Archive for the ‘Sexual Abuse Crisis’ Category

The Church I See

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

We have all seen the horror stories over the past few months about sexual abuse in the Church. We have all been disgusted and enraged by them. For some, it has been too much. They have decided to leave the Church because of all the ugliness they see.

I understand that. I see the same ugliness, more close up and personal than most people do. I have been working in the child protection program of the Archdiocese since 2005. I have read the public reports and I’ve read through the files of priests who have been abusers. I’ve read academic studies of child molestation and the testimony of victims. Part of my job is to help investigate allegations, so I’ve talked personally and at length to many victims of abuse. I see the raw ugliness of the sins that were committed against these innocent people. At times it’s overwhelming, and it is always depressing. I’ve also seen the poor responses, the indifference, sometimes the hostility of Church authorities who have tried to ignore, deny, deflect, or conceal what was going on. So yes, there is much ugliness.

But that’s not all I see when I look at the Church I love. Even with everything that’s been going on, and all the sin and evil in the Church, I still see so much beauty. I see things like:

  • The Holy Hour of Prayer for the victims of sexual abuse that we held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. What could be more beautiful than adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the devotion of those who were there —  mostly young adults.
  • The deep reverence of priests towards the Eucharist during exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and even during daily Mass.
  • The profession of final vows by the Sisters of Life. A spectacular liturgy, sublime music, and the powerful witness of women who were dedicating their entire lives to the Lord and his least ones.
  • The consecration to Mary that my wife and I made on the feast of Our Lady of Knock. Mary has been a source of so much grace and consolation to us that it was wonderful for us to offer ourselves back to her.
  • The Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, which we visited recently. Such a powerful devotion, and a wonderful, peaceful location for prayer and reparation.
  • The ardent curiosity and commitment of the young adults who come to our monthly Discussion and Discipleship group. We talk about Church teaching on tough topics like contraception, life issues, and sex abuse. You can sense the yearning and hunger for truth in the hearts of these wonderful people.
  • The sublime beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass and the noble simplicity of the ordinary Mass.
  • The sight of members of the Legion of Mary, praying the Rosary at the Grand Central subway station. Such a wonderful public witness of the power of prayer.
  • The dedication of so many loyal Catholics whose hearts burn with love for Christ and his Church, and who are desperately looking for something to do to correct the abuses.

There certainly has been much ugliness in the Church, and we need to be ruthless in eliminating it. But I refuse to dismiss the whole because of the rot in some of its members. Without the Church, I would know nothing of God, I would never have encountered Christ, and I would still remain in my sins without hope. I totally relate to what St. Peter said when Jesus asked if the apostles would leave him because of his hard teachings, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

St. Paul wrote that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27)

We wicked foolish humans have done our worst to deface and desecrate the Bride of Christ. We now have to do our best to cleanse her so that she can truly be without blemish and we can present her back to the Bridegroom as he desires. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but the Church I see is worth fighting for.

That’s because the Church I see isn’t the one tarnished by ugliness, but the one whose beauty remains eternal.

The Truth is Our Most Important Ally

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

In recent weeks, we’ve seen an abundance of news stories about the crisis facing the Church. The letter released by the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States has begun a new phase of the crisis, by leveling some deeply troubling allegations. There is a great deal of anger and concern among the faithful, but there is also a lot of confusion about what is actually going on and what can and should be done about it.

At this troubled time, a relentless pursuit of the truth will be our best ally in dealing with the current crisis. But we have to leave ideologies, axe-grinding and agendas behind. We need, as the old TV character Sgt. Joe Friday insisted, to stick to “just the facts”. Here’s my attempt to clear up some of the confusion.

I think it’s vital to be clear about the specific issues that are in play right now. Some of them overlap, but at their heart they are separate problems that require particular corrective responses. As I see it, there are four basic issues.

The sexual abuse of children by clergy. This was the primary focus of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and it has been a major issue for the Church since at least 2002, when the Boston abuses became public. I consider this problem to be largely behind us, and it is no help for people to act as if nothing has changed since the adoption of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. We are still unearthing old cases of horrible abuse, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there is anything like widespread abuse of minors by clergy taking place now. In fact, all the evidence is to the contrary, and even the Grand Jury Report notes the dramatic changes that have occurred since 2002.

The dioceses across the United States have spend millions of dollars on prevention efforts, including training and background checking, and there has been a vast improvement in the way that cases are handled. In fact, we should have no problem with any outside organization auditing our files to see how we’re doing. If there are deficiencies, we need to have them identified right away so that we can correct them. But we also need to make abundantly clear that we will redouble our efforts and be held accountable to our absolute adamantine commitment that any offender will be excluded from any contact with minors in any program or institution of the Church.

