Le Rapport Sauvé

Jean Marc Sauve CIASE France abuse

Former French priest, Father Bernard Preynat, spent over a decade abusing boys in a scout troop. A quarter-century later, some of the survivors of Father Preynat’s crimes found each other, and they organized a group.

Their courage in speaking about what had happened to them ultimately led to the production of a movie, By the Grace of God.

Father Preynat was indicted, both civilly and canonically. The sitting Archbishop of Lyons, who had perpetuated the cover-up, was also indicted. Father Preynat was ultimately defrocked and jailed.

All of this made the 2018 “Catholic Summer of Shame” particularly intense in France. That fall, the French bishops’ conference (known by the French acronym CEF) ceded to intense public pressure and commissioned an independent study on the problem of sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church.

The independent commission came to be known as CIASE. The Church provided 2.6 million euros; the members of the commission gave 1.2 million euros-worth of volunteer time. Their final report, released this past Tuesday, has generally been called Le Rapport Sauvé in France, after Jean-Marc Sauvé, the career government official who chaired the commission.

This sounds like our American “John Jay Report” of nearly two decades ago. But Le Rapport Sauvé contains much more information and insight. Our John Jay researchers worked only with information provided by US dioceses, and all the documents handed over to them had all names blocked out. (And let’s not forget that the most-prominent churchman involved in commissioning the John-Jay report was Theodore McCarrick.)

The CIASE in France, on the other hand, apparently had free access to all diocesan and religious-order archives, including secret archives. And the CIASE also beat the bushes for victims to come forward.

This transformed the CIASE’s effort into something fundamentally different from what the John Jay researchers did here in the US. The John Ray report gives statistics without any human connection to the victims; Le Rapport Sauvé, on the other hand, became primarily a means for survivors to speak the truth about what had happened to them.

As the English summary of the French report notes:

The CIASE, therefore, is not blind to the fact that, even if representatives of the French Catholic Church wanted the Commission to be set up, it is mainly thanks to the determined action of victims of violence that it actually came to be created, and it is beholden to these people to study their cases.

International news organizations have covered the release of the CIASE report, and for good reason. These media reports have focused primarily on the statistics provided by the CIASE.

The CIASE report grants that its staggering estimate of over 300,000 total victims of sexual violence does not square easily with the number of perpetrators reported. It would work out to 70 victims per criminal, a number higher than is generally thought to be normal.

On the other hand, though, experience has taught us that almost all statistical analyses of criminal sex-abuse actually under-count the real totals.

The report notes:

Such statistics must be treated with caution. The silence of the victims and of the Church inevitably limits our knowledge of the facts.

Our friend Chris O’Leary has done a helpful short video to explain how the average criminal priest sex-abuser could in fact have 70 victims or more in total:

But Le Rapport Sauvé offers much, much more than just numbers. It appears to contain genuine insight into the problem, offered with both humility and conviction. I for one believe that this report is one of the best things to happen in our Church in our lifetimes.

The CIASE promises that a full English translation of the report will be available on-line by the end of the year. In the meantime, I offer some quotes from the 30-page English summary.

Faced with this scourge, for a very long time the Catholic Church’s immediate reaction was to protect itself as an institution, and it has shown complete, even cruel, indifference to those having suffered abuse…

It was only from 2010 that the Church began to recognize victims when it started reporting cases to the judicial system, imposing canonical sanctions and accepted that dealing with aggressors should no longer be an internal affair.

It is not that the violence was organized or accepted by the institution (although this did happen in a very small number of communities or institutions), rather that the Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.

The Church did not have any clear idea how to prevent such violence or indeed even see it, let alone deal with it in a fair and determined manner.

canon law codex canonici

Canon Law

This past summer, we took note of how our Holy Father revised the Code of Canon Law. The CIASE, however, finds the revision wholly inadequate to deal with the reality of the crisis:

In analyzing factors specific to the Catholic Church which might help explain the sheer scale of the phenomenon, and the Church’s inappropriate reaction to it, the Commission firstly looked into the specificities of canon law, as to a certain degree the inadequacy of the Church’s response to the phenomenon lies in the shortcomings of this law.

Canon law was conceived, above all, to protect the sacraments and reform the sinner. The victim has no place in this law. Canon law, even its criminal aspect, is totally ill-adapted to the repression of sexual violence, which, incidentally, it never refers to by name. The Commission reached the conclusion that canon law is entirely inadequate with regard to fair-trial standards and human rights in a matter as sensitive as the sexual abuse of children.

Despite taking into account the reform of the criminal section of the Code of Canon Law due to come into force on 8 December 2021, in the light of the bleak observations made in the second part of the report, the CIASE nonetheless pleads for a wide-ranging overhaul of canon law in criminal matters, and in dealing with and sanctioning offences. This should begin with a clear definition of the offences in the Code of Canon Law and their implementing legislation, specifying applicable reference standards by establishing a scale of the gravity of offences and by distributing a collection of case law in the matter.

Secondly, canonical criminal procedure needs to be reworked and aligned with basic fair-trial rules, thereby giving victims a place in canonical procedure, which is not the case today.

confessional

The Seal of the Confessional

In France, this has quickly become the most controversial part of the report:

The Church must issue precise directives to confessors regarding the seal of confession. Confessors must not be allowed to derogate, on the grounds of the sanctity of the seal of confession, from the obligations provided for by the [French] Criminal Code, which are compliant with those of natural and divine law, which provides for the protection of a person’s life and dignity, to report to the competent authorities cases of sexual violence inflicted against a child or a vulnerable person.

