Bishop indicted in Catholic sex abuse scandal: It’s about time

COMMENTARY

For the first time since the Catholic sex abuse scandal broke in the United States 25 years ago, a bishop has been indicted for allegedly covering up for a sexually abusive priest.

Our first reaction: It’s about time.

Our next reaction: It’s outrageous that — after settlements with roughly 6,000 abuse victims, more than 15,000 allegations and $3 billion in payments, according to bishop-accountability.org — a Catholic church official is suspected of facilitating and hiding more despicable behavior.

The courts will decide whether Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn hid abuse that occurred as recently as last year, but there was enough evidence for a grand jury to hand up charges of failure to report suspected child abuse, and that’s a start.

Prosecutors across the United States should continue to chase sex abuse as high up the church’s ladder as necessary to protect children. Sex abusers who hide in religious garb and prey upon the church’s most vulnerable members should be prosecuted fully, along with anyone — of any church rank — who protects these predators.

For years, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has protected criminal priests by denying or covering up sex abuse. Known abusers were moved from one parish to another, and many repeated their crimes.

Under pressure, bishops passed a charter 10 years ago pledging to report suspected abusers to law enforcement agencies. Prosecutors say Finn violated that pledge (along with a similar pledge he made recently) and the law by trying to hide abuse by the Rev. Shawn Ratigan.

Ratigan was arrested in May and indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently at an Easter egg hunt last spring. Photos found on Ratigan’s laptop included a child’s vagina, upskirt images and other crotch photos.

Finn admitted knowing about the photos last December, but he didn’t tell police until May.

A civil lawsuit asserts that between December 2010 (when Finn knew of the photos) and May 2011, Ratigan attended children’s birthday parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted an Easter egg hunt and presided at a girl’s First Communion.

Three years ago, Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million. He took responsibility and apologized. When charges were announced against Ratigan, Finn again accepted blame and again apologized.

Let the indictment be a lesson: Apologies (and money) aren’t enough anymore. Bishops believed to be part of a cover-up will be treated as they should be — suspected criminals.

Full Article HERE!

Kansas City Bishop Indicted in Reporting of Abuse by Priest

The Roman Catholic bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert Finn, and the diocese he leads have been indicted by a county grand jury on a charge of failure to report suspected child abuse in the case of a priest who had been accused of taking lewd photographs of young girls.

Bishop Finn is accused of covering up abuse that occurred as recently as last year — almost 10 years since the nation’s Catholic bishops passed a charter pledging to report suspected abusers to law enforcement authorities.

The bishop has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of the photos last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.

During that period Bishop Finn and the diocese had reason to suspect that the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, might subject a child to abuse, the indictment said, citing “previous knowledge of concerns regarding Father Ratigan and children; the discovery of hundreds of photographs of children on Father Ratigan’s laptop, including a child’s naked vagina, upskirt images and other images focused on the crotch; and violations of restrictions placed on Father Ratigan.”

The indictment was announced on Friday by the Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters-Baker. It had been under seal since Oct. 6 because the bishop was out of the country. He returned on Thursday.

“This is about protecting children,” Ms. Peters-Baker said.

The bishop and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were charged with one count each, a misdemeanor.

Bishop Finn appeared in court at 1 p.m. and pleaded not guilty, as did lawyers for the diocese.

Bishop Finn said in a statement, “We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”

He said that he and the diocese had given “complete cooperation” to law enforcement. He also pointed to steps he had taken since the scandal first became public, which included commissioning a report to look into the case and reinforcing procedures for handling allegations of abuse.

Father Ratigan was arrested in May and has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently during an Easter egg hunt last spring.

His case prompted a civil lawsuit filed in August that asserts that between December 2010 and May 2011, Father Ratigan attended children’s birthday parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted the Easter egg hunt and presided, with the bishop’s permission, at a girl’s First Communion.

