‘Undignified,’ ‘inhumane,’ ‘wicked’

— Sexual abuse survivors say they’re revictimized during civil process

John Cody’s former music teacher was convicted of abusing 10 students including Cody in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. In 2021, Cody launched a lawsuit against institutions he said were also accountable for not stopping the abuse of teens.

Lawsuits provide alternative recourse, but can retraumatize victims

By Julie Ireton

When John Cody decided to sue his former Ottawa high school teacher and the institutions that allegedly failed to stop his sexual abuse, the 60-year-old braced himself to face his perpetrator again.

But the treatment he said he received during mediation was worse.

At one point, Cody, diagnosed with a terminal illness, recalled the mediator relaying a haunting message from the opposing side that implied he wouldn’t live long enough to see a resolution.

“This was the most traumatizing thing I’ve ever experienced,” Cody told CBC in a recent interview from his Montreal apartment. “This was inhumane treatment, and I can’t level any reasonable or logical explanation.”

Cody is one of several abuse survivors across Canada who describe feeling revictimized through the civil process.

Their stories provide a rare glimpse into what can happen in civil litigation involving large institutions such as school boards, hospitals, scouting and religious organizations. These cases often don’t make it into the public record due to the confidentiality around settlements.

While lawyers representing defendants are bound by professional obligation to defend their clients’ interests, one Toronto lawyer says some of the interactions with survivors could use less bravado and aggression.

“I think that everyone involved in the system needs education or should have ongoing education around this, including judges, mediators as well as lawyers,” said Carole Jenkins, who often represents parties being sued.

John Cody and other survivors and supporters gather outside the Ottawa courthouse on March 1, 2019 after the second conviction of former Bell High School teacher, Bob Clarke.
Survivors and supporters gather outside the Ottawa Courthouse on March 1, 2019, after the second conviction of former Bell High School teacher Bob Clarke.

‘I would be dead’

Cody’s former teacher Bob Clarke was sentenced to prison for abusing Cody and nine other boys at Ottawa high schools in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He has since been released.

In 2021, six survivors — all in midlife — launched lawsuits against Clarke, his former wife, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre where the teacher had been treated, alleging negligence and other wrongdoing.

For several years, Cody, a songwriter and musician, has suffered from cancer and a degenerative neurological disease. His case went to mediation this summer.

What happened next, Cody said, was shocking and crossed an ethical line.

“Opposing counsel said they were willing to fail the mediation because I would be dead before we got a court date, and they wouldn’t have to pay out,” Cody said, referring to what the mediator told him.

“To reduce me down to nothing more than a medical file that will expire before they have to pay out to someone as sick as me is beyond reprehensible.”

Featured VideoJohn Cody is one of several abuse survivors across Canada who describe feeling revictimized through the civil process. During mediation, Cody said he had to deal with ‘shocking’ and ‘cruel’ comments allegedly said by the opposing counsel, and said it was a traumatic experience. Lawyers for the OCDSB, who Cody was suing, said their client would not violate the confidential nature of mediation by discussing Cody’s case, but added those comments “would not be made to any claimant.”

Ottawa-based lawyer Colin Dubeau, who represents the OCDSB, said in an email to CBC that his client would not violate the confidential nature of mediation by discussing Cody’s case.

However, he said school board representatives have never intentionally failed at mediation to “exact a more favourable settlement.”

“Comments, as you have outlined … have not and would not be made to any claimant, as doing so would run contrary to the principles of fairness, respect, and dignity with which the OCDSB and its legal counsel handle all such claims,” Dubeau wrote.

Cody’s case was settled in July. Details of the settlement are not public.

Four of the six lawsuits are pending, and both the school board and The Royal deny vicarious liability for what happened to the plaintiffs.

Rosemary Anderson was 27 years old when she was abused by a priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kamloops. This staff photo was taken when she began teaching at the parish's school in 1976.
Rosemary Anderson was 27 when she was abused by a priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Kamloops, B.C. This staff photo was taken when she began teaching at the parish’s school in 1976.

‘Undignified,’ ‘inhumane,’ ‘wicked’

Civil cases launched by sexual abuse victims can be more wide-raging in scope than criminal charges because they can attempt to assign blame to institutions for allowing or enabling abuse, and hold them accountable for historical wrongs.

Litigation against the Catholic Church for sexual abuse, for example, has resulted in millions of dollars in payouts across Canada. A precise amount is impossible given the high number of confidential out-of-court settlements.

