This story comes from the following link: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/03/28/both-sides-point-to-key-evidence-in-priest-abuse-case/
Both Sides Point To Key Evidence In Priest Abuse Case
March 28, 2012 4:29 AM
By Tony Hanson
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Smoking gun evidence for the prosecution and the defense as both sides cite the same couple of documents to make their case for guilt or innocence in the clergy abuse case. The evidence centers around a former co-defendant who last week admitted sexually abusing an altar boy.
The prosecution has presented evidence in the form of documents showing Monsignor William Lynn, who is charged with endangering children compiled a list of 35 suspected or admitted predator priests, found then Father Edward Avery was guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor but still allowed him to remain in ministry and Avery struck again.
He pleaded guilty to this assault last week.
But the defense says the list is evidence Monsignor Lynn did his job, tried to deal with the sex abuse issue but his list was later ordered shredded by the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and the shredding was carried out by others, the act memorialized in a memo shown to the jury.
This article comes from this link http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/panorama/5389684.stm
Sex crimes and the Vatican
A secret document which sets out a procedure for dealing with child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church is examined by Panorama.
Crimen Sollicitationis was enforced for 20 years by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the Pope.
It instructs bishops on how to deal with allegations of child abuse against priests and has been seen by few outsiders.
Critics say the document has been used to evade prosecution for sex crimes.
Crimen Sollicitationis was written in 1962 in Latin and given to Catholic bishops worldwide who are ordered to keep it locked away in the church safe.
It instructs them how to deal with priests who solicit sex from the confessional. It also deals with “any obscene external act … with youths of either sex.”
It imposes an oath of secrecy on the child victim, the priest dealing with the allegation and any witnesses.
Breaking that oath means excommunication from the Catholic Church.
Reporting for Panorama, Colm O’Gorman finds seven priests with child abuse allegations made against them living in and around the Vatican City.
One of the priests, Father Joseph Henn, has been indicted on 13 molestation charges brought by a grand jury in the United States.
During filming for Sex Crimes and the Vatican, Colm finds Father Henn is fighting extradition orders from inside the headquarters of this religious order in the Vatican.
The Vatican has not compelled him to return to America to face the charges against him.
After filming, Father Henn lost his fight against extradition but fled the headquarters and is believed to be hiding in Italy while there is an international warrant for his arrest.
Colm O’Gorman was raped by a Catholic priest in the diocese of Ferns in County Wexford in Ireland when he was 14 years old.
Father Fortune was charged with 66 counts of sexual, indecent assault and another serious sexual offence relating to eight boys but he committed suicide on the eve of his trial.
Colm started an investigation with the BBC in March 2002 which led to the resignation of Dr Brendan Comiskey, the bishop leading the Ferns Diocese.
Colm then pushed for a government inquiry which led to the Ferns Report.
It was published in October 2005 and found: “A culture of secrecy and fear of scandal that led bishops to place the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of the safety of children.”
The Catholic Church has 50 million children in its worldwide congregation and no universal child protection policy although in the UK there is the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children & Vulnerable Adults.
In some countries this means that the Crimen Sollicitationis is the only policy followed.
The Vatican has refused repeated requests from Panorama to respond to any of the cases shown in the film.
With church abuse trial set to open, tensions abound
By John P. Martin
Inquirer Staff Writer
Sun, Mar. 25, 2012, 6:45 AM
The neighborhood that rings St. Jerome’s Church in Northeast Philadelphia is flush with cops and firefighters, reliable Catholics in brick homes with tidy lawns, backyard slides, and a few front-door crucifixes.
That was the backdrop last year for one of the more sordid clergy sex-abuse allegations to emerge in years. A grand jury report described a 10-year-old altar boy being confronted in St. Jerome’s sacristy after Mass, ordered to strip, and engage in sex.
Not once, but three times – by two different priests – over a year in the late 1990s.
