8 survivors speak during special hearing in Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case

Frank Schindler, a member of the Maryland chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, speaks to reporters on Monday outside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore following a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case.

By Dylan Segelbaum

From the witness stand in a small, packed courtroom, Cathy Roland held up two photos, one of herself and one of her late twin sister, Terri, as children.

Inside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore, Roland then showed a picture of the two of them together, which she said was taken after the Rev. Eugene Ambrose McGuire had sexually abused them at St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish.

“It’s just different,” she said Monday. “It’s just sadness.”

After presenting her statement, Roland told other survivors in the courtroom that her heart goes out to them. “We will get through it,” she added.

For a second time, survivors of childhood sexual abuse presented statements during a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy case. Eight people shared their stories. Many spoke about how being sexually abused stole their childhood, drove them to alcoholism and drug addiction, and ruined their ability to develop relationships and trust others.

“I hate God,” one woman testified. “Because he let this happen to me. And all these other people here.”

Archbishop William Lori said he was moved by the powerful testimony of the eight survivors who spoke on Monday during a hearing in the Archdiocese of Baltimore bankruptcy.

Archbishop William Lori again attended the court proceedings and listened to their statements. He later said the testimony moved him and commented about the courage of the survivors.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michelle M. Harner set aside time for the statements at the request of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which represents survivors in the case. The Archdiocese of Baltimore supported the effort. Six people spoke on April 8 during the first specially set hearing, which was designed to increase transparency and understanding in the process.

“From the court’s perspective, this is a listening session: an opportunity for individuals to be heard,” said Harner, who largely echoed her remarks at the first hearing. “Today, the court will provide time and space for listening.”

As a lifelong Baltimorean, Mark Easley said he went to church every Sunday at St. Vincent de Paul.

His family members, he said, were devout Catholics. He said he trusted everyone in that environment. It seemed like a haven during the political and racial turmoil of the 1960s.

The Rev. Edmund Stroup, he said, would have some people stay with him overnight, which was considered an honor. Easley said he was excited for his opportunity to do the same.

“I viewed this man as one of God’s messengers,” Easley said.

Stroup, he said, sexually abused him during that visit as well as a subsequent overnight stay.

Easley said he was mortified and kept what happened to himself, sinking into music as a coping mechanism. The abuse, he said, “turned me and my life upside down.”

Joe Martin spoke about the sexual abuse that he experienced at the hands of the Rev. Francis LeFevre, whom he met in fifth grade as an altar boy at St. Anthony of Padua.

LeFevre, he said, was outgoing, energetic and likeable. In retrospect, Martin said, the priest “ingratiated himself in all aspects of my life.”

Martin said LeFevre abused him during trips to places including Sea Isle City, New Jersey, and stated that the victimization continued after he started attending Calvert Hall.

He said he felt ashamed and embarrassed. Martin said he hated everyone and everything, with destructive thoughts turning into destructive behaviors.

Eventually, Martin said, he moved back home and returned to church. Elders prayed over him and stated that Jesus loved him, an instance he described as the most peaceful moment in his life. Finally, Martin said, he knew that somebody loved him.

Often, Martin said, he has anger. But he said he has also learned to let go and noted that he joined the creditors’ committee.

Following the hearing, Frank Schindler, a member of the Maryland chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist and attorney in Maryland who testified at the first hearing, criticized the Archdiocese of Baltimore for filing for bankruptcy. They also spoke out against the Catholic Church for challenging the Child Victims Act of 2023, which eliminated the statute of limitations for survivors to file lawsuits and allowed more people to sue institutions that enabled their victimization.

Right before the law was set to take effect on Oct. 1, 2023, and open up the church to a flood of lawsuits, the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed for bankruptcy.

Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist, and attorney in Maryland, speaks outside the courthouse following a bankruptcy hearing for the Archdiocese of Baltimore on 5/20/24 in Baltimore, MD.
Teresa Lancaster, a survivor, activist, and attorney in Maryland, criticizes the Archdiocese of Baltimore for filing for bankruptcy as well as the Catholic Church for challenging the Child Victims Act of 2023 during a news conference outside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore.