But several victims who have embarked on such a journey say the same civil court system can also be used to retraumatize them.

“I would describe it as undignified. I would describe it as inhumane. I would describe it as being either morally compromised or wicked,” said Patrick, referring to his experience with lawyers representing the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall.

CBC has agreed not to reveal Patrick’s full name because he was a 12-year-old altar boy when he was sexually assaulted by two priests.

One of his alleged abusers was convicted of sex crimes against other boys, but a second member never faced charges. Both men are now dead.

“During discovery, the church’s lawyers decided to take it upon themselves to ask me, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, if I enjoyed the experience of being abused sexually by members of the clergy,” said Patrick.

According to court transcripts, the lawyer repeatedly asked Patrick if his body was aroused.

“They asked the question to signal to me that if you don’t like this question, you’re not going to like a lot of things that are about to happen,” he added.

The lead lawyer for the church issued a statement on Monday, explaining the intent of that line of questioning.

“I understand the plaintiff’s discomfort,” wrote Charles Gibson. “The question was a fact finding one and in no way was it meant to ask the plaintiff if he enjoyed the devastating impact of a sexual abuse.”

Rosemary Anderson, left, stands outside the Vancouver law courts with her lawyer, Sandra Kovacs, in March 2020 at the conclusion of the civil trial over her abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest.
Anderson, left, stands outside the Vancouver Law Courts with her lawyer Sandra Kovacs in March 2020, at the conclusion of the civil trial over her abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest.

Adversarial system

Seven years after filing his lawsuit, Patrick’s case was settled after mandatory mediation, just weeks before it was set to go to trial. The terms of the settlement are not public.

“The system is not broken. The system is working the way it was designed to work,” Patrick said in an interview with CBC. “We need to ask ourselves if we’re OK with that.”

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” said Sandy Kovacs, a civil litigator who represents plaintiffs.

“I think an adversarial system doesn’t actually achieve what we’re trying to achieve, which is the truth and accountability, so that we can actually address this harm in our society.”

Kovacs has come up against institutional lawyers, including those representing Catholic Church defendants for years.

She points to questions a lawyer once asked her client, Rosemary Anderson, who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Kamloops, B.C., priest in the 1970s.

“She was exploited by a priest and opposing counsel asked her if she was jealous when she found out there were others,” said Kovacs, referring to other victims.

Anderson calls the defence lawyer’s assertion “sick.”

“He was allowed to get away with that,” she said.

Anderson said the opposing lawyer also belittled her, patronized her and repeated factual errors in an attempt to discredit her.

John Cody, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, says the recent civil court process he went through retraumatized him.
Cody and his cat Rootbeer sit on the hospital bed in his Montreal apartment. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Cody says the recent civil court process he went through retraumatized him.

No apology from defendants

In the cases launched by Cody, Patrick and Anderson, each plaintiff asked for apologies and accountability, not just money.

All three have confirmed to CBC that their non-financial demands were not met.

“The civil system does not allow for anything other than financial compensation,” said Anderson. “The church didn’t apologize, in fact they worked very, very hard at defending themselves and trying to maintain their own honour.”

Anderson believes all lawyers dealing with sexual assault cases should be required to take sensitivity training.

Defence lawyer Carole Jenkins says these cases are rarely straightforward and often go beyond whether the alleged abuse took place.

“I owe a duty to my client and I advocate in their interest,” said Jenkins. “And sometimes, no matter how respectfully or kindly I ask a question, it’s likely to be traumatizing for the plaintiff.”

But Jenkins believes there are better ways to approach victims on the other side of the table.

Lawyer advocates ‘trauma-informed’ approach

In 2020, Myrna McCallum launched a podcast dedicated to addressing this very issue.

McCallum, who has worked as a defence lawyer, prosecutor and adjudicator, says it was her experience in the foster care and residential school system in northern Saskatchewan that drew her toward a career in law — and now, proselytizing a “trauma-informed” approach.

Métis lawyer Myrna McCallum has started a podcast to help lawyers manage trauma in their profession.
Vancouver lawyer Myrna McCallum hosts a podcast called The Trauma Informed Lawyer. She’s organizing a conference in April called Justice as Trauma.

“Throughout law school and the bar course, never once did we talk about people, did we talk about trauma, did we talk about empathy, humanity,” said McCallum.

