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  Victims: System Gave Special Treatment to Accused Clergy

By David B. Caruso
Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 30, 2002

The Rev. Nilo C. Martins could have gotten 20 years in prison for sodomizing a 12-year-old altar boy. Instead, the Philadelphia priest served little more than a month.

In a case rushed through the courts, Martins pleaded guilty to deviate sexual intercourse and corruption of a minor, was sentenced to 23 to 46 months, then sought parole after serving just nine days in county jail.

He was released Oct. 17, 1985 - eight months after assaulting the boy - and ordered deported to Brazil. Prosecutors said they don't know where he is today.

The case, obscure for years, is now one of dozens around the country cited by victims as evidence that police, prosecutors and judges have given clergymen special treatment when it comes to allegations of sexual abuse, sometimes to the point of refusing to investigate at all.

"Time and time again, law enforcement people have essentially bent over backward to allow church leaders the leeway to handle these things quietly," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"It's not a decision that police made unilaterally," Clohessy said. "In a lot of cases, we're talking about some diocesan official quietly picking up the phone and calling the investigating officer and saying, 'We know we have a problem. We'll take care of it.' And in far too many cases the police have been content to let them do just that."

In the wake of an abuse scandal in Boston, Roman Catholic leaders throughout the country have come under fire for their handling of a series of allegations of sex abuse by priests.

District attorneys in several states have asked diocesan officials to turn over the names of priests accused of abuse decades ago. Several have grand juries investigating whether church officials broke the law by failing to disclose attacks.

Questions remain, however, about whether law enforcement agencies once played a role in helping to keep cases quiet.

A former police inspector told The Philadelphia Inquirer recently that during the 1970s and early 1980s the department had routinely shelved investigations of clergy accused of sexual abuse.

Instead, detectives would let the church know about the allegations and leave it to the Philadelphia Archdiocese to determine punishment, former Chief Inspector Thomas Roselli said. Roselli did not return phone messages from The Associated Press.

Other Philadelphia police officials have denied that such a policy ever existed and insisted that if the practice existed, it was on a small scale.

Former Police Commissioner John F. Timoney, who led a sweeping overhaul of the department's troubled sexual assault unit after his appointment in 1998, said he "wouldn't be surprised" if there was a time when some officers didn't aggressively investigate claims against clergy.

"They had problems with sexual assault cases and not treating them on face value. ... The cases would lay in this kind of No Man's Land," Timoney said. "The one thing that I can guarantee you is that if a case happens now in Philly, it gets investigated."

Similar charges of investigators' reluctance have surfaced across the country.

St. Louis mother Katie Chrun said when she told police in 1982 that her three adolescent sons had been molested by their parish priest, the sergeant in charge of the case asked her to drop the complaint because the scandal would hurt the church.

"He said, 'This is really big. We can't just act impulsively. We have to talk to the archbishop,"' Chrun said.

The department never filed charges against the priest, the Rev. Leroy Valentine. Chrun's sons were paid $20,000 apiece by the archdiocese to settle a civil lawsuit.

Chrun said she eventually stopped calling police about the stalled case.

"I realized they were never going to help me," she said.

Valentine has maintained his innocence. He also enjoyed the continued support of the diocese, which told parishioners the allegations were unsubstantiated. He resigned in late March after a second alleged victim lodged a complaint.

The St. Louis Police Department did not respond to requests for information about their handling of the case.

Clohessy called on law enforcement agencies across the country to examine their files to determine whether they contain investigations buried by officers sympathetic to the church.

"I think that is long overdue," he said. "You have to remember that survivors of these attacks are, by nature, distrustful. They have been burned once by an abusive priest. They have been burned again by an insensitive church. They aren't going to come forward on their own because they have been ignored by so many."

 
 

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