America's Worst Bishops
By Laura Sheahan, Rebecca Phillips and Deborah Caldwell
[Note from BishopAccountability.org: In the original Beliefnet posting of this article, the evaluation of each bishop was on a separate web page. For the convenience of the reader, we have consolidated all the evaluations and responses onto a single page. In some of the evaluations, BeliefNet provided links to sources and documents, many of which are now broken links. We have pointed the links to the BA.org copies of the sources and documents. We have also included two elements that appear in the sidebar of the original article: a general response by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco of the USCCB, and a link to a related ABC News/Beliefnet poll.]
"The very solid and good work that has been accomplished by the majority of bishops in their dioceses has been completely overshadowed by the imprudent decisions of a number of bishops during the past ten years," said Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during their historic meeting in Dallas earlier this month. As the Catholic church continues to grapple with clergy sexual abuse of minors, and as lawsuits continue to mount, many eyes are on church leaders who at best made bad decisions and at worst are alleged to have systematically covered up for abusive priests.
Just who are these problem bishops? While many cases of diocesan mishandling or coverup are ambiguous, others are not—and certain bishops stand out. Below are summaries of the actions and inactions of several top contenders. Several of the cases include abuse which occurred after 1992, when the U.S. Catholic bishops' first sexual abuse policy was adopted.
The list was compiled from public documents, newspaper reports and interviews with victims' groups, lawyers, and leading Catholic thinkers. The criteria: which bishops failed to punish—or actively protected—priests credibly accused of sexual abuse?
Several of Cardinal Law's aides in the 1980s and early 1990s are now diocesan bishops in their own right—in most cases because of Law's influence—and have been named as defendants in lawsuits filed by alleged abuse victims. John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., William F. Murphy of Rockville Center, N.Y., Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis., Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, and Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans all served as high-ranking officials under Cardinal Law after he became archbishop in 1984.
The Case of John Geoghan
In 1995, Geoghan allegedly molested a Weymouth boy, including at the christening of the boy’s sister. Even as more allegations came in, Cardinal Law wrote Geoghan in 1996: "Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness.... God bless you, Jack."
By 1998, the archdiocese had reportedly settled 50 civil suits with Geoghan’s alleged victims for more than $10 million. As of today, more than 130 people have accused Geoghan of molesting them.
On Jan. 9, 2002, Law apologized to Geoghan's victims and for the diocese's oversight of Geoghan. "Judgments were made regarding the assignment of John Geoghan which, in retrospect, were tragically incorrect. These judgments were, however, made in good faith and in reliance upon psychiatric assessments and medical opinions that such assignments were safe and reasonable." (Read Law's full statement.)
Sources: Boston Globe, Reuters, Associated Press, Boston Herald.
The Case of Paul Shanley
One of the most tragic cases involved Father George Bredemann, who molested boys who were sent to him for help after already having been molested. Bredemann was arrested in 1989 and admitted to 20 years of sexually abusing boys. Bishop O'Brien recommended clemency, and the judge gave Bredemann a one-year sentence.
More allegations surfaced. In 1991, the Phoenix diocese settled a lawsuit involving sex abuse by Bredemann. In 1994, the diocese settled out of court with a Scottsdale couple whose son was molested by the priest. Bredemann is now serving extended jail time.
In the case of the Rev. Joseph M. Lessard, Bishop O'Brien dismissed previous complaints and assigned him to a teaching job, according to the Dallas Morning News. Father Lessard was later accused of abusing a 13-year-old boy while his parents were down the hallway. Police investigated Lessard in the mid-1980s, and, according to court records, Bishop O'Brien refused to tell them about a confession the priest made to him. Father Lessard eventually admitted the molestation and was put on probation. After receiving treatment, Lessard was transferred to the Diocese of Rockford, IL, as a hospital chaplain. The Diocese of Phoenix says it disclosed to the hospital and the Rockford diocese Lessard's history and treatment. According to the Phoenix diocese, Father Lessard resigned in February 2001 and is now officially barred from serving in a priestly ministry in the future.
In the 1990s, the diocese received several abuse complaints against the Rev. Patrick Colleary. In 1997, Colleary received therapy and in 1998 was assigned to Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Scottsdale. Within a year, three new complaints emerged.
According to the Arizona Republic, a January 1999 psychological evaluation of Fr. Colleary read: "The fact that this is post-treatment behavior suggests that Father Colleary's capacity to benefit from corrective counsel was somewhat diminished." "Given the number and nature of complaints over the years, it is reasonable to anticipate that history will be repeated in some way." Therapists recommended "that he not work with minors or women, and when in the presence of children and women, he adopt a strict no-touch policy and avoid any references to sexuality."
When the evaluation was made, church officials knew of six complaints against Colleary, according to the Arizona Republic. Despite this, O'Brien kept Father Colleary in ministry until May 2002, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Also in May 2002, the diocese criticized the Arizona Republic's "selective use" of "improperly obtained reports" on Fr. Colleary, claiming the newspaper's use would "present a distorted and fragmented presentation of Fr. Colleary's therapeutic history and the circumstances of his assignment" (read the diocesan statement).
Victims have criticized the Phoenix diocese's handling of Fr. Mark Lehman, who recently finished serving a 10-year sentence for abusing students at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic School in the late 1980s.
According to the Arizona Republic, the mother of girl molested by Lehman said the Phoenix diocese never apologized or offered pastoral support. "None of these children received solace or comfort from the church," the Republic quoted Elizabeth Evarts Hasel as saying. "The diocese was afraid that would admit its liability."
