Monthly Archives: August 2016

NEW CATHOLIC BISHOPS TOLD THEY DON’T HAVE TO REPORT SEXUAL ABUSE TO POLICE


NEW CATHOLIC BISHOPS TOLD THEY DON’T HAVE TO REPORT SEXUAL ABUSE TO POLICE

BY ON 2/11/16 AT 10:11 AM

From the Link: http://www.newsweek.com/bishops-no-obligation-report-sexual-abuse-425509

A Vatican official has told newly appointed bishops that they have no obligation to report instances of clerical sexual abuse, as it’s the responsibility of the victims and their families.

Updated | New Catholic bishops have been told that they have no obligation to report clerical child abuse, according to reports.

During a presentation for newly appointed bishops, French Monsignor Tony Anatrella said they don’t have a duty to report abuse because it should be the responsibility of victims and their families to go to the police. The comments were first reported by John L. Allen at the Catholic news site Cruxnow.com earlier this week.

Anatrella, a psychtherapist and consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, is known for his controversial views on homosexuality, including that the acceptance of homosexuality in the West is creating “serious problems” for children. He also helped to write a training document for newly appointed bishops that further spells out the church’s stance on clerical sexual abuse.

“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the training document, which was released by the Vatican earlier this month, reads. The document says bishops are required only to report the suspected abuse internally.

A Vatican source told Newsweek that the comments made during the presentation are Anatrella’s opinion and not an official Vatican position. The source added that in some countries it is difficult for clergy to report abuse to authorities due to the “quite hostile” relationship between church and state. In countries with corrupt police forces and hostile governments, for example, there is greater risk of not having a presumption of innocence and a fair trial, he said.

“What would that mean in communist countries that throw priests and bishops into jail just for mentioning the pope’s name?” the Vatican source said. “To turn over the investigation of an accusation that could be false in such a situation is something that must be weighed.”

The Catholic League, a Catholic civil rights organization, also said the comments made by Anatrella were solely his opinion, and a Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said they were “not in any way—as someone has mistakenly interpreted—a new Vatican document or a new instruction or new ‘guidelines’ for bishops.”

Anatrella’s comments appear to be at odds with efforts made by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which held a week-long meeting earlier this month. The proposals from the commission, which will be sent to Pope Francis for his consideration, include “a request for him to remind all authorities in the Church of the importance of responding directly to victims and survivors who approach him,” the Vatican said in a press release.

Allen notes that the commission was not involved in the training session given by Anatrella amd wonders why the commission is “not entrusted with making such a presentation to new bishops.” The next course for new bishops will be held in September, Allen reports.

“In one sense, this isn’t surprising. As BishopAccountability.org has pointed out, ‘zero tolerance,’ while often uttered by Catholic officials, isn’t even the official policy of the global church,” Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement emailed to Newsweek.

“But it’s infuriating—and dangerous—that so many believe the myth that bishops are changing how they deal with abuse and that so little attention is paid when evidence to the contrary—like this disclosure by Allen—emerges,” she said.

The commission was set up in March 2014 with the explicit goal of proposing initiatives for “protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church.” Futhermore, the commission “is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches, uniting their efforts to those of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the protection of all children and vulnerable adults.”

This story has been updated to include comments from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Comments from the Vatican have also been added

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Brazilian archbishop resigns after paedophile ‘cover-up’


Brazilian archbishop resigns after paedophile ‘cover-up’

From the Link: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-36723117

Archbishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto,

Archbishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto,

A Brazilian archbishop has resigned after being accused of covering up actions of paedophile priests in his diocese.

Pope Francis accepted Bishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto’s resignation.

In a statement (in Portuguese), Mr Pagotto said he had committed some “mistakes” while trying to give shamed bishops a second chance.

Last year he was investigated and barred from appointing priests in his home state of Paraiba.

Mr Pagotto was accused of letting priests into seminaries in his diocese that were rejected elsewhere for suspected paedophilia.

In his statement, he said: “I welcomed priests and seminarians with the intention of offering them new opportunities in life.

“Some were later suspected of committing serious wrongdoings… I made mistakes by trusting too much, with naive mercy.”

Last month the Pope said bishops who had been negligent over sexual abuse allegations could be removed from office.

Mr Pagotto resigned under a portion of canon law that allows for early retirement for “grave cause or illness”.

Key papal adviser accused of mishandling abuse allegation in 2006


Key papal adviser accused of mishandling abuse allegation in 2006

Anian Christoph Wimmer

August 20, 2016

From the Link: https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2016/08/20/key-papal-adviser-accused-mishandling-abuse-allegation-2006/

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who has been accused of failing to remove an abusive priest in 2006, at a press conference in Rome, Oct. 5, 2015. (Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.)

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who has been accused of failing to remove an abusive priest in 2006, at a press conference in Rome, Oct. 5, 2015. (Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.)

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, Germany, a key papal adviser and a leading voice for progressive positions during the recent Synods of Bishops on the family, faces accusations of mishandling an abuse allegation against one of his priests in 2006.

TRIER, Germany – Accusations have been raised in a number of German media that Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising failed to remove from office a priest accused in 2006 of sexually abusing a minor.

The alleged abuser, it appears, was allowed to stay on as parish priest for a number of years, even going on overnight excursions with youth.

A spokesperson for Marx has said that the prelate had acted in accordance with relevant guidelines that were in place at the time.

Saarland public broadcaster SR reports that Marx, who was then Bishop of Trier, knew authorities were investigating a parish priest – identified only as “M” –  for allegedly sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy.

