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The Concern About Money
September 15, 2007

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, can hardly be accused of being ignorant about the status of the Catholic Church. He has, however at the very least, displayed a lack of information about the realities of the sex abuse crisis in the United States when he addressed the issue before the 125th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Nashville, Tennessee in August 2007.

He singled out 4 issues for consideration and comment—“the business (money to victim’s lawyers) around this scandal is really un-bearable.”

“The percentage of (priests) involved in these scandals is very small.”

The impression that the Catholic Church is the only organization with the problem of abuse “is un-acceptable.”

He challenged other organizations to “face this same problem with their members, with an equal degree of courage and realism as the Catholic Church has done.”

Point 1.

Already by 1988 I had read and reviewed letters and reports of 1,800 adult men and women who alleged that they had been sexually abused by a bishop, a priest, or a member of a religious order (male and female) when they were minors. Not one—I repeat not one—of those files requested money. Everyone had a need to be heard, understood, and believed. Each of them had a concern that his or her perpetrator might be continuing to harm others and was looking for means and assurances to protect others from further abuse.

Some had contacted bishops. The record of those visits—the lack of response or in some cases blame and verbal attacks hurled against victims—does not make edifying reading. Some bishops offered payments for counseling, but money was given with demands of secrecy under threats of legal retribution.

Why has monetary compensation escalated? The short answer is “indignation.” As the facts of the scope and degradation of sexual abuse by priests and bishops has been exposed, not only Catholics, but the general population in the United States became concerned and enraged at the hypocrisy and arrogance of the Catholic hierarchy. A majority of people in the United States consider Catholic bishops to be “liars” and untrustworthy.

Many case histories tell the real story: A 1997 trial of Fr. Rudy Kos and the Dallas, Texas diocese under bishop Charles Grahmann ended in a jury award of 119.6 million dollars to 12 victims of abuse. This amount far exceeded monies sought by the plaintiff’s attorneys. In fact, lawyers for the victims wanted to settle the case for half-of-one-million dollars. The church lawyers (under the bishop’s direction) insisted on a jury trial. The jurors and the public were dismayed and disgusted when the details of how the bishop and his staff had dissimulated, conspired to deceive, covered up the abuse and facilitated it. Kos is in prison. Bishop Grahmann remained in office until this year. The Catholic Church lost much more than a trial and some money—it was a serious blow to its “bella figura” and credibility in the whole country.

Another situation demonstrates the complexity of the crisis of sexual abuse and money in the United States. Msgr. Michael Harris (they called him Fr. Hollywood) resigned from the priesthood after he was accused of abusing boys at his high school in Orange County, California. The first young man to come forward with allegations was Ryan DiMaria.

He approached the diocese for financial help with his bills for psychotherapy when he suffered a suicidal depression caused by the abuse. His request was a modest 300 thousand dollars. The church was resistant and reluctant to honor an allegation against one of its prominent and clerically well-connected priests. It was only after DiMaria was shunned and humiliated that he turned to a lawyer. (Other victims came forward later.)

A suit was filed in 1997 and a court trial was anticipated. The investigation led to complex clerical interrelationships; depositions of other clerics who had some knowledge of the perpetrator’s activities were taken. One deponent was G. Patrick Ziemann—bishop of Santa Rosa, California and former auxiliary to Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles. He had already resigned after an allegation and monetary settlement for sexually abusing one of his priests was made.

In August of 2001 Cardinal Mahony was slated to be deposed in the case. It was then that negotiations between church lawyers and the victim’s representatives got serious. The church finally settled the case for 5.2 million dollars. As a result Mahony’s deposition was canceled.

Bankruptcy ordinarily is presumed to have money as its principal concern. This is not proving to be accurate in cases with United States dioceses.

The link between legal fees and the church’s fight to keep bishops from facing time on civil courts’ witness stands is prominent. The diocese of Davenport, Iowa filed for bankruptcy—a legal procedure that stays all ongoing investigations—the day Bishop Lawrence Soens was to stand trial for the abuse of minor boys. Over 20 male victims were lined up to give testimony.

The San Diego diocese became the fifth in American to file for bankruptcy protection the night before Bishop Robert Brom was slated to be the first witness in one of several trials of priests for sexual abuse. Brom, himself the object of allegations from a seminarian in Minnesota, will face demands to produce documents related to those incidents when he takes the witness stand in any trial. Secret documents lurk behind every defensive move by church lawyers.

