NEW ORLEANS (LA)
The Open Tabernacle
May 29, 2021
By Betty Clermont
“Everybody would know for sure that the Catholic Church has been part of the wholesale, systematic, and organized rape of our children if Archbishop Gregory Aymond testified, if he was deposed,” Richard Windmann told reporter Helen Lewis.
Aymond, head of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, wasn’t deposed nor did he have to testify because he had filed for bankruptcy two weeks before the case was to begin in court. “This a disappointing but not surprising move, as Archbishop Aymond now follows in the footsteps of dozens of Catholic officials who have chosen to declare bankruptcy rather than allow survivors of clergy sexual abuse to bring their claims forward in open court,” said Windmann one of the founders of Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse.
The archdiocese cited “financial struggles as the primary reason why it filed for bankruptcy” in May 2020. However, in a letter sent to the Vatican two days before the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, Aymond wrote, “The archdiocese is not insolvent. We have sufficient cash, cash equivalents, and investments to cover 100 percent of our liabilities,” including abuse-related claims, Helen Lewis revealed in her article, “INVESTIGATION: What Is the Real Reason the Archdiocese of New Orleans Declared Bankruptcy?” in the May 1 issue of Big Easy Magazine. It is a thorough and gut wrenching article.
“These assets include a $306 million endowment along with $77 million worth of land and buildings. Liabilities on the other hand are a measly $38 million in bonds, $500,000 in employee health claims, and the $8.5 million set aside for abuse-related claims,” she explained.
Why then did Aymond file for bankruptcy? The answer: concealing information, Lewis declared.
“Its filing was designed to stop Archbishop Aymond’s deposition and block the publication of thousands of pages of documents (about the archdiocese’s conduct). Rather than embrace truth and transparency, the archdiocese (moved) its campaign of delay and silence to another forum,” stated Attorney Soren Gisleson. “There’s no admission of guilt. There are no records that will be produced. No apologies. That’s the end of it” Russ Hebron, leader of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) of Louisiana, noted.
“Unfortunately, the main reason that many survivors filed claims against the Church was not to gain monetary compensation, but rather to gain access to documents and information the Church refused to hand over to them,” Lewis wrote. “Knowing the whole truth without limitation is an important part of sexual abuse survivors’ ability to retake control of events that caused so much pain they have been forced to carry in silence for so long,” attorneys Richard Trahant, John Denenea and Soren Gileson who are representing dozens of clerical abuse claimants, stated.
“Believing that there are no longer pedophiles active in an organization that enabled them for countless decades is an ignorant assumption especially considering how little the Church has done to atone for its crimes in the past,” Lewis declared. “Bankruptcy reveals the Church is not sorry. They are explicitly on the side of these rapists and because of that, they will continue to act in ways that traumatize and re-traumatize sexual abuse survivors, denying them justice,” she concluded. (emphasis mine)
“While the outlook is grim in regard to the archdiocese’s bankruptcy proceedings, not all hope is lost,” wrote Zach Hiner, the Executive Director of SNAP. “’The only way for true transparency and accountability to happen is through the secular justice system. We know that the Louisiana legislature is considering a bill that would reform the state’s statute of limitations on cases of childhood sex abuse, and for the good of survivors, parents, and children, we hope the bill proceeds. Reform like this and investigations from police, prosecutors, and attorneys is the best way to ensure victims receive justice and abuse will be prevented, not through secretive and unnecessary bankruptcy proceedings,” Hiner stated.about:blankREPORT THIS AD
Statute of Limitations Reform
“New York bishops spent millions lobbying against the Child Victims Act (CVA) for years as one of their top legislative priorities. The measure stalled for years, often due to the support of Republicans in the state Senate, but it continued gaining momentum,” wrote Edward McKinley in an article appearing Feb. 12, 2021, in the Times Union.
The Child Victims Act “extends the statute of limitations for a survivor of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases in New York. This means there is now more time for a survivor of child sexual abuse to press criminal charges. And, in civil cases, the CVA extends the period of time during which a survivor of child sexual abuse can file a claim for money damages,” the Association of the Bar of the City of New York explained.
