‘He controlled my life’

— New Orleans archdiocese ignored woman’s claims before priest’s abrupt dismissal

Anthony Odiong delivering a homily in which he refers to members of the LGBTQ+ community as ‘monkeys and animals and chimpanzees’, in November 2023. Photograph: YouTube page of St Anthony of Padua church of Luling, Louisiana

Anthony Odiong – who gave anti-LGBTQ+ sermons – had detailed allegations abuse filed against him before his removal


A Louisiana Catholic priest’s sudden dismissal from the church where he had been a popular pastor for the last several years has set off a fresh scandal in the embattled New Orleans archdiocese, the second-oldest in the US.

As they tell it, local church leaders rescinded Anthony Odiong’s invitation to serve as a cleric in the region due to unspecified “concerns … about [his] ministry prior” to his arrival in the archdiocese – “and quite possibly during his time” there. As a result, the New Orleans archbishop, Gregory Aymond, told Odiong’s bishop in Nigeria to recall him to his home diocese “as soon as possible to address these concerns”, officials said in a statement.

The statement did not mention whether those concerns stemmed from Aymond’s receipt in 2019 of a detailed complaint against Odiong of years-long sexual and financial abuse from a woman who viewed the clergyman as her spiritual adviser – and who says the church brushed her off.

“These concerns do not include the abuse of minors nor to our knowledge involve anyone in this [church],” is all the archdiocese’s statement said.

The statement added that the archdiocese had reported Odiong to law enforcement authorities, and the organization had ordered him to soon leave the rectory where he had been residing.

Meanwhile, Odiong has offered up a starkly different counter-narrative. He has publicly suggested that Aymond booted him out from serving the archdiocese with about a half-million Catholics after likening members of the LGBTQ+ community to “monkeys and animals and chimpanzees” in a recent sermon that warned of a purported liberal takeover of the church.

The archdiocese’s statement did not deny that it found Odiong’s remarks to be problematic. And it suggested that the comments may have expedited a departure originally scheduled for January.

“Unfortunately,” the statement said, “[Father] Anthony’s words and actions since being informed of this decision have led to us taking action to relieve him as pastor now.”

Whatever the case, the circumstances of Odiong’s departure from the St Anthony of Padua church highlight the layered predicament Aymond and his archdiocese find themselves in.

The archdiocese has racked up nearly $34m in legal and other professional services fees since filing for federal bankruptcy protection in 2020 in the face of a mountain of local clergy abuse litigation. To cope with the bankruptcy court expenses, the church recently announced a plan to close several of its churches.

St Anthony of Padua was not one of the churches affected by the downsizing. Yet Odiong’s dismissal has stirred unrest among his parishioners and their community of Luling, Louisiana, whose population of about 14,500 people resides about 25 miles (40km) south-west of New Orleans.

Masses held by Odiong in which parishioners came to be healed both physically and spiritually proved to be particularly popular and helped attendance for weekend services surge from fewer than 390 to more than 500, according to reporting in the local St Charles Herald Guide newspaper.

Odiong and at least some in his former congregation now feel as though they have been thrust into the split brewing between those who support and those who oppose Pope Francis’s attempts to make the Catholic church more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, a prominent agenda item during a recent synod of bishops at the Vatican.

Francis in November dismissed Joseph Strickland, at that time the bishop of Tyler, Texas, for his criticism of the pope’s goals to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people and to give the laity more responsibilities within a church that does not allow gay marriage.

Older white man in tall pointy hat.
Gregory Aymond after his installation mass held in the St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans on 20 August 2009.

The outpouring of support for Odiong from some of his followers has generally echoed the support among conservative circles that met Strickland after his ouster.

“You have your flock’s unwavering love,” read one of numerous recent Facebook posts from Luling residents. Another read: “I [shudder] to think what my spiritual life would be like without his guidance … My friends and I stand WITH [Father] Anthony Odiong, NOT against him.”

However, what the controversy surrounding Odiong’s departure also seems to highlight is how few – if any – of his most fervent believers realized that he stands among more than 300 clergymen, religious personnel or lay church employees who are accused of abusing vulnerable parishioners – mostly children but also adults – in claims filed as part of the archdiocese’s pending bankruptcy.

Most of the records associated with the bankruptcy are under a court seal. But the Guardian managed to obtain a copy of the claim against Odiong, which was prepared by his accuser’s attorney, Kristi Schubert.

A review of the document – filed under oath – raises questions about whether Aymond could have acted against Odiong long before his abrupt dismissal and the anti-LGBTQ+ remarks that he insisted cost him his position.

When asked about his response to the accusations in the bankruptcy, Odiong said: “We have discussed the allegations, and I have a lawyer taking care of that.”

He said he could not elaborate but maintained that Aymond had rescinded his invitation for Odiong to minister in the New Orleans archdiocese because the Nigerian “went against the pope and the synod”.

Schubert, who represents numerous clergy abuse survivors, said: “I am not surprised at all that it took a public scandal for [Father] Odiong to finally see even minimal consequences. In my experience, credible abuse allegations alone have not been enough to motivate the church to remove a priest.”

