Shock and Awe. The discovery of child abuse in any context is gut wrenching. As counseling has been my bread and butter for many years, I can tell you that I have been the “discoverer” of abuse more times than I can count. As a state mandated reporter, I must deal with it immediately. It is, of course, the legal and moral thing to do, but it is still never easy to pick up a phone to the hot line or the county sheriff and know that you are possibly sending an individual to prison for some years and turning a family upside down. I have given depositions, testified in trials, and attended sentencing hearings. I can say that in every instance the abuse was worse than what was originally stated to me, and I could at least take comfort in knowing I had not upset families in vain. I can easily imagine that many bishops, even today, are reluctant to end one of their men’s priestly life and sentence him to jail. We know that the needs of the victims are tantamount, but starting the execution process is disquieting, and I think that over the years bishops have avoided doing their duties for just this reason.
Misunderstanding of pedophilia. Over my lifetime bishops have tended to accept, grudgingly, that some of their priests have vices and faults, and to do nothing of an intervention nature unless absolutely forced into it. Alcoholism comes immediately to mind. In my years with the Franciscans my province achieved some measure of respect for its innovative treatment of alcoholic friars, contracting with Southdown for inpatient care of its men in need.
In fairness to bishops, the treatment of dysfunctional clerics was not fully understood. A frequently referenced source in documents and news coverage is the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete in Jimenez Springs, New Mexico, a community devoted to the care of priestly dysfunction. But as early as 1948 its director, Father Gerald Fitzgerald, became disturbed over the growing number of pedophiles and sex addicts assigned to his facility by bishops. He wrote a number of powerful letters to members of the hierarchy to the effect that pedophilia resisted treatment, and that for the good of the Church it was better to release and laicize such men from the priesthood.
Under pressure from many bishops, Servants of the Paracletes remained open. Typically, the institute would report negatively on the treatment of a priest, but his sponsoring bishop would receive him back into active ministry, probably for other reasons cited in this post. If this were not bad enough, many priests sent to New Mexico elected to stay in the area, receiving local priestly faculties and molesting New Mexico children. The Diocese of Santa Fe has been the object of many lawsuits, a good number related to priests treated at Jimenez Springs. The correspondence of Father Fitzgerald became public during one such suit in 2007.
Father Fitzgerald did not believe that medical and psychiatric expertise had a place in his spiritual twelve-step recovery schema. I believe he was mistaken on this point. However, when the center hired psychological experts against his advice, the hubris of psychology engendered more enthusiasm about the prospects of recovery than the facts warranted. More priests were declared “healed” to their sponsoring bishops, complicating matters further and strengthening the erroneous belief that abusers could safely return to ministry with minors. On a personal note, I was pursuing my counseling degree at Rollins College in the mid-1980’s and spend a summer researching the issue of child abuse in the clergy, and I recall the significant divisions within the discipline on the nature and treatment of child abuse.
Fear of blemish on the Bride of Christ. The theology of the perfection of the Church and its identification as the Bride of Christ or the Kingdom of God on earth is a reality that some bishops believe justifies the suppression of anything that might put the Church in a bad light, regardless of the cost or the need for damaging secrecy. Vatican II had attempted to instill a humbler ecclesial identity, preferring the term “the Pilgrim People of God” but the triumphalism of the nineteenth century, culminating in the declaration of infallibility in 1870, engendered a “Teflon attitude” that the Church even today struggles laboriously to maintain in many quarters.
Tu Es Sacerdos In Aeternum. (“You are a priest forever.”) The Catechism of the Catholic Church states as doctrine the effect of the sacrament of ordination as an ontological change, or a change in the very being of the candidate. This priestly character sets aside a man’s essence as a layman and creates a new priestly being, so to speak, that lasts forever. No subsequent sin or other action can undo this change. Consequently, the Vatican prohibited the laicization or release from priestly life of pedophiles until Bishop Wuerl won his argument against this policy in the 1990’s. However, it was widely suspected that the bishop’s extended stay in Pittsburgh (18 years) was punitive in nature on the part of the Vatican.
