Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Catholic Whistleblowers Group Forms: "From the Convictions of Our Conscience"

This is very important news: as Laurie Goodstein reports at New York Times yesterday and as Michael D'Antonio writes for Huffington Post, a group of twelve Catholic nuns and priests has organized to monitor and blow the whistle on cover-up of sexual abuse cases by the Catholic hierarchy. The group calls itself Catholic Whistleblowers, and has set up a website with a link that provides information about how you can support this valuable initiative.

The group has written a letter to Pope Francis (a copy is linked at the group's website), noting that its members are speaking and acting from the convictions of their consciences, and asking him to revoke the oaths of secrecy on which bishops rely to justify their cover-ups, open files on abuse cases, remove from office bishops who have flaunted justice in abuse cases, and set up an international forum for dialogue between survivors and church leaders.

As Goodstein notes for New York Times, these courageous Catholic leaders think a group of this sort is necessary because it continues to be demonstrated that some bishops in the U.S. ignore their own stated no-tolerance policy, while the annual audits of dioceses, which are based on self-reporting, keep providing clean bills of health to dioceses later found to have ignored the zero-tolerance policy by putting priests known to pose a danger to minors in direct contact with minors. 

The case of Father Fugee in the Newark diocese illustrates fully the need for monitoring that goes beyond the self-monitoring of dioceses or diocesan review boards. The Newark diocese has boasted publicly about its good audits, and as Mark Mueller noted recently in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, the diocese's review board, whose membership is not even made known to the public, reviewed the Fugee case in 2007 and concluded he had not sexually abused minors and was fit for ministry--though the board had access to a police confession of abuse Fugee himself had signed, and to an agreement he had signed with law enforcement pledging not to work with minors.

As Brian Roewe notes for NCR, Fugee was arrested Monday and charged with seven counts of a judicial order.

Clearly, the Catholic Whistleblowers group is sorely needed, since, if members of the Catholic hierarchy from the highest levels have proven anything to the rest of us in the Catholic church in these years of crisis due to revelations about clerical abuse of minors, it is that they are unwilling to monitor themselves and incapable of doing so with any honesty and transparency. As Michael D'Antonio notes, the courage of the whiste-blowing group is to be commended highly:

Noteworthy because they are acting together, and in public, the new whistleblowers represent a larger number of Catholic priests, nuns and even bishops who have challenged the official church response to abuse survivors, often at much personal risk. 

The group Bishop Accountability, which has played an extremely important role in shining the spotlight on the cover-up and tracking abuse cases worldwide, is supporting the whistle-blowers' initiative and has set up a database to provide information on U.S. clerics and nuns who have blown the whistle on alleged sexual abuse of children and its cover-up. Catholic Whistleblowers and Bishop Accountability will hold a press conference at 1 P.M. today at Cardozo Law School in New York City to launch the Bishop Accountability database and make public the goals of Catholic Whistleblowers. 

According to the press release Bishop Accountability has sent out about today's events, the groups will also urge three immediate actions:

1. They will call on Cardinal Dolan to use his powerful voice, and his influence as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops,  to press the Vatican to remove Archbishop Myers because of his handling of the Father Michael Fugee case.  Convicted of child molestation in 2003, Fugee was able until recently to have continued access to children, in violation of an agreement with prosecutors. (Father Fugee was indicted and jailed Tuesday for breaking his agreement. 
2. They will appeal to US bishops – and legislators – to remove all statutes of limitations on child sex crimes
3. They will urge all US bishops to create protection policies for all priests, nuns, and other church employees who report child sexual abuse or cover-up to civil authorities.

As Peter Iseley notes for SNAP Wisconsin, "[I]f clergy and other Catholic leaders finally come forward on this crisis, speak out, demand justice, then the longed for day may come when survivors will no longer need to." To which I say a hearty amen.

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