Monday, July 18, 2011

A Report on the Cloyne Report: Tommorow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow--Ongoing Cover-Up in the Catholic Church

I have now read the Cloyne report.  At one level, I feel ambivalence in writing about it.  The ambivalence stems from the strong sense of déja vu anyone who has followed the abuse crisis for some years now will undoubtedly feel in reading the report.  The same elements—seemingly perennial and intractable ones that appear in each new breaking story about the ongoing abuse crisis in the Catholic church and its cover-up—are there.  This is Philadelphia is Kansas City is Boston is Belgium is Munich, etc., ad nauseam.

Hence my ambivalence about telling the story again, mustering moral outrage all over again: nothing seems to be happening to change the situation.  Nothing substantial is happening.  And lay Catholics continue putting up with the situation, shrugging their shoulders and carrying on, even, in many cases, defending the leaders of the church and accusing anyone who calls for continued scrutiny of the situation of attacking the church and seeking to tear it apart.

People tire of hearing stories of this sort over and over, when those with the power to make the stories stop happening seem either oblivious or unconcerned.  People tire of mustering moral outrage all over again.  People begin to suffer compassion fatigue, particularly when those with the power to make a difference—and that power lies exclusively in the hands of lay Catholics, when the hierarchal leaders of the church are determined to do nothing but lie, obfuscate, and protect their own power—appear either too stupid or too vicious to lift a finger and do something to change the situation producing the repeated expressions of moral outrage.

Yet, as the Cloyne report frequently reminds readers, at the heart of each of these breaking new stories about the ongoing cover-up, there are real human lives—the lives of children exposed to harm by the reckless and callous indifference of Catholic pastoral officials who put the church’s image, power, and assets above anything else in their response to the abuse crisis.  Above even the protection of innocent children . . . .

And how can one remain indifferent about that fact?  How can one not speak out when the vulnerable are being subjected to harm, and one’s voice might still make a difference somewhere, in someone’s life?

What I’ve decided to do in response to the Cloyne report is the following: I want first to describe briefly the situation to which the report is responding—the seemingly perennial and intractable situation in the ongoing abuse crisis in the Catholic church.  Anyone familiar with that situation will see in this report about an Irish diocese the same elements that have characterized the response of church officials to the abuse crisis everywhere in the world, over and over again, to the extent that we ever learn what is really going on behind the scenes.

As many of those commenting on the Cloyne report are rightly noting, this is Philadelphia all over again.  And it is beyond disgusting to those of us who have called for, worked for, hoped for substantive change for some years now to see the cover-up, the evasions, the lies still going on, and children still exposed to harm by church officials who claim that they have tightened the reins and are addressing the situations that place children in harm’s way.

Second, I want to excerpt sections of the report to illustrate the points I’m making in this description of the Cloyne situation.  My goal with these excerpts will be to provide anyone who might want a CliffNotes version of the report with a manageable set of excerpts that will summarize the primary findings of the report.

The Cloyne Report: A Brief Overview

The report itself contains a valuable summary of its chief findings in sections 1.74 through 1.76.  This summary reads as follows:

The principal feature of this report can be simply expressed. The Diocese of Cloyne ostensibly accepted the Framework Document and promised to implement it. It did not do so. On the contrary, Bishop Magee appears to have taken little real interest in its implementation for 12 years. He allowed the authority of the diocese in this regard to be exercised for that period by others, in particular Monsignor O’Callaghan . . . (1.74).

He [Msgr. O'Callaghan] refused to accept the Framework Document as a proper ecclesiastical policy. He preferred a ‘pastoral approach’ and felt that the relatively rigid procedures of the Framework Document interfered with this approach. He did not appear to accept that the Framework Document expressed the standard that the Irish Church had set for itself in relation to child sexual abuse. He frustrated its implementation and was primarily responsible for the limited and incomplete compliance with it described in the report (1.75).