Sexual harassment and oppression of seminarians. This is the major focus of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, and many of the other allegations that have been made since those became public. These allegations are particularly appalling. The idea that priests (or upper classmen seminarians) who are in positions of authority would exploit the power disparity between them and their students is utterly reprehensible, a sin that must be extirpated as soon as possible. These offenses corrupt vulnerable men and they poison the entire ethos of a seminary, which is to form young men in a life of holiness.

So little is known about the scope of this problem, and much needs to be done to get to the facts. Investigations clearly need to be done, which means that people need to come forward on the record with testimony and supporting evidence. To ensure that will happen, we have to institute and enforce robust whistleblower protections for priests and seminarians who provide evidence. Boards of Trustees of the seminaries need to take the lead on this, in conjunction with independent investigators. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, then they should be replaced by those who are, or outside help such as accreditation boards should be welcomed.

Sexual infidelity by clergy. This has primarily been centered on the issue of “gay priests”, although infidelity is not limited to them. From what we know so far, though, there is certainly a some connection between active homosexual clergy and both of the prior issues.

The exploitation of seminarians is clearly a homosexual problem. The Holy See issued a strong directive in 2005 that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”. A seminary should be a place where holiness and human formation are the priority, and sexual dynamics have no place distracting the men from that work. It would seem to me to be grossly unfair to a man with same-sex attraction to be put into an all-male environment, which would necessarily be a constant occasion of sin. Just imagine putting a young adult male with normal sexual desires into an all-female dorm for four years.

It has to be noted that the sexual abuse of minors is not primarily a problem of homosexuality, although there clearly is some overlap. Pedophilia is a very complicated phenomenon. The clinical definition of pedophilia is a prolonged sexual attraction to minors 13 years old or younger. The large majority (over 70%) of the victims nationwide fall into that age group, but over a quarter were older teens. Studies have shown that the vast majority of men who have clinical pedophilia actually consider themselves to be heterosexual, and the clinical studies do not support the idea that homosexuals are more likely to be child molesters. Nevertheless, it would seem obvious that same-sex attraction has to be a relevant factor in the sexual abuse of mid-to-late teenagers.

The response to sexual infidelity of clergy is not limited to those with same-sex attraction, and it certainly is nothing new. If you read the biography of every saint who was a bishop or an abbot, you will see that they struggled with reforming the clergy away from sinful behavior. Clearly, every priest and bishop must be called to (and helped with) fidelity to their obligations of celibacy (not getting married), continence (no sexual activity), and chastity (properly ordered sexual desires). Careful attention must be paid to friendships and activities that undermine those commitments. Worldliness in general must be addressed, since moral laxity is contagious.

No matter what celebrity priests might say, it is imperative that the Holy See’s directive about homosexuals in the priesthood and seminary be taken seriously and implemented. This should not create an open season or “witch hunt” for gay priests, but a time of cleansing and purification of the clergy.

Ensuring the holiness and fidelity of the clergy is the responsibility of individual bishops, but they should not hesitate to seek assistance from lay people in pursuing investigations. We need people to come forward with facts, not with rumors or innuendo. In fact, we lay people can be a big help in this regard — we all need to live in a way that is less worldly, more ascetic, more chaste. It is hard to expect our clergy to be pure if we are not pure, but a renewed commitment to reforming our lives and living according to the Gospel can’t help but aid our brothers in their own path to holiness.

The failure to correctly handle abuse cases. This includes covering up, moving offenders around, failing to report to law enforcement, punishing whistleblowers, and creating a culture of silence. Clearly, in the past, the three problems discussed above were poorly dealt with by Church authorities. The revelations in 2002, subsequent disclosures in dioceses around the nation, the Grand Jury Report, and the McCarrick case make that abundantly clear. And while the first problem (sexual abuse of minors) is being dealt with, the other two problems need serious and vigorous attention — immediately.

In this, we need our bishops to step up to the plate and exercise the governance responsibilities that are part of the charism and burden of their office. This has to be done at the local level, since the problems stem from specific local characteristics and activities, not from broad national generalities.

Cardinal DiNardo, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the other day that said some good things, but he left others out:

I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop [i.e., Archbishop McCarrick] could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò [the former Nuncio] brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops.

That’s a good start, but it doesn’t even address what will be done about the problems of sexual harassment of seminarians or sexual infidelity of clergy. Amazingly, it gives no indication that there is any sense of urgency. And it is a sad irony that the “plan of action”, which will supposedly enhance transparency, hasn’t been shown to anyone and nobody even knows who is involved in developing it. There are hundreds of people in our dioceses, and thousands in the private sector, who could offer excellent help and guidance in producing a plan to ensure internal integrity and whose involvement would assure greater public confidence in the process and the result. After all the terrible results of years of insularity and secrecy, USCCB needs to understand that the old ways don’t work any more if they’re to retain any credibility they might still have.