Compromised bishops. There is conjecture that some bishops are fearful of taking stronger disciplinary actions in their diocese because they themselves have skeletons in their closets. A bishop who has been or is a sexually active homosexual is hamstrung, as would be a bishop with a mistress, for an accused priest can “out” his superior to higher church officials or just appear on a local TV show to make his accusations against his bishop. I do not believe that a large percentage of bishops would fall into this category, but Cardinal McCarrick’s reluctance to clean up his own seminary makes sense in this context. Last week’s accusations against Pope Francis by a Vatican official—that the pope had failed to act upon the reports of Cardinal McCarrick’s history of coercive sexual behavior with his seminarians—was an effort to fatally undermine Francis’ authority as an effective pope.
The Monarchical Bishop: An old pastor friend of mine shared this tidbit of wisdom: “When you become a bishop, you never have a bad meal and you never hear the truth again.” This was true until well into my lifetime and in a number of chanceries and cathedrals today there are still bishops who see themselves as kings, not servants. Regrettably, there are pastors who operate in the same fashion, and I fear that some seminarians are attracted to priestly life for its perceived power.
There are bishops who believe they are accountable to no one, and they tend to surround themselves with advisors who can be surmounted as the bishop sees fit. One area where such behavior is particularly notable is in a bishop’s relationship with the media. I will not deny that animus can rear its ugly head on the part of the print or electronic media, but this adversarial stance is often the fruit of years of evasion, avoidance, or outright lying by a diocese and/or its bishop. Since some bishops do not believe that their policies or behaviors are subject to anyone’s second guessing, they are loathe to acknowledge a pack of hardened reporters. The relationship need not be adversarial, as Cardinal Dolan in New York has shown. Truth be told, secular reporters end up asking the questions that Catholics in the pews have no forum to ask.
In my home town of Buffalo, WKBW-TV (ABC) is undertaking excellent reporting of the Diocese of Buffalo’s management of current priests with credible allegation who remain on the rolls of active clerics. Bishop Malone has dug in his heels and refused to resign, or even to give any inkling of his thinking to justify what seems to be very serious violations of the USCCB Dallas Charter of 2002. At the end of the day bishops err and make their leadership positions untenable; too late do they come to the realization that their control of events is finite.
Nobody wants an abusive priest in their parish. This is so obvious that I am hesitating to even raise the point. And yet one of the most serious aspects of the scandal, from day one, has been rage that priests with credible abuse allegations are rotated among parishes without any warnings or heads up given to parishes, schools, and other Catholic institutions. The obvious reason for the secrecy is that no pastor, principal, or administrator would countenance taking responsibility for the priest’s conduct and the safety of the community. Bishops have compelling reasons for wanting to assign such priests; under the personnel procedures of all dioceses, a bishop is financially responsible for all his priests, and who wants to pay someone for doing nothing? Second, the accused priest himself generally wants to return to ministry, and some claim that prolonged non-assignment reflects poorly on their characters. Third, bishops do not know what else to do with them.
The “parking” of dysfunctional priests has long been a problem, and for much of the twentieth century priests in the Pacific Northwest (particularly troubled Jesuits) were assigned to Alaska. The number of abuse victims in our northernmost state was first reported nationally by Newsweek in 2008 but remains one of the unpublicized chapters of the crisis.
Money. The $120,000,000 in lawsuit awards to victims in Texas and Louisiana in the late 1980’s sent shock waves across chanceries in the United States. My own diocese moved in the direction of better safety and protection of minors and vulnerable populations, a full decade before Boston and the Dallas Charter. ther dioceses apparently focused upon monetary risk and developed strategies to isolate the diocesan corporation from high-end claims for damages. An important part of this game plan is denial of guilt or any conceivable appearance of responsibility. Lawyers advised bishops against meetings with victims, and particularly against any chancery official saying, “I’m sorry.” In cases where settlements were inevitable, the agreements contained non-disclosure forms such that victims could not communicate about their ordeals in a way that would alert more Catholics to the problem priests in their own dioceses.
