Catholic Leaders Promised Transparency... They Haven’t Delivered.
January 29, 2020 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Catholic Leaders Promised Transparency About Child Abuse. They Haven’t Delivered.After decades of shielding the identities of accused child abusers from the public, many Catholic leaders are now releasing lists of their names. But the lists are inconsistent, incomplete and omit key details. (ProPublica / Houston Chronicle)
It took 40 years and three bouts of cancer for Larry Giacalone to report his claim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Boston priest named Richard Donahue.

Giacalone sued Donahue in 2017, alleging the priest molested him in 1976, when Giacalone was 12 and Donahue was serving at Sacred Heart Parish. The lawsuit never went to trial, but a compensation program set up by the archdiocese concluded that Giacalone “suffered physical injuries and emotional injuries as a result of physical abuse” and directed the archdiocese to pay him $73,000.

Even after the claim was settled and the compensation paid in February 2019, however, the archdiocese didn’t publish Donahue’s name on its list of accused priests. Nor did it three months later when Giacalone’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, criticized the church publicly for not adding Donahue’s name to the list.

Church leaders finally added Donahue to the list last month after ProPublica asked why he hadn’t been included. But that, too, sowed confusion. Despite the determination that Giacalone was entitled to compensation, Donahue’s name was added to a portion of the list for priests accused in cases deemed “unsubstantiated” — where the archdiocese says it does not have sufficient evidence to determine whether the clergy member committed the alleged abuse.

“To award a victim a substantial amount of money, yet claim that the accused is not a pedophile, is an insult to one’s intelligence,” said Garabedian, who has handled hundreds of abuse cases over the last 25 years. “It’s a classic case of the archdiocese ducking, delaying and avoiding issues.”
Credibly AccusedSearch lists of U.S. Catholic clergy that have been deemed credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct.
ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders as of Jan. 20 and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country. Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been reported for abuse elsewhere.

Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI official who helped establish a new set of child protection protocols within the USCCB in the early 2000s, has urged bishops and religious orders for nearly two decades to create a comprehensive list of accused clergy. She said our database will allow the public to better track dioceses’ disclosures, rather than seeing each list in isolation.

“People don’t know where to look,” McChesney said. “The contribution of the one list will help a lot of people to perhaps identify someone that they believe abused them.”

Still, much crucial information remains missing. Despite the recent surge of releases, 41 dioceses and dozens more religious orders have yet to publish lists, including five of seven dioceses in Florida, home to more than 2 million Catholics.
posted by tonycpsu (19 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Catholic Leaders Promised Transparency... They Haven’t Delivered.

posted by Melismata at 1:51 PM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was raised Roman Catholic, so while I never encountered any abuse personally or within my family/friend circle (that I know of), I can’t say that abuse wasn’t a thing that was known at some level (Q: How do you get a nun pregnant? A: Dress her up like an altar boy. - actual joke from my childhood). But to be honest, the scandal was always viewed as being somewhere else. “Yes”, we would say. “Sexual abuse is horrible but it isn’t a problem here.”

For reasons I won’t get into on MetaFilter, I actually know quite a bit about how the list was generated in one diocese and how they now address allegations of abuse. I’m totally unsurprised that 40 of the 200+ dioceses in the US haven’t released anything, or that many of the lists that are out there are incomplete.

The thing you have to realize is that the Catholic Church is not a monolith. Each diocese is actually a fully independent church, governed by the local bishop. They are tied together by common beliefs and religious practices, but it isn’t like the bishops actually submit reports to the Vatican or even to each other. The pope holds a lot of ceremonial and moral power over the church but actually has rather limited administrative power.

There is no singular coverup. Rather, there are hundreds of different bishops, each addressing their local concerns in the manner they each see best. Which means the seriousness and effectiveness of their responses are wildly divergent as a result. This not meant as an excuse but rather to explain. And when you couple this fact with the church’s views on human sexuality are *ahem* medieval in origin and the human tendency for denialism, you get a scandal that it has never fully grasped as a body and therefore is virtually incapable of fully reckoning with itself.

I’m reminded that Kobe Bryant was a practicing Catholic — the fact that he took his daughter to mass the morning of their death is getting a lot of play in Catholic media. Considering the discussion on here regarding Kobe’s legacy and his admitted rape of a woman in 2003 - a fact I have not seen mentioned in that same media - speaks volumes as to how much work the Catholic Church still has to do regarding their ongoing problems with sexual abuse.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 2:28 PM on January 29, 2020 [17 favorites]

The more time passes the more I think about how badly Sinead was treated after she called out the church in 1992. She was so brave and so ahead of her time.
posted by Lanark at 2:29 PM on January 29, 2020 [42 favorites]

The thing that gets me about this situation is that even based on what has been released and those accusations we know of, the percentages of church leaders who harbored abusers, clergy who were abusers, and parishoners who have been abused all have to be totally bananas. What would it even look like for them to fully come to terms with how pervasive this is? It's so baked in that you might as well just break camp and go home rather than waste time talking about the vast immorality of the so-called moral authorities whose best excuse is ignorance. I feel really fortunate for having gone to public schools rather than parochial, as problematic as they may have been themselves.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:57 PM on January 29, 2020 [7 favorites]

Rather, there are hundreds of different bishops, each addressing their local concerns in the manner they each see best.

