Father Fulbright and the Catholic Abuse Crisis

By Mary Pezzulo

The discourse on Catholic X/Twitter this weekend was about the priesthood.

This conversation was started by an obvious troll account and nobody learned anything, but it got me thinking about the abuse crisis.

On about Saturday or Sunday, a cutesy-looking Twitter account with an AI profile picture tweeted an obnoxious bit of piosity: “You should never attack a priest, even when he’s in error, rather you should pray and do penance that God grant him grace again. When a priest falls, extend him a helping hand through prayer. God will be his judge. Whoever voices judgement over a priest has judged it over Christ.” This account was named “Fr. Fulbright,” and he claimed to be a real Catholic priest who was operating under an assumed name and photo so as to avoid being “canceled.”

Plenty of people jumped on Father Fulbright to tell him how dangerous it is to give priests a carte blanche in that way. Plenty more yelled at him because he’s previously supported Pope Francis and they were afraid this was more of the same. I also saw an alarming number of people retweeting the post in earnest, which frightened me.

As you’ve already guessed, it turns out that “Father Fulbright” is just some edgelord from Missouri with a troll account. But it got me thinking, because everybody took it so seriously. It was easy to assume he was a real priest because it’s the kind of thing a certain type of priest and his lackeys say. And there are still an awful lot of lay people who assume it’s correct.

If you’re Catholic, you’ve heard this exact line before.

I remember a similar page in the Pieta Prayerbook, growing up– a supposed locution from Christ Himself, demanding that we respond to priests’ errors by praying for them instead of correcting them.

I remember so many occasions where a friend or I would try to speak up against something  a priest was doing, and a pious person would darkly hint, “It’s important to pray for priests” and not let the conversation go any further.

I remember standing up to bully priests here around Steubenville, before the full truth of all the sexual abuse around here was known, and people being shocked at me because you’re not supposed to stand up to priests.

I think about the entire rigmarole with my reporting on Frank Pavone, from his 2016 sacrilege until late 2023 where I was ultimately proven right. I was harassed and criticized endlessly for that, because you’re not supposed to criticize a priest, even when the priest is an obvious fraud.

And this is exactly how the Church got where it is today.  This is how we got the sexual abuse crisis. This is why it happened and is still happening.

I’m not saying we can’t examine and question the rules regarding priestly celibacy; we ought to. But we did not get the sexual abuse crisis because priests can’t marry. We certainly can revisit the reasons women aren’t allowed to be priests and scrutinize them as well, but the all-male priesthood isn’t how we got the sexual abuse crisis. We absolutely need to look at how the Church treats queer people, and we have a lot of conspiracy theories to debunk, but neither gay men supposedly sneaking into seminaries nor the Church’s restrictions on queer people caused the sexual abuse crisis. The sexual abuse crisis came about because we were afraid to criticize priests.

Every community of people has had abusers in it. This has been true since caveman times and will continue until Jesus returns. A certain small percentage of the human population just don’t have functioning consciences, and they like to hurt the vulnerable. When humans form groups, those groups will have abusers in them. The abusers will always try to seek positions of authority, because those are the positions from which they can more easily abuse. This is constant. This happens in countries, political parties, schools, churches and clubs. One difference between a good and a bad community of people is that the good community admits they are vulnerable to abusers and is vigilant about stopping abuse when it happens. A bad community pretends that abuse doesn’t happen there and shields the inevitable abuser when he comes along. And the Catholic Church has been a bad community, because we have done the latter.

When you put priests on pedestals and insist they mustn’t be criticized, you’re grooming the whole community for abuse: not because all priests are abusers, but because abusers will see and take advantage of that pedestal.

When you claim that “attacking a priest” is the same as attacking Christ, you’re giving predators a convenient place to hide.

If you shame somebody who’s demanding accountability of a priest, you’re signaling to every rapist and child molester that the priesthood is an excellent place to shop for victims.

Besides, if you claim that a priest is the same as Christ– not as a clumsy way of saying that priests are in persona Christi when they administer the sacraments, but as if being ordained permanently transubstantiates a fallible person into Jesus– you’re committing idolatry and blaspheming Christ the Victim.

