Bishop Who Hid Child Sex Crimes Passes
January 4, 2016
Bishop Raymond Lessard, who was bishop of Savannah for twenty-two years, has passed away. We hope he will be not be buried with “full honors” given his record of concealing child sex crimes.
During his time as the head of the diocese, a serial predator priest, Fr. Wayland Brown, sexually violated a number of young boys. Brown was convicted in Maryland and served five years of a ten year sentence and was laicized in 2004. In a sentencing memo, prosecutors showed church personnel files that prove the Savannah Diocese received warnings, time and time again, from priests and others who noticed Brown’s troubling actions with young boys. But neither Bishop Lessard nor his staff took any action to protect kids, alert parents or call police. The memos also show that Bishop Lessard did not cooperate with the investigation of Brown’s crimes in 1986.
According to BishopAccountability.org, there are at least 12 publicly accused South Carolina predator priests. We strongly suspect that more than two dozen child molesting clerics have actually spent time in the diocese.
We see no evidence that Lessard acted responsibly in these cases or at best, did anything but the bare minimum.
When we ignore wrongdoing, we encourage wrongdoing. And when Catholic officials, in 2015, keep treating their most disgraced complicit colleagues as heroes or saints, they encourage other church employees to ignore, conceal and enable child sex crimes and cover ups.
Several Penn State officials – including the school’s president and popular football coach - were fired or ousted for letting one perpetrator have continued to access children. Imesch did that for about two dozen perpetrators. Yet he remained in office, suffering no penalties whatsoever, and is being honored today with elaborate funeral proceedings.
It’s not just Penn State. All kinds of institutions hold the “top dog” responsible for wrongdoing he or she engaged in or even failed to stop. One institution is the exception: the Catholic church. And this is not changing.
Over decades, Lessard knowingly put hundreds of children at risk of sexual violence by quietly assigning perpetrator priests to parishes, repeatedly showing no concern for the safety of those children or compassion for those who were sexually violated.
Honoring Lessard would rub salt into the deep wounds of caring Catholics and suffering victims. It would send a disturbing message to others in the church hierarchy: “No matter how much harm you do to children, don’t worry. We’ll stand by you to the end.” And it would send a disturbing message to child sex abuse victims: “Your pain means nothing to us. We care only about protecting the reputation of powerful prelates.”
We hope that anyone who has seen or suspected crimes by Brown or other clerics will speak up, get help, call police, protect others and start healing.