Citing the victim’s legal counsel as a source, SR reports that “M”, who was then 52, had partially confessed the crime to authorities. However, he appears to have avoided prosecution because the alleged crime fell just outside the statute of limitations.

The Church was duly informed by authorities of this in 2006, but never requested the case files, several media report.

When nonetheless questioned by the diocese, “M” denied the allegations, SR reports, and then-Bishop Marx closed the matter and moved on.

It appears the accused continued to serve as parish priest in the community where the alleged abused took place until 2015.

According to the German news magazine “Focus”, state authorities initiated two further investigations into the priest’s conduct, in 2013 and 2015. Both times, the lines of inquiry stalled and finally were abandoned due to a lack of evidence.

Only as of May 2015, the alleged abuser is no longer allowed to be in contact with minors or to publicly say Mass, Focus reports, as both civil authorities and the Trier diocese are yet again investigating the matter under both legal and canonical auspices.

Marx, who was Bishop of Trier from 2001 to 2007, has not yet spoken about the accusations leveled against him. Spokespersons for both the Diocese of Trier and for Marx have confirmed that the then-Bishop of Trier knew of the case in 2006.

However, the spokesperson for Marx emphasized that he “had acted in accordance with the guidelines of the German Bishops’ Conference”. These guidelines were reformed in 2010, and then again in 2013.

“Such a case would be dealt with differently today; the Church would conduct her own investigation”, the spokesperson said. “The German bishops have acted on the bitter experiences, and introduced new guidelines that apply to all dioceses”.

Marx is also president of the German bishops’ conference, a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis on the reform of the Roman Curia, and coordinator of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy.

 

Vatican finance minister accused of child sexual abuse


Vatican finance minister accused of child sexual abuse

By Josephine McKennaReligion News Services  •  Friday July 29, 2016 7:24 AM

From the Link: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/faith_and_values/2016/07/29/vatican-finance-minister-accused-of-child-sexual-abuse.html

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s finance minister, Cardinal George Pell, has strenuously rejected the latest claims that he sexually abused children many years ago as a priest.

Pell, an Australian who is third in the Vatican hierarchy after Pope Francis and Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, is the most senior figure in the Catholic Church to be accused of sexually abusing children.

“The allegations are untrue. I deny them absolutely,” the 75-year-old Pell said from Rome on Thursday.

This week, a TV report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said police in the state of Victoria were investigating claims that Pell had touched boys inappropriately and, in a separate incident, appeared naked in front of three boys at a surfing club locker room in the late 1980s.

“Untested allegations should be put through the proper procedures,” Pell said. “I’m quite prepared to cooperate. … I won’t cooperate with trial by the media. I think it’s unjust and inappropriate.”

It’s not the first time Pell has faced similar accusations.

After an internal church investigation, Pell, the former archbishop of Sydney, was cleared of an allegation that he had abused a 12-year-old boy at a camp in the 1960s.

The Vatican declined to comment on these most recent claims.

SNAP — the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — urged anyone “with suspicions or knowledge” of any alleged wrongdoing by Pell to speak to secular authorities, not church figures.

“After a lengthy investigation, police have deemed eight accusers’ accounts are credible enough that they’re giving the evidence to prosecutors,” said David Clohessy, SNAP president, in a statement. “That speaks volumes.”

Anthony Fisher, the archbishop of Sydney, told reporters the claims did not correspond with the Pell he knew.

“He has a record of leadership in the fight against child sexual abuse, and was the first bishop in the world to implement a process under which such claims would be investigated by an independent commissioner,” Fisher said.

Pell has wielded significant power since he was appointed prefect of the secretariat for the economy by Pope Francis in 2014.

Pell has long been accused of shielding predatory priests in Australia. Earlier this year, he gave lengthy evidence by video link to an Australian inquiry into clerical sexual abuse from Rome after doctors said he was not well enough to testify in Sydney.

At the end of his hearing, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi praised Pell for his “ dignified and coherent” testimony.

Former Ballarat priest found guilty of historic indecent assault charges


Former Ballarat priest found guilty of historic indecent assault charges


23 Aug 2016, 5 p.m.

From the Link: http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/4115070/former-priest-found-guilty/

Father Leslie Sheahan

Father Leslie Sheahan

A former Ballarat priest has been found guilty of indecently assaulting a young girl in her own bed more than 40 years ago.

Leslie Sheahan, 85, who was an assistant priest of St Columba’s Church at the time of the offence, will return to the Ballarat Magistrates Court next month for sentencing over the historic indecent assault.

The woman assaulted as a young girl by the former Ballarat priest while she slept told the court the traumatic experience still haunted her.

The woman, who was aged nine or 10 at the time of the incident, gave evidence she woke one night in the 1960s to find Sheahan in her bed with his hand down her pants while he forced her hand on his penis.

“He kept telling me how nice it felt for me and I kept thinking no it wasn’t nice at all,” she told the court.

Left feeling ashamed, she said Sheahan, who would visit the house often with other members of the clergy including Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns and Cardinal George Pell, told her “that’s our secret” and not to tell her parents.

“I just curled up in a ball and cried,” she said.

“I remember it as if it happened last night.

“It’s a shadow that stays with you and hangs over you for the rest of your life.”

It was decades later before she told anyone about the night.

She told the court she originally wrote a letter to Bishop Mulkearns advising him of what happened because she wanted to make sure Sheahan was not working around children, but she never followed up on an invite to talk about the complaint.

