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Gerald T. Slevin: Sexually Abused Catholics, Religious Liberty & Papal Monarchy

As the week begins, another powerful and informative statement by Jerry Slevin.  Jerry is commenting in this posting on the news conference of Philadelphia archbishop Chaput last Friday.  What follows is Jerry’s posting:

In 1776 in Philadelphia the key grievances stressed in the Declaration of Independence included (1) the British monarch’s interference in the justice process, especially in law cases involving his officials’ misconduct, and (2) the monarch’s imposition of unjust legislation by undemocratic means. I t was then, and remains yet today, among the fundamental principles of natural justice that (A) one cannot be a fair judge of one’s own crimes or of crimes of others who serve on one’s behalf,  and (B) the governed must have a meaningful say in making laws that govern them.

After a bloody Revolutionary War against a monarchy, the fundamental principles of an independent judiciary and a democratic legislature were soon incorporated into the US Constitution, along with related protections for freedom of speech and the press and for religious liberty, balanced by an obligatory separation of church and state.  The Founding Fathers had painfully learned their lessons about European monarchical tyranny and religious zealotry and wanted to expel these evils forever from America’s shores.

In 2012 also in Philadelphia several of these U.S. Constitutional principles are being substantially challenged by the current papal monarch acting through his bishops, especially Archbishop Chaput, leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese (the “Philly AD”).  The pope and his subordinates are, in effect, interfering in Pennsylvania in the administration of justice in sexual abuse cases involving clerics; as well as opposing by excessive lobbying the  popularly supported enactment of needed reforms of related child sexual abuse statute of limitation laws, often under the cynical guise of “religious liberty.”

These challenges were made abundantly clear in Chaput’s recent “press conference,” available in its entirety in audio here and in summary in video in this national CBS Evening News Report from Scott Polley available here.

Archbishop Chaput is one of the pope’s key US culture warriors, along with Chaput’s recent Philly predecessor and the pope’s longtime curial colleague, Cardinal Rigali, and NY’s Cardinal Dolan, a Rigali protege and head of the US bishops’ official group.

Chaput had been been personally selected by the pope last year, in effect, to execute ecclesiastically by removal from office a validly consecrated successor to the Apostles, Australian Bishop Morris.  Bishop Morris’ “capital crime” was apparently to propose, as a possible solution to the pressing priest shortage his diocese faced, opening up discussions on ordaining women priests.  As an unquestioning papal supporter,  Chaput terminated Morris ruthlessly.

Chaput, following the papal lead, also currently advocates zealously against sone health insurance rights of American women and the marriage rights of all gay Americans.  The pope’s and US bishops’ political program, and their alliance on these issues with right wing ideologues and some fundamentalist evangelical leaders, are set forth clearly in the 2009 Manhattan Declaration here.

Chaput’s press conference was held against the backdrop of the widely reported and continuing Philly criminal trial for child endangerment of Rigali’s former top aide, Msgr. Lynn,  as reported regularly with vivid details by the Philadelphia Inquirer here and discussed at length in my earlier article here.

Chaput’s press briefing was conducted in a carefully staged and patently perfunctory manner.  Reporters were flooded at the outset with voluminous data, only then to be offered much legal “razzle-dazzle” and a lot of diversions and half-answers.  Reporters were also generally limited to one question by Chaput’s rigid press assistant, as CNN’s repected investigative reporter, Susan Candiotti, frustratingly learned.  The live feed broadcasting of the press conference on the Philly AD’s website seems to have mystically vanished as soon as the conference ended.

As Chaput indicated at his press conference, clearly and arrogantly, and echoed by his high-priced lawyer, Gina Maisto Smith, and his likely similarly high-priced “abuse crisis management” consultant, Mary Achilles, this Philly Archbishop is seeking to function, in effect, as prosecutor, judge and jury in deciding the fate of over two dozen Philly priests who 14 months ago were suddenly and publicly suspended by Cardinal Rigali for previously suspected sexual misconduct with children.

The suspended priests are apparently completely at Chaput’s mercy and dependent on Chaput for financial support, including likely their salaries,  health insurance coverage and pension benefits.  In light of their abrupt 14 months’ suspensions, most of these priests are likely already deemed guilty in the eyes of many Catholics.  Since many of these priests’ alleged misdeeds could lead to abuse victims’ lawsuits against the Philly AD, it may be in the Philly AD’s interest if Chaput drags his feet on announcing  his decisions concerning some of them until after the short Pennsylvania abuse statute of limitations bars the lawsuits against the Philly AD with respect to related potential claims.