The Maryland Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of the law.

The chair of the creditors’ committee, Paul Jan Zdunek, said it was gut-wrenching listening to survivors recount what happened to them.

Zdunek said the deadline to submit a claim in the case is May 31 and emphasized that survivors can do so anonymously. The committee also has a website that contains up-to-date information about the court proceedings as well as resources.

He said the committee has been meeting with the archbishop and his team.

“They’re saying the right things. Now, we just hope they will continue to do the right things as we move forward,” Zdunek said. “We’re all stuck in this together — and are trying to do what we can for those who have been abused.”

Complete Article HERE!

Washington AG investigating clergy abuse says Seattle Archdiocese won’t cooperate

— Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a petition Thursday to compel the Catholic Church to hand over files and answer questions under oath.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson says “Washingtonians deserve a public accounting” of how the Catholic Church handles claims of abuse.

By Lewis Kamb

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday he’s seeking a court order to force the Seattle Archdiocese to turn over files on priests accused of sexual abuse and make its archbishop answer questions under oath as part of a sweeping probe into how the state’s three Catholic dioceses handled claims of child sex abuse.

Ferguson’s office is looking into “allegations that the Catholic Church has facilitated and attempted to cover up decades of pervasive sexual abuse of children by Church leaders in Washington State,” his office’s petition for a court order states.

Because the Seattle Archdiocese “refuses to cooperate” with civil subpoenas issued by his office last summer and last month, Ferguson went public with his probe Thursday by filing a legal petition in King County Superior Court that seeks an order “to enforce the subpoena,” his office said in a statement.

If obtained, such a court order would legally compel Seattle Archbishop Paul Etienne to appear for a deposition and force Washington’s largest Catholic diocese to produce a long list of internal records, including its trove of secret archives on clergy sexual abuse allegations dating back decades.

“Washingtonians deserve a public accounting of how the Catholic Church handles allegations of child sex abuse, and whether charitable dollars were used to cover it up,” Ferguson said at a press conference. “As a Catholic, I am disappointed the Church refuses to cooperate with our investigation.”

The archdiocese issued a statement Thursday disputing some of Ferguson’s statements as inaccurate and saying it was blindsided by his petition because its lawyers had been cooperating with his office on “a shared legal analysis” for the investigation.

“Today’s press conference was a surprise to us since we welcome this investigation and have been working closely with the Attorney General’s team for months now,” the statement said.

Ferguson’s office said it’s also prepared to seek court orders against the two other Catholic dioceses in Washington, in Yakima and Spokane, if either or both don’t comply with their latest subpoenas later this month.

With Thursday’s action, Ferguson became the 23rd attorney general to publicly announce an investigation into the Catholic Church in his or her state, his office said.

Long called for by sexual abuse survivors and advocacy groups, Washington’s investigation is the first outside probe of the Seattle Archdiocese’s handling of clergy abuse, advocates for survivors say. The archdiocese has publicly identified 83 clergy members “as credibly accused” sex offenders, based on its own private evaluations. But for years, it has resisted advocates’ calls and media requests to release its secret files about clergy abuse or allow independent investigators to inspect them.

Ferguson noted other attorneys general investigations have revealed “dramatically greater numbers” of credible sexual abuse cases than what local dioceses have made public. An investigation in Illinois last year revealed more than four times as many substantiated child sex abuse cases than what Catholic dioceses in the state had divulged, he said.

Ferguson’s announcement also marked the first time he has acknowledged the existence of his investigation, which has been active since at least July.

In February, his office declined to confirm or deny the probe after a group of anti-clergy abuse activists held a press conference to contend that he was hiding the investigation from the public.

The announcement from Ferguson, a Democrat who is running for governor, came two days after NBC News pressed his office to disclose copies of the subpoenas that a reporter requested under Washington’s Public Records Act in March. Without confirming whether they existed, the attorney general’s office delayed its disclosure for more than two months by contending it was still searching for records.

