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Appellate Court Rules Against Salesians

The State of California Appellate Court decided this week unanimously in favor of Joey Piscitelli, Northern California Director of SNAP, who was sexually abused as a child at the hands of Salesian Priest, Fr. Steven Whelan, Vice Principal of Salesian High School in Richmond California.

Santillan v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Fresno, B194219, COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION EIGHT, 163 Cal. App. 4th 4; 77 Cal. Rptr. 3d 343; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 756, May 21, 2008, Filed, Review denied by, Request granted, Request denied by Santillan (George) v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Fresno, 2008 Cal. LEXIS 9940 (Cal., Aug. 13, 2008)

Doe v. Salesian Society, B198136, COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION EIGHT, 159 Cal. App. 4th 474; 71 Cal. Rptr. 3d 565; 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 138, January 29, 2008, Filed

Statement by Joey Piscitelli

    The vindictive hateful battle of 5 years in California brought by the Salesians has culminated into a high Appellate court decision in my favor, but the Salesians will still not apologize, and never will. I was continuously molested by a Salesian priest when I was a child, and I was forced to keep quiet when I spoke up against the Salesian molestation machine 30 years ago. The abuse started when Fr. Whelan masturbated in front of me, while his friend convicted molester Bro. Sal Billante witnessed the incident and did not report it. The abused then escalated into sexual physical abuse and attacks in the school that lasted 2 years.

   I filed suit in California in 2003, and the Salesian Order responded by calling me a liar, and vowing to make an example out of me. I became a SNAP leader, and held many events and protests for dozens of victims all over North California.

The Salesians hired several law firms, and promised to destroy me in Superior Court. They deposed my wife, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins, old classmates, fellow workers, and my ailing father. They hired public spokespersons and made public statements calling me a liar, and a sick disturbed man.

    The Salesian Priests and High School I attended has the World Record for the most accused sex offenders at one location. They include Fr. Dabbenne, Fr. Lorenzoni, Fr. Whelan, Fr. Presenti, Bro. Billante, Fr. Miani, Fr, Mengon, Fr. Danielson, Bro. Martinez, Bro. Pacheco, Bro. Vas, Mr. Vitone, and Mr. Bonds.

The Salesians refused to settle my suit, and mocked me by saying they would not=2 0even settle for one dime. Their army of lawyers spent an estimated several million dollars to fight their court battle, promising victory at many church events and press conferences.

   Some say that the Salesians escalated their monetary ammunition because I was a voice for victims in SNAP, some say that Cardinal Levada chipped in millions for their fight because I was a thorn in his side.  Maybe both, I’ll never know.

   I went to a court jury trial in July of 2006, and the Salesians continuously and viciously thrashed my therapist, my wife, friends, my children, and me. They relentlessly thrashed my deceased mother, and my ailing father. After a two week bloody court battle, the jury deliberated. While the jury deliberated, the Salesian attorneys, and the head Salesian official, Fr, Purdy, laughed and high fived each other, and celebrated their victory before the verdict was even read.

   The jury then read the verdict – and I had won.

The Salesians filed an appeal in Superior Court, and lost. Then they filed an appeal in the high Appellate Court. Cardinal Levada and Bishop Niederhauer staunchly supported the Salesians, who are nested in the Diocese of San Francisco’s backyard. The Salesians promised churchgoers and the public and the Diocese they would absolutely prevail at the Appellate Court, and continued to thrash my family and me publicly for another 2 years.

  One Salesian Priest proclaimed at an event, “We will win at the Appellate Court, because God is on our side.”

My question is : What God would that be?

 It took two years to reach the Appellate Court hearing. The Salesians hired even more lawyers, and an army of Salesian lawyers filled the benches at the Appellate Court hearing 2 months ago. The Salesian lawyers dominated the

Appellate Court hearing, and the judges said the decision would take 2 months.

   Yesterday, the Appellate Court unanimously ruled against Salesians. Perhaps my deceased mother in heaven heard the horrible thrashing the Salesians gave her in court, or maybe God had enough of their vindictive behavior, or perhaps it was both. In any case, justice has finally been served.

