February 12, 2003

Things Are Worse Than You Can Imagine

Things are worse than you can imagine, even after you think you have already taken account of the fact that things are worse than you can imagine.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden learns that the Archdiocese of Boston was not the worst Catholic diocese in the country, and is driven berserk in rage and horror...

What about the boy? ...this fascinating story in today's New York Times...

[Rockville Centre is the Catholic diocese just east of Brooklyn and Queens, composed of Nassau and Suffolk Counties.]

A grand jury's assertion that the Diocese of Rockville Centre secretly battled to protect priests while pretending to extend a pastoral hand to sexual abuse victims goes beyond anything seen since the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church erupted a year ago, victims of abuse and their advocates said yesterday. [...]

While masquerading as sympathetic listeners, the officials were actually doing everything they could to fend off dozens of victims, keep their charges quiet and keep abusive priests in the ministry, the grand jury said in the report, which was released on Monday.

"I have not frankly seen a team that is so sinister and dedicated to the purpose like this," said one lawyer, Jeffrey Anderson, who added that he had pressed cases in more than half of the nation's dioceses. [...]

In one instance, the official told a parish employee who reported suspicious behavior that the priest would be sent for treatment, the report said. What about the boy, the employee asked. The grand jury report said the official replied: "It's not my responsibility to worry about the boy. My job is to protect the bishop and the church." [...]

While his name never appears, Msgr. Alan J. Placa's shadow hovers throughout the grand jury report.

Monsignor Placa was the architect of the diocese's legal strategy, a national expert in the field and the crucial member of the intervention team. Several months after the panel was ended in April, he was suspended from the ministry after being accused of abusing children. Monsignor Placa is a close friend of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor, and works for Mr. Giuliani's consulting business.

The grand jury report does not mention names. But it often refers to a priest who is a lawyer as dealing with victims. The description fits Monsignor Placa, and lawyers for victims have said he is the author of confidential legal memorandums quoted by the grand jury.

Monsignor Placa, who has defended his work on the panel and denied misconduct, did not respond to a request for an interview yesterday...

The New York Times Sponsored by Starbucks

February 11, 2003

L.I. Diocese Tricked Victims of Sexual Abuse, Panel Says


A Suffolk County grand jury accused Roman Catholic Church officials on Long Island yesterday of protecting scores of pedophile priests for decades by using sham policies and a bogus "intervention team" to trick and silence victims, cover up crimes, avoid scandals and hold down financial consequences.

The panel said the Diocese of Rockville Centre ? the nation's sixth largest, with 1.3 million Catholics in 134 parishes in Nassau and Suffolk Counties ? had protected at least 58 abusive priests with aggressive tactics that purported to help victims and their families but that actually used intimidation, claims of confidentiality, hush payments and other means to avoid lawsuits and publicity.

Since 1990, the diocese has maintained a special "uninsured perils fund" to cover sexual abuse claims, asbestos exposure and trampoline accidents, the grand jury found. It said the fund, raised from parish collections, had paid $1.7 million in claims ? none for asbestos exposure or trampoline accidents ? but still had $11 million in its account last October.

As for dangerous priests, it said they were shuffled from parish to parish and often allowed to minister to children, while recommendations for psychiatric treatments were ignored and a "legal affairs" team, ostensibly set up to help sexual abuse victims, worked to suppress legal claims and husband the money.

"The grand jury concludes that the history of the Diocese of Rockville Centre demonstrates that as an institution they are incapable of properly handling issues relating to the sexual abuse of children by priests," the special grand jury said in a 180-page report based on a nine-month inquiry.

It said the failures, documented in testimony by priests and victims and in church records including secret archives on 43 priests, could not be attributed to 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," it said.

The report did not name any diocesan leaders or abusive priests, and the grand jury said it was unable to file indictments against the diocese because of a five-year statute of limitations. But the panel called for new laws to eliminate time limitations on prosecuting child sex-abuse cases and to require that members of the clergy report child abuse directly to the authorities.

The report was one of the most comprehensive accountings of abuse by priests in a diocese since the pedophile scandal engulfed the Roman Catholic Church 13 months ago with disclosures that a Boston priest had attacked 130 boys over 30 years. Since then, hundreds of civil suits have been filed with claims totaling more than $100 million, and prosecutors across the nation have taken their investigations of clerical sexual abuse before dozens of grand juries.

