Odd Notion of Whom to Protect

By Paul Vitello
Newsday (New York)
June 18, 2002

Q. Why didn't you send someone in a vehicle and get Clive Lynn out of the parish?

A. Sir, that apparently is not my style, nor is it the style of the church in a particular instance of this case.

In the particular instance of this case, which happened in 1985, the state of New Mexico Department of Health and Human Services had sent letters to then- New Mexico archbishop Robert Sanchez urging him to remove an alleged pedophile priest, Clive Lynn.

State social workers told the archbishop that Lynn had been sexually abusing 13- and 14-year-old boys for some time. They said he was currently abusing one 13- year-old boy, about whom they were especially concerned.

The priest had been the target of such complaints before. Parishioners in his previous parish had filed numerous complaints, prompting Sanchez to transfer Lynn to the parish where the latest complaints were emerging.

In all previous cases, Lynn had denied the accusations. In every case, the archbishop had taken his word.

"We hope that some action will be taken to stop further molestation of children in our community," wrote the state social service supervisor, whose letter was introduced as evidence in the subsequent lawsuit brought by victims.

"Was it your belief that when you received ... [the letter] that it would not be any great concern if you delayed the stopping of the molestation of children several months before making a decision?" asked the lawyer for the victims and their families, Stephen Tinkler, taking a deposition from Sanchez in 1994.

"Object to the question!" interjected Richard Winterbottom, lawyer for the archdiocese. "It's vague in terms of the definition of 'concern.'"

It was an interesting parry, though a powerful definition of "concern" does pop up later in the deposition. It comes up in a letter Sanchez wrote to his errant priest.

With the state social services department now involved, and a criminal prosecution about to begin, the archbishop had given Lynn 30 days notice of his removal - then later extended the time to 50 days.

"You have served [the parish] well and you are a dedicated priest," the archbishop wrote. "As I told you personally, I am most grateful to you for the love and ministry that you have extended to these people. I wish only to help your ministry become more effective."

A few paragraphs later in the same letter, he wrote: "It is our sincere impression that this case is regarded by you, and perhaps others, as 'sensitive' and 'delicate' and should be discussed in a 'confidential nature' to protect, not our children, but the clergy and the church."

The definition of concern, therefore: "... to protect, not our children, but the clergy and the church."

You can find these cases in almost every state, though New Mexico seems to have been a particularly popular dumping ground for problem Catholic priests due to its remoteness and the high proportion of non-English-speaking parishioners, according to victims' advocates.

In every case like it, the bishops were guilty of protecting their boys, the priests - and sacrificing children on the altar of good appearances.

A victim who was 15 years old when he says he was sexually assaulted by a priest - and who is now himself a priest, age 37 - told Newsday reporter Stephanie Saul recently that his alleged abuser, Anthony Eremito, is still ministering. The victim, John Bambrick, says he took his charges to then- Cardinal John O'Connor in the early 1990s, when Eremito served a Manhattan parish. O'Connor removed Eremito from that parish and promised to bar him from all priestly duties, according to Bambrick. But the alleged abuser now works as a priest in a Texas hospital.

Never mind promising to take care of it, or whatever O'Connor told Bambrick at the time. Why didn't O'Connor, hearing from one of his own men about the predator in his ranks, not announce on Telecare that this Eremito was to be avoided at all costs? It is 10 years later now. How many boys is that?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Friday approved a new policy that would have any priest - past or future - who sexually molests children automatically forced into a sort of retirement. He would be barred from ministerial duties, confined to a cloistered setting, living a life of "prayer and penance."

A penitentiary is a place for penance, too, but let the criminal justice system deal with that.

The bishops, meanwhile, issued no new policy regarding themselves. There was nothing to address their past behavior. Nothing about the overriding "concern" - to quote former archbishop Sanchez - they had "to protect, not our children, but the clergy and the church."

They addressed the sins of others.

And then, after voting to adopt their new rules, they stood up and applauded themselves. That apparently is the style of the church.


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