Secrecy, Power, Honesty, Humility

The Diocese of Bridgeport, still blithely spending the money of the Catholic faithful, has appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Presenting itself as a victim of injustice, the Diocese alleges that its First Amendment rights have been violated by the order of the State Supreme Court to unseal court records relating to priestly sexual abuse and episcopal cover-up. The Diocese further claims it has not been treated fairly by a succession of state courts that have heard the case. The Diocese complains that all of this happened long ago and that the newspapers only want to rehash old news.

In the eight years that have elapsed since the sexual abuse cases were settled in 2001, the Diocese has taken its case to court and lost consistently. It is difficult to believe that the diocesan right to due process of law has somehow been neglected. In the course of those years the Diocese has spent countless thousands of dollars – shall we say millions? -contributed by the people that could better have been spent to alleviate the suffering of the poor and needy. The diocesan spokesman, Joseph McAleer, refused to state how much money the Diocese has spent on this legal battle.

This is not about the First Amendment. This is not about the intrusion of the government or the media into the internal affairs of the Catholic Church. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state. It does not guarantee the Catholic Church the right to conceal criminal behavior on the part of the clergy, the bishops, and their subordinates.

This is about secrecy. It is not about the priest predators whose names are known. It is about concealing from the public eye the conduct of bishops and their subordinates, who, when informed that some of their priests had committed crimes, chose to hide them rather than report them to the police. This is about bishops and their lieutenants who knowingly loosed the criminals on an unsuspecting public by transferring them from parish to parish without telling anyone. This is about Bishop Walter W. Curtis who shredded documents concerning guilty priests because he did not want anyone to know about their crimes. This is about the diocesan official who described the pretext to be used to explain the transfer of a guilty priest.

This is about the arrogance of power. This is about Bishop Edward M. Egan who airily disclaimed any responsibility for his priests by declaring that they were self-employed, independent contractors. Even he soon realized how foolish that was and sent a letter to all the faithful attempting to clarify his statement. This is about the black wall of silence. This is about bishops and priests closing ranks to prevent anyone from knowing their guilty secrets. This is about the right of the Catholic faithful to know that their priests and bishops are honest, moral, and upright men, not criminals or abettors of criminals.

Above all, this is about little boys and girls whose innocence was ripped away by priests whom they were taught to trust. This is about bishops, who, on learning of these crimes, paid off the boys and girls, now grown to adulthood, under the obligation that they not tell anyone.

This is not about saving the reputation of the hierarchy. This is about the great sin committed in our midst. This is about the duty of the Diocese to confess that sin publicly; to do public penance for that sin; to publicly ask forgiveness of the children whose defenseless bodies were violated; to publicly ask forgiveness of the Catholic community.

This is the time to stop wasting money on legal stonewalling. This is the time for the Diocese to abandon forever its policy of secrecy and to exhibit the humility of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church.justice_symbol

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2 Responses to “Secrecy, Power, Honesty, Humility”

  1. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish Says:

    I am grateful to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for her ruling that in denying the Bridgeport Diocese’s request that church documents remain sealed until the high court decides whether to take up the case in the fall.

    Secrecy and the abuse of power have brought the institutional Roman Catholic Church to this point and only truth, justice, and the ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY the the U.S. bishops promised in 2002 will begin to turn it around.

    There should be no accomodation in law that gives more protection to sexual predators and any accompanying enablers, individuals, religious denominations or public entities then to the very real victims of childhood sexual abuse.

    This is a step in the right direction and the Diocese of Bridgepost, Connecticut should abide by it as soon as possible.

    Making these documents available for study should give some sense, context and an understanding of what led to failure of bishops, past and present, along with lesser church officials not only to do the morally right thing but to obey the criminal statutes regarding the sexual abuse of children.

    A further step would be to remove all criminal and civil statutes of limitation regarding the sexual abuse of children in all states as has been done in Delaware and include in that a civil window of at least two years for bringing forward previously time barred cases of abuse by anyone and any institution.

    Moreover, laws in any states that exempt any group, from mainline religious denominations or institutions down to the seemingly most benign local cult, from the laws that the rest of society are required to observe should be struck down.

    In this particular case the Supreme Court has already ordered the release of those files. Church leaders should comply. In all likelihood that material will shed light on the history of this horrific abuse of power and authority by bishops that resulted in untold thousands of children being sexually abused who would not have been abused by a particular priest had the bishops dealt with these predators when they became aware of their criminal and mortally sinful behavior. Indeed, they should have been excommunicated on the spot.

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    Victims’ Advocate
    New Castle, Delaware

  2. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish Says:


    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    Victims’ Advocate
    New Castle, Delaware

    The October 5, 2009, decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in response to the Bridgeport, Connecticut Diocese’s request to keep church files and records sealed is likely to be significant in that it sets a precedent for motions by any religious denomination whose leadership would seek to conspire to cover up for sexually abusive ministers.

    In addition, such a precedent could compel other public and private institutions to unseal their records in similar situations.

    This is a step in the right direction and the high court should be applauded for this decision as should the secular newspapers which pursued the release of these documents.

    It is particularly heartening for those of us in the Roman Catholic Church who have long pressed for the accountability and transparency that was promised by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 but which leadership has been slow in delivering.

    For example, it has been four years since the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report on the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia was published yet little has been done substantively to address its recommendations even though the archdiocese’s self serving and minimizing response was rebutted point by point by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

    In New York the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and the state’s Catholic Conference have joined forces with the Orthodox Jews to continue opposing attempts to change childhood sexual abuse laws, especially any which would include the opening of a civil window for bringing forward previously time barred cases of abuse – by anyone!

    Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Brooklyn diocese even went so far as to threaten a local Catholic legislator some months ago with the closing of his parish church if he supported the Markey-Duane Bill.

    Such actions by episcopal leaders in attempts to avoid their responsibility for exposing untold numbers of children to the perversity of such spiritually corrupted individuals is a contradiction to everything Jesus Christ taught.

    The recent SCOTUS decision, however, and the expected release of files, records and testimony by the institutional church in Bridgeport, Connecticut should provide a window into a very secret hierarchical world, one that has been protected and enabled by clericalism.

    It will help to expose the how and why of a religious denomination’s gross failures to protect the bodies and souls of countless vulnerable individuals.

    The expectation is that these documents will show just who the bishops, religious superiors and other church officials were who made the decisions to protect known sexual predators from discovery; individuals who were routinely transferred from place to place without an ounce of pastoral concern for the children victimized. Such a template would be applicable across the United States.

    The absence of justifiable anger and rage for what was done to innocent children over decades is appalling and is surpassed only by the lack of empathy and pastoral concern by the bishops themselves.

    Neither the bishops nor other religious superiors have taken responsibility for the abuse of their power and authority which actually created what is referred to as the church’s sexual abuse scandal.

    “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” was the way Lord Acton put it.

    Is it too much to expect that the consciences of the American bishops will be touched enough that they will support the removal of all criminal and civil statutes of limitation in regard to childhood sexual abuse and direct their respective state Catholic Conferences to lobby for the same?

    Their refusal to support such legislative reform denies the protection of law to all children.

    There are precedents as close as the state of Delaware where all criminal and civil statutes of limitation have been removed and the two year civil window for previously time barred cases of childhood sexual abuse closed just this past July.

    Sadly, church leadership and Catholic Conferences in a number of states including New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland continue in their vicious opposition to any legislative reform that would bring child abuse statutes into the 21st century while not letting the truth get in the way of advancing their self-serving agendas.

    In a recent interview, the Bridgeport, Connecticut bishop, the Most Rev. William Lori, said the church has apologized and improved. “The Catholic Church today is one of the safest places your child can be, thanks to all the steps the diocese has taken,” he said. According to Lori, “it is about the future, not the past.”

    Such statements by Bishop Lori are disingenuous. Accountability and transparency in the present provides neither justice nor a firm purpose of amendment for the crimes and sins of the past.

    Now, adding insult to the injury inflicted on victim/survivors of clerical sexual abuse is the public statement of support for “Bishop Lori In His Diocese’s Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court,” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This statement of support was made at the meeting of the Administrative Committee of the USCCB on September 15 and 16 in Washington, D.C.

    More than just a statement of support, it appears to indicate a backsliding on the bishops’ promises of accountability and transparency which were made in 2002 while it follows the lead of the Holy See whose United Nations representative, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, recently spoke to in response to charges of gross violations of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child to which it is a signatory.

    Tomasi minimized the sex abuse problems of the Catholic Church while suggesting that the Protestant churches in the U.S. were much worse offenders.

    A mindset that uses, “they’re doing it too” as a defense, works no better in the hallowed halls of the United Nations then it does in the school yard.

    Particularly distressing is this paragraph from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ official statement which can be found at their website:

    “The Bishops of the United States have taken sustained, concrete steps to fulfill our pledge to ensure a safe environment for children and young people in the Church, and to promote healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors of sexual abuse. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (2002) was a prominent milestone in that longstanding commitment.”

    While child protection professionals acknowledge that programs have been put in place by church leadership, it must be remembered that the actions taken by the bishops in 2002 were not of their own choosing but rather ones they were forced to take largely in response to public outrage. As such it will be some time before any long term success attributable to these programs can be adequately evaluated.

    Moreover, while the bishops mention the promotion of “healing and reconciliation” they do not mention that justice is a human and civil right that victims of sexual abuse are entitled to pursue and which the USCCB should be promoting.

    The bishops do not profess their belief in these victims’ rights nor do they indicate any commitment to remove the archaic statutes of limitation that exist in many states.

    Trafficking in individuals for sexual exploitation, pornography, the sexual abuse of children, young people and vulnerable adults are pernicious societal problems and certainly there should be no accommodation in law that gives more protection to sexual predators and their enablers then it does to the victims of such horrific physical, sexual and psychological violations which have little to do with the separation of church and state and everything to do with obeying the laws that that an entire society is obliged to follow.

    What still appears to be missing in the bishops’ recent statement is a strong pastoral response for the violations victims of childhood sexual abuse have had to endure by these trusted representatives of God and the subsequent betrayal by those whose first duty was to protect them.

    One cannot profess pastoral concern for those sexually, physically or psychologically abused while continuing to oppose attempts which would bring statutes covering such criminal and aberrant behavior into the 21st century.

    Jesus was angry and he expressed rage, especially in Matthew 18:6 where he admonished, “If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    Religious leaders in the United States and around the world would do well to reread the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child and the 2002 follow up Shadow Report.

    Then, rather than complain that others are worse then they, church leaders should, in the words of Matthew 7:3, ”cast out the beam in their own eyes that they fail to see.”

    Sister Maureen Turlish is a member of both Voice of the Faithful and the National Survivor Advocates Coalition. In addition, she is a Delaware educator and victims’ advocate who testified before the Delaware Senate and House Judiciary Committees in support of Delaware’s 2007 Child Victims Law.

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