One thing is perfectly clear — in all of this, the truth is our most important ally. We are in a burgeoning crisis, and time is short. We have to get past politics, personalities, self-preservation, ideologies, agendas, fear of legal liability and personal embarrassment, and get to the truth. The truth is all that matters. After all, we have it on good authority that “the truth will set you free”.

Calling Sin by its Real Ugly Name

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

As reparation for my sins, and to help me be a better protector of children, I have been reading the Grand Jury Report from Pennsylvania. The Report documents the history of clerical sexual abuse in six of the Pennsylvania dioceses (excluding Philadelphia and Johnstown-Altoona, which have been the subject of other reports). It is truly horrifying reading, enough to make your blood boil with rage at the men who did these wicked evil demonic things and the foolish incompetent men who failed to properly respond to them.

The most horrifying thing about the report is not just the cold, clinical way in which these awful sins are described by the Report. That’s somewhat understandable, because it’s an official document and they should strive for a tone of objectivity. Rather, it’s the cold, clinical, impersonal way that the internal Church documents discuss the offenses and how diocesan officials were reacting and handling them.

The Report singles one statement that is really beyond belief, but it is sadly not untypical:

In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: “This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist. (6)

That kind of indifference to the victims and solicitude for the offenders is all too typical of the internal Church documents cited in the Report. It is incomprehensible to me that those diocesan officials did not die of shame when they read Matthew 18:6 (“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”) and 19:14 (“Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven”).

One of the hallmarks of the culture of silence and cover-up was the systematic use of euphemisms to describe what was happening. Terms such as “inappropriate sexual relationship”, “boundary issues”, “this difficult time”, and priests being “reassigned” or “out on sick leave” were used to conceal the true nature of what was happening. Plain words like “crime”, “sin”, “rape”, “sodomy”, and “torture” were rarely if ever used.

We have to call sin by its real name. Yes, those names are ugly, but not as ugly as the sins they describe. Nothing is as ugly as that. The Catechism provides a full panoply of very blunt talk about sexual sin, such as:

  • “Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.” (CCC 2356)
  • “sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on children or adolescents entrusted to their care… is compounded by the scandalous harm done to the physical and moral integrity of the young, who will remain scarred by it all their lives; and the violation of responsibility for their upbringing.” (CCC 2389)
  • “Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices.” (CCC 2396)
  • “intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (masturbation, CCC 2352)
  • “gravely contrary to the dignity of persons” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “grave scandal when there is corruption of the young” (fornication, CCC 2353)
  • “disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure” (lust, CCC 2351)
  • “a grave offense” (pornography, CCC 2354)
  • “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law.” (CCC 2357)

You hear none of that plain language in the internal documents of the Church cited in the Report. Indeed, you get little sense that the gross immorality of the abusive behavior was even on the radar. Nor do you feel any degree of moral outrage at the evil behavior of the offenders, nor any effort to seriously discipline them. There is virtually no indication that any bishop ever seriously considered using the ample penal procedures of the Canon Law. All the priests were treated as if they had an illness to be treated quietly, not as if they had committed grevious sins for which they needed to repent and do reparation.

The only way that this horrendous scandal can be adequately dealt with requires first and foremost that we tell the truth. About the failures to respond to allegations appropriately. About the failures to bring law enforcement into the picture. About the failure to protect others from known offenders. And, to be fair, about the strides that we have taken in the last decade to improve things.

But more than anything else, we need to call sin by its real ugly name. And treat it with the revulsion it deserves.

Preaching, Practicing, and Conversion

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Last week, the Church marked the 50th anniversary of the great encyclical letter of Blessed Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae. This event is being commemorated by Catholics around the world who share the Holy Father’s beautiful vision of marriage and love. We are particularly noting the Holy Father’s prescience in foreseeing all the ills that would befall society if contraception and sex outside of marriage were to become accepted.

This year also happens to mark the 43rd anniversary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s comprehensive declaration on sexual morality, Persona Humana, which is best-known for its unequivocal condemnation of all kinds of sexual activity outside of marriage, including homosexual acts and masturbation. It also marks the 37th anniversary of St. Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, which is noted for its magnificent teaching on the beauty of marriage and the integrity of married sexuality, including a rejection of any form of contraception. It is also the 26th anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which comprehensively catalogued Church teaching on marriage and sexuality, again including an unequivocal condemnation of all sexual acts outside of marriage and any contraceptive act. It is also the 23rd anniversary of the Pontifical Council for the Family’s compendium of Church teaching and advice for families in educating their children, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality.

