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Gerald T. Slevin: Why President Obama Must Now Act to End Organized Child Abuse

Another extremely important essay by Harvard-trained former Wall Street lawyer Jerry Slevin.  Jerry argues that “it is the right time for President Obama to act” to protect children from childhood sexual abuse, as the Catholic hierarchy clearly remains intent on stonewalling, diverting, and covering up.  What follows is Jerry’s essay:

This year, 2012, has been crucial in the horrible history of organized child sex abuse in the USA, especially in the Catholic Church. After over more than a quarter century of mainly Vatican diversions, distractions and/or deceptions, experts at a public Vatican abuse symposium in February estimated here that so far there have been over 100,000 young victims of priest child sex abuse in the USA alone, with no end in sight.

These abuse survivors and their families usually bear the painful psychological and other adverse effects of these sexual assaults for the remainder of their lives, often at great costs to society at large. Outrageously, most priest sexual predators and almost all predator-protecting bishops in the USA have so far escaped any accountability for their crimes, mainly as a result of the Catholic hierarchy’s political and media clout, as well as the lack of fortitude of most US political leaders and media executives and reporters.

This pressing and worsening problem is a national one and cannot be resolved adequately at the local state, county or city level only, since the bishops’ political clout has generally been very effective at controlling local lawmakers and prosecutors, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, most recently in Philadelphia, as noted here. While private lawyers for abuse survivors have caused some US bishops and their dioceses significant financial pain, the bishops often appear to settle the lawsuits before all of the stark details of the bishops’ cover-up misconduct reach the public record.

Private civil lawyers’ main objective in abuse cases generally is to get maximum payments for their abused clients, and not full disclosure for citizens of bishops’ misconduct.

With only rare exceptions, most US media organizations lack the staff, budgets and “appetite” for covering priest child sexual abuse cases consistently and in the detail often required. Unfortunately, there does not yet exist any national organization of lay Catholics that comes even remotely close to presenting a credible challenge to the US bishops’ political, financial and media clout.

This organized horror of Catholic priest child abuse has just been accurately and effectively captured in an award-winning new documentary opening this weekend in many US theaters prior to its upcoming HBO presentation on cable TV. This revealing and moving documentary, “Mea Maxima Culpa” (“My Most Grievous Fault”), is reviewed here and the movie trailer is available here. This documentary movie covers vividly the repulsive sexual abuse of over 200 young deaf boys by a single priest, Fr. Lawrence Murphy, at a Milwaukee school. For  decades Murphy’s outrages were covered up, then buried in effect in secretive canon law proceedings, by the Catholic hierarchy, even by the current pope’s prior Vatican office as reported here.

This movie informatively illustrates well the flawed process still too often prevalent in the Catholic Church in the USA. An intelligent man with deviant sexual proclivities becomes a priest. He has ready access to trusting children and no real supervision. When the sexually abused children report the priest’s sexual assault to the bishops’ chain of command, the report is not given to the police and is too often buried. Since the bishop faces priest staffing shortages, he retains the priest, sometimes reassigning him where the priest then is able to abuse more children, in this case 200 more children!

Since Catholic bishops in the USA face a steadily growing shortage of domestic priests and cannot accept under the current pope married or women priests, the pressure remains and is likely increasing on bishops in the USA, first to ordain potential sexual predators, and then to retain actual sexual predators.

While the bishops have implemented excessively touted training procedures for some of their lower-level staff, priests still often only answer to bishops or to committees selected and controlled by bishops. Child sexual abuse reports still in the USA commonly go only to the bishop or his carefully chosen and controlled agents, and not to the police. The bishops themselves answer to no one but an 85-year-old pope with a widely reported corrupt and inept staff. The bishops then hire well-paid and accomodating “professionals” to check and “vouch for” whatever abuse information the bishops in their complete discretion may choose to give the “professionals.”

If a victim complains, he is often first conned, stalled, then sometimes even threatened, to keep the complaint from the police, at least until the statute of limitations legally bars the abuse claim.