The case has generated fury at a bishop who was already a polarizing figure in his diocese, and there are widespread calls for him to resign. Parishioners started a Facebook page called ’”Bishop Finn Must Go” and circulated a petition. An editorial in The Kansas City Star in June calling for the bishop to step down concluded that prosecutors must “’actively pursue all relevant criminal charges” against everyone involved.

Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to report anyone suspected of being a pedophile immediately to law enforcement authorities.

Bishop Finn, who was appointed in 2005, alienated many of his priests and parishioners, and won praise from others, when he remade the diocese to conform with his traditionalist theological views. He is one of few bishops affiliated with the conservative movement Opus Dei.

Full Article HERE!

Catholic order knew of alleged abuse: document

A Roman Catholic order in Quebec was aware of allegations of sexual abuse by brothers in the religious group, according to evidence discovered by Radio-Canada.

A nine-page document, written by a long-term member of the Order of Holy Cross, chronicles specific allegations of abuse over the years at Montreal’s College Notre Dame. The document lists a dozen Holy Cross brothers from various institutions.

It also outlines how alleged abusers at the order’s flagship private school were not reported to the police and instead were allowed to stay on as teachers or support staff.

The document said in at least one case, the college paid $250,000 to buy the silence of a family that complained.

Wilson Kennedy, a former member of the order, says there was a culture of silence that protected alleged abusers. (CBC)
Wilson Kennedy, a former member of the religious order, told Radio-Canada in an exclusive interview that while he was with the order he spoke to a Vatican official about the problem.

“Rome was informed and the Superior General asked me for clarification on several cases,” Kennedy said.

He said there was a culture of silence that protected alleged abusers.

“You protect a group. Was it wrong? Yeah, it was wrong,” Kennedy said.

The Order of Holy Cross was responsible for the care and education of thousands of Quebecers over the years. It ran institutions for people with handicaps, halfway houses and private colleges in Montreal and other areas of the province.

Allegations of abuse at College Notre Dame began to surface a couple of years ago. The college is right across the street from the iconic St. Joseph’s Oratory, which was also built by the Order of Holy Cross.

A family has launched a lawsuit against the order and formed a support group.

The order said it won’t comment while the case is still before the courts, but it did issue a statement saying it vigorously condemns all forms of misconduct.

Full Article HERE!

Victims of sexual abuse by priests barred from meeting pope

Italian victims of pedophile priests demanded to meet Pope Benedict XVI in an open letter published Saturday, accusing papal officials of blocking them.

“We have gone through all the official channels possible in order to meet you, but have been given nothing but evasive replies,” the letter from various associations of child abuse victims said.

“We are forced, alas, to admit the extent to which the victims of pedophile criminals are treated with disdain, as if they have the plague.”

The letter noted that the pope had met people abused by priests when young in Australia, Britain, Malta, the United States and most recently in his native Germany, but not in Italy.

“We cannot speak to you face to face to express our grief and frustration in the face of so many words and so few acts,” it added. “We ask you for an audience in the hope of being listened to, to understand the real meaning of your words when you express your sadness and shame.”

The letter asked for a meeting with the pope on Tuesday, the day after the head of one of the associations that signed the letter, Francesco Zanardi, is due to arrive at the Vatican at the end of a protest walk across Italy begun last month.

His group, L’Abuso, claims to have uncovered 130 cases of assault by pedophile priests in Italy since 2000.

At his last meeting with abuse victims, in Germany on September 23, the pope “expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families”, according to the Vatican.

“He assured the people present that those in positions of responsibility in the Church are seriously concerned to deal with all crimes of abuse and are committed to the promotion of effective measures for the protection of children and young people.

“Pope Benedict XVI is close to the victims and he expresses the hope that the merciful God, Creator and Redeemer of all mankind, may heal the wounds of the victims and grant them inner peace.”

Over the past year large-scale pedophilia scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in a number of countries, including Ireland, Austria, Belgium, the United States and Germany.

Long accused of a systematic cover-up, the Vatican says it has adopted a zero-tolerance policy, and that victims should be heard and helped, while the guilty are punished in the courts.