There are, to be sure, other reasons and considerations. But in the final analysis, we all find ourselves in the position of bar patron Norm Peterson in Cheers. “If it doesn’t affect the price of beer, I’m good.” I will continue this stream with how the general Catholic population can respond more crisply to our pastoral circumstances. The next post will summarize the most thorough analysis of child abuse in the church through 2011, the study from the John Jay College of Criminology on the causes of priestly abuse from 1950 forward.
The purpose of nearly all our posts on the Catechist Café is educational: to explain the “why” of the things we teach and believe. Of course, most of you are not formal catechists but you do represent the Church and teach it in your own ways. As I tell catechists in training, I say the same to all our readers: be the person on your block who understands the Catholic life and is comfortable addressing it.
By now the collective processing of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury results [referred to as PGJ throughout today’s post] has settled in, and publications and blogsites are turning focus to what future steps can be taken to avoid such things as have happened in Pennsylvania. The PGJ tells of the extent of abuse with numerical precision and devastating cruelty. But the report goes much further, to the question of cover-up and the relocation of credibly abused clerics allowing for yet more abuse. What gets less attention elsewhere is exactly how a diocesan cover-up works. I will address the reasons bishops engage in secrecy in Tuesday’s post. And so, I turn to a diocese with which I have rich family and personal connections, the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh encompasses the southwest corner of Pennsylvania. Its northern reaches extend to the coal mining and oil drilling and refining regions of the diocese in Butler County, though both industries were in serious decline by the time I was a small child and went with my family for a week’s vacation at my father’s family homestead, a home atop a steep hill, next door to the parish church and rectory. My grandfather operated a small coal mine near the Allegheny River; my aunt operated a drive-in theater about five miles away. For a city kid, rural Pennsylvania was a fun vacation. The PGJ identified twelve abusive clerics in Butler County, though I never had any negative experiences along those lines.
This is not to say that everything was fine at the neighboring church, either. I was probably about 7 or 8 years old when the residential pastor suffered severe substance abuse. As older generations passed along the story to me, the pastor did not appear for the Midnight Mass one Christmas Eve, and several men in the parish found him passed out on the floor from excessive drinking. I believe that parishioners reached out to the diocese about their concerns, but with no results. Thus, my Uncle Charley, a devout Catholic but a man not to be trifled with, either, invited other worried parishioners to offer the rosary in church on a regular, possibly daily, basis.
It was not long after this practice began that the Diocese of Pittsburgh contacted my uncle and warned him to discontinue. The official charge, as quoted to me, was a very serious violation of Canon Law, which in the 1950’s forbade any layman from conducting a church service.
Uncle Charley was a clever guy, though, and he just relocated the nightly rosary to his own property. I have very vivid memories of kneeling in wet grass at sunset, with a large statue of the Virgin Mary set in the bucolic beauty of the Allegany Mountains. If my memory is correct the alcoholic pastor eventually achieved sobriety, and his successor was a fine pastor with whom I was friends for about 25 years. But as I processed this memory I came to several conclusions: (1) chanceries know what is going on, even in the hinterlands, and (2) chanceries can move on a dime when so motivated.
My Uncle Charley would run for postmaster of his town a decade later and won despite his insistence on not paying the customary bribes to higher officials. At about the same time another layman, a law enforcement officer, did not resist dealing with the devil. The District of Attorney of Beaver County, next to Butler County, and Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Leonard shared correspondence in 1964 which appears in the PGJ as evidence. To wit, on May 1,1962, Msgr. Edmund Sheehy notified then Pittsburgh Bishop John Wright about the conduct his (Sheedy’s) young associate, Father Ernest Paone. The PGJ quotes from Sheedy’s letter that Paone “was involved in conduct scandalous to the priesthood and scandalous to the people.” Paone was removed from Sheedy’s parish and transferred to another within the diocese.