“Now survivors of child sexual abuse in New York State finally have the opportunity to seek justice against their abusers and the institutions who may have harbored them,” State Senator Brad Hoylman told McKinley.
The term “survivors” is used because “the number of victims who have been suicidal at one time or another is not trivial. There is suicide when someone consciously ends their suffering. And then there is suicide by those who do it slowly with drugs, alcohol, and engaging in other risky behavior,” said attorney John J. Stobierski who has represented 60 or so clergy abuse victims. “I have been on the phone many late nights trying to keep survivors alive,” he added.
Also, many people think of clerical sex abuse only in the past – crimes committed long ago – because “most victims don’t come forward for many years due to the emotional trauma, health problems and social pressures,” explained Barbara Dorris, former outreach director for SNAP.
Statute of limitations reform affects all Americans, not just Catholics.
“In the United States, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience sexual abuse every year. On college campuses, 13% of students experience rape or sexual assault. And for those brave enough to come forward, our legal system actively works against them – often precluding them from pursuing justice altogether through outdated state laws with statutes of limitations,” wrote Marci Hamilton, chief executive officer and academic director at Child USA, in the May 18, 2021, edition of USA TODAY.
In New York, local bishops called their state senators “demanding that they never pass the Child Victims Act. That it would bankrupt the Church and the victims are only after money and you have to protect the Church,” Gary Greenberg, a longtime advocate who lobbied for the CVA, told McKinley.
The CVA finally passed and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law on Valentine’s Day 2019. “Since then, nearly 5,000 child abuse lawsuits have been filed, with thousands naming the dioceses around the state. Four of the eight dioceses in New York have already declared bankruptcy so far,” McKinley reported. “That strategy allows the Church to often avoid public trials or witness depositions, and to handle claims in one court proceeding that potentially will preserve more of their financial assets,” McKinley added.
“California bishops fighting 2019 clergy sex abuse law” was a Jan. 29, 2021, headline from the Associated Press. “Most California Roman Catholic bishops are asking a judge to throw out a 2019 law that allowed accusers of clergy sexual abuse to sue even if they were molested decades ago.”
“California in 2019 provided a three-year period that began on Jan. 1 of last year permitting suits in cases that exceeded the statute of limitations. It also extended the age of people who could sue for childhood sexual abuse from 26 to 40 after the extension expires and allowed triple damages in cases where abuse resulted from a ‘cover-up’ of previous assaults by an employee or volunteer,” the AP reporter, Robert Jablon, wrote.about:blankREPORT THIS AD
“The motions challenging AB218 were filed on behalf of the archbishop of Los Angeles as well as the archbishop of San Francisco and the bishops of Orange, Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and Santa Rosa,” Jablon stated. “The motion filed in Los Angeles argued that the law ‘seeks to correct an injustice that does not exist with regard to the Church defendants,’ adding that ‘the Legislature had no evidence of widespread abuse after 2003 and no evidence of cover-up,’” noted Jablon.
But attorney John Manley, who has handled some of suits, called the motions “morally reprehensible and hypocritical.” The Church “was well aware that they had a massive molestation problem by priests,” Manly said. “They systematically violated reporting laws … lied to the families, lied to the media, lied to the faithful. Now what they are saying is, ‘Don’t allow our victims to hold us accountable.’”
“Priests who molested children committed emotional murder,” Manly told Jablon. ‘There’s no statute of limitations on murder … on kidnapping. There shouldn’t be a statue of limitations for child molestation.”
