Category Archives: Archdiocese of Milwaukee
For Minnesota Catholics, troubling new abuse scandal
By Amy Forliti of Associated Press
Unlike other abuse revelations that have rocked theJennifer Haselberger, the allegations in Minnesota aren’t decades old or involve perpetrators long retired or dead.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — When Jennifer Haselberger uncovered what looked like recent, troubling sexual behavior by several Minnesota priests — a stash of possible child pornography on one priest’s computer hard drive, another with a well-documented history of sexual compulsion still leading a parish — she tried to ring alarm bells at the top ranks of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese.
But Haselberger, who resigned last April as the archdiocese’s chancellor for canonical affairs, said she felt ignored. She has since gone public with concerns that Minnesota’s archbishop and top deputies failed to truly reform how they handle problem priests, despite repeated promises to do so.
“I do not believe it can be said that the archdiocese is honoring its promise to protect” children and young people, Haselberger said last week in a statement to the media.
Unlike many of the abuse revelations that have rocked the U.S. Catholic Church, the allegations Haselberger brought to light aren’t decades old or involve perpetrators long retired or dead. They all happened after 2002, when U.S. bishops held a high-profile meeting in Dallas and approved broad policy changes meant to quickly remove predatory priests from parishes and restore the church’s tattered credibility with millions of Catholics.
“They weren’t just going to sweep stuff under the rug. They weren’t going to move him around,” said Joe Ternus, who in 2004 found what he called “a ridiculous amount of pornography” on the hard drive of a computer he purchased at a church rummage sale and that had belonged to Jonathan Shelley, a parish priest.
Ternus, whose parents and sister attended Shelley’s church, turned the hard drive over to archdiocesan officials.
“I was given assurances that this wasn’t going to happen, but that’s exactly what happened,” Ternus said.
Haselberger’s allegations have the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese playing defense. Last week, Archbishop John Nienstedt accepted the hasty resignation of his top-ranking deputy, the Rev. Peter Laird, who wrote in his resignation letter that he hoped to “repair the trust of many, especially the victims of abuse.” Nienstedt also convened what he said would be an independent task force to examine the way church leaders officials have handled accusations of sexual misconduct by priests.
But church leaders weren’t initially so eager to deal with the cases. Minnesota Public Radio News obtained a letter from Nienstedt to Cardinal William Levada, the now-retired Vatican official who ran the office that oversees errant priests, spelling out who an archdiocese investigator found pornographic images on Shelley’s hard drive that were at least “borderline illegal, because of the youthful looking male images.”
“My staff has expressed concern the fact that CD-ROMs containing the images remain in the cleric’s personnel file could expose the archdiocese, as well as myself, to criminal prosecution,” Nienstedt wrote to Levada.
The archdiocese declined to make Nienstedt or Laird available for interviews. Spokesman Jim Accurso said media coverage of the recent allegations “leave a false impression about the commitment of the archdiocese to identify and address sexual misconduct by priests.” He said eliminating any form of abuse is the “highest priority” for the archdiocese.
Tom Wieser, an attorney for the archdiocese, has called Haselberger “a disgruntled former employee.” She worked at the archdiocese from 2008 to last April, when she resigned because of concerns about the way sexual abuse allegations were handled.
According to a police report, Haselberger found computer discs and a white three-ring binder in the vault last year that appeared to be evidence from a 2004 internal investigation into the images. A police report said Haselberger told Laird what she found, and was instructed to “put them back in the vault.”
Shelley’s lawyer said there was no child pornography on the disc. And an attorney for the archdiocese said a computer forensics expert also found no evidence to support Haselberger’s allegations. Police also found no evidence of child pornography, but acknowledged they didn’t have the computer itself.
Police received new information from Ternus on Friday, and on Tuesday afternoon they announced they were reopening the child pornography investigation. In his initial report, lead investigator Sgt. William Gillet openly wondered whether the archdiocese turned over all the pertinent evidence.
In the other case at issue, the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer was allowed to remain in ministry despite ample evidence that archdiocesan leaders knew of sexual misconduct. He is now in prison for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography.
Haselberger told The Associated Press in an email Tuesday that she raised concerns with her superiors in 2008, and again last year.
“Having worked on similar cases in other dioceses, I was completely unprepared for the responses I received in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis,” she wrote.
The new policies formulated by bishops in 2002 were specifically designed to quickly root out problem priests. One church leader instrumental in that process was Harry Flynn, Nienstedt’s predecessor in St. Paul-Minneapolis. Flynn is implicated in some of the decisions that Haselberger brought to light; he could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“Since 2002, there was a real sea change, and I believe most bishops got it,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a former church canon lawyer who was involved in drawing up the new policies. Now a professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Cafardi said he would be personally shocked to learn that top officials in any diocese sheltered potential abusers since then.
