Churches pay dearly for silence on abuse
Criticism grows in pedophile cases

Chicago Tribune, 11 Feb. 2

by Julia Lieblich

Despite two decades of warnings that when churches allow pedophiles to remain in their ranks they risk not only grave damage to children but also huge financial liability, many groups still appear more concerned with protecting clergy than stopping the abuse, critics say.

Religious organizations as diverse as the Roman Catholic Church and the Hare Krishnas are entangled in costly litigation charging clergy with sexually abusing children.

And although the problem is not new, many groups continue to foster a climate of secrecy and carry out policies detrimental to victims, said David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Rather than investigate cases openly, which would encourage more victims to come forward, experts say, most religious groups quietly pay cash settlements. Even the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Ill., heralded as a rare model of how to handle abuse cases, has asked victims to agree not to disclose details as a condition of compensation.

Clohessy said that in 10 years he has found no religious group that punishes clergy who fail to turn in pedophiles. And too few organizations insist that suspected abuse be reported the police unless required by law.

Even the review boards are often staffed by inexperienced people who lack the tools to evaluate claims or by clergy reluctant to remove colleagues, said Rev. Patricia Liberty, executive director of Associates in Education and Prevention in Pastoral Practice in North Kingstown, R.I.

Guardian found guilty

The Hare Krishnas formed a child protection office only to discover that the director had committed child abuse, said the office's director, Dhira Govinda, of Alachua, Fla.

Recent events have only highlighted the extent of the problem.

On Sunday, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston vowed he would not step down despite increasing pressure over a sexual abuse scandal involving priests who had worked in the archdiocese

In late January, the archdiocese of Boston released documents showing that the church had transferred from parish to parish a priest repeatedly accused of child abuse. Last week the archdiocese submitted to prosecutors the names of 22 priests, bringing the total number of accused priests to at least 60.

Law has apologized to abuse victims and announced a policy of "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse. Also in January, the diocese of Tucson settled a suit brought by 16 plaintiffs who said they were molested by priests--and that the diocese did nothing to stop it.

The Hare Krishnas announced plans last week to declare bankruptcy to protect their assets from a $400 million damage suit charging that the group leadership knew about the abuse of hundreds of Hare Krishna children in the 1970s and '80s. The leaders deny the charges.

Roman Catholic officials defend church policy, arguing that great strides have been made in addressing a problem that is widespread in society.

Progress seen by some

"In the past 10 to 15 years, there has been major improvement in terms of both screening people who enter seminaries and the response when there are allegations something has occurred," said William Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But observers like Liberty think much more work is needed. "On a scale of 1 to 10, things have changed to a 2," she said. Liberty acknowledges that some individual congregations have instituted effective programs of prevention and disclosure, "but there is not one denomination universally doing a good job," she said.

In 1985 Rev. Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer then at the Vatican embassy in Washington, co-wrote a confidential report warning U.S. bishops that if they didn't weed out pedophiles they could lose an estimated $1 billion in 10 years. "We couldn't even get them to consider the report," said Doyle, now a chaplain at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

In 1992 Ray Sinibaldi, a teacher of at-risk youth who was abused by a Roman Catholic priest in Weymouth, Mass., met with Law. When the cardinal sought his advice on a new child abuse policy, Sinibaldi said he urged the Boston archdiocese to require priests to report suspects to the police.

Not until January 2002 did Law institute such a policy after mounting public pressure.

Lawsuits a last resort

James Poling, a pastoral theology professor at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, said clerics often perceive critics--and potential lawsuits--as a threat to institutional survival. The irony, he said, is that abuse victims rarely think of suing when they initially inform religious leaders of their experiences.

Clohessy agreed: "Litigation only happens as a last resort when survivors feel nothing else will get their perpetrators removed from ministry." Last month it was disclosed that new Vatican rules specified that ecclesiastical courts will handle abuse allegations in secret, though the policy does not rule out legal proceedings. And religious groups continue to keep settlements under wraps, said A.W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former priest who counsels victims.

"I've been in on cases where I've gone to the bishop's office with the victims," said Sipe. "The bishop says, `I believe your story is logical. How much do you want to settle?' Literally in an hour a man can get a quarter of a million dollars' settlement."

Defenders of such action say it protects the victim's privacy and the integrity of proceedings. But Liberty believes handling allegations this way does not encourage other victims to come forward. "There is a difference between confidentiality and secrecy," she said. "In 100 percent of the cases there is some kind of gag order attached to the settlement. Requiring silence is another form of abuse."

Victim advocates say such policies should provide concrete mechanisms for reporting and reviewing cases as well as compensating victims. They also want educational programs for clergy and laity. Clohessy's group has honored Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for quickly removing priests accused of sexual misconduct, for openly stating the reasons and providing therapy for most survivors and accused priests.

The archdiocese of Chicago also has a "state-of-the-art policy" that requires abuse allegations to be reported to the authorities, said Indiana-Purdue University sociologist Anson Shupe, who studies religion and criminology.

Punishment for silence

Still, all religious groups should add procedures for disciplining clergy who remain silent when someone is suspected of harming children, Clohessy said.

"If a cleric suspects one of his colleagues of abusing and does not turn him in, that cleric should be hung out to dry," said Clohessy, whose group is based in St. Louis. "Men who prey on children are like mad dogs. They have a compulsive sickness."

Many religious organizations have yet to adopt abuse policies of any kind. Shupe said that although some of the major Protestant groups have "self-policing measures," a 1998 survey he conducted of all U.S. Protestant groups indicated the vast majority do not.

"Most groups said, `We don't have a problem so we don't have a policy,'" he said.

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