Thursday, 16 September 2010

Belgian Bishops Put Money Before Victims

The Belgian bishop of Tournai, Guy Harpigny, has admitted what was probably a factor in the episcopal cover-up of sexual abuse in the church not only in Belgium, but everywhere else as well. They were concerned that breaking their silence would have exposed them to claims for financial compensation. They put financial considerations ahead of concern for the victims.

From the Daily Telegraph:

Belgian Catholic Church sex abuse: we feared compensation claims

Belgium's Roman Catholic Church did not apologise for decades of endemic child sexual abuse by its clerics because an official apology would triggered a flood of expensive compensation claims, a senior bishop has admitted.

Guy Harpigny, the bishop of Tournai and the senior cleric responsible for rooting out sex abusers within the Belgian church's ranks, has further inflamed outrage by confessing that financial concerns over litigation stopped an official apology.

"We did not dare. If you officially apologise, then you are acknowledging moral and legal responsibility. Then there are people who ask for money and we don't know what lawyers and the courts will do about that," he said.

San Deurinck, 65, a Catholic activist who tried to commit suicide after he was abused by two priests as a teenage boy, has called on the Church to "respect victims" and to ensure justice by handing paedophile priests over to the police.

"I always had hope, but then I lost it," he said. "Let the Church understand that justice must do her work. The Church must comply to respect of victims.

Read the full report



Saturday, 11 September 2010

Belgian Abuse Report: "Almost Every Diocese".

In the extraordinary saga of the police / state tussle investigation into the Belgian Church history of child abuse, the church’s own investigator has found that abuse was widespread, occurring in “almost every” diocese, and in “virtually every school” run by the Church. Yet as recently as March of this year, the Belgian bishops believed that abuse was a problem affecting only the USA and Ireland, and was of only minor extent in their own country.
A court had ruled this week that the evidence seized by police in a church raid would not be admissible in court, as the raid had been “disproportionate”. Almost immediately, the church’s investigator, Peter Adriaenssens, released his report.
In the church’s favour, the very existence of the report goes some way to vindicate it in its hostile reaction to the police raid. Suggestions at the time were that police action was prompted by suspicions that the church was incapable of investigating itself – a suspicion supported by the patent inaction under the previous head of the Church, Cardinal Daneels. The damning evidence shows that finally, the church is now willing to examine itself, just as the Irish Church did last year.
Also in its favour, is Adriaenssens’ finding that the scale of the problem is clearly in decline.
The abuse went back to the 1950s, was most common in the 60s and was tailing off by the 1980s, Adriaenssens said.
"The exposed cases are old, of course," he said. "Society has developed. But there's nothing to indicate that the number of paedophiles has diminished. Where are they today?"
Most of the victims were now middle-aged, but remained traumatised.
However, several disturbing questions remain. If the problem was indeed so widespread, why was it not known, even by the current bishops, until recently? Was there a cover-up and protection of offending priests, as occurred in Ireland and the US – and as Cardinal Daneels tried to buy time for  bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Brugge as recently as this year?
The next question is, what will be the Church’s response? It will not be enough to simply say that things have improved. On BBC News last night, one survivor of English church abuse pointed out that although the offences may have occurred in the past, they are not “past” to the victims, but are ever-present in their lives today. This is also the sentiment of the Belgian victims:
"There are days when I thank God for having the chance to speak," testified one woman.
"Four years of psychotherapy have taught me that silence kills. I have had enormous depressions, going as far as attempted suicide. At other times I think it would be wise to let sleeping dogs lie. But in the end I've chosen to speak ... Since the resignation of the bishop of Bruges, I am living again in anxiety and fear. And I am far away. I've chosen to live far from my country, hoping that the past won't rejoin me."
This testimony was from a woman abused in the 1980s, but most of the cases concerned young boys and teenagers, as well a documented case of a two-year-old boy being molested.
Another victim told of being repeatedly sexually molested by his parish priest for five years from the age of seven.
"From being a violated child, I myself became, several years later, an abuser of adolescents and was sentenced to eight years in jail of which I served four and a half … The priest's violations certainly strongly shaped my sexual identity and influenced my life choices."
Will the investigations still under way in other countries show the same pattern? Germany too believed that the problem was primarily restricted to the English speaking countries – until Der Spiegel began to report on a few German cases, and the floodgates opened, as more and more victims who had previously kept silent, began to come forward. The same occurred in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. These have not yet reported  their findings in any detail but they will. What of the rest of the world, countries which have not conducted any formal enquiries into past abuse? There is no reason at all to suppose that they have been immune.
Finally, what will be the response of the global church to the systemic problems this crisis has revealed? Pope Benedict has said that we need prayer and repentance, rather than institutional reform. He is wrong – we need both.
Quite apart from the problem of abuse itself by individual clergy, which really does seem to be on the decline, there remains the problem of a Church which remains aloof and distant from the real world, which continues to see itself too often as above the secular law. The world’s largest global corporation and largest employer operates in every country of the world, but does not see itself  as accountable to any – because it still sees itself as an independent “state”.
This independent statehood is no more than a polite legal fiction. The politicians of the world really do now need to stand up to the Vatican and hold it to account.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

