Honesty Overdue on Abusive Priest

By Michael Wegs
Columbia Daily Tribune
September 1, 2009

Recently, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City disclosed another child sexual molestation settlement. The payout this time is $600,000. But Bishop John Gaydos won't say how he will pay the piper, nor will he disclose the whereabouts of the predatory priest who has admitted a previous offense in a court of law.

The public and parishioners alike should be outraged by his attitude and his arrogance. The facts in the case are beyond doubt: The Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., transferred a convicted pedophile priest to a religious organization known as the Servants of the Paraclete and — with permission from the Jefferson City diocese — installed the reprobate priest at the parish of SS. Peter and Paul in Boonville. (The Paracletes, established in 1947 by the Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, operate facilities designed ostensibly to "treat" pedophiles employed by the church. In this particular case, it appears they helped the Rev. Carmine Sita, the New Jersey predator, change his name to the Rev. Gerald Howard.)

Notifying the public and the police as to where Carmine Sita/Gerald Howard is living is a simple matter. Any decision otherwise is alarming and should arouse our indignation. Sita/Howard pleaded guilty in 1982 in a New Jersey court to sexually molesting a young boy, and now his employers are again forced to come to terms with the same senseless violence and abuse of our children.

Equally troubling is the bishop's lack of fiduciary trust regarding his northeast Missouri congregations. Since 2002, when Gaydos closed St. Thomas Aquinas High School Seminary in Hannibal in the wake of the molestation scandal, Gaydos has been forced to settle dozens of abuse cases. Roughly 15 percent of his priests have been removed from the ministry in the past 20 years.

The $600,000 cost of the current scandal only adds weight to concerns about Gaydos' money management, particularly when reports describe the settlement as a three-way split among those implicated in the cover-up. Some questions should be answered:

How much of the $600,000 settlement is earmarked for the diocese of Jefferson City?

In matters of this type, the burden of the settlement falls to the recipient diocese because the management hired the pedophile and then placed the predator in a position to molest more children. Consequently, Gaydos probably has to pay most of the settlement.

What funds will be used to cover the settlement?

In 2003, Minneapolis Archbishop Harry Flynn violated standard accounting practices when he took $3.1 million from a priest pension fund and $700,000 from a charitable account earmarked for social welfare to settle a $9 million payout. The Archdiocese of Boston has engaged in similar practices. Other dioceses have depleted stock portfolios and sold real estate to cover legal expenses.

What is the legal tally to date to defend predatory priests?

Allegations of this magnitude require the most expensive criminal defense in the marketplace. The St. Louis law firm Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale — and Gaydos' personal representative, Edward M. Goldenhersh — receive handsome retainers or charge maximum fee to keep clergymen out of the courtroom. Hourly rates typically peak at $450, excluding retainers. In exchange for a donation to the Sunday collection plate, a curious person might ask where the cash contributions and credit debits end up.

Does insurance cover the diocese for these settlements?

Underwriters balk at covering criminal activity, particularly when the policyholder has prior knowledge of the offense and the offender, as in the case of Gaydos and his predecessors when they hire child predators such as Sita/Howard. General American Insurance Co. has refused to pay past claims for the Paracletes, and the Catholic Mutual Fund has acted similarly in cases involving other religious orders. The inability to obtain insurance coverage prompted the Catholic Church to become self-insured in 1988 when it launched the National Catholic Risk Retention Corp. (A diocese in this situation contributes to the insurance pool and hopes for the best; Jefferson City is one of its 66 shareholder members, one-third of the dioceses in the United States.)

In just a few short years, the cost to defend predatory priests working in this part of the state is massive. From the closure of St. Thomas and the havoc inflicted on students victimized in 1960s, '70s, and '80s to the Sita/Howard debacle, the history of Roman Catholic Church here is filled with chapters of terrible sadness.

Gaydos was a member of the American bishops' committee that drafted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The 2005 document mandates transparency of services and protocols, and it established solid benchmarks in all areas pertaining to the day-to-day business operations of the church and its care of children. Pope Benedict XVI championed the charter and demands full disclosure in dealing with church-related crises that affect our children. Consequently, Gaydos should be able to participate in open discussions of the facts in the child abuse cases that continue to plague the diocese. He should be able to establish an investigatory body to examine matters that led to the closing of the church's 50-year-old high school seminary in Hannibal. He should be able to tell us where the Rev. Carmine Sita, or rather, the Rev. Gerald Howard, is living. It's the only honest thing to do.


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