Catholic Church Still Offers "Sanctuary for Perverts"?

Vol. 19 No. 3 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -  April 2002

The question no longer seems to be if Cardinal Bernard Law will resign for his role in the cover-up of pedophile priests in the Boston Archdiocese, but when.

Another timely question: How many bishops will be felled directly by being exposed as pedophiles themselves? A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and author of Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, predicts future scandals will involve eight or ten bishops or other high church officials, according to the West Palm Beach Post. Sipe, who conducted a 25-year study of sexual misconduct within the church, maintains that in 1990, he had "validation of 16 bishops in the country who had been abusers."

The most shocking fallout of the Boston scandal to date has been the resignation of Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla. Appointed to replace a bishop removed for pedophilia, O'Connell admitted he had abused a teenager 27 years ago at a Missouri seminary. A $125,000 settlement by the Diocese of Jefferson City in 1996 allowed O'Connell to guard his secret and become bishop.

Even more pressing: When will a prosecutor finally criminally indict a bishop for covering up these crimes?

Sixteen years ago, a confidential report to the Catholic Conference of Bishops predicted the church would pay out a billion dollars within a decade to victims of priest abuse. The authors warned the Catholic Church would be perceived as providing "sanctuary for perverts" if immediate reforms weren't adopted.

Associated Press in March estimated the range of mostly confidential payouts to victims is from $300 million to the prophesied $1 billion. The Palm Beach Post placed the total cost to the Catholic Church at $600 million to $1.3 billion.

The New York Times, quoting attorneys for victims, reported that in the past two decades, dioceses have reached more than 1,000 settlements in priest sex abuse cases, many of them sealed.

The revelation that the Boston archdiocese--and four other church officials besides Law who are now bishops--directly covered up for molesting priests for 20 or 30 years has set off aftershocks in diocese after diocese.

The Boston Globe's legal fight to unseal records over recently defrocked priest John J. Geoghan resulted in the release of 10,000 pages of damning documents in January. The archdiocese subsequently was forced to admit it has known about more than 80 priest-molesters. (The Boston Archdiocese revealed in March, in the midst of a $300 million fundraising campaign, that its insurance policies won't cover an estimated $100 million in settlements over priests accused of sexually abusing children.)

A few other dioceses followed Boston's example, such as the Diocese of Manchester, NH, giving prosecutors the names of 14 priests, and Philadelphia firing "fewer than 10" priests.

The Boston Globe reported on Feb. 25 that the largest dioceses "continue to allow priests who have abused children to return to parish work and keep accusations of clergy misconduct secret from police."

The diocese in Portland, Me., initially took no stand against two parish priests who are admitted molesters. Portland's new policy, according to the Globe, permits a priest who has molested a "single minor" multiple times to stay on the job, but not a priest who molests more than one minor once!

The Archdiocese of New York, publicly exposed by a New York Times columnist for its policy to keep such scandals in-house, announced in March that for the first time it would report new incidents of child sexual abuse directly to law enforcement authorities, if victims agree. The diocese ruled out reporting old cases.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, on Long Island, NY, completed a review of 300 clergy files, but will not release the names or number of priests with allegations against them, claiming no one currently working in the diocese has been "credibly" accused. Long Island's bishop was named as a defendant in lawsuits by Geoghan victims. So was Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, newly under fire for ignoring three nuns who came forward in 1996 to report three priests sexually abusing boys, as well as allegations by a priest in New Jersey who told the bishop in 1998 that he was abused as a youngster by another priest.

"There have been 1,800 priests named in civil and criminal proceedings over the last 15 years, and there are 47,000 priests in the U.S. That approaches 4 percent, and that is a staggering number," says Catholic reporter Jason Berry, author of Lead Us Not into Temptation.

The pope included a one-paragraph apology to victims of clergy for "great suffering and spiritual" harm in a 120-page missive to Catholics in Oceania late last year. In January, it was learned the Vatican had issued secret rules ordering that accused priests must be tried in secret church courts overseen from Rome, without advising whether civil authorities should be informed if a priest is found guilty. The Vatican imposed a 10-year statute of limitations beginning on the victim's 18th birthday.

The Vatican sparked renewed anger when spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, in response to New England sex abuse scandals, deflected blame from the church by equating homosexuality with pedophilia, and declaring gay men should not be ordained as priests, despite estimates that as many as half of priests are gay.

Wrote New York Times columnist Bill Keller ("Let Us Prey," March 9, 2002): "Every detail of this sordid story has had to be dragged from the reluctant archdiocese, mostly by the dogged investigative reporting of The Boston Globe."

"American Catholicism may not be a democracy, but it lives in one," added Keller. "And while the separation of church and state is a precious freedom, the First Amendment was never intended to provide sanctuary for criminals."--Annie Laurie Gaylor

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