You’re still surprised by pedophile priests? Who do you think enables them?

In 1986, then-auxiliary bishop Jaime Soto wrote a letter of support for his former classmate Chris Andersen after he was convicted on 26 felony counts of child molestation. Now, as bishop of the Sacramento Diocese, Soto talks about his regrets.

By Marcos Bretón

Since he became the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento a decade ago, Jaime Soto has chosen to remove priests accused of pedophilia or misconduct. This is in contrast to shielding them, as other bishops have in now-infamous coverups of child abuse being investigated by law enforcement authorities in several states.

Soto learned. The question is, has the rest of the church?

Mind you, Soto’s approach of hewing to the law over the loyalty to a fraternity of priests and bishops was informed by years when he did the opposite. He acted in a way that showed he cared more about the priests doing the abusing than the children; believed that therapy for pedophiles was the way to go; he would comment on the sexual abuse of priests without really knowing the facts.

He thought that sex abuse by priests needed to be kept secret.

Soto believed in all those falsehoods when he was rising through the ranks of the Diocese of Orange County, his home base before moving to Sacramento at the end of 2007, and he acted on them accordingly. What pains him most now is a letter he wrote to a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to plead for mercy for a priest who preyed on altar boys.

His name was Andrew Christian Andersen.

“He was a classmate of mine, a fellow seminarian,” Soto said over coffee recently. In September of 1986, Andersen was convicted on 26 counts of molesting altar boys. His victims never got their day in court because Andersen was allowed to skip a trial and go straight to conviction and sentencing. The victims felt betrayed. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles media reported how Andersen was cheered by devotees unmoved by facts or early court rulings.

“He was always our friend and a consultant to us and a good confessor, and we just know he’s innocent,” Dorothy Gilmore told the Los Angeles Times then. Hold that thought for a moment – the blind devotion to a man in a priestly collar – because it is a recurring theme in a sex abuse scandal engulfing the church and reaching all the way to the Vatican and Pope Francis.

That blind devotion – that cloistered brotherhood of loyalty and obedience to each other – is what drove Soto, then a man in his 30s, to write the judge weighing what to do with Andersen.

“Chris Andersen’s present difficulties pain me very much not only because he is a friend but also because he is an associate in the ministry,” Soto wrote then. “Our works bring us into intimate contact with people’s lives. In a time when the exchange of simple affections within the most intimate of circles has become a rare commodity, our associations with others run the grave risk of being misunderstood by all parties including perhaps the priest himself….There is cause therefore to exercise prudence and right judgment while at the same time pursuing the mission of Church to bring healing and comfort.”

Truthfully, Soto’s regrettable words were far more measured than other church leaders who told the judge that the accusations against Andersen did not square with the guy they knew.

Soto was sticking up for a friend and suggesting that his troubles were the result of intimate misunderstandings. But measured or not, the judge listened. Instead of prison, Andersen received a suspended jail sentence, was placed on probation for five years and was sent to a New Mexico for therapy.

Guess what Andersen did in New Mexico? He was arrested for abusing and kidnapping a New Mexico boy. Having violated his parole, he was sentenced to the six-year prison term he should have gotten in the first place.

“My letter was stupid and naive,” Soto said. “I wrote the letter without any real knowledge about what he had done and the harm he had caused…When (Andersen) re-offended, it was a sobering, chilling revelation.”

And that’s how sex abuse happens in the Catholic Church. People focus on the celibacy of priests as a driving factor for sexual abuse when it’s more about people – bishops, priests and lay people – being blinded by the idea that these men deserve to be placed above the law.

Removing celibacy is not the answer to this problem. Child abusers aren’t predators because they’re celibate. So what’s happening in the church is about much more than sexuality. Different issue. Sure, let priests marry. That would be wonderful, but not enough to stop the abuse.

What’s happening shows the church is a closed society of men in desperate need of forced transparency. Even now, they’re actions have been cloaked. And those of us in the pews are shocked that sex abuse scandals still are roiling the church because we thought they had been addressed a decade ago.