Cafardi cautioned that he’s not familiar with the new allegations, and noted in particular that finding a priest in possession of legal pornography raises thorny questions for his supervisors in the church. But if it’s proven that church leaders failed to live up to the 2002 policies, he said, it would damage the church’s efforts to move beyond past scandals.
“Any diocese that’s not following that makes people question the credibility of the policy,” he said. “That then harms the entire church in the U.S., because people will think if this bishop does it, then is another bishop doing it?”
Pope Francis urges decisive action against sex abuse
4/5/13 By Philip Pullella of Reuters
In a meeting with the Holy See’s doctrinal chief, the new pope declared that combating sexual abuse was important “for the Church and its credibility.”
VATICAN CITY— Pope Francis wants the Catholic Church to “act decisively” to root out sexual abuse of children by priests and ensure the perpetrators are punished, the Vatican said on Friday.
Francis, in a meeting with the Holy See’s doctrinal chief, Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, had declared that combating sexual abuse was important “for the Church and its credibility”, a statement said.
Francis inherited a Church mired in problems and a major scandal over priestly abuse of children. It was believed to be the first time he had taken up the issue of sex abuse with a senior member of his staff since his election on March 13.
Mueller is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department which includes the office of the “promoter of justice”, or sex crimes prosecutor, which investigates cases of sexual abuse and decides if priests are to be defrocked.
Francis said the department should continue to “act decisively as far as cases of sexual abuse are concerned, promoting, above all, measures to protect minors, help for those who have suffered such violence in the past (and) the necessary procedures against those who are guilty,” a statement said.
It said the pope wanted Catholic bishops around the world to promote and put into place “directives in this matter which is so important for the witness of the Church and its credibility”.
A victims’ group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the statement did not go far enough and criticized it for saying that the Church’s stance against sexual abuse was “a continuation” of the line wanted by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict.
“Action, not discussion, is needed,” SNAP said in a statement.
“We can’t confuse words with actions. When we do, we hurt kids. We must insist on new tangible action that helps vulnerable children protect their bodies, not old vague pledges that help a widely-discredited institution protect its reputation,” it said.
SNAP and other victims groups say there is much still to be discovered about how the Church behaved in the past and want more bishops who were aware of abuse to be held responsible.
The Catholic Church’s crisis began in Boston in 2002 when media began reporting how cases of abuse were systematically covered up and abusive priests shuttled from parish to parish instead of being defrocked and handed over to civil authorities.
Since then, the Catholic Church in many countries has set up new guidelines to deal with cases of past abuse, prevent new cases, report abuse to police, and stop potential abusers from entering the priesthood in the first place.
Church whistleblower says she ‘didn’t do enough’
By Amy Forliti of Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. — After she made her First Communion as a little girl, Jennifer Haselberger was distraught to learn the Catholic church had no saint Jennifer, and she had no saint to call her own. So her mom opened up a book and pointed to Joan of Arc.
“There. That’s yours,” she said.
Years later, Haselberger is in a fight of her own after going public with claims that archdiocese leaders in St. Paul mishandled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct. Turns out, Haselberger may have borrowed a little bravery from the headstrong French heroine she has long admired.
Haselberger, a former canon lawyer for the archdiocese, took on leaders of the church she loves after she felt her warnings about troubled priests were being ignored, setting off a firestorm in the local church.
“If a child was hurt, Jenny would do everything within her power to stop that. The lengths that she went to were probably heroic,” said Anne Maloney, Haselberger’s former college adviser.
Haselberger resigned in April after she says Archbishop John Nienstedt and others did not respond appropriately when she found pornography, including images of possible child pornography, on computer disks that once belonged to a priest who was still in ministry. This came after she says church leaders ignored her repeated warnings dating back to 2008 about another priest who went on to molest two boys in his camper in 2010.
“I can never undo what happened to those boys, and that hangs incredibly heavy on me,” Haselberger told The Associated Press. “I didn’t do enough.”
Haselberger said she resigned because church leaders weren’t listening, and she went to authorities and to the media because they wouldn’t change. Since then, Nienstedt’s top deputy has stepped down, and the church set up an independent task force to review its policies. Police are also investigating.
“I came to the conclusion that I was going to do whatever it took, that this was not acceptable … and let the chips fall where they may,” she said.
Haselberger has gone to law enforcement about two priests, and she says she had brought concerns about others to church leaders. She declined to elaborate, but said she expects more details will emerge.
Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said he could not comment on Haselberger or her resignation because it is a personnel matter. Accurso has said the information portrayed in the media is incomplete because it has been presented without context.
Tom Doyle, founder of the Catholic Whistleblowers group, said it is still rare — and risky — for someone from within the church to come forward and challenge bishops, who he likened to absolute rulers.
