As a new work week begins, more outstanding commentary from Jerry Slevin about the challenges that the Philadelphia archdiocesan trial poses to the Catholic hierarchy, and lessons the U.S. bishops might take away from that trial, as they convene in Atlanta this week for their semi-annual meeting. As always, Jerry speaks out of years of experience as a highly effective and well-trained Harvard-educated attorney. The following is Jerry's text:
BACKGROUND ON CHALLENGES
2002---Shocking Boston Revelations:
Ten years ago, the Boston Globe shocked millions of American Catholics. Its investigation revealed widespread sexual abuse over decades of numerous defenseless Boston children by many predatory priests. The Globe found that known rapist priests often had been protected and reassigned by Cardinal Law. The Cardinal then fled to the welcoming comfort of a Vatican villa, shielded from prosecution by purported Vatican immunity.
An outraged American public pressured U.S. Bishops in 2002 to accept a voluntary child protection program, including a Charter for the Protection of Children (Charter). The Charter was adopted, after changes resulting from Vatican pressure to water it down, by the overall national organization, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (the "USCCB" or the "U.S. Bishops") for implementation by individual bishops as they saw fit. The Charter, however, continued to leave the critical management of predatory priests, and the essential reporting of child sex abuse abuse claims involving priests, up to the unaccountable discretion of individual bishops mainly.
This week, the U.S. Bishops will, under likely close papal oversight, review in Atlanta at their semi-annual meeting the Charter's effectiveness over the past decade. The U.S. Bishops are expected to adopt changes in light of the Charter's ten-year very mixed record, including in Philadelphia.
2012---Shocking Philly Revelations:
Local Philly prosecutors recently have also shocked millions of American Catholics, thanks in part to the determined reporting mainly of the Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times and Associated Press. In the landmark criminal trial of a top official of the Philly Archdiocese (Philly AD) that just ended after three months, prosecutors have clearly shown, including by multiple direct admissions under oath by this official, that numerous predatory priests had been extensively protected by Philly Cardinals for decades until as late as last year, if not still continuing. This unchallenged showing remains valid regardless of the outcome of any complicated legal charges of conspiracy and child endangerment under Pennsyvania law made against this official, Monsignor Lynn.
Almost two dozen suspected Philly priests suspended over 15 months ago still currently remain under investigation by the Philly AD. These suspected priests remain generally unsupervised. At least one Philly priest is currently awaiting criminal trial for sexually abusing a ten year old altar boy several times.
The inevitable conclusion to be drawn from the Philly trial revelations is that the 2002 Charter of the U.S. Bishops has failed in major ways. The Philly trial disclosures have clearly indicated that the USCCB's Charter has often been used to protect complicit bishops and predatory priests at the expense of defenseless child abuse victims.
The three Philly Cardinals, Rigali, Bevilacqua and Krol, implicated in the trial, had held past leadership roles in five different US dioceses: Philly, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Brooklyn, NY. These Cardinals had also held major positions with important committees of U.S. Bishops and the Vatican Curia, and had close ties to, and frequent contacts with, the current pope and his immediate predecessor, John Paul II.
These three influential U.S. Cardinals' management practices for overseeing predatory priests, as revealed at the trial, are clearly indicative of standard operating procedures of all Catholic bishops, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Consequently, key Philly trial disclosures need to be carefully assessed this week by the U.S. Bishops in Atlanta, if the U.S. Bishops are really serious about curtailing predatory priests' sexual abuse of American children. According to the report recently of the Vatican's own expert at a Vatican conference, there have been over 100,000 American children abused by predatory priests without a single bishop having been criminally tried fully for endangering children. This number exceeds the combined total American casualties from the Iraq and Afganistan wars.
The Philly trial disclosures are unprecedented in scope and depth for any US diocese. The trial record exceeds by far in thoroughness and reliability any prior U.S. investigation, including the recent John Jay reports that had been paid for either by the U.S. Bishops or by large donors sympathetic to the U.S. Bishops. The John Jay reports also focused mainly on priests, not bishops.
Moreover, the John Jay reports primarily relied on abuse-related data voluntarily offered by bishops. The Philly prosecutor, by contrast, obtained his trial data often under threat of compulsory subpoena and pain of criminal punishment for any failure to produce full and complete records or to respond fully and honestly to questions.
If the U.S. Bishops fail this week to endeavor sincerely to draw the key lessons from the Philly trial disclosures, the U.S. Bishops will retain even less credibility with most American Catholics than the little they have today. Also, the U.S. Bishops' repeated claim that they are serious about curtailing the sexual abuse of children by predatory priests will be undermined, perhaps permanently, if the key Philly disclosures are not addressed fairly and fully.
Of course, both state and Federal legislators and prosecutors will be carefully observing whether the U.S. Bishops are now interested in adopting in Atlanta real reforms or just seeking more cosmetic cover-ups.
