Posts Tagged ‘Sex Abuse Crisis’

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.

 

The Real Story on Sex Abuse

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

In recent weeks, we have once again seen “news” stories in the papers about sex abuse and the Catholic Church.

These “news” items related to a disclosure of some documents by the Archdiocese of Chicago, relating to old cases dating back many decades, and a hearing before a UN board at which the Holy See was questioned about how sex abuse cases were handled and how many priests have been laicized in response.

Obviously, the sexual abuse of minors is a great concern to us, and to society as a whole.  It is a terrible evil, and must be rooted out from every institution.  The Church hardly needs the release of ancient personnel files, or some hearing before an international organization, to remind us that some priests were abusers, and some bishops were negligent in their leadership.  Every case of sexual abuse is a tragedy, and we are completely committed to helping victims heal from their ordeal.

But all these stories, and dozens like them, completely miss the real news.  The fact is that the Catholic Church has become a model for child protection, and that other organizations emulate us and wish that they could have as good a record as we do now.  This is the key — what’s being done to ensure the protection of children today and in the future.

We should never be afraid to take a long, hard look at mistakes that were made in the past, in order to try to learn how we can do things better in the future.

So, what’s wrong with much of the reporting of these old incidents?

First, many of these “news” events are orchestrated by trial lawyers and self-appointed victim advocates, who are supporting lawsuits or litigation that target the Church. In almost every case,  the incidents took place years, even decades ago, and most of the priests have long since died or have been removed from the priesthood.  And the reports raise serious questions about fairness.  No other institution is subjected to constant reminders of the misconduct of former officials — certainly not the public school system, which has a much higher rate of sexual abuse.

The hearing before the UN committee that is supposedly dedicated to defending the rights of children has its own problems.  The committee is filled with nations that have terrible records of human rights abuses.  (The committee has also never said a word about the worst abuse of human rights that it taking place around the world, legalized abortion, which takes the lives of tens of millions of children each year.)  And no other organization has been called before the committee to explain its policies regarding sexual abuse — certainly not the UN itself, which has failed to address the systematic sexual abuse of children and women by UN peacekeeping forces in various countries around the world.  The UN committee even had the audacity to recommend that the Church change our teaching on abortion and contraception — tipping their hand to their real, anti-Catholic, anti-life biases.

The only “news” here is that the UN would have the chutzpah to pass judgment on any other organization at all.

So what is the real story?

The real story is the incredible amount of human capital and financial resources that have been expended on prevention of future incidents of child abuse.  Let’s put some numbers on it.  We have over 48,000 active people working with children in the Archdiocese of New York alone, and two million more across the nation.   The Church spends tens of millions of dollars each year in prevention and safety programs.  All our people have been screened, trained, and are being supervised by dedicated leaders who are 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.  Experts, like Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins University, have said that “Nobody is doing more to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church.”  We have been open and transparent in allowing outside auditors and scholars to study our efforts.

And we’ve seen the results of all this investment in child protection.  There has been a dramatic drop in the number of credible reports of present-day sexual abuse of minors by clergy — in 2012, there were only eleven minors who reported allegations in the entire nation.

Nobody can match our efforts or our accomplishments.

Why is this the bigger story?

Just think about it — when a big company like Apple makes a tiny design change in a popular product, it makes headlines around the world.  Everybody pays attention, and thinks it’s a big deal.

But the Catholic Church in America has done something even more important, something that 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 their agenda.  Nobody does as much as we do to protect children.  It’s not just superficial window-dressing, but a massive substantive commitment. And all of that has been done voluntarily, in the midst of hostile and intense scrutiny, because it was necessary to avoid and correct the mistakes of the past — and because it was the right thing to do.  This is a huge accomplishment.

That’s the real news that the media should be writing — not yet another rehash of old tragedies, but a story of  transformation, commitment and success.

Justice for Cardinal Egan

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

There has been some controversy regarding comments attributed to Cardinal Egan in an interview published in a Connecticut magazine.  These comments have been interpreted by some in the worst possible light, and His Eminence has come in for some rough criticism.

In fairness to His Eminence, perhaps people should first take a look at the statement he released about this matter, explaining things in his own words, and not through the filter of a reporter.

I also have to add something more as a matter of justice, so that people understand the full story.

