Victims’ Reps Say 400 Defrocked Priests ‘tip of Iceberg’
By Bob McGovern
January 18, 2014
The nearly 400 Catholic priests a bombshell report yesterday revealed were defrocked over two years for molesting children represent just a small fraction of a huge backlog of accused clergy that have yet to face consequences, according to theologians and victim’s advocacy groups.
“I’ve seen a reliable report that more than 700 cases have been sent over by America alone,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a canon and civil lawyer at the Duquesne Law School in Pittsburgh. “So 400, that’s not surprising.”
A Vatican document obtained by The Associated Press shows Pope Benedict XVI defrocked nearly 400 priests from 2011-12 for sexually assaulting children — more than double the priest removals in 2008 and 2009.
The names and whereabouts of priests on the list were not immediately available. However, according to information on the Archdiocese of Boston’s website, eight local priests were defrocked during the 2011-12 timeframe.
Terrence C. Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to answer questions about the report, referring reporters to the Vatican.
“The Archdiocese of Boston has made it a practice to publicly announce when a priest has been removed from the clerical state on matters related to the issue of clergy sexual abuse,” Donilon said in a statement. “We post such announcements on our website.”
There have been 276 accused clerics who worked in the Boston archdiocese, according to the advocacy group Bishop-Accountability.org, including some who died before ever facing charges and others who were accused long after the statute of limitations expired. More than 135 Boston archdiocese priests have had settlements against them for sex abuse.
The revelation came a day after Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, was grilled by a United Nations humans rights committee probing abuse by priests and what was being done to prevent it.
The maximum penalty for a priest convicted by a church tribunal is essentially losing his job: being defrocked. A defrocked priest can lose all his benefits — including pensions and space in a retirement home set aside for priests — but there are no jail terms and nothing to prevent an offender from sexually assaulting again. The Vatican insists nothing in its church process prevented victims from going to police.
“My clients want to know what took the pope so long to defrock the 400 priests and why he hasn’t defrocked 4,000,” said Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney who has been spearheading priest molestation cases for more than a decade. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
One of his clients, who never had the satisfaction of facing his alleged abuser on the stand, said the news just causes him more torment. “It pains me that it has gone on this long and this far and no one is taking it seriously enough,” said Jerry Sypeck, 51, who accused the late Father Paul Hightower of abusing him for nearly four years, but said he was “forced” to settle out of court. Hightower was never defrocked. “It just validates what I’ve known for a long, long time.”