May 8, 2013

Who Will Hold the Bishops Accountable?

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

It turns out that the disgraced Cardinal Roger Mahony, who actively conspired to protect abusive priests from prosecution and then spent untold millions in an attempt to conceal that fact, also tried to scuttle the John Jay report.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, in a strongly worded letter to then-Bishop Wilton Gregory, at the time president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, complained at length about the forms that John Jay researchers produced. He described them as "designed by people who apparently have no understanding of the Roman Catholic Church, ecclesiastical culture, hierarchical structure, or the language of the Roman Catholic Church."

The previously unpublished letters that circulated among Mahony, Gregory, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, Justice Anne Burke and others provide a behind-the-scenes view of some of the tensions in the air the year after the U.S. bishops formulated their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People during their June 2002 meeting in Dallas. Public outrage had forced the bishops to take a dramatic step to deal with the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests and the cover-up of the abuse by scores of bishops across the United States.

The underlying reason, rather unsurprisingly, turns out to be concern that the data collected might be subject to legal discovery.

Mahony also expressed fear that the information being collected by John Jay researchers, though it went through an elaborate system to disguise the dioceses and keep accused perpetrators and victims anonymous, would be both leaked and subject to legal discovery.

Mahony gathered the unanimous support of the bishops in the California Catholic Conference, but was ultimately smacked down by Bishop Wilton Gregory of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Mahony's concerns were unwarranted. The John Jay study was a whitewash that blamed '60s counterculture for somehow causing priests to molest children. Far from being "designed to create a further media 'feeding frenzy,'" as Mahony feared, it repeatedly rebutted unspecified media reports for calling the priests pedophiles. It did so by misrepresenting sources and torturing statistics. The study was roundly criticized for taking the bishops' money and data and presenting a study that was "garbage in, garbage out," which was really one of the kinder things you could say about scholarship so terrible.

It's entirely possible that Bishop Gregory and the bishops he represented wanted to obtain an impartial review, yet somehow, they ended up with what was transparently advocacy research. And Bishop Mahony is not the only cleric to balk at research that looked like it might be a little too independent. A criminologist was fired by the German bishops who'd retained him so they could look for a new "partner" -- one who didn't have so many notions about reaching conclusions not sanctioned by the Church.

So just who will hold Church officials to account? Cardinal Mahony, after being relieved of his duties in the Los Angeles Diocese, hopped a plane to Rome to help elect a new pope. Many Catholics were outraged but the Vatican showed little concern over the impropriety.

Even the criminal justice system is showing, at best, mixed results. The landmark prosecution of Msgr. William Lynn in Philadelphia appears to be falling apart. Key witness, Billy Doe, has proved to be unreliable and apparently gave contradictory testimony. The priest convicted of molesting him may have given a false confession. The conviction is very vulnerable to appeal. This is despite the fact that it is inarguable that the diocese had a lenghty, documented record of protecting abusers. But the clearly prosecutable crime for which one of the key actors was convicted may never have occurred.

Two Philadelphia cardinals in succession, John Krol (head of the archdiocese from 1961 to 1988) and Anthony Bevilacqua (1988-2003), for decades knowingly protected priests who had sexually abused children, sometimes savagely, hiding their actions from civil authorities and from the Catholic community they were supposed to serve.

We are certain of those assertions because a grand jury in Philadelphia managed to subpoena thousands of pages of documentation and to accumulate hundreds of hours of testimony before issuing, in 2005, a stunning report detailing years of sexual abuse of children by priests and cover-up of the abuse by cardinal archbishops.

. . .

The Philadelphia archdiocese was one of the worst examples of high clericalism in the United States and of what the clerical/hierarchical culture could breed in its single-minded determination to hide the crimes of sex abuse and protect itself. In the end, it did neither.

Like many others, we felt that a bit of justice had been done when a jury reached a guilty verdict in the case of Lynn and the court sentenced him to jail. Certainly, the other overseers of the cover-up -- the cardinals and other officials -- escaped prosecution, but Lynn stood as an example to others that determined prosecutors could find ways to reach into the hierarchical ranks and force accountability even as church authorities refused to do so.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a smoldering fire exploded last week when it was discovered that a known child molester has been assisting with youth events. The Archdiocese of Newark had already raised the ire of lay Catholics and victim's groups when it appointed Rev. Michael Fugee as co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests.

