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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Show 13 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jan. 15, 2006 9:35 AM ET USA

    I have to be hard on this one Pier Giorgio... The general prevailing "catholic" attitude is that we are "superior" to the protestants because we have an authority in Rome (ordained by Jesus Christ Himself... is thar NOT true?) that discerns doctrine and has ULTIMATE governing authority (is THAT not true?) And many Catholics scurry about in fear for what Rome will say or not say. Yet a scandal, of such unprecedented demensions came to full flower in this modern age apparently unknown to her

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Jan. 14, 2006 11:56 PM ET USA

    JJP. Though the Church is hierarchical in nature, I don't think you'll find it called "centralized" in any official document. Obviously there are problems, BIG problems...many seem to revolve around those advanced to the Episcopacy. Let's pray that that the Roman Curia be purified, that only true Shepherds be promoted to be Bishops, and all of this SOON! Meanwhile, all of us would do well to make sure we are as holy as the Lord has called us to be...

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Jan. 14, 2006 1:59 PM ET USA

    I find it very puzzling and also very disturbing that even after all this talk about what is "going on" in America there is no clear expose of what was ( and is still) going on or not going on in Rome. The scandal here in America is deep and heinous..., and it is clearly objectively true. But what exactly went wrong, both on an individual level and a "systems" perspective with the RC Church? We are in fact a CENTRALIZED Church... the "Roman link" in this travesty still remains a mystery.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2006 1:28 PM ET USA

    I guess one could say,"there but for the Grace of God go I". When decisions are made, without Prayer and Grace, the outcome is absurd and evil. The Bishops should be honest and teach Faith and Morals following the framework of the Doctrine of Faith and in Union with the Pope. In many instances the USA Bishops think they know better than the directives sent to them by the Holy Father.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2006 10:31 AM ET USA

    One of the other charges of the media against the Church re the scandals has been "coverup." With respect to this it would be helpful to know in how many of the lawsuits/settlements of the various dioceses were there confidentiality agreements and who requested them plaintiffs or defendants?

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2006 9:38 AM ET USA

    I personally knew 3 priests in the Cincinnati archdiocese who were involved in homosexual behavior. One was tried, convicted and imprisoned. The parents of the molested boys were furious with the archbishop for not treating them with the proper compassion. Another in the same parish was transferred across the diocese some 15 years ago after being involved in a homo scandal. About 3 months ago, he was arrested and charged with indecent behavior in a "sting" operation. The last was defrocked.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 13, 2006 11:59 PM ET USA

    Nixon should have been blessed with such talent. Don't they realize that collectively (USCCB) and in many cases indivudally, they have absolutely NO CREDIBILITY. To bad burning at the stake is no longer in vogue. Nonetheless, like all of us, they are in need of prayers. Moldom from Denver

  • Posted by: - Jan. 13, 2006 10:18 PM ET USA

    PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: Drunk parish priest arrested trying to pick up teenage subject. Priest transferred to parish in neighboring town, where he is next seen saying mass for kiddies at parish school. Principal, horrified when made aware of priest's recent history, complains to chancery. Priest disappears from face of earth without a trace and certainly no "official" explanation of what happened. Poof!!!

  • Posted by: Meg Q - Jan. 13, 2006 9:08 PM ET USA

    Diogenes, Fr. Baker is only ONE priest. Surely you're not going to make all this fuss about Cdl Mahoney over just ONE priest?? I'm sure he just made a teensy mistake here . . . / sarcasm off

  • Posted by: - Jan. 13, 2006 7:22 PM ET USA

    Amazing! Ladies and Gentlemen, let me present to you the new up to date modern 2006 model of...the same old coverup. Why does Cardinal Mahony spend so much time, enregy and money on the cover up at this late date? Time to come clean - we might start with his part of the Ziemann payoff that he and Archbishop Levada pulled off in Santa Rosa. That one had both sex AND money. It looks like we got most of the sex part but none of the money part. Someone might say: WHERE'S THE MONEY ROGER?

  • Posted by: opraem - Jan. 13, 2006 6:54 PM ET USA

    cardinal mahony is in denial, and all his minions are spinning to protect him from the courts and justice. after an almost four year long lent on this topic, that these comments could be made with a straight face means the bishops have not learned their lessons. we lay types are doomed to suffer further as episcopal malfeasance continues to unfold. st peter damian, pray for us and our bishops.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 13, 2006 3:50 PM ET USA

    Well, Bishop Gregory told us that the crisis was “history,” so now must be a good time to start rewriting that history.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Jan. 13, 2006 2:36 PM ET USA

    The PR machine is in high gear. The spin-meisters are earning their pay. Myths are debunked with smoke and mirrors. I believe the Bishops should defend the Church against unjust accuasations of this type and severity...but not to present things as they really are shows that many of them are locked wandering in the same shadowy areas that brought us to the present and ongoing crisis. Get rid of the Publisher of The Tidings! (even if it's one and the same person as the AB of LA).