In other words, the bishops remain to this day basically unaccountable in the USA.

Since the shocking revelation of 100,000+ young sexual abuse victims in the USA was made last February, the Vatican has mostly continued to stonewall on curtailing priest sexual abuse of children, instead of taking effective curtailment measures, like mandating greater bishop accountability with comprehensive and independent audits, to try to control this preventable epidemic.  The Vatican even just tried to gain an upper hand in the US by trying hard, very unsuccessfully, two weeks ago to influence the US national elections as noted here.

Very significantly, during this past week, US bishops continued their stonewalling at their annual national conference in Baltimore, failing again to make bishops really accountable for child protection. This disappointing conference included one US bishop, Kansas City’s Robert Finn, who had been criminally convicted recently of a child endangerment related crime, and another bishop, Michael Bransfield, who so far has refused to address adequately sworn allegations about possible sexual misconduct involving young boys.  Bransfield, the US bishops’ national treasurer, this week even addressed this bishops’ conference on financial and communications policy matters. Yet the bishops apparently avoided any meaningful public discussion of priest child sexual abuse matters and related bishops’ accountability.

In his post conference press conference yesterday, a visibly tired and chastened Cardinal Dolan tried to show a strong and defiant front to President Obama, but was not very convincing as this video shows.

The Catholic hierarchy for decades have, by their repeated failures to curtail priest predators and by their aggressive and expensive legal and public relations efforts, indicated clearly that the Catholic hierarchy has no intention of tackling effectively the curtailment of continuing sexual abuse by priests of defenseless children in the USA.

Given the bishops’ stonewalling, President Obama must now move promptly, as leaders in other countries already are doing, to protect children in the USA from organized sexual assaults. He needs to address now in an effective and decisive manner the burgeoning epidemic of organized child sex abuse by occasional custodians of children, including priests, nuns, rabbis, ministers, scout leaders, teachers, etc.

Local district attorneys generally handle well individual family sexual abuse allegations, but these prosecutors  are often outgunned or subjected to political pressures when facing powerful groups or institutions, as the Penn State/Sandusky and the Philadelphia Catholic Archdiocese/Lynn shocking sagas recently demonstrated once again so convincingly. As a rule, based on my more than three decades of practicing law, I have observed that local state, county and city officials are more easily manipulated by political pressure than Federal officials in criminal matters.

A few days ago, Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Galliard, set a bold example for President Obama by establishing a major federal commission to investigate organized child sexual abuse nationwide, including within the Australian Catholic Church, as reported in her important video address here.  Local Australian state officials seemed unable to handle this investigation alone. Australian press reports indicate this bold action is widely supported by Australians.  It has even led one senior Catholic bishop to declare Australia’s Cardinal Pell to be an “embarrassment.” Pell is reportedly a favorite of the current pope.

The Australian Prime Minister apparently is following the earlier bold and unprecedented lead taken last year by the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, as reported here. Children in the USA deserve no less protection from organized sexual predators than Australian, Irish or any other children.

In June 2012, Philly’s Monsignor Lynn, an immediate subordinate for years of former longtime Vatican official, Cardinal Rigali, became the first member of the US Catholic hierarchy to be imprisoned for child endangerment as reported here. Shortly thereafter, Kansas City’s Bishop Finn, became the first US Catholic bishop to plead guilty to a child endangerment-related crime. A start, to be sure, but after a quarter century, woefully inadequate, especially for the 100,000+ victims of priest predators in the USA who have been denied justice.

Incidentally, at the same  February Vatican symposium, as noted here, the senior official then in charge at the Vatican of prosecuting priest child abusers under the Church’s papally controlled internal canon law code, revealed that there existed a Vatican culture of “omerta” about priest child abuse matters, thus invoking the negative Italian term usually used to describe the Mafia’s code of silence.

