moving molesters: a thwing and a myth

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 13, 2006

The Los Angeles Archdiocesan Tidings posts an unsigned article on the abuse scandal that's a masterpiece of disinformation through misdirection. Take a look at this:

The belief that bishops moved child abusers from parish to parish, allowing them to abuse over and over, may well be one of the greatest myths created by the press coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. This has become the conventional wisdom of the press, and also of many Catholics. But is it true? Research done in recent years casts doubt on that widely accepted belief.

OK, that leads us to believe that the article will address the claim that bishops moved child abusers from parish to parish, and that this particular "myth" will be shown false, right? Read on.

The most important study of this issue was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The researchers acknowledged that because of the bishops' cooperation, the study was based on "an almost unheard of 97 per cent response rate."

Fine. But how many bishops moved how many abusers?

Commenting on the data, Karen Terry, PhD, and James P. Levine, PhD, the Principal Investigator and the Administrative Coordinator of the Study, stated categorically: "It is clear that transferring priests with allegations of child sexual abuse was not a general response to the problem, and was limited to a finite number of cases."

No one is claiming that the number of cases is infinite. We all agree they're finite. But how many bishops moved how many abusers?

Bishops did not generally move abusing clergy around because they were very often not aware of the abuse taking place.

Now that's reassuring! In cases where the molestation was known or reasonably suspected, however, how many bishops moved how many abusers?

In recent years, a torrent of accusations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy has inundated the Church and society. It is natural to assume that Church authorities were aware of all these accusations and that they ignored them.

On the contrary, that is a highly un-natural assumption. Most of us assumed, prior to the forced disclosure of diocesan records proving the opposite, that the authorities could not possibly have been aware of the crimes of priests whom they kept on the job. Think of all the letters that began, "Excellency, it hurts me to have to inform you that our pastor Father X ..." -- letters that could not have been written unless predicated on the same naive presumption.

The press certainly tends to affirm that belief. However, it is far from true. As we acquire a deeper understanding of sexual abuse, we realize that one of its insidious characteristics was that abusers pressured their victims to keep the matter secret.

This was true both of the perp, and, too often, of the perp's ecclesiastical superiors, when they tried to squeeze a commitment to silence out of the victim and his family.

Moreover, victims were often afraid to talk about it, because they were ashamed or were rightly fearful that no one would believe them, and that they themselves would be suspect.

Hardly a groundless fear, when the Cardinal Archbishop shared quarters with a priest in active ministry known to have molested six boys.

The result was that a majority of abuse remained secret from Church authorities as well as civil authorities. Unfortunately, in much reporting, today's understanding of the problem of sexual abuse is projected back and used to judge incidents of the remote past.

So tell us: in the minority of cases where the molestation was known or reasonably suspected, how many bishops moved how many abusers?

In the very extensive Report to the People of God (2004), the Archdiocese detailed the information it had regarding incidents and reports of sexual abuse by clergy. Because the California Legislature repealed the statute of limitations for the duration of 2003 for suits dealing with sexual abuse of minors, the Church was deluged by a flood of cases, some dating back more than 70 years. The Report noted that although the first allegation of abuse dated to 1931, the first actual reports of abuse did not come until 1967.

... whence you're all the better able to tell us, in detail, how many bishops moved how many abusers.

The accompanying chart will help to illustrate that the great majority of reports of past sexual abuse have come in recent years. Most of these reported deal with incidents that date back more than 20 years.

The accompanying chart tells us zip about how many bishops moved how many abusers.

Since the mid-1980s especially, when both Church and society began to get a better grasp of the nature of sexual abuse, the Archdiocese has addressed the issue effectively. As a result, the number of reported incidents of abuse since that time has decreased dramatically. Indeed, since the beginning of the 1990s, the Catholic Church has probably been one of the safest places for children in our society. For example, during the 1990s, there are reports of 23 alleged incidents and none for the period 2000-2003.

Well, after the period 2000-2003, one of the Cardinal's closest aides and a member of the archdiocesan cabinet was accused of bending boundaries with boys, and this in turn after e-mails from the same boundary-bender show him trying to shush-up the fact that another accused abuser was shacking up with the one-time archdiocesan gay ministry director. And this, remember, is being sold to us as part of the success story.

Patrick J. Schiltz, a law professor at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis who has represented every Christian denomination in over 500 cases all over the country, stated in an article in Commonweal Magazine that, "Over the past decade, clergy sexual abuse has been virtually eradicated from the Roman Catholic Church."

This seems an overly sanguine judgment to your Uncle Di, but even if true it would not be pertinent to the "myth" to be debunked.

To claim that Church authorities responded to allegations of abuse simply by transferring abusers is generally not true.
Remove the lawyerisms "simply" and "generally" from that sentence, and then answer it. How many bishops moved how many abusers?

The repetition of this simplistic and inaccurate claim does not help victims. Those harmed by abuse need healing from the trauma they have suffered.

Right. It's Leila's fault.

However, for anyone to persuade victims that they were simply pawns in a vast conspiracy and cover-up by Church authorities who cared nothing about their suffering only adds another obstacle for them on their road to healing.

Let's skip the "simplistic and inaccurate" generalities and look at the case of Father Michael Baker, who on 22 December 1986 admitted to Cardinal Mahony that he'd been abusing two boys over a seven year period. Mahony sent Baker off to the Paracletes for "the cure." Thereafter, Baker's assignment log reads:

08/01/88:St. Elizabeth Church (Van Nuys), subject to restrictions.
06/01/91: St. Linus Church (Norwalk), Admin. Pro-Tem.
11/01/91: St. Gerard Majella Church (Los Angeles), Admin. Pro-Tem.
01/11/92: St. Mary Church (Palmdale), Admin. Pro-Tem.
03/15/92: St. Lucy Church (Long Beach), Admin. Pro-Tem.
04/04/92: Sacred Heart Church (Lincoln Heights), Admin. Pro-Tem.
08/01/92: St. Elizabeth (Van Nuys), in residence
01/15/93: St. Columbkille Parish (Los Angeles), in residence

No, none of the parishes was publicly advised it had a molester on board. Yes, Baker was abusing boys throughout the period. Yes, we're supposed to accept this pattern of transfers -- eight postings in five years -- as unproblematic. "The belief," says The Tidings, "that bishops moved child abusers from parish to parish, allowing them to abuse over and over, may well be one of the greatest myths created by the press coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Church." Maybe. But for a mythical belief, boys and girls, this one has exceptionally concrete credentials.

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