On Monday, a Philadelphia jury is scheduled to start hearing about those accusations and one that looms larger: that leaders of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia could have predicted, or prevented, the attacks but instead followed a long-held practice of protecting the church and abusers within it.
The trial of Msgr. William J. Lynn, who for 12 years led the office that recommended priests’ assignments and monitored their conduct, marks the first in the nation for a church supervisor accused of covering up child sex abuse.
His arrest last year on child-endangerment charges, along with two priests and one defrocked cleric accused of molesting boys in the 1990s, stirred fresh outrage among Catholics and led officials of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese to suspend 26 priests, reexamine past claims, and vow to institute its second wave of reforms in six years.
The case has stoked national interest not because of who Lynn is but what his trial signifies. As hundreds of priests worldwide have been accused or convicted of molesting children, church leaders have consistently avoided prosecution, casting the crisis as an individual epidemic, not an institutional one.
Late last week, an eleventh-hour guilty plea from one of the defendants threatened to upend the trial. Defrocked priest Edward V. Avery admitted that he sexually assaulted the St. Jerome’s boy in 1999 and that he conspired with Lynn and others to endanger minors.
Avery is not cooperating with prosecutors, but lawyers for Lynn and the third defendant, the Rev. James J. Brennan, said widespread publicity about the plea might have tainted the jury. Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said she will rule Monday on their request for a delay to pick a new jury.
If it does go forward, the trial promises more, and potentially more jarring, revelations for Catholics, with implications beyond one cleric or one diocese.
The prospective witness list includes a deceased cardinal, Anthony J. Bevilacqua, forced from a reclusive retirement for a videotaped interrogation weeks before his death; two former Philadelphia bishops implicated in the shredding of an incriminating memo; and two men who say they were plunged into years of drug abuse and crime after being raped as boys by their parish priests.
Jurors are likely to hear a drumbeat of testimony about clerics molesting children and could see thousands of pages of never-released documents about their sexual misconduct, including personnel records so sensitive that they were locked away for years in filing cabinets known as “the secret archives.”
For more than a decade, Lynn was the keeper of those files and a key officer in the local church hierarchy. Now 61, he was suspended last year from St. Joseph Church in Downingtown, where he was pastor. A guilty verdict could mean years in prison and a victory for those who have faulted the church’s handling of sex-abuse allegations.
“Did a lot of bishops do very stupid things for which they should have been held accountable and they were not held accountable? Yes, absolutely,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a scholar at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center. “Now this is a chance again to send the church, to send the bishops, a message by prosecuting somebody.”
Lynn’s lawyers have used the same theory to argue his innocence. They say the monsignor was a middle manager unfairly “hung out to dry” by prosecutors eager to blame someone for years of unchecked abuse and by bosses who scrambled, or flat-out lied, to save themselves. They say an objective review shows Lynn used “good judgment” and tried to isolate abusers from children.
Bound by a gag order, the attorneys, Thomas Bergstrom and Jeffrey Lindy, have not outlined their trial strategy or said if Lynn will testify. But at one pretrial hearing, Lindy assured the judge: “Monsignor Lynn has a story to tell.”
Simply that a trial is taking place might be more significant than its outcome, said Patrick Wall, a former priest turned lawyer and victims advocate.
Since Lynn’s arrest, prosecutors in seven jurisdictions from California to New York have started exploring charges against priests’ superiors, according to Wall.
“Any time I’ve talked to a prosecutor and I’ve brought up Philadelphia, it gives them greater moral authority to do this,” he said. “Because most D.A.s were afraid to take on the Catholic Church.”
The trial comes seven years after another Philadelphia grand jury delivered a searing 418-page report that faulted archdiocesan leaders for their handling of sex-abuse claims. But that panel said it was hamstrung by laws that limited who could be charged and required sex crimes to be reported within a few years of occurring, despite advocates’ assertions that victims often wait decades to come forward.
