BISHOP GEOFFREY ROBINSON
in America
May 14 - June 14, 2008
Report to Australia
View USA Speaking Tour  |  Read a Review  |  Event Poster
 

Geoffrey Robinson the author of Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, delivered 16 presentations across the United States; mostly at non-Roman Catholic venues because of instructions from Rome and local Ordinaries forbidding him to speak on church grounds, but people came in droves to hear him, an estimated 3,500 in all. A consortium of Catholic lay groups sponsored his lecture in San Diego:  The local chapters of Call to Action; Dignity; VOTF; and SNAP.

Reporters in Philadelphia and Toronto Canada articulated Robinson’s demeanor throughout the tour, “the intent and praxis of Bishop Robinson does not to seek to harm the church, but to create a better church. Bishop Robinson responded to a variety of questions in a quiet, thoughtful way, never once showing disrespect to his fellow bishops, but always keeping in mind the dictate that we are a church semper reformanda."

Universally he was regarded as an honest and humble man who has an important message. He gives voice to the thoughts and concerns of many Catholics in the United States. This is a summary of what we heard:

  1. The clergy sex abuse crisis is catastrophic for the Catholic community—the victims, the priests, and for its the long-term effects on the faith of all Catholics.
  2. Church leadership—specifically Pope John Paul II—failed to deal with the crisis and abandoned victims and inhibited solutions.
  3. The root causes of sexual abuse by priests and bishops must be explored and discussed. How obedience is imposed and power is exerted are of primary concern because they are involved in avoiding accountability and inhibiting transparency. Bishops strive beyond reason to preserve their “bella figura.”
  4. Mandated celibacy is related to the problem of abuse; this tradition must be discussed.
  5. The sexual teaching of the church is neither accurate nor helpful to Christians. The traditional concept of “nature” regarding sex is distorted: it must be studied and discussed.
  6. The growth of the use of “creeping infallibility” in current church teaching and practice is false and hurtful to honest explorations of problems facing the church.
  7. Consultation is preferable to confrontation in addressing these issues.

A great deal more will be written and said about Robinson and his heroic and monumental stand clearly outlined in his book. The statements by the Australian bishops and echoed by the American bishops who forbid him to speak because Robinson would “cause confusion” in the minds of lay people sounds ridiculous to informed Catholics—clergy and lay—who have long held precisely the ideas that he expresses. The fact that the original prohibition comes from Cardinal Re in Rome only demonstrates the unholy use of power by the church. Robinson declined many media interviews because he felt that reporters bypassed the message of his book and concentrated on the reaction of the bishops who (universally) forbade him to speak on church property. His decorum in regard to fellow bishops was unfaltering and his desire to avoid controversy over the issue admirable, but in retrospect objective observers feel that he missed the significance to us of how church power was being misused in this regard.

Sometimes the media does get it right and can spot real issues. Were it not for the American media the crisis of clergy abusing minors would have continued unabated. It was the press, victims’ advocates along with lawyers that instigated reform initiatives in this country. Moral leadership from church authority was totally absent in regard to protecting children.   Cardinals Re, Mahony, and the other bishops exemplify what Robinson describes in general terms as a problem of the system of power and obedience. He may have been too close to see it, but many American Catholics can’t miss the archaic and odious use of dictatorial maneuvers in place of consultation, discussion, and dialogue, again not to protect the rights of children, but to exert control.

Thirty-one percent of men and women raised as Catholics in the U.S.A. have left the Catholic Church. [Pew Foundation Research 2008] Ex Catholics now represent the second largest religious group in this country. The media is acutely aware that the misuse of power by the American hierarchy, their neglect of the sexual abuse of minors and their complicity in covering up the problem in favor of preserving their “bella figura” is related to the loss of confidence in bishops and the rejection of the church. The situation may be different in Australia.


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Early in his tour the Boston Globe printed the following report

    Defying hierarchy, bishop urges change

Sex abuse stand inspires liberals

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff  | May 31, 2008

DEDHAM - He is an unlikely hero for the Catholic left: a retired Australian bishop who served for years as an aide to the very conservative cardinal-archbishop of Sydney.

But now Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is under investigation by the Australian bishops conference, and multiple American bishops are trying to ban him from their dioceses after he published a book suggesting the Catholic Church examine the roles that power and sex played in the clergy abuse crisis.

The Catholic left - whose weakened influence was captured in a Time magazine essay this month headlined "Is liberal Catholicism dead?" - has rallied to this little-known bishop, packing his speaking appearances and driving up sales of his book.

