Archdiocese Feels Betrayed by Film

By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune [Chicago IL]
May 25, 2005

When filmmaker Mary Healey-Conlon requested an interview with Cardinal Francis George for a documentary on the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church, the cardinal welcomed her to his residence in hopes that answering her questions would shed light on the scandal enveloping American bishops.

Now officials with the archdiocese of Chicago say they regret their participation, contending that the film, titled "Holy Water-gate," is riddled with inaccuracies. They also fault Healey-Conlon for failing to disclose conflicts of interest when she approached them in 2002.

"The cardinal will not dignify this so-called documentary with a comment," said Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "This thing is an infomercial for plaintiffs' attorneys ... pure propaganda."

The documentary debuted last week on Showtime as a prelude to "Our Fathers," a made-for-television movie about the scandal that came to light in Boston in 2002. Both the movie and documentary will air again Wednesday night.

The 56-minute film, boiled down from 350 hours of footage, features interviews with victims' advocates, including lawyers, priests and parishioners.

"I worked hard in the film not to draw too many conclusions for the audience," Healey-Conlon said. "It's very important that people grapple with it on their own. I still grapple with this on my own."

In the film, George says the crisis presents an opportunity for people in the church to explore their faith more deeply.

"I mean, in one way, the politicians say any publicity is good publicity," he said. "So people are talking about the Catholic faith, much to our shame in ways that they didn't before. ... Once they start talking about it, they may become interested why is this peculiar animal acting the way it is. Some will be led by God's grace to look into it more carefully."

But Healey-Conlon also talked to William Cloutier, a former Chicago priest accused of assaulting adolescent boys beginning in 1979. In the interview Cloutier alleged that the Chicago archdiocese had collaborated with civil authorities in 1979 to cover up his crime.

After the victim immediately came forward, he said, the archdiocese made sure the police report vanished. When Healey-Conlon requested a copy of the police report, she was told it did not exist. Instead of prison, Cloutier was sent to a mental health facility in Massachusetts for treatment.

Dwyer said the archdiocese never conspired with law enforcement. According to a letter from John Grivetti, then state's attorney for Putnam County, a full investigation took place, including a search of Cloutier's home and questioning of Cloutier. Grivetti said he decided on his own to commit Cloutier rather than imprison him.

In 1991, after several repeat offenses by Cloutier, then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin removed him and a number of other priests from ministry, Dwyer said. Cloutier left the priesthood in 1994 and died in 2003.

Healey-Conlon said she gave George an opportunity to respond to Cloutier's allegations but that he elected to stick to a list of scripted questions.

Dwyer said she should have given the archdiocese an opportunity to research and clarify Cloutier's account.

Dwyer also contends Healey-Conlon misrepresented herself. Though she says she undertook the project as a Catholic who wanted to better understand what went wrong in her church, she was married to a plaintiffs' attorney at the start of the film. They are currently separated.

She also reveals in the film that she worked as a legal assistant on several abuse cases.

Healey-Conlon said she hopes civil authorities will treat the clergy abuse crisis as more of a crime.

"My faith has really been strengthened by the courage of the people who have endured enormous suffering, who despite that suffering manage to gather the strength to advocate on behalf of others who don't have the strength to advocate for themselves," Healey-Conlon said. "That gave me a lot of courage to make the film myself."