Church Reform Group Identifies Serious Flaw in Bishops’ Clerical Abuse Report

A serious flaw exists in the John Jay College report on the causes and context of the Catholic Church’s worldwide sexual abuse scandal, according to the worldwide Church reform group Voice of the Faithful. The report was made public earlier this year, and the VOTF board of trustees recently reached this conclusion after an internal committee studied the report for several months. The committee’s conclusions were released in October.

VOTF trustee Bill Casey of Alexandria, Va., said, “Although John Jay’s causes and context research credibly documents a 60-year pattern of clergy sexual abuse of minors and clerical cover-up, the report’s serious flaw is failing to name and ascribe how much a clerical culture substantially contributed to that abuse by hiding, enabling and minimizing it.”

In a summary of their John Jay study review called “The John Jay Report: Right Context, Wrong Conclusions,” VOTF trustees challenged as a fundamental influence on sexual abuse of children by clergy the John Jay Report’s emphasis on the link between the peak period of abuses (about 1965-1985) and the deviant behavior in society during the 1960s and 1970s: the “blame Woodstock” approach.

“VOTF believes the John Jay report’s overemphasis on this connection distracts from the Catholic Church hierarchy’s persistent denial and enabling of clergy sexual abuse during the entire 60-year period,” said Dan Bartley, VOTF president. He added that such enabling has been seen most recently in Philadelphia, Kansas City and Houston, where bishops failed to report suspected crimes in a timely and complete way even when mandated to do so.

“We concluded from our review,” said VOTF trustee Mark Mulllaney of Wayland, Mass., “that the John Jay Report’s findings clearly show how Catholic Church hierarchy denied or minimized evidence of clergy sexual abuse of minors and mismanaged the Church’s response to the evidence. Their actions resulted in the harmful treatment of victims, their families and the faith communities for which they had pastoral responsibility. That finding from the report deserved more emphasis.”

According to Bartley, VOTF review faulted the John Jay Report most especially for describing but not naming clericalism as a major contributor to the abuse. “We see clericalism,” he said, “as the attitude on the part of the clergy that they are different than, separate from and above others and therefore exempt from rules and consequences that apply to everyone else in society.”

VOTF trustees concluded their John Jay Report review by offering recommendations they said the Catholic Church should adopt to respond to clergy sexual abuse in a believable way for victims and their families, innocent clergy and lay Catholics whose trust in the hierarchy has been deeply damaged.

The recommendations include:

  • fully independent and comprehensive audits in accordance with generally accepted auditing standards;
  • fully independent diocesan review boards and victim assistance offices;
  • specific disciplinary action for bishops who oppose or violate the provisions of their Charter to Protect Children and Young People;
  • official support for reform of statutes of limitation for sexual abuse;
  • listening sessions nationwide to hear lay people’s, as opposed to clergy, reactions to the sexual abuse scandal and expectations for its full resolution; and
  • access by independent investigators to clergy personnel records throughout the U.S., similar to German bishops’ voluntary action in July 2011.

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Pope: sex abuse ‘scourge’ for all society

Pope Benedict XVI insisted on Saturday that all of society’s institutions and not just the Catholic church must be held to “exacting” standards in their response to sex abuse of children, and defended the church’s efforts to confront the problem.

Benedict acknowledged in remarks to visiting U.S. bishops during an audience at the Vatican that pedophilia was a “scourge” for society, and that decades of scandals over clergy abusing children had left Catholics in the United States bewildered.

“It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society,” he said.

“By the same token, just as the church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards,” the pope said.

The pedophile scandal has exploded in recent decades in the United States, but similar clergy sex abuse revelations have tainted the church in many other countries, including Mexico, Ireland, and several other European nations, including Italy.

But the most high-profile sex abuse case in the United States at the moment doesn’t involve the church. Penn State university’s former defensive football coordinator Jerry Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys, and the fallout has led to the firing of longtime coach Joe Paterno and the departure of university president Graham Spanier.

College football in the U.S. is highly popular. The scandal has shaken the reputation of a college program that long had prided itself on integrity.
Benedict didn’t address accusations by many victims and their advocates that church leaders, including at the office in the Vatican that Benedict headed before becoming pontiff, systematically tried to cover up the scandals, and that they have rarely been held accountable for that.

