The Pennsylvania grand jury report that has reignited the clerical sexual abuse issue with a vengeance is just the beginning. So far, thirteen additional states have announced that they’re pursuing investigations, and a federal statewide investigation in Pennsylvania has just begun.
The impact of these investigations will depend a lot on the attorneys in charge. Because the Pennsylvania Attorney General grossly mischaracterized the grand jury’s findings, the public has been misinformed and its reaction misdirected.
In contrast, the Pennsylvania district attorney who vindicated Notre Dame’s bishop, the Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, from a baseless charge did a very good turn to the Catholics whom he serves, including those in the Notre Dame community.
We suggest later how Notre Dame might be able to play a useful role as these investigations roll along. But first, the facts about these two proceedings.
District Attorney Chardo and Bishop Rhoades
An allegation against Bishop Rhoades relating to his time as bishop of Harrisburg was lodged in the wake of the grand jury report. Though weightless on its face, the diocese dutifully reported it to district attorney Francis Chardo, who dutifully investigated with what would in any other context be undue diligence.
The allegation was, of course, leaked to the press. The South Bend Tribune, of course, blazoned it across its front page.
To his credit, Mr. Chardo swept the charge aside and lamented the leak. His verdict:
This has been a case of a public airing of mere speculation of impropriety with no foundation. In this case, the leaking of what turned out to be an unfounded report did unnecessary harm. This has done a disservice to actual victims of sexual abuse. It has also caused significant and unnecessary harm to Bishop Rhoades.
The South Bend Tribune’s report of the bishop’s vindication was the typical stab at catch-up that never fully catches up.
Bishop Rhoades and the Grand Jury Report
Bishop Rhoades’s record in both Harrisburg and Fort Wayne/South Bend is a welcome reminder that Catholics are served by many good bishops, of whom Bishop Rhoades is one of the best.
Bishop Rhoades served as bishop of Harrisburg for five years from 2004 to 2009. As he noted in his statement and press conference (video) respecting the grand jury report, this followed the adoption by the USCCB of comprehensive “zero tolerance” policies and procedures respecting sexual abuse, which he “fully enforced.”
Only two cases arose during Bishop Rhoades’s Harrisonburg tenure. They involved offenses committed years earlier. In each, he “notified law enforcement and punished each individual, even though both had already been removed from ministry.” While the grand jury did not include either case in its list of egregious examples, Bishop Rhoades sent the grand jury a detailed explanation of his policies and why he did not publicize these two old cases. (Report pp. 211 ff.)
(On reconsideration, Bishop Rhoades recently released the names of all Fort Wayne/South Bend offenders disciplined before his arrival even though most diocese don’t follow that practice. The list included three Holy Cross priests, neither of whom served at Notre Dame. Notre Dame incidents would not usually be reported under present policies respecting minors.)
Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury
Because of Mr. Shapiro’s mischaracterization of the the grand jury report and the media’s following suit, the widespread impression is that priestly predators are preying on young people across the country as we write while bishops wink and nod.
It is worth noting, and deeply disappointing, that a well-regarded Notre Dame professor who has been tapped by Father Jenkins as co-chair of a research task force to advise him in this matter is, unaccountably, among those fueling this misconception. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Dr. Kathleen Cummings called for unspecified “church leaders” to “relinquish their place at the head table” so that the Church will be “safer for children.”
But the grand jury report provides no support for the notion that Catholic places are unsafe for children. To the contrary. As we said in a prior bulletin:
The good news is that, while sexual abuse has not been wiped out, the crisis appears to be over. The Pennsylvania data track the national data. Sexual assaults began mounting in the 1960’s, peaked in the 1970’s and 1980’s, fell sharply in the 1990’s, and bottomed out in the 2000’s.
(Recently released data from the Washington D.C. archdiocese tell the same story.“There has not been an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest of the archdiocese in almost two decades.”)
Specifically, the grand jury listed only ten cases since 2000 (including three cases of porn possession, one of kissing, and another of “foot fetish”), and the grand jury returned only two indictments. As Bishop Rhoades said in his press conference, the 2002 reforms have made “Catholic schools and churches and parishes safe environments”.
No one would suspect anything of the sort, however, from Mr. Shapiro’s press conference on the report. He ignored the grand jury’s acknowledgment that “much has changed over the last fifteen years” and instead launched an extended broadside against the Church. The report does not support his extravagant declarations with respect to any decade, much less the last two.
Take, for example, this sweeping assertion that on its face is obviously untrue:
All of the cases were brushed aside in every part of the state by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institutions above all. Priests were raping little boys and girls and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing they hid it all, for decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, cardinals have been protected, many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.
And when at last he turned to the documented representations of the dioceses that the situation had improved radically, he sniffed:
The diocese claim to have changed their ways, to have put appropriate safeguards in place and no longer have tolerance for sexual abuse. Statements are one thing. The proof of their claim will be if they support each of the four [legislative] recommendations.
The “proof” is in the report itself, as Shapiro knew full well.
Finally, while the evidence of widespread abuse in earlier decades is so appalling it doesn’t matter in a sense whether the report’s tally of over 300 abusers and over 1,000 victims is reasonably accurate, the numbers are so large as to invite scrutiny. What’s required is a more careful examination than we’re equipped to make, but it can at least be said that there are good reasons for skepticism.
To begin with and most fundamentally, we don’t know what standard the grand jury – really, Mr. Shapiro and his staff – used in deciding an allegation was “credible,” but we do know that it was lower than that required to indict, much less convict; that a number of persons accused filed strong denials; that a experienced sexual abuse counselor declared in a detailed statement that many of the allegations were false; and that some of the cases highlighted seem to have been real whoppers.
Take this widely publicized one:
Monsignor Thomas Benestad made a 9-year-old give him oral sex, then rinse the boy’s mouth out with holy water to purify him.”
The Media Report says this is flat-out wrong. Providing the supporting details, Media Report declared:
Attorney General Shapiro is simply nasty for not informing the public that two entirely separate investigations exonerated Monsignor Benestad.
Notre Dame, the Grand Jury, and the McCarrick Affair
Father Jenkins has recently said Notre Dame wants to do what it can to assist the Church and a task force he appointed has just issued a statement both of which we’ll discuss soon, but these announcements suggest some possibilities we note here.
Notwithstanding Mr. Shapiro’s distortions and the grand jury report’s weaknesses, the report, together with the McCarrick affair, has trained attention on two issues of surpassing importance;
- The accountability of bishops for their own sexual abuses and their culpable failures to deal with clerical offenders for whom they are responsible; and,
- Confirmation of the earlier nationwide study data showing that clerical sexual abuse is overwhelmingly a homosexual phenomenon. See our prior bulletin.
As to the first issue, it would be helpful to have a disinterested analysis of the grand jury report. And once Note Dame gains credibility by rescinding McCarrick’s honorary degree, the University could make an important contribution on the second issue by examining the causes for the dominant homosexual element in clerical abuse.
Notre Dame ought to make sure its faculty and students understand what the grand jury report really stands for. And it ought, above all, qualify to play a role by rescinding the honorary degree it bestowed on erstwhile Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Please join our petition below urging him to do so.
In an eccentric – to put it conservatively – takedown of his predecessors, Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg recently proclaimed:
I declare that the name of every Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg since 1947 shall be removed from any building, facility, or room in the Diocese.
(Bishop Rhoades lost only one room nameplate.)
Strange Happenings II
One of ten post-2000 cases listed in the report involved a priest who explained that his reason for kissing a teenager was that he was trying to “recruit her for the convent.” The convent is not named. He was not prosecuted.
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