20 000 pennies donated in Rockville

Send The Bishops a Message has donated 20 000 pennies to the Diocese of Rockville, NY. The number of 20 000 was deliberately chosen to represent a (conservative) estimate of the number of US victims of sexual abuse by priests.

A message for the Rockville Centre diocese

Members of a national coalition led by Send the Bishops a Message delivered 20,000 pennies and a letter to Bishop William Murphy last Sunday morning during a sidewalk "press conference" outside St. Agnes Cathedral.
The group, which claims to represent over 25,000 people, called upon Murphy to use the money as a seed for a special fund to aid clergy sexual abuse victims.
The coalition, which also includes Victims' Voice, Road to Recovery and the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, is calling for a proposed Diocese of Rockville Centre Good Samaritan Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims’ Trust fund to be overseen by independent trustees who would distribute grants and other support to help victims and their families recover and heal from the trauma they say resulted from the abuse.
The number of pennies being donated, the group said, represents a conservative estimate of the number of people in the United States who experienced sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other church employees since 1950.

Boston Archdiocese: New Accusations Against Priest

BRAINTREE, Mass. (AP) ― A priest cleared by the Boston Archdiocese three years ago of child sex abuse is now facing more accusations.

The archdiocese said Wednesday the Rev. Thomas Curran has been restricted from public ministry following new allegations that he sexually abused children in the 1970s and 1980s.

Curran was on administrative leave from 2002 to 2007 during the archdiocese's investigation of two sexual abuse allegations, which it found were unsubstantiated. Curran was then placed on permanent disability, which restricted his ministry to family. He's now restricted from any ministry. His current location could not immediately be determined.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley said the new charges brought the church "great sadness" and underscored the importance of its efforts to protect children.

SNAP, an abuse victims advocacy group, said the case shows "how extraordinarily flawed" church sex abuse investigations are.

Belgian Cardinal: "Damage Control" Before Concern For Victims

Cardinal Godfried Danneels also acknowledged that "all too often" the Roman Catholic Church had given damage control precedence over concern for victims in sexual abuse cases involving clergy.

Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges, resigned at the end of April after admitting to a paedophile relationship with his teenage nephew n the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was still a priest.
The victim, according leaked transcripts of a meeting on April 8, was then asked by Cardinal Danneels to keep silent about the abuse until Bishop Vangheluwe retired next year.
The cardinal insisted that he had tried to establish why the family had kept quiet about the abuse for almost 25 years and he denied mentioning the bishop's impending retirement to influence the relatives.
"I never wanted to suggest that it should not be made public," he said.
Cardinal Danneels, who retired in January, has been questioned by police as a witness in an investigation into sexual abuse by the Church in Belgium.
He said that he had only become aware of a sex abuse problem was big after cases emerged in the United States, the Netherlands and Germany.
"We knew of a few cases. But the stream of reactions that came in after Vangheluwe's resignation made the scale of the problem clear, also for me," he said.
Read more at Daily Telegraph

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

German Bishops' Abuse Guidelines Require Reporting to Police

Any suspicion of the mistreatment of children by church officials will in future be reported to prosecutors immediately, according to new guidelines presented by Germany's Catholic bishops on Tuesday.

