The 1-2 Punch the Catholic Bishops Have Delivered to Clergy Sex Abuse Victims

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Posted in: Criminal Law

Spotlight is a motion picture with a purpose: to deliver the truth of how every adult that could have halted the sex abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese did not. Children were betrayed by priests, bishops, parents, lawyers, journalists, and the buddy culture of men in power. The message: these kids did not have a chance, and it is no wonder they are angry and suffer from severe post-traumatic stress, among many other related problems.

After one walks out of the theater, the inevitable next thought is: we must do better by our children. The same thought has entered Pennsylvania’s consciousness following the three Philadelphia District Attorney grand jury reports on abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and the Attorney General grand jury reports on abuse at Penn State, and in the Altoona-Johnstown Archdiocese. Yet, one continues to see deep frustration on the faces of survivors from all corners of Pennsylvania as the bishops hit high gear lobbying against the victims’ access to justice through statute of limitations reform.

The Reports tell us that adults in power shredded children’s lives. True. Only the bishops and their insurers, however, have routinely leveled an additional, knock-out blow to each victim, either through scorched earth litigation tactics or by lobbying to keep the perpetrators from justice. The trauma these survivors (and their families) already suffered is compounded by the litigation and legislative tactics of the bishops.

The sex abuse alone can cause lifelong debilitating effects, including PTSD and depression, unemployment, alcohol, drug, or sex addiction, and suicide. Children can’t process sex abuse when it happens, and it is simply a scientific truth that multiple factors including shame, guilt and changes in their neurobiology delay victims’ disclosure of abuse until well into adulthood.

The Catholic survivors are subjected to traumatic betrayal twice. First, when the sexual abuse occurs. Second, when society locks them out of the courthouse, and the padlock stays in place because the bishops lobby to keep the doors locked. When a survivor finally has the support and courage to come forward, it is devastating to check on legal options only to learn that the doors remain padlocked, because elected officials defer to the hierarchy that betrayed the victims in the first place. This endless betrayal is a potent destroyer that also can and has resulted in the destruction of survivors’ lives as well as the lives of their families.

Penn State officials’ handling of the sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky is no model of moral best practices except, perhaps, when compared to the bishops’ merciless treatment of abuse survivors who wish to bring predator priests to justice and dare to seek their day in court from all those who caused them to suffer. Penn State did not respond to learning about Sandusky’s horrific behavior by mounting a public relations campaign to smear victims and hire lobbyists to make sure victims couldn’t get to court. You don’t find Penn State lobbyists lurking at press conferences and hearings backing the bills that would revive expired statutes of limitations. They aren’t quoted about why it is so unfair to hold Penn State responsible for the abuse on its campus and in its showers. By and large, Penn State sat down and settled with the victims instead of dragging them through the entire legal process. If all responsible institutions were to do that, and accept their responsibility for the costs of the abuse (and it is only fair those costs are shifted from victims to the ones who caused the abuse), the survivors would only have to deal with one excruciating round of trauma instead of the relentless triggering that is inherent in the current bishops’ choice of callous disregard followed by either hardball litigation tactics for the small number in statute and cold-hearted lobbying against every other victim’s (whether Catholic or not) access to justice.

The Catholic bishops have locked themselves into a position of rigid opposition to victims in the legislatures and the courtrooms. Who exactly has benefited from that? To be sure, the insurance industry that enjoyed collecting premiums for abuse that was never disclosed. But the industry also has sunk untold millions into lobbying against legislation that is inevitable instead of using those resources to improve future protection of children. The irrefutable logic of SOL reform will inevitably work its way through state after state. If the insurance industry were to set and enforce high standards for employers on child protection instead of cancelling sex abuse coverage altogether and resisting justice for the abuse that already occurred, we might avoid repeats of these horrific scandals. That is how risk could be managed intelligently. Right now, the insurance lobbyists are part of the problem as they aid the bishops in their hide-under-a-rock strategy.

So how can we understand the bishops, and the legislators who accede control over child protection to them, like Pennsylvania’s Rep. Ron Marsico? Is their narcissism and sense of entitlement so great that they are willing to continue to traumatize abuse victims for the sake of the Church’s reputation and finances? Are these men the paragons of virtue and morality that the Church would have us believe? They are clearly in conflict with Pope Francis’s admonition in Philadelphia when addressing clergy sex abuse victims: “I pledge to you that we will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead. Clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.” It is likely that they are, unlike Pope Francis, all too similar to ordinary leaders corrupted by power and tragically blind to their constituents’ pain.