Sheedy had apparently intervened with law enforcement in Beaver County, for Paone’s illegal activities were well known. On August 4, 1964 the District Attorney of Beaver County wrote to Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Leonard that he was halting all investigations regarding boys so as to avoid bad publicity [for the diocese]. Remarkably, the District Attorney, Robert Masters, was alive in 2017 and met with the PGJ. “Masters was confronted with his letter which the Grand Jury obtained from Diocesan files. When asked by the attorney for the Commonwealth why he would defer to the Bishop on a criminal matter, Master replied, ‘Probably respect for the Bishop. I really have no proper answer.’ Masters also admitted he was desirous of support from the Diocese for his political career.” Masters entered this arrangement in 1964, and its influence would last nearly half a century. Collusion between church, civil, and criminal officials has been determined in a number of cover-up scenarios, perhaps most blatantly in the neighboring Altoona-Johnstown diocese where the bishop personally approved of candidates for county sheriffs.
Meanwhile, Father Paone took an indefinite leave of absence beginning in May 1966, “for psychological and spiritual health.” In the following year he worked his way to the West Coast and apparently, on his own, connected with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and later the Diocese of San Diego. That a priest from the East relocate to the West is not unheard of, and there are sometimes good reasons to do so, such as for graduate schooling or teaching. It is a low risk proposition for the hosting diocese, since priestly faculties and benefits—not to mention legal accountability—remain with the original diocese, in this case Pittsburgh. Would the Archdiocese of Los Angeles have accepted Father Paone knowing of his “troubles” is very hard to say. The thinking of the day was that a change of scenery often helped a priest with his problems, though there is no evidence that any bishop west of the Rockies was informed of Father Paone’s history.
The PGJ does not take an optimistic view. It documents about 25 years of correspondence from Pittsburgh renewing Father Paone’s permissions [technically known as “priestly faculties”] for his West Coast work. Aside from this formality, investigators found little other correspondence between the priest’s Pittsburgh’s bishops and the western dioceses where he was working, and it specifically cited later Pittsburgh Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua for what it sees as an almost total neglect of duty in supervising his priests.
The Paone story takes an interesting turn through the intervention from, of all places, the insurance underwriters of the Diocese of San Diego. Donald Wuerl was now the bishop of Pittsburgh, and he received correspondence from his counterpart in San Diego on the matter of Father Paone’s renewal of faculties. As the PGJ puts it, “On July 29, 1996, Wuerl was informed by the Chancellor of the Diocese of San Diego that Paone had continued with his ministry, but, "acting on the advice of our insurance carrier," he was requesting that Wuerl complete the enclosed affidavit, which stated, among other things, that Paone has "not had any problems involving sexual abuse, any history of sexual involvement with minors or others, or any other inappropriate sexual behavior." Wuerl also learned that during his time out west Father Paone had served as a chaplain to a Catholic girls’ high school. Wuerl was also receiving complaints about the priest from his time in Pittsburgh thirty years earlier.
[You may be wondering how Father Paone was conducting himself out west. The PGJ obviously could not subpoena documents from California, so one can only guess if there are records in the vaults of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, or San Diego, or later, Reno on this matter. There is no evidence on paper or in testimony to the PGJ, nor did anyone from Pittsburgh seem to take much interest. This may be a case of the proverbial “falling through the cracks.”]
Having received this request from San Diego, Bishop Wuerl did notify Los Angeles and San Diego of an abuse complaint received by the Pittsburgh diocese in 1994 over an event that occurred in the 1960’s. But in a strange twist—and this is where Bishop Wuerl comes under fire—he ordered Father to report to St. Luke’s Institute for an evaluation instead of reporting the priest to civil authorities as is done today. [I will address treatment facilities in future posts.] The PGJ describes what the diocese informed St. Luke: “In a confidential letter sent to St. Luke's, the Diocese acknowledged that Paone had been teaching seventh and eighth grade students in the Diocese of San Diego for 19 years. Further, in another confidential memorandum sent from [priest personnel coordinator Father] Zubik to Wuerl, Paone' s various assignments and sexual abuse complaints were again listed in detail. The Grand Jury noted that this process showed no concern for public safety or the victims of child sexual abuse. The handling of these matters was commonplace. Despite the complaint, Paone continued in active ministry following his brief evaluation at a church -based treatment facility.” [Italics mine.]