‘Dismissed my claim’

Odiong underwent his clerical training in Nigeria and was ordained in 1993, according to his biography on the St Anthony of Padua webpage. For more than a decade, he served in Nigeria.

But the country has historically been convulsed by sectarian violence against Catholics. In 2006, Odiong moved to Austin, the capital of Texas, to minister there on the invitation of the city’s bishop at the time: Aymond.

Odiong later worked in campus ministry at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He obtained a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

Meanwhile, Aymond became New Orleans’s archbishop in 2009. In about 2016, Aymond invited Odiong to serve as the pastor of St Anthony.

Odiong’s healing masses helped improve church attendance. Their popularity led to the construction of a new healing chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which opened in 2020.

He took parishioners with him to Medjugorje, the site in Bosnia which has attracted a million pilgrims annually since 1981, when six children and teenagers there said they had witnessed the appearance of the Virgin.

But the year before the healing chapel at St Anthony opened, a woman who described meeting Odiong at Franciscan University in 2007 contacted the archdiocese of New Orleans with detailed abuse accusations against Odiong.

The abuse claim that the woman later filed in bankruptcy court described how Odiong positioned himself to be her spiritual director.

“From May 2007 until December 2018, Father Odiong and I spoke daily,” said the woman, who recalled being 37 when she met the clergyman. As her personal spiritual adviser, she said Odiong “came to control nearly every aspect of my life, including my financial and relationship decisions”.

Among numerous other alleged misdeeds, she accused Odiong of forcing her to perform sexual acts – including oral intercourse – with him during the sacrament of confession, at private masses in her home and in at least one motel room. She described the acts occurring in New Orleans, in west Texas, in Pennsylvania and in Alabama, in her car while stopped in a church parking lot – despite the vow of celibacy that Catholic clergyman make.

The woman said Odiong told her she would earn forgiveness for her sins through her sexual service. She accused him of threatening to “place a curse on her head” if she ever refused, of insinuating that she was mentally ill by calling her a “troubled woman”, and of stealing money, including thousands of dollars from her.

At one point, needing the floors of her home redone, she alleged that Odiong forced her to hire a man who she learned was “a rapist”. Her floors did not end up getting redone, and she was drawn into a legal dispute that cost her nearly $50,000, she said.

Inside of a church with bare pews, and an older man with a red pointy hat and red robe, followed by another man in a dark suit, alongside stained-glass windows.
Gregory Aymond walks through St Louis Cathedral to celebrate Good Friday services, without any congregants, in New Orleans, on 10 April 2020.

The woman said she mostly stopped engaging with Odiong in late 2018. That was weeks after Aymond had released the first version of a list naming several New Orleans Catholic clergymen whom the church considered to be credibly accused of molesting children or vulnerable adult parishioners, igniting a wave of additional claims of church molestation that eventually thrust the archdiocese into bankruptcy.

Odiong was not on the list, which was one piece of the broad fallout from a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that found Catholic clerical sex abuse in that state was much more widely spread than the church had acknowledged.

And in early 2019, the woman – whose home is in Pennsylvania – contacted a religious brother serving as the New Orleans archdiocese’s point of contact for abuse claimants, and reported Odiong.

She said the archdiocese’s victims assistance coordinator told her: “I do not think you are remembering things correctly.” Then, toward the middle of July that year, she said, she reported Odiong directly to Aymond.

The woman said she sought to boost her credibility by saying she had ghostwritten some of the letters Odiong sent to Aymond over the years, including ones that successfully asked for financial assistance to complete his education while also requesting an invitation to work in New Orleans.

Nonetheless, “I felt like he dismissed my claim as well,” the woman said of Aymond.

The woman cited copies of text messages and phone call logs to establish the volume of contact that she had with Odiong and to support her assertion that she had conversed with Aymond. She captured telephone recordings that showed she contacted detectives in Luling and her Pennsylvania home town about Odiong, though it is unclear if those agencies pursued investigations.

After the woman reported him to the archdiocese, Odiong wrote to her saying that the victims assistance coordinator had contacted him, according to an email her lawyer provided. It is unclear what else the archdiocese may have done in response to her claims.

Information produced during the bankruptcy’s discovery process and reported on by the Guardian has established that the archdiocese over the last several decades has gone to extreme lengths to shield abusive clergymen – including the handful of ones convicted of or charged with crimes by subpoena-wielding authorities despite the church’s protection.

Odiong did serve as the pastor of St Anthony of Padua through most of 2023, presiding over weddings, baptisms, weekly masses and services at the healing chapel.

As recently as August, Odiong, Aymond and a third clergyman hosted a three-day series of masses at a church in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie. Odiong presided over a healing service following the mass, according to an archdiocesan bulletin.

Odiong’s removal

It was not until a Saturday service on 18 November at St Anthony of Padua that Odiong informed his congregation that their time together was coming to an end. He said his plan was to move by January to Florida, where he intended to build a chapel like one whose construction he was overseeing in Texas.

At Sunday mass on 26 November, he elaborated with remarks that took aim at the LGBTQ+ community.