For the latest investigation, District Attorney Seth Williams relied on an expanded statute of limitations and a 2007 amendment that made supervisors in child-care settings criminally culpable for abuse.
Lynn, the subject of withering criticism by the previous grand jury, became the primary target of the next one. “We believe that legal accountability for Msgr. Lynn’s unconscionable behavior is long overdue,” its report said.
While secretary for clergy between 1992 and 2004, prosecutors say, Lynn endangered children by recommending abusive priests for assignments that gave them access to children. They built their case around claims by two accusers, and with help from the archdiocese itself.
In January 2009, church officials forwarded to prosecutors a complaint that its victims’ assistance office received from the former St. Jerome’s altar boy. He was in the fifth grade in 1998, he said, when the Rev. Charles Engelhardt caught him drinking wine in the sacristy, began talking about sex, and told the boy they would soon have “sessions” on how to be a man. Engelhardt assaulted him a week later, he said.
The boy kept silent, but the cleric might not have. Prosecutors say Avery, who also lived at the parish, told the boy months later that he had heard about the “sessions” with Engelhardt and planned his own. Twice, Avery allegedly molested the boy in the church.
According to the grand jury, Lynn knew Avery had been removed from a Mount Airy parish over a sex-abuse allegation in 1992 and sent for treatment at St. John Vianney, a church-owned hospital. Prosecutors say the monsignor had recommended that Avery live at St. Jerome’s and work at nearby Nazareth Hospital, and was supposed to be monitoring Avery.
Now 69, Avery was defrocked in 2006. At least two more accusers have come forward since his arrest and could testify at the trial.
Engelhardt, 65, who belongs to the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, an independent religious order, faces a separate trial. So does Bernard Shero, a 49-year-old former teacher at St. Jerome’s parish school accused of raping the same boy a year after the priests. Both argued they could not be part of an archdiocese conspiracy because they weren’t under Lynn’s supervision.
Brennan, 49, is charged with raping a 14-year-old boy while on leave from the archdiocese in 1996. Brennan allegedly targeted the boy after meeting him when both were at St. Andrew’s Church in Newtown, Bucks County. Prosecutors say the assault occurred after Lynn failed to act on complaints about Brennan’s misconduct with minors.
Defense lawyers are expected to hammer at the alleged victims’ accounts. The accusers, whose names are being withheld by The Inquirer, have histories of drug use, petty crime, and mental-health treatment. Both also have lawsuits pending against the archdiocese.
Brennan’s lawyer, William Brennan, who is unrelated, said Friday that his accuser had convictions for fraud, forgery, and theft – including stealing from his own family.
Lynn’s attorneys have targeted the law. In one of their many bids to derail the charges, and one that could seed an appeal, they contended Lynn can’t be guilty of endangering children in the 1990s because the statute didn’t apply to supervisors like him until 2007.
They also have challenged a pivotal February ruling by Sarmina, the judge, who said prosecutors can tell jurors about nearly two dozen other archdiocesan priests accused of sexual abuse over the last 40 years.
None of the others is charged in the case. But prosecutors, led by Assistant District Attorneys Patrick Blessington and Mariana Sorensen, have maintained that jurors can’t properly weigh Lynn’s recommendations for Avery and Brennan without considering what he and other church leaders knew – and how they reacted to other complaints.
“It’s always been our position that this was an archdiocese-wide policy, which in and of itself was criminal in nature,” Blessington said.
The archdiocese is paying for Lynn’s defense team of four lawyers because the accusations involve his job. Still, it is not clear if the church’s and the monsignor’s interests coincide or conflict.
Last week, Lynn’s lawyers said the archdiocese had refused to turn over decade-old letters that they said could show its lawyers guided church policy and Lynn’s decisions on sex-abuse allegations.
The defense team also pounced on what it portrayed as the closest thing to a smoking gun in the case: notes found in a locked safe that suggest Bevilacqua ordered aides in 1994 to shred a memo identifying 35 area priests suspected of sexual misconduct.