“Everyone I know of who has been a whistleblower has sacrificed their career,” said Doyle.
Haselberger, a Minnesota Wild fan and equestrienne, grew up in a Polish-Catholic family with a great uncle and a great aunt who both went into religious life. While she never considered that herself, she calls the church her “home,” and still stands behind it and the many clergy she respects and considers heroes.
While an undergrad at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. She also became a leader of a student group that opposed abortion and advocated for valuing human life, Maloney said.
“I never once saw Jenny back down from a conversation or dispute,” Maloney said. “She believed being anti-abortion was the best way to be a feminist.”
Inspired by a religious sister, she also began writing to a man on death row in Angola, La. She is against capital punishment and became his spiritual director. The man’s death sentence was vacated when Hurricane Katrina destroyed prison records, but she said the experience taught her about striking a balance between caring for offenders and protecting the innocent, something she says could also apply to accused clergy.
“I despise the acts that they committed, but I don’t hate them,” she said.
Haselberger earned her doctorate of philosophy at the University of London. While waiting to defend her thesis, she began taking classes at Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, where she earned her licentiate in canon law and graduated with highest honors in 2004.
While living in a prestigious academic community in London, Haselberger organized a lecture about a woman who went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated atrocities committed during the apartheid era, to seek amnesty not for violence or any other crimes — but for her apathy in apartheid-controlled South Africa. Her example inspired Haselberger.
“That really resonated with me at the time … it’s such a phenomenal example of personal accountability,” Haselberger said.
When Haselberger began working for the archdiocese in 2008, Nienstedt called her “studious” and “thoughtful.”
That contrasts with statements made after her allegations. Archdiocese attorney Tom Wieser said in a recent court hearing that Haselberger was a “disgruntled former employee” who was unauthorized to investigate allegations of child pornography but did so anyway, something he called “unsophisticated and imprudent.” According to a court transcript, Wieser said Haselberger decided for herself that the images were illegal, and went to authorities, who found no evidence of child pornography. St. Paul Police have since reopened their investigation.
Now outside the chancery walls, Haselberger is a consultant, available to help victims of abuse, or others, navigate the ins and outs of canon law.
She knows she’ll likely never work for the church again, and her eyes get watery when she talks about how much she would have loved serving in the church of Pope Francis. But she said her only regret is not speaking out sooner.
“I certainly always attempted to make my points using facts and reason and to do so respectfully,” she said. “But I would hope that people would say that ‘She was incredibly passionate about this.’ Because I would be disappointed in myself if I wasn’t.”
Pastor of West Side Cleveland church charged with soliciting sex while being HIV-positive
on October 12, 2013 at 6:40 PM, updated October 12, 2013 at 9:50 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Rev. James McGonegal, pastor of a West Side Cleveland Catholic church, was charged today with soliciting sex while being HIV-positive. He had been arrested Friday in Edgewater Park.
In the incident report released today, an off-duty Cleveland Metroparks ranger said McGonegal offered the ranger $50 to help him “get off,” then exposed himself and masturbated, all while sitting inside his late-model Jeep SUV.
The report said McGonegal had three sex devices in his Jeep when he was arrested around 12:45 p.m.
The priest, 68, was released on personal bond from Cleveland City Jail this morning other media reports said. He has not been arraigned as the charges were not filed until around noon.
McGonegal has been pastor at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church, at Lorain Avenue and West Boulevard, since the mid-1980s. He has been a priest since 1971.
At a mass this evening at the church, the only mention of the incident was at the start when a lector greeted the 140 people in attendance and said, “Today we pray for this parish, and our pastor.” A priest in residence at St. Ignatius said the mass.
St. Ignatius was on the chopping block in March 2009, when the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland decided to close a number of parishes. St. Ignatius parishioners and their pastor, however, were able to convince Bishop Richard Lennon to keep open the church, which has a towering steeple that can be seen from many parts of the city’s West Side.
After the mass, parishioners approached for comment declined to talk.
McGonegal was also charged with public indecency and abusing harmful intoxicants.
The report said inside the Jeep was a bottle that contained an intoxicant. During questioning after his arrest, the priest said he bought the product at a sex shop and smells the contents to get “a buzz.”
Later Friday, McGonegal told workers at the jail that he is HIV-positive, the report said.
The report said McGonegal made eye contact with the ranger as the priest drove his black SUV into a parking lot at Edgewater. The ranger was off-duty and wearing civilian clothes.
The ranger said he walked to a trail, then looked back and saw that McGonegal had rolled down the driver-side window of the Jeep, and was tapping on the door frame and waiving at him.
The ranger wrote that he continued walking until he was out of sight, waited two minutes, then headed back.