We can also note the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (13th anniversary), theUnited States Catholic Catechism for Adults (from the U.S. Bishops — 12 years old), and Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (also USCCB — 9 years old), all of which reiterate the same immemorial Church teachings on marriage and sexuality.

All of these teachings offer us a beautiful, uplifting and affirming understanding of the nature of the human person, the meaning of our bodies, the way to experience true love, and the means to embrace the gifts of fertility and new life. If people accepted and abided by them, there would be an immeasurable increase in human happiness, and many of our social ills would be eradicated. Just imagine what life would be like for women in particular. There would be no more abusive objectification of women through pornography, no degrading hook-up culture, no sex trafficking, and no sexualization of young girls. Marriages would thrive in a climate of actual mutual self-giving and respect. The #MeToo movement would be incomprehensible and unnecessary.

Tragically, that’s not the case. The destructive legacy of the sexual revolution is everywhere to be seen and is even worse than Blessed Pope Paul predicted. The signs are all around us and are  almost tiresome to repeat  — the saturation of culture with pornography, denigration of women in popular music, out-of-wedlock births, a dehumanizing dating scene based on meaningless sex, the decline in marriage, the breakdown of families, abortion, and on, and on, and on. Hearts have been twisted into thinking that this is all normal and acceptable, instead of being an abberation from God’s plan for human life and love. Opinion surveys repeatedly show that Catholics generally do not accept the teachings of the Church on sexual morality and are largely no different from the rest of society in approval of non-marital sex, homosexual acts, contraceptive use, cohabitation, etc. We are definitely not practicing what our Church is preaching, and we are paying the price.

In fairness, it has to be said that regular Mass-goers are more likely to accept Church teaching, but the numbers are still appallingly low. It is also enormously encouraging that there is a core group of Catholics — especially young adults — who not only accept but cherish the teachings of the Church and see them as the liberating and life-giving gift that God intends them to be.

The sex abuse crisis that we have been going through as a Church and society is certainly an outgrowth of the sexual revolution. It stems from the evil lie that sex is merely a physical act with no deeper meaning and no necessary connection to marriage. It then adds the perverse idea that it can be used as an instrument of power, exploitation and oppression. The sins of abusive clergymen are wicked on several levels. They are violations of the absolute prohibition on sex outside of marriage; they are an inexcusable breach of the obligation of perpetual continence for the clergy; in most cases they are acts that the Church has called “acts of great depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”; they are horrific betrayals of trust that corrupt the innocent; they cruelly mistreat people made in the image and likeness of God as if they were mere instruments for use; and they are egregious acts of violence that leave lasting scars. They also weaken — if not destroy — the credibility of the Church in teaching the will of God for sexuality, and lead people to believe that there is no truth in it. In characterizing these acts, weak phrases like “disappointing” or “morally unacceptable” are nowhere near sufficient. They must be condemned in no uncertain terms as wicked sins that cry out to heaven for justice.

In this context, it’s hard for our priests to preach the truth about sexuality. It must be disheartening that so few of their flock are practicing what the Church preaches, and to read the headlines about the sins of other clergymen. But we cannot be satisfied with this status quo. Those of us who treasure and live by the teachings of the Church must stand up and speak the truth, and encourage our clergy to do the same. Even with all the negative factors in play, this is no time for defensiveness, it is a time for boldness. God’s truth about sexuality is good for us and good for society, and is the ultimate answer to all the sexual sins that horrify us.

The Church has given us a wealth of teachings about sexuality. We need more preaching. We need more practicing. And we all need more conversion.

Cardinal McCarrick and the Integrity of the Church

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

The news about the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has produced a great deal of heat in secular and Catholic circles, and very little light. Several online pundits have used this news to bash the Church as thoroughly corrupt. One even claimed that “of all the institutions and societies that intersect with my life, the Church is by far the most corrupt, the most morally lax, the most disillusioning, and the most dangerous for my children”.

These are outrageous calumnies. They leave people with the false impression that the Church has done nothing to combat child sexual abuse. And they totally misunderstand the real significance of the Cardinal McCarrick story — as much as it is a tragedy and a crime, it is also in reality a success story.

It proves that nobody is above the law, and that the system in place to handle allegations of sexual abuse really works. It proves that people can rely on the Church to root out corruption and to protect everyone who comes to her. And it encourages other victims to come forward and tell the truth about what happened to them.

I am a lay person who loves the Church and wants to keep the Bride of Christ “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). If you look around the country, you will see hundreds of people like myself — safe environment directors, victim assistance coordinators, review board members, diocesan attorneys — who are doing the same thing in every diocese. The vast majority of them are lay people, and there is no question that they have the support of their bishops and clergy. I know that because I hear it all the time from my Archbishop and our priests.

