What Viewers Never Heard

By Ed Lowe
January 14, 2004

About a year and a half ago, months after the soul-sickening scandal first erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston, Msgr. Tom Hartman put me on the spot. On a weekly Telecare television panel show we now have been doing for 13 years (although, this column may mark the end of my tenure), he said, "Ed, what do you think about all this?"

I'd actually hoped he would turn only to the other two panelists, prominent Long Island lawyer Tony Curto of Northport, and now-retired Avon executive Fitzroy Hilaire of Floral Park. I'd hoped Hartman would spare me, so I could spare him. He might have wanted to have known what I thought, I thought, but (I thought, also), he surely wouldn't want me to say it on camera. William Murphy, the new bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, already was rumored to have said something like: "Telecare isn't Tom Hartman's. It's mine." Nobody talked about it above a whisper, but a new sheriff was in town, with all that always implies.

On the show, I answered Hartman's question, probably a bit too passionately. The show never made the air. Later, he apologized to me, and I, to him, saying I pretty much knew as soon as I opened my mouth that I was about to waste everybody's half-hour. I was gratified to learn weeks later that some of the young people who serve as Telecare interns and camera crews jointly had voiced their opposition to the decision to tank the show, and I thanked them for their courage.

The scandal soon reached into other dioceses, particularly Rockville Centre, where, we learned, a priest/accused abuser/lawyer/ abuse-victim-counselor actually had written a paper designed to help other dioceses cut their projected financial losses from sex abuse cases, boasting that they could learn from Rockville Centre's example. Without revealing that he was a lawyer (let alone accused of sexual abuse), he personally had counseled the families of victims to wait and pray and meditate and talk and discuss and think before they proceeded. That way, the statute of limitations would run out on the alleged crime, and victim-compensation amounts would be based only on what would keep the victims' families mouths shut, not on the possibility of criminal prosecution, and, consequently, more expensive settlements.

Incredibly, that year, after Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota's blistering grand jury report came out, Hartman asked me, again, on camera, "What do you think about all this, Ed?"

I thought, "Are you nuts? You're going to ask me this question again on the air?"

Anticipating moans from the control room, I answered, again, this time even more passionately, because the mere existence of the priest/accused abuser/lawyer/abuse-victim-counselor had struck me as beyond fiction. Any novelist who'd created that character would have been vilified globally as virulently and even diabolically anti-Catholic.

That show never aired, either.

Now that the scandal has reached into New Jersey, and now that the priests of Diocese of Rockville Centre-including some good friends of mine-are going to meet next Monday with their bishop, here, pretty accurately paraphrased, is how I answered, both times.

"Have you heard of the RICO Act? [Curto cringed]. The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act? I know I'm not the first to think of this. I read somewhere that a prosecutor in California brought it up, earlier. But, I hang out sometimes with agents from the DEA Task Force, and with prosecutors and investigators from both counties, and with detectives assigned to the Anti-Terrorism Task Force in New York State and City, and with members of Anti-Gang task forces. They use the RICO Act all the time. I've seen two-bit bookies hauled off to federal prison on RICO prosecutions.

"Here's what you need for a successful RICO prosecution: a recognizable, identifiable organization-There's a short putt: the church-with a clearly identifiable hierarchy-another short putt-whose members, you can show, conspired to commit felony crimes, either in their own interest or in the interest of the corrupt organization.

"OK, let's accept that the statute of limitations is up on all these horrendous, otherwise criminally prosecutable abuses of children-forgetting, momentarily, about the philosophically higher crimes against trust, faith and the Church's very purpose. But what about, very simply, the crime of conspiring to obstruct justice, in the deliberate, prolonged, repeated, organized and evidently successful effort to hide from legitimate, civil authorities, reams of information that would have led to the successful prosecution of dozens, maybe hundreds, of felony crimes against children? No statute of limitations exists on that, as far as I know.

"Your organization is rife with criminal conspirators who successfully have made deliberate, criminal efforts to thwart the proper application of law, for the purpose of cutting the organization's financial losses. For money. They did it for the money.

"What do I think? I think that by now, your boss, Murphy, should be playing bridge in a federal penitentiary with the other two disgraced princes of the Church, Cardinal Bernard Law and Bishop Thomas Daily, and at least, at least, a dozen co-conspirator priests, lawyers and priest/lawyers.

"And, if you don't want me to say what I think, don't ask."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.