“The church is dividing already,” Odiong said during his homily that day, according to a video available on YouTube. “Now the gays have taken over the church. The LGBTQI – whatever you call them – have a stranglehold on the church now. We’re going to begin to bless all kinds of monkeys and animals and chimpanzees, and priests who will not do it will be persecuted.”

Odiong went on to suggest that he was “not safe” because of his beliefs on that topic. “Yet, I’m not afraid – I’m excited,” he said. “I like a good fight.”

As Odiong tells it, Aymond told him that he had until the next several days to move out of St Anthony of Padua’s rectory. The archbishop had rescinded Odiong’s invitation to minister in the New Orleans archdiocese, the ousted clergyman said.

Older white man with red pointy had and reb robes, flanked by two younger white men with no hats and red robes, speakers with a white woman with tidy gray hair and white shirt outside.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond greets parishioners after Good Friday mass in front of St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, on 29 March 2013.

Before St Anthony’s Sunday mass on 3 December, the church announced it would not livestream video of the service as usual.

At mass, the archdiocese said, parishioners were read a statement telling them that Odiong’s removal was being expedited over various but unspecified concerns. The archdiocese’s statement asked Odiong’s congregation to respect his privacy and keep him in their prayers “during this time of transition”.

The statement triggered a wave of Facebook comments in support of Odiong. One accused the archdiocese of having “besmirched a holy man’s character to his congregation” with no substantial specifics.

The woman who has accused Odiong of abuse is demanding damages from the archdiocese’s bankruptcy case, which remains unresolved. She argues that she lost at least $150,000 in wages after her mental anguish over Odiong’s alleged domination interrupted her ability to work as a licensed clinical social worker.

The woman’s lawyer, Schubert, said it was disturbing but unsurprising that the archdiocese “allowed Odiong to continue to hold a position of trust and authority” for years despite her client’s complaint.

Schubert said her client’s case was only the latest to illustrate how “abuse allegations will typically be ignored or covered up as long as possible” by institutions like the archdiocese.

“The only thing I’ve really ever seen the church respond to quickly is the fear of bad publicity,” Schubert added. “They don’t fix things that are bad. They fix things that make them look bad.”

As for Odiong, he said he plans to continue in ministry as long as he has the permission of his supervising bishop in the diocese of Uyo, Nigeria.

“You have to let this play out,” Odiong said. “This is just the beginning.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘The devil was in that building’

— New Orleans church orphanages’ dark secrets

The Hope Haven-Madonna Manor orphanage complex, seen in November 2023, is one of the most infamous sites linked to the New Orleans Catholic church clerical abuse scandal.

Survivors of institutions run by Catholic diocese recall litany of sexual abuse as bankruptcy process keeps documents hidden

By Jason Berry

Call her Sheila.

She doesn’t want her name used because of court testimony she has given as a state social worker which helped put men who abused their families in jail. She’s retired now, but still a rescuer by nature.

On a recent afternoon she went back to Madonna Manor, the Catholic orphanage in a Spanish colonial revival building, now shuttered, several miles across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. “A reverent place,” she sighed, “but it’s also a crime scene.”

She gazed at the wooden plank covering a window. Raccoons now nested in rooms that were once the dormitory for boys under age 12 at Madonna Manor. Feral cats roamed the empty playgrounds where homeless men sometimes camped.

“I tried. I did everything I could to get that man put away,” she said, referring to Harold Ehlinger, who lived in a dormitory room when her day job was counseling boys at Madonna Manor decades ago.

On the opposite side of Barataria Boulevard, another Spanish mission structure housed the older, adolescent boys: Hope Haven, a name dripping with irony like candle wax given the hell described in victims’ lawsuits against the New Orleans archdiocese.

The buildings warped by neglect stand on vast green acreage – potentially sizable assets in the bankruptcy protection this archdiocese sought in 2020, facing abuse victim lawsuits. The church case now exceeds 500 abuse claims, whose potential value depends on the survival of a recent Louisiana “look-back” law which eliminated filing deadlines for victims.

The outlines of a subterranean criminal religious culture are emerging with roughly 100 abuse claims that center on the two orphanages.

The severity of suffering at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor probably explains why 23 of those claimants, already some of society’s most vulnerable and marginalized, have had legal troubles and been incarcerated – their cases are among those brought by the law firm of New Orleans trial attorney Frank E Lamothe.

“People escaped – sometimes in groups,” said a former resident, not among Lamothe’s clients, with his own lawsuit against the orphanages pending, under a pseudonym.

Call him Leon. Born in 1971, he was sent to Madonna Manor from a splintered family in late 1982 or 1983 – he’s blurry on exactly when. “Instead of taking abuse I’d run away – too many times to count,” he said. “Police would bring you back. It was pretty much a prison.”

A religious brother named Harold Ehlinger is accused of child sexual abuse in several lawsuits pending against the church and Catholic Charities, which ran the two facilities, while utilizing public funds from the United Way and local government.

In the fall of 1980, Sheila had a freshly minted master’s in social work from Tulane University when she went to work at Madonna Manor. In counseling and group therapy she discovered boys angry, cynical and acting out over sexual abuse by Brother Harold in his private room within the dorm. The boys agreed to give her statements – she taped interviews.

