Priests' Secret Files Released
By Beth Miller And Sean O'Sullivan
February 16, 2012
Thousands of documents from the secret files of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington were made public Wednesday, offering an unprecedented account of decades of child sexual abuse by 21 priests who ministered throughout the Delmarva Peninsula. Now several groups are asking for the resignations of three top diocesan officials.
The files, released by the diocese as part of its settlement with almost 150 abuse victims, reveal how church officials strategized as allegations were raised and the changing tone of their responses as survivors circumvented church authorities to make their allegations public.
|Judy Miller (from left) of SNAP; Matthias Conaty, sexual abuse survivor; Conaty's father, Thomas Conaty; and mother, Theresa, who holds portraits of bishops who allegedly looked the other way as priests were committing sexual abuse; meet Wednesday in front of Catholic Diocese of Wilmington Chancery offices. / THE NEWS JOURNAL/FRED COMEGYS|
The records include references to victims who committed suicide, others who worried about contracting AIDS after being assaulted by priests and many who were astonished to learn that their abusers had been moved to other parishes, where other children were at risk.
The documents were made public Wednesday by Delaware-based Child Victim's Voice, founded by abuse survivor Matthias Conaty of Wilmington, and the Boston-based website BishopAccountability.org that has posted thousands of similar documents from other dioceses since 2003 and is posting the Wilmington files.
On Wednesday, they called for the resignations of top diocesan authorities -- Monsignors J. Thomas Cini, Joseph Rebman and Clement Lemon -- describing them as "architects" of decades of cover-ups.
"The very men who engineered the cover-up of [abuse of] children, who made it a point that predators maintained their anonymity, are still in power today, still hold positions of prestige in this diocese today,"
said Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, who traveled to Wilmington on Wednesday to attend a news conference outside diocese offices. "We have not seen this in any other diocese. We expect these men to be put out of active ministry immediately if this bishop really cares about protecting kids and cleaning up this terrible mess."
Conaty, whose abuser was a Capuchin friar, was among those who fought for a 2007 Delaware law that opened a two-year window for victims of child sexual abuse to file suit, even if they were outside the state's two-year statute of limitations.
He said the records revealed an ugly but important truth: that church officials had put the containment of scandal ahead of the safety of children.
"Today is a sad day for me," said Conaty, who works in the marketing department of The News Journal. But, he said, victims who told their stories and lawmakers who changed the law have made the secrets known and prevented other abuses.
"We are making these records public to protect children and warn parents in the towns where these dangerous men are now living," he said. "Just as importantly, these documents bare the ugly truth that trusted religious leaders callously put children at risk."
The files' release
The files emerged from agreements reached last year to settle the diocese's bankruptcy case, which included more than $77 million in payments to abuse survivors and their attorneys. The nonmonetary terms of that settlement included release of the records.
After the abuse scandal emerged in 2002, the diocese adopted strict reporting requirements and other measures meant to protect children. In 2006, diocesan officials released a list of abuser priests.
But not until Wednesday were personnel files and some other court documents made public.
"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. 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," Conaty said.
Conaty said the records would not have been released if abuse survivors had not demanded them as part of the settlement terms.
But diocese attorney Tony Flynn said the diocese has embraced its duty under the agreement "and we have taken tremendous pains to make [the release] as comprehensive as possible."
Flynn said the release of documents "was the first point discussed during our negotiations of nonmonetary terms" and he said the diocese "readily agreed" to produce and release the documents as part of the settlement.
"We are the ones who proposed producing the information on disk so it could be put online," he said. The posting of documents Wednesday at BishopAccountability.org and on The News Journal's website was "exactly what we expected," he said.
"The transparency of this is important," he said.
Judith Miller, who leads the Delaware chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said if church officials had "done the right thing" when abuses first came to light, many children would have been spared the same horrors.
Doyle said the board of directors at Penn State University fired those who failed to properly report abuse allegations against assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky -- firings that included the university president and legendary coach Joe Paterno.
But diocesan spokesman Robert Krebs said Bishop W. Francis Malooly has seen no evidence that any of the three monsignors should be removed from ministry.
"If the bishop thought there was information that warranted one of the monsignors being removed, that would have happened already," Krebs said. "Until someone points out a specific document that shows one of these monsignors should have been removed from his position, we really can't talk specifically about that."
Inside the documents
The documents are heavily redacted to remove protected medical records and references to victims who were promised anonymity in court filings. But Conaty, Doyle and BishopAccountability.org founder Terence McKiernan have spent several weeks scouring the files and removing names and other references they say should have been removed by the diocese.
Flynn apologized for the errors and said protecting those names "was our No. 1 priority."
"I can only say this process of producing files and following procedures for redaction was long and involved and a tortuous one," he said.
Other redactions included the current addresses of abuser priests, information Flynn said was "irrelevant," and references unrelated to allegations of abuse or investigations of abuse claims. The name of one priest was redacted from a 2005 memo because the allegations against that priest were later found to be untrue, he said, and a redaction related to allegations against now-defrocked Joseph McGovern -- from a conversation McGovern had with then-Wilmington Bishop Robert Mulvee -- was made because the comments were "in the context of treatment" and therefore out of bounds.
Flynn said the diocese would release all medical records related to abuser priests, but cannot do so without either the permission of the abusers or a court order.
So far, Flynn said, the priests or ex-priests all have declined to release those records, and U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Christopher Sontchi has indicated he is not inclined to force the disclosure of those documents.
The records released Wednesday include letters from the late Bishop Michael Saltarelli asking the Vatican to laicize accused priests, a step only the pope can take.
Saltarelli sent an "urgent request" in November 2006, asking that then-Rev. Francis G. DeLuca be removed from the priesthood. DeLuca, who had admitted abusing children when diocesan authorities confronted him more than a decade earlier, had been allowed to retire to Syracuse in 1993 "for health reasons" after those accusations re-emerged.
Saltarelli, who had refused to release DeLuca's name or the names of other abuser priests, changed his mind after DeLuca pleaded guilty in 2006 to sexually abusing a young relative in Syracuse for several years. Saltarelli then released what he said was a complete list of names.
In his 2006 letter to the Vatican, Saltarelli noted the "intense media coverage" of DeLuca's arrest and conviction.
"I ask that Fr. DeLuca, because of the serial nature of his abuse [all involving his admission] with the most recent abuse occurring repeatedly from 2001 to 2006 be removed from the clerical state and given a dispensation from celibacy immediately and as soon as possible given the intense media coverage of his case," Saltarelli wrote. "I had hoped that Fr. DeLuca could live the life of prayer and penance prescribed by section BB of the Essential Norms. It is clear that that is not possible. Now 77 years old, he will likely live his remaining years of life either in jail or in house confinement."
Conaty urged everyone to review the files and report any documents they believe should be in the files. Parents who wrote letters to church officials and do not see their letters in the files should make that known, he said.
Contact Beth Miller at (302) 324-2784 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean O'Sullivan at (302) 324-2777 or email@example.com