She added a number of years later she found out Sheahan was still working in a Victorian parish and out of shock decided to ring him.

“He denied the incident and started to cry … but he didn’t respond to questions about why he was crying,” she told the court.

But it was not until seeing Sheahan at a funeral she decided to make a complaint to police.

Sheahan denied the allegations and made a no comment interview to police.

Sheahan’s defence lawyer, Raymond Alexander, put to the woman she had fabricated the incident in which she responded “I had absolutely no doubt it was Father Sheahan in my bed.”

He also asked if the complaint was born out of desires to gain compensation, to which she told him she had not lodged for any compensation by the Catholic Church.

Mr Alexander argued Sheahan never groomed the young girl, which the woman also agreed never occurred, and said Sheahan risked the girl screaming or telling her parents if he had molested her.

“The likelihood of someone exposing themselves to that great of risk is unreasonable,” he said.

He added if the assault had occurred, it may have been another priest, as many frequently visited the Ballarat property.

He told the court no evidence of the letter could be found, and no diary notes were made by the woman which could support the allegations.

After the one-day contested hearing, Magistrate Cynthia Toose ruled Sheahan was guilty of two counts of unlawfully/ indecently assaulting the woman.

Ms Toose, who indicated Sheahan was looking at a period of imprisonment, said in her view there was clear identification by the victim of Sheahan on the night.

The matter was adjourned until September 28 for a plea hearing.

Fugitive Catholic priest at centre of five-year manhunt arrested in Britain over historic sex abuse


Fugitive Catholic priest at centre of five-year manhunt arrested in Britain over historic sex abuse

By  Camilla Turner

From the Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/22/fugitive-catholic-priest-at-centre-of-five-year-manhunt-arrested/

Father Lawrence Soper has been arrested on suspicion of nine counts of historic sexual assaults CREDIT: MET POLICE

Father Lawrence Soper has been arrested on suspicion of nine counts of historic sexual assaults CREDIT: MET POLICE

A Catholic priest who skipped bail five years ago has been arrested on suspicion of nine counts of historic sexual assaults.

Father Laurence Soper, 72, the former abbot of Ealing Abbey, was wanted on a European Arrest Warrant over allegations of child abuse.

The accusations date back to when he taught at St Benedict’s School, a private independent Catholic school which is part of Ealing Abbey in west London.

In March 2011, Fr Soper was believed to have been living in a monastery in Rome and was due to return to London to answer bail but he failed to show up, sparking an international search.

After spending five years living as a fugitive, he was arrested in Kosovo in May.

However, attempts to bring him back the UK to face charges were thwarted when a Kosovan judge blocked the extradition order on the basis that his alleged crimes have expired in Kosovo, which has a 30-year statute of limitation.

On Sunday night, Scotland Yard announced that Fr Soper was arrested as he arrived back in the UK at Luton Airport from Kosovo.

A spokesman said he was “arrested on suspicion of nine offences of sexual assault committed over a period from 1972 to 1986”.

In 2011,  Lord Carlile of Berriew stripped monks of control at St Benedict’s School, which offered a “heartfelt apology for past failures”.

The peer said he hoped his decision to take powers away from Ealing Abbey would “set a template” for other schools.

In his inquiry into the sexual abuse, Lord Carlile outlined a catalogue of failures by the abbey to intervene as allegations of abuses came to light.

“I have come to the firm conclusion … that the form of governance of St Benedict’s School is wholly outdated and demonstrably unacceptable,” he wrote.

“The abbot himself has accepted that it is ‘opaque to outsiders’.”

The report added: “In a school where there has been abuse, mostly – but not exclusively – as a result of the activities of the monastic community, any semblance of a conflict of interest, of lack of independent scrutiny, must be removed.”

Chargesheet ready against defrocked priest for teen’s rape and murder


Chargesheet ready against defrocked priest for teen’s rape and murder

Published: 23rd August 2016 12:58 AM

Last Updated: 23rd August 2016 12:58 AM

From the Link: http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/Chargesheet-ready-against-defrocked-priest-for-teens-rape-and-murder/2016/08/23/article3592282.ece

PALAKKAD/COIMBATORE: AS the charge sheet is being readied against defrocked priest, H Arockiaraj, accused in the suspicious death of a teenage girl at the pastor’s residence attached to the St. Stanislaus church in Walayar in 2013, the Coimbatore Bishop and three members of the clergy are likely to be made approvers.

According to police summons might be issued to Bishop Thomas Aquinas and the priests, Fr BF Madalaimuthu, Fr Kulandairaj, Fr Lawrence Melcure arrested and later released on bail for withholding information, to give a statement under section 164 before the Magistrate. If they supported the prosecution, they are likely to be made approvers. The Bishop and the three priests would have to give a statement to the Chief Judicial Magistrate which will determine the course of the case.

On July 23, 2013, the body of Fathima Sofiya was found in the living room of Fr Arockiaraj’ residence attached to the St. Stanislaus church in Chandrapuram. She was then 18 years and 4 days old. Subsequently, four weeks after the ‘murder’, a canonical court was set up by the Coimbatore Bishop, which found that Fr Arockiaraj guilty. He was suspended from the diocese and defrocked.

Sources, privy to the investigation, said the post mortem report by police surgeon Dr PB Gujral has clearly stated that rape had been committed on the girl while ruling out ligature strangulation. However, Shanthi Roselin, the mother of the girl,  continued to maintain that her daughter was strangulated. As such, investigators are learnt to have sought medico legal opinion on whether under these circumstances Section 302 (murder) could be included in the chargesheet.

