Catholic World News News Feature

Bishops Besieged March 01, 2005

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin died in 1996, well before the eruption of the scandal. But in November 2003 the Cincinnati archdiocese settled a long and bitter battle with local prosecutors by admitting that criminal conduct had been committed by archdiocesan officials who had “knowingly failed” to report sexual abuse there on several occasions between 1979 and 1982-under the leadership of then-Archbishop Bernardin. Earlier in 2003, the ex-priest Richard Sipe, who has written extensively on clerical abuse, made the provocative charge that he had spoken with homosexual priests who revealed that they had “partied” with the future cardinal in Cincinnati. Sipe went on to point out that Stephen Cooke, who had lodged and later retracted charges against the Chicago prelate, “did not ever retract his allegations of abuse, by anyone's account other than Bernardin's.”

Bishop Thomas Dupre resigned his leadership of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, in February 2004, just one day after a local newspaper questioned him about charges that he had molested two young men years ago. After investigating reports of abuse by the bishop and other Springfield priests, the district attorney reported that the statute of limitations prevented him from bringing criminal charges. But he added the intriguing note that other jurisdictions might pursue charges-an apparent reference to reports that priests had brought young boys across state lines. Bishop Dupre-who had never acknowledged the charges against him-has not been seen in the Springfield diocese since the day he resigned; his current whereabouts are not publicly known.

Bishop Charles Grahmann saw his Dallas, Texas, diocese hit with legal damages of a record $119.6 million (later reduced to $31 million) for failing to control the known pedophile activities of a now-defrocked priest, Rudy Kos. Outraged lay Catholics sought the bishop's resignation, and in 2000 the Vatican appointed a coadjutor, Bishop Joseph Galante. But Bishop Grahmann refused to step down, and finally in 2004 Bishop Galante was transferred to a new assignment in Camden, New Jersey. Controversy has continued to swirl around Grahmann, with repeated accusations that he has given pastoral assignments to priests after evidence of sexual abuse. Earlier this year a Texas prosecutor launched a new probe of the Dallas diocese (see preceding story).

Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston in December 2002, after months of damaging public scrutiny that began when a Massachusetts judge ordered the public disclosure of archdiocesan files that showed how, in numerous cases, the cardinal and his aides had covered up evidence of sexual abuse, and given new parish assignments to pedophile priests, enabling them to claim additional victims. He remains a member of the College of Cardinals, and could be an influential figure at the next papal conclave. In May 2004 he was appointed archpriest of the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major.

Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, made a $100,000 severance payment to William Urbanski, who had left his job as spokesman for the diocese protesting that the bishop had sexually harassed him. The bishop denied the charges, and insisted that the severance payment was not “hush money.” But reporters investigating the case found that Lynch had showered Urbanski with personal gifts for nearly 5 years; the bishop had also awarded $30 million in no-bid construction contracts to another friend, David Herman-who, like Urbanski, is a muscular triathlete.

Cardinal Roger Mahony has engaged in a protracted legal fight to avoid turning over personnel files for his Los Angeles archdiocese, where several hundred sex-abuse claims are pending against more than 100 priests. In April 2002, Cardinal Mahony's reputation for transparency was badly tarnished by the publication of confidential email messages in which-during Holy Week-he exchanged thoughts with chancery aides on how to manipulate the media, prosecutors, and victims' representatives to achieve a better public image. In June 2003, his resistance to scrutiny by the National Review Board precipitated the resignation of chairman Frank Keating, who darkly compared some American bishops to Mafia chieftains. And in January of this year, the archdiocese was sued by its own insurance companies, which charged that in sex-abuse cases, the cardinal was seeking to “obviate any meaningful disclosure of the facts and circumstances of these claims, and yet to pressure [the insurers] to contribute enormous sums of money” to settle lawsuits.