But the problem won’t go away as long as bishops, priests and lay people worship the men in the collars over the people they are supposed to minister, over the law, and over the teachings of God that is supposed to guide the church.

In Pennsylvania, a grand jury report alleged that Roman Catholic leaders there covered up the abuse of hundreds of people by priests for decades. The New York Attorney General has issued subpoenas at every diocese in the state as part of ongoing investigations of sex abuse in Catholic churches there. Authorities in six states are investigating Catholic bishops and priests. A high ranking Vatican official accused Pope Francis of covering up sexual abuse.

In response to unspeakable allegations, church leaders are calling for more lay people to be more involved in the inner workings of the church. It’s a good idea but it will be a Band-Aid response if the wrong people are chosen to provide oversight for and counsel to bishops and priests who need it.

Andersen’s well-wishers stood up for him, despite a mountain of evidence, and proved how some Catholic lay people can be co-conspirators in these scandals. In the most public sex abuse case under Soto’s watch in Sacramento in 2011, a popular priest was treated like a rock star even after he had been arrested and later pleaded guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl.

In 30 years as a journalist, I’ve never seen anything like the spectacle of dozens of Catholics lining the street adjacent to the Main Jail in downtown Sacramento after Father Uriel Ojeda was incarcerated there. Men and women, dressed in their Sunday best, craned their necks for a glimpse of Ojeda in his orange jump suit. Even though he could not have possibly heard them, some of these folks serenaded Ojeda from the street in front of the jail.

One woman screamed at me on the street because I had quoted Soto in a column and, to her, this signified that I was in on a church conspiracy to ruin the popular young priest. She said Soto was “jealous” of him. I looked into the eyes of this woman as she berated me and saw no there there. Nobody was home. It was religious zealotry playing out on the street in Sacramento.

It took me back to 2002. Church members of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament asserted to me that “the media” were behind the latest sex abuse scandal to rock the church.

This is what almost never gets discussed among lay Catholics – our own complicity. Soto readily admits now that he was wrong to advocate for Andersen. He was wrong to believe that treatment can help some hardened pedophiles. He was wrong to believe that keeping these abuses quiet was the way to go.

But plenty of lay people went along for the ride, including parishioners and church lawyers who advised bishops for years to cover up and protect against liability.

To his credit, Soto has not followed these falsehoods during his time here. He’s learned the hard way. But it has come with a cost. Fanatical followers of Ojeda condemned Soto for turning the priest over to police. In other cases of sexual misconduct by priests, that have not involved minors, Soto removed them and was criticized by followers.

“In my own ministry, I’ve come face-to-face with a lot of domestic violence and child abuse,” he said. “In many of these cases, I reported them and the families would initially be angry with me that I reported them.”

Soto knew the questions I would be asking him for this column – I approached him – and he accepted because he believes the church must face this crisis truthfully. It’s the only way to restore trust and to keep the abuse from happening again.

The Bishop of Sacramento is a man who has been humbled and is trying to do better.

“When these cases arise I have to act and put my own fears aside to do what’s right,” Soto said. “I first have to listen, to let people express their stories,”

“I tell them: “You were betrayed, your trust was betrayed. And that’s not right I’m not going to let Father hurt you again.”

Complete Article HERE!

DNA Results, Validate Son’s Claim, His Father Was A Catholic Priest

Original story  HERE!

By Jim Graham

The DNA of a deceased Catholic priest, the Rev. Thomas S Sullivan, today was found to match the DNA of James C Graham, a South Carolina man who has waged a decades-long battle with Church officials over information regarding his parentage.

“Silent for 25 years (deceased Mar. 31, 1993), my father spoke to me today via his DNA. At Last, I have validated a truth I was denied my entire life; Father Thomas S Sullivan, an Oblate priest from Lowell, MA, was my father. The scheme devised to save the church from scandal in the 40’s, took me from my mother’s custody as a toddler, and ensured I would never know my father,” said Graham.