With all this information at hand, Wuerl did not revoke Paone’s priestly faculties and permitted him to continue his work out west. One wonders if there was any reaction or concern, particularly in San Diego. There is no documentation of this sort. It was not until the Boston Globe’s Spotlight 2002 reporting that the Pittsburgh Chancery notified the San Diego Diocese that Father Paone’s faculties were being revoked. At the same time, Bishop Wuerl, on July 9, 2002, notified law enforcement of one incident perpetrated by Father Paone in 1963, a case in which the statute of limitations had long run out. There was no mention of any other illegal behavior such as noted in the diocesan correspondence with St. Luke. As the PGJ summarizes this history, “Approximately 41 years after the Diocese learned that Paone was sexually assaulting children, he was finally retired from active ministry.”
I had hoped to include a second case; each diocesan investigation includes three such cases. The case of Father George Zirwas is notable for, among other things, his attempts to shake down the diocese of Pittsburgh in exchange for financial award. Having been confronted about his abusive behavior, Father Zirwas threatened to expose a ring of active homosexual priests. [The PGJ does confirm something of this sort.] The price for his silence was an enhanced living allowance.
Bishop Wuerl called his bluff, indicating that the priest either give him a list of all members of the ring or forfeit all future monetary support from the diocese. Wuerl attached a proviso that Father Zirwas swear he knew the names of no priests involved in predatory group behavior, as a condition for his financial diocesan report. Zirwas took the latter option and moved on to Miami and eventually Cuba, where he was murdered.
Again, a golden opportunity to protect minors was lost. For during the Zirwas investigation the PGJ did uncover evidence of an organized ring of abusers who recruited and groomed adolescent victims. The sordid details are outlined in the Zirwas section of the report. Had Wuerl reported Zirwas’s original threat to law enforcement, a full independent investigation might have ended the victimization of a number of survivors.
On Tuesday I will look at possible motivations of bishops to suppress incidents of clerical child abuse.
The actual name of Pennsylvania’s grand jury report is the “40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury REPORT 1 Interim –Redacted.” The complicated name is the result of several of the accused clergy appealing through the courts against the public release of their names. If you have scanned the document, you will see that there are blocked out names and portions; these are the appeals under consideration. It is a small portion of the total amount, however, and the report will be reissued in final form as these cases by determined in civil court. It is my understanding that those clerics named in the present report have been, at the very least, found to have credible evidence of sexual misconduct. The great majority of such priests credibly accused by their diocese did not serve jail time because of the statute of limitations. Failure to report abuse to civil law enforcement by dioceses is a major source of anger driving this grand jury.
The grand jury reports that other investigations into matters of clerical abuse have preceded this one within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [i.e., Philadelphia 2005 and 2011, and Altoona-Johnstown, 2016]. But the report states that “never on this scale” has the matter of clerical child abuse been investigated, and as we will see below, the FBI assisted in evidential interpretation. The investigation covered 54 of 67 counties in the state, and about 500,000 documents were subpoenaed. About one thousand individual victims were identified and “over 300 priests” were found to have credible allegations against them. I should point out that the grand jury did not discover new perpetrators but culled its list from either public criminal records or documents handed over (or seized) by state investigators.
The report is clear that the grand jury does not believe it has reached an accurate number of victims and perpetrators. “We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands.” This is not hyperbole. As of Tuesday afternoon (today) the calls to the PA attorney general’s hotline now number over 400, and the AG office has had to divert personnel to field each call personally. The report itself expressed regret that it can do little for cases in which the statute of limitations has expired, but it wishes to shine light on each case for the comfort of victims and to prompt reexamination of existing commonwealth law involving sexual abuse of minors.
It would appear, after reading samples of the subpoenaed documents, that the search warrants extended to items stored under the provision of Canon Law 490, the “black box” or “secret archive” of which only the bishop possesses the key. Modern canonists describe this as a provision for the storage of the most delicate matters of a diocese, though these are generally not of a criminal or moral nature, nor do they fit into a box. For example, the laicization papers of all former priests, i.e., the Vatican process of a priest’s return to the lay state, are included, and I imagine my own laicizing records are in the archives described here in my own diocese, which of their nature are particularly confidential given the physical and psychological records attached to them. In the case of criminal investigation, the subpoenas were written for specific priest records and payment settlements (to victims of abuse) subject to strict judicial overview.