The Philly AD has recently spent over $10 million so far in legal expenses related to defending against Philly abuse claims and related criminal proceedings. Archbishop Chaput and his staff should have the needed data readily available and will surely be able to talk with, and respond to, questions from the U.S. Bishops this week about the key lessons he and Cardinal Rigali have learned from the Philly trial. The Philly scandal has reputationally damaged all American bishops , and put them at greater risk of being criminally prosecuted and/or of overseeing a bankrupt diocese. They can and should get some real answers from all involved, including Cardinal Rigali and Bishops Cullen and Cistone, as well as from Archbishop Chaput.
While they are at it, the U.S. Bishops in Atlanta should also ask their USCCB Treasurer, Bishop Bransfield, to fully explain the unseemly matters relating to his contacts with disgraced and defrocked former Philly priest Stanley Gana, that arose several times in sworn testimony during the Philly trial.
KEY DISCLOSURES FROM THE PHILLY TRIAL
What basically does the new Philly evidence, that is based on sworn testimony from dozens of witnesses, including abuse survivors, a bishop and a few monsignors, and thousands of documents from the secret archives of the Philly AD, tell the U.S. Bishops about the 2002 Charter's fundamental flaws, and about where major changes are necessary?
Some of the key trial disclosures include the following:
(1) Priest Shortage Crisis: Philly bishops, including three Cardinals, have for some time been under tremendous pressure to meet staffing needs with available priests from the rapidly diminishing Philly priest supply. In Philly, over the last two decades, the number of priests have declined by almost one-third and the average age of those remaining is currently approaching 60 years old. Priest vocations, after adjusting for heavily recruited foreign priests mainly from Asia and Africa, continue to decline indicating that recent priest staffing pressures will likely accelerate.
(2) Retention of Predatory Priests: Philly bishops are part of the same rigid clerical caste as their brother priests. Some bishops also appear to have some of the same major moral weaknesses as some priests, which creates management conflicts for some bishops. Given the possibility of bishop blackmail and bishops' predictable sympathy for brother priests, reinforced by the pressures from escalating priest staffing shortages, Philly Cardinals and bishops have been shown at the trial to have performed very badly in addressing the problem of predatory priests. The Philly trial disclosures include numerous cases of priests who clearly abused children, but were still protected and reassigned to unsuspecting parishes and thereby enabled to abuse more children. This involved at a minimum many hundreds of children abused by several dozens of priests. At times almost one-third of Philly priests had "problem" files in the Philly AD's secret archives. Absent public or law enforcement pressure, Cardinals seemed quite disposed to solve their priest shortage crisis by repeatedly giving predatory priests "just one more chance" to the detriment of children's safety.
(3) False Statements and Potential Evidence Destruction and/or Suppression: Clear evidence of lying by senior officials, including a Cardinal and bishops, to victims and their relatives and lawyers, as well as to law enforcement persons, was presented at trial. Also, clear and serious cases of destruction and suppression of potentially criminal evidence was also clearly presented at the trial. Also, potential clerical whistleblowers who tried to resist the cover-up were intimidated severely as is clear from trial evidence.
(4) Misleading Review Boards: The Philly AD's pliable and conflicted Review Board was frequently not informed or misinformed by Philly AD officials about many predatory priests.
(5) Mistreatment of Survivors of Priest Abuse: Numerous examples of intimidation and verbal abuse by Philly AD officials and Philly AD lawyers of victims of priest sexual abuse and their families were clearly presented at trial.
(6) Reckless Discharge of Predatory Priests: Once priests were terminated by the Philly AD generally only after clear and repeated misconduct, they were released by the Philly AD to the general population usually with little notice to their new communities or any focused Philly AD effort to keep track of the discharged predators.
(7) Misinformation To Reform Legislators: No efforts have apparently been made to inform honestly legislators considering revisions to related laws, such as extending or waiving the civil statute of limitations, about how abuse victims had been critically delayed as a result of lying, duplicity and/or the destruction and/or suppression of critical evidence by Philly AD officials.
