Protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church
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Freethought Today

Vol. 19 No. 4 - Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. -
May 2002

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Newsnotes

Wisconsin: Victims Without Recourse

"The legal climate in Wisconsin right now is the most hostile to the protection of the rights of victims of sexual abuse by clergy in the USA," says attorney Jeffrey Anderson, of St. Paul, Minn., an expert in civil lawsuits for clergy abuse.

That unenviable status is the result of a 1995 decision by the state Supreme Court, then and now dominated by Roman Catholic judges. Although hundreds of plaintiffs against churches for sexual abuse surfaced in the early 1990s, they have all but vanished.

In a 4-2 ruling in Pritzlaff v. Archdiocese of Milwaukee, June 27, 1995, the Supreme Court ruled against the right of a woman to sue the archdiocese over a marriage-wrecking relationship with a priest.

In the sweeping decision, the state Supreme Court said the First Amendment prohibited it from taking a case ruling on whether the Catholic Church or any other religious denomination had improperly hired, supervised or trained its professional workers.

The decision killed a lawsuit brought by "Susan Smith," alleging she was raped by Father William Effinger at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Kenosha when she was 8 or 9 years old. The church pursued a judgment against her, assessing her $10,199.39 for the church's legal costs. Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 2002; April 17, 2002

Milwaukee Journal Killed Stories

While news media deserve credit for breaking stories on the cover-up of ministers preying on minors, in the mid-1990s, the Milwaukee Journal became part of the cover-up.

Freelance Milwaukee journalist Joel McNally reports that Bishop Rembert Weakland and an "entourage of church officials" met with editor Mary Jo Meisner demanding that she kill a reporter's investigative stories. The series would have detailed how the archdiocese had paid millions of dollars of hush money to silence victims of pedophile priests who were being moved from parish to parish. Meisner stood firm.

But, McNally reports, when Weakland went to "higher-ups" at the newspaper, he prevailed and the stories never ran.

When the Journal and Sentinel merged, McNally noted, the reporter was pulled off the religion beat and was "exiled to covering suburban village board meetings."

"Who knows how many children could have been spared" if the series had run, McNally wonders. Source: Capital Times [Madison, WI], April 6, 2002

Female Victims Overlooked

"Of the priests we've evaluated, more abuse girls than abuse boys," says Gary Schoener, a psychologist who, with his staff at the Minneapolis Walk-in Counseling Center, has counseled more than 2,000 victims of clergy since 1974.

Schoener says he sees six times more females (adolescent and adult) than male victims of priests. He estimates that 98% of all priest sex cases are settled out of court.

"The sexual abuse of a boy is treated far more seriously, and is considered a far worse offense than girls or women."

A.W. Richard Sipe, who has conducted studies and written books on the sex lives of priests, said he agrees with Schoener--a majority of priest victims are female, most of them adult.

"Everything's always about the altar boys. It's like nothing ever happened to the girls," says Terrie Light, West Coast regional director of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests).

Light was 8 when, looking for her mother in the rectory in the Oakland diocese, she was reportedly raped by a priest. Sources: Sacramento Bee, March 21, 2002; Salon, March 27, 2002

Wedded to the Right

President Bush, unveiling his welfare overhaul at a Catholic church in Washington, D.C., included a proposal to commit hundreds of millions of tax dollars for welfare to the promotion of marriage.

In addition to up to $135 million for "abstinence education," Bush wants to funnel $22 million in public money, approved by Congress for child support collection, to pro-marriage experiments in about 15 communities.

Bush and "fatherhood" czar Wade Horn, of the Administration for Children and Families, also want to incorporate "marriage and fatherhood" messages into Head Start, childcare, welfare, and programs for runaway and homeless youth.

Bush will be asking Congress to allocate up to $300 million in federal and state money to "pro-marriage experiments" when it renews the welfare law this year.

Sacramento Chaplaincy Backed

Sacramento County supervisors voted 4-0 in late March to continue to fund a chaplaincy program which had required participants to be Christian.

Law Enforcement Chaplaincy-Sacramento, formed in 1977, now has about 70 volunteer chaplains who provide "pastoral care" to law enforcement officers, their families and crime victims. The chaplaincy receives most of its funds from payroll deductions, as well as $32,000 from the county, and $15,000 from the city.

In November it was revealed the bylaws require chaplains to sign a statement of faith professing to be followers of Jesus Christ. Chaplains also signed an "ethics code" agreeing not to preside over marriages of "improper persons"--such as gays and nonbelievers. The chaplaincy, finally capitulating after a public outcry, recently agreed to accept participants of all faiths and to drop its "ethics" requirement.

Officials will not renew a Probation Department agreement, in which the group received a 10% fee for administering a contract for chaplain services at juvenile detention facilities.

"First Amendment Not a Shield"

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in March that the Constitution does not protect churches from lawsuits charging clergy sexual abuse.

Said the court: "The First Amendment does not provide a shield behind which a church may avoid liability" for negligent hiring and supervision of its clergy members.

May 2002 Excerpts