Egan Resources – March 21–24, 2002
By Barbara Ross and Robert Ingrassia with Chrisena Coleman and Bill Egberg
Three district attorneys in the Archdiocese of New York made it clear yesterday they're not satisfied with Edward Cardinal Egan's stance on reporting child sex abuse within the church.
The prosecutors, Robert Morgenthau of Manhattan, Robert Johnson of the Bronx and Jeanine Pirro of Westchester, separately took issue with Egan's announcement that the archdiocese intends not to report allegations of sexual abuse that the victims want kept secret.
"He can state his position," said Morgenthau, who is drafting legislation requiring anyone who knows of child abuse to report it. "My position is: Any citizen who has knowledge of a crime against a child should report it to law enforcement authorities."
Johnson said his office wants to "know about present and past allegations" of abuse.
"It's up to the district attorney's office to make a determination with respect to whether a crime has been committed," he said.
Pirro said, "Here's the bottom line: No one is above the law when it comes to the abuse of children. All of us in our society have a moral obligation and a civic obligation to report instances of sexual abuse. No one has the power to absolve themselves of that responsibility."
Egan, archbishop of 2.4 million Catholics, broke his silence on the mounting scandal Tuesday by condemning molestation as "immoral" and an "abomination." He promised that church leaders will encourage abuse victims to report allegations to police.
But in a stance that puts the archdiocese at odds with others around the country, he said church leaders will forward molestation claims to police only if an internal investigation finds "reasonable cause" to believe abuse occurred - and the victims don't object.
Egan, who promised a fuller explanation of his views in an upcoming letter to diocese members, also did not say whether the church would report old allegations against priests.
Church officials in Boston, Connecticut and elsewhere have promised prosecutors they will turn over reports of abuse dating back years.
Morgenthau called abuse within the church "a cancer that has to be eliminated." He supports a state bill that would add the clergy to a list of professionals, including teachers and doctors, who are legally required to report allegations of child abuse.
Egan came under fire last weekend when The Hartford Courant newspaper revealed sealed court documents suggesting he did not aggressively investigate abuse allegations during his 12-year tenure as bishop in Bridgeport, Conn. Egan defended his handling of molestation cases and said the article contained "inaccuracies."
He did not comment publicly on the abuse issue yesterday. His spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, did not return phone calls.
The New York Archdiocese comprises churches in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and seven counties north of the city, including Westchester. Catholic churches in Queens and Brooklyn are part of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The scandal has begun to rattle the Vatican, where officials said yesterday that Pope John Paul may address the issue today in his annual pre-Easter letter to priests.
By John Desio
An parental uproar in Throggs Neck this past week led to the removal of a local pastor based on allegations of past improper sexual conduct with young boys.
Rev. Gennaro Gentile, the new pastor of St. Benedict's in Throggs Neck, had been implicated in a string of child abuse incidents while pastor of the Holy Name of Mary Church, in the Croton-on-Hudson section of Westchester, the post he had held previous to St. Benedict's.
According to a series of article's in The Journal News, a Westchester daily, dozens of counts were filed against the priest, alleging that the had sexually suggestive contact with several boys.
Most of the counts have been dismissed, largely due to the statute of limitations having passed, but one count still remains against Gentile.
The final count against Gentile, which has not been dismissed, alleges that the pastor committed civil assault and battery against the then 13 year old son of Vincent and Patricia Nauheimer by caressing his shoulders, neck, and hair.
Other charges include the accusation of one former altar boy, who claimed that Gentile tried to remove his pajama bottoms on a camping trip nearly three decades ago, as well as the claims of a former parishioner at Holy Name, who stated that she saw Gentile give an intense massage to a shirtless boy.
While at St. Benedict's, Gentile was rumored to be accompanied at all times by a monitor, an obvious sign that the Archdiocese recognized a potential problem.
When parents first learned of these allegations this past week, they organized a meeting, which was closed to the press, to discuss their course of action in this matter.
Parents agreed to begin a "stern letter writing campaign," as one mother in attendance at the meeting described it, to remove the accused pedophile from the school and church.
"As parents and parishioners of St. Benedict's Parish, we are extremely upset to have read about the sexual allegations made against Father Gennaro Gentile," stated the letter.
The parishioners do state in the letter that they hoped Gentile received the help that he needed, but reiterated that St. Benedict's as not the proper place for the pastor.
"As Christians, we pray that Father Gentile receives the help that he needs," states the letter, "however, our children's safety is our first priority."
The letter added, "we demand the removal of Father Gentile from our parish as soon as possible."
The letter also pointed to recent developments at the parish in the past year, namely the loss of two pastors at St. Benedict's. "Considering what we have been through this past year with the death of our pastor, Father Kenneth Marks, and the sudden departure of our new pastor, Father Anthony Sorgie, our parish does not need any further turmoil," says the letter.
Parents had planned to send the letter to Cardinal Edward Egan, chief of the Archdiocese of New York, as well as to several other representatives of the Archdiocese and the Catholic school system.
In addition to the letter writing campaign, parents at the meeting vowed to hold back monetary contributions to the parish until the issue was resolved, and debated holding their children from school until Gentile was removed.
Another mother, who refused to be identified, spoke after the meeting, describing the Archdiocese as "insane" for bringing Gentile to St. Benedict's.
"Its obvious that this priest has or had a problem, what would make them think that they could bring him here," said the mother.
She added that the parish had been planning a summer camping trip with Gentile for some of the children of the parish, but stated that "you can be sure my son won't be there." Still, the mother was hopeful that Gentile would get the help that he needed.