On May 30, 2002, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said he was launching a criminal investigation into whether the Phoenix diocese failed to report complaints of abuse, according to the Arizona Republic. Romley said a preliminary inquiry had been elevated to a "formal, criminal investigation," in part because of a "very disturbing" report he received on May 29, 2002. The diocese has announced that it is cooperating with Romley, saying "This diocese is going to be proactively cooperative in the investigation of anyone who may be guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor."
In March 2002, in a letter to his diocese, the bishop reaffirmed a sexual misconduct policy that the diocese crafted in 1990 and amended in 1995 (read more [PDF]). As the nationwide scandal has unfolded, O'Brien has called for an easier process for removing priests involved in sexual misconduct. In June 2002, following the bishops' meeting in Dallas, Bishop O'Brien said he was already removing three priests from the ministry who have acknowledged illicit relationships with minors and promised that the diocese would move aggressively against any priest accused of sexual misconduct with children.
In June 2002, O'Brien made the following statement: "On behalf of the church and the diocese of Phoenix and in my own name, I apologize for any mistakes or errors in judgment and ask for your prayers and forgiveness."
Sources: Arizona Republic, Associated Press, Dallas Morning News.
In 1992, Father Robert Williams wrote a 12-page letter to Bishop Grahmann, detailing what he knew about Kos luring young boys into his quarters at the rectory of St. John's Church in Ennis, Texas. Kos ignored repeated orders to stop letting boys sleep over at church residences—but Bishop Grahmann let Kos keep working in the early 1990s. In spring 1992, a social worker specializing in child abuse told Grahmann's aide, Msgr. Rehkemper, that Kos was a "textbook pedophile."
A lawsuit was brought against Kos in 1993. In court, Bishop Grahmann testified that "there was no reason" to remove Mr. Kos from his duties. Grahmann also refused experts' requests to test Kos' proclivities toward pedophilia by seeing if he was aroused by pictures of children. Graham said he had "moral problems" with the procedure.
In 1997, a jury found the Dallas diocese liable for conspiracy in covering up Kos' abuse of boys from 1977 through 1992. Kos was sentenced to life in prison and a $119 million abuse settlement—it was later reduced to $23.4 million— was assessed. After jurors returned their verdict, the bishop did not stay in the courtroom to hear a statement they had written that said, in part, "Please admit your guilt." However, Grahmann later publicly apologized to the victims, saying: "We accept the burden of the verdict. I regret very much what happened, and I am deeply sorry for your pain." In 1998, Kos was defrocked.
In 1999, Bishop Joseph Galante was appointed co-adjutor bishop of Dallas and has been instrumental in strengthening the diocese's sexual abuse policy. In April 2002, Grahmann criticized the more recent abuse scandal, saying, "Bishops are accused of covering up and moving people from one parish to another. That's a bunch of bull."
Sources: Dallas Morning News, Associated Press
Paquin's history of child abuse dated back to 1964; a review board set up by Cardinal Law reviewed Paquin's case three times from 1993 to 1997. In March 1996, when a Brockton, MA man alleged that Paquin had abused his son and nephew, archdiocesan aide Rev. Brian Flatley approached Murphy with concerns. "Bishop Murphy was very clear in his insistence that it is time for Father Paquin to move away from the priesthood," Flatley wrote in a 1996 memo. At the time, Paquin was working at a CVS pharmacy.
Yet in a meeting in January 1997, Paquin proposed to Bishop Murphy that he be allowed to return to ministerial work. Murphy now wrote of Paquin's request to return to ministry: "I would be very supportive of this," according to internal church documents made available to the Boston Globe.
In March 1997 the review board urged laicization (defrocking) for Paquin based on his history. But by May 1997, the board had altered its stance and recommended that Paquin receive psychological tests. In 1998, the diocese assigned Paquin to a chaplaincy at Cambridge's Youville Hospital. Murphy sent a note to Youville in June 1998 describing the accused molester as "well suited" to working there, according to the Boston Herald.
According to Bishop Murphy's spokesperson at the Rockville Centre diocese, Bishop Murphy met with Fr. Paquin and asked him to move to a supervised residence, from which place he would hopefully move toward laicization (defrocking). Bishop Murphy also asked him, during the few times they met, to seek laicization; each time, Paquin refused. Bishop Murphy advised Paquin that he would not be placed in any pastoral ministry, nor would Bishop Murphy ever recommended him to any.
Bishop Murphy has also been named as a defendant in lawsuits brought by people in Boston who say they were abused by Mr. John Geoghan.
In March 2002, Bishop Murphy said that no active priests in the Rockville Centre Diocese were facing sex-abuse claims. In April 2002, Bishop Murphy at first decided not to take action against diocesan priest Brian Brinker, who allegedly groped a 14-year-old boy and showed him pornographic movies on an out-of-state trip in the late 1990s, according to Newsday.
The boy's mother, Linda Moraitis, said Murphy called her to say he had reviewed Brinker's file—and a psychiatric report completed after the family's complaint—and found nothing that would preclude him from working as a priest (read more).
Murphy has since put Fr. Brinker on administrative leave, according to a June 2002 statement made by George Rice of the diocese's law firm.
Bishop Murphy, who came to the Rockville Centre diocese in September 2001, removed the Rev. Angelo Ditta in March 2002. The Rockville Centre diocese had known about abuse allegations against Ditta since the late 1990s, according to the Dallas Morning News.
In late April 2002, Murphy issued a letter to parishioners detailing stricter abuse policies for the Rockville Centre diocese. Included in the changes were two panels to investigate complaints against priests on Long Island. Murphy also named a former police commissioner to handle referring the diocese's abuse cases to law enforcement (read full letter).
In the letter, Bishop Murphy said that "in the past it was thought a priest could be given 'restricted ministry' away from minors and children. That is wrong. If a priest cannot minister to children and minors, he cannot have any pastoral ministry in this diocese. Nor will I ever give permission for him to minister in any other diocese."