Praise for Pope Francis
“Pope Francis has instituted sweeping reforms during his pontificate to address the avalanche of cases of sexual abuse by clergy,” the Washington Post, Religion News Service and other U.S. media stated on April 28. They were reporting that the “Vatican’s revamped Center for Child Protection will attack systemic abuse in the Church.”(emphasis mine)
Was Pope Francis now ordering his bishops to report credible allegations to the police and turn over their secret documents to judicial officials? Was he ordering them to support the elimination of statutes of limitations, to use their assets compassionately to assist their victims’ healing? No
The revamped Center for Child Protection will become the Institute of Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care (IADC) on Sept. 1 and “attack systemic abuse” by offering “a doctoral degree in anthropology, host researchers, broaden the scope of its existing curriculum and have its own teaching faculty.”
Rev. Hans Zollner, president of the organization and “regarded as one of the leading ecclesiastical experts in the field of safeguarding from sexual abuse” according to the U.S. media, pointed to “the #MeToo movement and reports of abuse in military organizations, the United Nations and other nongovernmental organizations” as problem areas. But through the IADC “lasting change will happen,”Zollner said.
The pope makes “sweeping reforms” only in response to critical press coverage
Pope Francis pays attention to his media coverage. The UN Committee for the Rights of the Child asked him for a response to a list of concerns regarding child sex abuse. On Dec. 4, 2013, he responded by stating that it was not the practice of his government to “disclose information on specific cases unless requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings” and “that the Vatican can provide information only about known and alleged child sex crimes that have happened on Vatican property.” A rarity, the pope received negative coverage (here and here). The next day, it was announced that Pope Francis would create a special Commission for the Protection of Minors to advise him on ways to address the subject.
However, even when another country followed the proper “legal proceedings” to obtain information from the Vatican, they were denied. In 2018, the Chilean prosecutor, Emiliano Arias, found it necessary to raid Church premises after access to pertinent information was denied by the Vatican claiming it was protected by “pontifical secret.” “He compared the decision that the Church does not have to cooperate with civilian authorities to having unreported ‘dead bodies’ under a chapel.”
There was no need for the creation of a special commission. Long before Pope Francis was elected, there were already scores of official reports by government agencies, commissions, organization and experts as listed on the BishopAccountability.org website on the subject of how to prevent and/or mitigate child sex abuse. These reports were generally in agreement with the recommendations by the UN Committee on Torture shown below.about:blankREPORT THIS AD
The UN Committee on Torture “found that the widespread sexual violence within the Catholic Church amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” The recommendations by the committee were communicated to Pope Francis in June 2014 as follows:
- “Immediately remove all known and suspected child sexual abusers from assignment and refer the matter to the relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation and prosecution purposes”
- “Impose ‘meaningful sanctions’ on any Church officials who fail to do so.”
- “Hand over files containing details of clerical sexual abuse allegations to police forces around the world.”
Peter Saunders, a British survivor of clerical sex abuse, was dismissed from Pope Francis’ Commission for the Protection of Minors in February 2016 for not “keeping my mouth shut” about the “lack of action on the abuse issue.” “I don’t see movement, I don’t see action over an issue that they should be absolutely furious about,” he told the press.
Another “Sweeping Reform”
Another of Pope Francis’ “sweeping reforms” was hailed by the media as “holding bishops accountable.” This one is known as Vos Estis, the Latin name for a law he enacted. It’s origin is the same as the Commission for the Protection of Minors i.e. negative media coverage.
In August 2018, a grand jury report said that internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania show that more than 300 “predator priests” were found to have committed the sexual abuse and torture of 1.000 children. “We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands,” the report said.
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.” The grand jury also described the Church’s methods as “a playbook for concealing the truth after FBI agents identified a series of practices they found in diocese files,” reported CNN.
The grand jury report recommended “eliminating criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children and expanding the pool of people who can make civil claims against the Church.”
Reacting to the negative media reporting, Pope Francis released a letter a week later “to the People of God” and the press. He begged forgiveness “for our own sins and the sins of others.” He said “lay Catholics must be involved in the effort to root out abuse and cover-up. He blasted the clerical culture that has been blamed for the crisis, with Church leaders more concerned for their reputation than the safety of children.” This “signals a realization at the highest levels of the Church that clergy sex abuse is a global problem,” reported the Associated Press.
