Spokane parishes asked to pay for settlements

How much worse can it get? The Diocese of Spokane is asking parishes to raise $10 million toward legal settlements for clergy sex-abuse. That’s got to be a tough sell.

The diocese declared bankruptcy because of the lawsuits and now must pay $48 million to victims in 177 claims of abuse. Now $10 million falls on the the 95,000 parishioners and 82 parishes. That’s $105 per person or $121,951 per parish on average. That’s over and above what the diocese itself has to raise. The diocese needs to come up with $6 million; independent Catholic agencies like Catholic Charities and children’s homes need to give another $6.5 million. Insurance will cover the rest.

Think of all the corporal works of mercy that could be accomplished with that money, the children that could be served, the poor that could be helped. Think of all the capital improvements that could be made in parishes, the ministries that won’t happen.

Some parishioners are angry at Skylstad for taking the diocese into bankruptcy, while others balk at paying bankruptcy lawyer fees. Still others question why they should pay for priests who molested children decades ago in other parishes, Borchardt said. The pastor has evoked the parable of the good Samaritan, who stopped to help a man who had been beaten and robbed as others looked the other way.

If the Devil were looking for a way to seriously undermine the work of the Church in the world, he couldn’t have found a better way. In one fell swoop, he undermines the confidence in the priesthood and bishops and then strips parishes and charitable agencies of badly needed funds to do the good work of worshipping the Lord, forming the people in faith, and carrying out the corporal works of mercy.

It truly is the butcher’s bill.

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Bishop Vasa writes his own “safe environment” program

Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, has gone on record as a critic of the current “safe environment” programs being offered by dioceses in response to the Scandal, such as “Talking about Touching” and “Good Touch, Bad Touch” and others. Rather than curse the darkness, the good bishop has decided to light a proverbial candle as described in his latest email sent out to various folks.

In brief, he is working with the Catholic Medical Association and others to craft a new program to address the shortcomings of what is available now, with the most basic goal of endeavoring to train the parents to teach their own kids, which is what the Church says we’re supposed to do in the first place.

It has been a while since I corresponded with you regarding the Safe Environment Programs which are being used throughout the Dioceses of the US. I write to give you an update, offer some hope and ask a favor.

UPDATE: In the Fall of 2006 the Catholic Medical Association issued a Report titled: To Protect and to Prevent: The Sexual Abuse of Children and its Prevention. This Report is available for purchase on the CMA website: Cathmed.org. One of the recommendations of the Report was: “We recommend that the energy and resources now directed to child and adolescent empowerment programs be refocused on the development of programs to assist parents in being the primary educators and protectors of their children.” As you can imagine this recommendation has not been accepted or acted upon by the producers of other Child Protection strategies.

HOPE: It does not appear that others will engage in the recommended work. Thus, I have been working with a small group of dedicated Healthcare Professionals and Priests to fulfill this recommendation. We have studied the issues more thoroughly and have been engaged in formulating the script and format for a 6 hour video series focusing on strengthening and reinforcing good parenting as a primary way to assure the safety of children. The proposed title of our effort might be something like: Strong Families: Safer Children. While it may be that our program will not be adopted by Bishops as the only mechanism for fulfilling the requirements of Article 12 of the Charter for the Protection of Children it is our hope that at least some Bishops will adopt this program as well as many priests in a variety of Parishes and that the families therein will be able to benefit from it.

The letter continued

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News flash: Not all abuse is by priests

The New York Times has just discovered that not all sex abuse in the Church is caused by priests.

Although hundreds of instances of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have come to light in the past several years, resulting in millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements and judgments, the problem is not limited to church clergy members.

“People don’t want to deal with the reality that it’s not just priests that abuse,” said Laura A. Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law, a national group that fights abuse. “Here on Long Island we’ve had a youth minister, a church choir director and even a church soup kitchen volunteer.”

Across the country, experts say, complaints of sexual abuse have been lodged against a variety of church employees and volunteers, including camp counselors, seminarians, parochial school teachers, day care and health care workers and catechism instructors.

There are also instances of nuns being accused of sexual abuse.