Ann Marie Mires, a forensic anthropologist, performed an exhumation of Sullivan’s remains on June 18, in Tewksbury, MA, at a private cemetery owned by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a worldwide Catholic religious order. She then sent samples of the remains to Bode Cellmark Forensics, a Virginia firm that conducted the DNA tests.

Known for her work identifying the remains of victims of convicted Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, Mires said, “The confirmation of the DNA results is the significant step in restoring the rights and dignities to Jim Graham that were kept from him for the last 25 years. We are very pleased to have assisted Jim in his journey to find his true biological affinity and restore his family tree.”

Twenty-five years ago, Graham, now 73, was told his father may have been a Catholic priest. Upon seeing an obituary with a photo of Sullivan, Graham said he was immediately struck by the strong resemblance between Sullivan’s face and his own facial features.

Graham said he never doubted Sullivan was his father. But when he approached Oblate officials for confirmation he encountered quiet resistance. One Oblate priest who knew Sullivan told Graham to, “Forget the injustices of the past,” adding, “You have good genes, so get on with the rest of your life.”

Another priest provided Graham with church documents from the 1940s. The documents included correspondence between the Oblates in Buffalo, NY, where Sullivan was working, and Rome, confirming that Sullivan was involved with a woman. The priest also said other records had been purged, records that Graham believes would have shown that Sullivan fathered a son.

In February of this year, Graham wrote Oblate officials requesting the exhumation. To his surprise, the request was granted. Graham said he still hopes the Oblates will reveal the measures they took to conceal his parentage, denying him the chance to forge a relationship with his father.

Complete Article HERE!

Excommunicated women demand changes to Church as child abuse scandals mount

International circle of bishops with Roman Catholic Women Priests call on Pope Francis to act

Marie Bouclin, a bishop with the Roman Catholic Women Priests, presides over a service in her home in Sudbury in 2016.

By Benjamin Aubé

Though they’ve been excommunicated by the Vatican, a group of women is demanding changes in the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishops with the Roman Catholic Women Priests are calling on Pope Francis to “establish a council to explore new structures for church leadership and order within the Roman Catholic Church.”

They say the constant string of allegations against male priests is yet another sign the Church must begin letting women and men with children be ordained.

The call to action comes on the heels of last month’s grand jury report out of Pennsylvania. It found that thousands of children were abused at the hands of hundreds of priests in that state.

Marie Bouclin is a bishop emerita with the Roman Catholic Women Priests.

“Men want to protect their children too, and if they’re fathers, they can’t be ordained either,” explained Bouclin. “So we’re saying you need married people as ministers of the Church, you need women in the church, to bring a different perspective, to change this system that has perpetuated itself largely through force and fear.”

Bouclin, who is based in Sudbury, said the Roman Catholic Women Priests are essentially forced to the margins as an “underground” organization. She explained she runs small services and prayer circles, often out of her own home.

The Vatican automatically excommunicates any woman that attempts to be ordained through the movement.

“They’ve marginalized us, so we can’t operate in the local parishes and such,” noted Bouclin.

“We’ve been accused of trying to have access to power, when what we are saying is, ‘Look, we could serve.’ There’s a shortage of priests, we could do this work, we’re qualified and we’re willing, but there’s this fear of change.”

Bouclin also spoke about why she and her peers continue to fight to be part of an organization that has not only forced them out, but also continues to be peppered with child abuse allegations.

“This is our Church too,” she replied. “There’s a lot worth keeping, but there’s a lot that has to change. Rather than walk away, it’s the hope of trying to salvage the good that can be.”

Bouclin added it’s a mistake to believe that child abuse at the hands of priests hasn’t happened in Canadian cities like Sudbury.

Complete Article HERE!

Has Catholic Canon Law Aggravated The Clergy Abuse Crisis?