By Gary Stern
Just as Cardinal Edward M. Egan promised this week to protect children from abusive Roman Catholic priests, Cardinal John O'Connor pledged almost a decade ago to treat accusations against priests with utmost urgency.
"I will not knowingly permit a single act of abuse to be covered up or excused, and I will involve myself in the process of healing any wounds that have been opened," O'Connor wrote in 1993 in the preface to a new Archdiocese of New York policy for investigating sexual misconduct by clergy.
The problem is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to know whether the policy has been effective, because the archdiocese has conducted all investigations internally. The results of such investigations have rarely been made public. And the archdiocese will not say how many past allegations against priests have been made or how many settlements have been reached with victims.
It is also hard to tell if the archdiocese has reacted to changes in thinking about the treatment of sex abusers. The consensus today among clinicians is that certain sex offenders, such as those who prey on young children, are never truly cured and need to control their illness like alcoholics.
Yesterday, Pope John Paul II condemned sex abuse by priests as a "grave scandal," but did not say in his pre-Easter message how the problem might be addressed. Egan recently updated O'Connor's policy by saying that the archdiocese will forward future accusations against priests to civil authorities — if church leaders find probable cause and the accuser consents.
But there is a growing call for Catholic dioceses to turn over the business of investigating abuse to civil authorities and to lay Catholics. The district attorneys of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties have joined Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau in calling for the Archdiocese of New York to notify authorities of all abuse allegations.
The Jesuit magazine America, to be published today, calls on all dioceses to appoint independent lay boards to investigate allegations against priests.
"The bishops — even those who have done the right thing — now have no credibility in policing the clergy," the magazine said. "No one will trust a clean bill of health given by a clerical board."
Lay Catholics appear to agree. A national poll of Catholics conducted March 12-16 by Le Moyne College, a Jesuit college in Syracuse, and Zogby International found that 85 percent believe civil authorities should investigate priests.
"In statistical polling, that's almost unanimous," said William Barnett, professor of religious studies at Le Moyne. "It's kind of shocking. The policy of most dioceses in the U.S. to handle these things internally is frowned upon by the vast majority of Catholics."
To get a sense of whether the Archdiocese of New York has made strides in the past decade toward removing abusive priests from parishes and schools, one has to rely on a hodgepodge of anecdotal evidence from parishes where accusations came to light.
During the late 1990s, for instance, at least five families and individuals went to the archdiocese to accuse a former pastor at Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson of sexual misconduct. The accusations against the Rev. Gennaro Gentile ranged from massaging shirtless boys to trying to remove a boy's pajama bottoms on a camping trip three decades earlier.
The head of priest personnel for the archdiocese at the time, Monsignor Edward O'Donnell, visited the parish, proclaiming Gentile's innocence while asking any victims to contact him.
Gentile stayed at Holy Name of Mary until his term ended in 2000. He was named interim pastor at St. Benedict's Church in the Bronx last year, but was quickly removed when parishioners complained about the past accusations against him.
Gentile is now working in a church annulment office. But there has been no public decision from the archdiocese about his fitness to serve parishes in the future.
"No decision has been made about his future," said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.
A former parishioner at Holy Name of Mary, Robert Ellsberg, said that the archdiocese did not appear to conduct an actual investigation.
"I think, in a manner that seems to be characteristic of these cases, the archdiocese showed more concern for legal liability and for preventing scandal than for the welfare of its most vulnerable members," he said. "By doing so, it collaborated with behavior by the pastor that seriously transgressed appropriate boundaries, caused emotional harm to children and families, and represented a serious abuse of sacramental authority."
In another case, a Bronxville pastor left his parish in 1997 after allegations surfaced that he had abused boys in Orange County 25 years earlier. The archdiocese acknowledged that it paid for therapy for the Rev. Francis Stinner's main accuser, as well as for his college education and a new $23,000 car, but said that was not a sign of Stinner's guilt.
Stinner was well-regarded at St. Joseph's Church, and many parishioners did not want him to leave.
Focusing on a few cases does not change the fact the church has come a long way from the 1970s, when it accepted the conventional wisdom that abusive adults could be treated and given a fresh start, said Monsignor James Lisante of the Christophers, a Manhattan-based Catholic group focused on communications.
"Most of the cases of abuse we're hearing about now are from the '70s and '80s," he said. "There are fewer from the early '90s, when dioceses put stringent regulations in. We now know that when someone has a problem, take him out of the ministry and away from children."
Lisante said he shared this message with New York priests at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers several weeks ago, at Egan's urging.
The archdiocese apparently turned to modern treatment methods in 1993, when it sanctioned its first psychiatric program for priests with sexual addictions and their victims at St. Vincents Hospital in Harrison. The outpatient program was to be a variation of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step approach.
The program is still in effect. St. Vincents declined to discuss it.
By Richard Weir with Jose Martinez
He was abused for years by the family priest - more than 100 times, he charged.
But the former altar boy and his family never called police. They never filed a lawsuit or even consulted with a lawyer about the Rev. Francis Stinner's alleged misdeeds.
[Photo Captions - After John Cardinal O'Connor met privately with the alleged victim and his brother, O'Connor wrote this letter to the man's mother. The Daily News has redacted the names of the alleged victim and his family. Silence: The Rev. Francis Stinner (above) allegedly abused altar boy 'Joseph' (photo right) - and nobody said anything for years. Photo by Dennis Clark.]
