DOES THE VATICAN UNDERSTAND?
The Concern About Money
September 15, 2007
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.”
that the Catholic Church is the only organization with the problem of
abuse “is un-acceptable.”
other organizations to “face this same problem with their members, with
an equal degree of courage and realism as the Catholic Church has done.”
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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?
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
In 1986 23 percent
of the priests active in the diocese of Tucson, Arizona were noted for
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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