On Thursday night, Robinson drew a crowd of about 550 to St. Susanna Church in Dedham, which he said was the largest audience he has drawn on a US speaking tour that began earlier this month. On Wednesday night, 110 showed up to hear him speak at the Paulist Center in Boston.

"If we are ever to look to the future with a clear conscience there must first be profound change within the church," Robinson told a rapt audience in Dedham at the start of a 60-minute talk, in which he questioned the extent of papal infallibility and the rationale for mandatory priestly celibacy. Perhaps most daringly, given the adulation directed toward Pope John Paul II since his death, Robinson repeatedly criticized the late pontiff for not taking enough action against clergy sexual abuse.

To those who despair of change within the church, he said, "Communism changed. Apartheid changed. It just may be the church might, too."

Some people traveled to Dedham from New Hampshire three hours early to make sure they could get a seat, and the event had to be moved from the basement to the church nave to accommodate the crowd. Every copy of Robinson's book sold out.

"The fact that this event attracted many hundreds of Catholics, large numbers of whom traveled many miles to attend, indicates to me that there is still significant dissatisfaction among the laity with the church's response to the sex and cover-up crisis to date," said Deacon Larry Bloom of the Dedham parish.

Robinson is one of the first bishops since the abuse crisis to break ranks publicly and call for a discussion of the most sensitive issues in the Catholic Church. And the hierarchy responded swiftly. The Australian Bishops Conference issued a statement declaring "doctrinal difficulties" with Robinson, in particular what it described as his "questioning of the authority of the Catholic Church to teach the truth definitively." A top Vatican official and several American bishops asked him to cancel his trip to this country.

"Canon 763 makes it clear that the Diocesan Bishop must safeguard the preaching of God's Word and the teachings of the church in his own Diocese," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, wrote in a letter to Robinson. "Under the provisions of Canon 763, I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles."

But where Robinson was denied Catholic venues, he found others.

On Long Island in New York, he spoke at a Unitarian Universalist parish, which waived its rental fee because, he said, the congregation viewed the bishop and his audience as "an oppressed minority." In New Jersey he spoke at a Lutheran church; in southern California he is speaking at a university, a community center, and a hotel.

In New England, the bishops have been quieter. Robinson spoke at Fairfield University, a Catholic college in southern Connecticut, as well as at St. Susanna Church and the Paulist Center. Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley has declined several requests for comment.

At the same time, Voice of the Faithful, the reform organization founded in Wellesley, last week gave Robinson its top honor as a "priest of integrity."

And Liturgical Press, the Catholic publishing house that is printing Robinson's book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church," said it sold out its first run, of 3,000 copies, and is rushing a second run into print.

"What's significant here is that you've got a bishop who, once retired, decided he'd speak his own mind for a change - that rather than being part of the orchestra, he decided he wanted to do a solo," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. "It's clear there's a real thirst among the laity and some priests for a more open discussion of issues in the church, and this is the kind of thing he's trying to stimulate. But it's not the kind of thing the Vatican or the majority of bishops want to see happen."

The sympathetic crowds coming to hear Robinson are clearly heartened by his outspokenness. In Dedham, he was given two standing ovations.

"He understands that the crux of the Roman Catholic problem lies squarely with the Stalinist-style power structure of the institutional church," said Peter Hartzel, a parishioner who lives in Dedham. "He honestly broached the 'hot' sexual issues with which the bureaucracy is unable to broach in a realistic manner."

Robinson, 70, has spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the abuse crisis and meeting with victims.

In 1994, he was named to a committee charged with coordinating the response of the Australian Catholic Church to clergy sexual abuse, and from 1997 until 2003 he was the committee cochairman. Robinson said he is also a victim of childhood sexual abuse, although not by a priest.

Of his work with victims he said, "It was an experience that changed me in so many ways that even if I wanted to I could not now go back to being the person that I was before."

Robinson said it is incumbent on Catholics to examine "institutional factors" that contributed to the abuse, as well as "the inadequate response to the abuse," which, he said, "created at least as much scandal as the abuse itself."

Robinson said that in an effort to prevent debate over mandatory celibacy, the Vatican had blamed gay priests for the abuse crisis.

"The scapegoat they found was priests whose sexual orientation was homosexual," he said. He called that argument "mistaken" and said, "Homosexuals are no more likely to offend than anybody else," and, "It's an avoidance of the truth in order to protect papal authority."

Robinson did not spell out solutions, but called for Catholics to use the moral force of the abuse issue to push for greater conversation about the church's teachings regarding power and sex.