Pope Francis also announced he was holding a Vatican “summit” on child sex abuse to be held in February 2019. The summit should be viewed as “a publicity stunt, if we don’t see concrete action,” said Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi, who was molested by a priest.
Pope Francis ended the “landmark” Vatican meeting by calling “for an all-out battle against the abuse of minors, erasing this abominable crime from the face of the earth,” reported the New York Times, Washington Post and other media.
Pope Francis new procedure for “an all-out battle erasing this abominable crime” was enacted in May 2019. It called for a Vatican investigation of bishops accused of sex abuse or of covering up clergy sex crimes. Vos estis lux mundi (You are the light of the world) “was touted by Vatican spokespeople and commentators as ‘landmark’ and ‘revolutionary,’” wrote Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountablity.org which is a large online archive of documents, reports, and news articles documenting the global abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
“An end to cover-up is unlikely,” Barrett noted. “Vos Estis requires every decision-maker in the accountability process to be at the level of bishop or higher. No priests, and certainly no laypeople, are permitted to have an authoritative role.”
As of May 10, 2021, there have been seven American bishops investigated under the Vos Estis procedures according to Christopher White, national correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. Each of them is listed below along with the accusation against them, their current employment and the status of the Vatican investigation. None have been convicted. All profess their innocence.
Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne – child sex abuse – already retired – case closed with a rebuke for “flagrant” behavior.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn – child sex abuse – remains in office – investigation continues.
Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York – child sex abuse – already retired – investigation put on hold until civil cases conclude.
Bishop John Brungardt of Dodge City, Kansas – child sex abuse – “stepped aside” until matter is resolved – investigation continues.
Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California – actions or inactions in cases of clerical child sex abuse – remains in office – investigation continues.
Archbishop John Nienstedt, Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis – child sex abuse and interference with a civil criminal investigation – resigned in 2015 – investigation continues.
Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota – cover-up of clerical child sex abuse – Pope Francis accepted his resignation making Hoeppner the only U.S. bishop to lose his job as a result of a Vos Estis investigation.
When a prelate resigns, he still keeps his full income, free room and board, free healthcare and honors for the rest of his life without having to work another day. “He retains his membership in the college of bishops and continues to ‘collaborate in the governance of the Church,’” noted BishopAccountability.
BishopAccountability.org has identified more than 80 bishops worldwide publicly accused of sex crimes against children. “A sexually abusive bishop is exceptionally dangerous. His management of priests is skewed toward protecting his secret, beginning with the character of the men he accepts to the seminary and the quality of their formation. When one of his priests is accused of sexual abuse, a bishop who is also an offender is unlikely to administer punishment or contact law enforcement. He is, inevitably, an enabler of other sexual criminals, harming not only his own victims, but those who are raped or assaulted by the abusive clerics to whom he gives safe harbor.”
“Despite the extensive harm done by abusive Church leaders, few have been severely disciplined. Only seven have been laicized” states BishopAccountability.
The only American prelate was Theodore McCarrick, laicized (or defrocked) when he was 89 years old, “financially independent,”and still living in a location of his own choosing. In 2018, Cardinal McCarrick had been accused of sex abuse of three minors.
In 2019, Pope Francis made headlines by laicizing McCarrick a week before his much-publicized Vatican summit.
More Pope Francis’ platitudes
Pope Francis said, “Protecting children against sexual exploitation is a duty of every nation, (which is) called to identify both traffickers and abusers,” during an audience on May 15 with members of an association to protect children from online predators.
“It is a scourge that, on the one hand, must be confronted with renewed determination by public institutions, authorities and others and, on the other hand, it requires raising even more awareness in families and different educational agencies. Even today, we see how often in families the first reaction is to cover everything up,” he said, adding it has always been the first reaction by other institutions, too, including the Church.
“We have to fight against this old habit of covering it up,” he said.
Because the U.S. media does not hold Pope Francis accountable for the wholesale, systematic, and organized rape of our children, this is never going to happen.
Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.