in areas of North America and the Patrick’s language is more similar to the latter group (those biased against a particular religion) rather than those who are lashing out at religions for doing the work of patriarchy.

    For example, much of the work of the KKK locally was specifically anti-Catholic.

    I have watched the ways in which members of virtually any “mainline” religion were allowed to abuse children (for example, being allowed to deny their children needed medical care.) One of the main “symptoms” of those who are more anti-a-particular-church rather than anti-any-church getting an exemption is the type of language Patrick is deploying.

  • Tricksterson

    Any time you are comparing an activity of the RCC to anything or anyone else, bet on the guys with the funny hats.  They’ve been doing this for a very long time.

  • When the last two Popes of the Roman Catholic Church have proven themselves willing to support hidebound, out-of-date, reactionary viewpoints on human sexuality (for all the encyclicals Pope Rat can circulate glorifying labor and the worker, it’s the social-agenda ones that get the most impact, such as anything he says regarding abortion), and have proven rather waffly over the abuse scandals now coming to the fore…

    I’m going to damn well condemn the entire organization for being unwilling to deal with this clearly systemic issue.

    How is it any different from rightly pointing to Rumsfeld of being the culpable party in fostering an environment that gave us the horrific acts at Abu Ghraib? Toss out all the low people on the totem pole you want, if the top brass doesn’t lay down new rules it’ll just keep happening.

  • mmy

    @Invisible_Neutrino:disqus : What concerns me with any of these discussions is that they get side-tracked into how much damage one particular religion is doing rather than focusing on the way in which giving any religion a bye should be addressed. I am thinking particularly of the way in which parents have been given a pass (or a slap on the wrist) for not giving their children medical treatment. I am thinking of the way in which the physical abuse of children (such as beating them) is given a pass if the parents do it for “religious” reasons. I am thinking about the fact that parents are allowed to “opt out” of life-saving vaccinations for religious reasons. I am thinking of the people who are allowed to refuse to give needed medical assistance to children who are pregnant from incest because….”religion.”

    I am thinking about how much those do abuse children but don’t wear “pointy hats” are able to escape scrutiny because…well because “those people” are members of a “cult”…while people who have their children committed to “gay-recovery” camps are treated with comparative sympathy.

  • Ursula L

    To the extent that any confidentiality of confession is relevant, the moment church authorities said one word to each other to plan the cover-up, they’re already talking about the abuse outside the confessional.  

    They were willing to ignore the rules about confessions being secret in order to talk to each other about ways to protect the institution from being harmed by having the abuse made public. In doing so, they lost the moral right to claim “confidentiality” when it comes to protecting the children being abused. 

    ***

    There are also reasonable ethical ways to have confidentiality being respected, but also protecting the public.  

    For example, I go to counseling, and my counselor, when I started the treatment, explained both that what was said in counseling was confidential, but that the one exception was that if they thought I was going to harm myself or someone else, they would take steps to ensure that everyone is safe. Being a reasonable person, I happily signed the paper saying they could do this if necessary, because, while my depression doesn’t actually make me a risk to anyone, if something else developed, I’d want the protection of having them ensure I didn’t hurt anyone. 

    The church, if it wanted, could work out something similar.  At the very least, they could make it a condition that if you want to work with the laity as a representative of the church, you give the church permission to use information you share in the confessional for the narrow purpose of intervening to prevent future abuse.  

    There are monastic communities where the people within the community have little or no direct contact with the outside world.   Assigning priests with a record of abuse to such a community, based on information from the confessional, would prevent future abuse.  And it would do so in a way that limited the amount of information made public from the confessional.  It could even be done within the system of confession – the appropriate penance for a priest who abuses children is to devote themselves to such a community, ending all potential interaction with children.  

    The church was reassigning the abusive priests anyways.  Making the new assignments ones where the opportunity and temptation for further abuse is removed should have been common sense. 

  • Lori

     

    What concerns me with any of these discussions is that they get
    side-tracked into how much damage one particular religion is doing
    rather than focusing on the way in which giving any religion a
    bye should be addressed. 

    When the scope of the problem with one group is truly significantly greater than then problem with other groups I don’t think it’s a side-track to focus on that group.

     I am thinking particularly of the way in which
    parents have been given a pass (or a slap on the wrist) for not giving
    their children medical treatment. I am thinking of the way in which the
    physical abuse of children (such as beating them) is given a pass if the
    parents do it for “religious” reasons. I am thinking about the fact
    that parents are allowed to “opt out” of life-saving vaccinations for
    religious reasons. I am thinking of the people who are allowed to refuse
    to give needed medical assistance to children who are pregnant from
    incest because….”religion.” 

    Those things are terrible, but they don’t happen because “religion”. They happen because “parents”. In some cases it’s “parents” + “parents’ religious beliefs”, in other cases it’s not. For example, most vaccination refusers aren’t motivated by religion. For a great many reasons, some of which are entirely legitimate, the state is reluctant to interfere in how parents raise their children. Even so, the right of parents to deny medical treatment is not taken for granted, and in many jurisdictions Child Protective Services can and will step in to force life-saving medical care against parental wishes.

    I am thinking about how much those do abuse children but don’t wear
    “pointy hats” are able to escape scrutiny because…well because “those
    people” are members of a “cult”…while people who have their children
    committed to “gay-recovery” camps are treated with comparative sympathy.

    I do not in any way, shape or form support or sympathize with parents who send their children to gay-recovery programs or who withhold medical treatment from their children. However, there is a huge difference between parents who make those kind of parenting decisions with full knowledge of what they are doing, based on religious beliefs, however heinous I find those beliefs, controlling only the life of their own child and a church that lies about abusing other people’s children and then hides behind religion to get away with it.

