Catholic Priest Flees the Country After D.W.I. Charge

A warrant is out now for the arrest of Father Matthew Wydmanski, Pastor of Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Buffalo’s Broadway Market District. According to court documents, Wydmanski was arrested on August 6th. Police claim the priest was passed out drunk behind the wheel of his car in Black Rock. When officers tried to check on him, they say the priest stepped on the gas, and nearly striked two officers with his vehicle. Wydmanski was charged with of list of charges including DWI and 1st degree Reckless Endangerment and was scheduled to appear in Buffalo City Court last week for a preliminary felony hearing.

Court records reveal he was a no-show to his scheduled court appearance and it’s believed he flew to Poland, his native country, the day before his court appearance.

Father Wydmanski, who’s real name is Bodgan, came to Corpus Christi Church in 2008 and became the church pastor in 2010. He is not a diocesan priest, but part of the Pauline Fathers. Leaders say his actions were not condoned and Wydmanski did not have permission to leave the country. WKBW reached out to the Pauline Fathers, and they released this statement Friday afternoon.

“On August 6th, Fr. Matthew Wydmanski, O.S.P.P.E., Pastor of Corpus Christi Church, which is owned and staffed by the Pauline Fathers, was arrested by Buffalo Police for driving while intoxicated, reckless endangerment and reckless driving. He was arraigned in Buffalo City Court and plead not guilty. The case was scheduled for a preliminary hearing . Fr. Matthew did not show up for the preliminary hearing, and on August 11, he apparently left the country, flying from Toronto to his native Poland. Fr. Matthew is not a citizen of the United States. Fr. Matthew is a member of a religious order, and as such is under a vow of obedience to his superiors. Fr. Matthew did not have permission to leave the United States. As Provincial of the order, I did not give Fr. Matthew permission to leave, and I do not condone his actions. The Pauline Fathers consider it an honor to serve Corpus Christi Parish, and do not condone drunk-driving or fleeing to avoid prosecution.”

http://tinyurl.com/4x8bfqt

Bishop in Missouri Waited Months to Report Priest, Stirring Parishioners’ Rage

In the annals of the sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, most of the cases that have come to light happened years before to children and teenagers who have long since grown into adults.

But a painfully fresh case is devastating Catholics in Kansas City, Mo., where a priest, who was arrested in May, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently during an Easter egg hunt just four months ago.

Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.

A civil lawsuit filed last week claims that during those five months, the priest, the Rev. Shawn 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.

“All these parishioners just feel so betrayed, because we knew nothing,” said Thu Meng, whose daughter attended the preschool in Father Ratigan’s last parish.

“And we were welcoming this guy into our homes, asking him to come bless this or that. They saw all these signs, and they didn’t do anything.”

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 or even to be prosecuted.

Parishioners started a Facebook page called “Bishop Finn Must Go” and are circulating 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 immediately report anyone suspected of being a pedophile to law enforcement authorities.

Michael Hunter, an abuse victim who was part of that settlement and is now the president of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: “There were 90 nonmonetary agreements that the diocese signed on to, and they were things like reporting immediately to the police. And they didn’t do it. That’s really what sickens us as much as the abuse.”

The bishop has apologized and released a “five-point plan” that he described as “sweeping changes.”

He hired an ombudsman to field reports of suspicious behavior and appointed an investigator to conduct an independent review of the events and diocesan policies.

The investigator’s report is taking longer than expected and is now due in late August or early September, said Rebecca Summers, director of communications in the diocese.

The bishop also replaced the vicar general involved in the case, Msgr. Robert Murphy, after he was accused of propositioning a young man in 1984.

The diocese has delayed a capital fund-raising campaign on the advice of its priests, a move first reported by The National Catholic Reporter.

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.

He canceled a model program to train Catholic laypeople to be leaders and hired more staff members to recruit candidates for the priesthood.

He cut the budget of the Office of Peace and Justice, which focused on poverty and human rights, and created a new Respect Life office to expand the church’s opposition to abortion and stem cell research.

He set up a parish for a group of Catholics who prefer to celebrate the old Tridentine Mass in Latin.

Father Ratigan, 45, was also an outspoken conservative, according to a profile in The Kansas City Star. He and a class of Catholic school students joined Bishop Finn for the bus ride to the annual March for Life rally in Washington in 2007.

The diocese was first warned about Father Ratigan’s inappropriate interest in young girls as far back as 2006, according to accusations in the civil lawsuit filed Thursday.

