BishopAccountability.org

Priest Abuse Victims Release Church Documents Obtained in Wilmington Diocese Bankruptcy

The Republic
February 15, 2012

http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/a1899105ca1140259dee553534b67d4f/DE--Priest-Abuse-Delaware/

WILMINGTON, Del. Victims of priest sex abuse are calling on Catholic church leaders in Wilmington to resign in light of church records documenting how the Wilmington diocese handled pedophile priests.

Abuse victims obtained the church records as part of a settlement in the diocese's bankruptcy case.

Terence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said several high-ranking church officials responsible for the Wilmington diocese's efforts to conceal the priest abuse scandal still work for the diocese and should resign.
Abuse victims scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Wilmington to announce that the documents will be posted online by the watchdog group BishopAccountability.org.

Terence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said several high-ranking church officials responsible for the Wilmington diocese's efforts to conceal the priest abuse scandal still work for the diocese and should resign. They include vicar general J. Thomas Cini.

Victims advocates also called on Bishop Francis Malolly to publicly address the complicity of his predecessors, Michael Saltarelli and Robert Mulvee, in the priest abuse scandal.

"How can the architects of the cover-up direct the healing?" asked Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org.

Anthony Flynn, an attorney for the diocese, said allegations of a cover-up orchestrated by the monsignors were not true.

"There was no policy to cover up," said Flynn, who nevertheless admitted that church officials could have done a better job over the years dealing with allegations of child abuse when they first arose.

"I think everyone, including the diocese, would have been better off if these things were disclosed at the time," he said. "There's no question about that."

Bob Krebs, a spokesman for the diocese, said that if Bishop Francis Malooly had found any reason to dismiss Cini and the other officials, he would have done so.

"If there was a reason to remove them, they would have been removed," Krebs said.

Krebs said Cini, Rebman and Lemon were not available for comment.

Besides calling for the resignations of the three officials, victims' advocates also called on the bishop to publicly address the "complicity" of his predecessors, Michael Saltarelli and Robert Mulvee, in the priest abuse scandal.

"The most important reason for giving a full accounting of what happened here in the Diocese of Wilmington is to do all we can to ensure this tragedy does not happen to one more child," said Matt Conaty, a priest abuse survivor and founder of ChildVictimsVoice.com. "A key part of that is to expose church officials who committed and concealed heinous crimes, and that's what we're doing today by giving the public access to these documents."

The Associated Press does not normally identify victims of sexual abuse, but Conaty and many other victims of abuse by priests in the Wilmington diocese have come forward publicly in an effort to hold church officials accountable.

Flynn, the diocese attorney, said the diocese established a policy of more "transparency" regarding allegations against priests after Mulvee took over in 1985.

But the documents released Wednesday suggest that church officials were less than transparent in the handling of the Rev. Gerard Smit, who worked in the Wilmington diocese from 1987 to 1996, when Lemon barred him from ministry there. He was not identified as a pedophile by the diocese until 2006.

Mulvee received a letter in May 1987 from a bishop in Lake Charles, La., who stated that Smit was a priest in "semi-retirement" and "good standing" who was living in the Wilmington diocese and would like to help out "ministerially."

Terence McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said several high-ranking church officials responsible for the Wilmington diocese's efforts to conceal the priest abuse scandal still work for the diocese and should resign.

Flynn admitted that at the time the letter was sent, church officials in Louisiana knew or least suspected that Smit was a pedophile.

"My knowledge of the documents is not encyclopedic, but that's my assumption," Flynn said.

At the bottom of the May 1987 letter are several handwritten notes, but it's unclear who wrote them.

"Question of Bkgd. proceed with caution " the notes begin. The notes also indicate that the author contacted Smit in July 1987 and explained "matter is still being reviewed." A later note refers to a September 1987 phone call in which the Louisiana bishop gave the author of the notes "permission to speak about the incident in broad strokes."

According to other church records, Smit's victims before he moved to the Wilmington diocese reportedly included one girl who killed herself and another whom he was rumored to have gotten pregnant.

The records indicate that Smit's victims in Louisiana were told he would be sent to a home for retired priests and never allowed to function as a priest again. Instead, one alleged victim saw Smit's name on a church bulletin when he stopped at a truck stop in Elkton, Md.

Memos written by Lemon in 1996 indicate that Smit in 1994 wrote a check for an undisclosed sum to the alleged truck stop victim, who later showed the check to a cousin who also claimed to be a victim of Smit.

Lemon's notes indicate that the second man complained to church officials that he and at least eight other children had been abused by Smit in Louisiana. According to Lemon's notes, the man said he did not want to go public, but that he wanted Smit prohibited from functioning as a priest. The man also asked for a house and a truck as "compensation."

In the same memo, Lemon noted that he had spoken with another church official after talking to the alleged victim.

"...Would be catastrophic if went public due to of GS's bringing so many into the Church, his visibility at Elkton, and the pro & anti GS people possible division," Lemon wrote.

It's not clear whether the alleged victim ever received the house and truck he requested, but records indicate that Lemon later spoke to Smit and his attorney about how to deal with him.

"G.S. was willing to go as high as (redacted) would appreciate less," said Lemon, who noted that the diocese was concerned about publicity that "would be injurious to the parish and Father S."

In another memo after interviewing Smit in 1996, Lemon wrote that Smit felt "terribly hurt" by the Louisiana bishop "who told him to get as far away as he could and don't come back."

Lemon wrote in that same November 1996 memo that Smit "blames the seminary system for not helping us deal with our sexuality."

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Delaware in Wilmington, which offers classes and programs for students older than 50, currently lists Smit as one of its instructors.

"After more than 45 years in the ministry, my retirement became an opportunity to dedicate myself to an in-depth study of the historical person of Jesus and the origins of Christianity, spirituality and the development of god-awareness in human history," Smit writes in a spring 2012 list of course instructors. His current course offerings are on Gnosticism and "Exploring Christian Roots, Part I."

Records indicate that church officials were aware that Smit was representing himself as a priest in 2003 while teaching at the Academies of Lifelong Learning, the Osher Institute's previous name.

"We called a (sic) told him once again to desist," a church official wrote.

Efforts to contact Smit, whose telephone number is not listed, were not successful.




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