Bishop John McCormack entered into an agreement with the attorney general of New Hampshire in December 2002 on behalf of the Diocese of Manchester, in which “the diocese acknowledges that the state has evidence likely to sustain a conviction” for the failure of diocesan officials to report sexual abuse of minors. Before becoming Bishop of Manchester, McCormack had been an aide to Cardinal Law in Boston, supervising clerical personnel, and in that role he had handled the cases of several notorious pedophiles. Under the terms of the agreement in New Hampshire, his diocese is required to submit regular audits to law-enforcement officials; the attorney general complains that to date he has not received a full report. Bishop Thomas O'Brien resigned as head of the Phoenix, Arizona, diocese in June 2003, after his arrest in a fatal hit-and-run case that eventually made him the first American bishop ever convicted of a felony. Not long before the accident, in May 2003, he had signed an agreement with local prosecutors to avoid criminal charges for failing to report sexual molestation. “I acknowledge that I allowed Roman Catholic priests under my supervision to work with minors after becoming aware of allegations of sexual misconduct,” Bishop O'Brien conceded. Later the bishop denied that he had hidden evidence of abuse. “To suggest a cover-up is just plain false,” he claimed. An angry prosecutor shot back: “Is he revising history?”

Bishop Anthony O'Connell succeeded Bishop J. Keith Symons (see below) in the troubled Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida. After three years there, he resigned, admitting that he had sexually abused students during his tenure as a seminary rector in Missouri 25 years earlier. The bishop said that the memory of his past transgressions had “always hung over me,” but it had not dissuaded him from accepting the leadership of a diocese stung by the resignation of the previous bishop in similar circumstances.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk entered into an agreement with Ohio prosecutors in 2003, conceding criminal conduct in the Cincinnati archdiocese prior to his arrival. “Instances of child abuse that should have been reported to civil authorities were apparently not reported,” the archbishop announced. But in February 2005, an investigative report by the local television state WCPO unearthed documents that proved Archbishop Pilarczyk and his aides were aware that one Cincinnati priest had abused children-but failed to report that abuse to civil authorities, as required by Ohio law. The current Hamilton County prosecutor was asked by WCPO why his predecessor did not prosecute the archbishop. “I don't know,” he said flatly.

Bishop Daniel Ryan resigned in October 1999 as head of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, citing health reasons. Neither the bishop nor the diocese has ever acknowledged the accuracy of evidence submitted by the group Roman Catholic Faithful to demonstrate that Bishop Ryan had preyed on young men. Even in retirement the former bishop has continued to make headlines; in July 2004 police were summoned to his residence to restore order in an incident involving Ryan and two younger male companions. Bishop J. Keith Symons was the first US bishop to resign because of the sex-abuse scandal when he relinquished his title as Bishop of Palm Beach in June 1998. (He was replaced by Bishop Anthony O'Connell, who subsequently resigned for the same reason.) In admitting to the abuse, Bishop Symons said that it had occurred 40 years earlier, and insisted that he had subsequently lived a celibate life.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland submitted his resignation as Archbishop of Milwaukee, as required under canon law, when he reached his 75th birthday on April 2, 2002. But there was no expectation that the resignation would be accepted quickly-until, just a few weeks later, a man named Paul Marcoux revealed that Weakland had paid him $450,000 to drop a sexual-assault complaint. The funds were drawn from the coffers of the Milwaukee archdiocese, prompting a local prosecutor to open a criminal investigation. Although no criminal charges were filed, Weakland asked the Vatican to speed up acceptance of his resignation; “I do not want to be an obstacle,” he said. His resignation was formally accepted on May 24, 2002.

Bishop Patrick Ziemann was accused of blackmailing one of his own priests in a bizarre case that came to light in July 1999. Father Jorge Salas, a priest from Costa Rica working in the Santa Rosa, California, diocese, charged that Ziemann pressured him to engage in homosexual acts, by threatening that otherwise the bishop would reveal that Father Salas had been caught stealing parish funds. Bishop Ziemann resigned, admitting to a sexual relationship but saying that it was consensual. California authorities declined to prosecute, saying that there was insufficient evidence to support a case against the former bishop-whose mismanagement of funds had also left the little Santa Rosa diocese with a $16-million debt. In a lawsuit brought by Father Salas, the diocese eventually settled out of court, paying the priest $535,000.