But there were also more recent warnings.

In May 2010, the principal of a Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan worked hand-delivered a letter to the vicar general reporting specific episodes that had raised alarms: the priest put a girl on his lap during a bus ride and allowed children to reach into his pants pockets for candy.

When a Brownie troop visited Father Ratigan’s house, a parent reported finding a pair of girl’s panties in a planter, the letter said.

Bishop Finn said at a news conference that he was given a “brief verbal summary” of the letter at the time, but did not read it until a year later.

In December, a computer technician discovered the photographs on Father Ratigan’s laptop and turned it in to the diocese.

The next day, the priest was discovered in his closed garage, his motorcycle running, along with a suicide note apologizing to the children, their families and the church.

Father Ratigan survived, was taken to a hospital and was then sent to live at a convent in the diocese, where, the lawsuit and the indictment say, he continued to have contact with children.

Parents in the school and parishioners were told only that Father Ratigan had fallen sick from carbon monoxide poisoning. They were stunned when he was arrested in May.

“My daughter made cards for him,” said one parent who did not want her name used because the police said her daughter might have been a victim. “We prayed for him every single night at dinner. It was just lying to us and a complete cover-up.”

A federal grand jury last Tuesday charged Father Ratigan with 13 counts of possessing, producing and attempting to produce child pornography.

It accused him of taking lewd pictures of the genitalia of five girls ages 2 to 12, sometimes while they slept.

If convicted, he would face a minimum of 15 years in prison.

http://tinyurl.com/3cnmonz

Priest gambles away $295,000 of parish funds

A former Catholic priest who gambled away $295,000 of his parish funds was “a good man who has been possessed by the demon of a gambling addiction,” according to his attorney Jack Donahue.

Father John Regan, 47, was the pastor of St. Walter Parish in Illinois between 1989 and 2008, during which time he created a “Special Needs Account,” which he would then pillage in order to fund his addiction.

However, the Roman Catholic priest was eventually found out after the bank noticed nearly 400 withdrawals worth over $117,000 from ATMs at riverboat casinos before subsequently contacting the diocese. It was also found Regan had written around $115,500 in cheques to himself from the same account.

Father John Regan has since admitted to gambling at least $264,000 of that money, although the figure is believed closer to $410,000, if winnings that went back into the casino are included.

In addition to his embezzlement, the priest is also believed to have lost a small inheritance gambling, as well as $40,000 on his credit cards which his mother helped pay off with a home equity loan.

“I’m a compulsive gambler, and what I did was absolutely wrong…I wasted a huge sum of my parish’s money on this gambling addiction…Every day was a good day to go to the casino, and that’s the insidious nature of the disease I have. I can’t imagine anybody wanting to do what I’ve done,” explained a tearful Regan.

Despite facing a possible 15 years behind bars, Father John Regan was sentenced to 60 days in jail, followed by a 150-day work-release sentence during which time his nights and weekends will be spent at the jail. He will then perform 500 hours of community service, and also find a menial job in order to begin paying back the money he stole.

Later commenting on the case, Assistant State’s Attorney Helen Kapas said:
“That a person could do this to their own church is unthinkable, unimaginable and unbelievable. There will be different judgment days for John Regan, but today is a day for justice in DuPage County.”

http://tinyurl.com/3tpj3fv

Trenton Diocese to pay $1M to settle sex abuse claims

The Catholic Diocese of Trenton has agreed to pay $1 million to five men who claimed their parish priest sexually abused them when they were altar boys 30 years ago.

The settlements, announced today, bring to $1.3 million the amount the diocese has paid to alleged abuse victims of the Rev. Ronald Becker. Becker was removed from the ministry in 2002. He has since died.

Becker molested the five boys at Incarnation parish in Ewing hundreds of times between 1972 and 1984, in spans that ranged from six months to four years, according to Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston-based lawyer who represented the men. The abuse occurred in the church, the rectory and on trips.

The men came forward after another of Becker’s victims went public with her allegations two years ago. The settlements followed months of mediation.

One of the victims, 45-year-old Otis Roberts, said he came forward in part to protect his 11 year-old-son, who is now the same age he was when Roberts was molested. Trembling as he read a statement, Roberts said the abuse destroyed his life and his faith.

“I don’t believe in the church anymore,” Roberts said. “I believe it’s a business. And I saw that during mediation.”

The Diocese admitted no liability and did not apologize to the men, their lawyers said.