“We’re not taught anything beyond making your best possible argument at all costs. [It] doesn’t matter if you’re crumpling and collapsing in the witness box.”

Her aim is to educate lawyers, judges and police officers about “how to bring emotional intelligence to their practice.”

“I do think it can be fixed,” said McCallum, who is currently organizing a conference called Justice as Trauma, set to take place next spring.

“Do we, like physicians, have a duty to do no further harm to people? I think we should. I think we do,” she added.

A new law passed in 2021 requires new federally appointed judges to agree to training on sexual assault and systemic racism before they’re appointed to the bench.

Cody says he’s speaking out because he wants the system — and the people who operate in it — to change.

“Part of my end of life bucket list as it were, was just to get all of this as much behind me as possible and get down to the business of being at peace,” said Cody.

“I just didn’t think they’d be so cruel about it,” he said. “It felt like kicking someone when they’re down.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic order, New Lenox school pay $2 million over accusation ex-principal raped a student

— The payout is in a lawsuit regarding the Rev. Richard McGrath, an Augustinian priest who ran Providence Catholic High School — and took the Fifth when asked about child pornography.

Rev. Richard J. McGrath, former president of Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, in 2006.

By Robert Herguth

If Robert Krankvich could ask a question of the Rev. Richard McGrath, the Catholic priest who Krankvich says raped him when he was a student at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox in the 1990s, it would be: “Why? Why me?”

The Augustinian Catholic religious order that McGrath belongs to and the school it runs that’s owned by the Diocese of Joliet has reached a $2 million settlement on the eve of a trial over a lawsuit Krankvich filed, lawyers confirmed.

Church officials admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the payout to end the civil case.

But records reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times and interviews by the newspaper show there were warning signs about McGrath.

The diocese — the arm of the church for DuPage and Will counties that brought in the Augustinians to run Providence in the 1980s — has said it is looking at closing or merging numerous parishes and elementary schools, partly over finances. Diocesan officials have declined to say how much money they have spent on settlements and other costs linked to child sex abuse accusations against clergy members and others over the years.

Earlier this year, McGrath was questioned under oath about accusations in the lawsuit that he raped Krankvich. The priest responded that he never engaged in “any unlawful, immoral or sexually improper conduct with any student.”

He also was asked whether he had ever viewed child pornography during the time he was president of Providence. McGrath declined to answer, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Augustinians and secrecy

The Augustinian order, which also runs St. Rita High School on the South Side, remains one of the few prominent Catholic organizations in the Chicago region that still withholds from the public the names of known sex offenders within its ranks, though it says it plans to end such secrecy.

“The Augustinians are committed to being transparent within the bounds of canon and civil law,” the order said in a written statement. “They are presently engaged in the process of preparing a list of those Augustinian friars” with established “allegations of abuse, which will be published within the first quarter of 2024.”

Attorney Jeff Anderson at a 2018 news conference with attorney Marc Pearlman (right) and former Providence Catholic High School student Robert Krankvich (left), who filed a lawsuit against the Augustinians, saying he was sexually abused by the Rev. Richard McGrath.
Attorney Jeff Anderson (center) at a 2018 news conference with attorney Marc Pearlman (right) and former Providence Catholic High School student Robert Krankvich (left), who filed a lawsuit against the Augustinians, saying he was sexually abused by the Rev. Richard McGrath.

Krankvich said, “My hope is with this case getting resolved, more victims and survivors will have the strength and courage to come forward. Because they’re not alone.”

McGrath couldn’t be reached. His lawyer declined to comment.

A revelation that emerged in the Krankvich case centered on an anonymous letter sent to the Augustinians about McGrath, complaining that he repeatedly massaged students’ shoulders at Providence and made them feel uncomfortable.

The letter apparently came from a Providence parent between 2006 and 2010 and began, “Dear Augustinian provincial, please make Father McGrath stop giving . . . back rubs to the boys at Providence.”

The letter said McGrath “also watches the boys in the weight room and does it there, too.”

“Some other parents want to sue the Augustinians, but I don’t want my son exposed to” a legal process.

The letter writer said the note was being forwarded to Bishop J. Peter Sartain, then in charge of the Joliet diocese.

But there is no evidence that anyone from the diocese, now run by Bishop Ron Hicks, or the order forwarded the complaint to Providence or told McGrath to stop, records show.

Sartain couldn’t be reached. Hicks’ office didn’t respond to a reporter’s questions.