They chose to place their faith in the Catholic Church, the Archdiocese of New York and, most of all, John Cardinal O'Connor - a trust that the family now says was badly misplaced.
"They protect the priest, but they don't protect their own children - the children of the church," said the alleged victim, now 37, living in upstate Middletown, where he is studying to be teacher.
Meanwhile, Stinner is still a priest, saying Sunday Mass as a weekend associate at Saint John and Saint Mary Church in tony Chappaqua, Westchester County.
In some ways, the story of the ex-altar boy, who asked to be identified by his middle name, Joseph, is sadly similar to many tales of abuse now emerging.
It began with numerous fondling episodes, the alleged victim said, starting when he was an 11-year-old altar boy at St. Mary's Church in upstate Port Jervis, where Stinner was a parish priest in charge of altar boys and the Catholic Youth Organization program.
It continued even when Stinner was assigned to John S. Burke Catholic High School in upstate Goshen, he said.
There were sleepovers at Stinner's residence, where the priest would rub the boy's genitals in bed and watch him shower, Joseph said.
During math tutoring, Joseph alleged that Stinner would make him wear his sweatpants, then fondle him while they did equations on a notebook placed on his lap.
Stinner would then remove the sweatpants and put them on himself, Joseph alleged.
Other altar boys at St. Mary's had similar stories of the priest inappropriately touching them while he was adjusting their cassocks, the ex-altar boy said.
What makes this story different is O'Connor's involvement. Details in letter Just after Thanksgiving 1988, eight years after the alleged abuse ended, Joseph's parents mailed a letter to O'Connor, detailing the alleged abuse.
Msgr. Lawrence Connaugton, then the vice chancellor in charge of priest personnel, came to the family's house and conducted an interview.
After Stinner apparently denied the allegations, Connaugton arranged a meeting between the family and Stinner at St. Joseph's Seminary near Yonkers. Joseph recalled that Stinner sternly refuted the allegations, saying, "You have ruined my name."
Two months later, Joseph's father hand-delivered a letter to O'Connor out of frustration that nothing was being done for their son.
"Most difficult of all, is that there has been no apology, not even an attempt at one," wrote Joseph's father, a lector at his church.
Eventually, the parents - both religious teachers - stopped pressing the case after they received assurances from the archdiocese that Stinner had received treatment.
"They said he would be rehabilitated and that he would never be around children again," said Joseph's mother, 67, who said she spoke to O'Connor twice over the phone.
In late 1995, however, Joseph learned that Stinner was at St. Joseph's Church in Bronxville, Westchester, and had won an award for running a CYO youth program.
"I went ballistic. I was raised in the church and the church was lying to me," he recalled.
Eventually, Joseph and his brother had a meeting with O'Connor in his First Ave. office.
"Cardinal O'Connor said to me . . . 'It's your word against Father Stinner's. What am I supposed to do?' That's when I handed him a letter," he recalled.
The letter was one of 10 that Joseph had solicited from fellow altar boys whom he had asked if they had been abused by Stinner.
In a letter to Joseph's mother, O'Connor wrote that "sexual abuse by clergy is a painful violation of so much that we hold sacred."
He noted that he was "deeply distressed by the suffering," saying he would remember Joseph in "my Masses and prayers."
"I offer my personal regret for any way in which your church may have seemed to fail you by what it has done or by what it has failed to do," O'Connor wrote.
Joseph asked him whether the archdiocese would buy him a car and pay for school and therapy. The archdiocese paid for a $23,000 1996 Honda Accord, a semester at school and two months of therapy.
But then the archdiocese asked him to sign a document releasing the church and Stinner of any liability and prohibiting the victim from pressing charges and speaking to the media. "That's when I asked for $300,000," he said. The church cut him a check for $35,000, and he signed the document.
Connaugton told the Daily News he only recalled Joseph and his family discussing "inappropriate behavior" by the priest.
"There was never any allegations that he [Stinner] touched him in the genitalia. That's my recollection," said Connaugton, contradicting Joseph's family. Family regrets Now Joseph's mother regrets not contacting the police.
"I wish I had, because anyone who does it, whether priest, rabbi, minister or teacher, ought to be arrested," she said. "Our main concern is that he will be out of the priesthood and does not harm another child. That's what we were promised by O'Connor, that he would take care of it."
Stinner, when asked about the allegations at his home in Lincolndale in Westchester County, said he had "nothing to say."
At the Chappaqua church, a nun confirmed that Stinner regularly celebrates weekend Masses but referred inquiries to Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
Zwilling declined to answer questions about Stinner.
"I would note, for the record, that Father Stinner does not have an assignment from the Archdiocese of New York, and he does not serve in any parish of the archdiocese. He does occasionally celebrate Mass in various parishes at the invitation of the individual pastor," Zwilling said.
As for Joseph, he was stunned to learn that Stinner was still in the priesthood.
"I am outraged. I can't believe he is in church, around altar boys,"
he said. "That's how he started abusing me."
By Cardinal Edward Egan
My Dear Friends in the Lord,
There can be no doubt: sexual abuse of children is an abomination. It is both immoral and illegal and I will not tolerate it. Be assured, that I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure the safety and security of every child in this Archdiocese. Should any priest sexually abuse a child, he will be removed from pastoral ministry. My heart goes out to any and all victims and their families.
The explosive headlines of the last few weeks have focused everyone's attention on the issue of sexual abuse of minors by a small number of clergy. The overwhelming majority of our good and dedicated priests, who do splendid work day after day, have found their reputations unfairly tarnished by the terrible misdeeds of a few.