Christ IS a victim. We cannot deny this. Christ came to earth on purpose to suffer and die with other victims of injustice. He’s also a Priest, but He didn’t come to earth to aggrandize himself as a respectable authority nobody’s allowed to question. That’s not what priesthood is supposed to be about. When you stand up for a victim of injustice, you’re standing up for Christ. Claiming to be serving Christ by silencing victims is blasphemy.

And priests are not God. That’s not what being in persona Christi means. Only God is God. Only God is without sin or error. For everyone else, we have to follow the Golden Rule and treat them with respect, but we must demand accountability.

Holding priests accountable, and making it known that they’re held accountable, is the only way to stop abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

Victims advocacy group says Washington AG is investigating clergy abuse by Catholic bishops

The Catholic Accountability Project lined up pictures outside the Attorney General’s Office Tuesday of the 151 clergy members in Washington who have so far been convicted of sexual abuse. The organization said they believe the AGO opened an investigation in August 2023 of three other Bishops in the state.

by Shauna Sowersby

The state Attorney General’s Office may have subpoenaed three Catholic bishops in Washington state seeking “abuse-related documents and evidence,” the Catholic Accountability Project said at a news conference Tuesday.

The subpoenas were delivered in late August, according to the group who said they learned of the AGO’s involvement through a “highly credible source.”

“If this is true, (Attorney General) Bob Ferguson has joined 23 other state attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, in investigating sexual abuse in faith-based organizations since 2018,” said Tim Law, a Catholic Accountability Project (CAP) founding member.

Bellingham affordable housing units flood during January's record freeze

The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment or confirm whether or not an investigation has in fact been opened.

“As a longstanding policy, the Attorney General’s Office generally does not comment on ongoing investigations, including confirming or denying their existence,” said Brionna Aho, communications director for the office.

CAP is an advocacy and support group for survivors of clergy sexual assault and aims to hold perpetrators in churches accountable, their website says.

The group was told subpoenas were sent to bishops in Yakima, Spokane and Seattle, Law said. He said the investigation is occurring thanks to an organization called Heal Our Church that brought evidence forward to the AGO a few years ago.

Law said the accusations against some of the bishops date back as far as the 1960s.

Survivors of clergy abuse spoke at the news conference.

“The only way to get large organizations like this to change their policies to stop enabling abusers is through incentives,” said Marino Hardin, a former Jehovah’s Witness and abuse survivor. “If they face accountability from their victims and from society, they can change those policies.”

Advocates are also urging other victims, whistleblowers and concerned residents to contact the AGO.

“If you care about justice you need to know that it’s the church’s job to forgive — it’s the Attorney General’s job to ensure justice for our children,” Sharon Hurling said.

Members of CAP told reporters that the AGO and the state are the “only hope” because the Catholic church does not police itself.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis accused of opposing reforms to tackle clerical sexual abuse

— Activists say pontiff also ‘turning a blind eye’ to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions

Activists for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse say Francis has failed to fulfil his promises and new rules have made little impact.

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Pope Francis has been accused of opposing reforms that would seriously address the problem of clerical sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, while “turning a blind eye” to priests who assault nuns and force them to have abortions.

Francis promised to “spare no effort” to bring to justice paedophile priests and the bishops who covered up their crimes at an unprecedented summit in February 2019, an event that was supposed to mark a turning point in the handling of a scandal that has embroiled the Catholic church for decades.

A week before the summit, Francis became the first pontiff to publicly admit that priests had also sexually abused nuns, some of whom shared testimony during the event, and pledged to do more to fight the problem.

Three months later, the Vatican established procedures for every diocese to report allegations of abuse and foster accountability for the actions of bishops and cardinals. Francis also abolished the rule of “pontifical secrecy” – a kind of code of confidentiality – in an effort to improve transparency in sexual abuse cases.

Five years on, activists for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse say Francis has failed to fulfil his promises and the new rules have made little impact.

On Tuesday Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, which tracks alleged clergy sexual abuse cases, cited 10 cases since 2019 that allegedly show the pope favoured accused bishops and clerics over their victims. The cases include that of Marko Rupnik, who was excommunicated in 2020 after accusations of sexual and psychological assault against nuns dating back three decades, but in 2023 was accepted into a diocese in his native Slovenia.