This is not to question the seal of confession generally; but within the scope of sexual violence inflicted against children, a reminder is issued that the letter and the spirit of the law of the French Republic (Articles 223-6, 226-14, 434-1 and 434-3 of the Criminal Code) apply to every single person on French territory.

[The French laws cited require anyone aware of imminent danger of physical harm to another to alert the authorities.]

The French Bishops’ Conference quibbled with this recommendation. I think that we should recognize the point: It is precisely the inviolability of the seal of the confessional that produces a forum in which a criminal might confess everything. (And in which a victim might begin the process of speaking the truth about what happened.) Without the absolute secrecy, such conversations cannot happen. 

A French government minister has asked the president of the Bishops’ Conference to come and explain; the Archbishop agreed. The meeting is scheduled for next week.

I think this particular controversy will blow over. The French government issued a finding in 2004 that the secrecy of the confessional does not infringe on mandatory-reporting laws.

In another context–implementing Child-Protection policies–the CIASE adds this sensitive observation:

While it is convinced of the merits of such policies of prevention and practical provisions, the CIASE is not blind to the risk entailed by undue rigidity and “protocolization,” so little in keeping with the vocation
of the Church–indeed with any healthy human relationship–and which could potentially asphyxiate relationships. Similarly, too much transparency can be detrimental to intimacy and lead to a paradoxical
climate of surveillance and suspicion. The balance is fragile but necessary in order to clamp down on risk without distorting human relationships.

Ecclesiastical Obedience

The content of seminarian training should include the importance of critical thinking, particularly about issues of authority and obedience…

During all types of catechism, the faithful, particularly children and teenagers, should be taught the importance of listening to one’s conscience with critical intelligence under all circumstances.

With Chris O’Leary, we have earlier considered here the path of “transitional justice.” The CIASE does not use that term, but instead proposes:

“Reparative Justice”

The recommendations made by the CIASE to try and overcome the trauma caused by sexual violence, and the shroud of silence covering it, are not conceived in a spirit of “turning the page,” because in all the testimonials–which the Commission very much hopes echo loudly through its report–the first cry is for justice.

In other words, before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated and, in as far as is possible, reparation for “it’s” consequences need to be found.

Before proclaiming “it must never happen again,” the “it” has to be recognized, acknowledged, and described, those responsible for “it” need to be designated.

It is not enough for the Church to claim awareness, albeit too late in the day. Or to claim that the past is the past and that for today’s and tomorrow’s children and vulnerable persons the same mistakes will not be repeated. For such a discourse which is consistent with the logic of “helping” victims of historical abuse, more often than not time-barred by the [French] Criminal Code, perpetuates an attitude of non-recognition or denial of what really happened, characteristic of the Church during the period analyzed, and is used as an escape from genuinely dealing with the phenomenon.

This is why the Commission insists on the Church’s need for a process of truth and reparation and that it has to begin with the acknowledgement of responsibility which has so far been avoided.

I think the insight in these paragraphs is profound. Let’s give Chris O’Leary the last word here. He produced another video, reflecting on the CIASE report. It offers a stirring exhortation:

Visiting St. Thomas II: Montecassino

The ancient* abbey where St. Thomas studied as a boy looms above the sweet little city of Cassino.

* That is, re-built…

…ater being destroyed completely by US bombs in February, 1944.

St. Thomas prayed at the tombs of Saints Benedict and Scholastica, which are now in a chapel below the high altar of the basilica.

The young student from nearby Aquino may have read this very biography of St. Benedict…

And this textbook of science…

He probably walked through this doorway (now preserved in the abbey museum).

And trod these floor tiles.

…In his treatise on justice in the Summa, St. Thomas considers some questions about criminal trials, including how many witnesses are required to establish a fact.

In the third objection in II-II q70 art2, St. Thomas quotes a medieval canon which decrees that, to establish a fact against a Cardinal, sixty-four witnesses are required.

This is of particular interest, considering:

St. Thomas approves of the (practically insuperable) requirement, with this argument:

The rule protects the Roman Church [that is, the College of Cardinals], on account of its dignity: and this for three reasons. First because in that Church those men ought to be promoted whose sanctity makes their evidence of more weight than that of many witnesses. Secondly, because those who have to judge other men, often have many opponents on account of their justice, wherefore those who give evidence against them should not be believed indiscriminately, unless they be very numerous. Thirdly, because the condemnation of any one of them would detract in public opinion from the dignity and authority of that Church, a result which would be more fraught with danger than if one were to tolerate a sinner in that same Church, unless he were very notorious and manifest, so that a grave scandal would arise if he were tolerated.

A lot to consider here; I promise to come back and discuss this thoroughly when I get back home.

In the meantime, though, we can say for sure that the judge in Massachusetts will not have such a high threshold, when it comes to allowing testimony. (Plus, McC is no longer a Cardinal anyway, as of summer 2018.)

In this case, I believe it will actually benefit the Holy See in the long run, that the word of one accuser–with plenty of circumstantial evidence to support what he has to say–will be allowed against this particular accused criminal.