As the grand jury’s work came to conclusion, it turned to the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime to assess the evidence collected and offer its general interpretation. This task force concurred with the grand jury that the patterns of diocesan administrative actions across the six dioceses in the discovery of clerical child abuse was so uniform that a clearly discernible profile could be extracted. I included it verbatim here, and it may help readers understand the evidence put forward in the report.
Language quoted verbatim from grand jury report:
The strategies were so common that they were susceptible to behavioral analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For our benefit, the FBI agreed to assign members of its National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime to review a significant portion of the evidence received by the grand jury. Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed. It's like a playbook for concealing the truth:
(1) First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say "rape"; say "inappropriate contact" or "boundary issues."
(2) Second, don't conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.
(3) Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for "evaluation" at church -run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to "diagnose" whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest's "self -reports," and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.
(4) Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don't say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on "sick leave," or suffering from "nervous exhaustion." Or say nothing at all.
(5) Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.
(6) Sixth, if a predator's conduct becomes known to the community, don't remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.
(7) Finally and above all, don't tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don't treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, "in house.”
End of direct language.
Here at the Café blogsite, it is not necessary to review each of the six dioceses as the report does. Rather my next post will focus upon the grand jury report on the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh. My paternal roots can be found in Butler County, the northern reaches of the diocese and I vacationed there every year in my youth, in the family homestead next to the town’s parish Church. Twelve priests in Butler County were cited in the grand jury report. In my adult years I came to follow the career of Cardinal Donald Wuerl; we are both graduates of Catholic University’s School of Philosophy, though he was six years ahead of me. As a pastor I admired his determination to remove pedophile priests from his diocese, even at the cost of opposition of the Vatican.
And yet today he is the highest-ranking American churchman under scrutiny for his administrative actions during his eighteen-years as Archbishop of Pittsburgh. Last night vandals visited the Pittsburgh Catholic high school that bears his name and defaced his title with red paint.
I had hoped in yesterday’s post to summarize the sequence of legal and ecclesiastical events which led to the August 15 release of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Grand Jury Report of six dioceses throughout the state. But as I explained to one of our readers last night at Mass, “I never got out of Philadelphia,” and I feel I have some loose ends to tie up before delving into the report itself.
There are two dioceses not included in Wednesday’s report: Philadelphia, which was the subject of two previous grand jury investigations in 2005 and 2011, and Altoona-Johnstown, where conditions were so out of hand that the diocese was investigated separately in 2016. Investigators and prosecutors over the fifteen years since the “Spotlight” events in Boston were gaining both knowledge of Catholic governance and parish life as well as greater independence to address administrative malfeasance. Catholicism has been a major force in Pennsylvania politics; in the Altoona-Johnstown report (2016) the grand jury examined actual collusion between the sitting bishops and civil law enforcement agencies.
The 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury identified numerous clerical abusers and cited the administrative actions of three bishops—John Krol, Anthony Bevilacqua, and Justin Rigali, all cardinals. In the view of the Grand Jury the cardinals “excused and enabled the abuse” in a number of ways, primarily by frequent relocation throughout the diocese. The website “Bishops’ Accountability” lays out the crimes and adjudications of every priest credibly accused in the Philadelphia Archdiocese through 2005, including a trove of links to substantiating news accounts, evidential correspondence and sentencing. The 2011 Grand Jury report seems motivated, in my opinion, by Cardinal Rigali’s failure to implement the recommendations of the 2005 report. The Cardinal retired and died shortly after, and his Director of Clergy Personnel, Monsignor William Lynn, was sentenced to 3-6 years for recommending the continuing practice of relocation of abusive clergy from parish to parish.
The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese may contain the highest per capita numbers of clerical abusers and victims in the country. The diocese reports currently that 71 diocesan priests serve 89 parishes. The Grand Jury report of 2016 indicates that fifty priests and religious leaders abused hundreds of children over the years. Although the current bishop is removing abusive priests through ecclesiastical channels, the ratio of perpetrators to devoted priests is quite remarkable. One might wonder how the circumstances here created such a concentration.