Again, none of this is new so, what is the point of the newspaper’s story? (On a related note: if people are surprised that it’s not just priests then who’s fault is that? Perhaps the sensationalist media who made it seem like all priests were potential pedophiles and that celibacy was responsible for repressed sexuality bursting forth in inappropriate ways.)

It sounds like to me that it’s an effort by professional victims’ advocates and plaintiffs’ lawyers are looking for ways to extend the horror we’ve been experiencing over the past five years.

There are no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem. In 2003, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops hired the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to survey the number of sexual abuse complaints but limited the scope to complaints against priests and deacons. That study, which included every diocese in the United States, found 10,667 people had lodged complaints against 4,392 priests from 1950 to 2002, although critics said many victims never filed complaints, and many complaints were not recorded by the church.

“There’s a paucity of hard data on this,” said David G. Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as Snap. “It’s a huge, gaping hole, and it’s troublesome. We have minimized the horror.”

Since priests make up a minority of a church’s staff, Mr. Clohessy said, “it’s at least plausible that as many or more nonordained people are abusers as there are priest abusers.”

In the absence of data he’s making a baseless assertion and because he wants to believe it to be so, then it will become truth for him in short order. Perhaps one reason such data for the nonordained has not been compiled is because of the difficulty in compiling it. Priests were reassigned by bishops and paper trails exist. But youth ministers would be fired. No paper trail within the bureaucracy. And then how do you characterize abuse by a church worker who abuses someone when they’re not at work?

It’s just more mission creep. While the clergy sex-abuse scandal is perceived to be winding down, in the best case, people who’ve made it a lifelong mission to either shed light on abuse, or in the worst case, people looking to make yet more quick bucks off the Church, have begun to shift their sights to what they see as untested ground.

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Manchester diocese falls short, says atty gen’l

A few years ago the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, settled a criminal investigation by the state attorney general’s office by agreeing to a series of requirements, an unprecedented settlement. At the time, many observers wondered whether this agreement had an expiration date, or would such oversight go on forever, and whether Bishop John McCormack was giving up too much of the Church’s autonomy. But considering what he and his predecessors were alleged to have done, maybe he didn’t have a choice.

Now the attorney general says the diocese is not living up to its side of the agreement. An audit found that the diocese was not meeting “abuse-prevention guidelines” approved by the courts.

The audit noted there are “critical gaps” in programs to protect children from sexual abuse and said church leaders have been reticent in complying. The 117-parish diocese relies too heavily on self-reporting and self-policing, the audit said. Auditors criticized the “tone at the top,” particularly in regard to the Rev. Edward Arsenault, who heads efforts to prevent and report sexual abuse.

“In conducting this year’s audit, KPMG encountered resistance from certain corners of the diocese, most notable from … Father Edward Arsenault,” Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said. “Since Father Arsenault is the face of the program to many of the employees and volunteers within the diocese, his attitude to the program is very important in terms of the reflection of the diocese’s overall commitment to the process.”

The details of the “critical gaps” are not given, so I’m left wondering whether Catholics might find the attorney general’s idea of an adequate program to be moral. Is it just the reporting and oversight that’s the problem or programs of instruction?

Another good question, which arose when the agreement was signed, is that since the attorney general’s overall mission is different from the Catholic Church’s whether he might require the diocese to increase its sex-abuse prevention programs at the expense of, say, religious education.

It bears watching because this as a test case concerning the separation of Church and state and criminal investigation of the Scandal.

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VOTF’s last gasps

Voice of the Faithful held its national meeting in Boston last week, specifically at its birthplace at Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Newton.

Reading the summary of the meeting I come away with the renewed conviction that this dissident group is dead and all we’re waiting for is the twitching to end.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of reading between the lines to find that (a) it sources of funding are drying up and (b) membership is declining.

On the fundraising, they try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by noting that the number of individual donors if up while the amount of donations is down, leaving them with a $100,000 deficit in the next fiscal year. What that means is that the organization was relying on large donations from a few individuals, people motivated to ensure that VOTF was around to promote its heterodox vision. It doesn’t mean much to say that the number of individual donors has increased when there weren’t many to begin with.

