Abusive, Defrocked Priests Not Monitored
Unlike Convicted Child Molesters, Dozens, Perhaps Hundreds, Are Tossed into the General Population, and the Public Gets Little Notice
By Jim Remsen Knight
Wisconsin State Journal
August 2, 2005
If two suspended Catholic priests in the Madison Diocese are found guilty of sexual abuse in trials conducted by the church, they could join the growing ranks of defrocked predators sent into the community with no supervision.
At a time of heightened national concern about the need to track sex offenders, the Catholic Church in America has begun cutting loose dozens -- perhaps hundreds -- of priests who have molested children.
The church had already suspended the clerics after finding the child-abuse allegations against them to be credible. Now, as it defrocks them, expelling them from the priesthood, the men are quietly re-entering civilian life with only the barest notice to the public and no ongoing oversight by the church.
Nor is law enforcement certain to be watching them. In most instances, the statute of limitations in their cases expired years ago. This means they face no prospect of prosecution for past sex offenses. Only convicted sex offenders' names appear on public sex offender registries checkable by neighbors -- and few of the defrocked priests were ever charged or convicted.
To critics, the church is washing its hands of a problem it helped create by failing to alert police to the abuse reports years ago, when they were first received.
"If, indeed, a person is a true predator, the institutional church still has an obligation to maintain some vigilance over him," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, an early whistleblower on priest abuse, and now a prominent advocate for victims.
When an abuser is not kicked out, "at least there's some monitoring and maintenance and therapy," Doyle said.
The bishops' own National Review Board, a lay advisory body set up under the church's 2002 child-abuse-protection charter, raised the same concern.
In assessing that charter, the board wrote: "Both experts and board witnesses have noted that the public may be protected more effectively if such priests remain under church oversight rather than if they are laicized (defrocked) and live in the secular world without any oversight."
Defrocking is the church's harshest penalty and is applied to the most serious offenders. It is a secretive process that takes place between Rome and individual U.S. bishops.
The Madison Diocese is conducting canonical trials for two suspended priests accused of sexually abusing minors.
Proceedings in the trial of the Rev. Kenneth Klubertanz, former pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Lodi, are ongoing, said diocese spokesman Bill Brophy.
Hearings in the trial of the Rev. Gerald Vosen, who was removed as pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Baraboo in 2004, are expected to begin in September, Brophy said.
Both Klubertanz and Vosen have denied the allegations. Vosen is now suing his accuser for defamation in a trial that began Monday in Janesville, prompting an outcry from victims' advocates who say it will keep other victims of sexual abuse from coming forward.
Four other ex-priests
Four former priests against whom the Madison Diocese said it had "documented and substantial allegations of sexual abuse" are no longer in the priesthood, and the diocese does not keep track of them, Brophy said.
Each of the priests served in several area parishes before being removed. Michael Trainor was reassigned from St. Henry's Catholic Church in Waterloo to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Madison in 1982, and Lawrence Trainor was transferred from St. Peter's Catholic Church in Madison to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Muscoda in 1979. The Trainors are not known to be related.
Archie Adams was transferred from St. Mary of the Nativity Catholic Church in Marshall to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Mineral Point in 1987, and Curtiss Alvarez was transferred from Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Beloit to St. Dennis Catholic Church in Madison in 1984. Lawrence Trainor was ordained in 1972 and was removed from ministry in 1989, and Michael Trainor was ordained in 1964 and removed from ministry in 1984. Alvarez was ordained in 1976 and removed from ministry in 1985, and Adams was ordained in 1955 and removed in 1993.
David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that as the church attempts to deal with priests who have committed sexual abuse, it is faced with the dilemma of what to do with them.
But, Clohessy maintains, it's a dilemma of their own making, and part of the broader problem that most of these priests have never been subject to criminal or civil consequences.
Clohessy said the church could find other victims to come forward in situations where the statute of limitations would not prevent criminal charges.
Don Heaney, attorney for the Madison Dioces, questions, "How do you do that?"
"We're not the FBI," he said. "We can't go running around, knocking on people's doors at night and saying, Have you been molested?'"
Heaney said the Madison Diocese has never protected a priest accused of sexual abuse and that it encourages victims of sexual abuse to come forward and provides services to help them.
The first priority, he said, is to remove sexual offenders from the ministry.
Interviews with 15 experts inside and outside the church provide a picture of a procedure for dealing with sexual offenders that advances at an unpredictable pace, with bishops having wide discretion over which suspended priests to expel.
Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden, N.J., who championed the zero-tolerance policy while a member of the U.S. bishops' sex-abuse committee, said defrocking is meant to prevent abusers from exploiting "the trust and respectability" of the clergy.
Abuse-victim groups generally applaud its use.
"It can be healing to some victims to see severe consequences, especially for the most egregious predators," Clohessy said.
But the process protects the church as well.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, an expert on church governance and former editor of the Jesuit magazine America, noted that defrocking ends a diocese's legal and monetary risk.
"The lawyers are saying, If you keep him and he does it (molests) again, your liability is big time,'" said Reese, who recently quit the magazine amid Vatican complaints that its contents were too freewheeling.
Petitions to laicize American priests have poured in to Rome in the last few years in such numbers -- estimates range from 400 to more than 1,000 -- that the Vatican brought in a team of U.S. canon lawyers to help process the backlog.
Galante said he seeks to expel abusive priests in their 60s or younger, who have a chance of finding other work.
"Or, if they're a real predator," he said, he seeks laicization regardless of age.
Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the church should stay involved. "The last thing society needs is for these men to blend back in and achieve anonymity," Allen said.
"Maybe we can't register them," he said, but the church can push former priests to get "therapy and follow-up care."
Heaney said counseling was provided to priests in some of the diocese's past cases. "We learned by experience how effective that treatment is or isn't," he said.
But, Heaney said, "Once a person is no longer a priest, the church has no power over him."
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