But what that translates to is bishops deciding not to let prior appalling decisions come into the light, so they protect abusers to protect themselves either as protecting the abuser or just their diocese's current financial position if it comes out. Because they tell themselves that's best for mother church and handily for them too. Pity about the victims.
posted by biffa at 4:35 PM on January 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

But what that translates to is bishops deciding not to let prior appalling decisions come into the light,

Sometimes, yes, but that is not a rule you can apply across the board.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 5:34 PM on January 29, 2020

Thanks to the ProPublica database I was able to find the Monsignor in Fremont CA who was asked to resign when eight young girls finally spoke up. They estimate that it was probably 100s. This was in 1982. My wife at the time was asked to perform for his retirement party with a string quartet. When asked to play by a tyrannical musician agent she took the job because if you refused Fern you wouldn’t work again. And the reason for the retirement party hadn’t been revealed. The morning of the party it was front page news. She was really torn between screw the guy or never work again. She went to the party, which was sponsored by parishioners who didn’t believe the stories. She was the first to arrive and set up her cello and sat on the small stage in the middle of the room. She tuned up and then started playing “Thank heavens for little girls.” The looks on a lot of the people who recognized the song were quite startled. The Monsignor arrived in his flowing cape and was heartily greeted by the people there. According to news accounts he used that cape to hide what he was doing. The utter hypocrisy of the church and it’s parishioners is disgusting.
posted by njohnson23 at 6:16 PM on January 29, 2020 [18 favorites]

To get a sense of scale for the abuse:

Colorado recently (Oct. 22, 2019) released the Roman Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children in Colorado from 1950 to 2019

And someone(s) at eurekaencyclopedia have been quite diligently logging court cases.
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 6:27 PM on January 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

There is no singular coverup. Rather, there are hundreds of different bishops, each addressing their local concerns in the manner they each see best.

The nature of the coverups is something that fascinates me to no end.

As a teen, I gave serious thought about the Catholic priesthood. It turns out, there was a high school seminary for young men who felt similarly. Our Lady Queen of Angels High School Seminary was a boarding school serving the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with a now notorious reputation for forming quite a few predator priests. But at the time it was a small-ish school with good academics and a remarkably tight student body. One characteristic was the incredible degree of solidarity we had as classmates. There were a few times when a prank or something would be cause for discipline, we'd end up getting disciplined as a class, or dorm, or whatever because we'd stick together, not giving up the perpetrators for anything. This was a very defining part of our character, and we as peers took a great deal of pride in it all.

At the time it was all in fun. As you can imagine, we were all pretty tight, like real brothers, and many remain extremely tight to this day. And even though I decided against the vocation, and found distance from most of my old classmates and faith, I held those memories with a good deal of fondness for many years.

When the scandals really began to see light of day and hit critical mass, I was as dumbfounded as much of the country. How could the hierarchy so inexplicably try to keep so many misdeeds and illegalities under wraps for so long? Maybe it's not as much of a mystery as I think. Did I witness the foundation of the mindset exhibited by those priests, bishops and archbishops? Was the cohesiveness we seminary students were so proud of in the face of punishment training for future adulting, Catholic priest-style? Those fond high school memories turned darker than I would have ever thought. a window into behavior that we would be repeating for our peers as grown ups, with circumstances much more dire and offenses too awful to consider.

I'm in touch with only a couple of my old classmates. My limited contact with the rest, most of whom I was once very close to, almost like family, seems to indicate that the traits of solidarity and loyalty to the bitter end are hard to kill. Those young men were either curious seekers of God and his works, or princes groomed and destined to be unimpeachable defenders of authority as dictated from on high. Even if they never went on to become priests. And it's plain to see now, 35 years later.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:13 PM on January 29, 2020 [19 favorites]

I grew up in such a hippy dippy place with so little interaction with anyone involved in organized religion at all, let alone Catholicism, that these abuses have always felt super abstract to me. That's changed a lot in the last decade or so.

I mean wow, it's just everywhere, isn't it? I was standing in line at a rental car place around Christmas and there was a guy about my age in front of me who was looking up some information on church child abuse scandals in Maine, then he was responding to some emails about what I abruptly realized was his own Church-related abuse as a child (that's about when I managed to reign in my terrible snooping habit and mind my own business), and it really hit me how much this has to suffuse the culture of a country, of towns, and of individual families. What a huge burden to grow up with that in your life and see it willfully ignored or excused by so many people around you.

Of course the Catholic Church isn't alone in its culture of enabling abuse, but we as individuals are clearly VERY good at buying into the social and cultural incentives that let people continue to hurt others without meaningful consequences, and that has to have had a ripple effect on our ability to live good, compassionate lives in other arenas.
posted by wakannai at 3:51 AM on January 30, 2020

There is no singular coverup. Rather, there are hundreds of different bishops, each addressing their local concerns in the manner they each see best.