There are a lot of facts that need to come out, and getting them out will, in the end, help the Church.

If you can hang tight until March, you will be able to read about many of those facts in Ordained by a Predator. Good Lord willing, the book will see print then.

Grand-Jury Reports + McCarrick Charged with a Crime

PA Grand Jury victims

Soon we will mark the third anniversary of the publication of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on clerical sex-abuse and cover-up. The report offers the public a window into the corrupt way that the hierarchy of our Church has dealt with these crimes.

When the grand jury published its report, the pope and bishops reacted with embarrassment and dismay. We rank-and-file Catholics, on the other hand, recognized the report for what it was: a gift to our community.

Finally the survivors had their chance to tell their side of the story. Finally we gained a clear insight into exactly how our upper leadership has handled this. That is, very badly.

Mark Herring

Shortly after the publication of the Pennsylvania report, our Attorney General here in Virginia announced an investigation into clergy sex abuse in our state. He established a hotline for survivors to call, and his office has worked on mounting criminal prosecutions based on the information they have collected.

I know that a number of clergy-sex abuse survivors, as well as we Catholics in general, have wondered when the A.G.’s office will produce a report like they did in Pennsylvania.

The fact is, however, that we will likely never have a similar report here in Virginia. I did some research to try to understand this.

A state law in Pennsylvania empowers grand juries there to publish their findings, to inform the general public about problems in the community. The investigation conducted by the PA grand jury did not lead to many criminal indictments, since many of the offenders had died. But the investigation exposed the reprehensible conduct not just of abusers, but also the dioceses.

The grand jury recommended changing the statute of limitations for civil suits. Regrettably, that pro-survivor reform has yet to occur in Pennsylvania.

The PA grand jury produced its report because Pennsylvania state law empowered it to do so. It is a legally settled matter there that the damage done to the reputations of malefactors named in grand-jury reports (but never charged with crimes) can be offset by written responses appended to the report. The PA report includes such responses by Church officials.

Jake Tapper grand-jury reportHere in Virginia, we have no similar law. Grand juries here are not empowered to release reports to inform the public. To the contrary, grand jury investigations conducted in Virginia remain sealed. Their findings can only become available to the public as part of a trial.

For example, this past May, a VA grand jury indicted a former priest on two felony sex-abuse counts. When the accused stands trial, prosecutors will likely introduce some of the grand jury’s findings as evidence.

I know that the VA Attorney General’s office eagerly seeks clergy sex-abuse survivors who want to press charges. There is no criminal statute of limitations in Virginia for the sexual abuse of a minor. The hotline # is (833) 454-9064, or you can click HERE.

(If you have any problems reaching someone through the AG office’s intake system, please contact me directly by making a comment below, and I will help facilitate things.)

Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros
Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg

The “Reconciliation Program” that our diocese ran last year was tailor-made to short-circuit criminal prosecutions. Our diocese used $6.3 million given by faithful Catholics over the years, to pay settlements to survivors, in order to reduce their incentive to go to the Attorney General. (That is, in those cases where the perpetrator is still alive.)

Criminal prosecutions do not fully address the need for accountability that hangs in the balance here. Just like in Pennsylvania, we Virginia Catholics who believe in honesty and justice want to see our institution held accountable for the decades of systematic cover-up. We know that the cover-up has caused as much pain as the original abuse. The crimes are one, very ugly thing. The cover-up is another thing, and equally ugly.

I hope that our Attorney General can figure out a way to give the public something like the PA grand-jury report. Even if it takes some creativity to find a legal way to do so, in our state.

McCarrick and James
Theodore McCarrick with the young James Grein

…As I sit writing this, my phone has blown up, as they say.

Theodore McCarrick has been charged with a crime. By police in Massachusetts. Criminal sex abuse. The incident took place in June, 1974.

McCarrick molested the anonymous victim when he was a teenager, at his brother’s wedding. It was not the only time McCarrick sexually abused the boy. The court has summoned McCarrick to appear on August 26.

Wow.

It is likely that the Vatican has known about this crime, and many others like it, for at least three years, and has kept it all secret. (They could have known about it thirty years ago, if they had gone to the trouble to investigate the charges that made their way to them back then.)

All the evidence that Pope Francis had before him, when he defrocked McCarrick in February 2019, has remained secret. Until now. Now, at long last, the survivors of this predator’s abuse might actually get some real justice. Praise God.

McCarrick paten chalice

Theodore McCarrick ordained me a priest. I am forever grateful for the gift of the priesthood. And I pray for mercy for all of us sinners. But justice must be done, as far as the law allows.

Chris O’Leary Footage & Funds

Chris’ talk in Roanoke this past Monday…

Q&A session afterwards…

Chris’ talk in Martinsville on Sunday, with Q&A…

Chris’ interview with Dale Thompson of Our Church Our Problem and The Truth Guardians

Chris has an on-line fundraiser to help him continue his fight. Click HERE.

You’re Welcome, Your Holiness

pope francis mccarrick
September 23, 2015

In 2015, Pope Francis declared a “Year of Mercy.”

The following year, the pope published a book, The Name of God is Mercy.

On Ash Wednesday, 2016, the pope dispatched “Missionaries of Mercy.”

