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.

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.

Me and Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper grand-jury report

The PA grand-jury report has a lot of pages. But I can now claim to have perused them all, dear reader.

“Dozens” of sex-abuse victims (or family members) testified before the grand jury. Less than 100. As I said before: First, we honor them.

Second, however, let’s note this: The report primarily consists of documents from the confidential clergy files of the six dioceses. The grand jury came into possession of those documents because the court served subpoenas on the diocesan offices in 2015 and 2016.

We can break down the 1,400 pages of the report into three large sections.

Section One. An overview of each of the six dioceses, with a narrative of particular cases of “institutional failure.”

Section Two. One- or two-page summaries of the depredations of all the accused predator priests (and deacons and seminarians).

Section Three. The responses submitted to the grand jury by the six dioceses, including responses by individual personnel.

The report, therefore, is a systematic attempt to synthesize information from two different sources: 1. The testimony of the witnesses. 2. The documents submitted under subpoena. It is an incredibly valuable collection of information.

This synthesis reveals…

  1. No reasonable person can come away with any doubt that the grand-jury did, in fact, uncover a scandalous failure on the part of diocesan officials between 1960 and 2002. They failed to recognize that the sexual abuse of a minor is a crime that must be brought to justice and punished. They failed to recognize that they had a duty to believe the accusers and mistrust the perpetrators. They failed to recognize that they had a duty to protect potential future victims.
  2. It also reveals, however, that the subpoena’d documents have a context (the on-going relationships of all the priests and bishops involved) that the grand-jury did not have an adequate expertise to understand fully. The assessments of “institutional failure,” while fundamentally correct, do not penetrate to the depth necessary to solve the problems.

What do I mean by that? For one thing, the grand-jury apparently did not possess the complete case files of the clergy who had proceedings against them in Rome. Without those case files, the record is nowhere near complete.

Also, the grand jury (and subsequent news reports) appeared not to understand fully the obligation that a bishop has to a priest of his diocese. The bishop must provide three squares and a roof for all of his priests, no matter what.

But this brings me to…

3. We have a serious problem with the process of arriving at justice in cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy. (Obvious enough, but let me break that down.)

Canonical procedures remain opaque to the general public. Our total reliance on civil authority in this area leaves a huge gap: We may find ourselves completely convinced of an offender’s guilt, but the police don’t have adequate evidence, or there’s a statute of limitations, or some other impediment intervenes.

In other words, when the police and criminal justice system can’t do anything, we need a procedure for establishing the guilt of the accused in an open manner, without having to refer the case to to Rome. And we need ecclesiastical prisons for clergy sex abusers.

…Many Catholic commentators have noted that the report is difficult reading, requires Pepto Bismol, etc.

I grant that freely. But I note that squeamishness about sexual abuse is one of the big problems revealed by this report.

Attorney General Shapiro and the grand jury (in consultation with the FBI) note the use of “euphemisms” in the documents, as part of the effort to conceal the truth. The indefatigable Bill Donahue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has written an intelligent “debunking” of the report. He points out that the euphemisms, to which AG Shapiro referred, actually do not appear in the documents. True enough. But other, horrendously dangerous euphemisms do appear, over and over again.

In the most-moving scene of Spotlight, one of the Boston Globe reporters urges a sex-abuse victim to spell out for her in explicit detail what happened. That is what we need to bring about justice, the reporter says. In my book, that is profoundly correct.

Hindenburg_Model
National Air and Space Museum

…Now, speaking of seeking justice:

As I said, the grand jury interviewed somewhere between 24 and 100 victims or family members of victims. Their testimony certainly plays a significant role in this report.

But the report fundamentally consists of the documents subpoena’d from the dioceses.

Which means: The diocesan officials who had in their possession these documents, and who did not foresee that their publication would embarrass the Church–crushingly, brutally embarrass the Church–and who did not take steps themselves to see justice done somehow: those officials have failed us, the Catholic people. They have failed us very, very grievously.

