Philadelphia Story

By James Jenkins
National Survivor Advocates Coalition
March 16, 2011

It seems that the new "Philadelphia Story" has highlighted the multiple, complicated issues in play here on this blog stream with each posting reflecting a personal perspective.

My views have been shaped by my experience as chair of the SF archdiocesan review board from 2000-05.

The "Zero Tolerance" policy was never anything more than a slick public relations ploy used by US bishops to try to get out in front of the tsunami of negative press that engulfed the US church in the wake of reports of priestly sexual abuse and corrupt archdiocesan officials (read Cardinal Law) in the Boston Globe in the winter of 2001.

I chaired the San Francisco review board when now Cardinal William Levada and his canonist Rev. Gregory Ingles, who was on the drafting committee for the "Dallas Charter," shared an advance copy of the working document with the SF review board.

[Incidentally, this was before Ingles would himself be criminally indicted by a Marin County grand jury for sexual assaults on students while he was a high school religion teacher in the 1970s. Talk about a fox in the henhouse???]

Levada and Ingels both speculated that the Zero-Tolerance policy was "extra canonical" and would have difficulty getting the approbation from Ratzinger and the Inquisition (CDF), who had been charged with managing the church's response to the burgeoning crisis.

Despite their misgivings, Levada and Ingels agreed that in the media maelstrom that was growing around the priest sex abuse scandal the church had no other choice but to go for Zero-Tolerance, given the threat to the church (read, the power of the hierarchs).

I recall extended conversations on the review board about how Zero-Tolerance would effectively cut loose priests to confront on their own the brunt of the scandal raging over the church.

Levada sanguinely observed that he felt terrible for "his brother priests" who would feel abandoned by the hierarchy. He was right.

Nonetheless, Levada was sending the unvarnished message to priests on the front line in the parishes: You are on your own! We will do what we can for you, but you just may not be "inside" when we close the wagons around the hierarchy.

Besides being conniving corrupt politicians, bishops have also proved to be cowards!

Has the Zero-Tolerance policy increased the safety of children? YES, if only marginally in that it has removed some of the biggest repeat offenders from circulation where they could continue to abuse and exploit children.

Has the Zero-Tolerance policy been an unmitigated success in preventing perpetrators from having access to new victims? NO, mainly because secretly the church hierarchy is still completely mobilized to protect their own political power in the church nothing else matters to them.

I don't have much sympathy for concerns (emanating mainly from some clerics and bishops) that Zero-Tolerance and forced laicization "distorts the theology of the priesthood."

Try peddling that bizarre notion to the tens of thousands of survivors of rape and sodomy by priests and bishops around the world!

Is it not the real revelation of the abuse scandal beyond the immediate suffering of literally thousands of men and women particularly when they were children, the real scandal is that the PRIESTHOOD HAS BEEN CORRUPTED?

Especially BISHOPS have been morally compromised, many times criminally complicit, and have betrayed the confidence and trust of the people, and perverted their high office, all just to continue their hegemony within the church.

Don't the new reports coming out of Philadelphia recently indicate that the decay and corruption is deeper, more systemic, more entrenched than we ever dared imagine?

Don't the very words of Jesus reverberate upon us? " Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitened sepulchers which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." (Mt 23:27)

There is no evidence in the scientific literature that would support the suggestion from some that "forgiveness and rehabilitation of the sinning priest" "could protect children and young people."

There is no known treatment for sexual perversions and sexual deviancy. Recidivism and re-offending rates are just too high. That is why we must imprison rapists, removing their access to the general population.

That is why our first priority must be SAFETY of children, not the rehabilitation of predator perpetrator priests.

Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, it would seem the bishops' go-to psychologist these days, director of the Maryland treatment center for many of these priest sex offenders, who has treated multiple predator priest perpetrators [we have to assume unsuccessfully], may lament "the justifiable outrage [of "the people"] with this crime blinds us to more rational thinking."

I'm sorry that we can't be more "rational" for Rossetti's tastes. But, Rossetti offers no viable alternatives for ensuring the safety of children and vulnerable adults from sexual exploitation by priests and bishops.

In fact, Rossetti and his brother bishops have been negligent, I would say intentionally so, in creating any meaningful program to alert the public by revealing the names of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and exploitation.

Nor, have they devised appropriate supervision and after-care of perpetrator priests who have been removed from ministry but continue to be financially supported by the church, and who now have greater opportunity and freedom to menace even more children with abuse.

There seems to be some confusion about the role of review boards, and what terms like "credibly accused" and "culpability" mean in the context of the priest sex abuse scandal.

Review boards have been from the beginning and still are creatures of the bishop's authority. Bishops appoint review boards, determine their purview, and control the access to written records and documentation of allegations against priests.

Review boards can only determine, much like a grand jury, if there is "probable cause" to assume that allegations against a priest are "credible" or "insufficient;" and make recommendations to bishops what the course of action concerning an allegation against a priest he should take.

