Thursday, 9 December 2010

Dutch Church Reports on Abuse - Repeats earlier patterns of US, Ireland, Germany.

The Dutch church has released the findings of its own investigation into sexual abuse in the Netherlands Catholic Church - and its not pretty. Repeating the pattern already established in the US and Ireland, and more recently reported for Germany, this investigation has established the existence not only of extensive sexual abuse, but also strong indications of widespread coverups or failures by the Church to act against perpetrators.

Dutch Panel Found 2,000 Church Abuse Claims

BRUSSELS — The Roman Catholic Church, battered by sexual abuse scandals from the United States to Belgium, is facing a new set of damaging allegations in the Netherlands. Figures released Thursday by an investigative commission showed that almost 2,000 people had made complaints of sexual or physical abuse against the church, in a country with only four million Catholics.
“The Roman Catholic Church has not faced a crisis like this since the French Revolution,” Peter Nissen, a professor of the history of religion at Radboud University in the Netherlands, said of the growing abuse scandal.
With one legal case starting this week, and accusations against two former bishops, the reaction of the church appears to have fueled the crisis. Nearly all of the cases are decades old, with probably no more than 10 from the past 20 years.
Asked in March on television about the hundreds of complaints already surfacing, one of the church’s most senior figures, Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, shocked the nation by replying not in Dutch but in German. “Wir haben es nicht gewusst” — We knew nothing — he said, using a phrase associated with Nazi excuses after World War II.
“A lot of people perceived it as an affirmation of the culture of covering up cases,” said Professor Nissen, adding that it meant to many, “ ‘We should have known’ or ‘We knew but we didn’t want to know.’ ”
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that he had no comment and that the matter was in the hands of Dutch bishops.
Next month Cardinal Simonis, the retired bishop of Utrecht, will testify in Middelburg as a witness in a court hearing already under way involving sexual abuse.
In an interim report, issued Thursday, a commission headed by Wim Deetman, a Protestant and former education minister, said it had received roughly 1,975 reports of sexual or physical abuse, some directly but others through a body set up for victims, called Hulp en Recht, or Help and Justice.
One central accusation in the Netherlands is that, as in other countries, known abusers were simply transferred to new parishes.
In recent weeks it has emerged that a Roman Catholic order, the Salesians of Don Bosco, paid about $22,000 to settle an abuse claim against one bishop, Jan ter Schure, who died in 2003. The abuse is said to have taken place in Ugchelen between 1948 and 1953. The order declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Hulp en Recht is examining claims against a former bishop, Jo Gijsen, now 78, who has been accused of having an abusive relationship with a student at the Rolduc seminary between 1959 and 1961. He has denied accusations against him.
Central to the growing public debate over the church’s culpability is the extent to which sexual abuse was tolerated and covered up.
The hearing at which Cardinal Simonis will testify next month involves a priest convicted of abusing three youngsters in Terneuzen. The priest had been arrested, though not prosecuted, on similar grounds in the late 1970s as director of a Catholic youth center near The Hague, part of the diocese where Cardinal Simonis was then bishop.
The accuser’s lawyer, Martin De Witte, who represents about 120 other people claiming abuse, said his client wanted an apology and damages. “We say the Catholic Church didn’t take the measures to protect children from this man,” he said. “They gave him another chance, and another, and another.” 
-full report, NY Times 

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Priest's Open Letter on Abuse, Call for Full Disclosure

Last week, Fr. James Connell, vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, stood on the steps of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and called on his bishop to release documents related to the local sexual-abuse crisis: “I am absolutely convinced that we need the truth. Justice requires that the truth be known.” His appearance was a surprise to SNAP, which organized the press conference. According to Milwaukee News Buzz:
SNAP called the press conference Tuesday after learning that lawyers for the archdiocese and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba have asked a judge to seal a sworn statement given by Sklba in a local court case regarding priest sex abuse cases.
There is some irony in Connell linking arms with Isely. About a year ago, Connell was the subject of another press conference in which Isely called on the priest to step down from the internal church board that hears sex abuse allegations. Isely pointed out that Connell had investigated allegations against Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest who abused scores of deaf children, according to church records.
Connell added that he had undergone a conversion of sorts after he began wondering what his life would have been like if he had been abused. Connell has since organized a group of other priests who hold monthly candlelight vigils for those who have been abused. He also began to challenge the hierarchy of the church as to whether officials were living up the Dallas Charter, the 2002 document adopted by the bishops to deal with sex abuse allegations.
Today, Connell released an open letter to priests [PDF] “regarding the need for the revelation of truth concerning the priest sexual abuse scandal.” It’s a remarkable document, one that deserves to be read by Catholics lay and ordained alike. Read it at Commonweal