They cannot say: Well, we have been doing right since 2002! That has nothing to do with this. This has to do with the investigative work in Pennsylvania, done by the civil authority, that began in 2015.

We, the people of the Church, could have been spared this horrible embarrassment very easily. If Church officials had acted on these documents–had published them, had sought out the victims–before they were subpoena’d–this entire catastrophic embarrassment of August 2018 could have been avoided completely.

…Here’s an irony. The Pennsylvania grand-jury has invaded the independent operations of these dioceses, justifiably so. And the grand jury’s work has led to the widespread conclusion that the Church cannot govern Herself properly. So there will certainly be civil laws passed in many states that interfere with the independent operation of the Catholic Church. All totally justifiable.

Meanwhile, the USCCB has spent enormous energies this past decade championing “Religious Freedom.” All that effort has gone down the drain in a few short days. While the bishops blathered on about the Founding Fathers, these documents sat in their archives, ticking like the bomb on the Hindenburg. Nice work, guys. Nice work.

Please resign. We need champions of justice running our dioceses. Not you.

Not Bad, but Good: The PA Grand Jury Report

PA Grand Jury victims

Today at Holy Mass we read the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Pretty famous parable.

The king forgives a huge debt. Turns out that debtor has a debtor of his own, owing much less. But he refuses to forgive. The other servants are outraged. So the king calls his debtor back and righteously condemns him.

Who’s the main character of the parable? A question prompted the parable: Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother’s sins? So: I guess this parable is about the original debtor? About his failure to show mercy? Or maybe it’s about the fellow servants? Their zeal for justice?

No, silly. Obviously the parable is about: The King. God. The mercy of God. He has compassion. He sees reality.

He is the only one in the parable who isn’t desperate. Because He has no needs. He doesn’t owe anyone anything. He has no fear whatsoever of the unvarnished truth.

Out of kindness, in order to get everything straight for everybody, He initiates a reckoning. But He Himself has such endless wealth that He can afford to write off huge debts. It doesn’t matter. He has infinitely more. Infinitely more.

God is the hero of the parable. He is the hero of the Bible. And He is the Spouse of the Church.

…Everybody heard about the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report? How about: Anybody actually read it?

Probably not, because the nauseating recurrent narrative in the Catholic media has repeated itself: The report comes out, and the usual happens. Bishops everywhere begin to talk endlessly about themselves. (Because that is what they do.)

My question is: Why is the release of this grand-jury report an occasion for sorrow? Most of the sorrowful events recounted in it occurred twenty years or more ago. The original events are terribly sad, and sickeningly maddening. But the release of the report is not sad. The release of the report is a triumph. Of the truth.

This moment has come because: the victims have achieved heroic honesty. They have stood up. They have born witness to exactly what we, the Catholic Church, believe in: Justice. Chastity. Truthfulness. The victims have done this in spite of the excruciating pain involved in doing it.

Seems to me that our job right now is to honor these heroes. They have shown great faith in the infinite love of God. Sorting out good from evil in their lives has cost them an enormous struggle. But they did it. They triumphed. This is their hour.

I say: We should rejoice that they have climbed to the top of this terrifying mountain. Now they can see a beautiful sight. God is good, and there is hope.

Many of the sex offenders listed in the report have died. They have met justice. Those still alive should face justice, and let’s hope they will. Seems like we human beings can manage that; we can organize things so that criminals face justice, and a penalty, for what they have done.

Steve Breen statute of limitations in hell
copyright Steve Breen

One thing the report, and the reaction of the bishops the past 36 hours, shows: The bishops of the United States do not know how to organize that. That is: Seeing justice done. They don’t have the foggiest idea how to study facts and make careful judgments.

Thank you, grand jury, for pointing that out. But we knew that already. That has actually been perfectly obvious for many, many years.

All that, really, is just a tawdry sideshow to the real brilliance of the moment. What really happened when this report came out is this: A people abused and suffering stood up, spoke the truth, and brought about a new and better day.