Members seem to fear voter backlash if they side with survivors, but when a poll was conducted in New York asking Catholics and other voters if they favored SOL reform, solid majorities sided with the survivors and SOL revival. The poll numbers are reinforced by the fact that the primary and most vocal window sponsor in New York, Assemblywoman Marge Markey, has been repeatedly re-elected with large margins—despite the bishops’ robo-calls against her.

It is time for the trauma to end and the healing to begin, and both demand the justice that can only be gained through reviving expired civil statutes of limitations and, going forward, eliminating the criminal and civil statutes of limitation for child sex abuse. Then society can answer the call of Spotlight to actually protect our children.

Editor’s note: The New York Daily News today is running two articles here and here that highlight more survivors’ struggles to get justice and the obstacles that short statutes of limitations create.

  • PetrusRomanus1

    In addition to the 1-2 punch, bishops in Pennsylvania and elsewhere simply deny that the abuse even occurred, and therefore the “claim” doesn’t even exist. The advisory panels of experts run interference for the bishops who appoint them, saving dioceses and insurance companies a LOT of money. The Milwaukee archdiocese is a leading example, but it could also happen in Pennsylvania.

  • yes34

    It’s quite simple for me to understand the bishops, I just recall the words of former chairman of the National Review Board, Frank Keating who resigned in 2003, ”I make no apology,” said Mr. Keating, who compared some bishops to ”La Cosa Nostra” suggesting that they were continuing to cover up the extent of molestation by members of the clergy.

    As far as Rep. Ron Marsico stance, does his Catholic programming kick in when he arrives at the capital each working day?

    ( are we not all programmed to some extent )

    The Capitol’s centerpiece built in 1906 is modeled after the dome of a church at the Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica.

    Does his subconscious go on ‘Vatican autopilot”at the Capital?

    Or does he fear, ‘The Honorable Ron Marsico Center for History and Government’. wing at Bishop McDevitt High School named last fall in his honor will be renamed?

    Just viewing the clip from his interview with Fox News (July1,2013) explaining the ‘unconstitutionality’ of a proposed Statute of Limitations reform bill clearly shows he’s torn inside, and greatly stressed, exhibited by his body language of rubbing his hands together with fingers stretched out and interlaced.

  • Tedd

    I find the movie Spotlight a great reminder that INSTITUTIONS are liable to make the same self-preserving choices that were shown in the Boston Archdiocese. The end of the film identifies over two hundred Catholic diocese where there have been problems uncovered.

    But if you want to know about how various institutions protect themselves in the same manner, spend some time on the website for The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse (Australia). They list at least 36 case studies on various institutions around the country from the YMCA, to the National Swim organization, to schools, homes for girls or boys, Protestant churches, ashrams, and more.

    If people come away from the movie focused on the Catholic Church, I believe they’ve missed the point. We need to hold any institution accountable for how they treat children.

    • DrRosemaryEileenMcHugh

      As a physician who has met many who have been sexually abused and raped by priests and brothers, I agree that the abuse of children can be associated with other institutions as well. However, if you read more about the Royal Commission of Australia’s findings, over 40 young men who were sexually abused and raped by their priest and brother teachers, in the hometown of Cardinal Pell, have committed suicide when they gave up hope of their stories being believed, because of the denial of the truth, the lies, of the predator clergy, of their superiors, and of the hierarchy. Some later reports puts the number of suicides as at least 55. It was only when a woman became the Prime Minister that the Royal Commission was formed to investigate child sexual abuse in the churches. Because of the manipulative power of the Catholic Church in Australia, the female Prime Minister was soon replaced with a buddy of Cardinal Pell. It is sad when real dads who are government officials, lawyers, judges, and police prefer to protect sexual predator clergy than to protect the innocence of their own children from rape by clergy. When will the criminals be made accountable and put in prison, even when they are bishops and cardinals and popes?
      Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, MD, MSpir

      • Tedd

        Indeed! One of the more difficult lines in the movie is where Garabedean says of Patrick: “He’s one of the lucky ones. He’s still alive.” There were a couple of times when I thought it would be easier, too.