Bishop Murphy's homily at a June 9, 2002 mass read, in part: "Today this Church of sinners seeks pardon from God and forgiveness of those who have been harmed. Today this Church pledges again her solidarity with, and her love for, all who have suffered and will continue to experience this suffering from the horrible crime, the abuse of power, the betrayal of trust, the destruction of innocence."
On June 17, 2002, Murphy instructed diocesan lawyers to waive privileges with respect to documents sought for lawsuits.
Sources: Associated Press, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Newsday.
Note: An earlier version of this story included references to a letter in which Murphy told the Rev. Paul Shanley 'that your location will remain confidential,' as reported in the Boston Herald. Beliefnet has since learned that the Herald corrected their earlier story, and that the letter in question was written by the Rev. William F. Murphy, not Bishop William F. Murphy. Both men worked with Cardinal Law on personnel issues in the 1990s.
The Case of Paul Shanley
In a televised speech in May 2002, McCormack apologized for not investigating the 1985 complaint. A month later, in a sworn deposition, McCormack said he now recalls that he did discuss the comments with Shanley. Asked why he didn't say that in his May television address, McCormack said he has been searching his memory ever since and only recently recalled the conversation.
Shanley continued working as a priest in Massachusetts until 1990, according to the Associated Press. The Boston archdiocese then transferred Shanley to the San Bernadino, Calif. diocese, where he was technically placed on sick leave but worked in a limited ministerial capacity. According to the Associated Press, McCormack did not tell church officials in San Bernardino about the allegations against Shanley until 1993, even though Shanley told McCormack in a letter he was working on youth retreats.
In June 2002, Kevin English of Big Bear Lake, Calif. alleged that Shanley repeatedly raped him over several years, beginning in 1990 when he was 17 years old.
In April 2002, Bishop McCormack said he didn't know of any misconduct with a minor by Father Shanley until 1993, according to the Associated Press. However, in a 1991 letter reprinted by the Boston Globe (view the document), Bishop McCormack had written to a colleague that "Paul Shanley is a sick person" who shouldn't be allowed to return to Boston from California.
In June 2002, Bishop McCormack gave testimony in the Shanley case. According to an account in the Boston Herald, McCormack told lawyers he kept quiet about allegations of sexual abuse by clergy because he did not want to create a scandal.
The Case of John Geoghan
Geoghan continued to be associated with St. Julia's parish in Massachusetts, with breaks in his service for treatment, up until 1993.
Geoghan is accused of molesting nearly 200 children during his three-decade career. One allegation charges that Geoghan repeatedly molested a 10-year-old Weymouth, Mass. boy in 1995 and 1996. McCormack has been named as a defendant in several civil lawsuits filed in connection with Geoghan's molestations.
Geoghan was defrocked in the late 1990s and is now in prison.
The Case of Ronald Paquin
After they also met with Bishop McCormack, Paquin in September 1990 was sent for treatment to St. Luke's Institute in Maryland. According to court documents, McCormack allowed Paquin to return to the Boston archdiocese after his treatment to take courses on training to become a hospital chaplain. Even though he was listed as being on sick leave, Paquin continued to minister to patients at Bon Secours Hospital in Methuen in 1991 and 1992.
Complaints against Paquin include abuse alleged to have occurred between 1990 and 1996.
McCormack has also been criticized for ignoring complaints involving Fr. George Rosenkranz, Fr. Richard Coughlin, and Fr. Joseph Birmingham (read more).
The Boston Herald also reported that McCormack ignored a Boston aide's urgings that he notify parishes about priests who had been removed because of abuse allegations.
In February 2002, the Manchester diocese gave prosecutors the names of 14 priests. Forty-one abuse claims have been made in New Hampshire. Victims have criticized Bishop McCormack for his response to abuse claims when he became head of the Manchester diocese in 1998. However, most of the claims involve diocesan actions before McCormack came to the diocese, and a New Hampshire state investigation of church leaders is unlikely to be investigate McCormack, according to Attorney General Phil McLaughlin.
Also in February 2002, Bishop McCormack stepped down as as chairman of the bishops' national committee on sex abuse. In May 2002, he said in a written statement that "even though some think I should step aside, Pope John Paul II appointed me to be your shepherd...I will remain your servant and toil ceaselessly on your behalf as bishop of Manchester" (read the full statement).
During the televised statement in May 2002 (full
text), McCormack begged the forgiveness of victims and their families.
"Did our process cloak itself in confidentiality to such a point
that secrecy became counterproductive? Yes," McCormack said. "And
did that secrecy foster a sense that we were protecting our own and not
caring enough for the victims? Yes."
Instead, according to plaintiffs suing the diocese, he was transferred to Our Mother of Sorrows, a Catholic school at which Trupia taught sex education, among other things.
In 1982, Bishop Moreno became head of the Tucson diocese. Over the next decade, allegations continued to reach the diocese of Trupia's behavior. Victims allege that during the 1980s, Trupia abused so many boys that other priests nicknamed him “Chicken Hawk.”
In 1988, Tucson Detective Ben Jimenez claims that the diocese did not cooperate with his investigation. He had wanted to interview Trupia after receiving a tip that the priest had molested boys. [A diocese spokesman disputes the detective's claim].
In 1991, Moreno suspended Trupia. Moreno has testified that Trupia told him in 1992 that he had sexually molested boys and “was a man unfit for public ministry." Moreno subsequently told victims' families that Trupia had denied the allegations.
Moreno waited until 1995 to complete an affidavit revealing that Trupia had, in 1992, threatened to reveal personal sexual relationshiops with high church officials, unless he was allowed to retire on his own terms.