Ferguson’s subpoenas, made public for the first time this week and shared with NBC News late Wednesday, clarify the legal underpinning for the probe. The first subpoena cites his office’s authority to “investigate transactions and relationships of trustees and other persons” under Washington’s Charitable Trust Act, which regulates certain tax-exempt corporations and entities that hold charitable assets in trust.

A civil subpoena has never been used in Washington to investigate a religious organization, according to a legal analysis provided to Ferguson’s office and obtained by NBC News.

Ferguson’s approach is similar to one that New York Attorney General Leticia James used in 2020 to sue the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, based on state civil laws regulating charities. James’ suit led to a landmark settlement in 2022.

Ferguson’s first set of subpoenas to Washington’s Catholic dioceses each include a cover letter dated July 26, signed by him and sent separately to Etienne, Yakima Bishop Joseph Tyson and the Rev. Victor Blazovich, the vicar of finance for Spokane’s bishop.

Ferguson’s letter contends that while Washington’s Charitable Trust Act exempts religious organizations, “the exclusion does not apply in the context of child sexual abuse, a heinous violation with no connection to religion or an entity’s religious status.”

The accompanying subpoenas list demands and instructions for each diocese to produce more than 20 categories of records, including all reports about sexual abuse allegations made against priests and other clergy members, employees and volunteers since Jan. 1, 1940.

The records demanded include those containing allegations against priests and others whom the dioceses already have publicly identified as “credibly accused” sexual abusers, as well as those they have not. The subpoenas also demand the dioceses to turn over communications with the Vatican about sexual abuse claims, and records showing church policies for compensating victims who alleged sexual abuse and accounting for any such payments that have been made.

All three dioceses had initially been given until Aug. 25 to comply with the first subpoenas, the records show.

“The dioceses only responded with information that was already public. They did not fully respond to the subpoena,” Ferguson’s office said in its statement.

Ferguson’s office also released copies of a second set of “amended subpoenas” that were issued last month to the three dioceses. Each includes demands for production of all previously identified records, plus five additional categories of records mostly about finances and accounting.

The Seattle Archdiocese had been given until May 10 to comply with Ferguson’s latest subpoena but notified the office this week that it objects to the subpoena and would not be complying, according to the attorney general’s office.

The deadline for the Yakima and Spokane dioceses to comply with their latest subpoenas is May 22, the records show.

Spokane’s diocese said in a statement Thursday that it has nothing more to publicly divulge since a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case in 2004 “clearly revealed how the Diocese of Spokane dealt with all historic cases of sexual abuse.”

A statement from Yakima’s diocese separately challenged Ferguson’s subpoenas as invalid and unconstitutional, adding “there are already many public resources available for the information being sought.”

“We cannot publicize everything in our records, however, to respect the privacy and confidentiality rights of, among others, both victims and falsely accused clergy,” the Yakima Diocese’s statement added. “And so, we will vigorously assert our First Amendment rights.”

Complete Article HERE!

State Police warrant

— Former New Orleans archbishops knew about clergy sex abuse

Louisiana State Police serve the Archdiocese of New Orleans with a search warrant Wednesday morning, April 25, 2024.

By STEPHANIE RIEGEL

For the first time, Louisiana law enforcement officials are digging deeply into allegations that former New Orleans archbishops, the highest-ranking officials in the state’s Catholic hierarchy, knew about child sex abuse by priests and deacons and tried to cover it up.

The claims are contained in an extraordinary 11-page affidavit supporting a search warrant that was served by State Police on the Archdiocese of New Orleans last week. In it, investigators say that, while looking into clergy sex abuse in a joint probe with the FBI, they uncovered documents that “back the claim that previous Archbishops, not only knew of the sexual abuse and failed to report all the claims to law enforcement but spent Archdiocese funding to support the accused.”

The affidavit, released Tuesday, details allegations of sex abuse dating back decades. Among the claims: That clergy transported victims across state lines to abuse them; hosted nude pool parties for potential victims at the Notre Dame Seminary; and created a system whereby potential victims would unwittingly transport “gifts” from one priest to another, signaling they had been marked for sexual abuse.