Review boards have no authority to compel the bishop to do anything. The beginning of the end of my time on the SF Review board came when Levada violated his pledge that review board investigations would be independent and free of manipulation.

Writing on this blog, Jim Pauwels raises the issue of "culpability" within the Catholic community for the priest sex abuse scandal. Before we glibly exonerate ourselves, remember that everyone who drops some money in the collection basket at Sunday liturgy continues to underwrite or finance the rape and sodomy of children.

It is our money that makes up the hush funds to silence survivors, our money that priests use to buy their vacation homes or motels rooms where they take children to assault them, it is our money that pays for the rectory residence where most of the assaults occurred, it is our money given to priests that pays for bribe gifts and credit cards for victims, it is our money that supports the phalanx of lawyers and public relations firms that defend the bishops. (I could go on, and on).

Yes, all us Catholics must share in this "culpability."

The entire Catholic community is convicted by the lives of perpetrator priests and bishops due more to sins of omission than anything else. Who could have intervened and stepped forward to stop the abuse which took place over decades?

The so-called "pattern" of transferring perpetrator priests from parish to parish was certainly at best an uneven practice by bishops, due usually to the political and social capitol the perpetrator priest enjoyed with the bishop and chancellery. [Friends in high places kind-of-thing.] It was really a matter of what the bishops could get away with doing at a minimum.

But we do know that bishops organized elaborate evasion schemes that would entail moving offending priests around the diocese, around the US, even sending them to foreign countries to evade the notoriety of a priest who sexually abuses innocent children. [There is a high degree of shame at work here too, let's not forget!]

Some bishops did consult mental health professionals and require that perpetrator priests engage in "therapy." Only problem is that there is no known full-proof "therapeutic cure" for sex abuse offenders. This was true in the 1950's. It remains so in 2011.

Sad but true, deterring sexual abuse, especially of children, is not a high priority for our society and culture maybe because most abuse occurs within families or within the family's social circle including their parish priest. Perpetrators are usually well known to the child and family.

The best science can do is to try to reduce recidivism as much as possible by isolating the perpetrator from his target population, usually through incarceration and strict probation by trying to restrict access and availability to children.

The best clinical outcome in most circumstances is for the mental health professionals to attempt to stabilize the expression of the pathology (reduce the rate and re-occurrence of symptoms in this case, stop or reduce the assaults); and then, return the individual to normative functioning i.e., return to the home, job, community. For priests, that usually means going back to the parish!

A survivor of a priest's horrific sexual abuse once said to me: "I'm a drug addict I've gone to prison for drugs. The state of California would never, should never, give me a license to be a pharmacist. Why should priest perpetrators be returned to parishes where there is always a new supply of victims?" That is logic hard to argue with.

I have read many clinical reports of psychiatrists and psychologists regarding perpetrator priests. Many priests, usually the higher-ranking clerics like bishops and monsignors, were treated for "depression," "anxiety," "stress" not antisocial or sociopathic disorders or behavior. Most reports recommended that the priest's access to children and vulnerable adults be restricted and supervised.

Needless to say, most bishops ignored these clinical recommendations. And now, hierarchs are only looking for scapegoats to explain away their complicity in the rape and sodomy of children by citing the shaky advice they received from mental health professionals.

The drama being played out these days in a Philadelphia courtroom should not be a surprise to anyone if they were the least bit aware and paying attention.

If you could get past all the apocalyptical news coming out of Japan, today's NY Times (3/15/11) has an account of a charged court appearance in Philadelphia that should be very disturbing to all Catholics.

Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes "in frustrated and furious tones, declared that [accused former priest James Brennan] did not understand what he had done and was not giving her straight answers."

Apparently, the judge was infuriated to learn that the archdiocese might pay for Mr. Brennan's legal fees. "[Jude Hughes] told [Brennan] that this gave him a disincentive to negotiate with the prosecutors, because his legal bills would not be paid "if you speak against the archdiocese.""

Later, after revealing that he [Brennan] had used his own money and his brother's funds to pay for his present lawyer after pleading poverty causing the judge to use taxpayer money for his court-appointed lawyer during the grand jury investigation, Judge Hughes incredulously scolded, "You lied to me. You jerked me around while you played this game and came to me in tears."

This is typical of the legal shenanigans and deceptions from bishop's attorneys once they get in front of a court.

Wait until Judge Hughes has to deal with Rigali who as a cardinal has been trained to take lying to the level of an art form.

Cardinal Roger Mahony once sent his lawyer to the jailhouse to offer perpetrator priest Desmond O'Grady a sweetheart deal to take care of O'Grady with a large annuity after he got out of prison, if O'Grady would refused to testify in court about his relationship with Mahony who was O'Grady's bishop in Fresno while O'Grady was assaulting multiple children.

O'Grady refused to testify. Served seven years for rape and sodomy in CA prisons. Today, O'Grady is living the good life back in Dublin.

History will continue to repeat itself until Catholics take matters into their own hands and forever reform the priesthood from parish to pope, as we have known it.

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