Pope Francis on Saturday made his first appointments to a special commission intended to signal the Vatican’s new resolve in tackling the clerical sexual abuse problem, a group that includes an equal number of women and men, more laypeople than clergy and an outspoken Irish activist who was abused by a priest as a child.
In recent months, Francis has been criticized by advocacy groups for abuse victims, especially after an interview in which he strongly defended the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis. Last month, a United Nations commission issued a stinging report on the church’s handling of abuse cases, and some advocacy groups have considered the pope’s appointments to the commission a telling signal of his commitment to combating the problem.
This is tentatively good news; John Allen is certainly excited by it. But this is a key point:
Abuse victims and their advocates ranged in their reactions from hope to skepticism. They noted that previous panels appointed by bishops to showcase the participation of lay experts on sexual abuse ultimately had no ability to carry out the recommendations they made. …
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group founded in the United States that has now become international, said the panel “perpetuates the self-serving myth that Catholic officials need more information about abuse and cover-ups.” It added: “They don’t. They need courage. They know what’s right” already.
Exactly. That cannot be said often enough.
Still, maybe this time something will change. Here’s something for Pope Francis and his panel to look at: Fr. Carlos Urritigoity, a priest who left the US in disgrace after the then-Bishop of Scranton, Pennsylvania, suppressed the corrupt religious order he led, is now rising in power and influence in a Latin American diocese. Here’s the latest from a local Pennsylvania newspaper:
A Roman Catholic priest who was accused of molesting boys in Shohola and Moscow, Pa., has been promoted to the No. 2 position in his diocese in Paraguay.
That is according to a database released this week, listing Catholic clergy from Argentina involved in sex abuse cases. The database was compiled by BishopAccountability.org, an organization that aims to keep a record of sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
Former Bishop Joseph Martino of the Diocese of Scranton allowed the Rev. Carlos Urrutigoity to transfer to a parish in the South American country of Paraguay after multiple witness statements in several court cases claimed that Urrutigoity routinely slept in bed with and had sex with boys in his care, calling it spiritual guidance.
Currently, Urrutigoity is vicar general of the Ciudad del Este diocese in Paraguay. That makes him the second in command, just under the bishop there. Part of his job is to investigate any claim of sexual abuse that might come to the diocese.
“Now he is in a position of power. I’m concerned for the children of Paraguay. From everything I’ve learned, Father Carlos has not stopped. This is a basic child protection issue,” said Patrick Wall, a former priest who is now a Minnesota-based advocate for victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
“This is a grand example of a worldwide policy that a priest can sexually abuse kids in another country and go somewhere else and become vicar general of the diocese,” Wall said, adding that Bishop Plano, Urrutigoity’s superior, should report him to the police and kick him out of the priesthood.
I wrote several times about the scandal with Urrutigoity and his culty, creepily homoerotic Society of St. John back in 2002. If you follow the link to the Pocono paper, you can get the basics on this scandal. Believe me, there is much, much more, if you have the stomach for it. It’s not hard to find more info about this case on the Internet. The Pocono Record has a good backgrounder here.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why then-Bishop Martino of Scranton allowed the SSJ priests to scatter, given that he busted up their order over their alleged sexual shenanigans, and after a psychological evaluation by a Canadian hospital recommended that the Church return the disturbed Fr. Urrutigoity to private life. The Canadian evaluation said:
“In view of the credible allegation from the seminarian (John Doe), his admitted practice of sleeping with boys and young men and the troubling evaluation by the Southdown Institute, Father Carlos Urrutigoity should be removed from active ministry; his faculties should be revoked; he should be asked to live privately.”
Instead, he went off to Paraguay and eventually ended up running an orphanage. Now he’s the No. 2 in the diocese. His bishop says Urrutigoity was the victim of a witch hunt in America.
Conservative Catholic writer John Zmirak, who tipped me off to the latest in the SSJ saga, writes:
Faithful Catholics would dearly love to put the sex abuse crisis behind us, to believe that our leaders have resolved the systematic dysfunctions that saw the heirs of the apostles neglecting the sanity, safety, and sanctity of innocent young people in order to cover up the crimes of exploitative priests. The 2002 policies that the U.S. bishops enacted did impose a solid standard for removing abusive priests from ministry. But these policies have not been universally followed, for a simple reason: As Philip Lawler has repeatedly pointed out, there is no accountability, no means of punishing bishops who violate this policy, such as Bishop Finn–who earned a criminal conviction for failing to report indecent pictures taken by one of his priests.
Sadly, not every country even has such a solid policy to flout. I was profoundly saddened to hear that Fr. Carlos Urritigoity has found a new place where he can practice his “spirituality” of sleeping alongside teenaged boys–a practice that resulted in a $400,000 settlement by the Diocese of Scranton, paid to a young man who accused Urritigoity of abuse. The psychologists consulted by the Diocese deemed Urritigoity unfit for ministry in the U.S., so he relocated to South America, where the U.S. bishops’ solid policy has no effect.
Does Pope Francis really believe that Rome needs to know more about the scandal before acting? He loves to pick up the phone and call folks. He should ring Rogelio Ricardo Livieres, the Opus Dei bishop in Paraguay who is sheltering and promoting Urrutigoity, and tell him to get his act together.