By then, the report said, McGonegal was pulling out to leave the area, but returned to the parking spot when he saw the man returning.
When the ranger got near the Jeep, the two began to talk, with McGonegal saying he was “cruising.”
The report said the ranger asked McGonegal if he wanted to go for a walk, but the priest declined, stating he knew of people who had been arrested in the park by rangers.
The ranger wrote that after he refused an offer to get into the Jeep, the priest suggested that they go to his nearby home.
The two then shifted the conversation to what McGonegal wanted and how much he would pay, the report said.
A HIV positive priest, Rev. James McGonegal has been arrested for soliciting and masturbating in public.
A HIV positive priest, Rev. James McGonegal has been arrested for soliciting and masturbating in public.
Rev. James McGonegal is arrested for soliciting sex and masturbating.
A HIV positive priest, Rev. James McGonegal has been arrested for soliciting and masturbating in public.
The priest of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church on the west side of Cleveland came to be arrested this past Friday after he he went on to unwittingly offer an off duty Cleveland Metroparks ranger a fun trick to the tune of $50.
Offering the ranger $50 to get him off in a crowded parking lot, Rev. James McGonegal went on to masturbate before being arrested.
The reverend’s subsequent disclosure that he was HIV positive also came after being booked.
Goes on to explain gawker:
The police report makes the whole incident even sadder, as it inventories the priest’s cruising stash of poppers and cock rings:
While conducting a tow inventory of McGonegal’s vehicle three sexual devices, commonly referred to as “cock rings,” were located. One of these rings was wrapped around the lid to a bottle labeled “Pig Sweat.” The bottle logo was of a pig/man figure wearing buttocks-free chaps. Below the name of the bottle was writing stating the product was nail polish remover. The labeling also indicated that the product contained isobutyl nitrate, a harmful intoxicant.
Asked to explain what ‘Pig Sweat’ referred to, Rev. James McGonegal went on to tell he would buy the sweat from a sex shop and smelling the product would give him “a buzz.”
McGonegal, who has been a priest since 1971 and the pastor at St. Ignatius since the 1980s, now faces charges of soliciting after positive HIV test, public indecency, and abusing harmful intoxicants. He was released Saturday morning on a personal bond.
At the 11 a.m. mass Sunday morning at his Cleveland parish, McGonegal was absent and no mention was made of his arrest other than a prayer: “Today we pray for this parish, and our pastor.”
Commentators on the web have gone on to speculate whether the reverend had planned to tell a potential partner if he was HIV positive and to what degree he could be held in contempt for his behavior. Others have gone on to express dismay that the reverend has gone on to abuse his post whilst others wonder if the church itself has served to perpetuate a kind of warped and latent sexual yearning that the reverend felt he had no recourse but to explore…. and how.
Trial Transcripts and Statements for Father Robert Kapoun Trial
These are links to the statements and trial transcripts to the Trial of Father Robert Kapoun. These transcripts show the evil perpetrated upon victims of child rape and how the leaders covered up these crimes and rewarded the pedophile rapist priest and punished the victims.
Deposition of Archbishop John R Roach
Msgr Stanley J Smec Disposition:
Msgr. Srnec recalls a parishioner alerting him to “impropriety between Father Kapoun” and a boy pg 5
Father Robert Kapoun Court Documents I
Father Robert Kapoun Court Documents II
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts I
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts II
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts III
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts IV
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts V
Expert witness for archdiocese says, “There are some people who don’t really want to be happy.”
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts VI
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts VII
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts VIII
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts IX
Jeff Anderson asks McDonough: “When you continued (Kapoun) in the parish, you in effect allowed him to continue to deny the abuse of all of those boys publicly?” McDonough: “That’s correct.”
Father Robert Kapoun Trial Transcripts X
For an abusive priest, retirement income came with a premium
By Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
They called him the Polka Padre. Later, they called him the Polka Predator.
For decades, the Rev. Robert Kapoun charmed parishioners with his accordion at “polka masses” across Minnesota. Privately, he took young boys to saunas, rectories and a secluded cabin in Cold Spring and sexually assaulted them, according to court testimony. Parents complained but leaders at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis did little to stop him.
Kapoun remained in ministry until 1996, the year a lawsuit brought by Dale Scheffler, one of his victims, went to trial. It was the biggest clergy sex abuse case in Minnesota history. Over 10 days in a packed Hennepin County courtroom, jurors watched in shock as a parade of top church leaders defended and minimized their inaction. Former Archbishop John Roach claimed memory loss, while Kapoun, then 57, claimed that God had cured him of his sexual interest in young boys.
The jury awarded a $1 million verdict. Scheffler broke down sobbing.