Let me be clear. I regard any accusation of sexual abuse with the utmost seriousness. Should the Archdiocese of New York be approached with an allegation, we will make the appropriate report to the proper authorities, if there is reasonable cause to suspect abuse and the victim does not oppose the reporting. I would strongly encourage, however, anyone who has an allegation of sexual abuse to bring it to the proper civil authorities directly and immediately.
It has been and continues to be the policy of the Archdiocese of New York to thoroughly investigate all allegations and to respond appropriately and pastorally to the person making the allegation and to the clergyman as well. The policy states: "Each reported incident will be immediately investigated, with care taken not to interfere with any criminal investigation, and with a high level of Christian care, concern, and confidentiality for the alleged victim, the family of the alleged victim, the person reporting the incident, and the alleged perpetrator."
The policy of the Archdiocese further requires any personnel of the Archdiocese having information concerning sexual abuse to immediately report it. A review of the report shall be undertaken to determine the validity of each claim. If the alleged claim appears substantiated, and after consultation with competent Archdiocesan officials, the alleged perpetrator shall be removed from any function, responsibility or ministry until the matter is resolved. For the person bringing the allegation, and without commenting on the truth of the accusation, medical, psychological and spiritual assistance, and in appropriate instances, economic assistance, may be offered in the spirit of Christian charity.
A March 17th article in a Hartford newspaper, widely reported in the local media, focused on what the writers claimed were mishandled cases of child abuse by clergy during my tenure in the Diocese of Bridgeport. About these cases, the following points need to be made:
First, in every case discussed in the article, the alleged abuse occurred prior to my appointment as Bishop of Bridgeport.
Second, the policy and practice that I established for the Diocese and followed in every instance required that any clergy accused of sexual misconduct with a minor was, after preliminary diocesan investigation, to be sent immediately to one of the most prominent psychiatric institutions in the nation for evaluation. If the conclusions were favorable, he was returned to ministry, in some cases with restrictions, so as to be doubly careful. If they were not favorable, he was not allowed to function as a priest.
Third, in all of the cases, the plaintiffs were already adults represented by attorneys and seeking financial settlements from the Diocese. These cases were well publicized, and a matter of the public record at the time. At no time in these discussions did any representative of the Diocese discourage the plaintiffs or their attorneys from contacting civil authorities.
Fourth, inasmuch as they were represented by legal counsel, direct communications between myself and the plaintiffs were precluded.
In closing, it is my intent to keep the people of the Archdiocese informed regarding these matters as the situation warrants. Moreover, I pledge to you that I am totally and unconditionally committed to protecting our children from abuse of any kind. My clergy, who are good and holy men, join me in this. As I said earlier this week, our children are to be protected always, and in this the Archdiocese of New York will be ever vigilant.
Faithfully in Christ,
By Don Singleton
Despite a questionable reputation that was apparently well known in the Catholic Church, the Rev. Francis Stinner was hired by a Westchester County church last year to conduct weekend Mass.
Officials at the church, St. John and St. Mary's in Chappaqua, refused to comment yesterday on a Daily News article that detailed a former altar boy's allegations of sexual abuse by Stinner.
A source in the Archdiocese of New York said the allegations about Stinner received widespread publicity in Catholic circles.
"There is no priest in the diocese who was unaware of Father Stinner's problems," the source said.
The pastor who hired Stinner, the Rev. Timothy McDonnell, is no longer at the church - he was elevated in December to the rank of bishop and is serving in the archdiocese, said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
McDonnell was unavailable yesterday, said Zwilling, who added that the archdiocese did not assign Stinner to the Chappaqua church.
In an exclusive account in The News yesterday, a 37-year-old man charged that Stinner began abusing him more than 25 years ago, while he was an altar boy in St. Mary's Church in upstate Port Jervis.
The alleged victim, identified only by his middle name, Joseph, said Stinner continued the abuse on more than 100 occasions at the priest's residence and in other religious settings.
Joseph, who eventually accepted a $35,000 payment and a new car from the archdiocese and got a letter of "personal regret" from the late John Cardinal O'Connor, told The News he was stunned to learn that Stinner was still in the priesthood.
"I can't believe he is in church, around altar boys," Joseph
said. "That's how he started abusing me."
By Rinker Buck
New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan Saturday defended his handling of sex abuse allegations against priests, saying that after a review by the diocese, his policy was to send them ``immediately to one of the most prominent psychiatric institutions in the nation for evaluation.
``If the conclusions were favorable, he was returned to ministry, in some cases with restrictions, so as to be doubly careful. If they were not favorable, he was not allowed to function as a priest,'' Egan wrote.
In a much-anticipated letter to parishioners released Saturday, Egan also repeated his controversial position that church authorities would not automatically refer reports of sexual abuse by priests to prosecutors.
The letter, made available to parishes throughout the Archdiocese of New York, responded to a March 17 Courant story that revealed that Egan, while bishop of the Bridgeport diocese, allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to continue working in parishes -- and that he did not refer such complaints to prosecutors or police.
Egan also appeared to back away from his earlier charge that the Courant story contained inaccuracies. He had said in a statement Tuesday he would provide a ``detailed outline of how the Archdiocese of New York responds to accusations of sexual abuse,'' and that the original story ``omitted certain key facts and contained inaccuracies.'' He provided no examples of inaccuracies Saturday.
Egan's letter to parishioners Saturday is not much more detailed than his statement Tuesday. Egan repeated the language of his earlier statement, ``strongly encouraging'' anyone with an allegation of sexual abuse to alert the ``proper civil authorities directly and immediately.''