Every diocese has elaborate procedures in place to handle complaints about sexual abuse of minors. I am part of the team in the Archdiocese that does that. In the Cardinal McCarrick case, as in all other cases involving allegations against clergy, we followed our process precisely, gathering all the relevant evidence and pursuing the truth wherever it led. (I should note that I was not an active part of that investigation, which was conducted by other members of our team.)

Our procedure is that whenever a complaint comes to our attention, we always refer it immediately to law enforcement. Every time. Always. We then step back and let law enforcement do their investigation. We cooperate 100% and let them do their jobs. In most cases, the allegations cannot be prosecuted because they took place too long ago. So law enforcement notifies us of their conclusions and we take over from there.

The Archdiocese then does our own investigation. We have hired an independent firm of private investigators who are former federal law enforcement agents, and they spearhead the investigation. They interview witnesses, gather documentary evidence, all the things that seasoned investigators do. Archdiocesan staff also assist in the investigation. Our diocesan attorney has a vast amount of legal experience and has conducted literally hundreds of investigations. I am a former Assistant United States Attorney and Assistant District Attorney and I have done hundreds of criminal investigations. We are professionals, we take this work very seriously, and we leave no stone unturned. We are given complete discretion in carrying out these investigations.

These cases are very, very difficult. The allegations usually involve events that took place decades ago. Many of the potential witnesses don’t remember any relevant details from so long ago or may even be dead. Very few of the incidents were reported to anyone at the time they occurred. Independent evidence that can corroborate or contradict the allegation is very hard to find. There is no physical evidence that can be examined forensically. Assessing the credibility of witnesses is a critical factor, and can be very challenging even to experienced professionals.

At a certain point in the investigation, the accused priest is interviewed. He is represented by an attorney and has been given access to all the results of the investigation. He has every opportunity to present his side of the story.

Once the investigation is complete, the case is presented to our Archdiocesan Advisory Review Board. This consists of several judges, a psychiatrist, a religious sister, a priest and several lawyers. They all have a great deal of experience and wisdom, and they are very engaged and proactive. If they think that more investigation is warranted, they ask for more information. In some cases (like the Cardinal McCarrick case), they ask the accuser and the accused priest to personally appear before them to give their testimony. They evaluate each case based on the hard facts, not on rumors or innuendo. If they find the evidence sufficient to substantiate the allegation, they say so. And they don’t hesitate to exonerate priests when there is insufficient evidence. They call them as they see them.

Backing all this up is an intensive program of child protection that is designed to minimize the risk of future incidents. We don’t do a good enough job letting people know about this. We background check everyone who works with minors, whether paid or volunteer – we’ve done almost 130,000 checks since our program began. We train everyone who works with minors in the signs and prevention of child sexual abuse, and we provide age-appropriate lessons to children too. We have a team of former police officers who conduct onsite visits to our parishes and schools to see if our policies are being implemented. We have detailed Codes of Conduct and policies to make our standards of behavior clear. And we are audited every year by an independent team that makes sure we’re doing our jobs. This involves a huge amount of labor and money, and it represents a major commitment by the Church.

There is also a separate and extensive process that takes place to determine if a cleric is has committed a crime of sexual abuse against a minor as defined by Canon Law. That process is initiated and conducted by officials here at our Tribunal Office. It can ultimately lead to a proceeding in Rome before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which can decide to dismiss the accused from the clerical state (i.e., “laicize” him). I am not a canon lawyer, so I am not qualified to explain that process and I have no idea how it will play out in the case of Cardinal McCarrick. But it is a vital part of the way that the Church addresses these terrible offenses.

So when people allege that the Church is not doing enough to police herself, that defames all of the people across the country who are doing everything they can to the best of their ability to make sure that justice is being done and that future crimes are prevented. When people claim that the Church doesn’t care, or that we haven’t improved, they are just showing their ignorance of the facts.

It is especially aggravating when people claim that the laity is somehow part of the problem for either not caring or not taking action. Every single person who was involved in the Cardinal McCarrick investigation was a lay person. With two exceptions, our Review Board consists entirely of lay people. Everyone who works in my Safe Environment Office is a lay person, and the vast majority of those who implement and enforce our policies in the parishes and schools are lay people acting under the leadership of their pastors. Here in the Archdiocese, lay people are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

It’s also not fair to accuse the bishops or the priests of not caring. Our Archbishop, and I believe the other bishops in the United States, are all sincerely trying their best. The priests of the Archdiocese have been very supportive of what we have been doing. We’re not perfect, and neither are our bishops or priests. But the number of priests who have been found guilty of sexual abuse is still minuscule and the vast majority of our clergy are good and holy men. Of course, we can always do better, and even one offense is a horrendous crime. But this isn’t the 1970’s anymore, and we’re never going back to those bad old days.