However many associations feel that its measures, including the brief meetings between the pope and abuse victims, are not enough.

Full Article HERE!

Abuse victims accuse Catholic church of using talks as a smokescreen

Negotiations on delivering a package of care for English and Welsh victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests are on the verge of collapse after survivor organisations accused the church of using the discussions as a smokescreen for inaction.

Two groups have pulled out of discussions led by the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission (NCSC) and the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service (CSAS), describing them as shambolic, toothless and unlikely to achieve anything by May 2012, when the pope’s deadline for a progress report expires.

Graham Wilmer, who heads the Lantern Project and was himself abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, said: “We were prepared to talk to [the institution] that had harmed us, even though it was uncomfortable, because the end of it should be worthwhile,” he said. “[But] we can’t trust them. What has effectively has happened is nothing.”

Wilmer said the talks were meant to create “a comprehensive support package” for victims of sexual abuse by clergy but there was still no system in place for a victim to request support by telephone and that calls were answered by lawyers for the church’s insurance company.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, declined to meet Wilmer or the forum before the two groups walked out.

Wilmer said another aggravating factor for his organisation was that the church had continued to oppose victims seeking compensation over the past year.

He said: “There certainly is the intention to deliver what looks like an attempt to produce a better response to victims of abuse, but when you test it, you just end up with a bunch of lawyers … they [the Catholic church] are not prepared to deal with the victims of its abuse in any way other than to fight them through the courts.”

Dr Margaret Kennedy, founder of Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (Macsas), has also pulled out of the talks, describing them as “a complete shambles”. She said: “Macsas has always been very uncomfortable with this particular group, partly because it started off with no aims and objectives and no money on the table… to put [recommendations] into place.”

She said church representatives “were continually refusing to even mention clergy abuse” in the meetings, preferring to widen out their remit to all survivors of abuse in society.

“We said: ‘Isn’t your first response to the victims of clergy abuse whom your priests have raped and tortured?’ … And they didn’t want to talk about that. ‘You’re not the only victims of abuse’ was the message we basically got,” she said.

Kennedy said that one of the group’s purported aims, to “reconcile” victims of abuse to the church, had angered her.

“They have this great idea that they are going to heal victims that they have actually harmed in the first place. They haven’t a clue of how victims of clergy abuse feel,” she said.

Pete Saunders, from the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said his organisation and three others were sticking with the talks because there was still a “chink of light”.

Saunders, who was sexually abused by two Catholic priests as a child and believes there are “thousands and thousands” of UK victims like him, said confidential proposals on survivor treatment were now going to be put before the Catholic bishops’ conference in mid-November and this represented a make-or-break point.

He said: “We are aware that the Catholic church have got a lot to answer for in terms of the way that they protect abusing priests and nuns. They have an appalling record on that and the colleagues around the table, including the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, have all agreed that.”

But Saunders said the church’s senior clergy were “now going to have it laid on the line”. In November, they would be told to “stop making life difficult for survivors and challenging very legitimate claims from people who want to get on with their life and want some degree of justice”, he said.

“If the bishops’ conference closes down that chink of light, then we will certainly walk away because it will mean there is no sincerity,” he said.

A church spokesperson told the Guardian that, when it came to compensation claims, the church’s hands were tied by charity commission rules that stopped it handing out money without first being lawfully entitled to do so. It is also a requirement for the church to be insured against indemnity and the spokesperson said it could not be responsible for the actions of the insurance company when it came to compensation claims.

Adrian Child, the director of CSAS, said: “The NCSC and CSAS have been in dialogue with representatives of a number of survivors’ support organisations and others for the past 12-plus months. The aim is to develop a sensitive and just response to survivors of abuse within a church setting in order to promote healing for victims of abuse.

“Regret was expressed by the group that they [Macsas] had made that decision, but the decision was respected and they were thanked for their contribution to the work so far.”

Full Article HERE!