The Roman Catholic Church in Germany on Tuesday unveiled a new set of guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuse within the church.
All future allegations of abuse at the hands of church officials are to be reported to state prosecutors, which was not the case under the previous policy. Rules have been extended to include not just clergy but all staff working for the church.
"The shocking revelations and experience of recent months has shown us that the guidelines of 2002 were not precise enough in every area", said Stephan Ackermann, the Bishop of Trier, at a press conference to  present the new rules.
The German Bishops' Conference gave Ackermann the responsibility for re-drawing the guidelines in February, after allegations of mistreatment at an elite Jesuit school in Berlin. Further cases of mistreatment in Germany and across Europe have caused severe damage to the Catholic Church.
The new 55-point regulations are to replace 16-point guidelines from 2002, and take effect on Wednesday, September 1. They were approved by the bishops' permanent council at a meeting in Wuerzburg last week.
"It was important for us bishops to make sure that the new guidelines prevent cases of sexual abuse being covered up," Ackermann said in the western city of Trier.

Priest gets 4 years for molesting St. Charles boy

A former Roman Catholic priest was sentenced Wednesday to four years in prison for sexually assaulting a St. Charles boy.
Alejandro Flores, 37, of Shorewood, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal sexual abuse, a Class 1 felony, at a hearing in Kane County.
Prosecutors said Flores preyed on a boy whose family he met while working at St. Mary's Church in West Chicago. The abuse occurred on multiple occasions in Flores' car and in the victim's home, when the boy was 12 or 13 years old, prosecutors said. There also were allegations that Flores made attempts to have sexual contact with the victim's older brother.
As a result of his conviction, Flores must register as a sex offender for life and face deportation to his native Bolivia upon release from prison.
By law, he must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence, or about three years and five months, Judge T. Jordan Gallagher said.
- from Daily Herald

Alejandro Flores, 37, of the 600 block of Brook Forest Avenue in Shorewood, had been charged with 16 felonies, including predatory sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, indecent solicitation of a child and attempted aggravated sexual abuse in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of his now 13-year-old godson.
Without the plea bargain, Flores could have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 to 16 years in prison, especially given the predatory sexual assault charge, according to Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Debra Bree. She said the prison sentence could have been even longer than that if the judge decided to sentence each charge consecutively.
The Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office said between Jan. 1, 2005, and Jan. 1, 2010, Flores had sexual contact with a St. Charles minor between the ages of 8 and 13.
Prosecutors allege during the same period, Flores also tried to have sexual contact with the victim’s older brother, who also was a minor.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Belgian Cardinal Attempted to Secure Silence on Abuse

The church has been protesting vigorously that the scandal of sexual abuse is mostly about past history, that for the most part, past failings have been corrected and appropriate procedures are now in place. To some extent this is true -  but some degree of episcopal cover-up clearly continues.

In April this year, the Belgian Bishop Roger Vangheluwe admitted to sexual abuse, and resigned. Shortly before this, the then head of the Belgian Church, Cardinal Daneels, tried to persuade the victim from going public with his allegations until after Vangheluwe's resignation.

From BBC News, Aug 28:

The former head of the Catholic Church in Belgium tried to stop a victim of sex abuse from going public with their story, Church officials have confirmed.
During a meeting in April, Cardinal Godfried Danneels advised the victim to delay a public statement until the bishop who abused him had retired.
Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who was also at the meeting, admitted to the abuse in April and resigned.
The victim recorded the meeting, and released the tape to Belgian media.