“It would be one thing if we were coming here to talk about an overall good record with an occasional inconsistency, but we’re not, we’re talking about a continued pattern of the pope backing accused abusers,” Doyle told reporters in Rome. “It’s not that this pope doesn’t have his heart in reform or is maybe being blocked by other members of the curia. I believe he is opposed to reform – his measures have been designed to produce little impact.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican had been aware of the abuse of nuns by priests for decades before the public acknowledgment by Francis, but “nothing has come of his commitment” to fight the issue, said Doris Reisinger, an activist and survivor of clerical sexual abuse who authored a research paper on the girls and women impregnated by priests and their subsequent forced abortions.

“While the pope publicly condemns abortion, comparing it to hiring a hitman, he turns a blind eye to the priests who force nuns into having abortions,” said Reisinger.

Reisinger said that while some nuns had come forward about abuse since 2019, they were mostly too afraid to speak out. There is scant care for abused nuns, many of whom have been thrown out of their orders and made homeless, and under canon law they “have no status at all”, she said.

“The pope has admitted abuse of nuns but he has not acted on it,” said Reisinger. “And we have never heard a pope or bishop acknowledge coerced abortion at the hands of priests. They always treat abortion as a female issue yet they have never spoken about priests forcing abortions, despite knowing it is going on.”

In her research, Reisinger had come across cases in which the priest paid for an abortion, including one occasion when money from the offertory collection was used.

The Vatican has been approached for comment.

Complete Article HERE!

‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ culture of Catholic Church challenged at sex abuse trial

— ‘John Doe’ wants punitive damages against church at civil trial claiming abuse by priest and teacher

In 2020, the Catholic Church acknowledged that Father John Kilty had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children at Holy Trinity elementary school. His actions are the subject of a B.C. Supreme Court trial.

By Jason Proctor

Nearly 50 years after his first day at North Vancouver’s Holy Trinity elementary school, “John Doe” still recalls with pride the buckle shoes he wore as part of a uniform that included a red sweater, white shirt and blue pants.

He was six years old. And it was to be a year of memories Doe has spent a lifetime trying to shake — his father’s death, the sudden switch to a Catholic school, and his rape there by a physical education teacher and the priest who governed Holy Trinity’s operations.

Five decades later, the 55-year-old — whose real name is protected by a publication ban — took the stand in a B.C. Supreme courtroom in New Westminster in a bid to hold the Catholic Church accountable for the actions of Ray Clavin and Father John Kilty.

“It felt very safe. Like something that was missing from my life,” Doe said Monday as he described his initial impressions of Kilty — a man who lived next door to the school.

Children used to go to Kilty’s home at recess. He let them watch him shave. Doe sat in his lap.

“I was extremely fond of him,” Doe said. “I loved Father Kilty.”

‘Kilty ruled over the parish’

During the next four weeks, Doe hopes to convince a judge that the Catholic Church should be held directly liable for the lifetime of suffering Doe claims he has experienced as a result of Clavin and Kilty’s abuse.

The civil trial is unique. The Catholic Church — represented in the proceedings as a legal entity called the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver — has admitted that the abuse happened and accepted vicarious liability.

Father John Kilty was pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in North Vancouver at the time of the alleged abuse.
Father John Kilty was pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in North Vancouver at the time of the alleged abuse.

But the church denies that it was negligent.

As Doe’s lawyer, Sandy Kovacs, explained in her opening statement, Doe wants Justice Catherine Murray to view him as a “public interest enforcer” — inviting punitive damages against the church for enabling abuse through an ingrained culture that empowered pedophiles.

“Kilty ruled over the parish. Parishioners and teaching staff were submissive to his power and authority,” Kovacs told the judge.

“You will hear that [John Doe] was not Kilty’s only victim.”

‘It’s terrifying in such a dumbfounding way’

A little more than a dozen people packed onto two wooden benches in a fourth floor courtroom to watch Doe take the stand as the trial’s first witness.

He told Kovacs he lost six pounds to stress last week. He said his body temperature was up and down. He sat down, then stood up, complaining of confinement. He said he had an “unscratchable itch” on his leg; he kept leaning over to scratch it all the same.

A priest is seen in a stock image
John Doe wants the Catholic Church held directly liable for abuse that occurred as a result of what he claims was a culture that enabled men like Father John Kilty.

