e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


the abuse scandal

The Catholic Church's ongoing struggle with abusive and predatory priests returned to the news this week, as the L.A. archdiocese agreed on a $660 million settlement. By virtually all accounts, the diocese decided to settle because Cardinal Roger Mahony was about to be called to testify under oath. The diocese allowed the case to stretch on and on and on until faced with the inevitability of its leader being compelled to tell the truth in public. Mahony's involvement in covering up abuse is well-documented in the incredible film Deliver Us From Evil, one of the saddest pieces of work I've ever seen. It's difficult to watch, but I highly recommend it.

Time and again, the pattern in these cases is cover up the abuse, smear the victims, and claim anti-Catholic sentiment and anti-Catholic media are to blame. I've followed the abuse stories very closely in large part because my high school (a seminary boarding school) was at the center of one of the highest profile sex abuse scandals. We even made the cover of Time Magazine. The story broke in December of 1992, just six months after I graduated from the school. I was home from college for the holidays when a friend called and told me to put on CNN. A rather large group of former students brought pedophilia charges against several priests and brothers from the seminary, including a teacher who I had for U.S. History and Sociology and another teacher I had for Algebra 2 and Calculus. I was shocked, never having witnessed anything suspect during my time at the school.

So pervasive and systemic was the school's covering up of information that eventually the administration faced racketeering charges. Most of the charges ended with settlements in which all court records were sealed and all involved were put under gag orders, but some court documents eventually saw the light of day, revealing familiar moves on the part of administrators: granting dispensations to priests they knew were abusers, moving them around, etc. A psychoterapist who directs a victim survivor's network wrote a comprehensive report on the whole mess and one of the things in his report that's most distressing is news of a "seminar" on clergy abuse at the school in 2002, ten years after the school's own abuse broke and as high-profile cases in Boston and L.A. were first coming to light. At this seminar (which no victims were invited to be part of), according to the report, one of the school's attorneys told students:
  • "[Clergy abuse] isn’t worthy of being talked about."
  • "The media has exaggerated stories about the priests because it hates Catholicism and doesn’t understand us. So they make each story more gigantic than it should be."
  • “[The] tiny [number of abusers] said they were sorry and have gone on to live better lives.” While “most people have much to answer for when they face God in the afterlife,” he was “confident every priest would be asked very few questions.”

The hypocrisy is astounding--at my old school in Wisconsin, in Boston, and now in L.A. I can't recommend Deliver Us From Evil highly enough. The film is an opportunity to hear terrible stories that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has paid astronomical amounts of money and taken extreme measures to squelch.

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