Fugee was convicted in 2003 for two separate incidents of groping a 14 year old boy. The conviction was overturned on appeal due to improper instructions that allowed jurors to consider his confession of homosexual feelings. Prosecutors and Fugee reached a deal at that time to avoid retrial with a binding agreement that would keep him away from anyone under the age of 18. Many felt that a known child abuser did not belong in a high profile position, let alone one that put him in charge of education. But further reporting turned up greater offenses that have led to massive fall-out and multiple resignations over the past week.

[Fugee] has attended weekend youth retreats in Marlboro and on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington, parishioners say. Fugee also has traveled with members of the St. Mary’s youth group on an annual pilgrimage to Canada. At all three locations, he has heard confessions from minors behind closed doors.

What’s more, he has done so with the approval of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.

In response to the furor, Fugee resigned from active ministry and given up his post at the Office of Continuing Education. Further resignations were submitted by Pastor Thomas Triggs and two lay ministers, Amy and Mike Lenehan, have also resigned from St. Mary's in Colts Neck, NJ, Diocese of Trenton. All three claim they were in the dark as to the restrictions Fugee was supposed to operating under. The Lenehans were personal friends of Fugee.

It seems likely that Fugee was misleading people about the scope of his legal history and the binding agreement that was supposed to keep him away from underage youth. And it looks like the Bergen County prosecutor will be investigating the violation. But what about the Church officials that should have been monitoring Fugee? They're taking no responsibility. And they can't get their story straight.

“The person who caused all this upset is Archbishop Myers, and he’s still in office,” Bambrick said. “It seems like the archbishop needs to take responsibility for his own actions, as everyone else has in this crisis.”

Myers has declined to directly comment on the issue. His spokesman, James Goodness, initially defended Fugee’s interactions with children, saying they did not violate the memorandum of understanding Fugee signed with prosecutors because the priest was always under the supervision of other clergymen or lay ministers.

Goodness later took a different stance, acknowledging that Fugee violated the court-sanctioned agreement and saying the priest had acted without the knowledge of the archdiocese. Fugee concurred with those statements in his letter seeking leave, stating it was “my fault alone.”

They have also, more than once, insisted that Fugee was acquitted, which is patently false. He was convicted. It was overturned on a technicality and without prejudice. Prosecutors reached this deal to avoid the costs of a new trial. Yet Myers's spokesperson further insists that the Church hierarchy is in agreement that Fugee was cleared and there was no sexual abuse.

Goodness reiterated the acquittal stance in an April 29 email response to Fr. Jim Connell of the Milwaukee archdiocese, a canon lawyer and abuse victims’ advocate. A day after reading The Star-Ledger report, Connell wrote to Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, seeking clarity in the matter.

The email, also sent to Myers, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the U.S. bishops’ conference, and several media outlets, posed three questions: Did the memorandum and Fugee’s confession warrant enough evidence for the congregation to review the case? Did Myers report the case to them, as well as all pertinent documents, including the memorandum and Fugee’s 2001 deposition that included his confession to the abuse? And, if not, will Myers face a church penal process?

Responding on behalf of Myers, Goodness said the archbishop, after an investigation by the Archdiocesan Review Board, sent all information to the congregation, including all court documents and interviews and other materials gathered by the review board.

“The Congregation subsequently, after a complete review of the materials, concurred that there was no sexual abuse and that Fr. Fugee could return to ministry,” Goodness said in his reply to Connell.

It calls into question the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in curtailing clerical offenders, if Church officials are just going to dismiss legal findings and agreements designed to prevent sex offenders from re-offending.

For decades bishops actively protected sex offenders from prosecution and the Vatican apparently supported that stance. We've made great strides, at least in this country, in requiring bishops to comply with reporting laws. But if bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and other officials, face no serious consequences for these abject failures of leadership, can we really trust the process? It looks none to promising. If Myers is penalized, maybe I'll feel differently, but I'm not holding my breath.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Opinions and ideas expressed in the comments on this page
belong the people who stated them. Management takes no
editorial responsibility for the content of public comments.