Opinion: Catholic church’s handling of abuse cases betrays core values

By John Salberg
San Jose Mercury-News
January 31, 2020

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is investigating how the state’s 12 Catholic dioceses, including those in San Jose and Oakland, handled sexual abuse allegations over the past two decades.
Photo by Paul Bersebach

Vatican needs to cede oversight and investigation over these claims to an independent, secular body

I applaud California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for his decision to investigate the Catholic Church in California (State opens investigation into San Jose, Oakland Dioceses’ handling of sex abuse allegations). I am a clergy abuse survivor and still a practicing Catholic, but I have been fighting for this type of investigation for more than 20 years.

As a child, I suffered abuse at the hands of Father Joseph Pritchard, formerly of Saint Martin of Tours Parish.  My case was first reported to the San Jose diocese by Monsignor Michael McKiernan in 2000.  After the report, Linda Bearie and Monsignor Michael Mitchell, Diocesan Chancellor and Vicar General, respectively, met with me.  To my shock, neither recorded anything during the meeting, rebuffed my plea for church-funded counseling and never followed up with me. I never heard from them again.

In March 2002, The Mercury News interviewed Patrick McGrath, then Bishop of San Jose. Claiming complete transparency, he was adamant that he knew of only two reported incidents of clergy sexual abuse. There was no mention of my case.

On April 25, 2002, I came forward with my story and the cover up by the diocese.

After my story was published, Bishop McGrath personally met with and assured me that he believed me. In follow-up articles, however, I was described as an “alleged” sexual abuse victim — words that sting to this day. The Bishop also continued to publicly insist — falsely — that the diocese had been fully transparent in 2002 when it claimed to know of only two reported cases of abuse.

In 2003, I filed suit against the diocese.  Faced with the litigation, the diocese that had refused to publicly acknowledge my case, admitted to liability for my abuse.  During the course of the litigation, I was made to understand that the church was offering me $500,000 to settle the matter out of court.  I rejected the offer, opted for the scrutiny of a trial, and was awarded $1.5 million by the jury.

Later, in August 2018, after a two-year investigation, a grand jury reported on widespread sexual abuse of children within six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania and the systemic cover up of the abuses by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.

In the wake of this report, and of Becerra’s decision to launch a similar investigation here, the San Jose Diocese purported to produce a new list, now naming 15 priests who had been reported for child abuse going back to the 1950s.  This list starkly refutes Bishop McGrath’s claims in 2002. If the Diocese blatantly lied in 2002, how can they be trusted with the truth now?

Father Prichard’s own abuse was reported in the 1950s, 1970s, and 2000.

The Church’s handling of these cases to date is an utter betrayal of the core message of Christianity.

The Vatican needs to cede oversight and investigation over these claims to an independent, secular body.  To finally straighten its moral compass, the Church may have to demand that Bishops and even the Pope step down. All are complicit in this massive cover-up.  It may have to suffer losses in its membership, its credibility, land and money.  But then at least, it will finally do what it has always preached “be a man for others and do the right thing.”


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