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown contains only two modest sized metropolitan areas: Altoona’s population is 46,320 and Johnstown’s at 19,712. Johnstown, incidentally, is the site of the disastrous flood in 1889 that killed approximately 2200 people. I mention this for several reasons: (1) to highlight the significance of the number of victims, which the report puts at several hundred, and (2) to describe the geographic setting of rural Pennsylvania. The political consultant James Carville once observed that for planning purposes he viewed Pennsylvania as “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with Alabama in between.”
There is some truth to this in the sense that the sixty miles between Altoona and Pittsburgh might as well be a thousand miles. The power of the Church—specifically Bishop Hogan (r. 1966—1986) –was all encompassing; political parties in the diocese would not run a candidate without the Bishop’s approval. Within the diocese he was known to threaten victims of child abuse and others with excommunication.
Bishop Joseph Adamec (r. 1987-2011) enjoyed the same absolute power until the general knowledge of the dimensions of the national abuse crisis became common knowledge with the Globe reporting in 2002. One might say that the need for the chancery to cover up abuse cases in this diocese became more acute as civil authorities realized their own complicity in diocesan malfeasance. The introduction to the Altoona-Johnstown Grand Jury report elaborates the unholy marriage of church leaders and civil authorities, which officially ended when investigators received search warrants to examine the diocese’s “black box” and with it about 140,000 documents related exclusively to matters of child abuse.
Complicating matters further is a second and separate grand jury report charging three Franciscan superiors with mismanagement and neglect in the assignment of a known abusing friar. This report was issued just two weeks after the full Altoona-Johnstown report; the friars’ headquarters is in that diocese. One of the accused was pastor of the church in the next town over from me and a casual friend of mine. He was removed from his parish immediately when the grand jury report came public. My diocese asked me to spend the weekend in the parish to address peoples’ concerns over this sudden turn of events. I spoke to dozens of parishioners reassuring them that no, their pastor was not abusing children but that he was charged with administrative malfeasance from fifteen years ago. They asked if he would be returning soon. I said that this would depend upon the courts; privately I did not that would ever happen. It is my understanding that my friend was sentenced to probation for five years.
I am going to take a break tomorrow [Monday] and continue this thread hopefully on Tuesday. The plan remains in effect to look at this issue of abuse from multiple angles, including some words of encouragement for you. Feel free to use the links provided so far. The full Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report is here. I have ordered the John Jay Study (2011) to use in future posts to give you some clinical and social data on how this moral dilemma evolved in the United States. You can access this study here.
I am getting a lot of mail—thanks, and I will respond to each of you as soon as I can.
The sad story of clerical child abuse in the United States reaches the shores of public consciousness in waves. In terms of actual cases, the numbers of perpetrators and victims appear to be in decline. The valuable John Jay Study , commissioned to study the causes of American Catholic clerical abuse, reports that “the annual count of abuse incidents over this time period increased steadily from 1950 through the 1970s and then began to decline sharply at or about 1985, with the decline continuing through 2002.”
From a pastoral perspective, however, general awareness in the lay Catholic population was not a gradual process but a progression of shocks spaced about fifteen years apart. The first national indication of a brewing crisis—the first time that a reasonably informed Catholic might catch a tip from national media—is the trial of Father Gilbert Gauthe of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana in 1986. NPR’s 2014 essay/feature on the Father Gauthe case is appropriately titled “It All Began in Lafayette” in the sense that child abuse in the Church became a unique issue of concern, so to speak.
The Gauthe case drew attention because of the sheer number of victims involved, between 100 and 300 depending on the source, and the relatively light sentence passed down at the time, less than a decade behind bars. Ten years later Father Rudolph Kos of the Dallas diocese received a life sentence for aggravated sexual assault of a minor. A civil suit was brought by the same victim against the Dallas Diocese, which was ordered to pay $120,000,000; the damages nearly bankrupted the diocese. The Kos and Gauthe trials gave indication that, at the very least, a financial time bomb was ticking. Some dioceses, including my own, began institutional steps to protect minors and vulnerable populations, practices which would shape the USCCB’s Dallas Carter of 2002.