And while they don’t come out and say that membership is declining, you have to understand that since VOTF counts as a member anyone who has ever attended a meeting or signed up for a mailing list, that number is deceptive. What they do say is that fewer and fewer people are bothering to participate in their activities.

In addition to the financial crisis facing VOTF, Bill Casey identified a crisis in leadership. Evidence of this comes from the low response rates (a range of 1% to 5%) when members are asked for input on proposals.

Frankly the rest of the summary makes for dry reading. It reads like the transcript of a board meeting for a Fortune 500 (a badly declining Fortune 500), and not an evangelical apostolate of the Catholic Church.

Surest sign of a group in collapse

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Slash-and-burn mentality squanders moral capital

The latest issue of Commonweal includes an article by Mark A. Sargent entitled “Vengeance Time: When Abuse Victims Squander Their Moral Authority.”

SNAP has taken it upon itself to conduct a campaign some might call vigilante harassment.

He examines the actions of groups like Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) who treat every allegation of sex abuse lodged against a priest as a mandate to pursue him wherever he goes and to never give him a moment’s peace. In this examination we encounter the gray area between civil law and Church discipline: How are we to deal with priests who are deemed to have “credible or substantial complaints of sexual abuse of minors” yet can’t or won’t be prosecuted by the legal authorities for criminal acts because of lack of evidence or expiration of the statute of limitations.

In November of last year, the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, released the names of twenty former priests about whom the diocese found “credible or substantial complaints of sexual abuse of minors.” Most of the twenty are dead. Edward M. Dudzinski, however, was still living-although he had not served as a priest since the 1980s-and resided in Herndon, Virginia.

When local members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) discovered Dudzinski’s location, they went door-to-door in his neighborhood distributing a file of documents with the title “Community Notification: Protect your children from a credibly accused serial sex offender,” which they believed established Dudzinski’s identity as a sex offender. Dudzinski, however, has never been convicted of, or even charged with, a sexual-abuse crime.

Even in cases where the priest was never charged, even though the case fell within the statute of limitations and several law enforcement agencies investigated and did not file charges, SNAP has taken it upon itself to conduct a campaign against the priest, a campaign which some might call vigilante harassment.

Aiming at the bishops; hitting secondary targets

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San Diego legal shenanigans

A federal bankruptcy judge this week threatened attorneys for the Diocese of San Diego with contempt of court charges for attempting to hide the diocese’s assets during settlement negotiations with sex-abuse victims, but instead ordered an external audit of the diocese’s finances and property.

The diocese had filed for federal bankruptcy protection in February, the third Catholic diocese to do so in the US, just as civil trials on sex-abuse claims were to begin.

But on March 29, the judge called the attorneys on the carpet in her office when she found a memo sent to pastors that looked to her like they were trying to hide diocesan assets.

Adler cited a March 29 letter sent by a diocese parish organization to pastors urging them to get new taxpayer identification numbers and transfer funds to new accounts. The threat Monday came six weeks after the diocese sought bankruptcy protection amid lawsuits by more than 140 people who accuse priests of sexual abuse.

The judge said any post-bankruptcy transfers between the diocese and parishes outside of normal cash operations violate her ruling against shifting the diocese’s assets while the bankruptcy case is pending. She said any transfers require court approval.

In a sternly worded order, Adler said attorneys Susan Boswell, Jeffry Davis and Victor Vilaplana appear to have ”conspired with parishes” to create new bank accounts separate from the diocese.

Boswell wrote in court documents Tuesday that no intentional misrepresentations or misstatements had been made. She said the diocese has ”no access or control” over money in more than 770 bank accounts opened by parishes and parochial schools under the diocese’s taxpayer identification number.

Meanwhile one name remains mysteriously absent from this story and we’re left wondering who’s leading the Diocese of San Diego: the lawyers or Bishop Robert Brom?

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Scandal abuse claims drop

Speaking of the Scandal, the USCCB reports that the number of new claims for clergy sex-abuse have dropped for the second year in a row: 714 cases, down from 783 in 2005 and 1,092 in 2004. This isn’t exactly surprising since there was a lot of pent-up complaints in 2002 when the story first broke. It would take some time for those thousands of cases that took place over decades to be brought forth.