I worked closely and personally with the Cardinal for over five years on the child protection programs of the Archdiocese of New York. You could not have had a more supportive, committed bishop. He was absolutely dedicated to the full and vigorous implementation of the Bishops’ Charter, and to the protection of children. I was not directly involved in clergy cases, but from what I saw, his handling of them in the Archdiocese was exemplary. I know from first-hand experience that his handling of cases with non-clergy offenders was absolutely appropriate.

In fact, just about the only complaints that I heard during that time about the Cardinal was that he was too rigorous — an assessment with which I utterly disagree. He was a real leader in our Archdiocese in the protection of children — we couldn’t have asked for a bishop to handle it better than he did.

Without a doubt, this issue brings up strong feelings. But in public comments on the actions and character of a Bishop of our Church, may I suggest that people take a look at Catechism 2478 and think about it before commenting? That section says:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: ‘Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.’ [quoting St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises]

Cardinal Egan was instrumental in implementing a very successful safe environment program here in the Archdiocese.  He is rightly proud of that, and he certainly has nothing to apologize for what he did as our bishop for the protection of our children.

Rescue

Friday, November 11th, 2011

I’m sure that many of you have seen the news of the serial sexual abuse of young boys by a trusted football coach at Penn State University.  Reading the grand jury report on the case is a harrowing look into the reality of evil — demonic evil.  It tells the story of the charming, charismatic father-figure who, for years, was abusing children in the most horrendous way.

Looking back at the situation,  you can see all the warning signs that were overlooked — the “special” relationship, the gift-giving, the rough-housing and wrestling, the private time alone.  At the time, people didn’t understand their significance — the warning signs of a predator are hard to distinguish from the behavior of a charismatic, empathetic mentor to needy children.

The worst part of the story is that on two separate occasions, people caught the predator in the act of raping young boys.

Twice.  In the act.  Rape.

And nobody rescued them.

This story is very, very real and very, very disturbing to me.  I am having a hard time getting it out of my head.

I am the director of the child protection program here in the Archdiocese.  This means I think about child sexual abuse on a daily basis.  Every day, I dread answering the phone, because of what it might bring.  From time to time, victims of sexual abuse come and speak to me about what happened to them.  Men and women sit in my office and describe the abuse they suffered, sometimes as long as forty years ago.  I sit there while grown adults weep over the suffering they endured as children.

Because nobody rescued them.

We in the Church have learned from our failures in the past.  We can only hope that others will learn the lessons from the Penn State catastrophe.

Awareness.  Prevention.  Vigilance.

Rescue.

Deeper Causes and Responses

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Previously, I posted about the new John Jay College report on the causes and context of the Church’s clerical sex abuse crisis.  I noted some of the important and valuable lessons from the report, which we here in the Archdiocese have already been acting upon.  On the whole, I believe that this report is a positive step forward for child protection in the Church and beyond.

However, I have to confess that I’m a bit dissatisfied about what this report — and, in fact, virtually every other report I’ve seen on the crisis — has failed to talk about.  These kinds of studies are conducted by social scientists, and they naturally tend to look at the problem of child sexual abuse as if it’s a pragmatic issue that can be solved by practical measures like more education, safe environment programs, talk about boundaries, etc.  All of those things are crucial, and go a long way to preventing further abuses.

The report seems to be based on an assumption that prevention is the best deterrent to crime.  That’s certainly true, up to a point, but in the final analysis it isn’t sufficient in this situation.  Prevention efforts and proper responses are necessary — largely because they were inadequate in the past, and that contributed to the problem (and in many cases caused further harm to victims).

But we’re missing a crucial point if we fail to understand that the fundamental challenge is spiritual — a struggle against the inclination to sin that rests in the human heart.  In the final analysis, it’s not prevention, but conversion that is the best deterrent to sin — the way to avoid sin is to turn to God to be liberated from the sin in our hearts.

A point of decision is reached in every single case of sexual abuse — a moment at which the abuser chooses to sin, and thereby to do grievous harm to another in order to satisfy their own disordered desires.  We as a Church have a special expertise and an obligation to talk about that decision and what led up to it in spiritual terms — speaking openly of sin, virtue, and spiritual battle, and not just using secular psychological/social science concepts and language.