The Rev. Anthony Pizzo, who’s now in charge of Chicago-area Augustinians but wasn’t at the time of those allegations, also was deposed for the lawsuit. Pizzo was asked by Krankvich’s lawyer Marc Pearlman what was done in response to the letter.

The Rev. Anthony Pizzo in 2018.
The Rev. Anthony Pizzo in 2018.

“I don’t know,” Pizzo said. “It doesn’t seem to be anything.”

Asked what he would do today if he had received that letter, Pizzo said, “Hypothetically, I would provide the letter” to the high school.

“I can say this, is it inappropriate now? Yes,” Pizzo said about the conduct described in the letter. “However, I also believe in putting it into context. It’s not something I would support in any way. However, back then, I don’t know what Father McGrath’s intentions were . . . just perhaps he may have been affirming the kids, just putting his hands on their shoulders.”

Pearlman said, “We don’t know what the intention of Father McGrath was because nobody asked him, correct?”

That’s correct, Pizzo said.

More accusations

Another Augustinian questioned in the case was the Rev. John Merkelis, who became president at Providence in 2018, shortly after McGrath’s departure. He fielded a strange call around that time from another man who’d attended the school years earlier.

Seeming “agitated,” the man left a voicemail stating the “issue was Father McGrath,” and that he “had rubbed his shoulders” as a student, Merkelis said in his deposition.

After consulting with an attorney representing the order, Merkelis called back the man, who went on what seemed like a “stream of consciousness rant,” saying he had been drinking when he left the message. He told Merkelis, “I don’t want to go anywhere with this. I don’t want any kind of money.”

The Rev. John Merkelis.
The Rev. John Merkelis.

Around that time the same man called police in New Lenox and said he had been molested by two priests while he was a Providence student years earlier, and that McGrath was one of them, records show.

When investigators followed up with the man, he recanted.

But, according to a police report, he said McGrath would enter the boys’ locker room after football games and “stand at the entrance of the showers” and talk with the students “and stare at the naked boys while they took showers.”

McGrath also “blocked the entrance/exit,” causing “the boys to touch Father McGrath on their way out of the shower area,” the police report said.

Questioned at his deposition about standing by the showers, McGrath said, “I don’t recall doing that.”

Asked about rubbing shoulders, McGrath said, “I don’t recall specifically doing that.”

Regarding other physical contact with students, he said, “We’d hug, Providence hugged.”

McGrath’s ouster from Providence

Merkelis also spoke in his deposition about the incident that led to McGrath being forced out at Providence in December 2017 — and that, once publicized, prompted Krankvich to come forward with his accusations from his earlier time as a student.

Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox.
Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox.

McGrath was attending a wrestling match at the school, as he often did. He was sitting in the stands when a female student saw him looking at a photo on his cellphone of what appeared to be a young naked boy, records show.

Horrified, the student reported it to staff, and the complaint landed with Merkelis, who called police.

An officer came to the school and, along with Merkelis, approached McGrath in his office.

“Did you ask Father McGrath to turn over his cellphone?” one of Krankvich’s attorneys asked Merkelis in his deposition.

“I did,” the priest said.

“And what did he say to that?” Merkelis was asked.

“That he would not,” Merkelis said.

The attorney asked, “Did he say why he would not?”

Merkelis said, “He did not.”

A police report says McGrath eventually “stood up and walked out of the office, advising that he needed to get to the theater.”

Merkelis says the phone belonged to the school, not McGrath.

The order’s attorney, Michael Airdo, later spoke with McGrath’s attorney Patrick Reardon about the phone and “was advised . . . that no evidence exists,” the police report says.

The cover page of a just-settled lawsuit filed in 2018 against the Augustinians by Robert Krankvich.
The just-settled lawsuit filed in 2018 against the Augustinians by Robert Krankvich.

The following month, police asked McGrath to come in for an interview, records show. He deferred to Reardon, who said no. When police asked Reardon about McGrath’s cellphone, he “explained that he does not think the cellphone will surface or ever turn up,” police records show.

And it hasn’t.

Deposed for the lawsuit, McGrath asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions when asked whether he had been looking at child pornography on his phone and whether he destroyed that phone.

He called his current relationship with Merkelis “problematic” because he “brought a policeman to my office in 2017, which started this whole mess.”

Asked what McGrath expected Merkelis to do, McGrath took the Fifth again.

