Nota bene: Richard spoke to us here in Virginia in July. He grew up in New Orleans. His article contains hard truths for Catholics and Saints fans alike. But I think we need to understand his experience, and he helps us by expressing it eloquently.
Richard concludes by mentioning the guardian angels. Today’s their feast day.
The Catholic Church and the Art of the Cover-Up
It was the summer of 2011, and I was summoned to the office of a psychologist in Dallas by Raymond Fitzgerald, the President of Jesuit High School, who flew from New Orleans to attend. Jesuit paid for the psychologist as a part of their due diligence, to determine if I was telling the truth about my childhood sex abuse at the hands of Peter Modica, a janitor, and Cornelius Carr, a Theology Teacher at the school.
Before Fitzgerald arrived, I was very nervous. I asked the psychologist, Ronald Garber, how long it would take for him to make his determination. He responded “I already have, you cannot control the nervousness of your hands, you are rocking back and forth.” He continued “When you described to me the first time you were abused, you said that you ‘froze up,’ and that’s what all victims of childhood sex abuse do, and someone who is not telling the truth doesn’t know to say that.”
Father Fitzgerald arrived, and he showed me a photo lineup of many priests, and asked me which one was my abuser. I pointed him out, and Fitzgerald said, “That goes further to confirm what you said was true,” that there were other accounts of sexual abuse against him.
I asked if he wanted me to reach out to the other victims. He immediately responded “No!” When I asked why, he said that “some people don’t want to be found.” I ultimately signed an agreement with a confidentiality clause–which was actually forbidden by the Church, because of the Dallas Charter years before.
What Fitzgerald didn’t know was that I recorded everything…
Up until that point, there were the occasional civil suits, but the victims were always referred to as “John Doe” or a “Jane Doe.” The Church would publicly lament in the media; “Who are these great accusers who are out to destroy our Church?” when they damn-well knew what they had done and what they were doing. In that same breath, they were privately settling cases, and requiring our silence. I no longer had emotions of shame, but I felt angry and guilty. It had occurred to me that because I had signed away my voice and was summoned to silence, that I was complicit and part of the cover-up, while the Church was publicly taunting victims for not naming themselves.
That, along with a confluence of other extraordinary events, would result in me coming forward, and going public with my real name and likeness. I released the audio recordings and agreement to the press, and I was interviewed by The Advocate and Fox 8 News in New Orleans. This would be the catalyst for the scandal in New Orleans to reach a fevered pitch, as victim after victim after victim came forward, now finding the courage to publicly tell their stories of abuse at the hands of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Jesuit Order.
And what does a “Great Accuser” look like? Victims of childhood sex abuse live a life of misplaced guilt and shame, and thus, they keep it a closely held secret. Because it is a secret, they do not reach out for help. Without exception, all victims have PTSD, clinical depression, and anxiety disorder. Because they can’t tell anyone, they self-medicate with alcohol and/or drugs. And when that doesn’t work, and it will stop working, they commit suicide, in numbers. I myself tried to commit suicide when I was nineteen, and I ended up at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, in a coma for five days.
One of my childhood friends was abused by the same man at Jesuit. His sister walked in, broke it up, but never said a word. When my story went public, she pulled back the plunger on the syringe full of more heroin than it takes to kill an elephant, while her brother feverishly tried to beat the locked door down to save her, and she committed suicide. Her last vision was the “lovely rose” that author William S. Burroughs described.
When you sexually abuse a child, not only do you kill the child, but you kill their entire family. When my parents found out about my abuse, my Father stopped coming around, and my Mother fell into a deep depression from which she would never recover.
That is the spectrum of the damage and suffering of the Catholic Church’s crimes against our precious children, for which they alone are responsible. What’s worse, victims and survivors will suffer the results of their abuse for the rest of their lives, until they draw their last breath in the world. There is no cure for what we have, the only thing we can try to do is successfully manage it.
Later, the New Orleans Saints would be accused of assisting the Church in the cover-up, to manage the fallout, to gain control of the narrative, when almost 300 documents and emails between the organizations were discovered. The Saints claimed that they only offered advice to the Archbishop, to be honest and upfront about the abuse. That’s a simple phone call, not volumes of documents. In fact, a local reporter said publicly that while he was interviewing the Archbishop, that Greg Bensel of the Saints was present, and was shooting down a lot of his questions. A reporter from Sports Illustrated did an in-depth story on the scandal, and she confided in me that they flat-out lied to her about the extent of their relationship.
