BACK TO THE BAD OLD DAYS
(By Brian Mark Hennessy)
Do you remember the Bad Old Days when Bishops, as a matter course, did their utmost to prevent any hint of clerical impropriety getting into the public domain? It was not that long ago. Back in 2009 the Irish “Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse” concluded that the major “pre-occupation” of the Dublin Archdiocese, when dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, had been the maintenance of secrecy to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the Church. In addition, that pre-occupation was characterised also to keep safely in its bank account its vast treasury that had been gleaned from the millions of coins dropped into collection plates by humble folks’ fingers worn to the bone by daily toil and strife. Well clearly that description is a touch of my cavalier freelance status. The Commission did not put it quite like that – but it is the essence of the situation. Of course, those clerics of the Church guarding that treasure box lived like princes compared to their donors – and still do today for the most part.
The Irish saga did not end there, for after the Irish Bishops had re-written their Rules for handling cases of sexual abuse by insisting that every abusive priest was reported to the police, the Vatican Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, the notorious Cardinal Hoyos, opposed the amendments. He regarded reporting child sexual abusers to the police as being nothing short of traitorous tyranny – and he even went to the length of praising bishops publicly for refusing to report crimes of child sexual abuse to the civil authorities. Indeed, yet another Vatican spokesperson, in a Pontius Pilate gesture of “not me guv”, once stated that what happens in Catholic Church Dioceses in the matter of child sexual abuse throughout the world is nothing to do with the Vatican: child sexual abuse was not, in his words “in the competence of the Holy See”.
The Irish Bishops were not the only ones of course. No reader today can be ignorant of the name of the Boston Globe which claimed that between 1992 and 2002, the Archdiocese of Boston settled child sexual abuse claims against seventy priests “secretly” for a similar raft of reasons. Indeed, most famously, perhaps, Pope Benedict XVI himself was accused in April 2010 of covering up abuse cases to avoid scandal when he had been a Bishop in a German diocese. A year later, two German lawyers initiated charges against him at the International Criminal Court for similarly covering up allegations of child sexual abuse when he was the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The case cited his reasons for doing so as being to maintain secrecy and cover-up in order to protect the reputation of the Catholic Church – and of course, also to protect the clerical perpetrators of those alleged crimes.
Throughout the world, from the furthest diocese to the Vatican State and in every Religious Order of the Catholic Church, it was once a common spoken and often documented policy of the Hierarchies that, at all costs, the priority in sexual abuse allegations was the avoidance of scandal, the protection of criminal clerical abusers of children from civil scrutiny and the safety of Catholic Church funds for what they saw as “plunder” by the child victims. They regarded child abuse as a “sin” that once forgiven in the confessional should have no further implications. The fact that child sexual abuse was a Civil Crime and was an act of heinous moral debasement and cruel physical and psychological “torture” – as the United Nations rightly describes the sexual abuse of children – was of no interest to their dark hearts, minds and souls.
We went from that darkness gradually into an era of increasing light, humility and acceptance by the princely clerics of the Catholic Church (not all I add hastily – but I leave that for another day) that the bad old days were really very, very bad – and should not be repeated in the future. So, by a couple of years ago in the 2000-year-old sordid history of the Catholic Church, we had arrived at a situation that the world was full (well, perhaps only half full) of ‘measured” hope of an enlightened change in the Catholic Hierarchical action in respect to allegations of Child Sexual Abuse. This was given impetus by Pope Benedict XVI, against whom allegations of past collusion in failing to take action against paedophile clerics remained very much unanswered, suddenly resigned. His replacement, Francis, took the bull by the horns, for want of a better expression, and declared that there was no place in the Catholic Church for those clerics who had abused children. Despite the rearguard action by the dogmatic, died in the wool, narcissistic clericalists against Francis’ more enlightened role in the issue, there was, by that point, truly new hope that better was to come. Well, take it from the humble me, this is no time to relax.
Enter upon the scene , stage New York, is Cardinal Timothy Dolan – yes, the very same Cardinal who recently was referee at that New York ‘bun fight” between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. He said, on 6 October 2016, that he had hopes that a new Archdiocesan policy to provide compensation to survivors of clergy sexual abuse will “help bring a measure of peace and healing” to victims. He stated that the new “Voluntary Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” for those who had been victims of child sexual abuse by priests or deacons of the archdiocese “has made great strides” in addressing abuse. He commented, “we continue to hear from victim-survivors that more needs to be done to reach out to those who have been hurt in the past.” In a News Release, he was quoted as saying that the new program is “another step to respond to the past scourge of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.”