An MPR News investigation found that a year after the trial, the archdiocese allowed Kapoun to retire early and sent him funds beyond his pension pay that totaled about $160,000 by 2012. The money was classified as “medical retirement.” Those retirement payments — $957.50 every month — came in addition to regular pension checks of $1,510.50.
In an interview recently with MPR News, Kapoun dismissed questions about money. The priest said that he rarely sees anyone from the archdiocese and that he suffers from migraines and spinal pain. He splits his time between his half-million dollar lakefront property in Cold Spring and a second home in Florida. “I’m very happy,” said Kapoun, 74.
A spokesperson for the archdiocese declined to make anyone available to discuss Kapoun.
Kapoun is one of several accused priests who’ve received payments in addition to regular pension checks, according to two former top church officials.
By Ian Millhiser on July 31, 2013 at 2:05 pm
A federal judge in Wisconsin handed down an opinion yesterday granting the Catholic Church — and indeed, potentially all religious institutions — such sweeping immunity from federal bankruptcy law that it is not clear that it would permit any plaintiff to successfully sue any church in any court. While the ostensible issue in this case is whether over $50 million in church funds are shielded from a bankruptcy proceeding triggered largely by a flood of clerical sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Judge Rudolph Randa reads the church’s constitutional and legal right to religious liberty so broadly as to render religious institutions immune from much of the law.
The case involves approximately $57 million that former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to into a separate trust set up to maintain the church’s cemeteries. Although Dolan, who is now a cardinal, the Archbishop of New York and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has denied that the purpose of this transfer was to shield the funds from lawsuits, Dolan penned a letter to the Vatican in 2007 where he explained that transferring the funds into the trust would lead to “an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.”
The issue facing the court is, essentially, whether the funds that Dolan split off into a separate trust can now be reabsorbed into the archdiocese’s assets in order to enable sex abuse victims and other creditors to be paid out of these assets. In holding that these funds cannot be so absorbed, Randa relies on a law that limits the federal government’s ability to “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” Randa cites to the current Archbishop of Milwaukee’s statement that “the care and maintenance of Catholic cemeteries, cemetery property, and the remains of those interred is a fundamental exercise of the Catholic faith,” and concludes that this statement alone is enough to shield the church’s funds. As Randa explains, “if the Trust’s funds are converted into the bankruptcy estate, there will be no funds or, at best, insufficient funds for the perpetual care of the Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries.”
And Randa does not stop there. He goes on to argue that senior church officials get to unilaterally decide what constitutes a “substantial burden” on their faith for purposes of federal law — “Archbishop Listecki’s declaration stands unopposed, and on the issue of religious doctrine, it is unassailable. Moreover, the issue of substantial burden is essentially coterminous with religious doctrine.” In this case, an archbishop declared cemetery funds to be untouchable in a bankruptcy proceeding, but Randa’s reasoning could extend much farther. Nothing in his opinion would prevent a church’s officials from declaring that every single line in every single ledger kept by the church is mandated by the sacred word of God — and therefore every single dollar owned by the church is untouchable so long as the church engages in the kind of accounting gymnastics Dolan allegedly performed.
The same federal law that protects religious liberty also permits substantial burdens on religion when such a burden is “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.” Randa largely glosses over this exception, however, holding that the “interests advanced by the bankruptcy system are not compelling.” That very well be true, but there is another, overriding interest in this case — whether an employer whose employees stand accused of widespread sexual abuse can evade accountability by engaging in accounting tricks. At least 45 Milwaukee priests face sex abuse accusations. One priest in particular was accused of personally molesting close to 200 deaf boys. Yet Randa does not even consider whether America has a compelling interest in deterring the church from allowing future such incidents to occur.
If Randa had stopped there, his opinion would still award the church — and, indeed, potentially all religious institutions — a breathtaking degree of legal immunity. Taken to its logical conclusion, Randa’s framework would allow a church to run up whatever debts it chooses, then effectively protect the entirety of its assets from its creditors through a combination of creative accounting and a bankruptcy filing. Yet Randa does not even stop there. After reaching this sweeping interpretation of federal religious liberty law, he then turns to the First Amendment of the Constitution. With little analysis, and in an almost certain conflict with a binding Supreme Court precedent, Randa concludes that the church has a constitutional right to shield its funds. By raising his opinion to constitutional status, Randa effectively strips Congress of its ability to correct his sweeping interpretation of the law.
Judge Randa, a George H.W. Bush appointee, has a history of being reversed by higher courts in cases involving hot button social issues, so there is a good chance that his opinion will ultimately be reversed on appeal. In the meantime, however, Randa effectively places the church above the law — and leaves what could be hundreds of sexual abuse victims in the cold.