The ultimate lesson of the Cardinal McCarrick case is that nobody is immune to sin. And these sins are terrible. For those of us who are working in this area it’s like swimming through a sewer every day with your mouth open. It’s horrible work, and you can feel the presence of the Evil One, who would do anything to corrupt the Church and scandalize God’s faithful people.

Writing blog posts from the sidelines, repeating rumors and conspiracy theories, and publishing anonymous allegations and grievances are no help whatsoever in fighting this evil. We need more people to do what’s best for the church and God’s people – help us root out the corruption no matter where it is so that we can ensure the integrity of the bride of Christ.

A Culture of Protection

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

In the past few weeks, we have seen a series of lurid and shocking stories about sexual exploitation in the entertainment industry. Accounts by actresses of disgusting sexual harassment and assault by powerful industry leaders. The continuation of the infamous “casting couch” where sexual favors are the price for advancing a career. Abuse of child actors that is excused, overlooked or explained away. And the conspiracy of silence and retribution that prevents victims from coming forward and allows offenders to act with impunity.

In the Church, we have seen more than our share of this. When the major scandal broke out in 2001, we were all horrified at the extent of child sexual abuse that had occurred, as well as the ineffectiveness (and in some cases culpable inadequacy) of the Church’s response.

But things have changed dramatically in the Church. In creating a safe environment for children, a protective corporate culture is the most important element. In the Church, we have successfully made child protection a key part of our regular course of business and we have made it unequivocally clear that any kind of sexual sin against minors is utterly unacceptable. We have put into place strong policies that are aimed to prevent any abuse. These policies are taken very seriously by the leadership of the Church (the Archbishop, Chancery, pastors, principals, DRE’s, etc), who have all demonstrated repeatedly that they are committed to the program. We have demonstrated over and over again that we are open to receiving complaints, we take all allegations seriously, we vigorously investigate them, and we are firm in correcting any problem.

Like every other diocese in the country, the Archdiocese has put into place comprehensive policies for child protection. We require all those who will be in contact with children to be screened (including a criminal background check) and trained in our policies and in how to recognize and respond to potential child abuse situations. Our policies address a wide range of potential situations, including overnight and day trips, online safety, professional boundaries, and child pornography. We regularly review and adapt our policies to address new situations. And we have a team of retired law enforcement officers who visit our parishes and schools to evaluate the effectiveness of our policies at the local level and to recommend any changes or updates that are needed. We are audited annually by an independent firm hired by the US Bishops’ Conference, and the audit results are submitted to the National Review Board and made public.

We have a zero tolerance policy that applies equally to clergy and laity. All reports of child abuse are immediately reported to law enforcement authorities (typically local district attorneys, state child protection authorities, and local police). We fully cooperate with any law enforcement investigation, conduct our own internal  investigation as well. If it is determined that the allegation is substantiated, then the offender is permanently barred from any ministry. We have also tried to offer some closure and peace to past victims by setting up our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

The net result is a corporate culture in the Church that has demonstrated a clear commitment to child protection, as well as transparency and accountability for how we put that into practice.

The contrast with the entertainment industry couldn’t be more stark. In that world, there is a widespread acceptance and promotion of all kinds of sexual vice, including the gross sexualization of children (especially young girls). There has been no demonstrated commitment to identifying and excluding offenders, and there is no systematic approach to prevent further abuse. Repeated allegations by actors about having been abused as children have been ignored. Known offenders continue to work and in some cases are defended and given prominent honors. And the recent revelations make clear that powerful people in the industry can act with impunity, can intimidate victims into silence, and that there are many people who will turn a blind eye to abuses.

At the root of all of this, of course, it is a question of good and evil, vice and virtue. For all our faults, the Church has always upheld the virtues of sexual purity and chastity. That gives us a guiding star to orient all of our policies and programs. Failure to abide by those high standards is a terrible betrayal, but we can always re-orient ourselves back to the ideal with the help of God’s grace.

The entertainment industry, sadly, is not guided by any such principle. It is the leading promoter of sexual license and immorality, and as a result has created “structures of sin”. Pope John Paul had an important insight into this kind of phenomenon:

“such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it; of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference; of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world, and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of a higher order. The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16)

As he also noted, structures of sin “grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people’s behavior.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38)

Corporate culture is rooted in individual actions. When an organization is committed to doing the right thing, the corporate culture will reinforce those efforts and make them more effective. In child protection, there is nothing more important than that.

Zero Tolerance for Abuse

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

[I was invited to submit an op-ed to the Catholic News Agency about important remarks the Holy Father made about child protection, stressing that the laity must be held to the same zero tolerance policy as the clergy. The article appeared here and with their permission I’m reposting it here. I should stress that the opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Archdiocese of New York.]

In his September 20 remarks to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis stated the important point that “the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the firmest measures to all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God.” That reaffirmation of the Church’s commitment to child protection cannot be said too often or too strongly.

