Thursday, January 31, 2013

International Spotlight on Abuse in Catholic Church: More on Philadelphia, HBO Documentary about Wisconsin, Jerry Slevin's Petition to President Obama

Important news in the ongoing (and now international) battle to hold the leaders of the Catholic church accountable for covering up child sexual abuse by priests: yesterday, a jury in Philadelphia found Father Charles Engelhardt and Bernard Shero guilty on multiple charges in a case involving the sexual assault of a 10-year-old altar boy.  Joseph A. Slobdozian summarizes the story at the website (and see also Jon Hurdle at the New York Times). The victim, "Billy Doe," reports that he was serially raped by Engelhardt, his parish priest, and Shero, principal of his Catholic school, when he was in fifth and sixth grade.

As Brian Roewe writes for National Catholic Reporter, a former priest, Edward Avery, was also accused of raping "Billy Doe," and pled guilty, but has now denied that he knew the victim. Roewe states,

The 2011 investigation [which issued in a grand jury report conducted by the Philadelphia district attorney's office] revealed the story of "Billy Doe," the now-24-year-old man who accused Engelhardt, Shero and Avery of serially raping and abusing him. The report presents a picture where the three men passed Billy among one another. The young man, who has battled a drug addiction since his teens, took the stand for several hours during the trial. 

Just as this news breaks from Philadelphia, Alex Gibney's hard-hitting documentary on the story of Father Lawrence Murphy and his abuse of boys at St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin is preparing to premier on HBO.* The documentary, "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God," will air next Monday, 4 February, on HBO at 9 P.M. ET (for a trailer of the documentary, see this subsequent posting). A press release I received yesterday about the documentary notes its significance as an exposé showing that the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse cases reaches the very highest levels of the Catholic church:

From the row houses of Milwaukee through the bare ruined choirs of Ireland’s churches, all the way to the highest office of the Vatican, it was an international and systematic conspiracy to silence victims of sexual abuse.

And as the press release adds,

In addition to the Murphy case, MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD spotlights similar sex abuse cases in Ireland and Italy, and highlights the horrific actions of Marcial Maciel Degollado, a prominent church fundraiser and ruthless sex criminal beloved by Pope John Paul II. The film also reveals that in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger – now His Holiness, Benedict the 16th – ordered that every sex abuse case involving a minor come through his desk, essentially establishing him as the most knowledgeable person in the world regarding priestly sexual abuse of minors.

In my view, we now stand in a new moment vis-a-vis the international cover-up of clerical sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church. In Australia, the government is now actively inquiring about this cover-up, and intends to act to address the problems it's uncovering through its inquiry. Legal and court actions have forced disclosure of more documents from the Los Angeles archdiocese, and this disclosure is resulting in heightened media scrutiny of a story that has become altogether too sickeningly familiar to many Catholics--a sickeningly familiar story of lies, secrets, and silence involving the top leader of the Los Angeles archdiocese, Cardinal Mahony, and pointing to corruption at the very heart of the Catholic church, in its highest leadership structures.

As Jerry Slevin continues to insist, now is the moment for American Catholics who want to see a resolution to the abuse crisis within our own church to act, as international attention is increasingly drawn to the international dimensions of this crisis. In a posting currently running at his Christian Catholicism website, Jerry announces that he has created another petition calling on President Obama to undertake a national investigation of child sexual abuse by religious leaders.

This petition is at the website. I urge readers of Bilgrimage to give very serious consideration to adding your names to the petition. Now is the moment for us to act, as one door after another opens to address this international crisis at an international level. We are the ones we've been waiting for to address this problem in our church.

*It is important to note that the current president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, was previously archbishop of Milwaukee, the archdiocese in which this abuse occurred. On Cardinal Dolan's own first-hand involvement in payoffs to priests abusing minors, see the following previous Bilgrimage postings:

"People of the Lie: When Church Leaders Lie, and Laity Defend Them . . ."

"Recent News about Dolan Affair: Glaring Double Standard in Treatment of Pedophile Priests and Whistle-Blower Priests"

"Bob Hoatson, 'Cardinal Dolan: Where are My Twenty Thousand Dollars?'"

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