Both the Church and the Saints, with their very long train of very expensive attorneys, argued to seal the documents and were initially successful, as the court appointed “Special Master” recommended that they be sealed. But before the judge could finally rule on the motion, the case was moved to bankruptcy court, where they remain sealed today. Of course the victims and survivors were desperate to know what the documents contained. On their behalf, I asked an attorney, and he told me “Richard, I can’t tell you what is in them, but I can tell you what is not in them, and that is any regard whatsoever for the victims and survivors of their crimes.”
The cover-up continues…
The Archdiocese filed bankruptcy, saying this was to consolidate all the claims and to ensure that all victims would be compensated for what happened to them. This was devastating to the victims. I asked myself “If the Church is exempt from taxes and does not contribute to the tax base, why are they allowed to avail themselves of the courts for relief?” Well, the Church is indeed not insolvent–which is why the court and bankruptcy laws exist. A motion to get the bankruptcy thrown out on those grounds was denied by the court.
I viewed the bankruptcy filing as a litigation tactic. There were many, many cases in civil court at the time. Attorneys were chomping at the bit to depose the Archbishop. He avoided these depositions by citing health reasons, and in one case because the weather was bad. When the Archbishop was finally compelled and ordered to testify by the court, the Bankruptcy case was promptly filed. Now the Archbishop doesn’t have to testify after all, and all those cases become moot and moved to the Bankruptcy court, where they will settle with the victims for pennies on the dollar. All that effort and work by the attorneys, the pain and suffering of the victim’s participation in these cases–all destroyed. Justice denied once more.
Victims were granted a very short period to file their claim in the Bankruptcy. I asked several of them why they didn’t file in time, and they confessed to me that writing down their accounts of their abuse was re-traumatizing, and they simply did not have enough time to painfully describe the horrors they endured at the hands of the Church. If you believe that all the victims in the Bankruptcy are accounted for, I can confidently look you in the eye and proclaim that is simply not true.
The cover-up is well-established…
When I co-founded Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse (SCSA), we quickly learned of a courageous state representative, the Honorable Jason Hughes, had introduced a house bill asking for the civil Statute of Limitations to be extended from 10 to 35 years for sexual abuse committed against children. IRS code states that a Nonprofit 501(c)(3) like SCSA can lose their tax-exempt status for lobbying legislation. But it did not preclude us from sending busloads of survivors willing to testify before House and Senate committees. Their testimonials were devastating and very compelling.
During the House committee hearing, those present were allowed to submit their support or opposition to the bill, by filling out either a green card for support, or a red card for opposition. At the end of hearing, the cards are tallied and read out loud. A priest in the gallery seemed nervous. Green card and after green card was read. At the end, a single, lone red card was read, filed by the priest on behalf of a council of Bishops in Louisiana, of which Archbishop Aymond is the Chairman. The priest sunk in his chair. Not even the very powerful Insurance lobby, who would have to pay for these claims, opposed the bill.
The bill was adopted unanimously, and we got more than we asked for; the Legislature eliminated the Statute of Limitations for sex crimes against children completely, and they included a “look back window” for three years, allowing all previous victims an opportunity for justice. Governor Edwards signed the bill into law. In response, the Archbishop, knowing full-well what he had done in opposition to the bill–which is now a matter of public record–released the following official statement:
“As a Church we remain committed to doing all that we can for the healing of survivors of abuse. This legislation allows those abused not only in churches and schools but in their families, playgrounds, workplaces, youth organizations, and other public businesses where children and teenagers should be safe to pursue their claims in court regardless of when it occurred.”
The cover-up of the cover-up is self-evident…
That, in essence, is the playbook of the Archdiocese, the Archbishop of New Orleans, and the other Orders of the Church: to conceal their crimes and escape responsibility. I never thought I would see the day when the cover-up would actually eclipse the initial acts of sex abuse. What’s even more frustrating is that the survivors are the very ones who are doing the heavy lifting required to fight this abuse. We will no longer make the distinction between those who assist, are complicit, or cover up these crimes, and the Church who committed these crimes against our children in the first place. We will hold you in the same pathetic esteem as the Catholic Church itself.
Greg has blood on his hands. He is directly responsible for his own actions and that of his Church, in their intentional crimes which are the institutionalized, systematic, and the wholesale rape of our precious children. I do not call the Archbishop by his first name out of disrespect, but to emphasize that he is human, and he and the victims and survivors will both be judged by the same criteria when we are all delivered to Saint Peter by the loving arms of the Angels. The only unanswered question remaining is who will get the clouds, and who will get the coals?
[This article first appeared in Big Easy magazine. It is also available at the Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse (SCSA) website. We re-print it here with the author’s encouragement and warm regards for you, dear reader.]