-  Joey Piscitelli

Case Study: Mary Help of Christians School, Florida

I. Background: 

Salient to the dynamic of this case from a behavioral perspective is the pattern and practice of the Salesian Society itself: It is the third largest religious society in the Roman Catholic Church. It rivals the Jesuits for power within the church and has a large number of cardinals including the present Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

The Society of St. John Bosco (SDB) is the most closely organized (controlled) religious group that I have ever come in contact with. I say this on the basis of reviewing scores of documents in the cases of sexual abuse by members of the society in California where 21 or 22 SDB priests and brothers have been identified as sexual predators. Some have been convicted of abuse and others sent to prison. I have served as an expert trial witness in the case of Fr. Richard Presenti (Oakland) and as an expert in the case of Fr. Titian Miani (Los Angeles). In the process of my study of the pattern and practice of abuse within the Society of Don Bosco I reviewed documents and depositions in the cases of priests who admitted or were convicted of abusing minors—Fr. Bernard Dabbenne, Fr. Steven Whelan, Bro. Sal Billante among others. There is no need to further prove that wide spread abuse of minors does occur within the Society.

I have reviewed numerous depositions and documents in the case of Mr. F. versus MARY HELP OF CHRISTIANS SCHOOL, THE SALESIAN SOCIETY, INC., and THE SALESIAN SOCIETY OF FLORIDA, INC. The opinions I will express are based on the documents already mentioned above plus others I will list below.

Seasoned clinicians and lawyers who have worked with the Society have said that it is, “the most unrepentant and defiant” religious group they have ever experienced in regard to sexual abuse within its ranks. My experience has been similar.

II. Context & Consciousness of Sexual Behavior Within the Society:

  1. The founder, Don Bosco established an operational principle for the members of his Society—the Preventive System. This meant that the priests and brothers were to demonstrate care (and God’s love) by example—avoiding physical punishment (beatings common in his day in educational institutions of the 1800s) and physical contact, even pats on the back that could be construed as physical affection. i.e. “Teachers, crafts masters and assistants must be of acknowledged morality. They should strive to avoid as they would the plague, every kind of affection or sentimental friendship for their pupils, and they should remember that the wrongdoing of one alone is sufficient to compromise an educational institute.” The consciousness of this danger was reinforced by sexual transgressions even early in the establishment of the Society. *
  2. In the training of the men for the society a great deal of emphasis was placed on the avoidance of Particular Friendships (PF). This referred not only to sexually intimate associations between members of the community, but also, and primarily to the violation of the directive to avoid “sentimental friendships” with pupils. Cf. The Catholic Encyclopedia, (1957).
  3. Particular friendships do refer to the danger of homosexual association and behavior not only between members of the Society, but especially between members of the Society and the boys under their care.
  4. Rules such as the need for two prefects at all times in a dormitory, never to touch a student or to become attached to one boy, never to be alone with one boy, etc, all are based on the knowledge of the danger of sexual involvement.
  5. In spite of Papal directives not to admit candidates who demonstrate homosexual tendencies into religious life the Vocation Directors and the Provincials of the Salesians, do admit and educate homosexually oriented men into the society. The presence of Jorge Acosta and dozens of other Salesians who have proven to be homosexual by their behavior are all examples of the intrinsic duality at the core of the Society.
  6. Bro. Jorge had a homosexual orientation and sexual experience prior to his acceptance into the Society. He revealed his history to the Salesian psychologist who interviewed him and administered the MMPI. The Provincial and a confessor knew his sexual orientation and his past activity. Acosta states that he was also (sent to) interviewed by Fr. Benedict Groeschel who was well known as an “expert” in sexuality of Catholic clergy, especially homosexuality.
  7. In reviewing scores of depositions of Salesian priests/superiors/provincials I have never read of one who ever admitted he knew of any Salesian who abused a boy. In this case Fr. Dominic De Blasé, provincial from 1979 to 85, said, “I never…received any report from any community, anyone at all about sexual misconduct of any Salesian.” (Deposition P. 51) This statement, as denials by other Salesians, needs to be closely parsed for rationalization and mental reservations. It is uncanny and frankly unbelievable that of the dozens of Salesian priests questioned not one knew of any sexual activity within the Society. In toto it gives the appearance of a cult-like quality of conditioning.
  8. Bro. Jorge was transferred into Mary Help of Christians school after being accused of being “poison” in another community. He confessed sexual activity to Fr. Dick McCormick.
  9. Family System was the “buzz word” at MHOC that indicated that the priests could show a certain amount of physical affection to the students in spite of the fact that it was counter to the tradition of no touching. This variation from the traditional rule was practiced by the superiors—Fr. David Gonder and Fr. Pat Logan. (J A Deposition, P. 68)
  10. Acosta was reported to the superior of the school, Fr. Dave Gonder, for sexual activity with a student in terms of  “Brother Jorge has been doing things that he not ought to be doing.” And his response was, “Brother Jorge will be sent for counseling and this is the way we usually deal with these things.
  11.  Even after admitting sexual involvement with 3 minor students Bro. Jorge was sent to West Haverstraw to help coach youngsters in basketball camp. He was also encouraged to renew his vows.