McGrath moves near a Catholic school

McGrath portrayed his departure from Providence as a forced exit. The order moved him from his longtime residence next to Providence, he said, to a monastery it runs on the South Side near the University of Chicago.

But neither the Augustinians nor the Archdiocese of Chicago, the arm of the church for Cook and Lake counties run by Hicks’ mentor, Cardinal Blase Cupich, told a Catholic school nearby or an adjacent preschool of McGrath’s presence.

After the Chicago Sun-Times reported he was living there, McGrath was sent away.

An online advertisement showing the Augustinians’ Hyde Park monastery is for sale.
An online advertisement showing the Augustinians’ Hyde Park monastery is for sale.

The South Side monastery was recently put up for sale for $1 million. An Augustinian representative says the McGrath suit didn’t prompt the decision to sell.

It’s unclear how much of the settlement with Krankvich the Augustinians and the Joliet diocese, whose lawyer was involved in defending the lawsuit, each covered and where the money came from.

McGrath said in his deposition that his order next wanted him to move into its complex in Crown Point, Indiana, but that, too, was close to a preschool, so he refused.

He decided to move away from the order, which declared him “illegitimately absent.” Members of the order take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and he no longer was obeying his superiors.

This highlighted one of the many inconsistencies that emerged since then, according to records and interviews.

McGrath violated a core aspect of being an Augustinian but wasn’t kicked out — though it appears the order at this point, six years later, is moving toward expulsion, court records show.

Church officials said they weren’t financially supporting him, but they were helping with his “supplemental medical coverage” — while McGrath made money helping around the house of an older former parishioner, he said in his deposition.

McGrath said his order didn’t know where he lives but acknowledged staying in regular touch with a fellow Augustinian priest in Indiana he regards as a close friend and who knows where he lives.

A broader silence

The Augustinians in the Chicago region as yet haven’t made public a list of members linked to sex abuse even as other orders such as the Jesuits, Dominicans and Carmelites have made moves toward greater transparency.

Cardinal Robert Prevost, a Chicago native and Augustinian, once ran the order’s Chicago-based province that covers the Midwest and also served as the international leader of the group, based in Rome, reporting to the pope. Recently, he was elevated by Pope Francis to be one of the top officials at the Vatican, overseeing an office involved in selecting new bishops, a powerful post.

Prevost had the authority to make the order publicly disclose abusers in its ranks, but there’s no evidence he did.

In 2021, a Sun-Times reporter asked Prevost for help in getting answers from his Chicago counterparts. He said, “I’ll see what I can do,” but didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

Pizzo wouldn’t address questions about Prevost not creating public lists, but said, “Nothing is more important to the Augustinians and me than transparency. Years before it became the general law of the church, under the leadership of Fr. Prevost put into place the requirement that there be a set of protocols . . . to guide all members in the different aspects of promoting child protection as well as in responding to cases where accusations might be received.”

As for the settlement, Pizzo said, “We continue to hold all of those involved in this matter in our prayers. . . . There is no higher priority for the Augustinians than the safety and well-being of those entrusted to our care. We have implemented robust child protection policies and procedures intended to ensure the safety of students and to provide a nurturing environment for all to whom we minister.”

Dioceses are geographic arms of the church, led by a bishop. Religious orders generally operate beyond such boundaries, each embracing a particular mission or following in the mold of a saint. In the case of the Augustinians, it’s theologian-philosopher St. Augustine.

Most orders, including the Augustinians, belong to a consortium called the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which long has recommended that its members be transparent about sex abuse by clergy, in part by publishing lists of known offenders — a step that victims and many church leaders have said acknowledges the suffering inflicted on the abused and can help healing.

Cardinal Robert Prevost earlier this year with Pope Francis.
Cardinal Robert Prevost earlier this year with Pope Francis.

Airdo, one of the Augustinians’ lawyers in the Krankvich case, has worked with the major superiors conference, according to his law firm biography.

During depositions for the Krankvich case, he repeatedly told the priests who were being questioned not to answer certain questions.

Pearlman asked Pizzo during his deposition, “As you sit here today, are you aware of any Augustinians who have had established allegations” regarding “sexual misconduct with a minor?”

Airdo interjected, “Objection . . . Father, you will not answer those questions.”

“It’s a yes-or-no question, by the way,” Pearlman said.

“You will not answer those questions,” Airdo told Pizzo.

“Father, are you going to follow counsel’s instruction not to answer that question?” Pearlman asked.