Among the potential victims of the Catholic clergy abuse crisis is one whose roots date to the early years of Christianity: the Catholic canon law system.

Each new revelation that a priest has molested a child and gone unpunished by his bishop has brought charges that part of the problem may be canonical procedures that fail to ensure justice for the victim.

The Roman Catholic church has long had its own legal system, incorporating a judicial framework and a complex set of laws, or canons, regulating church organization. Critics, however, say canon laws assign excessive importance to the protection of church institutions, encourage secrecy over transparency, and favor rehabilitating wayward priests rather than punishing them. While abusive priests can be defrocked for misconduct, the church cannot send anyone to prison.

The alleged shortcomings of the canon law system mean that civil authorities are increasingly taking the initiative to investigate Catholic clergy abuse on their own.

A problem of structure

“Because of its structures and because of how it has responded in the past, the Catholic church may in some ways be more ripe for these abuses to happen and fester,” says Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Last month, Madigan launched an inquiry into Catholic dioceses in her state, looking for unreported cases of clergy misconduct. She took the action despite assurances from the Chicago archdiocese that it is already investigating abuse allegations and, since 2002, has forwarded them all to the appropriate civil authorities.

“The problem is, I’m not sure that’s accurate,” Madigan explains. “So there has to be an independent investigation that will allow for a full and complete accounting.”

Madigan acted after a grand jury in Pennsylvania reported in August that more than 300 priests in six dioceses had abused children in recent decades and that bishops had covered up the crimes. Attorneys general in Missouri, New York, and Florida are exploring the possibility of doing their own clergy abuse investigations.

Canon law vs. civil law

To be clear, child molestation is considered a criminal act under Catholic law. Canon number 1395 in the Code of Canon Law states that a priest found to have had sexual contact with a minor under the age of sixteen is to be punished “with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.” Within the church, defrocking a priest is considered an especially severe punishment.

“I don’t see this [abuse crisis] as a failure of canon law,” says Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus of the Duquesne University Law School and also a trained canon lawyer. “I think the deficiency was the failure to use the system.”

“Most of the cases in the Pennsylvania grand jury report happened before 1990,” Cafardi notes. “Even in those years it was a canonical crime for a clergyman to sexually abuse a child. They should have been processed under the canon law, and they weren’t.”

Critics contend, however, that one reason more priests have not been held accountable by church authorities is that other aspects of canon law weaken the incentives for punishment.

Canon 1341, for example, stipulates that a bishop should penalize a priest “only after he has ascertained that fraternal correction or rebuke or other means of pastoral solicitude cannot sufficiently repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender.”

In practice, the preference for “fraternal correction” or a “pastoral” solution can mean a bishop goes easy on an abusive priest, even one who has molested children.

“The bishop will bring the priest in, ask him if he’s going to do this again or if he’s over it,” says Carolyn Warner, a professor of political science at Arizona State University who has studied Catholic institutions. “In some cases, the bishop will send the priest for counseling, typically to a system run by Catholic priests who are specialists in this area.”

For Cafardi, a former advisor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on clergy abuse issues, such cases reflect poorly on the bishops themselves, however, not on the canonical system.

“Our bishops made a choice in those days,” Cafardi says. “Instead of going the logical route and starting canonical criminal proceedings against these men, they chose therapy.”

Avoiding scandal

Church authorities who have tolerated abusive priests, or transferred them to other parishes rather than defrocking them, may also have been thinking of the canonical admonition to “repair scandal.”

In Roman Catholic usage, a “scandal” is “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” or perhaps draw someone “into spiritual death.”

Some bishops, Warner argues, may have opted to hide evidence of child molesters in the priesthood out of a fear that if such behaviors were to become public, the priesthood would lose honor and credibility.

“You don’t want to let parishioners know about these situations,” Warner says, “because that might cause them to question their faith.”

In the end, however, efforts by bishops to protect the church from embarrassment backfired by undermining faith in the church’s ability to police its own and by spurring civil authorities to conduct their own investigations of church actions.