        I wonder, too, how many have committed suicide from other situations. The Catholic Church creates very difficult concurrent impacts, sexual abuse and spiritual abuse and abandonment. It was part of the culture of Hillsong Church in Sydney as well (Protestant). A few years ago, I found out that the church I attended knew something was wrong in my family (I’m not sure how much they knew). But for reasons I am unaware of, they apparently decided not to intervene.

        I do know that we have seen charges brought against at least one bishop here in this country for the crime of endangering children.

        God bless Julia Gillard.

        I know as a survivor of 4 pedophiles I spent a long time trying to find my way in a world that believed only women were raped (and not even that sometimes). As a representative to a state-wide commission tasked with designing base levels of service and training for sexual assault organizations, I remember asking what we could do to make our services more useful to men. The immediate answer was, “We’re not responsible for how men perceive our services.”

        The first counselor I went to (Clinical Psychologist) was at sea completely. I ended up giving him a book.

        It has improved tremendously since then (1994-1995).

        Thank you for your thoughtful response.

        • DrRosemaryEileenMcHugh

          Tedd, thankyou so much for having the courage to share your experience. From survival groups, I have learned more about how much more dangerous it is to be a boy in regard to risk of sexual abuse and rape by clergy and other men. The more child abuse is discussed and the more predators are made accountable, the safer the future will be for children, I hope. Best wishes.

          • Tedd

            That’s why I’m part of the Bristlecone Project. Dr. David Lisak’s vision is that the core of male survivors he is accumulating will be an example for other men who need to know others have survived, too.

            He has photos and a short precis of each man’s story and is taking them on exhibitions, sometimes internationally. I’m familiar with the Royal Commission in part because of some of the video Dr. Lisak took of my story was one of four from the Bristlecone Project requested by the Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM to help train his staff.

          • DrRosemaryEileenMcHugh

            Thankyou for sharing this information. You certainly are doing your part to get the truth known. Thankyou so much! Best wishes!

  • DrRosemaryEileenMcHugh

    Thankyou for this excellent article. I am a family physician. I have met many who have been sexually abused by priests. I am a victim/survivor of a sexual assault myself by a Carmelite priest when I was a young doctor in Dublin, Ireland. I believe Marci Hamilton is giving Pope Francis too much credit. According to the bishop accountability website, Pope Francis protected the sexual predator clergy and refused to meet with the victims when he was archbishop in Argentina.

    Australian lawyer and judge, Kieran Tapsell, who is also very well versed in canon law, says that Pope Francis has not removed the Pontifical Secret. I believe this means that Pope Francis expects the bishops to keep lying and protecting the predator clergy whenever they can, under a binding of secrecy, unless the law forces the truth out of them.

    The one member of the hierarchy who has the courage to do the right thing, in my experience, is the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin. He listened to my story and referred my case directly to the police and then to the Sexual Crimes Unit in Dublin. The priest was removed from active ministry. It is police of integrity, who are not deferential to churchmen, that need to investigate the crimes and criminals in the Church. The pope cannot be allowed any longer to be in charge of the crimes and criminals in his Church. If the pope remains in charge, the Church will remain a haven for the sexual predator clergy, in my view, because the problem is too big for one man, and secular law enforcement is needed.
    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, MD, MSpir

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    “If it (“windows” legislation) passes and has to go through court, then
    so be it,” Rozzi said. “We think we’ll win that fight. What I don’t want
    is colleagues not supporting it because they’ve been scared off by the
    Catholic Church…. Approve the bill and let the courts worry about
    that.”

    The bogus excuses offered by those who would block this important
    children legislation go on and on. First, the victims are “in it” for
    the money; then, the claims will bankrupt the religious organizations
    and jeopardize their missions; next, it is unfair to those accused
    because the cases are so old, documents are lost, memories fade, etc. –
    however, the standard of proof is the same; now, the proposed
    legislative changes are unconstitutional and will be challenged.

    “….Hamilton added that the greatest benefit of eliminating or
    suspending statutes of limitation is that civil lawsuits bring the
    church’s secret archives into the public record, revealing the
    identities of accused predators who had escaped prosecution….”

    This “threat” to institutions is clearly evident in a current clergy
    abuse case being litigated against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The
    extent and expense to which Archbishop Chaput and his legal team have
    gone to keep the records obtained in the discovery process confidential
    are unbelievable. Why such an intense effort? Something to hide?