Shortly thereafter, the Vatican Secretary of State received a letter from then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

McCarrick referred to his dealings with the Holy See over the course of the previous decade. The Vatican had attempted to get McCarrick to disappear quietly from the public stage. McCarrick had not co-operated with the cover-up scheme.

But in his March 8, 2016, letter to Cardinal Parolin, McCarrick offered to “retire to a holy place and pray for the salvation of my soul, instead of wandering around the world.”

Cardinal Parolin mentioned McCarrick’s letter to Pope Francis.

The pope already knew that McCarrick stood accused of abusing his authority to force seminarians into his bed. Archbishop Viganò, as well as Cardinal Becciu, had alerted the pope to McCarrick’s predations. The Vatican file contained testimony about McCarrick forcing a seminarian to put on a sailor suit and get into bed with him.

Pope Francis told Cardinal Parolin not to accept McCarrick’s March, 2016, offer to disappear.

“Maybe McCarrick could still do something useful,” the pope said.

[All of this is documented on pages 429-430 of the Vatican McCarrick Report.]

In September of 2018, I published an open letter to Pope Francis. (Before McCarrick was laicized through a secret procedure.)

I wrote:

Holy Father, you have spoken over and over again about the primacy of mercy. You misinterpreted what the moment demanded. For over a generation, no one has had any doubt that the Church knows how to act with mercy. The obvious problem we have is: the Church has forgotten how to act with severity. How can you not see that your former-Cardinal-Priest Theodore McCarrick has–in his brazen recklessness–exposed this colossal weakness?

What did the moment demand, when the first of McCarrick’s brother bishops learned of his predations? Mercy? Hardly. What did the moment demand, when you learned of it? Mercy? No. The moment demanded the just application of strict rules.

Do you not see how desperately the Church needs a severe father right now? A fearless and exacting enforcer of rules. A man whom sinners behold, and tremble.

Pope Francis Annuarium pontificum

Last week, the Holy Father published a decree revising the Code of Canon law.

In his letter announcing the change, the Holy Father wrote.

In the past, great damage was done by a failure to appreciate the close relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and recourse — where circumstances and justice so require — to disciplinary sanctions.

This manner of thinking — as we have learned from experience — risks leading to tolerating immoral conduct, for which mere exhortations or suggestions are insufficient remedies. This situation often brings with it the danger that over time such conduct may become entrenched, making correction more difficult and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful.

For this reason, it becomes necessary for bishops and superiors to inflict penalties. Negligence on the part of a bishop in resorting to the penal system is a sign that he has failed to carry out his duties honestly and faithfully.

You’re welcome, Your Holiness. For the idea.

Allow me to point out, however, that you accuse yourself with your own words.

You were McCarrick’s bishop, his priestly father in God. From 2013 onward, only one man on earth had authority over Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

You.

You were negligent. You failed to carry out your duties honestly and faithfully, just like Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II failed to do, before you.

canon law codex canonici

Another person who deserves a big apology from the mitered mafia: Father Lauro Sedlmayer.

McCarrick abused his authority over Father Sedlmayer during the 1990’s, to obtain sexual gratification from the young, naive, foreign-born priest.

Sedlmayer tried to denounce McCarrick for his crimes. In response, the Diocese of Metuchen NJ and the Archdiocese of Newark proceeded to sue him in court.

On May 17, 2013, two months after Francis became our pope, the then-Bishop of Metuchen Paul Bootkoski wrote to Father Sedlmayer. The bishop insisted that Father had “violated Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s rights.”

According to Bootkoski, Sedlmayer had “calumniated” McCarrick, because Sedlmayer publicly referred to McCarrick as a “predator.”

Bootkoski went on to stipulate in his letter: Sedlmayer could not continue in ministry as a priest unless he underwent intense supervision, therapy, and “spiritual direction.”

Meanwhile:

The Vatican knew perfectly well that calling McCarrick a “predator” did not involve calumny, or a violation of McCarrick’s rights. When Father Sedlmayer blanketed a parish parking lot with fliers calling McCarrick a predator, he spoke the truth, with justice.

The Vatican had more than enough evidence in hand to vindicate Father Sedlmayer in his accusations against McCarrick.

What did they do?

In the Vatican.

While a bishop mercilessly persecuted a priest who spoke the truth about Theodore McCarrick, the truth that they knew full well?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

In 2016, Bishop Bootkoski reached the normal retirement age, and the pope accepted his resignation, without any reference whatsoever to McCarrick, or to Father Sedlmayer’s decades of suffering at the hands of prelates who abused their authority.

Kinda makes you wonder:

Would they be doing anything at all at the Vatican, about McCarrick, now? Except that circumstances outside their control forced them to do something?

Last week’s revision to the Code of Canon Law changes canon 1395.3, which defines a crime, namely: A clergyman forcing someone to perform or submit to sexual acts by force or threat. The revised law adds the phrase “or by abuse of his authority.”

The pope first introduced that phrase into the rules in May of 2019.

I pointed out then:

I guess we could call this “The McCarrick Law.” Apparently, he clearly abused his authority to get sex. After all, the pope convicted him of breaking this law (even before it was on the books) in a summary administrative procedure, without a full trial.

But: If it was as clear as all that, why wasn’t McCarrick convicted by Pope Benedict, back in 2006? We generally regard Pope Benedict as a sober, upright man. Why didn’t he recognize a case of criminal abuse, if the matter was so crystal-clear?