When Sheila rapped on his door, Ehlinger answered in a bathrobe, with a flustered child inside. Ehlinger was “furious at seeing me”, she recalled.

She told her supervisor. The supervisor had her meet with a priest who listened gravely and accepted her documentation. Ehlinger disappeared. She was relieved. In 1982, she took a better-paying job with the state of Louisiana.

Sheila the whistleblower had gone when Leon arrived. Church authorities had allowed Brother Harold to reside in a cottage near Hope Haven.

“Brother Harold was like the boss,” Leon continued. “Once you’re targeted they got lockdown units. They’d put a pillow over your face so you can’t hear what’s going on. Sometimes they wore masks to conceal [their] identity so you didn’t know who raped you.

“They’d bring you over to the Dark Tower – that’s what we called the church, the cathedral they had on the property. Running away from Madonna Manor you just wanted to be someplace else. You’re still going to an abusive environment, but it was the horrors of being sexually assaulted, like the devil was in the building.”

Leon’s lawsuit alleges beatings and sexual assaults by several men. “Brother Harold performed some form of fondling, groping or molesting of [Leon] on an almost daily basis,” the complaint alleges.

“When I got out,” he told the Guardian, “I was damaged goods.”

In the mid-80s, Sheila was driving past a Catholic school. She saw Ehlinger, surrounded by kids, guiding them into school buses. She was stunned. “I naively thought they’d turned him over to the police or kicked him out of ministry.”

Ehlinger was one in a procession of alleged pedophiles at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor, according to various pending lawsuits, depositions and documents from past cases not subject to bankruptcy judge Meredith Grabill’s secrecy order concealing church documents.

Collectively, those documents provide new, chilling particulars about two of the most infamous institutions linked to the Catholic clergy abuse crisis – but whose details have largely been buried in the past.

Ehlinger’s last known address is a Holy Cross religious house in Austin, Texas. A process server went to hand him legal papers there.

Ehlinger is among the more than 200 accused Catholic church abusers not on the local archdiocese’s “credibly accused” list, though the church resolved past cases identifying him in what became negotiated settlements.

The church declined the Guardian’s request for an interview with Archbishop Gregory Aymond or to answer general questions about this report.

An archbishop walks between church pews.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond conducts Easter Mass in St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans on 12 April 2020.

Haunted by nuns

Call him Joe. His lawsuit against the church uses a pseudonym.

In 1976, when he was 11, Joe went to Madonna Manor. He noticed that the pool was closed.

“I was told one of the students drowned in the pool,” he said. “I never knew the boy’s name, only that he snuck out one night and died in the pool.”

Joe said he started wondering about the boy’s death after Sister Martin Marie began “tying me by the genitals and nearly suffocating me to sexually pleasure her between the legs”.

“She liked to sit on my face till I couldn’t breathe,” he remarked.

To this day, he said, he wonders about whether the boy who was said to have drowned may have been abused.

Martin Marie, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, was named in an earlier wave of lawsuits over the orphanages in 2009. Like Ehlinger, her name is not on the archdiocese’s credibly accused list.

Joe finds that appalling because he says Sister Martin Marie wasn’t the only nun complicit in the beatings and sexual abuse he endured on the verge of puberty.

“I kept running away from Madonna Manor because of those nuns,” Joe said. “They sent me back to my mom and stepdad in Metairie. Things didn’t go well for me after Madonna Manor. My mom didn’t believe me about the nuns.”

Joe said he was committed to a mental hospital in Mandeville, a community across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. He recalled being treated with the anti-psychotic medication thorazine. “I didn’t trust people,” he said. “I became very violent, I did fight the staff.

“I was held down, injected and put in restraints.”

He got out. After scrapes with the law he found a foster father, and slowly began rebuilding his life.

“I’m in a safe place now,” Joe said.

For many years he avoided Madonna Manor. But on a recent autumn day Joe gave a work buddy, who lived near the complex, a lift home. He found himself on Barataria Boulevard, and the memories started surging. He parked at the back of the Madonna Manor dormitory.

He found Sheila standing there.

The Hope Haven-Madonna Manor orphanage complex, seen here in November 2023, is one of the most infamous sites linked to the decades-old New Orleans Catholic church clerical abuse crisis.
The Hope Haven-Madonna Manor orphanage complex.

Sheila saw the pain on his face and knew in a heartbeat he was a survivor. Like her, she sensed, he had left a piece of his heart there. Thinking of the boys she had tried to help, she stepped toward him and said: “Hi, I’m Sheila.”

“I’m Joe,” he replied. “I used to live here.”

She was a stranger but within a few minutes he was pouring out stories of his past – did she know about the boy who drowned? She did not. Sheila took the Madonna Manor job four years after Joe left. They exchanged phone numbers. He called her that night, sobbing as he let loose memories of the hell he survived, wondering if that boy who was rumored to have drowned was a victim like he was, only worse.

Joe continued by sharing details about his best friend at Madonna Manor, an altar boy who was molested by a priest.

The boy, Rene Perez, was eventually moved to another home across the lake.

“He and two or three others had run away,” Joe said. “They took bicycles and were going across [a] bridge when he got hit by a car and thrown in the water. They found him I think about five days later.