The affidavit says that State Police sought the warrant because they believe there is probable cause the archdiocese was engaging in “trafficking of children for sexual purposes.” It adds that sealed church records identify one former archbishop who “was aware of rampant sexual abuse throughout the Archdiocese.” That archbishop is not named.

Though survivors of clergy sex abuse have long accused church officials in civil lawsuits of improperly handling and covering up abuse allegations, the document backing up the search warrant is the first time a law enforcement agency has made such claims as part of a criminal probe.

It is unclear how far that investigation will go, or whether the FBI is still involved. A State Police spokesman said his agency is currently acting alone. The FBI declined to comment.

In a prepared statement Tuesday, the church said: “The Archdiocese has been openly discussing the topic of sex abuse for over 20 years. In keeping with this, we also are committed to working with law enforcement in these endeavors.”

State Police said the archdiocese has agreed to cooperate, though it has not turned over any records yet.

New Orleans author Jason Berry, who has written about clergy sex abuse for nearly three decades, said he believes the investigation is a serious development in the ongoing crisis.

“My sense is that law enforcement is looking at this as a systemic cover-up and wants to get to the bottom of it,” Berry said.

Roots in Hecker case

The search warrant stems from an investigation into disgraced former priest Lawrence Hecker, 92, who was arrested last fall on charges of kidnapping and rape and is currently awaiting trial. Investigators say that in the course of the Hecker investigation, they were made aware of additional allegations that led to them to seek the search warrant.

The warrant seeks decades’ worth of documents, communications and information related to priest assignments. Specifically, it asks for files that identify every priest and deacon accused of abusing children while working in the archdiocese, not just those whom the church has deemed credibly accused.

In 2018, Archbishop Gregory Aymond released a list of 50 former clergy members that the church had determined were credibly accused. The list, which has since grown to include dozens more names, resulted in a surge of new claims, which prompted the archdiocese to file for federal bankruptcy protection on May 1, 2020.

The warrant also seeks correspondence between Aymond, his staff and the Vatican. It references the Hecker case, and details how the former priest was sent by the church to a psychiatric facility in Pennsylvania after an alleged rape of a child in 1975. There, he was diagnosed as a pedophile, but “was released and reassigned to another parish after his evaluation with the blessing of the Archbishop, who was aware of his medical diagnosis.”

The archbishop at the time of the alleged rape was the late Archbishop Philip Hannan, who served from 1965 to 1988.

The warrant adds that “Hecker was not the only member the archdiocese sent to receive psychiatric testing based on allegations of child sex abuse.”

Some of the most disturbing allegations in the warrant refer to “’gifts’ given to abuse victims by the accused with instructions to pass on or give the ‘gift’ to a certain priest at the next school or church. It was said that the ‘gift’ was a form of signaling to another priest that the person was a target for sexual abuse,” the warrant says.

Another example of “illegal activity” outlined in the warrant documents: pool parties at which victims were allegedly told to “skinny dip” in the pool at the seminary, where they were often sexually assaulted or abused. The warrant says such gatherings were “a common occurrence,” adding that, “many sexual abuse cases occurred on archdiocese property.”

Though the allegations contained in the search warrant do not contain specific dates, most of the abuse cases date back to the 1970s and 1980s, if not earlier. After Hannan retired in 1988, Francis Schulte served as archbishop until 2002. Retired Archbishop Alfred Hughes served from 2002 to 2009 and still lives at the Notre Dame Seminary.

Schulte is deceased. Hughes did not respond to a request seeking comment.

‘Two arms in conflict’

The blockbuster development in the clergy sex scandal comes on the fourth anniversary of the bankruptcy case. At the time, some 30 claims and a dozen or so lawsuits had been filed against the church. Since then, some 550 claims stretching back decades have been filed against priests, deacons and other clergy by 330 abuse survivors.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Meredith Grabill immediately froze all state court lawsuits and sealed documents related to church abuse after the bankruptcy was filed. Legal experts say it is unlikely that the protective order would cover a search warrant in a criminal investigation.

