In February 2019, the Pope hosted his clergy sexual abuse summit in Rome.
In the meantime, the church had devised another way to protect predator clergy.
I call this strategy “pay and they’ll go away”:
In mid-May, six of California’s Roman Catholic dioceses announced a new program to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The basis of the program is, a victim of clergy sexual abuse who has not yet received a financial settlement through litigation can apply for financial compensation.
Participants in the program who accept settlement then forfeit their ability to go to court. If states change their statute of limitation laws – and some states are considering this – victims also forfeit the right to sue later.
The program is modeled on one adopted in 2016 by the archdiocese of New York and extended to other East Coast dioceses:
What that program, and the California program, also have in common is administrator Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer best known for settling victims’ claims after 9/11, and his co-administrator, Camille Biros.
Compensation for the victims – or families of victims – of 9/11 came from a fund created by Congress. Our government – and the victims – had no recourse against the 9/11 perpetrators. Yes, we knew who the hijackers were, and where they came from. But you couldn’t sue the dead hijackers, and suing the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon would be an exercise in futility.
That isn’t the case with the Catholic church. The church and its deep pockets – there is good reason to believe it may be wealthiest institution in the world – is very much within legal reach.
And the church hierarchy covered up the wrongdoing of its clergy. That makes the institution as responsible as the individual perpetrators.
Two years after the New York Archdiocese began its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, the New York Post reported that almost $60 million had been paid to victims:
For those who accepted the compensation in New York, for those in California and possible future locations who accept the compensation, I say:
If this helps you heal, you made a good decision.
For those who decline the compensation and choose to pursue their legal options, I say:
You have a long, uphill battle against a powerful, wealthy institution that’s perfected the art of stonewalling.
My sincere wish is that you succeed in whatever way is meaningful to you.
It’s true that Bishop Robert McElroy, head of the San Diego diocese, said the diocese would follow the standard procedure when a priest is accused. A private investigator checks the allegation and reports to a review board consisting of priests and lay people, including one survivor of clerical sexual abuse. That board makes a recommendation to the bishop.
“If it’s credible, then the name would go on the list, absolutely,” McElroy said, referring to the list the diocese publicly posts of credibly accused priests. “And we must file a police report.”
Well, Your Eminence, or whatever you call a bishop, that just leaves me with more questions:
- Once the review board makes a recommendation to you, the bishop, who, exactly, is accountable for following up with you, the bishop?
- Who, exactly, is accountable for making sure that police report gets filed?
- Who, exactly, is accountable for that list of credibly accused priests that the diocese publicly posts?
And, Bishop McElroy, where is “the list” you referred to? I went to your diocese website and found nothing to indicate it was available there:
I do see a big red button to “Donate,” but no list of credibly accused priests.
So I did some more searching, and found a database of publicly accused priests at Bishop-Accountability.org:
In my research I also came across this article from September 2018:
It lists the names of eight “credibly accused” priests with connections to San Diego.
One of those eight is J. Patrick Foley.
He was accused of abusing two Sacramento-area boys. In 2011 there was a “canonical trial” with an “unclear” verdict, as opposed to a trial in a criminal court of law.
“We suspended him and took away his faculties, which means he wasn’t allowed to publicly function as a priest,” said San Diego Diocese Vice Chancellor Kevin Eckery.
Well, guess what, Kevin? Foley is alive and well in Northern California, and has a website where he promotes himself as the “Itinerant Papist Preacher:
“Papist,” in case you’ve forgotten, means “Catholic.” As you can see in the above image, Foley is dressing like a Catholic priest. He describes himself as “a diocesan priest, ordained in 1973.”
And he conducts, among other things, “retreats” for “young adults.”
Is anyone paying attention here?
I have no faith that the church – from priest to Pope – will change how clergy sexual abuse is handled.
I’ll talk about that in Part III, my last installment.