Moreover, the Dallas and Lafayette cases inspired several theologians, researchers, and investigators to evaluate the severity of the problem as well as reasons why the Church made no public statements. Thomas Doyle, Jason Berry, and Richard Sipe produced writings for Catholics to understand ecclesiastical dynamics; all these men and others experienced punitive actions by various segments of Church leadership. Sipe, ironically, died a week before this week’s release of the Pennsylvania grand jury release. He was the writer/researcher who assisted the Spotlight team of The Boston Globe in its investigation of abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The “second wave” of parishioners’ awareness was the 2002 Boston eruption. A special investigation team of the Boston Globe, “Spotlight,” investigated the growing number of arrests of priests in its city for sex related crimes against children and minors. Two of the tried priests attracted particular attention: Father Ray Shanley, known colloquially as Boston’s “street priest” as well as a published writer on the subject of sexual morality and practice; and Father John Geoghan, whose roster of victims was stunning for its size.
Globe investigators were the first to uncover the documentation of organized cover-up by diocesan officials, up to and including the late Cardinal Bernard Law. Records indicated the pattern of moving abusive priests from parish to parish, drawing heavily on batteries of attorneys to protect the archdiocese, and doing little or nothing for victims. Cardinal Law lost the confidence of Boston faithful and clergy and was “rescued” by Pope John Paul II in 2003 and established in the Church of St. Mary Major in Rome as “archpriest.” It is hard to know the pope’s motivation for continuing to allow the Cardinal to enjoy the honor and prominence of his position in Rome.
The Globe stories energized nearly every city news outlet in the country and some district attorneys to investigate their own dioceses. One of the critics of media coverage was the Cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick, was quoted as saying to The Washington Post “that some newspapers are having a ''heyday'' with the issue.”
Concern for victims of clerical abuse and their treatment has matured considerably in this century, and actual reporting of church-related abuse has declined steadily [although the Pennsylvania State Attorney’s Office reports 150 new persons have called to report and seek treatment after the release of Wednesday’s Grand Jury report.] There has been a discernible shift to investigate the management of abusive priests. About three years after the Globe investigation, in 2005 the Philadelphia District Attorney seated a grand jury to determine if and how Cardinals John Krol and Justin Rigali were involved in an ongoing cover-up of abusive priests and their crimes in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. In 2011 a second grand jury was seated to address why the archdiocese had failed to move on the findings of the 2005 results, which established that abusive priests were still being shuffled about Philadelphia and its environs.
Concurrent with the Attorney General’s investigation of 2011 was the trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the director of priest personnel for the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Father Lynn was not accused of abuse; rather, he was charged with endangering the welfare of minors through his administrative actions. I followed this case closely because the defendant was the pastor of one of my high school buddies. There was an element of “swimming with the sharks” here because Lynn was not empowered to make assignments but to recommend them. With his three previous superiors all deceased, Lynn survived to receive a significant prison sentence. The significance of this case is that for the first time a chancery official was incarcerated.
Which brings us to August 2018, which was and remains a dark time for the American Church. At the beginning of this month the Archdiocese of New York deemed credible an accusation of abuse against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J. Pope Francis ordered him into immediate seclusion, and McCarrick withdrew from the College of Cardinals. Could things become any worse for the Church? Indeed, they could. Reporters and churchmen alike began to speak publicly about what they had known for years, that the Cardinal had demanded sex of his seminarians as a kind of rite into passage into a faster career track. The New York Times summarizes the full situation here. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington has come under significant scrutiny regarding his knowledge of McCarrick’s reputation.
Meanwhile, two seminaries have come under investigation under different circumstances. Cardinal Sean O’Malley has suspended the rector of his Boston seminary pending reports of serious lapses of conduct by some seminarians. The second seminary serves the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, and the accusations come from former students who report they were ostracized because they were heterosexuals. The Lincoln Diocese admits that a past faculty member behaved inappropriately, but the circumstances are still not clear.
I will pick up tomorrow with the Pennsylvania investigation of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and the release of the statewide grand jury probe last Wednesday. A link to the complete Grand Jury document is here; it may be useful to browse through one diocese, as I am currently doing with Allentown.
On My Mind