On a petition from Shanthi Roselin, the Additional Sessions Court I, Palakkad had issued warrants against the Bishop and the four priests. They were charged under section 201 and 202 of the IPC for withholding information about Fr Arockiaraj from the police.

On August 12, Bishop Thomas Aquinas, Fr Madalaimuthu, Fr Kulandairaj, Fr Lawrence

Melcure had appeared before the investigation officer MK Zulfiquer at the Palakkad South police station and their statements were recorded. They were later let off on bail.

The Walayar police who investigated the crime had collected the shawl in which the body was reportedly found hanging. But this crucial piece of evidence was now missing after the police had closed the case within two weeks after writing it off as suicide.

It was in July 2015, after two years, Shanthi Roselin after recovering a letter Fr Arokiaraj had written to Sofiya and based on the photographs showing bruises on the face of the deceased, had approached the police for a reinvestigation. By then, Shanthi had also recorded many telephonic conversations she had with Arokiaraj in the background of her daughters death.

Later, Fr Arockiraj was arrested on charges of rape and under Posco for abusing a minor. He is now out on conditional bail.

Shanthi had also approached the Kerala High court and met the DGP of Kerala seeking justice.

She admits that her family had known Fr Arockiaraj since 2007 when her daughter was in Class VI. He was the Assistant Vicar of the St. Michael’s church in Coimbatore. The family kept in touch after he was transferred to Valparai in Tamil Nadu and later to Chandrapuram in Walayar. He used to visit Shanthi’s house Coimbatore and bring Sofiya in his car to Walayar, located 35 km away, for an eye treatment, counselling and catechism classes. It was during one such trips that the body of Sofiya was found in the living room of Fr Arockiaraj

Meanwhile, the Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Coimbatore, speaking to Express, clarified that the question of hiding evidence from the police by four members of the clergy, never arose as the Kerala police had never sought any information from them in the first place.

Bishop Thomas Aquinas, and the three priests, Kulanthai Raj, Madalai Muthu and Lawrence Melcure, were part of the canonical commission that inquired into the issue. Despite Arockiaraj having confessed to have “used” the girl, to the canonical court, the information was not divulged to the Kerala police.

“The inquiry was conducted in 2013, and Arockiaraj was defrocked. We did not divulge information to the police as they did not seek it from us,” said Father John Joseph, Vicar General.

“At the time the girl was supposed to have died, the Bishop was away on ecclesiastical duty. The police had already conducted an autopsy into the teens death and were proceeding with the investigations,” he added.

Following the arrests of the four priests for concealing evidence, the church has submitted documents relating to the inquiry to the Kerala police, officials confirmed

Haunting BBC documentary exposes 50-year scandal of baby trafficking by the Catholic church in Spain


Haunting BBC documentary exposes 50-year scandal of baby trafficking by the Catholic church in Spain

By Polly Dunbar for MailOnline

From the Link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2049647/BBC-documentary-exposes-50-year-scandal-baby-trafficking-Catholic-church-Spain.html

Up to 300,000 Spanish babies were stolen from their parents and sold for adoption over a period of five decades, a new investigation reveals.

The children were trafficked by a secret network of doctors, nurses, priests and nuns in a widespread practice that began during General Franco’s dictatorship and continued until the early Nineties.

Hundreds of families who had babies taken from Spanish hospitals are now battling for an official government investigation into the scandal.
Several mothers say they were told their first-born children had died during or soon after they gave birth.

But the women, often young and unmarried, were told they could not see the body of the infant or attend their burial.

In reality, the babies were sold to childless couples whose devout beliefs and financial security meant that they were seen as more appropriate parents.

Official documents were forged so the adoptive parents’ names were on the infants’ birth certificates.

In many cases it is believed they were unaware that the child they received had been stolen, as they were usually told the birth mother had given them up.

Journalist Katya Adler, who has investigated the scandal, says: ‘The situation is incredibly sad for thousands of people.

‘There are men and women across Spain whose lives have been turned upside-down by discovering the people they thought were their parents actually bought them for cash. There are also many mothers who have maintained for years that their babies did not die – and were labelled “hysterical” – but are now discovering that their child has probably been alive and brought up by somebody else all this time.’

Experts believe the cases may account for up to 15 per cent of the total adoptions that took place in Spain between 1960 and 1989.

It began as a system for taking children away from families deemed politically dangerous to the regime of General Franco, which began in 1939. The system continued after the dictator’s death in 1975 as the Catholic church continued to retain a powerful influence on public life, particularly in social services.

It was not until 1987 that the Spanish government, instead of hospitals, began to regulate adoptions.

The scandal came to light after two men, Antonio Barroso and Juan Luis Moreno, discovered they had been stolen as babies.

Mr Moreno’s ‘father’ confessed on his deathbed to having bought him as a baby from a priest in Zaragoza in northern Spain. He told his son he had been accompanied on the trip by Mr Barroso’s parents, who bought Antonio at the same time for 200,000 pesetas – a huge sum at the time.

‘That was the price of an apartment back then,’ Mr Barroso said. ‘My parents paid it in instalments over the course of ten years because they did not have enough money.’

DNA tests have proved that the couple who brought up Mr Barroso were not his biological parents and the nun who sold him has admitted to doing so.

When the pair made their case public, it prompted mothers all over the country to come forward with their own experiences of being told their babies had died, but never believing it. One such woman was Manoli Pagador, who has begun searching for her son.