“The funeral was held at Madonna Manor church, but I wasn’t there that weekend.”

Still fighting tooth and nail

In the 1920s, Hope Haven opened as a home for dependent children. Madonna Manor opened a few years later. Eventually boys younger than 12 lived at Madonna Manor, and older teenagers at the other institution.

Exactly when the two institutions became a magnet for pedophiles and people prone to sadistic behavior is unclear. But 17 lawsuits filed in 2005 made allegations going back to the 1950s that described horrific abuses.

Besides the School Sisters of Notre Dame, other authority figures at the orphanages were Salesian priests and brothers, who founded the nearby Archbishop Shaw high school.

A major figure in the 2005 litigation, a priest named Ray Hebert, was director of the two facilities from 1966 to 1971.

Hebert, who held the elevated title of monsignor, was also the director of Catholic Charities, which had responsibility for the orphanages. If any cleric had textured knowledge of the internal dynamics at the two facilities, it was Ray Hebert.

In 2008, during the litigation, Hebert gave a deposition, saying: “If you were a trained social worker, you didn’t speak of orphanages.” Institutions for dependent children was more correct, he said, because state funding was involved.

Yet the survivors of the sexual and physical abuses may as well as have been on another planet from most of society. Most came from dysfunctional families and lacked any freedom to leave on their own, other than by running away, which invited retribution.

Hebert in the early 1990s took another job, as vicar of clergy at the New Orleans archdiocese, a position that required him to investigate priests accused of child sexual abuse.

Attorney Michael Pfau, who represented plaintiff-survivors of the orphanage, asked if Hebert ever reported a priest to the police or child protective services.

“No,” he answered. “I never did.”

Hebert stated that after interviewing a given priest, he sent a report to his boss at the time: the longtime archbishop Philip Hannan.

Pfau asked: “Did you ever ask a priest to sign a written statement?”

Hebert replied: “No, not that I remember. I recall one case, you know, where after interviewing the [priest] and taking notes, I did ultimately write up a report as to what I had learned from him, and asking him to go over the report to see whether he objected to anything I had put in that report not being accurate. But I didn’t ask him to sign this report.”

On retiring from that job in 2003, Hebert said he destroyed all his notes.

Doing so was a serious violation of canon law, according to Tom Doyle, a former priest and canon lawyer in the Vatican embassy in Washington DC in the early 1980s. Canon 1719 reads: “The acts of the investigation, the decrees of the [bishop] which initiated and concluded the investigation, and everything which initiated and concluded the investigation, and everything which preceded the investigation are to be kept in the secret archive of the [administration] if they are not necessary for the penal process.”

How many reports Hebert actually wrote is unknown. But his 4 November 1999 assessment of Father Lawrence Hecker was made public, in a recent filing by the Orleans parish district attorney’s office, after his criminal indictment.

The document is notable for Hecker saying he harassed or slept with various boys but did not have sex. Hecker does, however, concede that a young man “came out, years later, he told his parents that he and I had had sex together. They reported this to … Hannan and he spoke with me about it in early 1988.”

By 2012, when Sister Carmelita Centanni, the archdiocese’s victim assistant coordinator, wrote to Archbishop Aymond, she cited an allegation of sexual abuse against Hecker from the police in Gretna, a New Orleans suburb, stating: “This is the NINTH allegation we have on record against Larry Hecker.”

Hecker retired with the comfort of a church pension until it was discontinued after the New Orleans archdiocese’s bankruptcy. He has been in jail awaiting trial since his indictment in September.

In the 2005 Hope Haven-Madonna Manor litigation, three plaintiffs mentioned Hebert among other accused abusers. Hebert responded by filing his own lawsuit against the plaintiffs, alleging defamation and denying he ever abused anyone.

Two other plaintiffs also named Hebert among other abusers but had not filed suit at that stage. Ultimately, after the archdiocese settled the Hope Haven-Madonna Manor litigation for $5m, the plaintiffs who named Hebert withdrew their claims against him.

Religion News Service revealed a bitter divide at the time of the settlement. Some involved in the settlement wanted the church to be required to release all documents pertaining to abuse at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor, but that didn’t happen.

“We’ve had to fight the church tooth and nail for more than four years to get [the church] to acknowledge wrongdoing,” said attorney Roger Stetter, who also had clients in the litigation. Stetter accused the archdiocese of trying to hide evidence.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who was recently installed at the time, seemed conciliatory. “It’s important that these wrongdoers come to light and that we admit that as far as we can tell [the charges] are true,” he said.

But the church went on to underreport its list of abusers.

Between 2010 and 2020, the archdiocese settled more than 130 sex abuse claims, totaling $11.7m, in many cases requiring victims to sign confidentiality agreements – a move specifically denounced by the 2002 US bishops’ youth protection charter.

Hebert died in 2014. Several years later, there was a new wave of lawsuits against Hope Haven and Madonna Manor after Aymond published a list of New Orleans Catholic clergymen whom his archdiocese considered to be credibly accused of child molestation.