The lawyers say the memo, written by Lynn, proves that his bosses – the cardinal and his top assistants, Bishops Edward Cullen and Joseph Cistone – lied when they told grand jurors that Lynn made the key decisions about what to do with predatory priests.
Bevilacqua, who ran the archdiocese from 1988 until 2003, died in January after years of failing health. Still, he could be a crucial witness. In November, Sarmina ruled him competent to testify, and let lawyers grill him for seven hours during a private deposition that jurors might see.
In court filings, Lynn’s attorneys portrayed the prelate as a weary, sometimes confused witness. But he also is said to have clearly denied any wrongdoing and instead implicated his former secretary for clergy.
With white hair, glasses, and a stout frame, Lynn has been the only defendant to attend nearly all the pretrial proceedings. He typically comes with his sister, with whom he has lived since being suspended. While Avery and Brennan occasionally chat or joke with their lawyers, Lynn’s somber visage almost never changes.
His last public comments on the scandal came after the 2005 grand jury report, one that cited him hundreds of times, usually in a critical way. “I would never put a child in harm’s way,” Lynn told his parishioners from the altar. “I’m going to leave that to your judgment.”
Last September, six months after his arrest, Lynn drew a standing ovation during a dinner that the archdiocese’s newly installed leader, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, hosted for priests. That same month, Chaput told an interviewer: “It’s really important to me, and I think to all of us, that he be treated fairly and that he not be a scapegoat.”
Lynn does evoke a certain amount of compassion in church circles, according to Nicholas Cafardi, a canon lawyer in Pittsburgh and author of a book about the U.S. bishops’ response to clergy sex abuse. “My read of the compassion is basically, ‘He did what he was asked to do, or what he was told to do.’ ”
Still, Cafardi said, the monsignor faces long odds of getting compassion from a jury. “There is no sympathy,” he said, “for the person in the dock in child-abuse cases.”
Stakes are high for church as ‘failure to report’ case unfolds against Kansas City bishop
KANSAS CITY (MO)
March 25, 2012
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The charge is only a misdemeanor, but if prosecutors are able to win a conviction against Kansas City Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Finn, they could be opening up a whole new front in the national priest abuse crisis.
Finn is accused of violating Missouri’s mandatory reporter law by failing to tell state officials about hundreds of images of suspected child pornography found on the computer of a priest in his diocese.
Experts say a criminal conviction against Finn, the highest-ranking church official charged with shielding an abusive priest, could embolden prosecutors elsewhere to more aggressively pursue members of the church hierarchy who try to protect offending clergy.
“Cases can sit like land mines in files for a long time and suddenly come to light,” said Matthew Bunson, a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and co-author of a book, “Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal.” ‘’Those cases may ultimately involve leaders in the church.”
Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph each were charged last year with one count of failing to report. The case involves the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who remains jailed on state and federal charges accusing him of producing and possessing child pornography. Both have pleaded not guilty, and a judge is scheduled to hear multiple motions in the case Tuesday, including one to dismiss the charges.
“We do not believe that either the facts or the law support a finding of guilt on the misdemeanor charges, and we look forward to a just and fair resolution of them,” the diocese told The Associated Press in an e-mailed statement.
Finn has acknowledged being told in December 2010 about hundreds of photographs of young children found on Ratigan’s laptop computer. Many of the photos focused on the crotch areas of young children who are clothed, though one series showed the exposed genitals of a girl thought to be 3 or 4 years old.
The bishop also has acknowledged that a parish principal warned the diocese of suspicious behavior by Ratigan, including that he was taking compromising pictures of children and let them sit on his lap and reach into his pocket for candy. Those warnings occured more than six months before the photos were found.
Instead of ordering the photos to be turned over to police, or telling the Missouri Children’s Division about them, Finn sent Ratigan out of state for a psychiatric evaluation. When Ratigan returned to Missouri, Finn sent him to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, where he would say Mass for the sisters and be away from children.