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Newark Abusers protected by Archbishop John Myers

Newark archbishop shielded at least 4 priests accused of sexual abuse

Eight years ago, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers stood among the nation’s bishops at a landmark gathering in Dallas and helped craft a policy intended to cleanse the priesthood of pedophiles and restore trust among shaken American Catholics.
In ratifying the Dallas Charter, Myers and his colleagues promised a new era of reform and transparency. Allegations of sexual abuse against priests would no longer be hidden from parishioners or police, and any priest believed to have molested a child would be permanently banned from ministry.

In the years since, Myers and his aides say the archdiocese has taken aggressive measures to identify abusive priests.
But a Star-Ledger review of the archbishop’s record since 2002 shows Myers on at least four occasions has shielded priests accused of sexual abuse against minors and one adult. In the four instances, the priests have either admitted improper sexual contact, pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from accusations of sexual misconduct or been permanently barred from ministry by the archdiocese after allegations of sexual misconduct.
The archdiocese also wrote a letter of recommendation for one of the priests, a week after it learned he was accused of breaking into a woman’s home in Florida and possibly assaulting her.
From one perspective, the newspaper’s findings suggest Myers continues to take a cautious hand in publicly naming priests. The findings, coupled with testimony from a 2009 deposition, show the issue weighs heavily on Myers.
From another view, the archbishop has failed to live up to the guidelines and spirit of what was set forth in Dallas. The most controversial example is the Rev. Michael Fugee, who confessed to police eight years ago that he molested a 13-year-old boy. Fugee was never ousted from the priesthood, and the archdiocese assigned him last year as chaplain to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark without telling hospital officials of his past.
In other cases:
- In 2004, the Newark Archdiocese wrote letters to six dioceses in Florida on behalf of the Rev. Wladyslaw Gorak, one week after learning Gorak’s ministry had been terminated in the Orlando Diocese — after he was accused of breaking into a woman’s home.
- Also in 2004, the archdiocese banned the Rev. Gerald Ruane from public ministry after investigating an allegation he molested a boy, but did not publicly notify lay people or other priests. Ruane continued to say Mass and wear his collar in public.
- In 2007, the archdiocese failed to inform lay people that it found a molestation claim credible against the Rev. Daniel Medina, who had worked in parishes in Elizabeth and Jersey City. The case wasn’t made public until a victims group uncovered an alert sent by the archdiocese in September 2008 to other bishops saying Medina was on administrative leave and could not be located.
Read the full report: 
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Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Vanishing Accused Priests

Ten years after the clergy sex abuse scandal first exploded in the United States, lawsuits have been settled, reports issued, policies overhauled. But even as the crisis has shifted to Europe and the Vatican prepares to issue new guidelines on how to handle sex abuse cases, something glaring is missing in this country: the accused priests.

Although the vast majority were removed from ministry long ago - barred from celebrating Mass in public, administering the sacraments, wearing their clerical collars or presenting themselves as priests - church officials say they have no way to monitor where the men are now. Nor do they keep official data on how many were defrocked, or stripped of their priestly status; how many were imprisoned or placed on sex-offender lists; how many are working; and how many are dead.

The priests have largely vanished from public view. Their fates are often a mystery to their victims, their parishioners and even their attorneys.

Independently compiling data about what happened to the men is nearly impossible. Reports by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops show that at least 5,768 priests were accused from 1950 to 2009. Although the church deems most of the allegations credible, the vast majority have never been proved, and many of the priests have never been publicly identified.