McCarrick ordained me a transitional deacon 18 years ago today [May 13, 2019]. On that day, I thought of him as an amazingly talented, crushingly self-centered, charming tyrant. He gave the Archdiocese of Washington a huge amount of energy that it had not previously had. He appeared utterly uninterested in anything having to do with theology. He was a flawed man. He was no walking demon.

On May 13, 2001, many churchmen, who we then regarded as at least somewhat reasonable–including Pope John Paul II–knew something about McCarrick’s sexual life. They had not concluded that his actions amounted to crimes.

My point is: I think anyone who has ever served in the military knows: The line between criminal abuse of authority in a sexual relationship, on the one hand, and a consensual affair, on the other: by no means crystal-clear.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth do grave evils. Who convinced whom to do them? Did Macbeth abuse his authority over his wife? Or did she seduce him into committing murder–to satisfy her ambition? The answer is: Yes.

Criminal laws on paper accomplish nothing without competent investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges–and principles of application of the laws, based on acquired experience. Pope Francis has given us: the paper. We don’t have the rest.

Self-Deception, Con’d

[This is Part IV of my series of posts about the Rodney-King beating, which I have done in honor of my late father, on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. Click for Part I, Part II, Part III.]

Rodney King tape

The four LAPD officers involved in beating Rodney King on March 3, 1991, went on trial for assault, in Simi Valley, California, in March of 1992.

The defense formulated an elaborate set of justifications for the beating. But contradictory information cast doubt on the justifications that the defense offered.

Let me try to summarize. Continue reading “Self-Deception, Con’d”

Absurdities and Atrocities

PA Grand Jury victims

In August of 2018, a grand-jury in Pennsylvania published a report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen in six dioceses in the state. (The other two PA dioceses had been covered by earlier reports.)

The report scandalized the world, as most of us remember.

Mr. Andrew Seidel, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote an essay about the grand-jury report. A clerical sex-abuse-survivor friend of mine recently shared that essay with me. I think we can gain some insight by considering some of Mr. Seidel’s points.

Seidel titled his essay, “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.” He writes:

If you stand by the Catholic Church, if you donate time and money to this organization, you are complicit. There is no way around it. You are complicit in the rape of children and its cover-up. If you think that is too harsh, start thinking about the victims instead.

wwjd braceletsThinking about the victims: that definitely counts as WWJD. Conscientious Catholics agree on that, anyway. So we need to pay attention here.

Seidel goes on to write:

The consistent theme underlying the PA Grand Jury’s analysis is authority. Unquestionable, unassailable authority. Divine authority.

The victims are taught that their tormentors are divine. They are representatives of god on earth. they are not to be questioned and certainly not disobeyed. Under Catholic canon law, adherents are required to give a ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to their church.

The abuse is so bad because it is a church. The evil is boundless because of the power of religion. Men who claim absolute, unquestionable power over others will abuse the power and the innocents under their sway.

The sheer brazenness of many of the assaults, as detailed in the report, is likewise probably attributable to the religious power structure.

Seidel offers us a helpful psychological insight here. I think we all have experienced the truth of his point, one way or another. Unbounded authority over other human beings produces moral monsters.

Trinity ShieldBut the question is: What precisely is the religious submission required of a Catholic? Has Seidel correctly identified it?

Seidel goes on to write:

The Church’s power structure and theology are also critical to the Church’s ability to cover up the vast abuse. Adherents are already primed to accept absurdities such as wine becoming blood or crackers becoming human flesh if a few choice words are recited, or that three is really one and one is really three.

The popular paraphrase of Voltaire is spot on: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’ Atrocities such as succumbing to the idea that harming the public image of the Church is worse than destroying the innocence of a child.

Seidel makes important points here, points that will help us. But he misidentifies the “absurdities” that have caused the complicity that he rightly attacks.

As we know, we students of Book IV of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles: Our faith in the divine tri-unity and in the Real Presence is neither blind nor absurd.

st-thomas-aqRather, we start with Jesus Christ, and we take it from there.

Only a gift from heaven can help a human being believe that Jesus is true God, as well as being true man; no one can prove that He is God. But if you start with the premise that it’s true–that He is true God and true man, God incarnate–then the divine tri-unity and the mystery of the Holy Mass follow, with no inherent contradiction of any known facts.

Seidel writes as an avowed atheist. But there is certainly nothing more reasonable in atheism than there is in our basic human experience of our relationship with our Creator. This human experience of religion leads to our desire to know God, to love Him, and to live in friendship with Him. This requires submitting. To Him.

The always-greater mystery of the loving heavenly Father revealed by Jesus Christ: We submit to Him. In doing so, we find our true selves; we find true love; we find a path to lasting happiness.

Our complicity with sex abuse–for which Seidel rightly chastises us Catholics–it actually involves a failure of religion, rather than our Christian religion itself.

Every human society has to have an authority structure of some kind. The Church has a fundamental structure that Jesus Himself established.

But no true source of our religion teaches us that any given deacon, priest, bishop, or even pope will get everything right. No true teaching tells us that an ordained man simply cannot commit crimes for which he deserves jail time, or that successors of the Apostles cannot conspire in a criminal enterprise.

