Independent Reconciliation

We meet a grim St. Patrick’s Day. May he intercede for us. This year we remain altogether sober in his honor.

The Church and Western world suspended human gatherings to contain the virus yesterday, but other things happened, too…

A member of the Washington, D.C., City Council released a stunningly brave statement about the abuse he suffered as a minor at the hands of a priest, in the state of Virginia. The authorities have, after all these many years, finally apprehended the offending priest.

Councilman Grosso writes in his statement:

Though the deep scars remain, I largely believed this incident was behind me, especially after I underwent intensive therapy in the 1990s. However, state authorities in Virginia recently obtained the Catholic Diocese of Arlington’s internal file on my case. Consequently, law enforcement contacted me regarding the case several times over the past year. 

This new investigation into a crime the Diocese attempted to bury for decades has ripped open old wounds, stirred dark memories and caused fresh trauma as I have been forced vividly to relive the tragic events of my childhood. I have again received therapy and made difficult decisions to advance my recovery… State authorities asked me to provide testimony to the grand jury, and I did so, only to prevent Mr. Asalone from ever hurting another child.

In other words: For the first time since he initiated his investigation of clergy sexual abuse in our state, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has indicted a priest for a felony. The crime took place 35 years ago, but apparently there is no statute of limitations, when it comes to the felony of carnal knowledge of a minor.

This casts a new light on a little dialogue I had with Bishop Knestout a month ago. So here comes another “letter from Mr. Bates’ mailbag.”

[written 2/15/20]

Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros
Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg

Last spring New Yorker magazine published a report by Paul Elie. Elie explained the Independent Reconcilation and Compensation Program of the Archdiocese of New York.

The Archdiocese had hired the lawyers Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros to hear the claims of clergy sex-abuse survivors in archdiocesan territory, and to dispense money. Feinberg and Biros had already gained notoriety for administering the post-9/11 compensation fund.

To receive a payment through the IRCP of the Archdiocese of New York, the sex-abuse survivor had to forswear any future legal action.

Elie wrote an utterly masterful essay about all this. I re-read it yesterday because: We priests have learned that our beloved diocese of Richmond will have the law firm of Brown & Greer (of Richmond) do the same thing here. An “independent” “reconciliation” program, for clergy-sex-abuse survivors in the territory of the diocese of Richmond.

When the Archdiocese of New York started their program, the lion’s share of eligible applicants had no legal avenue to sue the Church. The statute of limitations prevented lawsuits about abuse that occurred decades ago. Elie quoted a lawyer: “The New York statute of limitations was as solid as the granite those old city churches were built with.”

“Until it wasn’t.”

That is: Last year, a number of states, including New York, changed the statute of limitations on sex-abuse claims, opening up an opportunity for victims in decades-old cases to sue. This produced an awkward situation for those victims who had participated in the IRCP. They had accepted compensation from the Archdiocese, and forsworn any legal action, when no path of legal action lay open to them.

Now they could sue, with the possibility of greater financial benefit. Not to mention the opportunity to bring to light all the facts in open court. But these victims had promised in writing not to sue, as part of the “reconciliation” program.

Had the Archdiocese pulled a fast one on them? To get them to accept less money than they might have gotten, had they waited, and sued? Did the Archdiocese initiate the reconciliation program as a shadowy enterprise aimed at continuing to keep the facts hidden?

[Bishop Knestout recently wrote that “we have confessed” the sins involved in the “reconciliation” program’s work. But have we? How can we claim to have done that, when countless facts hidden for decades, in our own files, have yet to see the light of day?]

…Back to the history of “reconciliation” programs:

In New Jersey a different situation has unfolded. All the dioceses of the state hired Feinberg and Biros to administer their “Independent Victim Compensation Program.” That program remains underway.

Meanwhile, the state lifted the statute of limitations simultaneously, leaving sex-abuse survivors with a choice: Go to the Church’s lawyers to make a claim, or sue in a court of law. I imagine it will take a few years for us to know about the choices the victims made, and how it turned out.

Manhattan New York

At our Richmond-priest meeting with the bishop yesterday [that is, February 14, 2020], I asked His Excellency about the danger of what happened in New York happening here. What if we offer the victims this avenue, and then the state changes the statute of limitations, leaving them with the impression that we pulled a fast one on them?

He answered: “The statutes of limitations are very strong in this Commonwealth, and they’re in place. These folks have no recourse. That’s a fact.”

Sounds like what they said in New York. A granite-solid statute impeded the victims from suing in court. Until it didn’t.

Reflecting on our meeting with bishop, these questions crowd my mind…

1. The records regarding unsettled clergy sex-abuse cases that our diocese already possesses: how do they fit into the program?

In New York, they divided the program into two phases. The first treated “old cases.” That is, cases in which the victim had previously reported the abuse to the archdiocese. “New cases” involved victims recounting their abuse for the first time.

Now, does our faith include this tenet? The heavenly Father saying to us, “If you want to get to heaven, you have to come up here to get in.”

No, of course. He sent His Son to us. We Christian shepherds are supposed to seek out the lost.

So I wonder: In New York, did Feinberg and Biros seek out the victims in the old cases? Elie, for all his mastery in his article on this subject, does not address that question.

So I checked the information publicly available on their website. It does not appear that they did seek out the victims who had already reported their abuse. In other words, they left the burden of applying for the program on the victim, who had already complained about the abuse to the Church.

Will we improve on that here in Richmond? Will Brown & Greer seek out the victims that the diocese already knows about? Will someone at Brown & Greer call the sex-abuse victims that I know, who reported their abuse to the diocese long ago, to tell them about this?