Editorial: Asking abused priests a life-changing question
By Jul. 19, 2013|
In 2010, Fr. James Connell, then vice chancellor of the Milwaukee archdiocese, was publicly accused of complicity in protecting abusive priests. Connell was deeply stung by the accusation, which he denies. But rather than lash out at his accuser, abuse victim Peter Isely, he asked himself a question: “What if I had been a victim of sexual abuse by a priest?”
That question led him to a meeting and ultimately a friendship with Isely, as well as to an increasing activism on behalf of clergy abuse victims and in pursuit of the truth about the scandal.
Connell’s response is especially significant in light of the recent release of some 6,000 pages of documents relating to clerical sex abuse in the Milwaukee archdiocese and church officials’ response.
The documents disclose a distressingly familiar pattern: The archdiocese shuffled offending priests from parish to parish; increasing numbers of youngsters were abused; little was done to stem the abuse until it reached scandalous proportions and was made public; the Vatican was appallingly slow in acting on the charges when bishops finally were pushed to deal seriously with the problem. And at every point in the crisis, the hierarchy’s primary concern was protection of the clergy culture.
Each time there is another disclosure of documents — correspondence, transcripts of depositions, diocesan memos — the reality of an insular, secretive, Renaissance court culture aggressively protective of its clerical status and privilege becomes more apparent.
There are no ideological or national boundaries or characteristics that otherwise explain what is going on. From such darlings of the left as Archbishop Rembert Weakland and Cardinal Roger Mahony to stalwarts of the right such as Cardinal Bernard Law and the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, and across cultures, the unifying factor is the same. One wishes someone would find the appropriate wall in the Vatican on which to affix the sign: It’s the culture, stupid!
Connell’s question emerges from a familiar biblical imperative. Doing unto others what we would have them do unto us requires both knowing ourselves well enough to really want to know what the other thinks and feels. “What if I had been a victim of sexual abuse by a priest?” is a question that requires stepping outside of one’s experience, outside of the comforts and privileges of the culture, and risking understanding the devastating effects of being abused.
Asking that question changed Connell’s life.
The palace no longer can contain the secrets, and it seems that so much is tumbling out these days that the apparatus for denying the scandals can no longer keep up. The document release in Milwaukee and the arrest of a monsignor charged with trying to illegally bring into Italy 20 million euros on a private jet are but the latest evidence that the worst of clerical culture is flying apart.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki warned the faithful to “prepare to be shocked” at the content of the documents, that their very faith might be shaken. He pleaded that people understand the “evolution of thinking” on sexual abuse of children since the 1970s. “Church leaders and other professionals tried their best to deal with the issue given the knowledge available at the time,” he said.
Sadly, the only thing shocking at this point for anyone who’s been paying attention is that it has taken this long for the church in Milwaukee to release the truth of the matter and that the truth still remains hidden in so many other dioceses.
As for the frayed excuse that there was an evolution in thinking about sex abuse, please spare us. Of course there’s been development in understanding the deep disturbances that cause adults to sexually abuse children.
However, when prelates went to their lawyers before they went to the victims, when they agreed to pay millions for victim silence, when they lied by omission repeatedly in transferring priests without telling unaware pastors, congregations or even other bishops of the deep problems of the priests involved, one can only conclude that the bishops were engaged in a devolution of their understanding of the Gospel.
As Connell says, “When I was in high school [in the 1950s], we learned about statutory rape. We knew that for an adult to have sexual activities with a minor was against the law, and that didn’t change over time.”
It is time that more priests and bishops begin asking the questions that point beyond their own narrow interests and the culture they seek to protect. They should engage the victims who were abused and the community that has been repeatedly betrayed.
What the church documents reveal
But those aren’t the only stories revealed in some 6,000 pages of documents the church had kept confidential for decades. The documents also shed light on issues pedophile priests were dealing with both before and after they abused children. They include letters to priests from archbishops who failed to face the issue of child abuse head on. And they reveal the anguish of the victims and the victims’ parents.
The documents, which were released July 1 as part of the church’s bankruptcy case, reveal the human side of the scandal.
Some of the priests said they had been sexually abused as children. The victims were often insecure and searching for guidance. And archbishops, in addition to trying to protect the church, felt a pastoral responsibility to priests who were abusers.
Only a few of the accused priests were criminally charged; many denied they did anything wrong. Most left the priesthood with severance pay or were allowed to retire with a pension, health benefits and a place to live. Of the dozen priests included in this story, three are still alive but have been stripped of their priestly ministry: Franklyn Becker, Michael Krejci and Thomas Trepanier, according to archdiocese records.
This story is based on a close review of the pedophile priest files, which include candid letters exchanged between accused priests and archbishops; sexual abuse intake reports; psychological assessments; letters from archbishops to the Vatican seeking counsel or formal action against priests; and letters from victims and their parents.