The “absurdity” is to think that the divinely-instituted structure of the Church means that the clerical hierarchy deserves to have unchecked authority over our human community. That does not, in fact, follow.

In Germany, some church officials responded to the clerical sex-abuse crisis by agreeing to examine this point. Unfortunately, that enterprise (the so-called ‘synodal path’) has largely been hijacked by agendas that have nothing to do with responding to victim-survivors of sexual abuse.

As one prominent priest-participant in the ‘synodal path’ put it:

Structures that encourage sexual abuse of children and young people must be eliminated, otherwise the church cannot have a future. However, one must question whether the themes on which the participants’ exchange is fixed [eg. women’s ordination or questions of sexual morality] are really causally and genuinely related to abuse.

One can get the impression that the abuse scandal is being instrumentalized by many actors in order to take up the well-known inner-church controversial topics anew.

Leave it to complicit Catholics to eclipse the victim survivors with self-serving nonsense yet again! It happens over and over–this endless, pointless feud among ‘professional Catholics’–with the mitered mafia gleefully looking on, secure in their abuses of power.

memento-mori

Let’s try to start from here. Every Christian participates in the communal life of the Church from this point-of-view: I owe God a death. Let me go to that death with a clear conscience, with the help of Christ’s grace.

We do not belong to the Catholic Church because She has brave and big-hearted officials at this point in history. She pretty clearly does not. Our human community has been run like a criminal enterprise for at least a couple generations, if not much longer. There is no need to deny that rather-evident fact.

Rather, we belong to our Church because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ.

And–because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ–we stand with the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in our Church. We thank them. They have suffered with Christ, and they have proclaimed the Gospel to us by living to tell the tale.

“By Strong Hand and Terms Compulsatory”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, scene 1

[This is Part II of my series in honor of my dad, on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. Click HERE for Part I.]

Rodney King tape

During the midnight hour on Sunday, March 3, 1991, three Los Angeles patrol officers brutally beat a defenseless man. The three officers acted under the direction of a sergeant.

The officers’ names are: Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno. The sergeant was Stacey Koon. The defenseless man was Rodney Glenn King.

George Holliday made a video of the beating, from the balcony of his apartment across the street.

King had two passengers in the car with him. The police detained the passengers at the scene briefly, but then released them without taking them anywhere.

Holliday must have crossed the street and told the passengers–Rodney King’s friends–that he had videotaped the beating. One of the passengers told King’s brother, Paul, about the videotape.

The following day, both Paul King and George Holliday went to the police to report the unlawful beating. Paul King mentioned the videotape.

Both complaints were immediately filed as “requiring no further attention” by the LAPD. Holliday and Paul King knew they had been totally blown off.

So Holliday then took his videotape to KTLA, and within 36 hours the rest of America had seen the beating on the news.

For freedom Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). But a criminal forfeits that freedom and subjects him- or herself to compulsion. By lawful authority.

Four Los Angeles police officers
The officers awaiting arraignment on Friday, March 22, 1991 (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

I.

Rodney King had subjected himself to compulsion by lawful authority, in the midnight hour of Sunday, March 3.

A California Highway Patrol vehicle saw King’s Hyundai going 120 mph on the San Fernando Freeway. The officers tried to pull King over. He had a duty to obey, to stop on the shoulder. He did not do so. He led the officers, and other patrol cars that joined in pursuit, on an eight-mile chase.

By doing this, King apparently committed the crime of “felony evading.” (He was never charged for this, or any other crime.) When King finally pulled over, next to a park, the officers in pursuit identified the situation as a “high-risk stop.” Which means that they had the right, in the interest of their own safety, to order all the occupants of King’s car to get out with their hands up. King and his two friends had a duty to obey such an order.

At this point in the unfolding story, we reach the moment where we might question the way the officers tried to compel King and his passengers, under the color of lawful authority.

It apparently was the policy of both the California Highway Patrol and the LAPD, at “high-risk stops,” to order the motorist and passengers to lie down flat on the pavement, arms spread wide, face turned away from the approaching officer.

police night stick batonThis was to allow for a relatively low-risk approach by the officer, to handcuff the motorist, and any passengers.

(Whether or not this policy of demanding a “prone position” has changed since 1991, I do not know.)

Granted, if you have led police officers on an eight-mile high-speed chase, I think we can say that you have forfeited your bodily freedom at least for the moment, and you must submit to handcuffing.

But ordering someone to lie down, prone on the asphalt, face turned away? Maybe that crosses a line out of the realm of officer safety and into the realm of undue humiliation?

Anyway, as a practical matter: At about 12:40am on March 3, 1991, Rodney King did not comply with the order to lie prone on the ground, and for good reason.

For one thing, King likely did not hear the order over the sound of the helicopter overhead. Secondly, he would have had trouble understanding the word “prone,” even if he did hear the order. Lastly, while he did get down on all fours, he did not appear able to lie the whole way down. Was it because he was too proud? Maybe. Was it because he was intoxicated and confused? Almost certainly.

King never made any violent action; he posed no threat. He never even directly evaded getting handcuffed. He was pretty clearly drunk and confused. And then suddenly he was in fear for his own life.

II.