This unprecedented mass suspension, which originally involved 37 Philly priests, was unexpectedly announced in March of last year just a few weeks after Rigali boldly and rashly announced that the Philly AD had no priests  “…serving in ministry today who have an  admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

Since Rigali’s longtime former auxiliary bishop has recently testified under oath that only the Cardinal makes the ultimate decisions about priests that have serious allegations against them, it is difficult to understand how Rigali could make such an apparently inaccurate initial statement shortly after his former top aide and several priests were indicted pursuant to the 2011 grand jury report that also expressly indicated there were numerous Philly priests serving in ministry who were the subject of sexual misconduct with minors.

Possibly, the Philly AD’s lawyers determined that a single mass suspension might put these suspected priests on ice and out of sight, thereby potentially reducing overall possible lawsuits against the Philly AD related to these priests’ alleged aggregate misdeeds.

In summary, Chaput at the recent press conference indicated that, so far, he had reviewed all the cases of the suspended priests, yet added that there were (1) only a few priests he had, in effect, “convicted,” (2) only a few priests he had “acquitted,” (3) a few more priests he elected to report to the Philly DA, and (4) over a dozen priests he had not yet finished processing after more than 14 months of extensive investigations by his lawyers.

As to the “convicted” priests, Chaput said he hadn’t decided what penalty would be applied, but it might only be that they devote themselves to a life of prayer!  Chaput’s almost indifference to the amount of time that had elapsed in resolving these cases is very troubling, since there is little room for confidence that these priests are really being monitored in their access to minors, given the Philly AD’s poor monitoring record.

As to the “acquitted” priests, Chaput indicated he would not disclose what sexual misdeeds they had been alleged to have done that necessitated a 14 -months’ investigation.  Chaput indicated he would leave it up to the acquitted priests if they wanted to disclose the allegations to their parishioners should these priests decide to return to their former parishes with Chaput’s permission.  Chaput indicated parishioners would have a “voice” about taking back a previously suspended priest, but not a veto.  Typical clerical “doublespeak.”

Chaput imperiously corrected his lawyer for attempting to estimate when more priests’ fates would be announced and, in effect, indicated he would announce that in his own good time.  He is consistently arrogant, it appears.

Of course, the more time Chaput takes, the more likely that any civil victim’s abuse claims that might be triggered by announcing a particular priest’s discharge for sexual misdeeds will be barred by the Pennsylvania statute of limitations that Chaput lobbies so hard to keep very short.  Chaput appears to be inverting the motto of the bishops’ favorite media booster, Fox News, namely,  “We report. You decide.” As to abuse victims’ claims, Chaput appears to be saying, “You report. I decide.”

When Chaput was asked about why his latest abuse claims determinations should be trusted, given apparently the Philly AD’s dismal record over several decades as has been vividly demonstrated in the ongoing criminal trial of Rigali’s former top aide, Msgr. Lynn, Archbishop Chaput cited as the reason he should be trusted now is the impressive “team” the Philly AD had hired and relied on.

This, of course, is pure mystical malarkey.  Mrs. Smith is a high-priced criminal defense lawyer whose duty is to protect her client, the Philly AD and, as a practical matter, Chaput and Rigali, from criminal and civil liability.  Ms. Achilles had previously,  presumably as a well-paid abuse crisis consultant, helped Rigali survive the fallout from the earlier horrendous 2005 grand jury report, until media attention decreased and, as the press conference suggests, Rigali was apparently able to resume business as usual overseeing Philly’s predator priests paradise.

Ms. Achilles appears to be back again at the Philly AD similarly to help Chaput survive and get past the 2011 grand jury report.  Her attempts at the press conference to pivot to topics like child abuse generally and vacuous parish programs,  give little hope she is going to tackle the tough, but fundamental, issues of mandatory prompt police reporting of all abuse claims and obligatory and independent annual auditing of all bishops’ compliance with child protection rules.

Both Mrs. Smith and Ms. Achilles are, with all due respect,  hired help.  They both work for, are paid by and get their orders from Chaput.  It is troubling that they seem willing to permit themselves to be used as part of Chaput’s almost duplicitous effort to spin their role as that of unbiased independent authorities. After spending 14 months sifting through the sick legacy Cardinal Rigali left the Philly AD, Mrs. Smith appears to still speak favorably of Rigali, the man who hired her for this major and presumably profitable legal assignment.  If that doesn’t suggest some bias, I do not know what does.

Similarly, Ms. Achilles seems eager to sign on again after seeing how Rigali apparently conned her several years ago, with little firm evidence that Chaput will really be any more committed to cleaning up the Philly predator priest problem than Rigali seems to have been.  Chaput appears to have added more lawyers and selected personally everyone on his  new “child protection team.”  You don’t have the fox design the security system for the henhouse.  Nothing significant really appears to have changed in the Philly AD.

When asked at the press conference how all this sexual abuse of children could have gone on after the horrendous 2005 grand jury report findings, Chaput said, in effect, he did not know since he has only been at the Philly AD for eight months.  I do not buy that for a minute, but if I did, I would then as a concerned Catholic ask him to resign.  How could he possibly fix the abuse problem if he doesn’t know by now, after incurring likely millions of dollars in legal and consulting fees, what caused it?