The report also says that the costs related to abuse cases has dropped by about 15 percent over the previous year, but I think that’s somewhat deceptive since the Los Angeles cases are being dragged out and when they are finally done—whether through settlement or litigation—it’s going to make all others pale by comparison.

Of course, the increasingly marginalized Voice of the Faithful has to weigh in:

John Moynihan, a spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group seeking more transparency from Catholic leaders, said he considers the 714 figure “huge” considering how long the crisis has dragged on. More than 13,000 molestation claims have been filed against clergy since 1950. Bishops say abuse-related costs have exceeded $1.5 billion since then.

Never enough

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A failure of clerical ascetical discipline

Over the past five years, a lot of “experts” have proposed causes for the Scandal of clergy sex-abuse that have —to use the cliche—rocked the Church. Predictably the mainstream media have seized on the causes most prejudicial to traditional Catholic morality: celibacy is unnatural, clergy are power-mongers, religion itself is unnatural.

Some in the Church—including some bishops— have taken the opposite tack, insisting that the Scandal is a media creation and that there’s nothing to all the hype.

Many orthodox conservatives—quite rightly, I think—have pointed to a laxity of moral discipline, the problem of gay priests, and a greater concern among some with preserving a facade of institutional perfection over dealing with sin.

Along those lines, the Lineacre Institute has published a new book called “After Asceticism: Sex, Prayer and Deviant Priests” that identifies the root cause as a failure of clerical discipline, not just in the past thirty years, but reaching back decades further.

Catholic World News has published the Introduction to the book on its site, giving us a taste of what the Institute, an arm of the Catholic Medical Association, has concluded. This is a report that should have received much more attention than it has.

In what follows, we will show that the crisis is only secondarily related to the personality disorders of individual priests and to the faulty personnel management by the chanceries. More importantly, we will demonstrate that the discipline of celibacy is most definitely not a cause of the sexual abuse crisis. The truth is that the deficiencies that caused the scandal were not merely rooted in a few disturbed individuals, but rather, were common deficiencies and aberrations in the religious purpose and intellectual formation of priests dating back to at least the 1950s. The following chapters contain an in-depth analysis of the sexual problems that go well beyond pedophilia or pederasty. What is more important, this book outlines key elements in the solution to the problem.

If you’re a CWN subscriber, read the whole intro and then buy the book. If you’re not a CWN subscriber … you should be. They offer a few trial subscription, so sign up for it.

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Still lacking accountability

I’m not sure what the “Media Monitors Network” is but based on the articles they have posted on their web site, they appear to be left-wing nutroots 9/11-conspiracy pro-Islamic-terrorist anti-American moonbats. Which makes it doubly ironic that I find myself agreeing with an article that calls for the resignation and prosecution of bishops who facilitated the Scandal and participated in cover-ups.

Comparing the Scandal to the Enron disaster, Nicholas Vakkur says that the only way to restore the trust of the faithful is to ensure that the guilty are punished. He points out, quite accurately, that very few bishops who were complicit in shuffling about predatory priests and lied about it have suffered the loss of their episcopal sees and none have been prosecuted. You certainly haven’t heard their brother bishops calling them out in public. (According to a Dallas Morning News survey in 2002, while only a single-digit percentage of priests committed sexual-abuse, about two-thirds of then-serving bishops had enabled it in one way or another. You might dispute exact percentages or individual bishops, but I don’t think you can dispute the disparate ratios.)

One of the biggest disappointments in the whole Scandal has been the inability or lack of desire by bishops—even those we consider to be “good”, by which we mean orthodox and holy and personally admirable—to hold their brother bishops publicly accountable, even to call for them to resign.

The proximate cause for Vakkur’s article is the most recent signs that Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles may be “shading” the truth, depending on who he’s talking to at the moment.

That Vakkur’s analysis is flawed because of its overly secular approach to the Church does not mitigate the truth of his conclusion: It will be difficult to regain the trust of many pew-sitting Catholics until we’ve done more than institute new policies in the Church. We need accountability as well.

That even the purveyors of a tin-foil-hat conspiracy-minded web site that has no love for the Catholic Church can see it is evidence of the need.

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