|Church Must Disclose Predators
Years Later, Officials Still Keeping Secrets
By Barbara Dorris
Columbia Daily Trbune
September 8, 2009
Most recently, it was Father Gerry Howard. In 2005, it was Father John Degnan. Earlier this decade, it was Father Stephen Faletti, Father Hugh Behan, Father Kevin Clohessy, Father Donald Wallace, Father Manus Daly and, most notoriously, Bishop Anthony O'Connell.
All are credibly accused child-molesting clerics in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City. All have been suspended or forbidden to "exercise priestly ministry." None was "outed" by church authorities. In each case, someone outside the church structure disclosed, or forced the diocese to disclose, the alleged crimes. In other words, without external pressure, no one in the church would have warned the unsuspecting public or protected the vulnerable kids from these eight potentially dangerous men.
It can be a victim's lawsuit, a reporter's questioning, a prosecutor's query or an actual arrest, but, in the Jefferson City diocese, the truth about conclusively proven or credibly accused clergy sex crimes and cover-ups virtually always surfaces when someone outside the Catholic hierarchy takes action.
With Degnan, only after media inquiries and at least 17 secret settlements did church staffers admit, in 2005, that the priest had been quietly accused of child sex crimes in the 1960s.
With O'Connell, a former seminarian broke his church-imposed "gag order" and publicly disclosed that he had been molested.
The diocese kept the secret $125,000 payment quiet for six years.
With Daly, that same seminarian told a St. Louis newspaper that the priest had abused him. On the eve of that newspaper's exposť, Daly was suspended from ministry. The allegations had been kept quiet for six years.
With Behan, the Osage County Sheriff's Department was investigating a sexual abuse case against him involving a 10-year-old girl. She reported her suffering to the diocesan bishop in 1993. The diocese had kept the priest's removal secret for three years.
With Wallace, parents of four boys accused him in 1997 of "boundary violations" and inappropriate behavior. He was forced to undergo treatment, was reassigned and kept in ministry until 1998. The diocese kept all this quiet for five years.
With Faletti and Clohessy, a church youth worker told the diocesan chancellor in 1991 that they had abused boys. Both priests were quietly removed from active ministry in the mid-1990s. The diocese had kept silent about both credibly accused clerics for roughly seven years.
And with Howard, it was a deeply wounded but courageous former Boonville man who had reported his abuse to chancery staff almost two years ago. The diocese had kept quiet about welcoming a convicted pedophile priest for 27 years. For nearly two years, they said nothing about this man's credible report. Howard remains a priest today.
Such secrecy and delay always help the predator. It gives him time to intimidate victims, threaten whistleblowers, discredit witnesses, shred evidence, fabricate alibis, flee elsewhere and, of course, keep molesting kids.
Such secrecy and delay by church officials are, of course, self-serving and morally inexcusable.
But in all fairness, who among us wouldn't be tempted to try to hush up embarrassing misconduct that might lead to fewer donations, media scandals and disillusioned supporters? But when the wrongdoing is criminal and shatters fragile young lives, who among us would not have the common sense and decency to call police?
And remember whom we're talking about here. Not cold-hearted CEOs, but allegedly compassionate shepherds. Not men who profess to emulate Donald Trump, but men who claim to follow Jesus Christ.
And men who, in 2002, publicly pledged, over and over again, to start being "open and transparent" with clergy sex crimes.
Never mind trying to figure out why there are so many predator priests. Never mind struggling with why victims can't seem to speak up sooner.
If Catholic officials can't even bring themselves to be honest and forthcoming on the back end — after a priest has molested a child — what chance do church staffers have of effectively preventing abuse on the front end?
Long-term solutions and answers might not be immediately clear. But what to do in the short term is crystal-clear. If innocent kids are to be protected and suffering adults are to be healed, every person who saw, suspected or suffered abuse must come forward, get help, call police, seek therapy and do everything they can to warn others about both predator priests and their complicit colleagues.
Barbara Dorris of St. Louis is the outreach director for a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She can be reached at (314) 503-0003 or at SNAPdorris@gmail.com
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