A BBC documentary, This World: Spain’s Stolen Babies, follows her efforts to discover if he is Randy Ryder, a stolen baby who was brought up in Texas and is now aged 40.

In some cases, babies’ graves have been exhumed, revealing bones that belong to adults or animals. Some of the graves contained nothing at all.

The BBC documentary features an interview with an 89-year-old woman named Ines Perez, who admitted that a priest encouraged her to fake a pregnancy so she could be given a baby girl due to be born at Madrid’s San Ramon clinic in 1969. ‘The priest gave me padding to wear on my stomach,’ she says.

It is claimed that the San Ramon clinic was one of the major centres for the practice.

Many mothers who gave birth there claim that when they asked to see their child after being told it had died, they were shown a baby’s corpse that appeared to be freezing cold.

The BBC programme shows photographs taken in the Eighties of a dead baby kept in a freezer, allegedly to show grieving mothers.

Despite hundreds of families of babies who disappeared in Spanish hospitals calling on the government to open an investigation into the scandal, no nationally co-ordinated probe has taken place.

As a result of amnesty laws passed after Franco’s death, crimes that took place during his regime are usually not examined. Instead, regional prosecutors across the country are investigating each story on a case-by-case basis, with 900 currently under review.

But Ms Adler says: ‘There is very little political will to get to the bottom of the situation.’

There are believed to be thousands more cases that will never come to light because the stolen children fear their adoptive parents will be seen as criminals.

Many of the families of stolen babies have taken DNA tests in the hope of eventually being matched with their children. Some matches have already been made but, without a nationally co-ordinated database, reuniting lost relatives will be a very difficult process.

 

 

 

Unholy Secrets: The Legal Loophole That Allows Clergy To Hide Child Sexual Abuse


Unholy Secrets: The Legal Loophole That Allows Clergy To Hide Child Sexual Abuse

Jack Jenkins

From the Link: https://thinkprogress.org/unholy-secrets-the-legal-loophole-that-allows-clergy-to-hide-child-sexual-abuse-9a6899029eb5#.73nfch55c

It was 2008, and Rebecca Mayeux was living a nightmare.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

Just 14 years old at the time, she was being sexually harassed and abused by a member of her church, 64-year-old George Charlet Jr. According to Mayeux*, Charlet bombarded her with emails “laced with seductive nuances” over the course of a summer, slowly escalating his inappropriate advances before ultimately kissing and fondling her.

As if the abuse wasn’t enough, Mayeux had to sit in the same pews as Charlet every Sunday at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, a tiny country parish about 35 miles north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Shaken and afraid, Mayeux, like so many children who endure sexual abuse, felt too ashamed to tell her parents about her ordeal, fearing they would judge her.

Instead, she fled to the person she thought she could trust the most: Father Jeff Bayhi, her parish priest.

Mayeux says she visited Bayhi on three occasions to reveal intimate details about her abuse, always meeting under the context of Catholic confession. She says she told him about her unsettling experience, which included an avalanche of suggestive emails, “obsessive” phone calls, and Charlet saying he “wanted to make love to her” before inappropriately touching her.

“Rather than help Mayeux, her lawyers say the priest told her simply to move past the abuse, suggesting she ‘sweep it under the floor and get rid of it.’”

But rather than help Mayeux, her lawyers say the priest told her simply to move past the abuse, suggesting she “sweep it under the floor and get rid of it” because “too many people would be hurt” if she brought it out into the open. He reportedly took few if any steps to stop the mistreatment, and the crimes she claimed went unreported.

Mayeux’s alleged abuser died one year later, but the emotional scars remained. After she finally informed her parents about her ordeal, the family immediately filed a lawsuit in 2009 that implicated Bayhi and the Diocese of Baton Rouge. They charged that Bayhi was negligent in allowing the alleged abuse to continue and that the diocese had failed to inform him that clergy are listed as “mandated reporters” in the state of Louisiana — that is, people in leadership positions who are legally required to report knowledge of child abuse to authorities.

But the diocese, which declined to comment for this story, did not accept blame or even move to condemn Bayhi’s behavior; rather, they rushed to his defense. They pointed to an obscure exemption in Louisiana law: According to the state Children’s Code, clergy do not have to disclose information about child abuse if it is revealed during church-sanctioned “confidential communication” — in other words, confession. They argued that not only was the priest exempted from reporting the abuse, but also that he could not be forced to testify about what he heard during confession, as it would broach the Catholic belief in the “seal of confession” and violate his religious liberty. In fact, he could not even confirm that a confession happened, as doing so would also violate the seal.

Moreover, they contended that Mayeux should also not be allowed to testify about the cloistered conversations, as Bayhi — bound by his priestly vow to never reveal what is discussed in confession — would be unable to testify in his own defense. To do so, they said, would mean his automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church.

Mayeux’s lawyers insisted they were not trying to force Bayhi into the witness stand, but maintained that the priest was required to report and that Mayeux should be allowed to testify. The ensuing legal battle has lasted years, with attorneys vigorously debating the limits of confession carve-outs — that is, legal protections for religious conversations in the case of child abuse. The case effectively pits religious liberty advocates against supporters of mandated reporting laws, or rules designed to assist abuse victims by upping the chance their ordeals — which are often never reported — will be conveyed to authorities.