A survey by The New York Times last month found that the crisis had spread to nearly every American diocese and had involved more than 1,200 priests and more than 4,200 victims in the last six decades. Those accused represent less than 2 percent of the priests in America, but research suggests that the extent of the problem remains hidden because many cases have gone unreported.

Yesterday's report was unveiled by the Suffolk County district attorney, Thomas J. Spota, at a news conference in Hauppauge. "This document tells all of us what was really happening in the Diocese of Rockville Centre for years and years and years," he said. "High-ranking prelates protected 58 colleagues from disgrace rather than protecting children from these predator priests."

Mr. Spota added: "Time after time, and despite overwhelming evidence that priests were committing crimes against children, they were willingly sacrificing the truth for fear of scandal and for monetary considerations."

Joanne C. Novarro, a spokeswoman for the Rockville Centre Diocese, called the grand jury report unfair and insisted that the diocese had taken all cases of sexual abuse by priests seriously and had improved its methods of handling such cases under Bishop William Murphy, who took over the diocese last year.

"While sexual abuse of minors is always a grave sin and a crime, the ways of dealing with it have developed over time," she said. "This is every bit as true of law enforcement officials as of church personnel."

Ms. Novarro added: "It is unfair to use today's standards to judge sincere attempts in the past to assist victims and to help perpetrators not to offend again. The diocese took extremely seriously any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, sent the accused priest away for evaluation and treatment, and worked with the victims for a just settlement."

The spokeswoman also sharply criticized Mr. Spota for releasing the report to the news media before issuing copies to the diocese. She said that the diocesan lawyers were reviewing it and that neither she nor Bishop Murphy had read it.

Bishop Murphy was not at the briefing. Ms. Novarro said he had gone to Boston, where he is to testify on Wednesday before a grand jury investigating whether he and other church officials could be prosecuted for protecting abusive priests there. Bishop Murphy was formerly the top deputy to Cardinal Bernard Law and has been cited in nearly one-third of the pending cases in Boston.

The Suffolk grand jury, impaneled last May, heard 97 witnesses and examined 257 exhibits, including personnel records of the diocese going back to its founding in 1957, and what it called "secret archives" on 43 priests who have been accused of sexual abuse. "The vast majority of priests assigned to the diocese are dedicated to their pastoral ministry," the report said.

But the report ? in what has become a familiar litany ? presented evidence, often in graphic terms, of assaults by priests from the late 1970's: the rape and sodomy of altar boys, cheerleaders and others who were given alcohol, shown pornographic materials and seduced in rectories, churches or their own homes, or were taken to motels, peep shows or sex clubs or on camping trips and other outings.

Identifying the priests only by letters of the alphabet ? A through W ? the report detailed abuse that often continued for years. While many cases were brought to the attention of diocesan officials, it said, only one priest was unfrocked ? for having an affair with an adult woman.

"The response of priests in the diocesan hierarchy to allegations of criminal sexual abuse was not pastoral," the report said. "In fact, although there was a written policy that set a pastoral tone, it was a sham. The diocese failed to follow the policy from its inception, even at the most rudimentary level."

Instead, it said, diocesan officials transferred the abusive priests from parish to parish or out of the diocese, but their records did not go with them. "Abusive priests were protected under the guise of confidentiality," it said. "Their histories were mired in secrecy."

Moreover, to carry out what the panel called its cover-up policy, the diocese in the mid-1980's set up what it called the Office of Legal Affairs, known unofficially as the "intervention team." It was, in fact, two high-ranking priests who were also lawyers.

Ostensibly they recommended treatments for abusive priests ? recommendations that were filed away and forgotten, the grand jury said ? and met with victims and their families, supposedly to discuss possible avenues of action.

"In reality," the grand jury said, "the office and the intervention team had one purpose, protecting the diocese."

To do this, the report said, the team used "aggressive legal strategies" to "defeat and discourage lawsuits, even though diocesan officials knew they were meritorious." Meeting with victims, the team treated crimes of priests as sins, not to be reported to law enforcement officials, and said that offenders were being treated.

"Victims were deceived," the report said. "Priests who were civil attorneys portrayed themselves as interested in the concerns of victims and pretended to be acting for their benefit while they acted only to protect the diocese."

One confidential, self-congratulatory memo written by a team member was quoted in the report as saying: "We have suffered no major loss or scandal due to allegations of sexual misconduct by religious personnel. Since I have been involved in this work, the Diocese of Rockville Centre has paid out a total of $4,000 because of claims of sexual misconduct."

