On Thursday, the Boston Archdiocese announced publication of a web listing of clergy accused of sexual abuse of a child. BCI acknowledges the pain that hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by clergy in Boston have experienced and also understands there was a fair amount of outside pressure on the archdiocese to release this information. At the same time, BCI also feels compelled to offer a few of our own reactions to both this specific announcement and certain comments from critics of the initiative. Notice the clear “Opinion” marking on this post.
The Merits of this Effort
First, BCI wishes to acknowledge the merits of this initiative. The sexual abuse of children by clergy was a terrible thing to have occurred, the harm to people in many cases irreparable, and the scandal was horrible. This initiative to post names of priests accused of sexual abuse to bring comfort and additional closure to victims has been underway for some time and required a great deal of work to get every piece of information correct. Even one error could be devastating to the reputation and vocation of an innocent priest. The reason for the effort was aptly summarized by Cardinal O’Malley in his statement:
“Having met with hundreds of survivors, I know firsthand the scars you carry. And I carry with me every day the pain of the Church’s failures. I express once again my sorrow for your pain and my apology for any way the Church and its clergy have failed you,” said Cardinal Seán O’Malley in the written decision document published with the list. “My deepest hope and prayer is that the efforts I am announcing today will provide some additional comfort and healing for those who have suffered from sexual abuse by clergy and will continue to strengthen our efforts to protect God’s children.”
The above being said, there are a few aspects of this where BCI has issues and concerns.
1) Release of Names of Priests Publicly Accused with Unsubstantiated Charges
BCI understands the basis for publishing names of priests accused of sexual abuse and found guilty, and agrees with that. But BCI struggles to understand why the Archdiocese felt compelled to publish names of clergy who were publicly accused of sexually abusing a child where the allegations were found unsubstantiated by the Review Board or where the priest was acquitted after a canonical process. BCI looked at the websites of other dioceses such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia and could not find information disclosed about priests who faced public accusations and were cleared. If it is there, we could not find it. Here is how the Boston archdiocese explained the decision to priests whose names were published who fall in this category:
“Our hope is this effort will be helpful to you in providing an official, clear and easily accessible statement that the complaint against you , which was the subject of previous publicity has been found unsubstantiated…
We believe that posting this information about cases such as yours separately from the other cases listed above will allow us to clarify that the past complaint against you has been found unsubstantiated, while also remaining consistent with our commitment to augment our present policies with regard to providing information about Archdiocesan clergy accused of abuse.”
That is one side of the story, and perhaps clergy who faced accusations that were made public and were cleared find this listing of benefit to clear their name. But, what happens for those Boston priests for whom past publicity has died down and for whom wounds of a false accusation have healed who did not want their names published like this? Why do other dioceses not publish this? BCI has heard of at least one priest who faced unsubstantiated public charges for whom the appearance of his name on this list is deeply troubling and reopens old wounds unnecessarily.
In civil law, a person is presumed innocent until found guilty. Where else in secular society do we find that someone who was accused of wrongdoing and found innocent has their name published publicly in a database as accused and found not guilty? Are public school teachers, police officers, lawyers or medical workers improperly accused of abuse or some other crime but found innocent placed on a public list for their entire lives for the whole world to see? For what civil crimes or situations does that happen? Has the right balance of disclosure vs rights of the priests been struck here?
2) Odd Wording of Press Release
(Braintree, Mass.) August 25, 2011… As part of Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley’s ongoing commitment to protect children and rebuild trust in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the Archdiocese of Boston today launched a web-based publication with respect to its clergy accused of sexual abuse of a child (www.bostoncatholic.org). The Cardinal’s decision to publish this information is detailed in a letter to the people of the Archdiocese (copy attached and available on the website) along with an open letter to survivors of sexual abuse and an open letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese.
Exactly how does the archdiocese publishing a listing of clergy accused of sexual abuse “respect” its clergy? Call BCI obsessive about grammar if you will, but if you were a priest publicly accused of sexual abuse who was cleared, how does the archdiocese launching a web listing that includes your name with an unsubstantiated charge “respect” you? Why not just say “Archdiocese of Boston Launches Web Listing of Its Clergy Accused of Sexual Abuse of a Child”?
3) Misplaced Criticism by Attorney General Martha Coakley and others
According to the Boston Globe, Attorney General Martha Coakley and advocates for clergy abuse victims complained that this disclosure listed only those priests who had already been publicly accused, and omits the names of dozens of accused priests from religious orders and other dioceses, as well as those who left the priesthood before accusations were leveled againt them.
The reality as conveyed in the article is that Cardinal O’Malley omitted the names of religious order priests and those from other dioceses because the Boston Archdiocese does not investigate or resolve allegations against them. It is not “shameless hairsplitting” as SNAP complained. And how does Attorney General Coakley justify complaining about lack of disclosure of information that falls outside of the scope of cases the Boston archdiocese manages and deals with, when she apparently turns her own head the other way on pursuing local matters like the Partners Healthcare price-fixing case, which we described in this post as having been ceded to the U.S. Department of Justice? BCI humbly suggests the Attorney General re-read Matthew 7:5.
And why is there no effort by Attorney General Coakley to have disclosure of the names of public school teachers who have abused children? This article on LifeSiteNews says that according to Charol Shakeshaft, researcher of a little-remembered 2004 study prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.” According to the 2004 study “the most accurate data available at this time” indicates that “nearly 9.6 percent of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career.”