More recently, Bishop Moreno changed his deposition testimony to deny that the priest admitted abuse or made threats, according to the Dallas Morning News. An diocese spokesman said that changing a deposition in no way indicates the bishop did anything wrong.
Other court records show that diocese officials protected one another, lied to a victim's family, failed to counsel victims, destroyed statements, did not notify child protective authorities and were uncooperative with police, according to the Arizona Republic.
In an October 2001 letter to church members, Bishop Moreno said "Allegations in the suits raise questions about how our diocese has dealt in the past with concerns about child abuse by priests. The allegations and questions create doubt about the trust we should have in the ability of our Diocese to respond as it should when it learns of possible child abuse by any of its workers. Whatever the outcomes of the suits, we will need to restore trust. I am committed to restoring that trust."
In a Mass celebrated in early February 2002 at a parish where four accused priests once served, Moreno apologized to parishioners. "We are putting together broken pieces," he said. "We are making something new out of what was damaged by sin and neglect and ignorance and betrayed trust."
Sources: Arizona Republic, Washington Post, Associated Press.
Most notably, he is accused of shuffling child molester Fr. Michael Baker between parishes for a decade after the priest admitted his abuses to Mahony. Baker admitted the abuse in 1986, a year after Mahony took over the L.A. diocese. Father Baker is accused by victims, including a 34-year-old West Hollywood man, of molesting boys, some as young as 5, from 1976 to 1999. Baker has said the cardinal sent him to a treatment center in New Mexico without inquiring about the identity of his victims.
When two brothers living in Arizona prepared to sue the archdiocese in 2000, claiming Baker had molested them from 1984 to 1999, Mahony allegedly signed off on a secret $1.3 million settlement. Baker's lawyer, Don Steier, said his client paid for most of it. He said he was unable to reveal the source of the money.
In another case, victim Andy Cicchillo said he wrote to Mahony in 1991 about abuse committed in the 1960s by the Rev. Carl Sutphin. Mr. Cicchillo said that Vicar Timothy Dyer, who said he was speaking for Mahony, promised the priest would be retired, not allowed to wear his collar, and not allowed near a child. In 2001, he learned that Sutphin was still an active priest, assigned to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
The parents of unnamed brothers also allegedly abused by Sutphin say they first notified the archdiocese in 1994.
Another lawsuit alleges that Mahony was part of a conspiracy by the archdiocese involving the Rev. Francisco Tamayo, who admitted in 1991 that he had seduced a 16-year-old parishioner in 1978.
Cardinal Mahony has denied any knowledge of the case, saying he never read the priest's personnel files.
But when Mahony took over the archdiocese, Father Tamayo wrote directly to him. The cardinal's staff responded, offering the priest more money to stay in the Phillippines—where the church was paying him to stay—because lawsuits would "only open old wounds and further hurt anyone concerned, including the archdiocese."
Mahony has admitted he erred in transferring Father Michael Wempe, who is accused of molesting children, to a medical center about 14 years ago without telling hospital officials about accusations against him.
Wempe, 62, worked as a chaplain at the medical center from 1988 until last March, when Mahony forced him to retire.
Plaintiffs also charge that Mahony was instrumental in concealing information from law enforcement officials and that the L.A. archdiocese treated victims as potential litigants rather than wounded souls.
In March 2002, the cardinal said in a pastoral letter to his diocese that "The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will not knowingly assign or retain a priest ...to serve in its parishes, schools, pastoral ministries, or any other assignment when such an individual is determined to have previously engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor."
He also also confirmed that the personnel files of all priests, except deceased ones, had been reviewed in an effort to clean out what he termed a "cancer" in the church.
Mahony, sometimes referred to as the "Teflon cardinal," has escaped calls for his resignation and has promised a tough new stance on abuse. At mass in June 2002, he read a letter apologizing to church members for the scandal. "I ask for your forgiveness for not understanding earlier the extent of the problem, and for not taking swifter action to remove from the ministry anyone who had abused a minor in the past," the letter said. "The crisis has caused me many sleepless nights filled with concern for the victims, as well as sadness and anger toward those priests who have preyed upon the most vulnerable among us—our children."
Sources: LA Times, Associated Press, Dallas Morning News.
In the 1970s, as head of a Montana diocese, Curtiss reassigned the Rev. Wilson Smart despite pedophilia allegations that had first emerged in 1959; Curtiss later said he had failed to examine the priest's personnel file, according to the Dallas Morning News. Curtiss admitted in 1993 that he later removed letters documenting abuse from the file, and added: "There has been a climate of silence on the part of priests and people, but there can be no more."
More recently, Nebraska priest Father Robert Allgaier admitted in early 2001 that he had been viewing child pornography, according to the Dallas Morning News. Archbishop Curtiss sent the priest to counseling and removed him from a high school teaching job, but later transferred Allgaier to a middle school, where he worked until his arrest in February 2002.
On March 4, Curtiss released a statement pointing out that Allgaier had not been accused of abusing anyone. He said that when Allgaier’s activity surfaced, the priest had been sent to a "prominent psychologist" for evaluation and been given counseling, the upshot of which was a determination that he was "no threat to children or anyone else." Allgaier would nonetheless, Curtiss said, be undergoing "an in-depth therapy program."
When in March 2002 some Catholics wrote letters to local newspapers challenging Curtiss' actions, Curtiss sent written rebukes to two of the critics. The letter written to Frank Ayers said that "Any Catholic who uses the secular media to air complaints against the leadership of the church, without dialogue with that leadership, is a disgrace to the church." A grandmother of 11 and a retired Catholic grade-school teacher received the following: "I am surprised that a woman your age and with your background would write such a negative letter in the secular press against me without any previous dialogue. You should be ashamed of yourself! ...The Church has enough trouble defending herself against non-Catholic attacks without having to contend with disloyal Catholics. For your penance you say one Hail Mary for me."