In cases where money was paid from the uninsured perils fund, victims were asked to sign confidentiality agreements so there would be no publicity, the report said.

"The grand jury finds the actions of diocesan officials who were responsible for making and implementing policy reprehensible," it said.

Posted by DeLong at February 12, 2003 08:00 AM | TrackBack

The Catholic Church is inherently a corrupt institution. It places no real check and balances upon the power of the bishops and the priests. Lay people are considered scum bags who should pay, pray, and keep their mouths shut. Nothing can possibly change for the better until the laity demand their legitimate place at the table. Unfortunately, they have been brainwashed to believe that they are going to hell if they say anything bad about a member of the clergy.

I remember speaking to Frank Morriss, an ultraconservative Catholic journalist who had to release a public statement after the arrest, some thirty years ago, of the famous Fr. Richard Ginder for allegedly molesting altar boys. A high number of lay people accused him of lying about the priest. This did not cease until Ginder admitted that the charges were indeed true.

Posted by: David Thomson on February 12, 2003 09:27 PM

Although I'm no friend of the Catholic church, I note with interest that if one substituted the woord "Jew" for "Catholic" in Mr. Thomson's screed above, it would be a prime example of anti-semitism.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on February 13, 2003 04:27 AM

My view of this issue is well summarized by our host in the first line of this post. But David Thomson's claim that the Catholic laity "have been brainwashed to believe that they are going to hell if they say anything bad about a member of the clergy" is odious baloney. I was raised in the church and I can say with complete confidence that nobody ever made any such claim to me.

In fact, survey after survey shows that modern American Catholics are remarkably comfortable with the idea that priests and church officials are fallible, and rank-and-file Catholics show every bit as much independence of thought as any other large group of Americans. Right now, all over America, Catholic laity are getting very exercised indeed about the misdeeds of their church officials, and expressing their displeasure through public protests, new organizations, and non-trivial financial pressure. David Thomson's remarks come from a universe in which none of that is happening.

Talk about the corruption of the Church hierarchy, and I'll readily agree with you. But the image of regular Catholics as priest-ridden ignoramuses terrorized into unquestioning obedience is an old staple of American nativist bigotry, and it's no less ugly when it dresses itself up in liberal garb. Here in 2003, a lot of American Catholics are in fact confronting their church about its misdeeds, and they deserve to be supported by their fellow citizens, not handwaved out of existence with glib, fatuous stereotypes rooted in some of the worst strands of American history.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden on February 13, 2003 05:11 AM

Thank you, Patrick, for your eloquence. I also was raised in that tradition. And I dislike intensely the broad brush Mr. Thomson and his ilk apply. Yes, members of the hierarchy have done some heinous things. But, it needs to be emphasized that not all members of the hierarchy have done these things, or condoned them. Many have actively opposed them.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that there are vast numbers of faithful Catholics, doing many good things for themselves, for others, and for the country and the world. Most of these (I'm tempted to say almost all of these) are appalled by what the herarchy has done, and has permitted to be done. And they do NOT blindly support those who've done these deeds.

I left the Church years ago, for reasons which need not concern us here. But it pains me to see the many good Catholic people I know smeared in this manner.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on February 13, 2003 07:16 AM

The differences between anti-Catholic sentiment and anti-semitism are great. There is no way to conflate them. There is no Jewish pope. There is no worldwide Jewish hierarchy. The word Jew corresponds to the word Christian, not the word Catholic.

Secondly, just because many (Northern)Catholics believe that clergy are fallible does not make it so. Catholic dogma clearly states that the pope is infallible and that the only way to salvation is through the "one Catholic and apostolic church." If you don't believe this, you cannot become a clergy member. Therefore, the more moderate beliefs of the (northern) congregations are irrelevant to discussions of the Church administration's calumny.

You can start whining about anti-Catholic bigotry once some of these child-rapists and their enabling supieriors are jailed. Seems to me they're getting off easy. The steps the laity are now taking are not only too little too late, but are totally inconsistant with the ruling structure of the institution.

Ex-Catholic Biz

Posted by: biz on February 13, 2003 09:38 AM

My point, Biz, was that if Thomson's statement had contained the word "Jew" instead of the word "Catholic" it would have been considered anti-semitic. No one attempted to equate Jewry with Catholicism.