    If there is one item that has come into the public’s awareness since the
    release of the Altoona-Johnstown GJR into clergy sexual abuse, it is
    the document (“scorecard”) which described a victim payment schedule
    based on the location (on the body) of the evil abuse as well as the
    type of sexual violation perpetrated against these innocent children.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired)
    Philadelphia Police

  • The other thing that amazes me is that there has been no attempt to show the psychological entrapment that young children who have the misfortune to be born into religions such as the Catholic religion and that those children right to self determination is stripped from them the moment the concept of the Catholic god enters their head. This occurs most often before the age of 5.

    Where are the legals actions about this?

  • J.E. Tarrant

    I think this is an example of us doing the easy thing because we don’t want to do the hard thing. I am not Roman Catholic, in fact, I despise th church hierarchy for reasons other than the fact that they’ve permitted their organization to be used as a mafia for pedophiles, however, that doesn’t mean we need to scrap statutes of limitations, or that doing so would even be in the best interest of justice. The authors (almost) got to the heart of the problem and then somehow departed in order to persue their own ends. We need to have better sex education, less shameful attitudes about sex, and more honest dialogue with children about their bodies so that they’re not afraid to come forward immediately, so that we have actual evidence and can corroborate their claims. This would have the added bonus of preventing further damage to the victims, and limit the number of victims. Lengthening statutes of limitations will only serve to encourage those who make false accusations from seeking attention in fiduciary awards from juries quick to vote with their prejudices. The recent “scandal,” of college rape cases, a problem greatly overstated by no less powerful a person than the Vice President of the United States should serve as a lesson. Not only was the scope of the problem exaggerated by at least a factor of 10, several of the high profile complaints that resulted in colleges stripping away due process rights from all men on campus were disproven by the police. For a variety of reasons, attention, money, regret; it turns out some people who lie and claim they were raped when they were not. Imagine how impossible investigating these claims would have been in a decade. Changing laws so that defendants do not have the ability to defend themselves and law enforcement cannot meaningfully investigate is not the answer. Changing our attitudes about sex and our bodies is.

    • “We need to have better sex education, less shameful attitudes about sex, and more honest dialogue with children about their bodies so that they’re not afraid to come forward immediately, so that we have actual evidence and can corroborate their claims. ”

      Of course it is the children’s fault and of course they should be the ones to make accountable and sure you should do all you can to block their right and access to justice

      • J.E. Tarrant

        That’s a great emotional argument, however, not even vaguely what I suggested. It isn’t the children’s fault, it is our fault for not giving them the tools to report the problem WHEN IT OCCURS. That would save them years of agony, and let us catch these people before they victimize many more children. Since a large number (if not all) pedophiles were abused themselves, it would also be working toward an actual solution. I’m suggesting we abandon our ridiculous emotional reaction and desire to take some absurd moral high ground so we may feel better about ourselves, and instead, take a fact based and logical approach to this problem.

  • johndt41

    As an investigative procedural Spotlight is extremely good. But as a document on child abuse the movie falls very short. It fails to recognize that pedophiles are predators and as predators they hunt. Before they have a child to ‘groom’ they need to ‘hunt’ for that child. Pedophiles look for children in dysfunctional families and if there is also abuse in the family all the better because dysfunctional and abusive parents make their children susceptible and ‘safe’ victims for pedophiles. Many parents do not know that it is a parent’s duty (all adult’s really) to keep their children safe. In the scene in which two interviews of survivors are inter cut it is very obvious in one case the mother is so oblivious of her duties as a parent and so needy that she has no idea to protect her child. The other survivor describes a father so violently abusive physically, verbally and emotionally towards wife and children that he has created an extremely abusive home. Both these men were set up by their parents to be sexually abused by an outsider. Often when survivors of sexual abuse by people other than their parents face the abuse and deal with it they later realize the huge part their parents played in their abuse and are devastated all over again. It is evident from this movie that the actual people involved and all the movie people from director/scriptwriter on down see only the abuse by the outsider and miss the parents’ role in the abuse of their children.

  • Alexei Choquet

    Among all the demographics you pointed the finger at as abusers by omission, this post excluded women in power.. is there some agenda more important than victims’ rights or children’s rights’?