Earlier, kindergarten teacher Linda Hammond had reported Allgaier to the police. In spring 2002, she was identified in court as a witness in the case against Allgaier. According to the Norfolk Daily News, Hammond says that on May 8, Archbishop Curtiss asked her to resign from her teaching job, saying, "You shouldn't have done this. We had it handled." The archbishop later apologized and said she was correct in going to police about Allgaier, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
In June 2002, Archbishop Curtiss released a letter (full text) saying, "I will continue to support Father Rob Allgaier in his present predicament. He is like a son to me. I ordained him to priesthood four years ago and I know his basic goodness. He will be helped to face honestly the causes of his involvement in child pornography."
The archdiocese had already dealt with a pornography issue in the late 1990s. The Rev. Daniel Herek was convicted in 1998 of sexually assaulting an altar boy and manufacturing child pornography while he was pastor at St. Richard's Catholic Church from June 1992 to May 1997.
In May 2002, the archdiocese admitted that negligent supervision of Fr. Herek contributed to his sexually abusing the boy (read more). Plaintiffs in the recent civil case claim that parishioners repeatedly complained about Herek to the archdiocese over the years on a variety of problems, including substance abuse and unsupervised overnight trips with altar boys.
In April 2002, Curtiss dismissed and granted early retirement to the Rev. Thomas Sellentin (read more). Recent accusations against Sellentin involve abuse that allegedly took place more than 30 years ago; there have been no reports alleging sexual abuse committed by Sellentin over the last 13 years.
The archdiocese said the Sellentin complaints were recently received from four Nebraska parishes, according to the Associated Press. However, the Omaha World-Herald reported in June 2002 that an attorney for the current leadership of the archdiocese knew in 2000 about abuse complaints involving Sellentin.
When Curtiss removed Sellentin in April 2002, he said "I have stated that I will apply our policy with a zero tolerance when it comes to child abuse, no matter when it takes place. I am keeping my word." The claims against Sellentin are too old to be prosecuted in criminal court, and no civil lawsuits have been filed.
Curtiss said in a June 2002 letter to his archdiocese that "I must control my frustrations and my irritations in the face of constant pressures - and above all else I have to be a man of prayer and love. I hope, despite my obvious shortcomings and mistakes at times, that you will recognize my love for Christ and his Church."
Sources: Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, Omaha World-Herald, National Catholic Reporter.
• Father Mark Kurzendoerfer, who was transferred to a different teaching job in 1981 after being accused of abusing a 14-year-old student. Soon after coming to Evansville in 1989, Bishop Gettelfinger ordered Father Kurzendoerfer not to have a youth ministry—although he let him work at a parish with a school. In May, the bishop suspended the priest and sent him to counseling, saying that he had violated the order by having private counseling sessions with 11-year-old students. Parents and the school principal had not been told about the restriction. Bishop Gettelfinger acknowledged that he had also sent Father Kurzendoerfer into "extensive therapy" after he admitted soliciting a 17-year-old in 1998. The young man then identified himself to the Evansville Courier & Press as the priest's nephew.
• Father Francis Schroering, who was assigned by Bishop Gettelfinger to supervise Father Kurzendoerfer and was himself accused of fondling two girls in the 1960s. Father Schoering has denied the allegations and said he could not remember either woman who made them. He was placed on administrative leave from his post as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Haubstadt, Ind., in mid-June.
• Father Kenneth Graehler, 64, has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse. Bishop Gettelfinger has declined to discuss details of the allegation, but said it had been turned over to law enforcement officials.
• Father Jean Vogler, who spent 10 months in federal prison in 1996 on a child pornography conviction. Bishop Gettelfinger has decided to allow Vogler to remain as associate pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Evansville, despite his 1996 conviction for possession of child pornography. The bishop said Father Vogler's crime does not fit under the new policy on sexual abuse because the crime did not involve the direct abuse of a child. According to the New York Times, Volger's parishioners drew a distinction between pedophilia and possession of pornography. One parishioner was quoted as saying "The [church's members] opened their arms up with forgiveness."
• Father Richard J. Wildeman, who left the ministry in May 2002 after admitting to fondling a 16 year-old-girl 20 years ago. Meanwhile, in early June, Bishop Gettelfinger summoned Father Wildeman back to Evansville from Haiti, where he had been serving, after a woman came forward with her story of the alleged sexual misconduct. Father Wildeman admitted to the incidents. Over the years Father Wildeman was assigned to youth ministry and was a Boy Scout chaplain.
• Father Michael Allen, who admitted that in 1974 he was involved in a series of sexual encounters with a 16-year-old boy. Gettelfinger admitted in May that he knew of the Allen allegation in 1993 but decided not to report them to law enforcement, according to the Evansville Courier & Press.
Following the U.S. bishops' meeting in Dallas in mid-June, Bishop Gettelfinger decided to remove Allen as pastor of St. Peter Celestine Church in Celestine, Ind. His victim, David Prunty, now a 42-year-old social worker in Minnesota, said the sexual relationship began when Allen was counseling him following his father's death. Bishop Gettelfinger has said he first became aware of the allegations against Allen in the early 1990s and sent him through a two-year treatment program that included time at a center for clergy with sexual problems. About a year ago he assigned Allen to a parish, but Allen was not allowed to work in youth ministry. "I never put any youngster at risk by reason of my assignments," the bishop said this month, according to the Evansville Courier & Press. He expressed regret, however, that the allegations against Allen weren't revealed earlier and said he will reveal such allegations in the future.
