|Catholic Church -- Blasphemy As a Way of Life
By Michealene Cristini Risley
November 4, 2010
I miss the Catholic Church. It's the not the archaic rules and the mantra of mortal unworthiness in weekly prayers but the community bonding and sweet rituals of the house of God. The experience floods my mind with memories of growing up in the Midwest with many of those happy childhood events encased in Catholicism. Unfortunately with a heavy heart, I have decided I cannot support the Catholic Church anymore. It seems hypocritical for me to use the buildings as a way to talk to God and bless my sins away with holy water, when the leaders of this religion continue to create a conveyor belt for serial pedophiles to administer to our children. This abuse is perpetrated under the guise of a saintly umbrella and spreads further damage amongst us mere mortals. Sadly, in the Catholic Church's initial quest to serve a higher being the institution has evolved into a group that deems itself above the law, almost God-like-perhaps even blasphemous.
Bay area resident Joey Piscitelli knows firsthand the damage the Catholic Church and its priests have caused to him and his family. Joey was a student at Salesian High School in Richmond, California, when he was repeatedly abused in his freshman and sophomore years (1969-1971) by the vice principal Rev. Stephan Whelan. "I think he picked me out because I was a runt. I looked like I was 8 or 9. "
At the time of the incidents when Joey spoke out, the school counselors and the principal pressured Joey and his mother, a school employee, into silence. They even threatened to kick Joey out of school. The archbishop of San Francisco, Cardinal William Levada, also helped with the cover up and continued to deny knowledge of the abuses 35 years later when Joey faced them in a courtroom. The jury found Reverend Whelan guilty of abuse. Levada kept Whelan in his position in ministry at St. Peter and Paul's in San Francisco clear up to the court jury verdict of guilty against Whelan. Cardinal Levada and Bishop Wester of San Francisco claimed the Independent Review Board did an extensive investigation into Joey's abuse in 2003 and in 2004, but the head of the IRB, Dr. James Jenkins, stated to the San Francisco Weekly that "the IRB never did an investigation into Piscitellis claim at all.
That same year that Mr. Piscitelli went to trial there were approximately two thousand cases lodged against the Catholic Church for sexual abuse. These cases were consolidated under "Clergy 1," Clergy 2" and "Clergy 3." Northern and Southern California lead attorneys were Ray Boucher (Southern Cal) and Larry Drivon and Rick Simons (North Cal) Joey was represented by Rick Simons of Hayward.
Most of those cases were settled; only five actually made it inside a San Francisco Bay courtroom. Two of those cases were hung juries; in another two cases the priests had already died. (All of the cases had an admission by the church that the accused priest was an either admitted molester or there was tangible evidence that the priest had multiple accusers or was convicted.) The one remaining case from that year was Mr. Piscitelli's. His case was the only one that went to jury trial, with no evidence at all. He was awarded $600,000 dollars. $300,00 of that money is supposed to be paid by Father Whelan the priest that abused him. He has not seen a penny of that money. The lawyers and Joey split the other 50 percent. In addition, Joey also had to cover the hard costs from the trial leaving him less than 20 percent of the jury award. The church spent an estimated five million to defend their priest, Fr. Stephen Whelan in court. Reverend Whelan was found guilty of molestation by the jury in Case # MSC 03=02976-JCCP -4359 -- Contra Costa County. Still, Whelan has yet to pay compensation to his victim.
Joey was almost lucky. Since so many of these cases are settled before they reach a courtroom, lawsuits are dismissed, statute of limitations expire, many of these priests continue to operate without parishioners knowing anything about their record. The only way that Joey felt he could take on the establishment was by bringing the charges to a civil courtroom. Joey's commitment to take Whelan to court took a lot of courage. By doing this, he also put on record that Whelan was accused and found guilty by civil jury trial. This is critical as many of these cases never get to the point where the priest is "outed" and we can begin to protect our children.
There is a statute limitation in criminal trial. That limitation is seven years from the act or to the ripe old age of 26. For many of us survivors the idea that you can get to these suppressed memories or sort through enough of the trauma to speak out about it at this age is absurd. The law and its limitations prohibit many from naming and shaming their perpetrators, which can dramatically affect their healing. Worse, the average pedophile molests 35 kids before they get caught. The statute of limitations hurts those victimized AND create more victims.