The Archdiocese of New York, however, will not adhere to the same practice. In his letter to parishioners, Egan emphasized that New York church officials will ``review'' reports of sexual abuse to ``determine the validity of each claim.'' Priests can be removed from their ministries only if a report of sexual abuse is ``substantiated'' by church authorities. Egan noticeably avoided committing the church to reporting cases to civil authorities in all cases.
``Should the Archdiocese of New York be approached with an allegation,'' Egan stated in his letter to parishioners, ``we will make the appropriate report to the proper authorities, if there is reasonable cause to suspect abuse and the victim does not oppose the reporting.''
This hedging of church responsibility was roundly criticized last week by New York district attorneys, who pointed out that New York law requires the reporting of sexual abuse allegations to police or prosecutors. They said that trained detectives and social workers are in a better position to determine the merits of a case than church leaders. Egan's position also departs from church policy in other dioceses across the country, which generally support the reporting of abuse cases to civil authorities.
One prominent theologian and outspoken critic of the church's handling of the sexual abuse scandal questioned the soundness of Egan's position after reading his Saturday letter to parishioners. Hartford native Richard McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, and his best-selling book, ``Catholicism,'' is used as a standard text in college courses throughout the country.
``The diocesan lawyers who handled so many of these cases obviously considered them serious because they recommended substantial outlays of money to settle the cases,'' McBrien said. ``There must have been probable cause if they paid money, and thus civil authorities should have been notified.'' McBrien also pointed out that reassigning priests against whom charges of sexual abuse have been received violates an ancient church teaching called pars tutior, Latin for ``the safer course.''
``The safer course for a bishop who has received charges against a priest is for him to never assign that priest again to a public ministry.''
In his Saturday letter, Egan stopped short of specific criticism of the Courant's article on March 17, and instead insisted that three points should have been made in the article. First, Egan said, the ``alleged abuse'' in the Bridgeport cases described by The Courant occurred prior to his appointment as bishop of Bridgeport in 1988. Second, Egan insisted he had followed diocesan policy by referring accused priests for psychiatric evaluation before allowing them to return to their priestly duties. Egan also pointed out that the victims alleging abuse were all adults when they brought their allegations to the diocese.
The Courant story on March 17 stated all of these points.
Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the New York archdiocese, denied that Egan was retreating from his original statement that the article ``contained inaccuracies.''
``Cardinal Egan considered the story this past Sunday to be inaccurate,'' Zwilling said. ``These essential points, as outlined in the letter to parishioners, should be known.''
McBrien believes that even for critics of the church's handling of sexual abuse cases, there was at least some comfort regarding Egan's two statements this week.
``Cardinal Egan has been forced to move from a position of `no comment'
to one where he's at least attempting to explain his behavior as bishop
of Bridgeport and what his policies will be in the Archdiocese of New
By Eric Rich and Elizabeth Hamilton
A nationally renowned psychiatric hospital that for years has treated clergy accused of sexual misconduct now says it was deceived by the Roman Catholic Church into providing reports that the church used to keep abusive priests in the ministry.
The church sometimes concealed information about past complaints against clergy sent for treatment, and disregarded warnings that the hospital's evaluations should not determine a priest's fitness for parish work, doctors at Hartford's Institute of Living said in interviews. As a result, the institute may have unwittingly provided the clinical cover cited by New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan and other church officials as their reason for not suspending some accused priests, including such now-notorious figures as the defrocked John Geoghan in Boston, accused of molesting more than 130 people.
"In some cases, necessary and pertinent information related to prior sexual misconduct has been withheld from us," said Dr. Harold I. Schwartz, the institute's chief of psychiatry. "In some cases, it would appear that our evaluations have been misconstrued in order to return priests to ministry."
[Photo Captions - [Egan.] Dr. Harold I. Schwartz is the psychiatrist-in-chief of the Institute of Living in Hartford. "In some cases," he said, "it would appear that our evaluations have been misconstrued in order to return priests to ministry." Photo by Brad Clift. Near the main entrance to the Institute of Living is the Center Building, one of the main buildings of the original institute that's been a Hartford fixture for more than 100 years. Photo by Brad Clift. Dr. Leslie Lothstein, Director of Psychology at the Institute of Living and a founder of the institute's program for treating pedophiles, says the catholic church frequently ignored doctors' advice when deciding whether to return abusive priests to work. Photo by Bob MacDonnell. Defrocked catholic priest John Geoghan sits in the courtroom as he was given the maximum sentence of up to 10 years in jail for child abuse Feb. 21. Photo by Reuters.
[Chart Captions - A tangled relationship. These documents relating to the case of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, now in jail for molestating a 10-year-old boy, show the complex relationship between the institute of living and the Archdiocese of Boston over the past 12 years. In 1989, the church insisted the Institute take written responsibility for returning Geoghan to parish work, and the Institute cautiously complied. In 1990, at Geoghan's request, the Institute reaffirmed his fitness "for pastoral work including children." Then, in 1996, a church official complained the Institutes was too much of an advocate for Geoghan. Treating John Geoghan [Timeline]. Egan explains reasons for letting priests return - In pretrial testimony in 1997 and 1999, then Bishop Edward M. Egan often invoked psychiatric evaluations as grounds for his decision not to suspend priests accused of sexual misconduct. Who's Who]
Schwartz spoke of the "surprise we have experienced, to learn only recently as these scandals were emerging in the press, that in so many instances we have been providing treatment to individuals while being so inadequately informed."