III. Broader Context of Sexual Behavior Among Clergy Who Profess Celibacy and Documents on Which My Opinions Are Based

1.      There is a vast literature that extends over centuries that refers to the sexual activity of Catholic clergy with minors, especially boys. Among the most classic is the 1049 C.E. dissertation of St. Peter Damian, The Book of Gomorrah, addressed to Pope Leo IX. Reference to this and other historical church documents can be found in a book I coauthored — Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse (2006).

2.      Some recent church documents I have reviewed to form my opinion of the practice and process of sexual activity within the Salesian Society are: DE DELICTO SOLLICITATIONIS: EVOLUTIO HISTORICA, DOCUMENTA COMMENTARIUS by Fr. John Ortega Uhink, S.J. (1954). This is the definitive study on the Vatican secret document sent to Catholic bishops in 1962 that directs them how to handle priests who solicit sex under the guise of, in the place of, in relationship to, and in or around confession. In 1996 an official of the Holy Office said that this document was to be interpreted broadly to include clergy who were “morally” deficient—that is priests who are sexually active. Paragraph #71 deals with priests who have sex with men. Paragraph #73 deals with priests who have sex with children (impuberibus) and animals (bestialitas). This Instructio was in effect until it was superceded by another, but non-secret directive SACRAMENTOUM SANCTITATIS TUTELA (2002).

3.      The Salesians are educators, especially of high school students, but they are not prominent in national educational groups such as the National Catholic Educational Association. Even in the 1950s Franciscan, Benedictine, Christian Brothers and Jesuit educators were forging new ground in the assessment of candidates for the priesthood. Catholic professional groups were studying “Personality Development” (Thomas N. McCarthy 1958, Christian Brothers La Salle College, Philadelphia). Other religious educators were beginning to take seriously the “Psychological Evaluation of Religious Candidates” with the use of psychometric tests such as the MMPI (William Bier, S.J. Fordham University, 1959). And others were asking serious questions like “Are Minor Seminarians Immature?” (Martin F. Pable, O.F.M. Cap. 1967). In 1963 psychologist Norman T. Bowes published Professional Evaluation of Religious Aspirants a digest of 3,000 evaluations of candidates for religious life. In November 1971 Conrad Baars, a psychiatrist, addressed bishops gathered at the Vatican to comment on the mental health of Catholic priests based on the treatment of 1,500 clergy. (“The Role of the Church in the Causation, Treatment and Prevention of the Crisis in the Priesthood”)

IV Opinions Based on the Documentation and Experience (Including those Listed Above)

1.      The Society of Don Bosco is a tightly held—almost cult-like—group that is somewhat isolated by its organization. It is remarkably distinct from other religious communities and Orders that I have studied and experienced; that includes: Augustinians, Benedictines, Paulists, Dominicans, Capuchins, Crosiers, Jesuits, Marianists, Marists, Oblates (OMI), Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Maryknoll, Josephites, Carmelites, Trinitarians, Trappists, and others. From my observation the Salesian society is designed to be closed—self-contained in construct and operation—that is evidenced by its non acknowledgement of abuse within its ranks.

