Church Scandal Won't Go Away Soon

Troy Record [Albany NY]
July 31, 2003

There is not an uglier story than that of the clergy abuse scandal that has been going strong for two years - and shows no signs of slowing down.

Victims have come out of the woodwork in recent months.

In interviews, many speak of feeling liberated after disclosing the horrors they have kept secret for so long. Many have a sense of justice when, after years of guilt-induced silence, they name the priest and tell the world what happened.

Others lack a sense of sincerity, and it is clear they are looking for the money, which may or may not be wrong. If the abuse did occur, regardless of how long ago, they deserve compensation.

How much compensation is a tough question, and one that concerns dioceses across the nation, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

With the scent of easy money in the air, the diocese is well within its right to investigate each and every case. The diocese is also correct when it states that older cases are more difficult - in fact, perhaps even impossible - to bring to conclusion.

Recently, a female police officer in Rensselaer, Teri Hansen, settled a sexual harassment complaint against the city for $200,000. The verbal abuse and obscene gestures she endured, while far from pleasant, paled in comparison to some of the abuse children were subjected to at the hands of priests.

The harassment in Rensselaer happened in 2000 and 2001, and the civil suit was brought a year later, well within the statute of limitations. Some of the clergy abuse cases date back decades - one to 1934, with the priest involved dead since 1976.

District attorneys are sympathetic, but reluctant to waste resources investigating a case they will not be able to prosecute because the crime happened outside the statute of limitations, sometimes by decades.

So who is left?

There are too many people out there looking for easy money, and if dioceses started handing it out, there would be a long line at the Chancery.

They have been handing out counseling at a fair clip, though, but even that process has come under scrutiny.

There are four lawsuits pending, all of them shaky at best. They do not, and cannot, address the actual abuse, so attorney John Aretakis filed the suits based on how the Albany diocese dealt with the victims who came forward years after the crimes happened.

In one, two priests were named because another priest stalked a victim on their behalf. In another, the qualifications of the diocese's counselor were brought into question. Another is based, in part, on the emotional distress the diocese caused victims when they brought them into the Diocesan Center for counseling. It argues that all the Catholic adornments in the center triggered trauma from the abuse.

Hey, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with ...

The victims charge that the diocese is not cooperating as much as it could or should. Diocesan officials do not share information about other complaints made against the same priests, and there even appears to be a concerted effort to hide such information. And despite trying to put forth the public face of being open and honest, they share very little with the media.

They want the story to go away, and they want it to go away while spending as little as possible.

On the flip side, Aretakis likes to share everything with the media, because each time there is a published report that names a priest, he invariably gets more clients. The more clients he has, the better chance he has of making more money.

The victims call him a crusader and the church thinks of him as a money-hungry attorney. Indeed, the final chapter in this story won't be written for a long time.

James V. Franco is The Record's Capitol bureau reporter. His column appears Thursdays.


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