Officers Powell and Wind proceeded to beat King mercilessly with their metal batons. Officer Briseno kicked him. Sergeant Koon gave the orders.

scales_of_justiceAs we mentioned, George Holliday captured it on tape. The overwhelming majority of the people who saw the tape in the ensuing days regarded the police officers’ actions as criminal.

According to two different polls, 90% of the residents of Los Angeles County saw Holliday’s videotape, and 92% of those who had seen it believed the officers had used excessive force. Eighty percent thought the officers had committed a crime.

The officers, in other words, put themselves into the position that Rodney King had put himself in, by speeding on the freeway and not pulling over. The officers made themselves subject to compulsion by lawful authority.

Lawful authority did not respond with violence this time, but with due process. An L.A.-County grand jury indicted the four officers for criminal assault.

Due process requires a fair trial. The long, hot summer of 1991 saw some stunning developments in the pre-trial business.

California County map

III.

I don’t know who made the decision to try all four officers together. I don’t know if putting them on trial separately was ever even considered as an option.

The decision in Minneapolis last year to try Derek Chauvin separately from the other officers involved in George Floyd’s murder–that certainly seems like a wise decision, indeed.

The circumstances in L.A. three decades ago were different. Sergeant Koon never personally laid a hand on Rodney King. He did, however, order his officers to beat the defenseless man mercilessly.

I would say that putting all four officers on trial together proved to be the first, and probably greatest, of the prosecution’s mistakes. That is, if it was their mistake. Perhaps it was simply a fait accompli, for legal reasons I don’t understand.

By putting the officers on trial together, the prosecutors wound-up having to contend with four different, highly skilled defense lawyers. The defense ultimately managed to dominate the trial. If the officers had been tried separately, maybe that wouldn’t have happened.

The Superior Court of Los Angeles County assigned the case of People v. Powell et al. to Judge Bernard Kamins. (In California, the trial courts are called “Superior” courts.)

The defense immediately petitioned to have the trial moved outside of Los Angeles, on the grounds that the officers could not get a fair trial there.

At that time, Los Angeles County had 6.5 million eligible jurors. For the officers to have received a fair trial in that county, the court would have had to find twelve among those 6.5 million who could listen impartially to testimony and review evidence, leaving a final conclusion about guilt or innocence until the end.

Jurors must presume criminal defendants to be innocent of the charges against them, then wait to see or hear proof, proof that overcomes every reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt.

California law stipulates that a criminal trial should occur in the county where the crime took place, unless a compelling reason calls for a “change of venue.”

The defense argued that the daily news coverage of the event had “contaminated” the objectivity of the L.A.-County jury pool.

Judge Kamins concluded that this was not a compelling reason to move. Because: the same could be said about the jury pool in every county in California.

They simply could not conduct the trial in a county where the potential jurors would show up for duty not having heard about the case. No such county existed. Therefore, this was no reason to change the venue.

Los Angeles Superior Court

…As spring turned into summer, Judge Kamins became ever more eager to move the trial forward.

I don’t presume to know the judge’s mind, but what little I know about the steps he took lead me to see him as a humble, practical man. He recognized that the best thing for everyone involved was to move the trial forward as expeditiously as possible. But the judge’s humble practicality got him into trouble.

The defense insisted on a change of venue and appealed over Judge Kamin’s head, to the California Court of Appeal.

Kamins had set June 19 as the day to begin the trial. On June 12, the Appeal Court put an “indefinite stay” on moving forward with jury selection, until the higher court had considered the defense petition for a change of venue.

Kamins tried to negotiate his way out of the impasse by putting a possible change of venue back on the table for discussion by the parties. The judge communicated informally, departing from the strict rules that govern court communications. It seems clear that Kamins did this in order to get the trial moving sooner rather than later. But his effort backfired completely.

The defense petitioned to have Judge Kamins removed, on the grounds that his off-the-cuff communications had given the impression that he was partial to the prosecution.

In high summer 1991, the California Court of Appeal made two decisions that deserve to go down in infamy.

On July 23, the Appeal court unilaterally ordered a change of venue. That particular Appeal Court decision is known as Powell v. Superior Court.

In this decision, the Court of Appeal granted that the “media saturation” argument did not suffice to compel a move. But the Court of Appeal introduced another consideration: the contamination of the L.A.-County jury pool by political allegiances to either the mayor or the police chief.

A “coup,” so to speak–put into motion by the police commission, and backed by the mayor–had tried to oust Chief Gates. The City Council protected the chief, and the “coup” failed.

But:

Neither the mayor nor the chief were directly involved in People v. Powell et al.

And:

All other political issues in L.A. paled in significance to the trial itself. The allegiance of the citizens was not really to either Mayor Bradley or to Chief Darryl Gates. If either of those two gentlemen had suddenly moved to Tahiti, it would not have had anywhere near the political impact that the ultimate verdict of this trial would have.

The Appeal Court’s stated goal was to prevent the “average person on the street” from thinking the trial unfair. So, on August 21, in Briseno v. Superior Court, they removed Kamins from the case.

Fall arrived, and the Appeal Court’s two interventions had delayed the trial by six months. Courtroom testimony didn’t actually begin until a year after the beating. And that testimony unfolded in front of a Ventura-County jury that had not one single black person on it.

Ironically enough, it was the Appeal Court itself that managed to make the average person on the street start to think that things were not right, not fair, not above-board. Something rotten in the state of Denmark, as Hamlet put it.