In a statement released today, the Diocese confirmed the settlement and noted that in addition to the $200,000 for each victim, “an additional $25,000 [will be} made available for counseling needs of the five victims in the next two years.”

Further, it said, “The settlement is being paid from a self-insurance fund previously established by the Diocese.

The settlement is the latest in a series of payouts nationally over abuse claims. Earlier this month, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, a Delaware-based religious order with priests throughout the region, agreed to pay $24 million to settle 39 lawsuits by alleged sex abuse victims. And the Diocese of Wilmington, which was forced by a wave of abuse claims to file for bankruptcy, has agreed to set aside more than $77 million for 150 abuse victims. Other settlements have been reached in Corpus Christi, Pueblo, Colo. and Kansas City, Mo.

More than a half-dozen similar claims are pending against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, all filed in the wake of the arrests of four current and former priests and grand jury report that accused the archdiocese of failing to reform.

http://tinyurl.com/3scne76

Archbishop tries to evade responsibility for clergy sex abuse

Five years ago, a handful of Colorado legislators sought to make it easier for victims of decades-old sex abuse to sue their tormentors and the organizations that protected them.
The Archdiocese of Denver fought back hard.

The state’s Catholic hierarchy — through jeremiads delivered from the pulpit and alliance-building with municipal interest groups and teacher unions — turned an initially popular bill to extend the civil statute of limitations on sex crimes into something politically toxic. By the end of 2006, the bill was dead on the statehouse floor.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, then head of the state’s largest archdiocese, stood at the center of that debate.

His vocal opposition made him an enemy to victims’ groups, who viewed his political protest as a cunning effort to protect church coffers. But to those who saw their church as under siege from profiteers, Chaput emerged a hero.

‘‘They thought they were fighting for their lives,’’ said Annemarie Jensen, a political strategist who lobbied for the bill on behalf of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. ‘‘It was about as ugly a political fight as I’ve been involved with at the Capitol.’’
Chaput — who is set to take the helm of Philadelphia’s archdiocese next month — says he was just doing his job.

‘‘The Catholic Church wants to be treated like citizens with equal access to protection of the law,’’ Chaput said at a news conference in Philadelphia last month. (The Denver Archdiocese did not make him available for an interview for this article.) ‘‘That’s all we were asking for in Colorado.’’

Little resistance
Since the nationwide church scandal began about a decade ago, five states have passed bills temporarily reopening the civil statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases. Eight others, including Pennsylvania, have considered them.

This so-called window legislation allows victims to seek justice years after their abuse by temporarily extending the period in which they can file claims. Although none of the adopted bills specifically mention the Catholic Church, archdioceses became the primary targets of litigation in each of the states that have passed them.

In California, one of the first to pass such legislation, more than 850 claims flooded courthouses during the one-year window that legislators opened, costing the church millions in damages and settlements.

The Diocese of Wilmington declared bankruptcy in 2009 after it was named in more than 175 suits following the state’s passing of a two-year window. Last month, a judge agreed to a reorganization plan that includes a $77.4 million settlement for clergy sexual abuse. Last week, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales agreed to pay $24.8 million in suits filed by 39 survivors of priest sex abuse in Delaware.

But before the Colorado fight, Catholic bishops had responded to window bills with begrudging acceptance — such measures were seen as a necessary evil to heal the rifts clergy abuse had caused.

California’s church hierarchy barely pushed back when that state’s bill passed in 2002. In Ohio, bishops appealed to state lawmakers quietly and directly to help kill a bill in 2005.
Colorado’s bill, introduced in 2006, differed little from its predecessors elsewhere. It proposed lifting the statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases going forward and opening a two-year window for expired claims.

At that point, the Denver Archdiocese had had a relatively minor brush with the sex-abuse scandal involving fewer than 20 lawsuits with allegations involving only two priests. Chaput later offered victims in those cases a mediation process that resulted in $5.5 million to settle most of their claims.

‘A duty I can’t avoid’
But his response to the bill marked a sharp break. Chaput spoke out, condemning the legislation as ‘‘unfair, unequal, prejudicial,’’ and anti-Catholic. He took to the Catholic press, accusing colleagues in other states of acquiescing out of an overabundance of ‘‘guilt, confusion, and a desire to take what they perceive to be the ‘high road.’ ’’
‘‘I have an obligation — a duty I can’t avoid — both to help the victims and to defend innocent Catholics today from being victimized because of earlier sins in which they played no part,’’ he said in an interview that year with the national Catholic newspaper Our Sunday Visitor.