The pedophile priests
The documents show that many of the priests did not consider themselves criminals, but victims. Some were addicted to alcohol or pornography. They did good work in the church and helped many people. But they also had a dark side they either struggled to control or did not acknowledge.
Many did not express guilt or remorse; they couldn’t understand why they were treated severely after they had accepted counseling and done everything the archdiocese asked of them. Some acknowledged conflicted sexual orientation, loneliness, self-loathing, an inability to form healthy adult relationships. Psychologists concluded that at least one priest’s emotional development was stunted.
Father Eugene Kreuzer confessed to members of an unidentified parish in an undated letter:
“…There were allegations of my sexual abuse of minors some 30 years ago in a different parish. I express remorse and repent of these actions. However, for the good of the community I have decided that my continued presence at the parish is not helpful. I have been fully cooperative with the restrictions placed upon me. I do not exercise anyministry and am living out my life in a spirit of prayer and penance.This is a strong and loving parish community and I know you will respond to thisannouncement in the manner that is most appropriate, by praying for all those involved….”
Father Andrew Doyle sought a financial settlement in a letter to then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland:
” …you had indicated that you would grant me an unspecified amount of money as a severance. Because I have regular bills and a house payment, I ask that if it becomes necessary for a release from my orders, at that time you would consider an amount of $30,000 … I have tried to cooperate with the Archdiocese…I regret any pain I have caused you; I also have been in much myself.”
A letter from then-Archbishop Dolan to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the Vatican offered his impressions of Father Franklyn Becker, who Dolan said refused to voluntarily give up his ministry rights as a sign of repentance:
“Father Becker has admitted that a number of these acts of sexual assault occurred… While he attempts to present a defense based on cooperation and need for sustenance, in interviews with him, there is little display of repentance. His sorrow is not over what effect his immoral and abusive behaviors had on others, so much as it is remorse that he has lost a sense of status…”
Several priests were referred for intensive treatment of alcoholism and psycho-sexual issues. A treatment progress report for Father Michael Krejci concluded, among other things:
“…Normal inhibiting mechanisms, such as guilt or remorse, do not appear to impede Michael’s problematic sexual behavior…”
Each archbishop had his own way of addressing accused priests.
Archbishop William Cousins wrote terse, formal letters to inform priests they were being transferred, which occurred frequently and quietly during his tenure from 1959 to 1977. Cousins did not document much, reflecting a time when sex abuse accusations against priests were not openly discussed.
Weakland, archbishop from 1977 to 2002, consistently expressed concern for the priests’ well-being and told them he was doing what was best for them and the church. He also exchanged letters with victims, acknowledging the bad effects of what had happened and encouraging them to forgive because “forgiveness brings spiritual growth.”
Weakland resigned in 2002 amid revelations that he had used church money to pay a $450,000 settlement to a man with whom he had had a sexual relationship years earlier.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, whose tenure from 2002 to 2007 coincided with a change in direction by the Vatican in dealing with sex abuse cases, wrote stern letters to priests about their actions, while expressing concern for their well-being. In his letters to victims, Dolan apologized for their pain and offered them counseling services.
One internal exchange at the archdiocese was especially frank. This excerpt of a 2006 letter from Archdiocese Chancellor Barbara Anne Cusack to Dolan was about Father Michael Benham:
“Although Michael has apparently expressed remorse to you, I have not seen that remorse translate into action. The victim in this case requested a token amount of money as a gesture of recognition of the harm he had caused; Michael has consistently and adamantly refused to do so…This was not a one-time incident of indiscretion.
“There have to be consequences to actions. I do not doubt that an all-merciful God has forgiven Michael but an all-just God will also probably require some purgation for these actions…Michael’s life of solitude is made possible because we are paying his subsidy and could be doing so for the next 10 years until he is eligible for pension…I am not sure how we can justify this as ‘good stewardship’ of the resources people have entrusted to us… How do I honestly look a victim-survivor in the face in mediation and say we are acting consistently with Pope John Paul II’s statement that ‘there is no place in the priesthood for those who would harm a child?'”
A letter Dolan wrote in December 2002 to parishioners at an unspecified church about Father Thomas Trepanier acknowledged the need for accountability.
“We forgive those priests who have been guilty of this crime and sin, once they admit it — as most do, painfully and admirably — ask for mercy and repent. We know God forgives them; we must forgive them too; and I hope they can forgive themselves.
“Forgiveness, however, does not eliminate the need for those accused to take responsibility, to be held accountable for their behavior.”
One month before Dolan wrote to parishioners about forgiveness for Trepanier, he wrote to Trepanier:
“…While we await clearer resolution from the Holy See and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, I just wanted you to know that I have not forgotten about you, and that you have my love, concern, and prayerful solidarity…”
Dolan added a handwritten note in the margin: “Thanks for the green tea! I’ll be in touch soon.”