He said the institute has decided to require that the church attest, in writing, that it has disclosed any past allegations against priests referred for treatment.
That the Institute of Living would make such accusations about the Roman Catholic Church is extraordinary.
As one of the first major psychiatric hospitals to introduce concepts of spirituality to the treatment of clergy, the institute became unusually close to the church. Scores of priests from all over the country have been treated there, priests have worked for the institute, and one of its doctors was even knighted by Pope Pius XII in 1951.
The institute's criticisms of the church underscore the depth of unease among doctors, as it becomes increasingly apparent that various diocesan officials have invoked the institute's evaluations, time and again, as the reason for allowing abusive priests to continue working.
In his annual pastoral letter yesterday, Egan again cited the institute in defending his handling of sex-abuse cases while he was bishop of the Bridgeport diocese. He said it was his policy to send priests facing allegations "immediately to one of the most prominent psychiatric institutions in the nation for evaluation."
"If the conclusions were favorable, he was returned to ministry, in some cases with restrictions, so as to be doubly careful," Egan said. "If they were not favorable, he was not allowed to function as a priest."
But Leslie Lothstein, the institute's director of psychology, said that the church frequently ignored doctors' advice when deciding whether to return abusive priests to work.
"I found that they rarely followed our recommendations," Lothstein said. "They would put them back into work where they still had access to vulnerable populations."
The institute's claims -- made in interviews conducted before Egan issued his statement Saturday -- raise questions about the church's motives and expectations when seeking treatment.
Court documents reviewed by The Courant -- which contain sealed pretrial testimony from the settled Bridgeport cases -- show that the diocese never referred sex-abuse allegations against a priest to civil authorities for investigation. Instead, church officials made clear they believed that an evaluation at the institute would determine the truth of an accusation.
Egan said during a 1999 deposition that he could take little action against an accused priest if doctors did not substantiate the complaint: "We would have to proceed as anyone else would proceed, by presuming innocence until guilt is proved," he said.
A case in point is the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, whom Egan sent to the Institute of Living in 1989, after a mother accused Pcolka of molesting her son years earlier. Egan testified that "an expert of some renown" at the institute concluded "that there was no reason for us to hesitate to allow this person to continue his duty."
What the institute hadn't been told is that Pcolka had faced another complaint, six years earlier, that he molested a 7-year-old girl. Egan told lawyers during his deposition that a 1983 letter containing that accusation had gone missing from Pcolka's personnel file at the diocese.
A spokesman for Egan at the Archdiocese of New York, where Egan was elevated to cardinal last year, did not respond to calls seeking comment. Attorney Joseph Sweeney, who represented Egan during the Bridgeport lawsuits, defended the former bishop's use of the institute's evaluations.
Egan, he said, consulted the Institute of Living every time a priest was accused of sexual misconduct and never went against the advice of professionals there. Sweeney said Egan used his own judgment when deciding whether to remove priests from active ministry, adding that recommendations from doctors were "not the sole factor," but were "probably the most significant factor."
"The mental health therapists have ways and techniques of finding out the truth," he said. "You can't expect that from the bishops. They're not Dick Tracys. They're not trained to be sleuths."
But a 1990 letter shows that the hospital long ago warned Egan's top aide in Bridgeport, the Rev. Laurence Bronkiewicz, that the church should not rely on its evaluations in deciding whether to remove a priest from ministry. The letter, written by an institute administrator, Dr. Howard Iger, said, "we certainly are in a weak position when we try to make predictions about future behavior."
"As you know from our recent contacts," Iger wrote, "we can be helpful through the use of our 'good offices' in helping to sort out what might be appropriate administrative action, but we must all be careful that our use of medical consultation does not overreach its validity."
To be sure, it is difficult to assess the Institute of Living's belated claim that it has been misled. The hospital would not point to specific cases in which the church allegedly withheld information, saying it is prevented by confidentiality laws.
Also, documents show that the institute sometimes did offer assurances that certain priests could return to parish work -- even, in Geoghan's case, after diagnosing the priest as having "atypical pedophilia in remission." Five years after the institute wrote the Boston archdiocese in 1990 that Geoghan was "psychologically fit" to continue working with children, he was again accused of molesting a boy.
One former psychiatrist who worked at the hospital called Schwartz's accusations against the church "self-serving" and said that in the 1980s, when the institute was struggling financially, it viewed the treatment of clergy as a profitable niche. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the psychiatrist said there were conversations, formally and informally, about worries that the church could take its business elsewhere.
"These were good patients for the institute," the psychiatrist said. "The diocese paid cash."
Under financial strain, the institute became a subsidiary of Hartford Hospital in 1994.
Schwartz declined to comment on the former psychiatrist's remarks.
He also would not speculate on the church's possible motivation for not disclosing past allegations. It is clear from the court documents that knowledge of past allegations made doctors less likely to recommend that a priest be returned to parish work.
James Gill, a psychiatrist and Jesuit priest who helped start the Institute of Living's program for clergy, said bishops frequently fail to share information about allegations, although he doesn't believe it is an attempt to mislead. He said the church is simply a secretive organization that is unaccustomed to the full disclosure required in treatment centers.
But, Gill acknowledged, there have been times when he believed a bishop was sending a priest for treatment with a specific outcome in mind -- namely to get a green light to send him back to work. One of those times happened early in his own career, he said, when a cardinal personally appealed to him to pronounce a priest fit for duty.
"I thought this guy was going to need months of therapy," Gill said. "But the cardinal showed up and told me he needed the guy back in his parish and he gave me a date he had to be back at work."