Pizzo said, “Correct.”

Representatives of the Augustinians say some of the questions from Krankvich’s lawyers were irrelevant or not allowed in this setting, so cutting off a line of inquiry was appropriate.

Pearlman disagrees.

Besides McGrath, five Augustinians from the Chicago region are listed by the Bishop Accountability watchdog group as alleged child sex offenders.

Krankvich says he continues to struggle because of the abuse he suffered.

“I’ve had several suicide attempts, and I’m still here,” Krankvich says. “So there’s a guardian angel.”

Complete Article HERE!

Church, state fail victims

By Claudia Vercellotti and David Clohessy

One of the most notorious predator priests in northwest Ohio has just been given a stiff sentence for his sex crimes by a federal judge after this case came to the attention of the FB, in an unrelated investigation.`

Last Friday, Judge Jack Zouhary sent Fr. Michael J. Zacharias to a federal prison for a long time.

The priest, formerly the pastor of St. Michael’s parish in Findlay, was arrested by the FBI in 2020 on multiple charges of sexual crimes, including human trafficking.

He allegedly “manipulated and coerced drug-addicted boys and men into sex” and made a “confession video” in which he performed oral sex on a then-adult victim.

Zacharias admits to first meeting one of his victims when he was an aspiring Seminarian and the boy was a sixth-grader at St. Catherine’s in Toledo.

According to bishopaccountability.org, a second young man told the FBI he met Zacharias as a first-grader, and that the then-seminarian began sexually abusing him as a teen after being ordained a Deacon and then Catholic priest.

Does it get much uglier than this?

Be very disturbed

Here are several takeaways from this disturbing case:

• For decades, the Catholic hierarchy has claimed “these predator priests all hurt kids a long time ago. We’ve since gotten better at selecting and training more healthy seminarians and priests.”

• Their intent is clear: promote complacency, mollify the flock and pretend these crimes are all in the past. But Zacharias’ crime spree started when he was a seminary student studying to become a priest. It continued through his ordination as a Catholic deacon and then a Catholic priest and, worse still, after the Toledo Catholic Diocese revamped its own policies on childhood sexual abuse.

• The Catholic Church hierarchy’s claim is at best premature and at worst intentionally misleading.

There’s some truth here of course. For instance, Fr. Stanislaus Wojciechowski was ordained in 1937, Fr. Alexander Pinter was ordained in 1943, Fr. Joseph J. Pucci was ordained in 1941, and Fr. George Schmit was ordained in 1935. All of these clerics worked in the Toledo diocese and are “credibly accused” child molesters, according to official church websites.

But plenty of other sexually troubled clerics joined the ranks of the ordained more recently. Among them are:

• Former Central Catholic High School religion teacher Fr. Stephen Rogers — ordained in 1995, later convicted of child pornography in 2003

• Deacon J. Michael Tynan was days away from being ordained when he was arrested and ultimately convicted of child pornography in 2004.

• Fr. Samuel Punnoor — ordained in 1996, deemed “credibly accused” in 2020

• Fr. James H. Roth — ordained in 1995, later deemed “credibly accused” by church officials in 2015

How about Zacharias? He was ordained in 2002.

Clearly, bad men are still joining the priesthood. Doesn’t this mean continued vigilance, not foolish complacency, is required by parents, parishioners, police, prosecutors and the public?

Which court?

Ohio lawmakers should take note of where Zacharias was held accountable for his crimes — in a federal courtroom.

This was the third Diocese of Toledo Catholic cleric to face sentencing in federal court since 2002 when the Diocesan officials joined U.S. bishops nationwide pledging “openness, honesty and transparency.”

Why wasn’t Zacharias tried in state court?

Largely because Ohio legislators continue to cave to lobbyists for the bishops and the insurance industry by refusing to eliminate or extend Ohio’s archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations.

Most states are lifting these arbitrary deadlines so more victims can use the courts to warn the public about child molesters.

But, tragically, Ohio continues to protect those who commit and conceal horrific crimes against kids, instead of protecting the kids themselves.

Worse still? When child advocates publicly asked Ohio Attorney General Yost to follow the steps of other surrounding states and convene a formal investigation into the cover-up of sexual crimes against minors by the Roman Catholic church, he publicly said ‘his hands are tied,’ and deferred activists to lawmakers.

This must change in the next legislative session.