George Weigel, writing in First Things in 2010 said:
The sexual and physical abuse of children and young people is a global plague; its manifestations run the gamut from fondling by teachers to rape by uncles to kidnapping-and-sex-trafficking. In the United States alone, there are reportedly some 39 million victims of childhood sexual abuse. Forty to sixty percent were abused by family members, including stepfathers and live-in boyfriends of a child’s mother—thus suggesting that abused children are the principal victims of the sexual revolution, the breakdown of marriage, and the hook-up culture. Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft reports that 6-10 percent of public school students have been molested in recent years—some 290,000 between 1991 and 2000. According to other recent studies, 2 percent of sex abuse offenders were Catholic priests—a phenomenon that spiked between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s but seems to have virtually disappeared (six credible cases of clerical sexual abuse in 2009 were reported in the U.S. bishops’ annual audit, in a Church of some 65,000,000 members).
Remember that number–six credible cases of sexual abuse by priests were reported in 2009 out of 65 million Catholics. In New York City, Archbishop Dolan shared word on his blog that the “rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is 10 times higher than that of priests.” The statistics were from a NYS Special Commissioner of Investigation report that substantiated 78 abuse cases by teachers in 2009, and 73 such cases in 2010. There were 78 cases in just NY City Public Schools in 2009, but 6 across the entire Catholic Church nationally. Where is the problem, really? Why does Martha not insist that similar work be done in Boston Public Schools or across the state, and that a list of accused teachers be published?
On March 12, 2011, the NY Times published a report about widespread abuse problems in more than 2,000 New York state-run homes for the developmentally disabled. Despite a state law requiring that incidents in which a crime may have been committed be reported to law enforcement, state records show that of some 13,000 allegations of abuse in 2009 within state-operated and licensed homes, fewer than 5 percent were referred to law enforcement.
One might argue that is New York, not Massachusetts. Here in Massachusetts, in 2007 then-U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan reported on his study of 11 years of records at the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission. Sullivan found “very concerning neglect and abuse trends”, especially sexual abuse, in state-supported vendor-operated group homes for the disabled. In the report, he said:
“Unfortunately, after reviewing data from the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, our office did note some very concerning neglect and abuse trends in Contract Vendor operated community residences, as compared to the ICF/MRs and State operated community residences. These neglect and abuse trends, particularly sexual abuse, were of great concern to our office and shows that residents in our community homes are at a greater risk of being abused and/or neglected.”
What is Martha Coakley doing about the “very concerning neglect and abuse” of the disabled in state-supported homes? Nothing that we can find reported publicly.
This 2001 report from the Guttmacher Institute says, “Almost one-third of females and nearly one in 10 male high school students in Massachusetts say they have experienced sexual abuse. Where is the outrage? What is Martha doing about this? Nothing that we can find reported publicly.
4) Misplaced Criticism by SNAP, BishopAccountability and Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian
They complained about 91 accused priests omitted from Cardinal O’Malley’s list. Of the 91 accused priests omitted from the Cardinal’s list, 62 are dead, have never been publicly accused of abuse, and have never been investigated by Church officials, and 22 faced accusations that could not be substantiated.
C’mon. It sure sounds like nothing will ever be good enough for SNAP and the lawyers, and they will never be satisfied. Why bother kow-towing to these folks?
SNAP has their own problems, like issuing a press statement Aug 10, 2011 to attack a falsely accused priest after he has been legally exonerated and the alleged victim found to have fabricated claims. (“The defense [for Rev. Borowec] produced evidence at trial that demonstrated the complaining witness fabricated the charges and was seeking attention with intent to obtain money from the church. Prior to trial, the prosecutor suppressed evidence regarding the complaining witness’s mental health history and prior false allegations she made against another priest”).
Then there is attorney Mitchell Garabedian complaining that three people on his list of priests with abuse allegations against them were not on the archdiocesan-published list. The Globe reports:
“Church officials, underscoring the complexity of compiling such a list, said that abuse allegations against three of the individuals on Garabedian’s list were found to be unsubstantiated. But Garabedian said today that the Church made financial payments to settle the accusations against all of the priests on his list.
A reasonable person might ask, why did the archdiocese make a payment to settle an unsubstantiated allegation in the first place? And if both sides know the accusations were unsubstantiated but payments made, who is working towards recovering those payments and the associated lawyer fees paid to Garabedian?
Here is another excerpt from the piece by George Weigel (“Scoundrel Times)” in First Things:
Yet in a pattern exemplifying the dog’s behavior in Proverbs 26:11, the sexual abuse story in the global media is almost entirely a Catholic story, in which the Catholic Church is portrayed as the epicenter of the sexual abuse of the young, with hints of an ecclesiastical criminal conspiracy involving sexual predators whose predations continue today. That the vast majority of the abuse cases in the United States took place decades ago is of no consequence to this story line. For the narrative that has been constructed is often less about the protection of the young (for whom the Catholic Church is, by empirical measure, the safest environment for young people in America today) than it is about taking the Church down—and, eventually, out, both financially and as a credible voice in the public debate over public policy. For if the Church is a global criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their protectors, then the Catholic Church has no claim to a place at the table of public moral argument.
The above is what BCI thinks. Do we dare open a can of worms by asking what you think?
ps. Today, August 26, is the last day to vote in the Catholic New Media Awards. BCI has been nominated in several categories. To vote, click here, then click on the link to register, give a valid email address, go to your email account and click on the confirmation link, and you will then be able to vote. It will take you only a minute to vote on your favorite Catholic blog(s)!