In January 2020, the archdiocese paid $325,000 to resolve a case that accused Hebert, Sister Martin Marie and others with ties to Hope Haven as well as Madonna Manor. The archdiocese would not pay such settlements if it didn’t consider claimants believable, as one of the organization’s vicars general told an abuse survivor in a separate case.

But Hebert’s name is conspicuously absent from the archdiocese’s credibly accused list, which has been updated several times since it was first published in 2018.

The issue no one wants to touch

Amid news of the later lawsuits, Joe contacted the attorneys John Denenea and Richard Trahant.

They told him the process could be long and frustrating. But he signed on.

After the bankruptcy began, Joe was surprised at the opportunity to serve on the creditors’ committee, representing other survivors and negotiating toward a settlement. He had few illusions about the church but wanted to help push against the rock of injustice.

Last year, he went to a scheduled meeting with Aymond, where he and three other survivors hoped to speak their truth directly to the archbishop. But then came word that Judge Grabill was removing him, Trahant, Denenea and three more of the lawyers’ survivor clients from involvement with the committee.

Grabill maintained that Trahant had violated a secrecy order by warning a local Catholic high school run by his cousin that the campus’s chaplain had a substantial stain in his past.

Trahant’s warning ultimately forced the archdiocese to disclose that the chaplain had engaged in sexual misconduct with a teenage girl at a past assignment in the 1990s but was allowed to continue his career.

“I think it was a setup by the church,” Joe said. He said his lawyers had long been after the records that vividly outline the abuses at Madonna Manor, Hope Haven and numerous other archdiocesan institutions across the New Orleans area, which serves about a half-million Catholics.

“The church doesn’t want to release that information,” Joe continued. “I think Richard [Trahant] was a patsy and they took us all out. That’s my take.”

The archdiocese’s formidable status in bankruptcy court leaves a trail of questions.

Given the public funds expended at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor, why haven’t federal authorities used their power to do a surgical review into every file archived at the archdiocese, including those detailing the abusive history of the two orphanages?

If Joe had cause to worry about whether a boy drowned there, and if his pal Rene Perez was the victim of a priest and died trying to escape another facility, what kind of oversight did Louisiana officials provide at Hope Haven and Madonna Manor?

Should the sadistic violence and rapes alleged by Leon be swept under the rug of time by the most powerful law enforcement authorities?

If Hebert, who oversaw the facilities, was in fact an abuser – as a $325,000 settlement would suggest – do documents shed light on his decisions that allowed the place to become a pedophiles’ haven, as alleged in the lawsuits?

How much do those 23 former Hope Haven and Madonna Manor residents who are now incarcerated know about what happened there?

Will Judge Grabill seal off information on crimes against children, as alleged in so many cases, to furnish a settlement when the church finally presents a reorganization plan?

More than half of New Orleans’s federal judges have recused themselves from archdiocesan litigation because of ties to the Catholic church.

This fact does not surprise Stephen C Rubino, a veteran plaintiffs’ lawyer who is now retired in Vermont. But that doesn’t mean Rubino – who spent many years in New Jersey litigating against the church – likes it at all.

“You should not be able to maintain a criminal racketeering conspiracy for hiding pedophiles and still function as a religious, tax-exempt charity,” Rubino – also a former Florida state prosecutor – said in response to the New Orleans archdiocese’s bankruptcy. “That is the issue no US attorney wants to touch.”

Complete Article HERE!

In the US, Black survivors are nearly invisible in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis

Charles Richardson, of Baltimore, wipes his eye while discussing his alleged abuse decades ago by a Catholic priest, in Baltimore on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Black victims have largely been invisible in the Catholic sexual abuse crisis. Richardson recently came forward after the state of Maryland removed the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims.


As Charles Richardson gradually lost his eyesight to complications from diabetes, certain childhood memories haunted him even more.

The Catholic priest appeared vividly in his mind’s eye — the one who promised him a spot on a travel basketball team, took him out for burgers and helped him with homework. The one, Richardson alleges, who sexually assaulted him for more than a year.

“I’ve been seeing him a lot lately,” Richardson said during a recent interview, dabbing tears from behind dark glasses.

As a Black middle schooler from northwest Baltimore, Richardson started spending time with the Rev. Henry Zerhusen, a charismatic white cleric. It was the 1970s and Zerhusen’s parish, St. Ambrose, was a fixture in Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood, which was then experiencing the effects of white flight and rapidly becoming majority-Black. Lauded as a “super-priest” when he died in 2003, Zerhusen welcomed his church’s racial integration and implemented robust social service programs for struggling families, including Richardson’s.

For most of his life, Richardson kept the abuse a secret, a common experience for survivors of sexual abuse. But cases of clergy abuse among African Americans are especially underreported, according to experts, who argue the lack of attention adds to the trauma of an already vulnerable population.

Black survivors like Richardson have been nearly invisible in the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis — even in Baltimore, home to a historic Black Catholic community that plays an integral role in the nation’s oldest archdiocese. The U.S. Catholic Church generally does not publicly track the race or ethnicity of clergy abuse victims. Without that data, the full scope of clergy sex abuse and its effects on communities of color is unknown.