One might think that Zacharias’ particularly heinous crimes and harsh sentence might light a fire under Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas and prod him to take decisive action towards prevention and disclosure of clergy sex crimes. Afterall Zacharias served in Toledo, Findlay, Van Wert, Mansfield and Sandusky.

Is it possible there are other victims?

His crimes that are known spanned over two decades. What is Thomas doing to actively reach out to every parishioner, alumni and the communities at large where this now-convicted sex offender worked and lived?

Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Within hours of the judge’s decision, Thomas issued a short, tepid statement to the media essentially “passing the buck” to the Vatican, which makes the ultimate decision on whether a convicted sex offender will be formally defrocked or remain in the priesthood.

“Today’s sentencing of Michael Zacharias in federal court marks another step towards justice for all of those harmed by his actions. As I expressed in my May 12, 2023, statement following his conviction, “The acts of which Rev. Michael Zacharias has been found guilty are reprehensible, morally deplorable, and manifestly contrary to the dignity due to each human person and the dignity of the priesthood.”

Why does the bishop do active roll-out campaigns when he is fundraising or lobbying for votes in state elections, and only issue a small statement electronically in what the federal judge called, “one of the most disturbing cases” he’s presided over?

The bishop made no pledges to try harder or do better regarding kids’ safety. Somewhat shockingly, he made no mention of Zacharias victims. He didn’t praise them for their courage or even offer an apology to them.

The bare minimum

And, predictably, Thomas failed to acknowledge the unrefuted testimony of an eighth-grade victim who testified under oath that he reported to the pastor at St. Catherine’s shortly after then-seminarian Zacharias first sexually abused him only to be told, ‘It’s all in your head.”

Even the federal judge acknowledged during Zacharias’ sentencing the credibility of the victims and the efforts the eighth-grade victim made to report timely that were not followed up on by church officials.

How many crimes and lives could have been spared falling prey to Zacharias if the pastor who this information was reported to had simply called the police? Notified the victims’ parents?

Worst of all, perhaps, Thomas refused to appeal to other victims, witnesses or whistleblowers — with information about Zacharias’ crimes or other wrongdoing by other church staff — to step forward and call law enforcement.

That’s precisely what a true leader would do: take affirmative steps to root out corruption in his institution. That’s what must happen if abuse is to be exposed, cover-ups are to be deterred, and children are to be safer.

Instead, however, Thomas does what so many in the Catholic hierarchy have done for so long and still do: the absolute bare minimum.

But thankfully, Toledo-area Catholics are increasingly taking a different tack.

More and more, we have noticed that churchgoers are slowly becoming better able to detect grooming and abuse, and they are more inclined to report it to police and prosecutors.

Still, more must be done, especially by those at the highest ranks of the church, to safeguard the vulnerable and heal the wounded.

As the government’s case against Fr. Michael Zacharias, whose crimes span at least two decades illustrates, the stakes are just too high to ignore. These clergy child predators do not spontaneously stop.

They must be stopped.

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A French bishop is accused of attempted rape in latest scandal to hit Catholic Church in France

FILE – All of the bishops of France attend a mass in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Lourdes, southwestern France, on Nov. 9, 2019. A French bishop has been given a preliminary charge of attempting to rape an adult man a decade ago, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday Nov. 20, 2023. It is the latest of a growing number of accusations of sexual abuse by clergy in France.

By Associated Press

A French bishop has been given a preliminary charge of attempting to rape an adult man a decade ago, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday. It is the latest of a growing number of accusations of sexual abuse by clergy in France.

Père Georges Colomb, Supérieur général des MEP.

The Bishops’ Conference of France said the accused bishop, Georges Colomb, contests the charge and deserves the presumption of innocence. He has asked the Vatican to step aside from his duties as bishop of La Rochelle and Saintes in western France to prepare his defense.

French investigative website Mediapart reported that senior figures in the Catholic Church were aware of the accusations for years.

The allegations didn’t reach prosecutors until May of this year. That’s when lawyers for the Archdiocese of Paris and a Catholic group called the Foreign Missions of Paris, shortened to MEP in French, submitted a report of a rape attempt by Colomb in 2013, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Colomb headed the MEP from 2010 to 2016, and his accuser was staying in MEP facilities at the time of the incident, according to French media reports. Colomb became a bishop in 2016.

As a result of the ensuing investigation, Colomb was detained for questioning last week and magistrates filed a preliminary charge on Friday, the prosecutor’s office said. Colomb is under judicial supervision and barred from contact with the victim or witnesses pending further investigation.