The dispute is equal parts legal and theological, and has major implications for the more than 30 states with similar “religious liberty” laws exempting clergy from mandatory reporting during confession. At a time when star-studded films such as Doubt and Spotlight keep the Catholic child sex abuse scandal in focus, many in Louisiana and elsewhere are beginning to raise questions about the ethics of such exemptions, with some asking out loud why confession carve-outs for child abuse exist in the first place — and if they should be changed.

The uneven history of ‘clergy-penitent privilege’

Mayeux’s case resurrects an old debate over a little-known — but heavily protected — legal concept known as “clergy-penitent privilege.” Similar to confidentiality guaranteed to clients of doctors and lawyers, the privilege allows certain conversations between a clergy member and a parishioner to remain private, meaning a faith leader cannot be forced to reveal the information in court. Thus, Bayhi’s attorneys posited that any law forcing Bayhi or other priests to reveal things said in confession — even if it includes child abuse — “gravely violates” the principle of religious freedom, specifically Louisiana’s understanding of clergy-penitent privilege.

They certainly have precedent on their side. In the United States, clergy-penitent privilege, sometimes called “priest or pastor-penitent privilege,” dates back as far as 1813, when the Court of General Sessions of the City of New York refused to force a priest to testify. Its importance has even been championed by the nation’s highest court, with former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger declaring in 1980 that certain clerical conversations are off limits.

“The priest-penitent privilege recognizes the human need to disclose to a spiritual counselor, in total and absolute confidence, what are believed to be flawed acts or thoughts and to receive priestly consolation and guidance in return,” Burger wrote.

Indeed, shields for clergy-penitent conversations are typically more “absolute” and robust than those for other professions. Whereas doctors, lawyers, and therapists in many states are compelled to inform authorities about serious crimes they hear about in their work, religious professionals are often not held legally accountable for similar things told to them during pastoral conversations.

The concept began to impact child abuse as early as 1990, when Californiapassed a law that named clergy as mandated reporters for child sexual abuse but also included an exception for information learned during a “penitential communication,” or conversations in which a religious leader “has a duty to keep those communications secret.”

“Clergy, like social workers and teachers and doctors, if they see abuse anytime, anywhere, it ought to be disclosed.”

Although trailblazing at the time, California was eventually joined by several other states after the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team published their Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into Catholic Church abuse scandal in 2001. Horrifying details of predator priests and complicit bishops shattered trust in men who wore the collar, and Massachusetts lawmakers scrambled to pass legislation that could quell public outrage and prevent any future abuse of children by priests.

By early 2002, they had found a possible solution: crafting their own version of California’s law naming clergy as mandated reporters. But the bipartisan effort suddenly stalled when it became clear that lawmakers had differing opinions on the exemption for confession. Some state house members and senators supported it, some wanted it to be less broad, and others wanted it cut entirely.

“Clergy, like social workers and teachers and doctors, if they see abuse anytime, anywhere, it ought to be disclosed,” then-state senator Cheryl A. Jacques said at the time.

Some faith leaders also spoke out against the bill, essentially predicting the kind of hellish experience Mayeux describes in her lawsuit. In a letter sent to the state’s House of Representatives in January 2002, Nancy S. Taylor — president of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ — urged legislators to vote against it.

“While upholding confidentiality as a general principle, it should not be used to protect criminals, or criminal behavior, at the expense of innocent victims,” she wrote, according to the New York Times.

But other, more influential clergy from the Massachusetts Council of Churches and elsewhere ultimately convinced lawmakers that a law without exemptions for religious conversations would result in lawsuits from faith groups. The carve-out was defended as necessary to maintain religious freedom, and the governor eventually signed the bill into law later that year — with the exemption intact.

Dozens of other states soon followed suit, passing laws listing faith leaders as mandated reporters while also providing various permutations of California’s confession carve-out. As of 2015, at least 31 states, including Louisiana, now name clergy as mandated reporters but include an exemption for information learned during certain religious conversations. Several other states have laws that are less clear on the subject, and only six states (and Guam) require clergy to report child abuse without exception.

States With Confession Carve-Outs

States With Confession Carve-Outs

Ironically, these exemptions appear tone deaf to a crucial detail of the “Spotlight” article that triggered their creation: Many of the abuses doled out by priests in Massachusetts happened during confession.

Mitchell Garabedian, a legendary child abuse lawyer who played a key role in helping the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team unearth the horrifying scope of the Catholic abuse scandal coverup, knows this all too well. Garabedian told ThinkProgress he has defended clients who were abused during confession “on multiple occasions.” Victims were almost always told to keep their ordeal to themselves, and in one case, a child was forced to perform oral sex on a priest while the cleric heard the confession of another parishioner.

“The crimes are endless,” Garabedian said.

When asked about Mayeux’s case — where the abuser wasn’t a priest, but was allegedly protected by a priest who refused to violate the seal of confession — Garabedian was unequivocal: The child’s safety should come first.

“When children are at risk of being abused in any instance, confessional should not be used as a shield to protect the abuser,” he said. “The safety of children should take priority.”

‘Religious liberty’ vs. anti-abuse advocates

Despite early warning signs, confession carve-outs have gone largely unchallenged since the early 2000s. But the dramatic nature of Mayeux’s case exposed potential flaws, and jump-started a conversation about pastor-penitent privilege in instances of of child abuse. For their part, the Church rehashed much of the same rhetoric used during other political disputes over same-sex marriage, tweaking parts of it for a modern context. The diocese even cited the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, a Louisiana law passed in 2010 that many saw as an early attempt to push back against the coming legalization of same-sex marriage.