Those who thought like Monsignor O’Callaghan had their positions greatly strengthened by the Vatican’s reaction to the Framework Document. This response, discussed in Chapter 4, can only be described as unsupportive especially in relation to reporting to the civil authorities. The effect was to strengthen the position of those who dissented from the official stated Irish Church policy (1.76).

And so these findings lead the judicial commission charged by the Irish government with reviewing the situation in the Cloyne diocese in March 2009 to the following conclusion:

It seems to the Commission that continuing external scrutiny is required to ensure that the improvements which the diocese has made and continues to make will remain in place (1.78).

In other words, the Catholic church cannot be counted on to police itself in the abuse crisis.  Its leaders will, over and over again, lie, stonewall, obfuscate, spin excuses, engage in meaningless p-r gestures, and continue all the while to expose innocent minors to harm.  Left to their own devices, they have proven that they will do this and that they intend to keep doing this, as long as they are permitted to do so. 

And so “continuing external scrutiny” by legal, judicial, and criminal authorities is required to resolve the abuse crisis in the Catholic church.  We cannot count on the leaders of the Catholic church to resolve the crisis.

The Framework Document to which the preceding summary of the main findings of the Cloyne Report points is the document Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response, issued by the Irish bishops in 1996.  As the report notes,

The Commission’s main task was to consider whether the response of the Church and State authorities to complaints and allegations of clerical child sexual abuse was “adequate or appropriate” and to establish the response to suspicions and concerns about clerical child sexual abuse. In assessing how the diocesan and other Church authorities dealt with complaints, the Commission has judged them by the standards set in their own documents--the Framework Document and Our Children, Our Church. The Framework Document was issued in 1996. Our Children, Our Church was issued in 2005 (1.15).

The commission was charged, in other words, to investigate whether the Cloyne diocese was abiding by the procedures established by the Irish bishops in 1996 (and reinforced in 2005), and so the scope of its inquiry focused on the response of diocesan officials to sexual abuse of minors in the period 1996 to the present—i.e., to 2009, when the investigation did its work.  As the Cloyne report states, the 1996 Framework Document contained detailed, easy-to-implement procedures for handling allegations or suspicions of child clerical abuse, and early in 1996, Bishop Magee of the Cloyne diocese wrote to his clergy, telling them he had adopted those procedures and they would be in place in the diocese (1.16).

But then this is the situation that actually resulted when the Cloyne diocese “implemented” the Framework Document:

Despite Bishop Magee’s stated position on the implementation of the Framework Document, the reality is that the guidelines set out in that document were not fully or consistently implemented in the Diocese of Cloyne in the period 1996 to 2009. The primary responsibility for the failure to implement the agreed procedures lies with Bishop Magee. It is a remarkable Fact that Bishop Magee took little or no active interest in the management of clerical child sexual abuse cases until 2008, 12 years after the Framework Document was adopted. As a result of this vacuum, the diocese’s functions in the matter of clerical child sexual abuse were, by default, exercised by others.  The principal person involved was Monsignor O’Callaghan. He did not approve of the procedures set out in the Framework Document. In particular, he did not approve of the requirement to report to the civil authorities. He was totally familiar with the reporting requirements set out in the document and he implemented them in the Fr Corin case (see Chapter 10). He did not do so in many other cases (1.17).

To repeat: Bishop Magee informs his clergy (and the public) in 1996 that he has implemented the procedures mandated by the Irish bishops for handling allegations and suspicions of child clerical abuse, including notification of the police and child health services when credible allegations have been made.  He then hands over the actual details of the implementation process to Msgr. Denis O’Callaghan, who does not approve of the procedures of the Framework Document, and, in particular, of the requirement to report to civil authorities. 

And the Vatican is right in the thick of the problems, as the commission unsparingly notes over and over.  It is right at the heart of the resistance to reporting to secular authorities, of the obfuscation, of the smokescreen.  It is right at the heart of the attempt to undermine and evade the procedures the Irish bishops have set in place for resolving the abuse crisis. 