    IMO there’s no way to look at the big picture of all these things, because it’s simply not all one picture. Lumping the RCC sex abuse scandal in with gay-recovery and faith-based medical (non)treatment muddies both issues in ways that I don’t think are helpful.

  • Lori

     

    The church was reassigning the abusive priests anyways.  Making
    the new assignments ones where the opportunity and temptation
    for further abuse is removed should have been common sense.   

    This was suggested by some within the church and it was explicitly rejected for a number of reasons, all of them appalling.

  • Nathaniel

     From what I recall, the biggest reason is that there simply aren’t very many people who want to be priests anymore. Making enforced retirement for any of them one which could leave a pew empty.

  • Lori

    That was definitely part of it in later years, but it wasn’t the initial issue. The original suggestion to essentially quarantine pedophile priests was made before the priest shortage became acute. The main objection at that time was basically that sending them away would arouse suspicion and people would figure out what they had done. There was also concern that the priests didn’t want to be placed in isolated monasteries. The Church wasn’t sure it could force them accept such a fate and didn’t want them to leave the Church and therefore be out of Church control.

    That was partially because some people continued to hope that there was some way to get the priests to stop “sinning”, but much of it was blatant self-interest. The Church’s own experts were telling them that these men were not going to stop molesting. If they rejoined the “civilian” world and lost the cover of the Church they’d very likely get caught in circumstances where their victims or victims’ parents would go to the cops, not the Archdiocese. Once that happened someone was going to ask questions about past behavior and that would bring scandal and lawsuits right to the Church’s doorstep.

    That scandal had to be avoided at all costs because the goal was to protect the reputation, authority and bank balance of the Church, so the decision was made to keep the pedophiles within the Church and create the illusion that there was no problem. That put the hierarchy in the position of effectively facilitating further child rape, but that was considered the least worst choice, and a massive cover-up was born.

  • Ursula L

    I suspect that the toleration and protection of rapists as priests contributes a great deal to the lack of people willing to become priests.

    What decent human being would voluntarily join the leadership of an institution that protects rapists?  Who would put themselves in the position where their job title tells the public that you either rape kids or protect people who rape kids?  Who wants a job where you don’t know whether the colleague who just transferred in is a rapist who was moved to your area to cover up his crimes? 

    If the Catholic church is an institution that protects priests who are rapists, eventually they will only have rapists willing to be priests.   

    And eventually, they will only have a laity composed of people who are okay with the protection of rapists at the expense of their victims.  

    Someone who genuinely wants to serve the public and the laity by joining the clergy will think twice about becoming clergy in a church where the hierarchy cares more about protecting rapists than protecting rape victims.  

    I find it amazing that the Catholic church was able to cover up this issue for so many decades without anyone within the clergy deciding to become a whistle-blower, deciding that they could no longer serve as a member of this particular institution. No one who decided that their vows to serve the church required them to protect the people they were assigned to minister to, even if it put their job at risk.  For all that they say that three can keep a secret if two are dead, this is a secret that was kept for an amazingly long time.  

    There must have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people involved in the cover-up – all of the abusive priests, all of the administrative people who facilitated the cover-up.  But there must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who knew at least a little of what was going on.  

    Non-rapist priests who reported suspicions to their supervisors, and who were distressed by the response they saw.  Non-rapist priests who saw colleagues transferred in or out for inexplicable reasons.  Non-rapist priests who reported abuse, saw the abusing colleague removed, only to run into that individual later at a conference or meeting, and realize that they were in a position to abuse again.  

    No one within the church had a Huck Finn moment, where they decided it was better to go to hell than to remain loyal to a church that was protecting rapists.  

  • Nathaniel

     Damn. Good point.

    Although to be far to those unknown priests, I would be willing to bet money that there were some priests who went Huck Finn. Or tried too, before the Church made it very clear just what they’re prospects were in polite society if they did squawk.

  • Ursula L

    The thing about going Huck Finn is that it requires a genuine belief in hell, and a genuine belief that the thing you are doing will send you to hell.  Whether it is a theological hell, or hell on earth.  

    If the church made it clear that priests who went public about abuse would face poor prospects in polite society, that’s rather the point about the moral imperative of “going Huck.”  The church will make your life hell on earth – but that’s better than being someone who helps protect rapists.  You may genuinely believe that you will suffer eternal damnation for breaking your vows of obedience and doing real harm to the church as an institution – but you’d rather burn in hell forever than see children being raped and be expected to help protect the rapists.

    There is a tendency to think of “going Huck” in a sanitized way.  Huck might say that he’s going to hell for protecting his friend, but we know better.  We know he is doing the right thing, and believe that a just god will not send Huck to hell for what he’s doing.  

    And this sanitization of Huck’s dilemma robs his sacrifice of meaning, and obscures the moral point being made.  

  • For the record, if I had been Catholic, the two churches that I would have attended have two (what are we calling them? rapists? molesters?) apiece on the list. The other parish that kids I knew went to had one.

    Also, two of my friends attended the school for one of those churches during the tenure of one of the rapists/molesters.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I just can’t help thinking about the parallels between this and the Satanic Panic of the 90s, back when the entire country was convinced that there was a massive cult conspiring to rape and murder small children. 

    Of course with that one, some people actually went to jail (often on VERY shaky evidence) – after all, there wasn’t REALLY a massive cult working to bail its members out.  >:(

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    I just can’t help thinking about the parallels between this and the Satanic Panic of the 90s, back when the entire country was convinced that there was a massive cult conspiring to rape and murder small children. 

    Of course with that one, some people actually went to jail (often on VERY shaky evidence) – after all, there wasn’t REALLY a massive cult working to bail its members out.  >:(