The Holy Father then went on to say something new and very significant: “The disciplinary measures that the particular Churches have adopted must apply to all those who work in the institutions of the Church… Therefore, the Church irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of ‘zero tolerance’ against the sexual abuse of minors.”

This is an unambiguous call to action. The Church in the United States has been a world leader in child protection, and we have an opportunity now to lead again.

Since its adoption in 2002, the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has been the foundation for the Church’s immensely successful efforts to provide a safe environment for children in our institutions and to ensure accountability for the implementation of those efforts. As successful as the Charter has been, however, it has always been missing a very significant piece — on its face, it only applies to cases of misconduct by clergy and not by laypeople.

For example, the term “sexual abuse” is defined in the Charter by reference to a canon law provision that applies only to the clergy. The definition is ambiguous, and fails to provide sufficient guidance about what behaviors are proscribed. This leaves diocesan officials to rely on an ad hoc standard of their own creation or on potentially differing opinions of theologians, civil or canon lawyers, or review board members.

This is not a good practice — “sexual abuse” cannot mean one thing in one diocese and a different thing in another, one thing when it applies to clergy and another when it’s a lay person.

The Charter’s definition of “child pornography” suffers from the same problem. The only guidance in the Charter is a reference to a Vatican document that has an empty and unhelpful definition that is limited to conduct by clerics. An ambiguous standard for this heinous crime isn’t acceptable, and it must apply to laity as well.

In addition, although the Charter discusses procedures for handling cases involving the clergy, it says nothing about how to handle cases about lay persons. And most importantly, while the Charter clearly applies the “zero tolerance” policy of permanently removing an offending priest or deacon, there is no defined penalty for lay persons who have committed an offense.

This is a very significant gap. We must assure everyone that no person, lay or cleric, will be permitted to be with children if they have committed an offense. Failing to do so leaves an erroneous impression that sex abuse is uniquely a problem with the clergy, which ignores all the evidence of the incidence of sex abuse and unfairly stigmatizes our priests and deacons.

This omission could have an impact on the credibility of our child protection programs. The annual audit requires information about background check and training of lay people and detailed information about clergy abuse cases, but no information is gathered about cases involving lay people. Including the laity explicitly under the Charter will ensure a greater level of accountability and trust.

One would expect that every diocese has already adopted policies that cover lay people as well as clergy. We certainly have in the Archdiocese of New York. But local policies don’t send a strong enough message. The Charter is the public expression of the United States Church’s full commitment to child protection. It is imperative that we make absolutely clear that the same rigorous standards apply to all who work with children, across our entire nation.

This is not hard to do. Clear and usable definitions of “sexual abuse” and “child pornography” can be developed that unambiguously cover laypeople. We can draw on the vast experience reflected in state and federal law, which define numerous sexual offenses with great detail and specificity. Uniform disciplinary procedures for handling lay cases do not have to be developed at the national level, since those will be shaped by local personnel policies and laws. Nor do we have to worry about inconsistency with canon law, since that only applies to clergy cases.

It can also be stated plainly that all allegations will be immediately reported to law enforcement and full cooperation will be given to the authorities. All dioceses probably already do this — in the Archdiocese of New York we have strong protocols for cooperation with law enforcement. But again, a strong statement in the Charter will demonstrate our commitment across the nation.

Most important, after the Holy Father’s mandate, it is vital that the “zero tolerance” policy clearly applies to the laity. There can be no room for doubt about that.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been working on a revision of the Charter, and it has not yet been finalized. The Holy Father’s timely call to action now gives the Church a great opportunity to be proactive and ensure that our rigorous policies apply equally to all who work with our children.

Standards and Double Standards

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

The Holy See is getting a considerable amount of flak from the United Nations, self-appointed victim advocacy groups, and the media about not having firm world-wide policies requiring all sexual abuse cases to be reported to local law enforcement.  We’ve had such a policy here in the United States for years, and it’s been very effective.   It’s a high standard — it shows how seriously we take sexual abuse cases, and demonstrates our commitment to eradicating it from our midst.

So here’s an interesting question — why aren’t people giving the White House the same kind of flak?

The Administration just issued a report on sexual violence on campus.  It garnered a great deal of media attention, and was applauded for showing a deep commitment to fighting  this very serious problem.

But their new guidelines won’t require colleges to report all allegations of sexual assault to local law enforcement.   In fact, not only do they not require it, they justify the practice of not reporting cases, and instead encourage schools to do their own independent investigations and hold their own quasi-judicial proceedings.  (See page 15 of their recent report).  In contrast, we not only report all credible allegations, we defer to law enforcement authorities in the handling of cases, and have strict policies that ensure that we do nothing that would interfere or impede those efforts.