Only after the church received reports that Ratigan had violated orders from the diocese to stay away from children did the diocese turn over to police last May a disk containing the photos from Ratigan’s computer.
“From the church’s perspective, having your bishop declared a criminal is a big deal, even if it’s only a misdemeanor,” said Douglas Laycock, a religious liberty specialist at the University of Virginia School of Law. “For them, it’s not about the fine, it’s about the statement being made.”
The maximum sentence for the crime is a $1,000 fine and one year in jail, but there’s little chance the bishop would be put behind bars. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said some people thought she shouldn’t have filed the charge against Finn, while others thought the charge should have been more serious.
“The prosecutor is not in the business of pleasing people,” she said.
Finn told a grand jury he thought Vicar General Robert Murphy was the diocese’s designated reporter. Murphy testified that even though he was head of a team formed to respond to claims of child sex abuse by priests, he had never been trained on being the mandatory reporter, nor officially assigned that duty.
Separation of church and state also is a significant issue for the church, Laycock said.
“Say a bishop has to report to police everything he knows about a priest under his supervision,” Laycock said. “If child abuse is involved, it may be a sensible and constitutional law. But it certainly intrudes on the supervisory relationship of a bishop and priest.”
Tuesday’s motions hearing comes a day after the trial begins in Philadelphia in a case involving Monsignor William Lynn, the first U.S. church official charged with child endangerment for keeping accused priests in the ministry.
Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org, which manages a public database of records on clergy abuse cases, said the two cases represent a shift toward holding the Catholic Church hierarchy legally accountable for failing to warn parents or police about abusive priests.
“There’s been a lot of attention directed against the Ratigans of the world, but not a lot of attention until recently on the Finns of the world,” McKiernan said. “That’s what makes the church very nervous. It will be devastating for the church if the attention is directed at people like that.”
Court documents reveal motives for deposing SNAP
Jan. 23, 2012
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Attorneys seeking the deposition of the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) argued the group had colluded with an attorney representing an abuse victim in violation of a court gag order, and also worried that the advocacy group could be “routinely advising” victims to evade statutes of limitations, according to court filings.
The documents, dated Nov. 18 but first reported yesterday in a blog post by author Dave Pierre, relate to a county court case involving allegations of sexual misconduct against Kansas City diocesan priest Fr. Michael Tierney.
The case made headlines earlier this month when it became the first where lawyers sought the deposition of a SNAP leader, and requested that the organization hand over some 23 years of internal records, correspondence and email.
David Clohessy, SNAP’s director, submitted himself for the deposition Jan. 2, but said afterwards that he had refused to answer many of the lawyers’ questions and to submit many of the documents.
The Nov. 18 filing was made by Tierney’s lawyers and was in opposition to a filing made by Clohessy to Jackson County, Mo., Judge Ann Mesle, asking her to prohibit the deposition, citing Missouri state law protecting rape crisis centers, and U.S. constitutional protections of freedom of speech and assembly.
While some of the information revealed in the November filing has already been reported, it also gives more background to the reasons Tierney’s lawyers say they thought Clohessy’s deposition necessary.
The filings confirm earlier reports that Tierney’s attorneys were concerned that a lawyer representing plaintiffs in abuse cases had violated a court gag order by giving information to SNAP. Tierney’s lawyers allege the plaintiffs’ lawyer gave SNAP information about two separate lawsuits hours before each were officially filed in court.
In one case, Tierney’s lawyers allege that a press release issued by SNAP some six hours before a lawsuit was filed against the priest contained information that could only have been known by the plaintiffs’ lawyer.
“There is simply no way that the SNAP press release was made without the assistance of plaintiff counsel since the lawsuit was publically filed hours AFTER the press release was issued,” reads the filing.
Tierney’s lawyers also allege that SNAP and the plaintiffs’ lawyer “are working in concert to vilify” Tierney and the diocese, and “have made it difficult, if not impossible, for [them] to receive a fair trial.”