His accuser has not been publicly named. After the alleged rape attempt, the man spoke about what happened to another official in the MEP, Gilles Reithinger.

Reithinger told public broadcaster France-3 that the man said Colomb proposed an oil massage that made him uncomfortable but didn’t mention any sexual wrongdoing. Reithinger, now bishop of Strasbourg, said he raised the issue with Colomb’s superior at the time but didn’t see any reason to report the incident to prosecutors.

The bishops’ conference said in a statement Monday that it expresses its concern for the alleged victim, and offered support for ‘’all those who are troubled or hurt by this news.’’

A lawyer for Colomb did not respond to request for comment.

France is coming to terms with decades of covered-up abuse by church-related figures amid a global reckoning over the issue.

France’s bishops’ conference agreed to provide reparations after a 2021 report estimated some 330,000 children were sexually abused over 70 years by priests or other church-related figures in the country. The estimates were based on broader research by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research into sexual abuse of children.

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Priest Sentenced to Life in Prison for Sex Trafficking Three Victims in Northern Ohio

Fr. Michael Zacharias

A priest was sentenced today to life in prison for sex trafficking in northern Ohio.

A federal jury in Toledo, Ohio, previously found defendant Michael Zacharias, 56, guilty of five counts of sex trafficking following a two-week trial in May. Evidence presented at trial showed that Zacharias met the victims through his affiliation with a Catholic school. The evidence showed that he used his affiliation and position of authority to groom the boys and grow close with their families before ultimately coercing the victims into engaging in commercial sex acts and manipulating the opioid addictions they developed.

“Michael Zacharias used his position as a trusted spiritual leader and role model for young boys and their families to exploit them in the most insidious ways, coercing his victims from childhood and beyond to engage in commercial sex with him,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This sentence sends a very clear message that those who abuse their positions of power and authority to sexually assault and exploit children will be held accountable. The Justice Department stands ready to fully enforce our federal human trafficking statutes while seeking justice for the survivors of these treacherous crimes.”

“Michael Zacharias’ victims trusted him, as a spiritual advisor, a confidant, a community leader and someone in a position of authority. He exploited his position and that trust to target and victimize young boys and their families, causing lasting damage to both,” said U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio. “Zacharias was held accountable because of the courageous testimony of these young men, who gave voice to his betrayal and abuse, relieved this unimaginable horror and withstood Zacharias’ predictable attempts at trial to attack their veracity. I applaud the bravery of these young men, the people who supported them and the dogged efforts of the assigned FBI agent, who together exposed this predator, masquerading as a man of faith. Although no amount of time can ever wholly repair the damage that Zacharias inflicted on his victims, the life sentence that he received today is a significant step toward finding justice and protecting our community. It sends a message to others who consider similar conduct that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will aggressively pursue charges against those who target our children.”

“For more than two decades, Michael Zacharias used his position as a priest to groom and abuse young boys,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Zacharias met his victims when they were as young as five and began exploiting them for commercial sex acts and enabling their resulting opioid addictions. We are profoundly thankful to the victims and families who reported Zacharias and helped the FBI and our partners put an end to further abuse.”

“Using a position of trust while deviously preying on one’s vulnerabilities, especially juveniles, is reprehensible,” said Special Agent in Charge Greg Nelsen of the FBI Cleveland Field Office. “The FBI has zero tolerance for sexual predators and those who commit crimes against children. We will continue to find and investigate individuals and their network who exploit and traffic children and seek justice for the victims and their families.”

Evidence presented at trial, including the testimony of victims and family members, established that the defendant met the victims when they were minor parochial school students through his affiliation with their school. The evidence showed that the defendant served as a respected member of the clergy for more than 20 years, while exploiting his victims over extended periods as they developed opioid addictions and criminal records.

According to testimony and other evidence presented at trial, including financial and phone records, the defendant manipulated the victims’ fears of opioid withdrawal and homelessness to exploit them for commercial sex acts he directed them to perform in exchange for money.

The FBI Cleveland Field Office, Lima and Toledo Resident Agencies investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Tangeman for the Northern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Lindsey Roberson of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.

Anyone who has information about human trafficking should report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For more information about human trafficking, please visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org

. Information on the Justice Department’s efforts to combat human trafficking can be found at www.justice.gov/humantrafficking.

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