[Turns out Brown & Greer have made at least a few phone calls. But we don’t know if they have attempted to reach every victim documented in long-buried diocesan files.]

2. In New York, Feinberg and Biros received claims in the two phases I mentioned above. The “old case” phase gave victims four months to apply, and new-case victims could initiate their claims during Phase I also. Then the firm gave new-case claimants another six months to apply. In other words, the new-case claimants had from the beginning of October, 2016, until the end of July, 2017, to make up their minds to pursue this and take action.

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Richmond

At yesterday’s meeting, Bishop Knestout outlined a much more restrictive timeframe. He made no mention of two phases. And the total elapsed time from the initial announcement of the program to the final deadline for applications will be: just thirteen weeks.

Why so much less time than in New York? Do we honestly think that we can get the word of this opportunity out to all the eligible candidates in this relatively short period? Especially considering how benighted our diocesan communications apparatus actually is?

And do we think that the survivors, even on the 50/50 chance that they hear about the program in the allotted time, will have no trouble making a quick decision about this?

What if it takes some of them a little longer to make up their minds to report their abuse?  Will we say to eligible candidates who call Brown & Greer on the day after the deadline: “Sorry, we’re closed”?

In response to another priest’s question at our meeting, Bishop Knestout revealed that he estimates that there are “about 100” eligible victims out there. I know of the 101st, who died of a drug overdose before his thirtieth birthday, a quarter century ago. Do his living relatives have a right to make a claim on our reconciliation program? Bishop did not answer that question when I asked it. [Turns out, they do not.]

Nor would bishop tell us the date on which this program will be made public. He would only say “during this winter.” [Turned out it was the next working day.]

3. The Virginia Attorney General continues his probe of clergy sex abuse. The bishop’s only words about that fact were: “That has yet to fully play itself out.”

Is that really all we know about the Attorney General’s work? Didn’t we turn over all our clergy files to his office? And why, oh why does the diocese play the weird game of behaving as if the records that have lingered in our files for decades are not our responsibility to study carefully ourselves? [This is a subject to which we will soon return, dear reader.]

4. Even though the diocese solemnly enjoined us priests to secrecy about this business until “announcement day,” I immediately contacted all the sex-abuse survivors I know, to let them know about the bishop’s plan. They have more right to know about it than I do, after all.

None of them found the plan satisfying. “Well, it’s something,” was the highest praise I heard. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to deal with this,” emerged as the basic theme.

By design, the Church will not “own” the determinations made by Brown & Greer. By initiating this program, the diocese renounces any duty to speak the truth about these cases. The bishop would only put it like this, speaking of the victims of the crime of clergy sex abuse, “With this program, we acknowledge that they may have been injured.”

5. Bishop indicated that this program amounts to our “act of penance” as a Church. But how does this count as an act of penance on our part? The CFO of the diocese explained to us that we would finance the compensation fund by selling excess property and borrowing money. Which means: not us, but the next generation of Catholics, will actually have to do the penance.

In his speech to us, bishop said that it falls to us priests to “make this program known to everyone.”

We will have a hard time doing that. Bishop himself communicated to us absolutely no urgency about beating the bushes for the eligible candidates. I guess he assumes that enterprising lawyers will take care of that.

Bishop did nothing to help us understand why he chose this particular route. Who recommended to him this course of action, and why? With whom did he consult to choose this path? Why does he think that farming out the work of reconciliation to lawyers will succeed in bringing about genuine spiritual reconciliation with the Church and Her priests?

McCarrick sofa

For me the most illustrative fact about this situation is this:

The New York reconciliation program “got” McCarrick. One of his victims told Camille Biros about how McCarrick reached through his altarboy cassock and grabbed his thirteen-year-old penis. On Christmas Eve. Twice. Two consecutive Christmas Eves, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

If that gentleman (who we know only as “Mike”) had not told Ms. Biros that story at some point in 2017, then McCarrick would still wear his scarlet robes and enjoy all the privileges appertaining thereto. Even though three popes and at least a score of bishops had known for decades that McCarrick had ruined many young lives.

So Feinberg and Biros “got” McCarrick, all these many years after he did his crimes. But that “getting” of McCarrick has not, as yet, produced genuine reconciliation with, or in, the Church. The victim who went to Biros got some money. And Elie learned, in his reporting, that other McCarrick victims got money the same way. Then the New York reconciliation program closed up shop, over two years ago.

But the McCarrick case remains very much open, with no honest resolution in sight. [Much more to come on this, too, of course, dear reader.]

We covered here the removal of New-York auxiliary Bishop John Jenik in the fall of 2018, because of charges of sexual abuse leveled by Mr. Michael Meenan.

In working on his article for New Yorker, Elie interviewed Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York. Elie wanted to know what Bishop Jenik had done. He asked Cardinal Dolan:

“Can you tell me, what did Bishop Jenik do that led to his removal? You can’t say in plain English what he did?”

Dolan replied:

“No. Well, I could, but I’m not going to.”

In a nutshell, that is our problem. The mitered mafia of holy mother Church will not speak truth about sex abuse by priests.

That remains our problem. And will continue to remain our problem well after the Richmond reconciliation program has come and gone.

3 thoughts on “Independent Reconciliation

  1. You are a good and strong priest, more brave than anyone else I know, especially myself. May God be with you and keep you safe in every way.
    Judy Rogers

  2. Praying for you, Father, and all who need to hear the voice of reason.which permeates throughout your blog. I also pray for the Bishop to be released from the spirit of fear that has invaded his heart. The truth comforts and sets in motion the healing process. May God’s will be done. God Bless you.

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