"All church leaders have at the very least been through a profound humiliation and embarrassment over this issue," he said. "Deep within themselves they know that the popes have not given them the leadership they would have hoped for. However much they might pretend to the opposite, they also know that we still have a vast amount to do before we can look to the future with a clear conscience."

He praised Benedict XVI for his statements about abuse during his recent trip to the United States, but called on Benedict to make a public apology to victims from St. Peter's Basilica, surrounded by the cardinals.

And he called for the pope to commission a study of ways in which church teachings, including mandatory celibacy, may have contributed to the abuse, and for an investigation of institutional factors that contributed to the moving of abusive priests from one parish to another by bishops.

"He is living proof that bishops are not as united as they might be thought to be," said Paul Lakeland, a professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield. "They try to paint him as a lone dissenter, a good man who has gone slightly off the rails, but I think there are lots of other bishops quietly cheering him on from the sidelines." Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com  Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company


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Bishop Robinson spent 3 days in San Diego California June 8-10. The following press release announced his schedule:

AUSTRALIAN BISHOP, EMINENT LAWYERS, AND NOTED AUTHORS CONVERGE ON LA JOLLA TO DISCUSS CLERGY CHILD ABUSE

Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, author of the compelling book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, who is on a month long speaking tour in the United States will be in La Jolla for 3 days during which time he will be joined by 13 prominent lawyers from 7 states and 6 authors noted for their writings on the clergy sex abuse crisis. Robinson has been forbidden to speak at Catholic Church facilities in some dioceses and Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles asked the bishop to cancel his entire United States tour.

The Bishop will deliver a public presentation in the Atkins Pavilion of the UCSD Faculty Club on Tuesday June 10 at 6:30 PM. Admission is free. Prior to the lecture, books will be on sale and he, along with the other authors, will be available for autographs. Other discussions on June 8 and 9 will be conducted in private.

Charles Gallagher III, the Deputy District Attorney Special Investigations Unit Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office since 1974 who was the lead counsel that conducted the Grand Jury that investigated sexual abuse by clergy in Philadelphia, will be one of the lawyers in attendance. He also led the team that wrote the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report (2003), which summed up the investigation by two sessions by the Grand Jury and exposed the pattern and practice of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church across the United States.

Lawyers Steve Rubino from New Jersey, Kelly Clark from Oregon, and Jeff Anderson from Minnesota, all prominent advocates for the protection of children, will also participate in the discussions. Between 1984 and 2005 these three advocates alone helped 3,526 sex abuse victims from all over the country.

Marci Hamilton a law professor at Yeshiva University in New York and Princeton University is one of the United States’ leading church/state scholars, as well as an expert on federalism and representation. She will be present to sign her new book: Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children.

Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea a psychologist and expert on the traumatic effects of sexual abuse by power figures will be available to autograph her authoritative book Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. She addressed the bishops of the U.S. at their 2002 meeting in Dallas where they defined their response to abusive Catholic clerics. She told them about the disastrous traumatic consequences of sexual abuse by priests and bishops.

Robert Blair Kaiser, a Newsweek correspondent has written an intriguing book—Cardinal Mahony: A Novel—called “cunning and mischievous,” will be present with other authors on June 10.

The three sponsors of the interchanges are Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer from Virginia, Patrick Wall, senior consultant at the law office of Manly and Stewart, Newport Beach, and Richard Sipe, a La Jolla resident. The three co-authored the book Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse. These three men have served as consultants or expert witnesses in hundreds of civil cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic bishops and priests in every state of the United States, Canada, Ireland, and other foreign countries. 


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ABUSE, THE CHURCH, AND THE LAW

A Discussion: June 9, 2008  / University of California San Diego

Geoffrey Robinson met for discussion of clergy abuse with 12 of the most accomplished lawyers who have protected the rights of victims of clergy abuse. The group together has assisted more than 6,000 victims of sexual abuse by American bishops, priests, and religious. Ten observers who have been active in supporting victims by gathering and preserving documentation of the crisis in the U.S.A. were also in attendance.

A GATHERING WITH BISHOP GEOFFREY ROBINSON

Reflections By Thomas P. Doyle

1.        Geoffrey Robinson’s US speaking tour presented an opportunity for a meeting with some of the attorneys who have been deeply involved in the clergy sex abuse crisis in the U.S. as well as with some of the experts who have been part of the overall response to this crisis.

Some of us originally hoped that we would be able to provide Geoff with significant factual information on the U.S. bishops’ response to the crisis.  We hoped he might be able to take this information and share it with officials in the Vatican curia.  This hope was born from our realization that the Vatican’s information sources are limited for the most part to bishops whose reports are understandably subjective and often inaccurate. 