Seven years earlier, in 1995, a letter from Weakland to Father Eldred Lesniewski reflected a much different tone:
“…Every time you appear in public this way at the altar, Eldred, you risk stirring up people who have brought allegations. The network of such victims is enormous and very aggressive. You risk much unfortunate bad publicity against yourself, the priesthood and the Diocese…”
They were altar boys. Kids in need of a friend or a counselor. Boys and girls who for whatever reason caught the eye of the priest at school or in church. Perhaps the priest initially made them feel special with gifts or extra attention — a sleepover or a vacation on a Caribbean cruise. One priest invited boys to go up north on a camping trip in a hearse.
A man who said he was molested as a boy by Father Lawrence Murphy at St. John’s School for the Deaf finally confronted the priest decades later in a letter copied to Archbishop Weakland and Pope John Paul II:.
“…I cannot keep our secret about your life as a terrible molester at our school…You made us hate the Catholic church because we couldn’t understand how you could be such a hypocrite of a priest who taught us about God while you were the secret molester…
“I would lie awake every night shaking in fear that this would be a night you would touch me …Jesus on the cross on the wall saw you coming every night to molest us. He must have been shocked and grieved every time. I hope he cried like we did, because we were innocent children… The depth of your destruction is like a deep, dark, bottomless pit that has no end…The very least you could do is be sorry, but you aren’t…
“God lets no one into heaven who is not deeply, truly, and shamefully sorry for his sins — in your case, atrocities…My shame and my dirty secret are back where they belong, with you, their creator.”
The mother of one of Father Franklyn Becker’s victims wrote to Weakland in 1994, after accusations about pedophile priests began being reported by newspapers. Her son was abused by Becker at the Holy Family parish in Whitefish Bay in the 1970s, she said.
“As I later found out, this priest had a record in his previous parish and after leaving Whitefish Bay, continued on his merry way in parish after parish, both here and out of state….
“At the time that his offense against my son occurred, I was (redacted) very vulnerable and very committed to seeing that my children be educated in Catholic schools. That’s how he came to know my sons; we took him into our hearts and into our family…
“At no time did it ever occur to me to sue the Archdiocese or the priest… Money could never heal the scars left by one priest’s indiscretion. However, Archbishop Weakland, don’t for a minute smugly think that the only cases of clergy abuse out there are the ones that sue/or run to the media. All I really wanted over the past years was an acknowledgment by you and the Archdiocese that this problem existed and the seriousness of it….
“In addition to a deep sense of guilt for allowing, or even encouraging this to happen to my son some years ago, I have in the past few years experienced a loss of faith, an indifference to the church I was brought up in and now a real bitterness that this particular priest had been ‘rewarded’ with early retirement for a lifetime of botched assignments due to his fondness for the altar boys.”
Father George Nuedling gained sympathy from in-the-dark parishioners one day for an injury he sustained after molesting a victim, according to this letter the victim wrote to the archdiocese:
“…I fought as hard as I could for what seemed an eternity, and fortunately when he lost his grip on me I was able to run away. He tried to give chase but must have pulled something in his calf or hamstring area and fell to the ground (Jesus must have been with me).
“The next day in church it just galled me to hear other parishioners express their concern over Father Nuedling’s ‘bad limp’ and how it must have hurt…I just wonder how many other little boys this evil man harmed?”
Father George Etzel sent a Christmas card in 1992 to a victim, who by then was an adult. “I’m sad and sorry, and I wonder why,” he wrote.
The victim responded: “Thank you for the card and thoughts at Christmas… By the tone of your note…I see that you are also reflecting on your past life…and you know exactly what I am talking about.As I stated earlier, it is a time for forgiveness and hope. I forgive you for the things you have done to me. I hope you can make peace with your god…”
When it was time for his first confession, a 9-year-old victim thought he could anonymously tell a trusted adult about Father Siegfried Widera. But something stopped him, according to a letter he wrote as an adult on Aug. 1, 2002:
“…As I entered that booth, I was determined to end this. It was only to my horror that I entered the confessional and heard that voice that could belong to only one man. I can still to this day feel the devastation that entered me that day and the thought that it was a sign from God to keep my mouth shut. I went home that night and cried. A memory that burns in me to this day.
“A sense of relief only came after I found out he was gone. No explanation to the students and none that I can remember hearing about to the adults… I already know that this man was transferred to another church and he did it again. I live with the thought that I could have stopped this if only I had come forward sooner. And now I know that this man is on the run…
“I only wish I believed enough in prayer to pray for any child he comes across.”
Less than a year after the letter was written, Widera leaped to his death from a hotel balcony in Mexico as officials closed in to arrest him. He had been on the run for more than a year, and authorities considered him one of the most wanted sex-crime fugitives in the Western Hemisphere.