To quote the National Catholic Reporter (NCRonline) the archdiocese said it has already begun reaching out to victim-survivors who have previously notified the archdiocese that they had suffered abuse by a member of its clergy, and they have been asked to participate in the first phase of the program. “Anyone bringing forward a new allegation will be required to follow the policy of the archdiocese to notify the appropriate district attorney’s office, so that they might determine if a crime has been committed. Such allegations will also be investigated by independent professionals and examined by the Archdiocesan Lay Review Board,” the Archdiocesan spokesperson has stated. To cover the cost of compensating victims, the archdiocese said it will take out a long-term loan. “It will not use money given by the people of the archdiocese to support parishes, schools and charitable works,” and none of the funds to be paid to victims will be taken from any money given by a donor “for a specific ministry or apostolate.”
So far so good – but only so far! Anne Barrett Doyle is co-director of BishopAccountability.org – and she is not wholly impressed! As a researcher of the Catholic abuse crisis, Anne sees Cardinal Dolan’s plan differently. Anne says that, “While the fund certainly will help some victims, its biggest beneficiary will be Dolan and his management team. This is a legal strategy in pastoral garb – a tactic by the powerful archbishop to control victims and protect the church’s assets – and its secrets”.
On the face of it, Anne continues, the plan is reasonable. A victim submits a claim form with documentation about rape or molestation by a priest or deacon. If deemed credible, the victim receives an award, which the Archdiocese promises to disburse quickly. But there are two catches. Victims must sign a legal agreement to abide by “all requirements pertaining to privacy and confidentiality,” and they must release the archdiocese from future liability. In other words, they must never sue the Archdiocese about any related matter in the future.
So, what is the real consequence of signing up to Cardinal Dolan’s new enlightened plan? He has a strategy as Anne has said. The Cardinal knows full well that a “Child Victims Act” will be presented to the New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, in 2017 – and Cuomo has promised to give it priority. If any Victim Survivors take up Cardinal Dolan’s “enlightened” and seemingly “generous” new “Voluntary Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program”, the wily old Cardinal Dolan will have already flushed them out and shackled them into silence. None of those Victims who might have been able to file a suit against Dolan’s Archdiocese under the new “Child Victims’ Act” will be able to proceed with further claims – no matter how rightful they are.
In effect, the victims in Dolan’s program will be signing releases without the benefit of any information about how their perpetrators were managed. They will not be able to sue the Archdiocese in regard to any archdiocesan officials who knew or had suspected that an abusing priest was a risk to children before any subsequent victim suffered abuse? Nor whether the abusing cleric concerned had abused any other victims. Nor what happened to the abusing cleric after the archdiocese learned of his crimes. Nor whether children are protected from him now? Under Cardinal Dolan’s plan, all of this will remain hidden and future actions against the Catholic Archdiocese, saving probably many millions of dollars as well as hefty doses of scandal and reputation -will have been prevented.
Under the gloss of his new and generous plan for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse, this Cardinal Prince Dolan of the Catholic Church has shown that he is steeped in the practices of the “bad old days” of the wholesale protectionism of clerics from civil justice jurisdictions. He knows the truth, most likely, if anyone does, that some of these will be men who have failed in their Christian remit. His strategy assists both himself and them by avoiding the consequences of a litany of erroneous Archdiocesan decisions of the past.
Last, but of course, not least, this wily wolf in sheep’s clothing Cardinal Archbishop, is ensuring that his money stays in the bank – and he will be able to continue to live like a prince and be hailed as a “decent sort of chap” by all the white tie celebrities who recently surrounded both him and the 2016 Presidential hopefuls at the high table.
[Credits are due to the National Catholic Reporter, the Boston Globe – and Anne Barrett Doyle who is co-director of BishopAccountability.org, an independent non-profit based in Waltham, Mass., founded in 2003, to research child abuse by priests and religious and on the management of those cases by bishops, religious orders and the Holy See.]