His memories were fragmentary. Doe said years of therapy had brought him to this moment: “I’m no longer disgusted by how disgusted I am with myself.”

He described Kilty’s abuse during a sleepover in the house next to the school. It was a school night. Kilty invited the boy into his bed. Doe recalled seeing a jar of vaseline.

“I don’t want him to not like me,” he said. “I’m trying, but my body’s completely refusing this.”

Asked about Clavin’s abuse, he remembered the gym teacher shouting at him in a basement. He recalled being in a room without his clothes. And later floating away from his body to watch as Clavin lay on top of him.

“It’s terrifying in such a dumbfounding way,” he said. “To the point of the absurd.”

‘The problem continues’

According to a statement of claim filed in advance of the trial, Clavin was convicted of two counts of sexual assault in the 1990s. Kovacs said his whereabouts today are unknown.

The court documents say that in 2020, the church also acknowledged that Kilty was “credibly accused of historical clergy sexual abuse.”

Kilty died in 1983. Two decades later, the first of several victims stepped forward.

Kovacs said she expects to call a man who was abused by Kilty in 1967 as a witness.

“He will speak to his observations of the teachers and nuns’ behaviour around Father Kilty, and what he describes as a culture of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,'” she said.

The trial is also expected to hear testimony from the bishops of Saskatoon and Prince George, both of whom Kovacs said had been altar boys at Holy Trinity and would bear witness to the relationship between Kilty and Clavin.

Kovacs also said she plans to call expert witnesses to testify about institutional sexual abuse — and particularly abuse within the Catholic Church.

She said one of those witnesses, Thomas Doyle, is a Roman Catholic priest who served with the Vatican embassy in Washington during the 1980s.

“He will tell you that Kilty’s and Clavin’s abuse of children was no anomaly,” Kovacs told the judge.

“Despite countless pronouncements, explanations, assurances, and apologies by the institutional church throughout the world, the problem continues — and the welfare of victims does not appear to be a major concern.”

In a response to Doe’s claim, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver has denied direct liability for Kilty and Clavin’s abuse, saying there was no “operational culture” enabling the men to sexually assault children at the school.

Even if such a culture had existed, the church says it “denies that it was complicit in it or otherwise acted negligently as alleged or at all.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘Deliver Us From Evil’

— Rape, Reproductive Coercion and the Catholic Church

Anti-abortion marchers and parishioners walk from the Old St. Patrick’s Church to a Planned Parenthood clinic where they pray as a protest against abortions, on April 1, 2023 in New York City.

For decades, the Catholic Church has shown a disregard for clergy sexual abuse and reproductive health. Why are priests and bishops considered to have any moral authority on issues of sexuality?

By

Sexual assault and reproductive coercion share similar dynamics: Both are forms of violence that intimately violate another person’s body. The Catholic Church’s clergy sexual abuse scandals, combined with its efforts to control women’s reproductive choices by banning abortion and attacking contraception, expose a troubling pattern of sexual sociopathology. This conduct fundamentally undermines the Church’s claims to moral authority on issues of sexuality.

By now, the stories are familiar and well documented.

  • The 2006 documentary Deliver Us From Evil chillingly reveals how Catholic bishops repeatedly relocated a priest named Oliver O’Grady from parish to parish in an attempt to cover up his rape of dozens of children.
  • The 2015 Academy Award-winning film, Spotlight, dramatizes the true story of the Boston Globe investigative reporting team that exposed widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the 1970s and the cover up by the Boston archdiocese.
  • In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury published a 1,356-page report documenting decades of sexual abuse by more than 300 Catholic priests who victimized thousands of children in six dioceses. The report found a “systemic coverup by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”

But incidents of sexual abuse by priests are not confined to the past. On Dec. 14, a federal court sentenced 68-year-old Providence-based Catholic priest James W. Jackson to six years in a federal prison for downloading and storing thousands of files containing child pornography on his computer in the church rectory. Authorities found 12,000 images and 1,300 videos of child pornography, including videos of prepubescent females portrayed in acts of bestiality and sadomasochism.

The Catholic Church also keeps sexually abusive clergy in positions of authority. A Massachusetts newspaper recently reported on a case where a priest had sex with a parishioner in the 1990s after leading her to believe he could cure her lesbianism by having sex with her. He remains in active ministry at a university, working with vulnerable young people.