Investigations, often by civil authorities, revealed that church hierarchy frequently transferred pedophile priests from one parish to another.
Benedict told the bishops that his papal pilgrimage to the United States in 2008 “was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades.”

Echoing sentiment he has expressed in occasional meetings with victims of the abuse on trips abroad, Benedict added: “I wish to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made to ensure both the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise.”

Benedict seemed to be reflecting some churchmen’s contentions that the church has wrongly been singled out as villains for the abuse.

Despite criticism over U.S. bishops’ handling of the abuse scandals, Benedict exhorted the churchmen to be moral compasses for U.S. society. The bishops, in Rome for consultations with the pope that are scheduled every five years, were urged to speak out “humbly yet insistently in defense of moral truth.”
Benedict lamented what he called efforts to stop the church from speaking out publicly.

Earlier this month, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops vowed to defend their religious liberty in the face of growing acceptance of gay marriage and what they called attempts by secularists to marginalize faith.

In Illinois, for example, government officials ceased working with Catholic charities on adoptions and foster-care placement because the religious agencies refuse to recognize a new civil union law. Illinois bishops are suing the state.

Bishops have also pressed federal officials for broader religious exception to U.S. President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which mandates that private insurers to pay for contraception.

“Despite attempts to still the church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in this far-reaching crisis,” Benedict said, citing what he called a “growing sense of dislocation and insecurity” in the face of economic woes.

But he acknowledged that some of the bishops’ own flock are turning away from the church, which he blamed on effects of a “secularized culture.” Many U.S. Catholics shun Sunday Mass attendance or disregard such Vatican positions against contraception and divorce.

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Cardinal Law’s departure from Vatican post

News that Cardinal Bernard Law is leaving his job as head of a major Roman basilica was welcomed today by attorneys and advocates for clergy sex abuse victims, who have criticized his handling of the sex abuse scandal when he was head of the church in Boston a decade ago.

“With all due respect, society has not lost a great protector of children. Bernard Cardinal Law should return to Boston and address the clergy sex abuse victims who he let be sexually molested while he was cardinal,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who has represented numerous victims.

“Bernard Cardinal Law turned his back on innocent children, acted immorally, and should be held accountable,” Garabedian said.

Terry Donilon, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, referred all questions to the Vatican. A man who answered the phone at the Vatican press office declined to comment, suggesting a reporter call back on Tuesday.

Terry McKiernan, founder of, a library and Internet archive of the clergy sex abuse crisis, also welcomed the news of Law’s departure.

“It’s a long time coming, but we are certainly glad his influence is finally, for all intents and purposes, over in Rome,” he said.

McKiernan said Law, because he had hit the age of 80, would no longer be able to vote, as part of a conclave, for a new pope.

He also said Law had also passed the maximum age for membership in a group of top Vatican officials who recommended the appointment of new bishops, where he had a “long history of rewarding managers who worked for him on sex abuse cases.”

He said Law would no longer be part of that “congregation” or “dicastery” of officials and “perhaps we’ve seen the last persons being rewarded with a bishop’s position as part of cronyism on the part of Cardinal Law.”

With his departure from the basilica post, McKiernan said, “even his informal power in the Vatican is truly on the wane.”

Carmen Durso, another Boston attorney who has represented victims of clergy sex abuse said Law’s resignation is “simply a changing of the guard because of his age” and not related to any sort of punishment by the Vatican in connection with the scandal.

“He shouldn’t have had that position in the first place because he didn’t merit it, given how he handled the sex abuse cases in Boston. … All this does is call to mind once again the fact that he wasn’t punished.”

“No bishops have been punished by the Vatican for the failure to supervise priests who abused kids. The real tragedy is that he was awarded. They made show of removing him and then they give him a prestigious position.”

“He should face a lifetime of penance to account for the lifetime of pain that the victims will have to endure. If I were Cardinal Law, I would get up every day and beg God’s forgiveness. It’s tragic that the church operates more like Enron than a church,” Durso said.

Law resigned in disgrace as Boston’s archbishop in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted.

The Vatican said today that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the 80-year-old Law’s resignation as archpriest of St. Mary Major basilica and had named as Law’s replacement Spanish Monsignor Santos Abril y Castello, The Associated Press reported.