We began with this hope, however our expectations were changed once we had conversed with Geoff and had realized that he is clearly not an “insider.”  The U.S. papal nuncio had asked Geoff to cancel his tour.  The prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops (Cardinal Re) had initiated the move to try to convince Geoff not to speak.  The archbishops and bishops of every diocese where Geoff was scheduled to speak sent letters that were made public.  These letters were consistent in saying the same thing: a) Geoff was not allowed to speak in any Catholic building in the diocese, b) He should cancel his entire speaking tour, c) His book is causing confusion and disunity among the laity.  By the time Geoff had reached California he still had not seen any of the letters and knew of them only through news reports.

Geoff obviously did not cancel his tour.  He maintained the original speaking schedule with the talks being given in non-church related venues.  In the western part of the U.S. the secular press provided excellent coverage; their primary interest, however, was the “dispute” as they saw it, between Bishop Robinson and Cardinal Mahony.  Geoff took the “high road” and did not respond to any invitations by media to escalate the “dispute.”  Geoff expressed it thus: he is here to speak about clerical sexual abuse and the need to explore two areas of systemic causality: the exercise of power by Church authorities and the official teaching on sex and sexuality.  He was not here to engage in a dispute with Cardinal Mahony or any other hierarch.

In his public talks and in his remarks at the meeting with the attorneys and experts he repeated that Pope John Paul II had not shown any leadership in the sex abuse crisis.  He also shared some of his personal experiences in getting to know victims and their families in Australia that led him to put the welfare of the victims above the image of the Church.  He also revealed much of his own personal story and provided a good deal of information about how the Australian Church has responded to the sexual abuse problem.

2.        There are significant differences between the Australian and U.S. experience.  The variance in numbers of Catholics, bishops and priests is itself impressive.  Geoff said there are 42 active bishops in Australia and he believed he could speak with and communicate with 30 of them.  The comparison between the two countries is striking:

Australia: 32 Dioceses; 3,115 Priests; 55 Bishops;
1 Cardinal; 27% of the total Population
 
U.S.A.: 194 Dioceses; 43,000 Priests; 486 Bishops;
17 Cardinals; 23 % of the total Population.

N.B. This listing of bishops includes retired bishops and auxiliary bishops.  Presently Australia has 6 active auxiliary bishops and a total of 19 retired bishops.

3.        The attorneys and experts shared their experiences in dealing with bishops and superiors of religious orders in the United States.  There is a common element that is obvious from the reflections and remarks of all attorneys: the U.S. bishops appear to be working in concert to resist any and all attempts at monetary settlements arrived at through the civil court system.  The bishops do not seem to have developed an appreciable degree of pastoral sensitivity towards the victims or towards their families and loved ones.

The civil processes have been drawn out and made very costly because of the commitment of church attorneys to use every possible tactic to resist disclosure of pertinent documents.  In the course of the civil processes the victims were generally treated as the enemies of the Church. Church officials and/or their attorneys have subjected victims’ (plaintiffs’) attorneys to public and private slanderous attacks in a number of cases.  Some American bishops have even stooped to character assassination of plaintiff attorneys and witnesses.

4.        Some of the attorneys and experts are baptized Catholics who had been involved in varying degrees with the life of the Catholic Church.  The involvement with victims and the direct experiences with the institutional church have left deep spiritual scars for many.  The experience of the attorneys present reflects that of many attorneys who were not present: representing victims of sexual abuse and seeing first-hand the response of bishops and cardinals has caused a serious crisis of belief.  Many have simply abandoned any involvement with the institutional Church in their private lives and some have gone even further and have seriously questioned the validity of most or all of the teachings of the institutional Church. 

5.         There was a general opinion among all that it is hopeless to expect the bishops to change their approach.  A few bishops have met with victims and a few of the diocesan review boards have left positive impressions on victims. However, in general the experience in speaking with bishops, with diocesan review boards or with victim outreach coordinators has not been positive.  In a significant number of cases the victims and their attorneys have been savaged by the Church authorities and by the church lawyers. 

6.         The Vatican officials do not appear to have an accurate understanding of the nature of clergy sexual abuse and the impact on victims and their families.  They do not comprehend how extensive abuse is throughout the U.S.  Like individual bishops, the Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) has concentrated on self-protection.  It has issued reports and created certain administrative structures such as the National Review Board and Office of Child Protection.  These do not report to the Catholic people in general but to the bishops.  It gives the appearance that their primary focus is maintaining the bishops’ image (bella figura). 