The Federal Judge in charge of the San Diego case has threatened to throw the bankruptcy claim out of court and has already remanded 42 of the abuse cases that had been stayed to proceed to trial.

The settlement of 660 million dollars allocated for abuse victims in Los Angeles was also about more than money. Cardinal Roger Mahony has a number of suspicions of conspiracy to hide abuse and questions of possible perjury for statements made in a deposition and on the witness stand in the conviction of Fr. Oliver O’Grady hanging over his head.

Two criminal cases against Los Angeles priests are pending and the cardinal will certainly be called as a witness if they go forward. 

Without doubt the money that the clergy sexual abuse crisis is costing the church is a matter of concern. The Doyle-Mouton-Peterson report gratuitously offered to the US bishops in 1985 predicted a cost of one billion dollars if the problem of abuse was ignored. It was ignored; the price tag is already over 2 billion.

To any objective observer of the crisis another question about money occurs: how much money has the church spent on its lawyers and public relations? 

Point 2.

The percentage of priests in the United States who have abused minors is neither small nor negligible. Already in 2002 Boston recorded 7.6 percent of its priests had abused minors; New Hampshire admitted to 8.2 percent at the same time. Records show that 11.5 percent of all the priests active in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1983 have been reported abusers. Los Angeles’s major seminary in Camarillo California proved to have 30 percent sexual abusers in its1966 and 1972 graduating classes.

In 1986 23 percent of the priests active in the diocese of Tucson, Arizona were noted for sexual abuse.

The investigation that the USCCB entrusted to the John Jay School of Criminal Justice delivered its report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States on February 27, 2004. The hierarchy clings to the assertion in that report that 4.36 percent of priests (4,392) active between 1950 and 2002 were credibly reported for abuse. However, over 500 additional priests have been credibly accused since that time.

The J-J Study speaks for itself. In the years between 1960 and 1984 between 9 and 11 percent of active priests in the US are reported abusers. This is the most reliable measure of the percent of US Catholic priests and bishops who get sexually involved with minors and the vulnerable. This draws an accurate picture of the capacity of the clerical culture to produce, foster, and tolerate sexual abuse in this country.

Point 3.

The cardinal is correct that many organizations have problems with sexual abusers in their midst. What does that have to do with bishop and priest abusers? The sins and failings of others in no way lessen the culpability of bishops or alleviate the responsibility of the church to be accountable for clerical abuse. St. Peter Damian named it in 1049.

The argument of other’s failings rings hollow from a church that claims superiority over other churches that are either “incomplete” or “defective.” The gospel directive to remove the beam from one’s eye before complaining about the mote in the other fellow’s remains a sound moral directive.

Point 4.

It is a pretense; it is a figment to pose that the Catholic bishops of the United States (or Rome for that matter) have singly or collectively faced the problem of sexual abuse by its priests and bishops “courageously and realistically.” Such a statement is dishonest and defies the documents and recorded facts.

Not one move by any American bishop or the USCCB has so far constituted an independent moral initiative or affirmation of accountability. Every action regarding clerical sexual abuse in the United States has been reactive, principally to public pressure—victims’ movements and exposure, legal challenges, revelations by the secular press, and resultant  widespread public indignation. The church has not done one thing it has not been forced to  do by these pressures.

Secrecy, cover up, conspiracies to hide offending clerics, and public relation offensives, with efforts to discredit victim’s advocates and others are well documented in 12 Grand Jury investigations all of which have found that the bishops are incapable of dealing with the problem. Time and again all reports note the preference of the bishops to protect clergy, avoid scandal in preference of care of victims and the prevention of abuse.

The Catholic Church’s neglectful record of sexual abuse among its ranks stands. Even its current behavior is neither courageous nor realistic. Public relations remain paramount.

The problem of clerical sexual activity and abuse is far from over in the United States Catholic Church. It is historical in epic proportions, but it is not “history” as Cardinal Bertone would have us believe.

[A.W.Richard Sipe has been an expert witness in over 250 civil and criminal cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy and is the author of 7 books about the celibacy of Catholic priests in the US including Sex, Priests, and Power: the Anatomy of a Crisis (1995) and Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: the Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse (2006) with Fr. Thomas Doyle, and Patrick Wall.]

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