“I think you’re going to see that demanded even by the laity in the church,” says Illinois Attorney General Madigan. “Otherwise there is going to be continued concern and a resulting lack of trust.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church Is Sick With Sex

Outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love.

Pope Alexander VI

By Timothy Egan

One pope was a father of 10 through multiple mistresses, a man who purchased the papacy with mule-loads of silver. It is said that Alexander VI, the most debauched of the Borgia pontiffs, elected in 1492, even had an affair with one of his daughters.

Another pope contracted syphilis during his reign — a “disease very fond of priests, especially rich priests,” as the saying went in Renaissance times. That was Julius II, known as “Il terrible.”

A third pope, Pius IX, added Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and John Stuart Mill’s book on the free market economy to the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books during his long reign in the 19th century. He also formalized the doctrine of papal infallibility.

What these Holy Fathers had in common was not just that they were badly flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.

I say this as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis. The big issue behind the budding civil war in a faith of 1.3 billion people — a rift that could plunge the church back into a medieval mind-set on sexuality — is the same old thing.

And most of the church’s backward teachings, dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, have no connection to the words of Jesus.

If you’re going to strike at a pope, to paraphrase the line about taking down a king, you must kill him. Right-wing Catholics, those who think allowing gay members of the faith to worship with dignity is an affront to God, have just taken their best shot at Francis.

The attempted coup was disguised as an exposé by a conscience-stricken cleric, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He claims that the pope must resign because he knew about the sexual abuse of young seminarians by a disgraced cardinal and did not defrock the predator.

It’s a fair point, and one that demands a full response from Francis. But if you read Viganò’s full 11-page letter, you see what’s really driving him and his ultraconservative cabal — an abhorrence of gay Catholics and a desire to return to the Dark Ages.

“The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” Viganò wrote. Those close to Francis, he claimed, “belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.” For theological authority, he cited the infamous 1986 letter to bishops condemning homosexuality as “a moral disorder.”

That instructive was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, designed to do to heretics what the Inquisition once did, without the stake-burning.

The bishop’s letter cites Old Testament sanctions against “sodomites” and a New Testament interpretation from St. Paul, who admitted he was not speaking with direct authority from the divine. St. Augustine, who loved sex and had plenty of it before he hated it, set the church template in the fifth century, saying, “Marriage is only one degree less sinful than fornication.”

What’s missing from these puritanical pronouncements, from then till now, is the figure at the center of the faith. That’s because, outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love. Nothing about homosexuals. Nothing about priestly celibacy or barring women from clerical ranks, for that matter.

Last year, while walking the thousand-year-old Via Francigena, I came upon many Catholics along that pilgrim’s path to Rome excited about the fresh air blowing through a Vatican that hadn’t opened a window in decades. The only cloud over these spiritual sojourners was the constant news about criminal clergy.

The conservatives would do nothing to fix this, but would make the church a global pariah. The old guard is infuriated by statements like the one Pope Francis made on Sunday. When asked how a parent should treat a gay child, he said, “Don’t condemn, have dialogue, listen.”

The way out of the present crisis is more light, less darkness and a few bold and dramatic moves. For starters, clerics should not be judging other clerics; let lay members, women and men, conduct the investigations.

Priestly celibacy should be optional. It’s an anachronism, certainly not one of the “infallible” truths, and may be one of the main reasons pedophilia is thick in clerical ranks. For the first thousand years of the church, married men could become priests, as they still can in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Women should be priests. Duh. When asked about this, Francis said only men could serve because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. This logic is flawed, as Jesus also chose Jews, and you don’t see a lot of them being invited into the priesthood.

A final alternative might be to look to the United States ambassador to the Vatican for moral guidance. That would be Callista Gingrich, who carried on a six-year affair with a married Newt Gingrich and became his third wife. In Rome, as always, hypocrisy is eternal.

Complete Article HERE!