READ the posts before you comment on them.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on February 13, 2003 09:47 AM

I am an ex-Catholic journalist who once wrote for the reactionary "The Wanderer." Thus, I speak from a certain degree of experience. Am I painting with too broad of a brush? That all depends on how you define membership in the Catholic Church. Patrick Nielsen Hayden is almost certainly a cafeteria Catholic who dissents from most of the teachings of the Magisterium. He therefore doesn't count. This gentleman is probably a Protestant who fails to have the intellectual honesty to leave the Catholic Church. My point is valid only regarding Catholics who seriously abide by the Vatican’s interpretation of theology.

Posted by: David Thomson on February 13, 2003 02:27 PM

So he's not a good enough Catholic to be insulted by your slur of his faith? That's original.

The Pope is only infallible in matters of faith, not in matters of politics or administration. Perhaps they didn't cover that on your beat.

Posted by: julia on February 14, 2003 05:00 PM

chuck nolan: you can repeat your nonsense but it doesn't make it true. I don't even agree with what Thomson wrote BUT it would NOT be anti-semitic if the word "jew" was substituted.

Now some people of variegated persuasions may indeed think so, Chuck. But they'd be idiots.

Posted by: bill on February 14, 2003 05:08 PM

“I don't even agree with what Thomson wrote BUT it would NOT be anti-semitic if the word "jew" was substituted.”

That’s right. My comments had absolutely nothing to do with ethnicity or race. I dealt solely with the authoritarian theological premises of the Catholic Church.

“The Pope is only infallible in matters of faith, not in matters of politics or administration. Perhaps they didn't cover that on your beat.”

A splendid example of the Church’s non-democratic chain of command is the very fact that John Paul II is still pope even though he is incapable of handling his responsibilities. He should have retired at least five years ago. The Catholic Church is being criminally negligent.

Posted by: David Thomson on February 15, 2003 08:12 AM

organized religion itself is inherently corrupt. What is in the gospel, and even St. Paul do not justify RC, Orthodox, Anglican (me), or the various protestant denominations.

True religion would:
semi-desacralize dogma
semi disassemble the hierarchy

Posted by: secular clergyman on February 15, 2003 09:15 PM

"organized religion itself is inherently corrupt. What is in the gospel, and even St. Paul do not justify RC, Orthodox, Anglican (me), or the various protestant denominations.

True religion would:
semi-desacralize dogma
semi disassemble the hierarchy"

“organized religion itself is inherently corrupt. What is in the gospel, and even St. Paul do not justify RC, Orthodox, Anglican (me), or the various protestant denominations.

True religion would:
semi-desacralize dogma
semi disassemble the hierarchy”

One may somewhat sympathize with the sentiments, but they cannot be logically defended. There is no such thing as religion without organization. This is intrinsically impossible. Hierarchy is also mandatory in any group setting.

Posted by: David Thomson on February 17, 2003 12:57 PM

"hierarchy manditory- religion without orginization:

Let me be polite.
Hinduism- no hierarchy, even less orginization. Confucianism ditto.
Buddhism- lots of organization lots of hierarchs but it all is voluntary except when govt backs a particular sect.
Judaism there was a temple priesthood hierarchy. It collapsed. Israel right now gives power to the orthodox, although some of that power is being taken away. Elsewhere, no hierarchy and inconsistent organization.
Islam traditionally no hierarchy, although recent developments have occurred. Organisations yes, but not authoritative- or at least not widely accepted as authoritative. No shortages of self proclaimed authorities.
Christianity- variety of hierarchies claim universal authority. As an actual practice in all but a few parts of the christian world anyone can start a church anywhere. Here let me speak from my beliefs- the sermon on the mount, and the story of the passion form the core of the faith. Synods and other groups add as they will, and claim great authority for their additions. Most Christians take it all with a heavy dose of salt. And who says, the the moral versus the legal sense, that the Pope owns the catholic church?

Posted by: secular clergyman on February 18, 2003 10:52 PM

“Organizations yes, but not authoritative”

This makes no logical sense whatsoever. All organizations are authoritative. It’s merely a question of degree. An organization exists even if the members delude themselves into believing that they are unorganized! Explicit formulations are actually the exception, and not the general rule; we rely on tacit agreements in most of our daily interactions with other people. Someone indeed may claim to adhere to a non-denominational religion. Alas, they are only exhibiting their ignorance and capacity for self delusion.

Posted by: David Thomson on February 19, 2003 03:02 PM
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