In an April 26 letter to Prunty, diocesan attorney David V. Miller sought a confidentiality commitment. "If I do not receive the 'REQUEST TO MAINTAIN PRIVACY' signed by you ... the Bishop will disclose what he knows about the matter in a public forum and to appropriate civil authorities" according to documents received by the Evansville Courier. Several years ago, an attorney working for him unsuccessfully sought $150,000 in damages from the diocese, the paper said.
A similar tactic was used with the other alleged victim, according to the Evansville Courier. In that letter from Gettelfinger, dated April 29, the man was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that "I hereby request that Bishop Gettelfinger WITHHOLD FROM DISCLOSURE to prosecutors, law enforcement authorities and all other persons ..." information about the incident that occurred when the man was 14.
In early June, Bishop Gettelfinger said of Father Allen: "The people have come to love him because of his pastoral gifts, his ministering to his people, his presence to his people, the attention given to them," Gettelfinger said. "He really has been the priestly leader that they were looking for, yearning for, and now have."
Sources: Associated Press, Evansville Courier & Press, Dallas Morning News.
The Good Guys
In the early 1990s, Kinney sounded warning bells that went unheeded
According to The New York Times, Bishop Kinney has long called the U.S. Catholic church to respond more effectively to clergy sex abuse. In 1993, he was appointed to lead a new Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse for the bishops' conference. The committee proposed collecting data from dioceses about the extent of the problem, the numbers of perpetrators and victims, the disposition of their cases and the amount of money expended. It also recommended healing sessions: meetings between victims and church officials. These ideas "were discussed in the administrative committee," Kinney has said, but they "never saw the light of day, they just didn't fly."
At the opening session of June's meeting of the Catholic bishops conference in Dallas, Kinney was one of four bishops who introduced victims they had known to the group. When he returned to St. Cloud after the Dallas meeting, Bishop Kinney sent letters on Wednesday telling three priests that, although they were already no longer in parish ministry, the church's new "zero tolerance" policy meant they could no longer wear clerical garb or publicly present themselves as priests.
Before he became head of the Catholic bishops' conference, Gregory dealt effectively with abuse in his own diocese.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, who was elected President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001, has won praise for his handling of abuse cases when he came to the Diocese of Belleville. According to the Associated Press, Gregory's diocese investigated allegations of sexual abuse by some of its priests in the 1990s. Thirteen priests and one deacon were ultimately removed, and Gregory earned praise for the openness with which he handled the issue.
Gregory was among the first to call sex abuse a crime—breaking from the earlier attitude that it was a moral weakness, according to Time magazine.
In spring 2002, Gregory visited St. Mary's Church, a parish in his diocese which was affected by the growing national scandal. A week before, the diocese's Fitness Review Board removed the Rev. Edward Balestrieri from St. Mary's, after the Trenton diocese relayed an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor while Balestrieri worked in New Jersey in the 1970s. Gregory said the allegations were made by a "young man," according to the Associated Press.
In June 2002, Gregory said he would review the files of priests who had already been removed from church ministry to see if they should also be formally laicized (defrocked) by the Vatican (read more).
The bishop's handling of clergy sex abuse cases has won kudos from Catholic laypeople.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh diocese has been relatively unscathed by the recent scandal, largely because Bishop Donald W. Wuerl has had a policy of removing known abusers from ministry since he became bishop in 1988. Bishop Wuerl has broken with precedent and acted quickly to remove abusers from the priesthood after hearing some of the allegations made by the alleged victims.
In 1993, the Vatican ordered Wuerl to reinstate an accused child molester who had not been convicted of a crime, but whom Wuerl believed was guilty.
Wuerl refused to reinstate the priest and asked Vatican officials to reverse their rejection of the priest's laicization (defrocking). The Vatican eventually rescinded the order challenging Wuerl's decision.
In June 2002, Wuerl released a pastoral letter that included the following statement:
Compiled by Beliefnet editors. Beliefnet relied heavily on reporting by several newspapers that have devoted considerable resources to covering the behavior of their bishops. Links to the best newspaper coverage can be found at the Poynter Institute's 'Clergy Abuse Tracker.' [Note from BA.org: Since this article appeared in June 2002, the Clergy Abuse Tracker was transferred from the Poynter Institute to National Catholic Reporter and then again to BishopAccountability.org. We have changed the link to point to the Tracker's current home, where you will also find links to archived entries from the NCR and Poynter days.]
The Bishops Respond
Simplistic Judgments about Church Leadership
The head of communications for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responds to Beliefnet's recent feature:
In the quotation Beliefnet cites from Bishop Gregory's opening talk at the June 13-15 general meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it is essential to note that he did not distinguish between "good" and "worst" bishops but between the "solid and good work" of the majority and "the imprudent decisions" of a few.
Even the best can make a bad mistake on occasion; and a good and generally effective policy dealing with sexual abuse of minors by clergy may falter in its application in individual cases for a variety of reasons. This is not unknown to happen in the civil law's handling of even the most serious cases, including those involving the death penalty.
When it comes to disciplining priest offenders, the problem for bishops has not been the dereliction of duty—as has been too quickly assumed—but rather a conflict of duties.
The Catholic Church firmly believes that, once ordained, a man is a priest forever. Even laicization (defrocking) does not deprive a priest of fundamental priestly powers to say Mass or forgive sins. It does bring to an end both the Church's obligations to him and his obligations to the Church (such as observing celibacy). Short of laicization, bishops can take effective steps to make sure a priest does not exercise his ministry. But both laicization and removal from ministry are governed by the canon law of the Church. In trying to fulfill their duty to protect children and young people, bishops had to make sure that they were also acting in accord with canon law which requires due process for the accused. They also wished to make decisions which would be final and be upheld if there were an appeal to the Holy See.