“It is quite striking when a bankruptcy judge puts a tight lid on potentially incriminating documents and the State Police turns around with subpoena power and says ‘We want those documents,'” Berry said. “We’re seeing two arms of the legal system in conflict.”

Complete Article HERE!

US archdiocese must submit clergy-abuse documents to police

— In criminal investigation, New Orleans judge demands paper trail from archbishop Gregory Aymond all the way to the Vatican

Investigators could learn what church officials in Rome knew of the abuse in New Orleans.

By

The criminal investigation into child sexual abuse in New Orleans’ Roman Catholic archdiocese has entered a major new phase, after a judge ordered the church to turn over records to Louisiana state police showing how it responded to abuse allegations over the last several decades.

The order signed on Monday seeks files that would identify every priest and deacon accused of abusing children while working in the US’s second-oldest archdiocese; when those complaints were first made; and whether the church turned those cases over to police, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Significantly, police are also demanding copies of all communications among New Orleans’ current archbishop, Gregory Aymond, his aides and their superiors at the Vatican, those sources said.

Asked for comment on Wednesday, an archdiocese spokesperson said: “As always, the archdiocese will continue to cooperate in all law enforcement investigations.”

It appears to be the first time that authorities investigating the New Orleans archdiocese’s role in the decades-old, worldwide Catholic clerical child abuse scandal have sought the full set of abuse-related documents in the local church’s possession.

In the rare cases where New Orleans-area clergymen have been convicted of – or even prosecuted for – child rape or molestation, investigators have generally focused on documents related to the individual defendants and their direct superiors.

Now, by essentially seeking the entire paper trail generated by the scandal, investigators could also learn what top church officials in Rome knew of the breadth of abuse at the local level in New Orleans.

It also introduces the possibility that authorities could one day produce a watershed report about the extent of Catholic clergy abuse in New Orleans as detailed as those published by prosecutors in states such as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Louisiana state police investigators sought Monday’s order from Judge Juana Lombard of New Orleans criminal court after reviewing documents, witness statements and other materials uncovered as part of a pending rape case they are helping local prosecutors pursue against retired priest Lawrence Hecker, the sources added.

Hecker was first confronted about rape allegations by the late archbishop Philip Hannan in 1988. He later admitted to past abuse to the Guardian and CBS affiliate WWL Louisiana while saying that Hannan had accepted his assurances that he wouldn’t do it again and allowed him to remain in ministry.

Hecker was later clinically diagnosed as a pedophile, according to secret church records obtained by the Guardian and WWL – and he admitted to church leaders in a 1999 written statement that he had molested or sexually harassed at least seven children. However, once again, the church allowed Hecker to remain in ministry, and he retired with full benefits in 2002.

Records obtained by the news outlets indicate the archdiocese reported a single allegation of sexual abuse against Hecker to the New Orleans police department in 2002, even though the alleged crime unfolded in another state, outside the agency’s jurisdiction.

The archdiocese did not notify the public that Hecker was a suspected abuser until it released a list of more than 50 credibly accused clergy in 2018.

That disclosure – which has since grown to include more than 70 names – didn’t mention the fact that Hecker had already admitted several crimes. And clerical abuse survivors as well as their advocates have long argued that the list omits dozens of clergymen who should be included.

Furthermore, the church didn’t cancel Hecker’s benefits until after it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020.

In a sworn statement provided on Monday to Lombard, state troopers said their investigation into Hecker and the archdiocese’s management of him had led them to suspect the church knew of widespread abuse but failed to properly report it.

Some of that abuse appears to have involved clergymen who had committed acts of child abuse that remain prosecutable.

The warrant signed Monday, though, stops short of naming any archdiocesan bureaucrats who may be under criminal investigation for covering up child rape and other abuse by rank-and-file clergymen under the command of Aymond, New Orleans’ archbishop since 2009.

Hecker’s case is unresolved. The 92-year-old priest has been incarcerated for eight months on charges including rape and kidnapping.