Coincidentally, years ago I personally had a Brooklyn Mafia “relative” through marriage, now long deceased, a bookmaker who had been an associate of Joe “Bananas” Bonanno, the quintessential  Godfather. This “relative” once told me years ago that he thought that Mafia members were actually better than Catholic bishops, whom he felt an affinity towards. My “relative,” who used to eat in the same Brooklyn restaurant as Cardinal Bevilacqua, said “wiseguys” weren’t hypocrites like the bishops were, in his opinion. While I have always shared my high school chum Rudy Guiliani’s deep disdain for the Mafia, I think my Mafia “relative” had it about right with respect to many Catholic bishops.

What was the result of this much-touted February symposium in Rome? Mainly, as already suggested, just more Vatican stonewalling of the kind that I tried unsuccessfully earlier here to warn the pope to try to avoid,  unless the pope was prepared to face a fate similar to US President Nixon’s post-Watergate fate that my Harvard Law school mentor, Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox, was compelled to bring on Nixon. The pope didn’t heed my, and many others’, advice and is now paying a high price for his hubris. Before long, he may pay an even higher price.

This Vatican official who earlier this year had bravely and publicly cited the Vatican’s “omerta culture” has recently been, in effect, exiled to Malta, likely as punishment for his honest and public “omerta” assessment.

In the meantime, the Vatican went all out, unsuccessfully, to try to defeat President Obama, an outspoken critic of child sex abuse, as noted here.

Significantly, the Vatican just completed in Rome a carefully orchestrated and stage-managed Synod of worldwide bishops, without any  serious effort to address the priest child sex abuse epidemic. So what else is new?

As noted above and here and here, the US bishops at their annual meeting in Baltimore this week failed to address the child abuse matter, and even gave convicted Bishop Finn a pass. Of course, there was also no discussion of Monsignor Lynn’s recent conviction and imprisonment for child endangerment or of the critical role in running Philly’s predatory priest paradise played by his boss, Cardinal Rigali, a longtime Vatican colleague of the pope’s. Rigali had also been St. Louis mentor for Bishop Finn and Cardinal Dolan, who chaired the Baltimore conference, which may help explain why Rigali also got another pass.

What is very clear from the failure of US bishops to act this past week, after the continuous stonewalling that has one gone on for years, even decades, is that the pope and US bishops have demonstrated clearly that they will never on their own initiative take the necessary action to curtail effectiely priest abuse of children in the USA.

Consequently, President Obama must now act decisively to protect defenseless children in the USA.

The worldwide scope of the Vatican’s cover-up was well documented recently in an excellent book by a distinguished UK  human rights attorney as indicated here. The unique scope of the sexual abuse  problems for the Catholic hierarchy has a long and deep history within the Catholic Church, as noted here and here.

National governmental action to try to address this problem has already been undertaken in many other countries, including Australia as noted above, aa well as in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, et al.  In  Ireland, formerly the world’s most Catholic country, Irish citizens just overwhelmingly approved, as noted here, a constitutional referendum to tighten Irish laws to protect children better in light of the horrendous sexual abuse of Irish children by Catholic clerics and other Church employees that occurred for decades with impunity. President Obama and the US Congress should take careful note of Ireland’s relevant new legal initiatives.

It is clearly high time for the USA to tighten its Federal child protection laws as well. But is it an opportune time for President Obama to act?

Yes, definitely. The pope and US bishops’ political influence is now deflated, if not dead, following the recent defeat of their preferred candidates and positions in the USA. Many wealthy Catholic donors will likely now reduce support for the Catholic hierarchy’s political efforts, now that the donors will have to pay their fair share of taxes in Obama’s second term. The president may even get some support for child protection reforms from major Catholic donors, most of whom have children and/or grandchildren at risk of priest abuse. Moreover, one of Obama’s key aides has just been named the head a major Catholic donor group, FADICA, as noted here.

President Obama can also expect support from key political leaders of both parties. Indeed, even Republicans must now realize that the pope’s “Taco Bell”/Blount Amendment anti-contraceptive crusade cost their candidates many more votes than it gained for them. Moreover, by driving women voters to Democrats, the pope and his US bishops may well have cost the Republicans the elections.