Beyond allegations regarding the information contained in SNAP press releases, Tierney’s lawyers also argue in the filing that they are entitled to depose Clohessy regarding his contact with victims who allege they were the victims of clergy sexual abuse, but that they had repressed the memories for years.
In the filing, Tierney’s lawyers seem to allege that Clohessy could be coaching the victims to lie about when they recovered their memories in order to evade statutes of limitations for lawsuits.
“SNAP, through Mr. Clohessy, could be routinely advising plaintiff and others to claim repressed memory to evade the statute of limitations,” reads the filing. “Defendants are entitled to discovery on that issue.”
“In addition, the plaintiff in this case and others … may have corresponded with SNAP prior to alleged recovery of their memory, and defendants should be entitled to such correspondence to refute the claim of repressed memory,” the filing continues.
Regarding SNAP’s insistence that it is protected from answering questions in the deposition, or from submitting documents, under Missouri state law protecting confidentiality for rape crisis centers, the November filing states frankly that “SNAP is not a rape crisis center.”
Missouri law, the filing states, “requires rape crisis center to maintain confidentiality of any information related to the advocacy services it provides. SNAP does not maintain such confidentiality — in fact it issues press releases regarding persons for whom it advocates, including press releases that identify the alleged victims’ identity.”
At this point it is unclear what legal consequences Clohessy could face for his refusal to answer some of the questions, and to submit some of the documents requested, at his Jan. 2 deposition.
Links to each of the filings in the back and forth exchange between Clohessy and Tierney’s lawyers on the subject of the SNAP leader’s deposition are available at the SNAP website. The Nov. 18 filing can be found here.
[Joshua J. McElwee is an NCR staff writer. His email address is email@example.com.
SNAP, the bishops and a lesson in ecclesiology
by Thomas P. Doyleon Mar. 14, 2012
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, came into existence in 1989, just five years after national attention was first focused on sexual molestation of minors by Catholic clergy. The founder, Barbara Blaine, is a survivor of abuse. The national director, David Clohessy, is also a survivor. SNAP came into existence because the institutional church, i.e., the bishops, could not and would not do anything to help the victims of the priests they were supposed to supervise.
Realizing that they would have to help themselves, Barbara and the original members started what has become the oldest and most effective advocacy and help group for the countless victims of clergy abuse throughout the United States and Europe as well.
Over the years since its existence, SNAP has done what the institutional church should have done: It offered understanding, support, solace and above all, hope for anyone who called upon it. SNAP is not a sophisticated organization with a well-oiled and financed bureaucracy. It has always been focused on providing support for victims, giving them the encouragement to begin to heal from the devastation of abuse and giving them hope, knowing they are not alone.
In 1993, Pope John Paul II issued his first public response to the clergy abuse issue in the form of a letter to the U.S. bishops. In this letter, he said the bishops have a responsibility to the “innocent victims.” Unfortunately, that’s all he said about victims, devoting most of the letter to a fumbled attempt to shift the blame to the secular media and U.S. culture.
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States. On the plane coming over, he spoke to the media and said, “The victims will need healing and help and assistance and reconciliation: This is a big pastoral engagement and I know that the bishops and the priests and all Catholic people in the United States will do whatever possible to help, to assist, to heal.”
The pope was wrong on that one. The bishops as a group have certainly not helped the victims heal. They have said a lot of nice things, but their response has been hypocritical. While they feign sorrow and regret, make promises and lay on church floors at organized penance services, they are also waging a war against the survivors of the molestation and betrayed trust that they themselves have brought about. They continue to spend millions of the laypeople’s dollars to try and bury any attempts at bringing civil legislation to protect victims into the 21st century and, most reprehensible, they continue to try to pound victims into the ground in the courts. The bottom line is that as with everything else, the response to the clergy abuse nightmare has to be their way or no way.
