The Unrepentant Syndicate

This is the first of the two posts I promised, proving that the current ecclesiastical hierarchy continues to operate according to this long-debunked, wrong-headed principle:

Sexual abuse is a shameful private matter that should be kept from the public eye. If people know that clergymen have committed this crime, they will lose the faith. Therefore, it should be hushed up, at any cost.

Anyone who sexually abuses a minor commits a crime. The victim of the crime suffers a grave injury. One significant dimension of that injury: Crippling shame, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with others about what happened.

scales_of_justiceIndeed, there may be even more to this than many of us have thought. I spoke recently with a sex-abuse survivor who recounted how he had no memories whatsoever about being abused in his childhood, until the summer of 2018. Then the headlines about priest six-abuse shook loose in his mind an avalanche of memories. He thinks that his abuser knew how to cause the suppression of the memories. Some abusers may have that twisted psychological-manipulative skill.

Back to justice under law: The problem here is, criminal investigations and prosecutions generally rely on “warm” evidence. Investigating crimes committed in the distant past poses huge challenges.

Hence, we have “statutes of limitations” or “prescription periods.” (The latter is the term used in ecclesiastical law.) You can’t open a criminal investigation into a crime that happened decades ago.

A civil suit, on the other hand, differs in some important respects from a criminal case. The injured party sues the wrongdoer for damages. In such a case, the plaintiff does not seek a guilty verdict per se; the community itself is not mounting the case for the sake of preserving public peace. Rather, the injured party asks the judge to find the malefactor liable for the damage caused, which would require restitution.

Again, however, the passage of time makes the whole thing more difficult. It is harder for the court to establish facts. So there are statutes of limitations on civil cases, too.

All of this seems to leave sex-abuse survivors in a Catch-22.

Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros
Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg

Last year we considered the “Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” of the Archdiocese of New York. At that point–February 2020–our beloved diocese of Richmond had just begun a similar program.

In New York, the IRCP ostensibly gave sex-abuse victims an opportunity to return to the Church and receive some modicum of justice, even after many decades had gone by. The survivor who blew the whistle on Theodore McCarrick for criminal sexual abuse did so by approaching the NY IRCP in 2017.

Something always seemed fishy, however. For one thing, the reconciliation program called itself ‘independent,’ even though the Archbishop established it and hired the lawyers to run it. For another, the IRCP refused to consider the question of guilt or innocence; payments were made with no admission of wrongdoing by anyone. Third, the program required sex-abuse survivors to sign away the right to sue, thereby protecting the archdiocese forever from the public scrutiny of a courtroom.

When the New York IRCP began, in late 2016, most sex-abuse survivors did not have the right to sue anyway. At that time, New York had one of the most limiting statutes of limitations on sex-abuse cases in the US. You only had until age 23 to sue.

st-patricks-2016
newly renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York

In late 2019, however, that changed. New York State revised its law. Now you have until age 55 to sue. And the legislature also opened a one-year window for sex-abuse lawsuits, no matter when the abuse occurred. They have since extended the window for an extra year, since the virus closed the courts for long stretches of time last year.

It will take years for all the hundreds of new lawsuits to run their course. At least three of the eight dioceses of New York have filed for bankruptcy in the meantime (Rochester, Buffalo, and Long Island.)

This development–the extension of the statute of limitations–has led many of us to wonder about Cardinal Dolan’s real motivations in establishing the IRCP in the first place. Did he launch the program to try to pre-empt the legislative extension of the statute of limitations? Had the Cardinal come up with a last-ditch gimmick to prevent ecclesiastical bankruptcies? (Which ultimately failed to work.)

In last February’s post on this topic, I quoted a New-Yorker journalist extensively. He had asked Cardinal Dolan about why he established the IRCP. Through his spokesman, Dolan replied: “To help victims of sexual abuse, and for no other reason.”

Turns out the Cardinal had other reasons.

In December 2017, the lawyers that Dolan hired, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, spoke on a conference call. They were pitching the IRCP model to the diocesan lawyers in Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester. Feinberg and Biros outlined the program’s benefits. Not benefits for the victims, but for the institution.

“I think Cardinal Dolan feels it is providing the [Church] lawyers in Albany with additional persuasive powers not to re-open the statute of limitations,” Feinberg said.

He went on:

“The whole point is to get the release [from any future lawsuit.] So we offer $10,000. In Buffalo, maybe $5,000. Get the release. We want to be able to show [the legislators in the state capitol in] Albany that people are accepting the money and signing releases. You don’t need to change the statute.”

Feinberg explained the approach they took with survivors:

“If you don’t take what we’re offering, you don’t have to, but what is the alternative? Maybe Albany will change the law, but they haven’t yet.”

Biros went on to explain the IRCP’s strange definition of ‘independent.’

“I just want everyone to be aware that once we take over and implement the program, it remains an open dialogue with the diocese.”

Feinberg noted that the Archdiocese of New York had created both the rules for the IRCP and the “compensation matrix.”

Now, we would know nothing about this secret conference call of over three years ago, were it not for someone on the inside who finally ran out of patience with the endless ecclesiastical subterfuge. A few weeks ago, that person, whoever it is, handed over a copy of the transcript of the Feinberg-Biros conference call to ABC News. The quotes I have cited come from the ABC News report. (No one involved has disputed the transcript’s authenticity.)

From a purely craven, corrupt-businessman point-of-view, the ulterior motives behind the New York IRCP appear reasonable enough. ‘We can get a jump on the problem. The victims will take quick money, especially since right now they have no alternative. This will keep us out of bankruptcy.’

The holy Church, however, holds Herself up as something other than a corrupt business intent on maintaining flush bank accounts. The Church of Jesus Christ actually proposes to teach the world the true meaning of human dignity, as revealed by God in the mystery of Jesus Christ.

Spotlight movieMitchell Garabedian, the lawyer portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the movie Spotlight, put it like this:

“The statements reported by ABC place Cardinal Dolan in a compromising light and are disrespectful to survivors of clergy sexual abuse.”

The Survivors Network put it like this:

We have long known that Independent Reconciliation Programs like the one launched by the Archdiocese of New York in 2016 are designed less to support victims than they are to protect the assets and reputation of the Church… The backbone of the Church’s strategy is to appear to be working on behalf of victims when they are really trying to silence them…

We hope this leaked transcript will encourage survivors around the country to work towards reform that allows survivors to have their day in court… The Church-run programs aim to protect the institution at all costs.

The whole business reminds me about how eloquently Becky Ianni spoke, regarding our Richmond reconciliation program last October. Money helps. But the most important thing is information.

The incumbent prelates continue to bend every effort to prevent information about sex-abuse cases from becoming public. This serves their interest: self-preservation. If we knew the full extent of the facts about all the sex-abuse cases that remain covered-up, we would not hesitate to insist on many, many episcopal resignations.

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.

sacredheartcathedralrichmond
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.