The Vatican is, to say the least, not part of the solution.  It is a big part of the problem.  As the commission notes,

The reaction of the Vatican to the Framework Document was entirely unhelpful to any bishop who wanted to implement the agreed procedures (see Chapter 4). The Congregation for the Clergy told the bishops of Ireland that the document was “not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document”. The Congregation further stated that it contained: “procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities. In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.

This effectively gave individual Irish bishops the freedom to ignore the procedures which they had agreed and gave comfort and support to those who, like Monsignor O’Callaghan, dissented from the stated official Irish Church policy (1.18).

And so here’s a summary, in a nutshell, of what the Cloyne investigation uncovered.  This is what makes many of those who have followed the abuse crisis in the Catholic church for some years now want to tear their hair out, because there is absolutely nothing new in this sorry, predictable picture.  And that means that nothing is being done by Catholic officials, effectively and with any proactive intent to address the situation, even today, after years of repeated broken promises, pretend-apologies and pretend-expressions of sorrow, assurances that effective procedures are in place and are being followed.  The Cloyne report suggests that, if Cloyne is any way typical, the following continues to go on in one Catholic diocese after another:

1.    The cover-up of cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy is still going on, and the evasion of established procedures for handling credible allegations of such abuse is still going on, while a smokescreen is in place to pretend otherwise to the public.

2.    Bishops, who have ultimate responsibility in each diocese, continue to evade their responsibility to address the abuse situation in their dioceses, and continue to hide behind those to whom they delegate the handling of abuse cases, who may actually thwart the very procedures bishops assure the public they are implementing.

3.    There is ongoing evasion of the requirements in both(selected) church documents and civil law to report abuse cases to the civil authorities.

4.    Advisory boards and lay panels set up per church documents to oversee diocesan handling of abuse cases are often a sham; they are dominated by clerics, who do not permit disagreement with their judgment about cases; boards often do not meet when scheduled, do not function effectively, do not keep proper notes, lack all independence, and are not given pertinent information by diocesan authorities.

5.    Catholic officials lie boldly to the public, and/or are grossly negligent in exercising pastoral responsibility, particularly when it comes to protecting minors from abuse.

6.    Important (and, presumably, damning) personnel files containing information about priests abusing minors are either kept secret or held off the premises of diocesan chanceries, and their contents are not shared with those trying to monitor or resolve the abuse situations within dioceses.

7.    The Vatican is undermining the efforts of those in some bishops’ conferences who seek to address the abuse situation honestly and proactively, is seeking to divide bishops’ conferences, and is working secretly behind the scenes to thwart reporting of abuse cases to civil authorities.

8.    The predominant concern of most Catholic pastoral leaders in the abuse crisis remains to “protect” and behave “pastorally” towards priests accused of abusing children; there is little to no concern about children sexually abused by clerics.

9.    The handling of abuse cases remains highly centralized at the top level of dioceses, whose leaders jealously guard information and their own power, refuse to rely on support of people outside the chancery (above all, of the laity), and resist outside scrutiny of their handling of abuse cases.

10.    When this way of handling abuse cases leads to moments of crisis as new stories about abuse break open in a particular area, diocesan officials predictably bring in outside “consultants” (who are paid for their work and lack independence) to issue window-dressing p-r reports; these consultants are not given full information and their recommendations are ignored by diocesan officials and not shared widely, when those recommendations are inconvenient for bishops to follow.

11.    The system of “audits” is a shell game, since the audits conducted in various dioceses to assure that dioceses are adhering to procedures established by bishops’ conferences are nothing at all like the independent audits of any other corporation, which have access to all information under audit, no matter how sensitive.

The Catholic church is, in short, seriously broken.  And it remains seriously broken.  It’s not fixing itself—not even when the lives of innocent children are at stake.  The Cloyne report concludes that it will not fix itself.  And so the only possible fix to the morality-driven institutional brokenness exhibited by the abuse crisis and its cover-up is intervention of secular laws, secular supervisory agencies, and the criminal justice system.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue this reporting on the Cloyne report, by offering more excerpts showing how each dramatis persona in this sorry morality tale has distinguished himself (not!) in helping to craft the tale told by an idiot summarized above.

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