KEY LESSONS FOR U.S. BISHOPS FROM THE PHILLY TRIAL
Of the many lessons to be drawn from the Philly trial, key lessons include:
(1) Need to expand the potential priest candidate pool: U.S. Bishops will continue to be under increasing pressure to retain predatory priests so long as the priest shortage crisis continues to escalate. The U.S. shortage cannot be solved by importing more foreign priests, ordaining more male deacons, poaching married Episcopal priests or touting secretive foreign groups like Opus Dei and Legionnaires. These have all been tried extensively with inadequate, diminishing and at times counter-productive results. Bishops must push the Vatican to permit married and female priests. Informed and honest bishops know that theological and historical evidence support this approach as completely licit. Of course, they see what the pope has done to two Australian Bishops, Powers and Morris, who dared to raise these issues. But they can also see how Bishop Finn, Monsgnor Lynn and others are treated when the rule of law catches up to them for accepting predatory priests. Whether Obama or Romney gets elected in November, the U.S. Bishops will face increased prosecution risk after the November elections. Both are Harvard Law-trained exemplary fathers. As a Harvard Law-trained lawyer and father myself, I am sure of that. They will not continue to avoid taking on the U.S. Bishops very much longer as public pressure continues to build in light of the Philly trial, the Finn trial, the Sandusky/Penn State trial, the International Criminal Court complaint against the pope and Cardinals Bertone, Levada and Sodano, and the many more criminal and civil cases that are very likely to follow.
(2) A mandatory Charter is needed for all US bishops, with mandatory independent audits. The Charter must require all bishops to report promptly to the police all reports of sexual abuses of minors by priests, whether or not local stat laws currently require such reporting.
(3) Survivors should be treated fairly and considerately at all times. The Gospels and natural justice require no less.
KEY LESSONS FOR US CATHOLICS FROM THE PHILLY TRIAL
Some key lessons for US Catholics from the Philly trial disclosures include:
(1) U.S. Bishops cannot be relied on to police themselves. Prosecutors, both state and Federal, must act more quickly, broadly and thoroughly to bring priests and bishops to justice. American voters must demand that their political leaders effect this promptly and diligently. The escalating priest staffing pressures will continue to compel bishops to retain potentially predatory priests and children still remain at great risk. Numerous relevant examples, including (a) the Philly trial disclosures, (b) the current Philly delays under Archbishop Chaput in addressing effectively and openly the cases of still over two dozen suspected priests suspended 15 months ago by Cardinal Rigali, and (c) Kansas City Bishop Finn's recent delay in reporting timely, and curtailing thereby, a priest child pornographer's continuing misdeeds with minors, show that American bishops' foot-dragging continues, while defenseless children remain at risk.
(2) New legislation, preferably at the national Federal level given the nationwide problem here, is needed (a) to require, under threat of serious penalties, all custodians of children, including bishops and priests, to report promptly to the police all reports of sexual abuse by priests of children, (b) to mandate that all organizations above a minimum size that regularly have access to children, including Catholic dioceses, maintain a specified child protection program that is audited annually and publicly by a truly independent auditing firm, and (c) to hold criminally accountable all organizations, including religious ones like the USCCB, that might collude with other organizations or enterprises, to foster, cover-up or tolerate child sex abuse, in effect, to adopt a form of "child abuse" RICO law.
(3) American Catholics must urge all media organizations, including TV networks, to report regularly and fully on the sexual abuse of children by priests, at least as much as is reported on much smaller cases such as that involving Coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State.
U.S. Bishops will face this week an important decision. Do they wait until the issue of priest abuse of children bankrupts their dioceses and possibly even incriminates them, or do they finally become pro-active and attuned to the Gospel's requirements? Can they for just a few days forget about limiting contraception health insurance, attacking American Sisters and their top theologians, maligning gay persons and denying them equality, and even about reforming the Girl Scouts? The American priest abuse scandal has been on the front burner for over a quarter century. Defenseless children and their families continue to suffer and new victims are still being created. Enough, U.S. Bishops!
American Cardinals at the Vatican, including Levada, Law, Burke and Stafford, are financially secure, advanced in years (except Burke) and shielded from prosecution by Vatican sovereign immunity, as are the pope, Cardinals Bertone and Sodano and papal nuncio, Archbishop Vigano. Not all U.S. bishops are similarly situated, especially with respect to immunity from criminal prosecution. Moreover, a new pope will likely be here soon and he may think differently about the present pope's approach and those who followed it blindly. The newly imprisoned papal butler and the just dumped head of the Vatican Bank, Gotti Tedeschi, have shown us clearly how quickly one's fortunes can change in the Vatican, as amply documented by the Knights of Columbus head, Carl Anderson's brutal summation of the Vatican Bank's supervisory group's sudden ecclesiatical execution of Gotti. Anderson, of course, saw some his Reagan colleagues dumped and prosecuted, so he was an experienced hand here. His experience could presumably be applied suddenly to American Bishops as well, as Archbishop Chaput showed in helping to sack Australian Bishop Morris.
Please consider all of this carefully, while I continue to do what I can to see that the worldwide Catholic hierarchy are fully subjected to the rule of law, both criminal and civil. Neither presidents, popes nor bishops are above the law!
Please note that two of the leading U.S. experts on the American Catholic Church's problems with predatory priests have recently offered their own constructive, but at times pessimistic, "Ten Year Retrospectives" on the Catholic hierarchy's performance. Their views are available here and here.