7.         Bishop Robinson shared some of his own experiences with victims.  He was selected by the Australian Bishops to be their representative to the victims.  He has met with and spent significant time with hundreds of victims and with their families.  These experiences caused him to come to grips with his own experience of sexual abuse as a young boy.  As he listened more and more and probed into the meaning of sexual abuse he concluded that the systemic causes required an honest and fearless look at the use of power in the Church as well as the approach to human sexuality.  He is well aware that his statements have caused concern on the part of Vatican officials.  He stated privately and publicly that he believes we must address the problem honestly and follow the arguments wherever they may go. 

8.         The discussion centered on our shared experiences with clergy sex abuse victims.  We also discussed some of the financial mismanagement and duplicity perpetrated by Church officials.  Bishop Robinson expressed his surprise at the extent of financial impropriety.  He also admitted that he was quite surprised at the consistent problems we have encountered with U.S. bishops and their response to clergy abuse.  We expressed that while he found it difficult to comprehend that the bishops had acted as they had, we, on our part, expressed our own surprise that he could say, based on his experience, that he believed the bishops in his country were not acting maliciously.  Our collective experiences have been quite different from his in Australia.  He made it clear to us that he did not disbelieve anything he had heard but was finding it difficult to assimilate it all. 

9.         Bishop Robinson does not believe that the Vatican will ever respond adequately.  In spite of the pope’s words and gestures on his recent (April) visit to the U.S., it is highly unlikely that Benedict XVI will take any action against a bishop or cardinal who had either been an abuser himself or had intentionally enabled cleric-abusers.

10.       We concluded by sharing the hope that our mutual support and collaboration will serve to help us protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse in the future.  We also shared the hope that our mutual support will provide some degree of hope for those who have worked long and hard for justice for victims and accountability by the bishops.

see photo

 

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The following editorial was published in the Los Angeles Times:
 
Catholic rebels with a cause
Former Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's work with victims
puts him at odds with the church.
Karin Klein hears him speak.  June 12, 2008

Considering that they had come to hear a forbidden Roman Catholic speaker, the people at the UC San Diego faculty club didn't look like rebels. They were mostly older, conservative in dress, sedate in manner. At a reception before the speech Tuesday evening, as they sipped French roast coffee and nibbled cheese cubes, they professed their continuing love of the Catholic religion -- but also deep turmoil and anger about sexual abuse by priests. Or to be more exact, about church leaders who put protecting predator priests and the church's image over protecting children.

And when they settled in for the speech, there were so many of them that people stood, lining the walls of the room and spilling onto the patio beyond it.

They had brought their troubled hearts and disturbing questions to retired Australian auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, whose work with abuse victims led him to believe that the celibacy rule for priests, their status as authority figures "above" others and the church's emphasis on appearances contributed to the molestation scandal. Four Roman Catholic bishops in California told him to stay out of the state on his nationwide speaking tour, saying he could be a source of disunity and confusion for Catholics. "I hereby deny you permission to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," Cardinal Roger M. Mahony wrote to Robinson, whose U.S. tour is scheduled to end tonight [June12] with a talk in Culver City. [In fact his final talk was in San Francisco on June 13]

Of course, Robinson is at odds with his church because he challenges such authority -- which makes him precisely the sort of person who would come with or without Mahony's permission.

Church officials believe that Robinson's book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church," contains "doctrinal difficulties." But if they expected that U.S. audiences would unquestioningly accept Robinson's views, they would have been surprised by the response Tuesday night. True, the audience applauded him for arguing that the statute of limitations on sexual molestation must be lifted, and that neither Pope John Paul II nor Pope Benedict XVI had properly addressed the issue. But in private conversations, they doubted his claim that priestly celibacy played a role in the molestations, saying that sexual desire and sexual predation are entirely different things. This group was evenhanded in its skepticism.

Robinson's listeners were not putting the scandals behind them without more thought and debate. That's especially true now that they see parochial schools and parishes being closed to pay huge settlements to the abuse victims. One woman had been so tormented by the documentary "Deliver Us From Evil," about molestations in Northern California, that she had driven from Las Vegas to hear Robinson speak. They want an open conversation with the church, even if that conversation leads to questions that challenge the foundations of Catholic tradition. Until they feel they have found this at their church, they will seek it elsewhere.