A panel of psychiatrists recently issued a report that described Hecker to be mentally incompetent to stand trial at the moment, though a judge has not immediately accepted or rejected that finding.

Nonetheless, state troopers obtained Monday’s warrant after Jason Williams, the New Orleans district attorney, said his office was committed to exploring the possibility of criminal charges against anyone who had a hand in delaying the prosecution against Hecker or any other clergy suspected of abuse.

Hecker’s alleged rape victim reported his allegations to his high school immediately in 1975 and received psychiatric treatment from the school, but the allegations were never reported to police, according to his attorney. He reported the allegations directly to the FBI in June 2022.

Earlier that year, the FBI in New Orleans launched a broad investigation into possible violations of federal law by the local archdiocese’s clergy who took children across state lines to have sex.

Federal prosecutors have so far not filed any charges in connection with that investigation. But state police troopers assisting the FBI in that investigation ultimately decided to pursue a state-level case against Hecker individually.

An attorney for the victim in the prosecution pending against Hecker on Wednesday said his client “was proud and humbled by the fact that his individual case led to the issuance of this wide-ranging search warrant”.

“It’s about time that those at the archdiocese who enabled Hecker and others like him are held accountable,” the victim’s lawyer, Richard Trahant, said.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Parishes Disproportionately Closed in Poor, Black and Latino Neighborhoods

The Rev. Athanasius Abanulo celebrates Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in Lanett, Ala., on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021. Originally from Nigeria, Abanulo is one of numerous international clergy helping ease a U.S. priest shortage by serving in Catholic dioceses across the country.

By Aleja Hertzler-McCain

While the number of U.S. Catholics is increasing, the total number of Catholic parishes nationwide declined 9% between 1970 and 2020, according to a new report by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

In 10 of the 11 dioceses studied, those closures are disproportionately happening in Black and Latino neighborhoods and neighborhoods with higher poverty and unemployment.

The total number of American Catholics increased by 46% in the half-century before 2020, though the study’s researchers provided the context that the overall population increased 65% in those same years, meaning Catholics are a smaller proportion of the population.

The total number of priests, meanwhile, declined by 40%. The shortage of priests has played a significant role in the decisions to close parishes. Bishops announcing parish closures or consolidation repeatedly cite fewer and aging priests and low Mass attendance in decisions that typically receive pushback from their flocks.

Religious orders, like the Jesuits, have also announced plans to pull out of parish ministry because of few priests, ending longtime relationships with local parishes.

FutureChurch, a Catholic nonprofit that advocates for access to the Eucharist and reforms to the church, including married priests, commissioned the 759-page CARA report.

Parish size has grown by 60% since 1970, according to the report.

The CARA report notes that sacraments, including baptisms, Catholic marriages and Catholic funerals, have all declined. A deacon can also perform these sacraments, but there are fewer deacons than priests in the U.S.

Between 1970 and 2020, baptisms declined 57%, Catholic marriages declined 78%, and Catholic funerals declined 14%.

The report studied 11 dioceses: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archdiocese of Chicago, Archdiocese of Detroit, Archdiocese of Miami, Archdiocese of New Orleans, Archdiocese of New York, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archdiocese of St. Louis, Diocese of Bridgeport, Diocese of Cleveland and Diocese of Memphis.

The dioceses were selected to fit FutureChurch’s research needs and are not a representative sample. Several large dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Archdiocese of Atlanta, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and Archdiocese of Seattle are not among the dioceses studied.

But in the dioceses studied, the report showed a tendency to close or merge parishes in neighborhoods that were poorer or had higher percentages of Black people or Latinos.

While the average proportion of white residents was lower in neighborhoods where parishes closed and higher in neighborhoods where parishes were opened, “in all 11 dioceses, the average proportion of people below the poverty line, people unemployed, Blacks/African Americans, and Hispanics/Latinos was higher in those neighborhoods where parishes closed/were absorbed than in those neighborhoods were parishes opened/expanded,” the report concluded. (The sole exception was for Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods in the Archdiocese of Miami.)

Complete Article HERE!