“The diocese argued that this statute requiring Father Bayhi to be a mandatory reporter infringes on his free exercise of religion,” Brian Abels, Mayeux’s lawyer, said.

But child rights advocates say mandatory reporting laws are needed to protect children, and that community leaders — especially clergy — should take their responsibility seriously. Cathy Townsend, the National Strategy Manager for Darkness to Light — the largest anti-child abuse advocacy organization in the country — told ThinkProgress the efficacy of mandatory reporting laws is still a matter of dispute, but insisted their existence is rooted in a painful truth: Only 33 percent of child abuse victims report their abuse in a timely fashion, with an additional 33 percent waiting years to disclose. Many never disclose at all, and those who do often only tell childhood peers who are rarely equipped to offer much-needed assistance.

“Reporting abuse is very traumatizing for many children — particularly when it’s not handled well,” she said. “It just compounds the problem.”

If true, Mayeux’s story is a textbook example of how failure to report can not only traumatize victims, but also cause more harm.

“After the first time she went to confession, there were more instances of abuse after that,” Abels said. “One of the worst instances of the abuse happened after she went to confession.”

Mayeux’s case even has some Catholics calling for an end to confession carve-outs. In 2014, Julie Love Taylor, a Catholic lawyer who grew up in Baton Rouge, published a lengthy blog post for the Louisiana Law Review blasting the clergy exemption in Mayeux’s case and suggesting an amendment to the Louisiana constitution. She argued any residual impact of the change on Catholic confession “is merely an incidental effect of the law.”

“I understand it’s within the Catholic confessional, but when a child comes forward with that sort thing, you can’t just ignore it. You have a moral compulsion to take some kind of action.”

She repeated her position earlier this year in an interview with ThinkProgress.

“When you have a child who has been abused — they feel a lot of shame,” Taylor said. “It takes great courage to tell anybody what’s going on. I understand it’s within the Catholic confessional, but when a child comes forward with that sort thing, you can’t just ignore it. You have a moral compulsion to take some kind of action.”

“I completely understand the other side — this is not an easy issue,” she added, noting that two of her uncles are priests. “It certainly would create problems within the Catholic Church. But I also think that the protection of children who are being abused — the worst thing you can imagine — needs to take priority over that.”

This same argument — that protections for religion should have limitations, at least in cases of sexual abuse enacted against minors — was also voiced by Mayeux’s lawyers.

“We understand [religious freedom] is a constitutionally protected right, but all of our rights give way in certain circumstances — there is always a limitation, especially regarding child sexual abuse,” Abels said.

A (false) theology of secrecy?

Mayeux’s case has been waged in the courts, but it has also sparked a debate among Catholic theologians. Bayhi’s lawyers hold, for instance, that he cannot testify even if Mayeux does, because doing so would violate the seal of confession and leave him automatically excommunicated. After all, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the seal “admits of no exceptions.”

Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and former editor-in-chief of the Catholic magazine America, explained to ThinkProgress the Catholic dedication to confession by recounting a story of a clergyman forcibly apprehended by the mafia. Even as his captors held him at gunpoint, the priest reportedly refused to reveal information he learned during confession, choosing Godly duties over his own life.

“If a priest broke the seal of confession, he would not be allowed to act as a priest,” Reese said. “He would be charged with a canonical crime. It’s the greatest ecclesiastical crime he could commit.”

Bayhi echoed this sentiment while being questioned by one of his attorneys. When asked whether he would ever violate the seal of confession, he seemed shocked, arguing that confession is only valuable if parishioners believe it to be completely secret.

“Knowingly? Absolutely not,” Bayhi said. “If that’s not sacred, no one would ever trust us.”

“If the penitent says the priest can reveal what he heard in confession, then he can.”

But Reese and other canon law experts say the problem isn’t so cut and dry. Reese penned an extensively researched article for the National Catholic Reporter in February 2015 arguing that “the weight of theological and canonical opinion supports the right of penitents to allow their confessor to reveal what they told him in confession.”

In a separate interview with ThinkProgress, Reese explained that while the issue of whether a priest can be released from the seal of confession is “a disputed question,” most canonists believe clergy should be free to testify if the penitent wants to publicly discuss the content of a confession.

“The majority of canonists appeared to side with the idea that confession is to protect the penitent,” he said. “Therefore, if the penitent says the priest can reveal what he heard in confession, then he can.”

The debate makes it difficult to discern whether the Diocese of Baton Rouge is alone in its belief that a priest cannot be released from confession, or if the lawsuit is the new norm for American Catholicism (the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not return ThinkProgress’ requests for comment). But as Reese pointed out in his article, even if a priest is allowed to testify, problems remain: the ironclad silence of confession — where bishops and other superiors aren’t allowed to know what transpired in a priest’s confession booth — makes the practice extremely difficult to police.

“Here again the church faces an impossible dilemma: How can it supervise the work of confessors without knowing what is said in confession?” Reese wrote.

The closed-lipped nature of confession also allows it to be used as a manipulative tool. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said laws protecting information gathered in confession can be used by abusers to silence other well-meaning clergy members.

“We’ve heard rumors over the years,” Clohessy said. “Say ‘Father A’ molests kids, but fears that ‘Father B’ has suspicions. Father A then asks Father B to hear his confession, so that Father B is constrained and unable to say anything to anybody.”