Karin Klein 


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Bishop Robinson’s final presentation in the USA was in San Francisco on Friday, June 13 at a room in the Jesuit run University of San Francisco. VOTF hosted a SRO audience of 150. The University allowed the lecture to take place at the advertised site but withdrew their co-sponsorship at the last minute. Many Catholics regard the reaction of Rome and the various bishops, as a powerful example of the abuse of power that Robinson says should be examined. The lock-step reaction to church authority is frightening to many American Catholics and one cause for many others to leave the church.

The March 18, 2003 article from Newsday is worth reprinting here since it represents the past, present, and ongoing reality in the Catholic Church in the United States. The priest featured here is still active in the ministry.

Priest: Former LI Bishop Ignored Reports of Abuse

Priest's Statement Links Diocesan Leader to Church Cover-up

By Eden Laikin, Newsday.com March 18, 2003

By the time the Rev. Edward Seagriff got to tell his story to then-Bishop John McGann in fall 1986, he felt desperate. He had already told three church officials -- his pastor, the vice chancellor of the Diocese of Rockville Centre and a diocesan lawyer -- that the Rev. Matthew Fitzgerald, a priest in his Westbury parish, was fondling young boys. But the only result was that Fitzgerald was eventually transferred to St. Matthews in Dix Hills, where he was placed in charge of that parish's youth ministry. 

Additionally, Seagriff said, all three officials specifically told him not to contact police. When he spoke with the bishop, Seagriff said he was surprised because McGann seemed more angry at him than at Fitzgerald. "What do you expect me to do with these men?" McGann snapped at him in a conversation Seagriff described as "heated." "Throw them out," Seagriff said he answered. "Well," he said McGann replied, "that's why I am the bishop and you are not."  

After the visit, Seagriff said he knew of no further action against Fitzgerald. However, Seagriff said that within two months, the diocese eliminated Seagriff's salary and health insurance while he was on leave, a leave he says was directly related to the stress of his effort to report abuse. Seagriff said he didn't challenge the loss of benefits because he didn't think he could prove it was related to his complaints.  

While last month's report by a special grand jury in Suffolk County blamed McGann's deputies for a cover-up of sexual abuse by priests within the diocese, Seagriff's statement -- made Friday in response to a subpoena by Manhattan attorney Michael Dowd -- directly ties McGann to the scandal for the first time.  

Dowd initially subpoenaed Seagriff in connection with a lawsuit he's filed on behalf of 42 abuse victims against the Diocese of Brooklyn, where Seagriff was a seminarian. He said Monday he also questioned Seagriff about Rockville Centre because Dowd plans to sue the diocese on behalf of about 20 people who have contacted his office. McGann, who died in 2002, led the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre from 1976 to 2000. Diocesan spokeswoman Joanne Novarro Monday declined to comment on Seagriff's statement saying, "This is something that's under litigation ... "  

The statement by Seagriff -- a priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst since 1993 -- describes how he tried to get the diocese to deal with two different priests, one in Westbury, the other in Holbrook. In one instance, he said he pulled Fitzgerald off two teenage boys he had wrestled to the ground and was fondling. In the other, he reported that the Rev. Brian McKeon had young boys up in his room in the Holbrook rectory drinking alcohol "at least once a week," and that the boys sometimes spent the night there. In both instances, the statement said, the diocesan response left him "disillusioned."

 The incidents occurred in the 1980s, and both men continued to serve as priests until after the sex abuse scandal gained notoriety at the end of 2001, when their faculties to act as priests were removed. Monday, Seagriff declined to comment on the statement he gave to Dowd, except to say he stood by it and is "grateful that Bishop Murphy has quickly put into place in the diocese a system to prevent a situation like this from happening again."

Seagriff, 50, said the first complaint he made about Fitzgerald came in 1982, when Seagriff was 27, and a newly ordained priest assigned to St. Brigid's church in Westbury. He said he received complaints from teens and their parents soon after Fitzgerald arrived at the parish. The first complaint came from an anonymous woman who said Fitzgerald inappropriately touched her 15-year-old son in a health-club shower. Later, teenage brothers told him Fitzgerald had fondled one of them in the club's Jacuzzi, after telling them to take their bathing suits off before getting in.

 Then, in April 1985, Seagriff said he came home to the rectory to find two teenage boys being "wrestled down to the ground" by Fitzgerald. "The kids are screaming 'get off of me, stop touching me,'" as Fitzgerald grinded into the boys "in a sexual manner," Seagriff said. "... he was grabbing, touching, groping, grinding." Seagriff said he pulled Fitzgerald off the boys and chased him to his room.