So, the Catholic Church has a stronger policy against sexual violence than the United States Government and American universities.

Does anyone expect that the Church will get any credit for that in the media, or that the US Government will ever be accused of “torture” because of their policies?

There are standards, and double standards.

 

More Anti-Catholic Nonsense from the United Nations

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The Holy See has once again been subjected to a public scolding by a United Nations committee for the way that the Church has handled the problem of child sexual abuse.  The last time, it was committee overseeing the rights of children (for my comments on that event, see here).

This time, it was the UN committee tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Convention Against Torture.

Let me put this very bluntly — this latest harassment of the Church is a travesty, a phony show trial, an anti-Catholic “auto da fe”.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary skills in reading comprehension will immediately see that there is no basis whatsoever that any reasonable, fair-minded person could ever consider clerical sexual abuse to be “torture”, just by reading the actual Convention on Torture itself.

The Convention (Article 1)  states:

“For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Sexual abuse of minors is many, many things — all of them evil — but it is clearly not that.

One would hope that when “international law” is invoked, that we actually pay attention to what the international law really is. When the Holy See signed the Convention, it made clear that it would only apply to the Vatican City State, not to the religious activities of the Catholic Church. Agreeing to a treaty with limitations is common practice (for example, the United States filed a lengthy list of reservations and objections to the Torture Convention). It’s International Law 101 that nations are only bound by international treaties to the extent that they agree to them, and no more. How can anyone take the Committee on the Convention seriously if they don’t understand that basic principle?

The Holy See made clear in its statement to the committee that it is unalterably opposed to torture or degrading treatment of any kind, and that it has taken many significant concrete steps against sexual abuse of minors.  They also warned that the committee’s work should not be hijacked by those with an agenda that is hostile to the Church.

But no corrective steps will ever satisfy the ideological groups that are behind this tragic farce. For once, they actually gave the real agenda away, in the words of the attorney from the Center for Constitutional Rights (the main instigator): “such a finding could open the floodgates to abuse lawsuits dating back decades because there are no statutes of limitations on torture cases.”

Remember that CCR and their allies are radically left-wing organizations that have deep-seated enmity towards the Catholic Church based on our teachings on sexuality and abortion. CCR has been involved deeply in harassing the Holy See in front of international tribunals. They even filed a complaint in the International Criminal Court charging the Holy See with “crimes against humanity” (it was dismissed).  The UN is also filled with nations and with functionaries who share that hostility to the Church and our teachings.

The Holy See has consistently supported international authorities as a way to work for world peace.  But the UN itself undermined that lofty goal, once again.

This kind of hearing is a sham, an injustice, and an act of anti-Catholic bigotry on an international stage, motivated by ideology and money. It is a disgrace.

Missing the Story, Yet Again

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Once again, the Newspaper of Record has completely failed to get the full story about the Catholic Church’s record on child sexual abuse.

In an online piece published the other day, the Times once again rehashed old allegations about the sins of priests and the failures of bishops.  This story, as with many others like it, irked me to no end.  If a news outlet is going to report a story, it should, in fairness, report the full story.  It shouldn’t just report the bad news.

And so, I wrote a letter to the editor, which they published today:

The church hardly needs another reminder that some priests were abusers and that some bishops were negligent in their leadership. Obviously, sexual abuse of minors is a terrible evil and must be rooted out from every institution.

The real story is the incredible amount of human capital and financial resources that have been expended by the church on prevention of future incidents of child abuse.

We have more than 48,000 people working with children in the Archdiocese of New York, and two million more across the country. The church spends tens of millions of dollars each year in prevention and safety programs.

Our staff members have been screened and trained and are being supervised by dedicated leaders committed to protecting children. We have tight policies to ensure that predators can’t have access to our children, and we react promptly and decisively to root them out and bring them to justice.

Other institutions study and model themselves on us. And we have been open and transparent in allowing outside auditors and scholars to study our efforts.

The Catholic Church in America has done something no other organization in the world has done — we’ve made a huge, across-the-board change in our corporate culture so that now every leader and every worker has child protection as a high item on his agenda. And we’ve been a great success.

That’s the real news: a story about learning from tragic mistakes and then committing to a course of transformation and success.

Let’s be clear.  Any incident of sexual abuse is a horrific tragedy, and there’s no doubt that some Church officials didn’t do enough to protect children.  It’s also undeniable that mistakes are still made — we are all far too human to be perfect. And there’s always room for improvement in how we help victims to heal.

But it is just fundamentally unfair, and bad journalism too, for the Times to continue to ignore the herculean efforts of thousands of pastors, principals, directors of religious education, Church administrative staff — and yes, bishops too — for the protection of children.

If you’re going to report the story, tell the full story.