Not just a Catholic problem

The 2001 “Spotlight” report drew national attention to child abuse enacted by priests, but the issue is hardly unique to Catholic clergy. Advocates report that instances like the Mayeux case — where a parishioner, not the priest, is the perpetrator — are common. In addition, abuse levels may even be higher among Protestant Christians.

“Some preliminary studies have indicated that more children are sexually abused within Protestant faith communities than Catholic faith communities,” said Basyle Tchividjian, a Liberty University Law School professor and founder of Protestant-focused anti-child abuse organization Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).

Unsurprisingly, Protestants and other faith groups are also impacted by confession carve-outs, although usually in different — but no less problematic — ways than Catholics. Many state laws have been written to protect private conversations with a wide range of religious professionals, for instance, and many explicitly name Protestant pastors. But some states do not appear to protect Protestant faith traditions that lack an “official” doctrine resembling Catholic confession, and others are simply too vague to draw conclusions either way.

“It’s not just Louisiana that is having a problem,” Townsend said. “Other states also aren’t quite sure how to handle it either. A lot of the legislation is just not particularly well-written.”

“I’ve talked to pastors who were told about abuse by a victim [or perpetrator] and they felt like, ‘Well that confession is privileged so I can’t report it.’ Which is crazy.”

Tchividjian explained this minefield of unclear laws is further complicated by widespread ignorance among clergy regarding mandatory reporting laws, leading to instances where pastors fail to report because they believe — falsely — that they aren’t required or even allowed to.

“I do think there are a lot of situations where offenders could be identified and stopped, and they haven’t, because too many pastors are under the mistaken belief that clergy privilege prevents them from reporting the offense to the police,” Tchividjian said. “I’ve talked to pastors who were told about abuse by a victim [or perpetrator] and they felt like, ‘Well that confession is privileged so I can’t report it.’ Which is crazy. Such a misunderstanding of the law can contribute to the revictimization of vulnerable children.”

Tchividjian also said abusers can often manipulate this legal confusion to their advantage, transforming churches and other faith communities into a “very safe place for offenders.”

“All they have to do is communicate to the pastor, and the pastor believes that his or her hands are tied,” he said.

The tragic results of this precedent were on full display recently at the evangelical Christian Covenant Life Church (CLC), Protestant megachurch outside Washington, D.C. CLC made headlines in 2014 after a 55-year-old church member named Nathaniel Morales was sentenced to 40 years in prisonfor repeatedly sexually assaulting young boys in the congregation. Although Morales’ victims took solace in the ruling, the trial also uncovered a startling fact: In an exchange with a courtroom lawyer, CLC pastor Grant Layman appeared to admit that he was aware of the abuse, but failed to report it.

Attorney: As a pastor, when you become aware of sexual child abuse, did you have a responsibility to report that to the police department? That’s a yes or no.

Layman: I believe so.

Attorney: And you didn’t do it.

Layman: No, sir.

The information seemed to aid a class-action lawsuit filed by several parishioners against seven CLC pastors, accusing them of covering up Morales’ crimes. But the possible admission of guilt likely wouldn’t matter: Although the suit was eventually dismissed on other technicalities, it was also filed in Maryland, where state law includes a confession carve-out for child abuse that extends to Protestant pastors like Layman.

Unanswered questions in Baton Rouge

Eight years after her alleged abuse, Mayeux’s case remains entangled in the Louisiana court system. Lawyers are hopeful they can bring it to trial by 2017, but judges continue to debate the legality and scope of the state’s confession carve-out, bouncing the case between different rungs of the state and federal legal system (the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case in January 2015).

The case also suffered a major setback in February. Just one week after the film Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the 19th Judicial District Court declared unconstitutional the provision requiring clergy to report child abuse claims heard during confessional.

“If the story is true, then the priest clearly failed in his duties.”

Frustrated but not defeated, Abels was quick to note that they won a small victory in late July, when a Court of Appeal panel court dismissed the diocese’s argument that Mayeux should not be allowed to testify. He also says they may also appeal the February ruling, possibly by charging that this kind of clergy-penitent privilege violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by unfairly benefitting a specific religious group — or religion in general.

In the meantime, child abuse experts such as Tchividjian remain outraged that these kinds of cases exist in the first place. GRACE and other groups strive to train and educate clergy about mandatory reporting laws, but say the real question should be moral, not legal: Even with the confession carve-out in place, Tchividjian said, a pastor’s faith should compel them to choose the safety of a child over the possibility of losing their own job.

“It may be that the confession cannot be introduced at trial, but that’s not [a pastor’s] concern — because their concern should be the protection of a vulnerable child,” he said. “Even if the case ends up getting dismissed because that confession is deemed inadmissible, your actions of reporting the confession may have very well saved the life of a little one.”

Reese argued similarly that if Bayhi really did, in fact, ignore Mayeux’s pleas, then it’s not just confession carve-outs but priestly duty — and Christian obligation — that is in question.

“If the story is true, then the priest clearly failed in his duties,” he said. “The priest should have encouraged the child to talk to their parents, or talk to the priest outside of confession — or somebody who is required to report this.”

Back in Louisiana, however, Bayhi and the diocese appear to be more focused on defending religious liberty than clarifying spiritual duty. As Bayhi left the courthouse after the judge reaffirmed his exemption from mandatory reporting laws in February, he celebrated his win in front of reporters, declaring the decision a victory for all people of faith.

“We’re just always happy when the court upholds religious liberties,” he said.

* Although ThinkProgress typically does not name possible abuse victims, Mayeux has gone public with her story, and gave our writer permission to use her name in this article.