The boys then told him how, over a year's time, Fitzgerald would come up behind them in the sacristy and "thrust his hands into their underpants and grab them," Seagriff said. One told him that Fitzgerald also fondled him in the boy's backyard pool. Each time he received a complaint against Fitzgerald, Seagriff said he told his pastor, Rev. Fred Schaefer, about it. But when he did, he said, Schaefer told him to stop bothering him. At one point, he said, Schaefer told him, "Mind your ... business," using an obscenity. "I immediately said to the pastor, I think the police should be called," Seagriff recalled, but he said Schaefer said "a priest doesn't have to call the police, and he didn't want the police called." Schaeffer died in 1996.

Clergy sexual abuse in the United States is neither a new problem nor has it been solved. Father Seagriff’s testimony was subpoenaed in the 2002 Grand Jury investigation of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Suffolk County, New York. The report on that investigation of Rockville Center Diocese was the first of 12 or 13 investigations of sexual abuse instituted by District Attorneys and Attorneys General around the country. Every one of the reports found bishops negligent, involved in complicity and conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse by clergy. Although the USCCB has made proclamations and set up educational programs for laity THEY HAVE NOT CHANGED. The operation and attitudes of American bishops are ingrained and seemingly immutable as currently demonstrated in their personal operation. Everyone who has had a chance to observe cardinals and bishops closely gives testimony to this fact. 

Bishop Robinson was given a disc copy of the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report issued September 19, 2005. Others concerning Boston and New Hampshire are also available. The contents and conclusion are similar and equally horrendous in every case. It is appropriate to quote the conclusion of the Suffolk County document since it is paradigmatic of the other reports including the Report of the National Review Board established by the USCCB (Feb. 27, 2004):

“The Grand Jury makes the following conclusions based on the stated findings of fact:

Priests assigned to and working in the Diocese of Rockville Center committed criminal acts…These criminal acts included, but were not limited to, Rape, Sodomy, Sexual Abuse, Endangering the Welfare of a Child and Use of a Child in a Sexual Performance. Not one priest in the Diocese who knew about these criminal acts reported them to any law enforcement agency..…

The Grand Jury concludes that officials in the Diocese failed in their responsibility to protect children. They ignored credible complaints about the sexually abusive behaviors of priests. They failed to act on obvious warning signs of sexual abuse including instances where they were aware that priests had children in their private rooms in the rectory overnight, that priests were drinking alcohol with underage children and exposing them to pornography. Even where a priest disclosed sexually abusive behavior with children officials failed to act to remove them from ministry.” P. 172

“The Grand Jury concludes that the history of the Diocese of Rockville Center demonstrates that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests. The Grand Jury concludes that this was more than simple incompetence. The evidence before the Grand Jury clearly demonstrates that Diocesan officials agreed to engage in conduct that resulted in the prevention, hindrance and delay in the discovery of criminal conduct by priests. They conceived and agreed to a plan using deception and intimidation to prevent victims from seeking legal solution to their problems. This included victims who were seeking compensation for their injuries in the civil courts. There, Diocesan officials pursued aggressive legal strategies to dismiss time barred claims and improperly named parties. They insisted upon confidentiality agreements in cases that were settled. This policy put children at risk inasmuch as victims were prohibited by law from speaking out about the criminal conduct of sexually abusive priests. Absent the adoption of these recommendations, the Grand Jury does not believe that the Diocese of Rockville Center has the demonstrated capability to properly handle the issues of clergy sexual abuse….The Grand Jury concludes that  the conduct of certain Diocesan official would have warranted criminal prosecution but for the fact that the existing statutes are inadequate.” Pp.173-4

In a 2008 interview with Father Seagriff he stated that the inner function of the diocese and ministry has not changed. He pointed attention to part of the core problem of change—that is, the semi-secret sexual activity of some bishops and cardinals. It is widely known sometimes, for instance within the clergy community, that a bishop is living with his homosexual partner, or that a cardinal or bishop has a mistress. These liaisons are not criminal, but they do contribute substantially to the culture where other sex activity can persist. There is nowhere for a concerned priest or layperson to go to assist the church community. The higher a priest reaches for help in the church the more pressure is brought upon him to be silent. Enough documentation will eventually be assembled in this country to discuss openly all the issues that Bishop Robinson addresses in his book. Unfortunately the media not the moral determination of the hierarchy will probably have to take the lead.


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BOOK REVIEW

'Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church' by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

A retired prelate tackles the underlying causes of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal.

By William Lobdell, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
 

June 27, 2008

It was easy to let my imagination run wild about "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus," written by retired prelate Geoffrey Robinson, auxiliary Catholic bishop of Sydney, Australia, for two decades.