To be continued…

 

Open Letter to Cardinal Cupich of Chicago

 

Your Eminence:

Many of us watched the speech you delivered via video at the “Religion, Faith, and Flourishing” symposium about the sexual abuse of children. We recognize that you represented our Church at this important event, as the highest-ranking prelate to address the conference.

In your speech, you claimed that “the voice of the sex-abuse survivor must be our Church’s true north.” You extolled your own virtues as a bishop and the excellence of the administrative apparatus of your archdiocesan corporation. And you singled-out one of your predecessors, Joseph Bernardin, as a hero.

Bernardin Newsweek

You went on to say, “Imagine if all the bishops had followed Bernardin, how much further ahead we would be in preventing abuse and punishing offenders, how many children might have been spared.”

In 1993, Mr. Steven Cook accused Bernardin, as well as another priest, then-Father Ellis Harsham, of sexual abuse. In your speech for the symposium, you solely recounted Bernardin’s version of the events surrounding that accusation, and you neglected to mention important statements by others.

The fact is that, by twelve years later, no one disputed that Cook rightly identified Harsham as an abuser. Cook ultimately stated that he could not trust his memory regarding Harsham’s associate Bernardin—at least he could not trust it enough to move forward with a lawsuit. Bernardin then immediately rushed to the microphones to announce to the world that Cook had “recanted” and “the justice system has publicly affirmed my innocence.”

Bernardin went on to claim that a Chicago priest had urged Cook to make the accusation. The priest has insisted that is untrue. Bernardin told the public that he had always been “chaste and celibate.” The late Dr. A.W. Richard Sipe declared that he knew that was untrue. Bernardin claimed that he and Cook “reconciled” shortly before Cook’s untimely death. We only have Bernardin’s word on that.

In other words, Your Eminence, you extolled in your speech the heroism of the self-proclaimed hero, using only his version of events as your source of information.

But the late Cardinal is an eminently questionable source for the truth of the matter. (Pun intended.) Another reasonable interpretation of the Cook-Bernardin Affair is: Cook took a secret cash settlement in exchange for withdrawing his public accusation against Bernardin. We know from the Vatican’s McCarrick report that such a practice was used to silence the sex-abuse victims of high-ranking prelates at that time.

In the summer of 2019, James Grein publicly accused Bernardin of having abused him. A year earlier, Mr. Grein’s public testimony had led to the Vatican “trial” of Theodore McCarrick, the procedure that resulted in McCarrick’s involuntary removal from the clerical state.

Was Grein’s testimony about McCarrick true, but his accusation against Bernardin false? Is that what you have concluded? If so, on what grounds have you reached that conclusion?

A friend of mine has spoken with another sex-abuse victim of Bernardin’s. That survivor is still trying to recover, quietly, a half a century later.

Haven’t you insulted the intelligence of your audience by presenting only Bernardin’s version of the events of the Cook-Bernardin Affair? Doesn’t your audience deserve to know that the question of Bernardin’s guilt is, in fact, not really settled at all?

McCarrick and James

You referred repeatedly in your symposium remarks to the year 2002. That year, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick made many public speeches about how the Church had solved the sex-abuse problem. We believed him; we trusted in our prelates. Turns out that McCarrick belonged in jail at the time.

Is there any question that McCarrick and Bernardin were friends? Is it not the case that Grein’s assertion about Bernardin could very well be true? Aren’t we supposed to believe survivors?

All that said, let’s concede for a moment—for the sake of argument—that your predecessor Joseph Bernardin did not, in fact, abuse Steven Cook. Do you not recognize nonetheless what the Cook-Bernardin Affair of ’93-’94 did to sex-abuse survivors across the country? How it cost them advocates in the media? How it led many to question their own memories? How it hurt their self-confidence and left them in the shadows? How can you talk in one breath about seeing Jesus in the sex-abuse survivor and then in the next breath celebrate the Cook-Bernardin Affair as if it were some kind of golden moment?

There is also substantial evidence that Bernardin regularly covered-up for sex-abusing priests in Cincinnati and Chicago. Also, his roommate and “buddy” in his home diocese of Charleston. S.C., was ultimately convicted for sex abuse of minors.

There is more. Your address at the symposium relied on the idea that the U.S. Bishops’ Dallas Charter made national policy that solved the sex-abuse problem in the Catholic Church. That is, the secrecy and cover-up that has made many reasonable people all over the world think that our Church is corruptly governed.

In December of 2018, however, your Attorney General in Illinois offered her advice about fundamental flaws in the Dallas Charter. She pointed out how imprecise the terms are, the terms that you bishops use in dealing with sex-abuse cases. She showed in her report how the process you extolled in your symposium speech is actually full of dangerous gaps that have left many survivors out in the cold.

It has been over two years since A.G. Madigan offered her advice. You met privately with her successor in office the following year. Have the U.S. bishops taken any steps to address Madigan’s helpful points? If so, why don’t we rank-and-file Catholics know anything about those steps?

Your Eminence, many of us Catholics are struggling to hold onto our loyalty to our beloved Church. It would help us if you would reply with clear answers to the questions I have asked you. After all, as you yourself put it in your speech, “full accountability is a universal non-negotiable.”

Yours in the Lord,

Father Mark White

Collinsville, Virginia