That jibes with an institute doctor's suggestion during a 1987 newspaper interview that the church, concerned about a clergy shortage, was anxious to get priests back into circulation after treatment.
"The bishops and vicars of priests, and leaders of religious communities, want everyone back," Dr. Thomas J. Conklin said.
Though neither the institute nor the various dioceses are willing to discuss individual cases, a review of medical records and diocesan memoranda contained in court files in Bridgeport, Norwich and Boston offers a rare perspective on the decades-old relationship, now frayed, between the church and the hospital.
Pedophile In Remission
The Archdiocese of Boston had received complaints that Father John Geoghan molested at least 15 children before sending him for treatment in 1989 -- but apparently told clinicians about only six.
Geoghan was first evaluated at St. Luke Institute in Maryland, which summarized the reason for his referral as "reports that he had been sexually involved with three boys during the 1983-84 time period," as well as Geoghan's admission that he had fondled "three other boys" in the late 1970s. Eight months later, the Institute of Living cited some of the same incidents in its own evaluation of the priest.
But that was hardly the whole story.
First, Geoghan hadn't admitted to fondling three boys in the late 1970s. Internal archdiocese memoranda show that he had admitted to molesting seven boys, ages 4 to 12, from the same family -- sexual abuse that ranged from fondling to oral sex.
And, according to diocese records subpoenaed in more than 100 sex-abuse cases against Geoghan, church officials received their first complaints about Geoghan as far back as 1968. Over the next 21 years, at least six more molestation allegations, some involving more than one victim, would be registered with the diocese.
Despite the incomplete information, it was enough for clinicians at St. Luke's who evaluated Geoghan in April 1989 to determine he was at "high risk" for offending again and shouldn't be allowed near children, and to recommend inpatient treatment. In short, they diagnosed him a pedophile.
Geoghan received that inpatient treatment at the Institute of Living from August to November of 1989. It is not clear how much information the institute was given about Geoghan's past behavior -- St. Luke Institute, years later, would conclude that Geoghan lied during that 1989 stay at the institute.
Whatever the reasons, the Institute of Living made what would turn out to be a disastrous recommendation. It diagnosed him an atypical pedophile "in remission," but said doctors decided after "meeting with the patient's superior" that Geoghan could return to his parish in Weston, Mass.
When that recommendation was received by the archdiocese, a top church official wrote back to the doctor saying he was "a bit disappointed and disturbed" by the report, and suggested that the diagnosis did not appear to be a firm basis for the decision to reassign Geoghan.
"It seems to suggest that the decision concerning his reassignment was based on one meeting with me, rather than three months of observation," wrote Bishop Robert J. Banks.
The institute doctor, Robert F. Swords, quickly responded with a reassuring letter on Dec. 13, 1989, saying: "It is both reasonable and therapeutic for him to be reassigned back to his parish."
Swords wrote a follow-up letter to Banks in Boston on Dec. 12, 1990, saying Geoghan "continues to do well and remains psychologically fit for pastoral work in general including children."
The civil and criminal allegations against Geoghan in Massachusetts indicate he had at least 30 victims from 1984 to 1993, when he was removed from parish work and sent to a home for retired priests.
Even then, Geoghan was still allegedly pursuing children.
Geoghan was defrocked by the Boston diocese in 1998 and convicted of one count of indecent assault earlier this year.
The church has paid out about $10 million in 50 cases against the priest, but 84 lawsuits are still pending.
Treatment For 'Burnout'
In the 1970s, before he became a priest, Richard Buongirno allegedly molested a teenager he met at St. Thomas More School in Colchester. When the victim came forward with a complaint in 1994, Buongirno, by then a member of the clergy, was promptly shipped off for treatment at the Institute of Living.
What the Norwich diocese did not mention to doctors at the institute was that, three years earlier, Buongirno was accused of having a 9-year-old altar boy stay in his bed at the rectory at St. Matthias in East Lyme.
Doctors diagnosed Buongirno as depressive. They treated him for self-described "burnout." They believed his claim that he had been celibate since joining the priesthood.
And they saw no reason to keep him from returning to active ministry.
A memorandum to Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, written by the bishop's aide, makes clear the diocese's desire for a written assurance that Buongirno could return to work. The memo contains the following account of the aide's conversation with the Rev. John Kiely, the institute's director of pastoral services: "Jack said the doctor was willing to write that Richard can return to ministry as we spoke about. Officially for the record and for your protection."
Upon release that September, Buongirno was assigned a parochial vicar at St. John Church in Cromwell.
In 1997, he crossed paths again with the altar boy who allegedly had stayed in his bed, now a junior at a Catholic high school. Buongirno renewed a relationship with the teenager, showering him with gifts -- stock in Microsoft Corp., a computer -- and let him drive his 1956 Chevy Bel Air, according to court records.
According to a lawsuit filed by the teenager, the abuse began again later that year. The priest said their relationship was blessed by God, the boy later said. He was 16; Buongirno was 53.
It ended only when the church learned that Buongirno had taken the boy on a cross-country road trip to Mount Rushmore. Reilly ordered them home -- and asked Buongirno to leave the priesthood.
"My faith in God has been shattered," the boy said in an affidavit. "My childhood was destroyed."
Standing before a Superior Court judge earlier this month, a lawyer for the diocese argued that it could not be held accountable for Buongirno's actions with the teenager because doctors at the institute had recommended that he be allowed back into ministry.
Protecting The Public
When Egan was bishop of Bridgeport, his record on informing the institute about the full scope of sexual misconduct allegations against his priests is not clear.