The latest and most convincing evidence of the bishops’ collective failure following the present pope’s admonitions is the organized attack on SNAP. This attack is being carried out by lawyers who represent two priests accused of abuse, but it’s not about justice for the priests. It’s about destroying an organization that represents not only a source of profound embarrassment to the bishops but a serious threat to their continued duplicity. On one hand, the demand for SNAP’s files is sending a horrific message to all victims of clergy abuse and to all who try to help and support them. The message is clear: Although individual bishops might be truly sympathetic, the bishops as a group simply don’t “get it.” Nothing has changed since 1985, when this sordid issue first came to widespread public awareness. They are only concerned for themselves, their image, their control over the laity and their money. The National Review Board had it right when they pinpointed this in their 2004 report.
But there is another side. The thinly veiled attack through the lawyers from Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis is part of a strategy to discredit not only SNAP but all survivors of the sexual and spiritual abuse by the priests, religious and bishops. It shows that they fear SNAP and the survivors. Bill Donohue, who basically represents only himself, announced that SNAP is a “menace to the church.” He also claimed in an editorial that “Jeff Anderson is an enemy of the church.” Not one bishop has spoken out and said, “Bill, you’re wrong.” This is where we come to the ecclesiology part.
Ecclesiology is a fancy name for the theology of the church, the meaning of the church. This meaning had to be recalled by the assembled bishops at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) because it had been buried in the hierarchical trappings of the church as monarchy. The meaning resurrected by the council is simple yet profound: The church is the “People of God,” which simply means that the boundaries don’t stop with the bishops or with the clerical subculture. The council reminded Catholics that there were followers of the spirit and word of Christ before there was a hierarchy and a clerical world. Almost before the bleachers were removed from St. Peter’s Basilica at the close of the last session in 1965, the forces intent on neutralizing the reborn understanding of the church were hard at work. These forces are more evident today than at any other time since the council, and they are led by bishops.
SNAP is the People of God. The laypeople and the priests, religious men and women and miniscule number of bishops who stand with victims of clergy abuse and give them hope and healing are the church. Even though they might not think so, the lawyers who help victims find justice and healing are the church. It’s not true to say that “the church” does little to nothing to provide authentic help. The church has been the source of the help. It’s not, however, been the part of the church that has the official mandate to extend pastoral care to those in need, namely, the hierarchy. But they are not “the church.” They are only a very tiny part of it — .00074 percent, to be more exact. Some would argue this and say that we all have a mandate and they are right, but the leadership in extending compassionate support should have come from the bishops. Even the pope expected it. But it has not come from the bishops or even from the papacy. It has come from people who, it appears, have a more realistic and theologically orthodox understanding of the meaning of “church” than those who hold the official positions in the institution.
So Bill Donohue (and anyone who agrees with him) is dead wrong, reading from a script that was never theologically sound and is certainly way out of date. The purpose of the “church” is not the care and feeding of the hierarchy. The most important people in the church, if one takes the lead from the example of Jesus, are not the ones with the fanciest and most colorful robes but the ones who are the most marginalized and rejected, and in this group, one must include the countless women and men who have become marginalized because of the physical and sexual abuse of the church’s own ministers. They have been marginalized by the very ones who should lead the way in providing compassionate care, and they have been rejected by those who see them as a threat to their image, prestige and power.
The attacks on SNAP and the overall campaign to discredit and intimidate victims are a sure sign that an important part of the church has gone off the rails. It is a sign of a radically distorted ecclesiology. One way or the other, however, SNAP, its leadership, its members, those it helps and above all its spirit, will not be snuffed out no matter how vehement the attacks from the hierarchy, their supporters and their cheerleaders. Why? Because SNAP is people. Not just any people, but a true expression of the People of God.
[Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle is a canon lawyer, addictions therapist and longtime supporter of justice and compassion for clergy sex abuse victims. He is a co-author of the first report ever issued to the U.S. bishops on clergy sex abuse, in 1986.]