Under our current system -- the church and its priests are well protected from the consequences of that "dirty little club" they have formed. "You have to remember," Joey says "when a child gets kidnapped or abused, under federal law-local and national law enforcement come in to solve the case. This is not the situation in the Catholic Church. The church's laws are administered under Canon law, not secular law. This means that a priest cannot be prosecuted in a traditional court of law after the criminal statute of limitations has expired.
According to Cardinal Levada, canon law supersedes secular law. For those of us non-lawyers, canon law was developed in Europe in the middle ages, according to the "canon's or teachings of the church. Secular law, on the other hand, is law of a political State -- a government -- and it isn't necessarily based on religion.
Why this is important to the overall discussion of priests abuse is that canon law is overseen by the church and not a neutral party without bias or vested interest secrecy. One has to look closely at the Canon lawyers representing the church to get an inkling of how deep pervasive the culture of abuse. Let's take Gregory Ingalls, it is clearly documented that he has a history of sexual abuse. This did not preclude Levada from appointing him as the church's canon lawyer. In fact, Levada has spent significant dollars defending Ingalls in such cases.
If the continued cases of abuse are not shocking enough, in 2005 Cardinal Levada was blessed with the position of Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith -- the third most powerful position in the Catholic Church. This office handles any issue that threatens Church doctrine; an early version of this office targeted "heretics" in the Papal Inquisition, and recently this office condemned same sex marriage and abortion as "evils." Currently the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is busy handling the sexual abuse cases, with none other than Cardinal Levada as their leader.
The number of cases and priests abuse allegations continues and yet, the focus of the Prefect is curious. Justine McCarthy of the Sunday Times said it best, he wrote, "On May 29, 2008 Levada issued a decree that any woman attempting to be ordained a priest, or any bishop who assists her, would be excommunicated. The gravity with which the powers-that-be in Rome regard the outrage of a woman's priestly vocation is reflected in the severity of the punishment. For priests who rape children, the worst possible punishment is defrocking, but a woman attempting to join the clerical club is denied the sacraments -- including the last rites -- and her eternal soul is damned. A Louisiana-born priest, Roy Bourgeois, was excommunicated in 2008 for participating in a "mock ordination" of a woman. "
Whose souls should be damned, those men who rape children or a woman who wants to join the clerical club; according the Catholic Church it's the woman. Perhaps their fear is that women would not tolerate the abuse of children.
How can any true Catholic feel that there is remorse and a deep commitment to the extermination of the culture of abuse in the church with the continued denial from those in command? How can church members trust church leaders to effectively rid the church of pedophiles when it is clear that they are putting people in positions who are at least sympathetic to the abusers, and arrogant in their presumption that we trust they will do the right thing. The answer is church members cannot trust that Catholic leaders are doing the right thing. In fact, the church is operating from business as usual, and the flock continues to follow.
Joey is one of those members who has left the church. When he and I met last year at a screening of a movie on abuse, we struck up a conversation about his volunteer work with Snap, the survivor network for those abused by priests.
This organization provides support and services to assist victims in the healing process. The other primary goal of this nonprofit is to protest and rid the church of pedophiles. A very daunting task particularly when so many victims keep their abuse a secret. Joey personally gets 10 calls a month, he has been involved in this work for 10 years - -do the math. That is 1,000 calls. Those 1,000 individuals that called Joey, only 1.5 percent had reported the abuse to the police.
Joey was recently one of the 200 male victims of sexual abuse that was invited to an Oprah! taping last week and the show airs tomorrow.
Her upcoming co-host for this event is Tyler Perry, the second richest man in Hollywood and a survivor as well. He found both Oprah and Tyler articulate and concerned about this issue, but he came away from that event disheartened. The message for him that came from that event was forgiveness to the priests who molested you. The question he has, and the one that continues to haunt him, is how can you forgive when these priests continue to perpetrate this horrendous acts on children. He came away disheartened.
It is hard to imagine that from the pope on down this issue will ever be truly dealt with unless the culture is changed, the priests are tried outside of Canon law and statutes of limitations are revised. It is hard to fathom that people around the world are not outraged at the continued raping of or our children by the very priests we offer out trust.
The church is one of the oldest and largest Christian organizations in the world. It is also one of the wealthiest. This religious order of men may hide their evil behind the religious robes and fancy sermons and to trusting humans who want to believe in their goodness, but this cannot be hidden from God. None of the pope's posturing or denial will protect their abominable behavior from God's wrath.
I borrow a few lines from the Apostle's Creed...
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
To the pope and the church -- may's God mercy include putting you in a room with all of your victims.
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