The complexity of some of these cases, about which often simplistic judgments are made in the media, can be found in the fact that some existed through the administrations of more than one bishop with sometimes conflicting advice being given to bishops by competent professionals.
So it is not about the abuse of power by bishops, as the media so often claim, but actually about the limits placed on the power of bishops by both Church dogma and law. For a bishop, the priests of his diocese are a given. He is required to support them and give them a ministry except for serious reasons. Sexual abuse of a minor comprises a serious reason of this kind. However, in the past, if a priest could demonstrate that he repented his sinfulness and that treatment and aftercare had rendered him not dangerous to others in the Church, then a bishop might feel required by canon law to provide some kind of ministry for him, usually a restricted one. A priest could make this case even after serving a prison sentence for his crime.
Due process is a value in the Church's canon law as it in our society in general; and as with civil law, it sometimes results in the final verdict's being a long time in coming. Bishops could seek to dismiss a man from the priesthood, but that involves a lengthy and cumbersome canonical process subject to appeal to Rome. It should be noted that when Cardinal Law short-circuited the standard canonical process by seeking John Geoghan's unilateral dismissal from the priesthood directly by the Pope—four years before the Boston Globe seriously got on Geoghan's case—some canon lawyers criticized his action because of a seeming lack of canonical due process.
To do justice to this matter, cases can't be delivered to the public by the bushel, shorn of significant details. Fairness demands a case by case study to see how decisions were made. Usually it will be clear that they were made based on what was known at the time. They were also open to reversal based on new information, as was the case with Geoghan. Lists of "best" and "worst" bishops disguise this fact, rather than helping enlighten the public about what went into these decisions and why some of the finest and most conscientious men in any community are now committed to making different decisions in the future.
What they and all the bishops concluded in Dallas was that a concern for the canonical obligations to priests must be balanced with providing full and complete protection for children and young people in the ministries and institutions of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix released the following statement in response to Beliefnet's feature.
Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien is under a firestorm of criticism from national
and local media. The irony is that much of the criticism stems from the
bishop's willingness to be open about sexual misconduct among clergy in
the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
He wrote the Vatican asking that the priest, the Rev. George Bredemann, be removed from the clerical state, a process more commonly known as defrocking.
But O'Brien went a step further - actually a giant leap ahead - of the majority of the U.S. dioceses.
O'Brien established one of the first diocesan sexual misconduct policies in the nation, making it clear that sexual abuse against children would not be tolerated under his watch.
"Despite numerous reports, and subsequent convictions of pedophile priests across the country, many American bishops have refused to institute diocesan policies on how to handle such cases," the Arizona Republic wrote when the policy was announced. "With Phoenix's policy, O'Brien joins only a handful of U.S. bishops who have had the courage to institute a policy on this sensitive subject."
The policy - which has been revised three times and is currently under review to ensure it complies with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter - became a national model for other dioceses.
In the past few months, the national and local media has been searching for possible sexual misconduct cases against priests in dioceses across the country. O'Brien's reputation for openness left the local media perplexed when he appeared to remain silent and inaccessible during the flurry of media inquiries. In response, the media seem to assume the bishop - and the diocese - had something to hide.
In actuality, the bishop was concerned, but it had nothing to do with hiding sexual allegations or crimes. While today's information age demands immediate answers, O'Brien spent time in prayer and reflection, looking to God for spiritual guidance. His primary concern, as he has often expressed to his closest advisors, is to protect the victims, most of whom have requested their names never be revealed.
O'Brien said he worried that the current media climate of digging into sexual misconduct cases might lead them to identify the victims. If that happened, the bishop said, those who were harmed would be re-victimized. "We want to assist victims toward healing and reconciliation," O'Brien said. "We cannot completely cure the pain of what has been done before.
"Counseling can lessen that pain, but it can never be as though it never existed for those who experienced abuse," the bishop continued. "However, we can make every possible effort to heal and comfort old wounds, and prevent any future incidents."
The diocese always offers counseling to victims, alleged victims and their families, even when there has been no proof, admission of guilt, criminal charges or conviction, O'Brien said.
O'Brien, whom the vast majority of the diocese's half-million Catholics describe as a compassionate and pastoral leader, has apologized to Catholics and non-Catholics alike for not handling the current media climate in his usual open manner.
"On behalf of the church, the Diocese of Phoenix, and in my own name, I apologize for any mistakes or errors in judgment, and ask for your prayers and forgiveness," O'Brien said during a press conference.
On Friday, the bishop told the media that long before he left for the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas, he had personally
decided the right policy for dealing with sexual misconduct among priests
would be zero-tolerance. He voted for the charter approved at the bishops'
meeting in Dallas.
O'Brien went on to tell the media that he has permanently banned three priests from active ministry - the Revs. Joseph Briceno, Joseph Lessard and Harold Graf - and is requesting the Vatican defrock George Bredemann, Lan Sherwood and Mark Lehman. The latter three have convictions and are either serving or have served jail time.
He also announced the diocese is cooperating with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office investigation of another priest, the Rev. Patrick Colleary.
"Let me make clear that my objective and that of the Roman Catholic Church is to protect our children and young people, providing them with a safe environment," O'Brien said. "And, I want to assure you that no one in this diocese who commits crimes against youths will be protected by the church."
On Saturday, the Arizona Republic called the bishop's actions "some of the first and most sweeping steps taken since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted overwhelmingly in Dallas this month to approve a charter that requires church leaders to purge offenders."