2.      Although Fr. Clement Cardillo, a trained psychologist, administered the MMPI along with the “Draw a House-Tree-Person” he kept no records and none were kept in the personnel file of Jorge. Cardillo admitted knowing Fr. Benedict Groeschel, but has no idea about why someone would consult him. He had never met a candidate who had “latent homosexual tendencies.” (47:16) This statement strains the credulity of many clinicians that have treated priests.

3.      The massive denial that pervades the Salesian communities from the superiors on down is very remarkable. In other circumstances it would perhaps be called pathological “lying.” The denial seems to be in the service of preserving the image of the Society—the bella figura so vital in the Italian church.

4.      The institutional denial obviates the use of code words so common in other religious communities or dioceses that have to deal with situations or crises of sexual activity in their ranks. Documentation from Salesian communities is sparse. In all of the documents referring to Jorge “doing things he not ought to” is the closest phrase to addressing known sexual abuse that was found.

5.      In Bro. Jorge’s evaluations he is criticized for “spending” too much money, being “lazy” or too “worldly” and on the other hand is praised for being pleasant, and “he seems to love children.” The recorded evaluations are of no depth or substance. He was called “poison” and sent to another community indicating that he was a bad influence. But not one word records the sexual activity in the institutions that he was aware of and involved in. Could it be possible that he was the only one with that awareness and involvement?

6.      Brother Jorge was transferred to a position where he had contact with minors after he was known to be an abuser. This is typical of the disposition of abusing clerics demonstrated in numerous reliable studies including one I did from the documents of five dioceses. (Cf. Sipe, Another View of Abuse, 2007) Over 58 percent of clergy who were reported for abuse were reassigned without treatment.

7.      Grand Jury investigations and reports are extremely helpful in understanding the pattern and practice of dealing with abusing clerics: reassignment to another position/ place/ school/ parish or country often without informing the new community about the behavior or to avoid prosecution is common in the investigations. Documented instances of this behavior by some Salesians are recorded in the US and Australia. Such behavior can possibly be even be exaggerated in the Salesian Society because of its predominantly Italian roots and since so many of the members and even superiors protest ignorance of any abuse.

8.      Three Grand Jury reports are particularly relevant since the Salesians have schools, youth centers, summer camps, and parishes in some or all of the following areas—Boston, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Suffolk County Supreme Court Special Grand Jury Report (May 6, 2002); The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston issued by the Office of the Attorney General Commonwealth of Massachusetts (July 23, 2003); Report of the Grand Jury First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Criminal Trial Division (September 17, 2003). It would be incredible for Salesians to claim that because few or none of their members were cited in any report that their pattern and practice differs substantially from that outlined in these investigations.

9.      In 1972, at the request of the United States Bishops, the Kennedy-Heckler report on The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations was published. Its findings are fundamental to understanding the psychosexual development of priests including members of the Salesian Society. (Two/thirds of priests are underdeveloped and 8 percent maldeveloped.)

10.  My own ethnographic study of the celibate/sexual behavior or Catholic priests conducted between 1960 and 1985—A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy—(1990) estimated that 6 percent of priests in the United States get involved sexually with minors. This compares very closely to the conclusion of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice survey published as A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States (2004). That study claims that priests ordained between those years averaged 6.6 percent rate of reported abuse. (Cf. Pp. 30-7). The Salesians in the United States are hard pressed to claim that they are exempt from similar percentages.

11.  The massive denial of knowledge of abuse within the Society is incredible and reprehensible regardless of the cultural and institutional factors that contributed to its development and preservation.

May 9, 2008

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