“Persons of color have suffered a long legacy of neglect and marginalization in the Catholic Church,” said the Rev. Bryan Massingale, a Black Catholic priest and Fordham University professor whose research has focused on the issue. “We need to correct the idea that all or most of the victims of this abuse have been white and male.”

Earlier this year, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office released a scathing report on child sex abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore dating back several decades. The report documents more than 600 abuse cases but leaves out any context about race. There are clues, however, in the names of priests and churches listed.

Out of 27 parishes in the archdiocese that have significant Black populations, at least 19 — 70% — previously had priests on staff who have been accused of sexual abuse, according to an Associated Press analysis. For parishes that experienced demographic shifts over time, these abusers were in residence in the years after Black membership increased and white membership declined.

Among those affected is St. Francis Xavier, one of the nation’s oldest Black Catholic churches, where four abusive priests have served over the decades. The parish’s first Black pastor, the late Rev. Carl Fisher, has been accused of abusing several children at St. Veronica’s, another majority-Black parish he served.

In 2013, decades after Richardson’s alleged abuse, Zerhusen faced accusations from another victim — the grandson of a woman who worked at St. Ambrose for 40 years. In response to that claim, two monsignors called Zerhusen “saintly” and unlikely to abuse, according to the attorney general’s report. The archdiocese ultimately settled with the victim for $32,500 and added Zerhusen to their list of credibly accused priests this past July.

Christian Kendzierski, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, said he was just learning of Richardson’s allegation about the late Zerhusen when contacted by the AP and didn’t have information on it.

Zerhusen worked with other abusive priests, including at St. Ambrose. At two more parishes, including after he was elevated to monsignor, he supervised four other priests later credibly accused of child sex abuse.

The last time Zerhusen abused him, Richardson said, he jumped out a stained-glass window to escape the church’s sanctuary, landing on the ground outside. In Richardson’s account, Zerhusen accompanied him to the hospital and told a doctor he landed on a Coke bottle playing football. Richardson still bears scars on his elbow that he attributes to the fall.

But the emotional scars have never healed. Until recently, he had never told his wife or adult daughters about the assaults.

Richardson dropped out of high school not long after the abuse. An aspiring professional tennis player, his game suffered, and he later became a car salesman. He still sometimes struggles when interacting with other men, especially in medical settings and situations involving physical contact.

As Black men, “we have a reputation we have to carry with us, a façade,” he said. “Something like this is one of the worst things — to say you have been raped or touched by another man.”

Not long after release of the attorney general’s report, Maryland lawmakers voted to repeal the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to sue. At age 58, Richardson retained a lawyer and decided to go public.

Ray Kelly, a lifelong Catholic and chair of the pastoral council at St. Peter Claver, a Black parish in west Baltimore, said the archdiocese has repeatedly failed to address racial disparities, a trend that extends far beyond the clergy abuse crisis.

In response to the 2020 racial justice protests, Kelly helped lead a working group convened by the Baltimore archbishop that focused on combating racism, but he said the archdiocese took little action after receiving the group’s recommendations.

He pointed to the Catholic Church’s long history of treating African Americans like second-class citizens — beginning in Baltimore with the founding of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1829, when four Black women started their own religious order after being rejected by an existing sisterhood. One of the founders, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, is now being considered for sainthood.

The aftermath of the Civil War brought another new religious order to Baltimore: The Josephites were founded to minister to recently freed slaves. But despite their mission, for decades they largely did not admit Black men into the priesthood. The archdiocese now lists at least five Josephite priests as credibly accused of abuse.

“The Americanized Catholic Church still sees the Black population as a perpetual charity case, so to speak,” Kelly said. “And the predators are going to go where the prey is — Black communities relying on the church for support.”

Kendzierski, the archdiocese spokesperson, said its leaders have taken significant steps to address the church’s legacy of racism. He said the archdiocese’s Office of Black Catholic Ministry works to “lift up our Catholic social teaching related to the dignity of the human person and ensure worship is inclusive of the scope of the Catholic culture.”

In some cases, the church’s charity programs allowed abusers to reach African Americans who were not regulars at Mass. Richardson, for instance, was raised Baptist, but his family still relied on the local Catholic church for food, home repairs and other resources — a scenario that experts say is surprisingly common.

Abuse also came from within the Black community. Among the alleged perpetrators were some of the archdiocese’s few Black Catholic leaders.

When he was ordained in 1974, Maurice Blackwell was a celebrated rarity: a homegrown Black priest from west Baltimore. In the years since, he has been accused of sexually abusing at least 10 boys under 18, most at majority-Black parishes he pastored.

Darrell Carter alleges he was one of Blackwell’s victims. Now 63, he recently decided to sue under the new state law, which went into effect Oct. 1.

Carter’s father took him to Mass as a child. Before dying of cancer, he told Carter to find a Catholic church if he was ever in need: “They will help you.”

Money was scarce at home, and Carter often went hungry. As a teen, he visited St. Bernardine and later St. Edward — Black Catholic churches helmed by Blackwell — looking for odd jobs like shoveling snow to earn money. Instead, he said, Blackwell sexually abused him for four years and paid him $25 each time. Carter said Blackwell brandished a gun and threatened to kill him if he told anyone.