US House Speaker John Boehner has already declared Obamacare to be the law of the land. He is a Catholic family man and knows the score, notwithstanding his earlier support for a Catholic House chaplain as noted here, who earlier had close familiarity with priest child abuse scandals.

US House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, a devout Catholic and grandmother, is likely well aware of how Catholic bishops operate. Interestingly, in recent years she has revealed her disappointment in 1968 when the pope condemned the birth control pill, which was a cornerstone of the Republican’s recent flawed “Taco Bell/Blount Amendment” strategy.

Of course, thanks to the classic book, The Politics of Sex and Religion, by award-winning scholar, Robert Blair Kaiser, we know now that the 1968  papal ban was more about preserving papal “mystical” power and increasing the worldwide Catholic population for geo-political reasons, than it was about sound Catholic theology. Ironically, Kaiser, as then a young Jesuit prospect, coached Nancy’s husband in football at a San Francisco Catholic high school during the 1950’s. Incidentally, Kaiser’s excellent book is available for free as an e-book on his website.

US Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, is a Mormon grandfather. As Harry Reid must know well, the Mormons, which at times have had some organizational and operational parallels similar to the Catholic hierarchy, have had their own child sex abuse scandals, many of which also involved boy scout groups, as noted here. Reid has shown he will follow his conscience on matters of principle, even if it displeases his Mormon leaders, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune.

US Senate Minority Leader,  Mitch McConnell, is a Baptist grandfather. His now deceased devout and religious mother-in-law attended, in her early fifties, graduate school at New York’s Catholic St. John’s University, so he also personally, as well as a longtime Washington insider, must have a good measure of how Catholic bishops operate.

Another favorable political development here for President Obama is the large number of women just elected to Congress. Women, as mothers, often tend to be more attentive to the safety concerns of children. Women legislators generally are likely to pay less attention to the bishops’ mystical smokescreens and more attention to protecting children adequately.

It is the right time for President Obama to act. Children need him to do so and parents should demand that he do so. All parents in the USA, and everyone else who cares about protecting children, should be contacting the President and their Senators and Representatives, demanding that a thorough investigation be undertaken by a fully staffed and funded national commission.

Please consider circulating this article widely.

If the US bishops were well advised, they would try to reach a grand bargain now with President Obama and the current Congressional leaders. Perhaps the bishops could offer real accountability reforms in exchange for some limited amnesty for old claims, etc., so long as abuse survivors are also fully respected and fairly compensated and all children are fully protected prospectively.

It is time for the US bishops to “think outside the box”! If they continue to let their fates be decided by octogenerian hierarchs in Rome, some bishops may find themselves sharing a cellblock with Monsignor Lynn!

In four years, the bishops, if they stonewall further, may find themselves negotiating with Hilary Clinton. While not likely any tougher a negotiator than President Obama, he has had earlier in his life very favorable personal experiences with Catholicism. Moreover, Hilary Clinton, as a mother, and perhaps by 2017 a grandmother, may be less forgiving towards the bishops than Obama. Bishops need to think hard about this.

The US government provides billions in annual subsidies to many of the bishops’ controlled Catholic institutions and activities in the USA. The bishops also raise billions directly from Catholics in the USA. The bishops are mainly unaccountable for funds they receive and are reportedly poor stewards od other people’s money, as reported here and here.

The bishops have spent billions on a flawed and ineffective abuse legal defense strategy. Catholics are generally not told many details of the bishops’ expenditures and, in any event, would have no say about them at present, given the Catholic Church’s absolute monarchical structure. Many of the abuse survivors are forced by circumstances and the hardess of many bishops’ hearts to seek governmental financial assistance to survive. The bishops, in effect, have shifted much of the financial consequences of the bishops’ failure to curtail predatory priests in the USA either directly to Catholic contributors, who have little say, or to taxpayers, who often are unaware.

This is wrong. Of course, abuse survivors must be helped financially to survive, but President Obama must do what he can to make sure the bishops are doing all they can to curtail future abuse claims and to pay for actual abuse claims. It is only just.

Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 17 November 2012.

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