In a recent case in New Orleans, an archbishop worked to free a Catholic priest convicted of raping an altar boy by attempting to get the victim to support the release. According to The Guardian, “representatives of the church that he had been raised to believe in approached him at his home, at his job and at a relative’s funeral to ask him to lend his support to efforts to secure an early release for his rapist.”

To avoid accountability, the Catholic Church opposes laws designed to help survivors of sexual abuse. Between 2011 and 2019, the Catholic Church spent $10.6 million in eight Northeastern states to lobby against such laws.

In Massachusetts, for example, the Catholic Church spent $537,551 in this period. Massachusetts law limits liability of nonprofit charities to $20,000, a figure so minimal it often deters attorneys from suing the Catholic Church. State lawmakers are now working to eliminate this immunity in cases of child sex abuse. They are also working to remove time limits for civil liability for child sex abuse, which the Boston Archdiocese has opposed.

Another strategy the Catholic Church uses to avoid accountability is to file for bankruptcy so they do not have to pay court-ordered penalties to compensate the victims of clergy sex abuse, as they recently did in California and Baltimore.

The all-male Catholic leadership’s long history of perpetuating sexual assault and reproductive coercion grows out of a toxic masculinity that devalues women’s lives, rights and dignity.

rape-abortion-catholic-church-sexual-child-abuse-priests
Members of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA), a global organization of prominent survivors and activists, display photos of Barbara Blaine, the late founder and president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), during a protest during the papal summit on Feb. 23, 2019, in Rome.

To fight back, survivors formed an organization in 1989 called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has documented widespread sexual abuse by priests, and the repeated attempts by bishops and other church leaders to cover up and excuse this abuse. Today, SNAP has over 25,000 members with support groups in over 60 cities across the U.S. and the world.

Another group working to hold the Catholic Church accountable for clergy sexual abuse is the BishopsAccountability.org, which maintains a database of the accused, searchable by religious order, as well as a timeline of key events of the abuse crisis in the U.S. and the world, information on accused bishops, an archive of lawsuits and related documents, and an abuse tracker with daily news stories on clergy sexual abuse.

The Catholic Church positions itself as a moral authority on sexual matters, yet it has been responsible for the widespread sexual abuse of numerous children and vulnerable adults in its care while refusing to take responsibility for the resulting harm. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has led the charge to overturn Roe v. Wade and bankrolled the movement to ban abortion nationwide, endangering the lives of millions of women and pregnant people. They are also fighting to grant zygotes, embryos, and fetuses full constitutional rights that women no longer have.

In the many hospitals they control, the Catholic Church blocks access to reproductive healthcare, including emergency contraception for rape victims, medically necessary sterilization, and abortion care. Due in part to hospital consolidations, the Catholic Church now controls one in every six acute care hospital beds in the United States. The first woman to die because she was not offered a life-saving abortion due to a Catholic-backed abortion ban enacted in 2021 was Yeniifer Alvarez-Estrada Glick. She died in July 2022 in Luling, Texas.

Catholic priests and bishops perpetrate and tolerate astounding levels of sexual violence, and then deny their victims the right to prevent or end life-threatening pregnancies.

The all-male Catholic leadership’s long history of perpetuating sexual assault and reproductive coercion grows out of a toxic masculinity that devalues women’s lives, rights and dignity. Both are forms of intimate assault that deny the bodily autonomy of women in particular.

Given the Catholic Church’s history of clergy sexual abuse, and their callous disregard for the reproductive health and safety of women, why are priests and bishops considered to have any moral authority on issues of sexuality?

How is it that supposedly-celibate men, who know nothing about women’s bodies and who tolerate, cover up and excuse widespread sexual abuse in the church, have the right to speak about anything related to women’s sexuality? Is the unnatural suppression of their own sexuality perhaps fueling their frantic attempts to suppress the sexuality of others? Are their actions, at some level, due to a jealous rage that others are experiencing the natural sexual pleasure they deny themselves?

The essence of rape is taking control of another person’s body against their will. In the same way, compelling another person to carry a pregnancy to term is taking control of another person’s body against their will. Rape and reproductive coercion are two sides of one coin: misogynist violence. The emperor has no clothes. Why can’t people recognize this?

Complete Article HERE!