Marci Hamilton, a Bucks County, Pa., lawyer who has represented several victims of clergy abuse and whose 2008 book ‘‘Justice Denied’’ tracked statute-of-limitations fights across the country, described Chaput’s outspokenness as just the first element in the Denver Archdiocese’s multipronged opposition to the bill.

‘‘It was Chaput who decided public relations would change the course of this fight versus any other tactic,’’ she said. ‘‘Things changed with Chaput’s packaging in Colorado.’’
What separated the Denver Archdiocese’s response from those that had come before was its direct appeal to the public and a degree of savvy political maneuvering unseen elsewhere.

Within weeks of the bill’s introduction, Chaput sent a letter to all parishes to be read from the pulpit during Sunday Mass. The missive excoriated the legislation as unfairly targeting the Catholic Church while ignoring sex abuse in other institutions.
State Rep. Gwyn Green, a sponsor of the legislation, recalls jumping from the pew of her parish in the Denver suburbs the day the letter was read and objecting to what she described as a blatant misrepresentation of her bill.

Nearly 25,000 protest cards were distributed to those attending Masses, asking them to sign and mail them to their state representatives.

‘Full-blown war mode’
‘‘The archdiocese went into full-blown war mode,’’ said John Kane, a religion professor at Jesuit Regis University in Denver. ‘‘They worked through the parishes. They rallied straight from the altar. It was a full-court press in the media and everywhere else.’’
Behind the scenes, the church’s political arm, the Colorado Catholic Conference, hired one of the state’s top lobbying firms, owned by the former campaign manager of then-Gov. Bill Owens, to run the ground game on legislative votes.

It began by appealing to the Catholic faith of several top legislators and leaking stories to the media that plaintiff attorneys had helped craft the bill.

(The bill’s leading sponsor, Colorado Sen. Joan Fitz-Gerald, later opened her files to show she had had only minimal contact with plaintiff attorneys, including Hamilton.)
From the start, the archdiocese had characterized the proposals as unfair, noting they would affect private institutions such as the church but exempt governmental entities such as school districts.

School districts and other public institutions were protected under Colorado law by immunity from the worst of civil suits. State law gives plaintiffs six months after an incident to file claims and caps damages at $150,000.

Window-bill backers argued such limitations were appropriate because taxpayers funded these government entities, which were also required to share their files under open-records laws. Private institutions, meanwhile, could opt to shield records of abuse from public review.

But church lobbyists pushed. And by May 2006, they had persuaded Colorado lawmakers to alter the bill to subject government groups to the same $700,000 damages limit that private institutions would now face.

The battle is lost
In so doing, the bill’s backers unwittingly opened the door to its demise.
Teachers’ unions, lobbyists for local governments, and insurance companies soon joined the fight. And with mounting opposition from the capital’s most powerful interest groups, the bill that had sailed through committee months earlier suddenly was resoundingly voted down.

‘‘They boxed us into a corner,’’ Green said. ‘‘We had no moves left.’’
It remains difficult to ascertain exactly how involved Chaput was in developing this strategy.

Francis X. Maier, Chaput’s chancellor in Denver, maintained in an email that the archbishop played a minimal role.
‘‘There was nothing tactical or strategic about our approach,’’ he said. ‘‘The archbishop saw that it was a bad bill and said so.’’

Chaput’s influence can be seen in the final result. Tactics such as allying with unions and municipal leagues, direct appeals to the Catholic faithful, and refusing to simply concede to the state’s political powers all sprang from his speeches and writings at the time.
And in the years since, he and his staff have emerged as leading advisers to other archdioceses — including Wilmington — facing window bills in their states.
That has some Pennsylvania legislators worried.

State Reps. Mike McGeehan and Louise Williams Bishop filed bills in March that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations on childhood sex crimes and open a two-year window for filing expired civil claims.

On the heels of a damning grand-jury report outlining years of alleged abuse cover-ups in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the Philadelphia Democrats hoped their legislation would coast through.

So far, though, they’ve seen only halting progress. Both bills remain stuck before the House Judiciary Committee with no hearing dates and no planned schedule to bring them to a vote.

Chaput’s arrival in Philadelphia next month will likely only complicate matters, Bishop said. Still, she remains hopeful.

‘‘I believe the tide is rolling in our direction,’’ she said. ‘‘I do believe there is a movement of sympathy for child sex-abuse victims.’’

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