What is clear, however, is his almost exclusive reliance on the institute and other professionals to determine what administrative action he should take against a priest.
Priests Charles Carr and Raymond Pcolka were sent to the Institute of Living by Egan after abuse allegations and, in both cases, Egan and other church officials cited the institute's findings to explain why they allowed the priests to continue working.
In the Carr case, for example, the priest denied the accusations during his initial meeting with doctors in January 1990, and was returned to parish work. When new allegations came forth a few months later, Carr was returned to the institute for a more extensive evaluation.
An institute doctor advised the diocese to take "some administrative action to protect both Father Carr and the public" from future "lapses" by Carr. Egan allowed Carr to continue as a priest, but on the condition that he remain in treatment and have no contact with children.
A year later, that restriction was lifted -- this time on the advice of a different psychiatrist. Sweeney, the diocese's attorney, said Egan followed the recommendation of a Jesuit priest and psychiatrist from New York who was treating Carr on an outpatient basis.
Egan suspended Carr in 1995 when the diocese was sued over sex-abuse allegations, but allowed him to return to work -- albeit in a restricted capacity -- in 1999 after more treatment. Carr served as a nursing home pastor until last month, when new allegations were made against him.
The same pattern was followed in the Pcolka case, but in a more abbreviated form. Pcolka, who was eventually accused of molesting more than a dozen children in civil lawsuits, was first sent to the institute in 1989 for an evaluation. Egan said in his 1999 deposition that he returned the priest to his parish at the advice of the professionals at the Institute of Living, who indicated "that there was no reason for us to hesitate to allow this person to continue in his duty."
There is no way to determine whether this is an accurate representation of the institute's findings, however, because a judge in the Pcolka lawsuits ruled that the diocese could not turn over the priest's psychiatric records to the plaintiffs. What is clear is that the 1983 letter that would have alerted doctors to an earlier complaint against Pcolka was missing from his personnel file.
Sweeney said a doctor at the Institute of Living told the diocese he'd "found no basis for challenging [Pcolka's] denial of the allegations."
"That's the way it was expressed to the diocese," Sweeney said.
Pcolka continued working at his Greenwich church until 1992, when the
diocese received another complaint. Egan ordered the priest back to the
Hartford treatment center, but Pcolka stayed only 10 days before leaving
against the advice of doctors and against Egan's orders.
By Robert Ingrassia
Nine out of 10 New York City Catholics believe all allegations of child sex abuse by priests should be reported to secular authorities, an exclusive Daily News/NY1 poll shows.
The poll's finding is a stinging rebuke to Edward Cardinal Egan's policy that church leaders will report abuse claims only if the church believes them to be true and victims give their consent.
[Sidebar - Results of Poll.]
[Photo Caption - Controversy: Edward Cardinal Egan celebrates Mass this month at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Photo by Michael Schwartz.]
Fifty-three percent of city Catholics don't approve of the way Egan has handled cases of child sexual abuse by priests, while only 14% approve of his actions.
Discontent with the leadership of the Catholic Church on the issue runs even deeper. Sixty-eight percent of those polled said they disapprove of the way the church hierarchy has addressed the sex abuse scandal.
"New York Catholics have given a loud and clear message to Cardinal Egan and the church leadership," said Mickey Blum of Blum & Weprin Associates, which conducted the survey. "They want the church to protect the children and not the priests." Promises The poll was taken Wednesday and Thursday, before yesterday's release of Egan's letter to parishioners on child sex abuse.
Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, had said that the fuller explanation of church policy by Egan would allay the concerns of many Catholics.
"When people have a fuller understanding of how seriously the Archdiocese of New York approaches questions of sexual abuse of children and how we handle allegations that come to us, these numbers will change dramatically."
The poll, which included 502 Catholics in all five boroughs, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
New York Catholics are divided about how widespread the problem of child sex abuse is, with 32% saying the problem is limited to isolated instances, but 23% believe it occurs in most parishes.
Mirroring the results of a recent national poll, 8% of New York Catholics said they are personally aware of someone who had been sexually abused by a priest as a child.
Elizabeth Castelli, a Barnard College assistant professor of religion, said the survey results show a widening rift between church leaders and the Catholic laity.
"The church hierarchy is saying, 'Let us handle it, we know what we're doing,' " Castelli said. "But the people are saying, 'Enough already.' "
Most Catholics aren't blaming the messenger, either. Despite a spate of negative news stories about the church in recent weeks, 52% of those polled said they consider media coverage of the scandal fair. Only 31% believe press coverage has been unfair, with 17% not sure.
Disapproval of Egan and other church leaders, as well as the overwhelming 89% opposition to the archdiocese's reporting policy, crosses racial, gender and age lines.
The city's Catholics are split on the question of celibacy for priests, with 46% saying priests should not have to be celibate, while 38% believe they should. Sixteen percent are undecided.
Latinos (47%) are the strongest backers of celibacy, while a minority of whites (29%) support requiring unmarried priests. Ray of hope Approval of Egan's handling of the scandal runs highest in Queens and Brooklyn, which are not part of the Archdiocese of New York. Nineteen percent of Catholics in Queens and 15% in Brooklyn said they approve of Egan's actions.
Church leaders may see a ray of good news in the finding that 74% of those polled said they don't intend to withhold cash from the collection box because of the scandal.
"People are still faithful," said William Barnett, chairman
of the religious studies department at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. "They're
still committed, but they're awfully annoyed."
Bishop Accountability © 2003
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