The book has generated swift reaction and harsh words from leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. Robinson's fellow bishops in Australia labeled his positions problematic, claiming that his views question "the authority of the Catholic Church to teach the truth definitively."

And the Vatican and a dozen American bishops -- including Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Tod Brown of Orange and Robert Brom of San Diego -- recently asked him not to speak out on his book tour lest he "be a source of disunity and cause of confusion among the faithful," in Brown's words. (He ignored their wishes.)

With that dramatic buildup, reading the first few chapters of Robinson's book was like watching a horror movie where the spooky music swells as someone slowly opens a closet door, only to find no monster there.

It's a little disappointing, because the boogeyman created by church leaders turns out to be a thoughtful, gentle, humble theologian and canonlawyerwith a deep love and respect for the church. His scary ideas that caused so much consternation within the Vatican and among fellow bishops can be boiled down to one premise: The church needs to understand and address the root causes of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in order to heal itself.

The only scary part of the story is that Robinson, himself a victim of sexual abuse as a child(not by a cleric), stands virtually alone among the world's Roman Catholic bishops in openly questioning a system that has resulted in thousands of children being molested and raped and the crimes of the perpetrator priests being covered up by church leaders.

Under an avalanche of lawsuits and media coverage, Robinson's colleagues (surrounded by a battery of attorneys and public relations specialists) were forced to enact reforms such as not allowing priests who had molested to serve in ministry. But the underlying causes have, for the most part, not been addressed.

In "Confronting Power," Robinson explores how the church could get it so wrong.

As the title suggests, Robinson believes the molestation scandal was the result of an abuse of power and sex. He argues that the church over the centuries has concentrated too much authority within the clergy and especially within the papacy -- leaving no room for debate on church teachings that, in theory, could be changed.

He says Catholics suffer from the doctrine of "creeping infallibility," where declarations by the pope are thought of as infallible -- and therefore not open to discussion -- though they don't officially carry the label of "papal infallibility." (The concept of papal infallibility wasn't introduced until 1870, and the only infallible statement issued by a pope was in 1950 when Pius XII declared that Mary, upon her death, was assumed bodily into heaven.)

Robinson, who handled sexual abuse claims in Australia from 1994 to 2004, said creeping infallibility effectively stops even a discussion on issues that may have caused the sexual abuse scandal, including mandatory celibacy and an all-male priesthood.

Reliance on direction from the pope is so strong, Robinson argues, that when Pope John Paul II was silent on the emerging sexual abuse scandal, his bishops and priests believed the church wanted them to continue to manage the problem as they had been.

Robinson writes: "I am convinced that if the pope had spoken clearly at the beginning of the revelations, inviting victims to come forward so that the whole truth, however terrible, might be known and confronted, and firmly directing that all members of the church should respond with openness, humility, honesty and compassion, consistently putting victims before the good name of the church, the entire response of the church would have been far better."

A multitiered system of checks and balances that includes the pope, bishops, priests and the laity would allow the church to escape its self-built "prison of the past," Robinson writes, and face the idea that it may be time to revise certain church teachings, including on aspects of sexuality and a celibate priesthood.

"Far too often the Catholic Church has believed that it had such a level of divine guidance that it did not need the right to be wrong," Robinson writes.

"As a result, both theologically and psychologically it can be bound to decisions of the past."

Overall, Robinson's book reads like a paper written by a Catholic policy wonk rather than 95 theses nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.

He's careful to build his case, giving historical context that may be too basic for many Catholics. He also lays out his vision of a reformed church in so much detail that it tends to read like the first draft of a memo.

Many critics will label Robinson a liberal, and that's fair enough. But he's not a heretic. He doesn't challenge church doctrine deemed immutable (such as the statements of faith contained in the Nicene Creed).

Many of his ideas call for a return to earlier days when the power in the church was less centralized. In that way, he could be considered a conservative.

What makes Robinson's book such a threat to the church's hierarchy is that it contains a historically sound, common-sense approach to reforming the church by reducing and checking the power and authority of the papacy and priesthood and allowing the laity to be part of the decision-making process.

It will be surprising to many readers that this modest book from an obscure publisher has generated such a disproportionate response from the Catholic hierarchy.

But then again, a call for openness, debate and sharing of authority can be very dangerous to those in power.


William Lobdell spent eight years on the religion beat for The Times. His memoir, "Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Covering Religion in America," will be published in February.

Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church

Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

Liturgical Press: 308 pp., $24.95 paper

source:  http://www.latimes.com/features/religion/la-et-book27-2008jun27,0,2649131.story

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