Of course, if Chaput were for a change to be straightforward about principal causes of the continuing Philly child abuse, he would likely have to finger Rigali.  Since Rigali, as indicated in my earlier article referred to and linked above, remains a powerful voting Cardinal, Chaput is unlikely to finger Rigali, at least not before Chaput gets his own red Cardinal’s cap.

This is just the latest chapter of the story, reported now for weeks at Msgr. Lynn’s criminal trial, of how for over a half century the hierarchy of the Philly AD has mainly operated outside the Pennsylvania criminal justice system with their own monarchical rules and procedures.  This is surely not what the Founding Fathers intended in Philadelphia over 200 years ago.

The monarchical hierarchy has behaved like this, and still appears to behave like this, in a city where the District Attorney and judges are elected by voters, by apparently skillfully using the Philly AD’s considerable assets and contacts to manage influential political leaders, including apparently by leveraging profitable and extensive Philly AD legal business to two of Philly’s  most politically connected law firms, one with significant Democratic, the other with significant Republican connections.

For example, Mrs. Smith’s law partner had been Philly DA and Mayor, as well as two-term Pennsylvania Governor until 2010, all as a Democrat.  The elected Democratic judge in the important current Philly criminal case against Msgr. Lynn, Rigali’s former top aide, reportely worked as an assistant to this former Philly DA for several years, as reportedly did Mary Achilles.  Mrs. Smith also worked as  a Philly Assistant DA, along apparently with the judge for some years.  The current Philly DA, Seth Williams, worked until 2010 for a couple of years as counsel at the Philly AD’s “Republican-leaning” law firm. Many of the older Philly cases being revealed at the Lynn trial existed at times when some of these persons worked in the Philly DA’s office, but apparently, and at times inexplicably, went undetected or fell through the cracks.

Everyone in the Philly criminal justice system seems to know everyone else in the system. Judging by the numeous omissions over almost a half century to investigate and prosecute childrens’ sexual abuse claims against predator priests in the Philly AD, except at times during the last decade mainly as a result of the singular efforts of maverick Philly DA, Lynne Abraham, the standard operating procedure in the Philly criminal justice system appears to have been, and may yet largely still be, to look the other way when the Philly AD is involved.  Given this bureaucratic block and the relatively short civil and criminal statute of limitations that makes good legal claims bad ones over time, the Philly AD has, in effect, been able to create a “shadow” monarchical justice system, exactly what the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid.

Accountable to no one but the papal monarch, the Philly AD can do almost whatever it wants to do. Sexually abused Catholics can be lied to, conned and stalled until the Pennsylvania short statute of limitations negates their claim.  Chaput “talks nice” about victims, as he jams them with his powerful legislative lobbying against extending or opening up a short widow period for barred claims.  With the recent payment by Bishop Blaire in Stockton CA of $3.75 million to a single sexual abuse claimant, albeit apparently to negate the need for Cardinal Mahony’s imminent testimony, Chaput knows that for every claim he can stall long enough to have the statute of limitations time bar it, he is likely to be keeping money in the Philly AD’s pockets.

Obviously, Philly Catholics must continue to monitor their politically sensitive criminal justice system and to demand loudly and often that its participants act timely and fairly.  Pennsylvania Catholics must also lobby hard in this election year to get the Pennsylvania legislators to reject Chaput’s pressure and adopt statute of limitations reform, as well as mandatory and prompt reporting to the police by all custodians of children, including priests, nuns and teachers, of all claims related to the sexual abuse of children, as was just proposed by the national government in Ireland.

As discussed in my earlier article mentioned and linked above, similar voter pressure must also be directed during this election season at national political leaders as well, since this is more than just a Philly or Pennsylvania problem.

Clearly, Philadelphia Catholics are increasingly paying attention. In the national CBS News Report linked above, Susan Matthews is interviewed. She boldly challenged Chaput at the press conference. She, and her colleague, Kathy Kane, have with determination, established an influential blog, Catholics4Change, that in barely a year has had several hundred thousand hits mainly from concerned Catholics.  By contrast, her NBC commentator uncle, Chris Matthews of Hardball fame, often brags he is a staunch Catholic and proud Philadelphian, yet rarely mentions the Philly AD abuse scandal and went out of his way last year to refer to Cardinal Rigali a “good guy”!  One would prefer not to know who Chris thinks is a “bad guy”.

In case you missed Archbishop Chaput’s press conference, please don’t worry. You didn’t miss much. Mainly, business as usual!

Cross-posted at Bilgrimage, 7 May 2012.

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One Response

  1. Thank you for an outstanding summary that is both insightful and clear. Truly well done….

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