Carter said he reported the abuse to the archdiocese several years later, hoping to have Blackwell removed from ministry, but nothing came of it. The archdiocese said it received a report of Carter’s abuse in 2019 and reported it to law enforcement. Blackwell didn’t respond to recent messages seeking comment.

Carter went on to have a family and a welding career. He also struggled with alcoholism, suicidal thoughts and maintaining stable housing. Of the sexual abuse, he said, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it.”

Carter’s attorney, Joanne Suder, who also represents Richardson and many other clergy abuse victims in Baltimore, said it’s common for people to wait decades before disclosing their abuse. She said that’s often the case even as they experience its debilitating impacts, including struggles with mental health and addiction.

In 2002, another of Blackwell’s victims — a young Black man named Dontee Stokes — showed up at the priest’s Baltimore rowhome, pulled out a handgun and shot Blackwell after he refused to apologize. The shooting became a defining event in Baltimore’s mishandling of clergy sex abuse claims, just as the scope of the crisis was breaking open in Boston.

Blackwell survived, and Stokes was later acquitted of attempted murder. He served 18 months of home detention for gun charges.

Stokes had reported the abuse nearly a decade before the shooting, but police never filed charges. Although the archdiocese found the claims credible, Cardinal William Keeler, then Baltimore’s archbishop, returned Blackwell to ministry against the advice of an independent review board. A psychiatrist who evaluated Blackwell noted the difficult situation, given his “leadership in the African American community as well as the intensely positive feelings of his parishioners.” Finally in 1998, Blackwell was removed from ministry after another victim came forward.

But it was only after the 2002 shooting that Blackwell was formally laicized and criminally charged. Despite being convicted of three counts of child sexual abuse, he was granted a new trial because of the “improper testimony about possible other victims,” according to the attorney general’s report. Prosecutors ultimately declined to retry him.

“Nobody got any closure,” said another of Blackwell’s victims, who received a settlement from the archdiocese.

The man spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing being ostracized from his community if he publicly discussed his abuse. The AP generally does not identify sexual abuse victims without their consent. A runaway teen in the mid-1970s, the man ended up living in St. Bernardine’s rectory, where he said Blackwell sexually abused him. He came forward to support Stokes at trial.

For speaking out against Blackwell, the man got angry phone calls from friends and family members. “When you have somebody as popular as him, how can you knock the priest off his throne?” he said.

Blackwell remains popular, according to people in the community.

Gloria Webster also remembers feeling shunned by other Black Catholics.

“It was like I was suing God,” said Webster, who pursued criminal and civil charges on behalf of her daughter, who was sexually assaulted as a teenager. “All my friends turned against me.”

In 1990, Angelique Webster became suicidal, admitting she had been sexually abused for years by her white youth pastor, the Rev. Richard Deakin, starting when she was 13. The family lived down the block from the parish, St. Martin, where Gloria was an active volunteer.

Gloria and Angelique struggled to find other Black survivors: One support group for clergy abuse was filled with older white members. Gloria once called Blackwell for spiritual guidance but said she never heard back. Not long afterward, he was accused of abuse himself.

Then a graduate student in African American studies, Gloria was keenly aware of how gender and race played into the subsequent legal proceedings. She said the archdiocese tried to incorrectly “make it out like I’m this poor drug addict” who didn’t deserve support, but she was determined to fight for her daughter.

At the time, Maryland survivors generally had only a few years after the abuse to file a lawsuit, which meant Angelique navigated the case between multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. “I couldn’t hide from it because it was there all the time,” she said in a recent interview.

Deakin pleaded guilty to second-degree rape and child sex abuse, receiving no jailtime with a 20-year suspended sentence and five years’ probation. He had married by then and later became a licensed social worker at a Veterans Affairs facility in Pennsylvania. Because of his conviction, a state board ordered him to avoid counseling anyone under 21, according to licensing records. He surrendered his license in 2018 at the board’s request, which cited the public release of information about his sexual misconduct. He didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

In 1993, the Websters settled out of court for $2.7 million, a staggering sum for the archdiocese, where most settlements fall under $100,000.

The settlement, paid in monthly installments, has allowed Angelique to afford ongoing therapy and maintain financial stability. Now married with a child of her own, she made a short documentary several years ago about Gloria’s fight as a Black woman to sue the Catholic Church.

Survivors coming forward now, including Richardson and Carter, will likely receive smaller settlements since the archdiocese recently declared bankruptcy, allowing it to protect its assets more and shift the litigation to bankruptcy court, a less transparent forum.

“I feel like they are escaping responsibility,” Richardson said.

But for his part, Richardson recently found solace in telling his daughter about the abuse: “A great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

He’s retired now, but Richardson recalled a moment that stood out during his long career as a car salesman — when another clergy abuse victim walked into his dealership. That was sometime after Stokes had shot Blackwell, and Richardson recognized him from widespread media coverage of the case. Before selling him a car, Richardson told Stokes he was proud of him for fighting back.

But he couldn’t yet say what he really wanted to share: that it happened to him too. Now, he finally can.

Complete Article HERE!

‘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.”

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