Law’s 2004 appointment as the archpriest of one of Rome’s most important basilicas had been harshly criticized by advocates for clergy sex abuse victims.

Law turned 80 earlier this month. Victims’ advocates criticized plans for a birthday party for him in Rome. Law’s successor, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who had to deal with the legal and financial impacts of the crisis, was in Rome on church business, but a spokesman for O’Malley said his time there was “devoted to work” and he wouldn’t be attending.

Rocco Palmo, a former US correspondent for the London-based international Catholic weekly The Tablet, who covers church news and politics online and first reported Law’s move, said Law was leaving his sinecure several years earlier than other recent holders of the seat had. Palmo said he believed the Vatican was reacting to critics who have said Law’s appointment was a sign that the church did not “get it” when it came to clergy sex abuse.

“I think they’re sending a signal that it had become a liability,” he said. “I think it’s an acknowledgment, albeit more belated than a lot of folks would want, that that was not helping in terms of perception.”

He said there was no word on where Law might go, since he will lose the apartment that goes with being the archpriest of the basilica. The Vatican has several apartment buildings for retired church officials, he said. But he also noted that, as a cardinal, Law would be allowed to minister anywhere in the world.

The Vatican announcement made no mention of Law’s resignation, merely noting in a perfunctory, two-line statement that Benedict had named a new archpriest for the basilica.

“There’s only one person who can hold the post at a time,” said Palmo.

Law became the first — and so far only — US bishop to resign for mishandling cases of priests who sexually abused priests.

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Bishop quits over health days before abuse audits

A Catholic bishop stepped down yesterday just six days before child sex abuse audits into two dioceses where he served are due to published.

Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty’s resignation on health grounds was accepted by Pope Benedict just two weeks after offering it. He left his post immediately.

The Pope’s decision to allow Dr Hegarty to stand down so quickly is thought to be related to his health.

Two separate audits of the Derry and Raphoe dioceses, carried out into how the church dealt with paedophile priests, have been pencilled in for release early next week, sources told the Irish Independent.

However, previous releases of the reports carried out by the church-run National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) have been postponed.

Church insiders say the contents of audits being carried out by the organisation have been seen by retired Bishop Hegarty as well as the current Bishop of Raphoe Philip Boyce.

Donegal-born Dr Hegarty served as Bishop of Raphoe from 1982 until 1994 before taking up his position in Derry where he admitted this year that allegations of child sex abuse had been made against 26 priests over the past 50 years.

Allegations against up to 20 priests have been made in the Raphoe diocese over a similar period. The audits will deal with all allegations made since the mid-1970s until the present day.

The Raphoe diocese faces questions over its handling of the case of Father Eugene Greene who abused dozens of victims in several Raphoe parishes. Greene was jailed for 12 years in 2000. Dr Hegarty has consistently denied knowing there were sex abuse allegations against Greene.

Gardai who investigated the case were told there were no records of any allegations against Greene.

There are also allegations in Derry that the church authorised out-of-court payments to two alleged victims of abuse.

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Bishop makes deal to avoid charges

The Catholic bishop for the Kansas city diocese has agreed to have his actions monitored by prosecutors in order to avoid criminal charges for failing to report a priest suspected of creating child pornography.

Bishop Robert Finn, the leader of the 134,000-member diocese, is the highest-ranking Catholic official to face US criminal charges in a child sexual abuse case.

Bishop Finn was indicted by a grand jury in Jackson County last month on a misdemeanour charge of failing to report Fr Shawn Ratigan to police despite months of warnings by others that the 46-year-old priest potentially posed a threat. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

The allegations against the bishop are tied to evidence that even after a church computer technician made church officials aware of hundreds of photos of young girls on Fr Ratigan’s laptop, Bishop Finn did not report it to police nor to the parents and children who interacted with Fr Ratigan.

Fr Ratigan is accused of taking pornographic photos of young girls. He was eventually reported to police by another diocese official five months after the pictures were discovered.

He has been charged with 13 counts of child pornography and is in jail awaiting trial next summer.

Clay County prosecutors were pursuing criminal charges against Bishop Finn in addition to the charges brought by Jackson County, but the settlement will defer any charges in Clay County as long as the bishop complies with the terms, prosecutors said.

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