O'Brien said he is asking the Catholics in his diocese to pray for "for those who have been hurt by this scandal."
"We ask Jesus to let his mercy flow down upon the church and all the people of God, so that wounds are healed, relationships are mended and sinners are reconciled to our God who redeems us all," he added.
To read statements made by Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien and for more information on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, please visit our website: www.diocesephoenix.org. [Note from BishopAccountability.org: The link will bring the reader to the current Phoenix diocesan website. See the Internet Archive for a partial copy of the Phoenix diocesan site from July 2002.
Diocese of Evansville says Bishop Gettelfinger has long tried ot protect children from abusive priests.
Paul Leingang, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Evansville sent Beliefnet the following statement:
I believe that your listing of Bishop Gettelfinger as a member of the "worst bishops" is an unjust and unsubstantiated conclusion.
Bishop Gettelfinger removed a priest from public ministry in 1990. He followed a policy far in advance of many other bishops in such a situation—but more importantly he did what he did to protect children and young people.
In more recent years, two other priests were returned to ministry with restrictions, following assurances from behavior experts that there was no danger. In both of those cases, the incidents were reported to a previous bishop. In each case, when Bishop Gettelfinger learned of the incident, he immediately put the priest on leave. The priests were returned to ministry only after what experts then considered to be appropriate and successful treatment. As we know today, behavior experts now have differing views of what is appropriate or even possible. Judging past decisions by today's standards may be part of today's common emotion, but it is unreasonable.
Your text seems to make no distinction between two priests who have been accused, and the two who have acknowledged wrong-doing. Isn't that unfair? Investigations are under way in regard to the two who are accused, and please note that the allegations were made only in recent weeks about events that are alleged to have happened many years ago. The current investigations are being accomplished with a layperson as "assistance coordinator" and a diocesan review panel.
Your text also cites the bishop's decision in regard to Father Jean Vogler, who was convicted of receiving child pornography in the mail. While you and others may disagree with that decision, you should respect the fact that it was made publically—and that the people in the parish to which he was assigned were and are fully aware of his sinfulness.
You say you based your information on major newspapers. If you used the Dallas Morning News, you may well be repeating some of the errors that were published there. The Dallas Morning News listed an incorrect year and omitted the fact that a priest was removed from our diocese.
I respectfully suggest that you read two articles about Father Vogler. One was written by Maureen Hayden and published in the Evansville Courier & Press, describing the reconciliation that had taken place. The other was written by Jodi Wilgoren in the New York Times, and quite beautifully described the ministry of a priest who attracted sinners toward conversion because they knew that the priest was a sinner just like they were.
Every person who has made an allegation has been offered counseling. Confidentiality has been respected. No payment has been made in any case—except for priests' treatment programs and to cover the costs of the counseling services chosen by victims.
The spokesman for the Tucson diocese finds fault with Beliefnet's analysis of Moreno's handling of sex abuse cases.
Fred Allison, director of community relations for the Tuscon diocese said the Beliefnet package was bad journalism. "I'm very upset. I don't know what happened to good reporting."
He added, "The suits are settled—[maybe] not settled to the
satisfaction of news media but settled to the satisfaction of the victims
and diocese." He applauded the decision by the Bishops Conference
in Dallas to prohibit confidentiality agreements unless desired by the
He disagreed with the notion that Bishop Moreno failed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. "The detective said the diocese did not cooperate. The diocese disputes that claim. Had it gone to court we would have provided evidence." [Beliefnet viewed this as a fair criticism and changed the sentence to clarify the attribution.]
He also pointed to the sentence mentioning "several" other cases. He said he knew of only one that could be relevant and asked for the names of the others.
Allison alleged that the article didn't provide attribution for certain key facts, and that the article said documents "showed" instead of documents "allege". Allison also faulted Beliefnet for not calling the diocese beforehand to get reaction.
Finally, he said that the piece implied, toward the end, that Bishop Moreno was responsible for a number of these problems even though he hadn't arrived there until 1982.
Bishop McCormack Conclusion 'Unfounded'
The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire issued the following press release in response to Beliefnet's assessment of the actions of Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack, who advised Boston's Cardinal Law on personnel matters from 1984-1994.
(MANCHESTER, NH) The Diocese of Manchester today strongly disagreed with an assertion by the Beliefnet website.
"Their report does a great disservice to both the truth and the journalistic profession," said Patrick F. McGee, Diocesan spokesperson. "By piecing together snippets of already published news articles, this organization has reached a conclusion unsupported by facts. They did not contact the Diocese prior to posting its unfounded conclusion, nor does it appear that the authors even had direct contact with the reporters from the various media they cite as source material."
McGee said that it is irresponsible for Beliefnet to assert a ranking of American bishops based on its inadequate research and no objective criteria. "These bishops have served the people of the church over the course of many decades. To try to label them because of actions some bishops took based on the common practice of the time and on the requirements they had under canon law is both unfair and without merit. Many of the bishops, including Bishop McCormack, have acknowledged that they are better today in dealing with allegations of abuse against priests than they were 10 or 20 years ago. In Bishop McCormack's situation, he was not a bishop when he was working in Cardinal Law's cabinet. A bishop, along with every other individual, should be seen in the light of his entire time of service, not on selected snapshots."
McGee also pointed out that the Diocese of Manchester, under the direction of Bishop McCormack, has a clear and effective policy on sexual misconduct. Bishop McCormack made it clear on February 15 of this year that no priest with a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor will serve in any ministry in the Diocese. Bishop McCormack has enforced this policy both with priests who had prior allegations and those against whom new allegations have surfaced.
McGee said that all the allegations against priests of the [Manchester] Diocese date from before Bishop McCormack was installed in September 1998.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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