The same is true in the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington, where local church officials put the tally of accused priests at 42 without naming all of them. (At least five additional men who belong to religious orders have been accused in the Washington Archdiocese.)

But a comprehensive list of names does not exist. Victims groups often disagree with church officials on who should be included and maintain their own lists.

The Washington Post was able to identify 31 priests accused in the Washington area and locate nine who are alive. All declined to talk about their cases or their lives, but court documents and interviews with those around them offer glimpses. The outcomes vary so much that they defy sweeping generalizations about the way the allegations were handled by the church or the courts.

Many of the cases never made it into criminal court because the alleged abuse occurred decades earlier and fell beyond local statutes of limitations or made evidence difficult to gather. Sometimes the accusers did not want to press charges. But at least 11 men were sentenced to prison, and at least five were sued in civil court. Seven are dead, including Monsignor William Reinecke, longtime chancellor of the Arlington Diocese, who shot himself after a former altar boy confronted him after Mass. At least 10 were defrocked by the Vatican. Four of those convicted of crimes wound up on sex-offender registries.

-Read the full Washington Post article
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Friday, 3 December 2010

Breaking News: German Cover-up of Abuse Revealed in Church Report

Is this the first sign of an extensive cover-up in Germany, in Cardinal Ratzinger's diocese of Munich and Freisung, including during his tenure as Archbishop? The report of an investigation commissioned by the Church itself seems to think so.

I reserve my own comment for now, but read the facts from Deutsche Welle, in a report that was commissioned to "try to air some dirty laundry":

German study finds systematic cover-ups in Catholic priest abuse cases

An investigation into cases of sexual abuse in the German Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, where Pope Benedikt XVI was once archbishop, has revealed a "systematic system of cover-up" and a lot of missing paperwork.

Delaware Parish to carry $3m of record damages award.

A Delaware court has awarded $30 million dollars in compensation to a victim of clerical sexual abuse. The plaintiff of course, will never see that amount: the guilty priest is personally liable for most of this, and of course does not have it. But in an unusual move which should terrify every church-going Catholic in the US, the jury determined that the local parish where the abuse took place should pay 10% of the award, a hefty $3 million, because it had failed to exercise adequate supervision over its priest. There could be more to pay, too. This amount does not include any punitive damages, which could still be added to the existing sum.
A jury in Delaware on Wednesday awarded $30 million in compensatory damages to a man who said he was sexually abused more than 100 times by a Roman Catholic priest — the largest such award granted to a single victim in a clergy abuse case, victims’ advocates said.
In an unusual outcome, the jury decided that the parish where the abuse occurred, St. Elizabeth in Wilmington, must pay $3 million of the damages, while the perpetrator is liable for the rest. Parishes have previously been held liable in only one or two cases involving abuse by Catholic priests, according to records kept by an advocacy group for victims known as
-(Full report at the NY Times)

Pause a minute, and let that sink in.

At a time when so many churches are being closed for lack of funds, how many parishes could cope with a legal claim for $3 million and more, as well as the legal costs and administrative nightmare of defending  a case? It's not enough to simply say that in practice, the diocese will pick up the tab. They might, if this were the only case. It is not, not by a long chalk.

This is just one defendant. A recent study suggested that possibly half of all parishes may have had an abusive priest working with them in the past. Imagine if half of all parishes in a diocese were to find themselves in the same position as this one?No way could the diocese take on a payment of $3 mil per victim for half their parishes.

Adding salt to the wounds, is that the offences took place many years ago. The parishioners who failed in their supervision of the priest, are probably no longer around. The people who will be acting for the parish, and find ways to produce the money, are almost certainly not the ones who were personally responsible for the lapses of oversight in the first place.

But look on the bright side.  Far too many parish priests simply do not permit any meaningful lay oversight over their activities, and too many parish councils simply step back, and defer to the priests wishes. If they know that courts could find themselves responsible for earlier misdeeds of their priests, they might just be bolder in future, and be less likely in future to simply accept in good faith the priests' reassurances of good behaviour.

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