I guess technically that's correct, but for well over a half century the Vatican gave informal guidance that filtered itself down to each Cardinal and Bishop, which is why you see the same patterns over and over and over again. Moving 'problem priests' from one parish to another, rapidly before people have time to talk. Moving those same priests from one diocese to another (swap my problem for your problem).

You would think if each Bishop truly were free to handle this in the manner they saw fit that at some point one out of hundreds would have stepped to the podium and broken open the dam within their own house, but none did. They were told to keep it out of the press under all circumstances and as dutiful little minions, they did.

The next step in the playbook, and the one you're seeing now, is to slow roll the process until all the bishops who oversaw the meat of this have resigned/retired and can be thrown under the bus with minimal fuss and with as little paid to victims as possible.
posted by splen at 6:27 AM on January 30, 2020 [11 favorites]

ProPublica does important work.
posted by doctornemo at 8:12 AM on January 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

How has this ongoing story hit Catholic schools and universities?
posted by doctornemo at 8:12 AM on January 30, 2020

>>How has this ongoing story hit Catholic schools and universities?

From K-12, enrollment in the US is ~1.8 million in 2018, down from ~2.2 million in 2008 (and the peak of approx 5.5 million in the 60's).

There are a number of factors that contribute to the ongoing decline, including an aging Catholic population, general malaise towards religion, divestment from middle-income areas and a focus on high-income areas, etc.

Generally speaking, the Catholic population in the US was in decline well before this got nationwide attention, and this probably has only served to speed it up.
posted by splen at 10:18 AM on January 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

There is no singular coverup. Rather, there are hundreds of different bishops, each addressing their local concerns in the manner they each see best.

My (admittedly very sketchy) understanding is that this is bullshit, because the "Rule of Pontifical Secrecy" applied to Catholic church internal investigations of sexual abuse until it was lifted [for very specific circumstances] by Pope Francis a little over one month ago:
The rule is the church’s highest level of secrecy. Historically, it applied primarily to issues of church governance. This includes drafts of canon law, papal conclaves and also internal church investigations of misconduct by clergy.

The rule is intended, in part, to protect the names of accusers and the accused in church-related disputes until there had been some clear finding of wrongdoing. The penalty for disclosing information can include excommunication.

In application, though, the rule of secrecy has hindered efforts by child abuse victims to seek justice against the church.

It became a way for church officials to avoid reporting allegations of abuse to law officials. Officials also relied on the rule to refuse to cooperate with legal authorities investigating allegations of wrongdoing.
In my own terms, that shit was explicitly oathbound on pain of worse-than-death!
[Read the article; there's more and it's worse.]
posted by heatherlogan at 5:49 PM on January 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Rather, there are hundreds of different bishops, each addressing their local concerns in the manner they each see best.

At least one of them was an Archbishop, who certainly influenced his subordinates.

If you cover for another mother-fucker who’s a kiddy-fucker then fuck you, you’re no better than the mother-fucking rapist.
posted by pompomtom at 6:07 PM on January 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yes hi hello Catholic born bred and educated here and the Church "hasn't delivered" on sex crimes transparency because of course they bloody haven't, because at least in the two nations from which my immediate family hail, Mother Church would rather inveigh publicly against sluts like myself and gay people like my sibling than ever, ever publicly and humbly admit that THE VICAR OF CHRIST and his PRINCES OF THE CHURCH could not be arsed to confront and root out literal, actual and non-metaphorical evil in the body of which they are, I am sorry, MEANT TO BE IN CHARGE.

You know what I was told in Catholic school when I said (a far less concise version of) "most US Catholics use and rely on birth control" so isn't Church teaching on this sort of tone-deaf and cruel? Fr Whatsisface smugly informed me that even if that were true, "the Catholic Church, my friend, is not a democracy". (which I think he stole from Roland Joffé but whatever?)

And like, great, cool, that's your bag baby, groove on it, but DO NOT THEN TELL ME that you can sniff out and defrock a priest for consensually banging and marrying an adult woman, or for stealing cash to buy a TV, but you were totes just, busy with CDC classes and really swamped and didn't notice decades of rampant child abuse, and then golly gosh just stumped as to the appropriate course of action because after all we're all sinners or something??

If these people can successfully pull off decades--centuries!--of concerted effort to police every uterus the good Lord ever made, they can sure as shit detect and destroy sex offenders. They just. Don't. Want to. One can fish* for as many organizational and theological excuses as one likes, but that is the cold, bare fact upon which the rest of us must act at the end of the day.

*LOLLERSKATES no apostle pun intended jk nothing about this is humorous
posted by peakes at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2020 [7 favorites]

To avoid abusing the edit window: this tweet and the one immediately following it by asskicking national treasure Captain Awkward pretty neatly sum up my feelings and those of other ex Catholics of my acquaintance.
posted by peakes at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

>>How has this ongoing story hit Catholic schools and universities?

From K-12, enrollment in the US is ~1.8 million in 2018, down from ~2.2 million in 2008 (and the peak of approx 5.5 million in the 60's).

It is not a coincidence that the peak of Catholic primary school enrollment was during the time that public primary schools were being (formally) desegregated, just for the record.
posted by Etrigan at 11:34 AM on January 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

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