Back in 2004, the National Review Board, established by the Bishops to oversee the implementation of the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, issued a report on the crisis.  In a very insightful part of that report, the Panel stated that “the over-riding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness”.  They went on to say,

The only way to combat sinfulness is with holiness. This is not a public relations battle for the approval of the press or the loyalty of the laity. It is, fundamentally, the age-old issue of good and evil. The Church must be holy; her ministers must be holy; her people must be holy. The foundation of holiness is a strong spiritual life, a life of prayer and simplicity. Priests who were truly holy would not have abused young people; nor would they have allowed others to do so.

No prevention strategy can succeed unless we stress this point.  Our seminary formation program, and all our education programs for laity, must be dedicated to helping people develop the essential virtues — chastity, temperance, fortitude, and prudence.  We must devote our energies tirelessly to fostering holiness.  Ultimately, only in the union of virtue and vigilance can we expect to provide a truly safe environment for the children entrusted to our care.

That is what we are irrevocably committed to.

Causes, Context and Prevention

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

One of the most valuable responses to the sex abuse crisis that embroiled the Church in the United States has been a series of scholarly studies, conducted by John Jay College  of the City University of New York.  The most recent report, issued today, contains conclusions about the “Causes and Context” of sex abuse by clergy.  As a person who is in the work of preventing that crisis from ever recurring, I took a keen interest in what this report had to say.

There are many important insights here, which have already shaped the prevention efforts here in the Archdiocese and elsewhere.  The conclusions are valuable because they apply not just to incidents involving clergy (which, of course, are a tiny minority of cases of sexual abuse), but can help us to prevent any such incidents from happening in the future.

The following are some of the conclusions about the abusers.  The report’s conclusions are in plain text, my comments are in parentheses and in italics.

  • Individual characteristics do not predict that a priest will commit sexual abuse of a minor. No single psychological, developmental, or behavioral characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not.  (In essence, “profiling” does not work — you can’t find the single magic characteristic that will identify a potential abuser, and screen your staff to eliminate those people.)
  • Some factors, however, increase the risk that a person will become an abuser.  (We’re not at a loss here.  There are some factors that we can look for in potential abusers, in order to stop them before they have a chance to offend.)
  • In particular, men who were sexually abused themselves when they were minors were significantly more likely to commit acts of abuse than those who were not abused.  (This highlights one of the most insidious effects of child sexual abuse, which I have seen in those victims and survivors I have dealt with — child sexual abuse gravely damages people, and it leaves a legacy that in many ways is life-long and difficult to cure.  Of course, we also have to remember that history is not destiny — just because someone has been abused doesn’t mean that they will become an abuser.)
  • Other vulnerabilities, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk of abuse: isolation, loneliness, insecurity, poor social skills, lack of identity, confusion over sexual identity, psychological immaturity, poor relationships with their parents when they were youths, and alcohol abuse.  (It’s important to note that ad hoc factors — stresses and opportunities — are a significant factor.  That is very useful in identifying effective prevention strategies.)
  • Other conclusions relate to the situations in which abuse occurred, and give insight into how to prevent it:

  • Child sexual abuse is often a crime of opportunity, and the abusers typically took advantage of situational opportunities to groom their victims over a long period of time so that they could build trust and create opportunities for abuse to take place.  (Limiting a potential abuser’s opportunities to groom a child is a critical prevention step — that’s the main purpose of codes of conduct, policies, etc.)
  • The best way to protect children from abuse is to create safe environments where appropriate boundaries between and adults and children are maintained, particularly by preventing situations and locations where children and adults are alone together.  (It is impossible to over-stress the importance of maintaining proper boundaries, not just physical boundaries, but relationship boundaries — the signals and expectations that define the nature of a healthy and proper relationship.)
  • Seminary formation, particularly in areas of human formation and how to live a life of celibate chastity, are essential to prevention. (This is absolutely crucial, and not just for clergy, but for everyone who works with children.  Virtue must go hand and hand with vigilance.)
  • Prevention policies should focus on three factors: education, situational prevention models, and oversight and accountability. (The most effective safe environment and prevention programs have redundancy and overlap — multiple levels of child protection that serve to back each other up, so that if one fails another will compensate.)
  • Many of these lessons, and the best way to respond to them, are already being implemented here in the Archdiocese and in other dioceses around the nation.  The testament to that, I believe, is the extraordinarily low number of recent incidents of abuse in Church programs.  For more information about our child protection efforts, check out our website.

    I have some additional thoughts about the report, but I’ll save them for a second blog post to give them the emphasis they merit.