Thursday, May 22, 2008

Catholic church pays for hiding pedophiles

Church actions show why jury award was justified
May 20, 2008

Following is a statement by Barbara Blaine and David Clohessy, leaders of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a support group based in Chicago:

When a corporation knowingly hides the flaws in dangerous products and hurts unsuspecting consumers, no CEO tries to escape responsibility by saying, "I've reformed and won't do it again." Nor can the CEO of a nonprofit that deliberately risks others' safety say, "But ours is a nonprofit that helps people. Don't make us pay a fine."

In both cases, the institutions are held accountable, because that's what will make them (and other institutions) be safer and more responsible in the future.

So how can Vermont Bishop Salvatore Matano claim that his organization shouldn't face consequences for decades of recklessness, secrecy and deceit surrounding hundreds of horrific child sex crimes by clergy?

Matano is stunned by the $8.7 million punitive damage decision by an impartial jury. But such a decision will certainly help deter future wrongdoing. It gives employers more incentive to screen out molesters. It also prods employers to train employees how to spot warning signs of child molestation and respond appropriately when allegations surface. Vermont kids are safer now because of these wise jurors.

Any reasonable person will applaud that result. But within hours of the verdict, Matano vowed to fight it. He could accept responsibility, admit wrongdoing, and make genuine reforms to prevent future crimes and cover ups. Instead, he's pointing fingers, shifting blame and making excuses.

He claims he has already "reformed.""This stuff isn't happening any more," one of his defense lawyers insists.

That's tempting to believe, but evidence, history and common sense suggests otherwise.

Common sense tells us that decades, perhaps centuries, of deceptive and self-protective patterns cannot be reversed in just a few short years. This is especially true in the church hierarchy — an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy that essentially answers to no one. Thousands of crimes were successfully covered up for dozens of years. None of the complicit church officials has been disciplined. So, on its face, it's just plain silly and na├»ve to think that this deeply rooted, Mafia-like behavior has suddenly and magically ended.

A look at recent evidence leads us to the same conclusion.

If Matano has reformed and clergy sex crimes aren't being covered up any more, then why does he refuse to take simple prevention measures like some of his colleagues? Why isn't he:

Posting the names of proven, admitted and credibly accused predator priests on his Web site.
Working to reform the archaic laws that prevent predators from being exposed in court.
Personally visiting parishes where predators worked and begging victims to come forward.
Insisting that his pedophile priest live in a remote, secure, independent treatment center where neighbors are warned, kids are protected and sick men get treatment.

Several Catholic bishops are taking these steps. But Matano is doing none of this. Instead he continues to do the absolute bare minimum. When credible allegations of child molestation arise, he follows the advice of his insurers, lawyers and public relations staff and suspends the priest. But he stops there, ignoring Jesus' admonition that shepherds leave the 99 behind and search for and help the one lost sheep.

If Matano has reformed, why hasn't he disciplined even one church worker who suspected or knew of sexual abuse but stayed silent or concealed it? (With at least a dozen credibly accused pedophile priests in his diocese, surely Matano knows of one employee — whether priest, principal or custodian — who kept quiet or did nothing about an abuse charge.)

If he has reformed, why does Matano tolerate hardball legal maneuvers by his defense lawyers? (One church attorney's excesses caused a judge to harshly criticize him and declare a mistrial, possibly deterring other victims from coming forward and certainly rubbing even more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of a clergy sex abuse victim.)

And why, just two years ago, did Matano wait four months before telling police about child sex allegations against the Rev. Steven J. Nichols? That's ample time for a possible criminal to invent alibis, fabricate evidence, intimidate witnesses, and threaten victims.

Finally, if Matano has reformed, why did national church authorities find him in violation this year of the bishops' own weak abuse policy, even though he has had six years to comply? Why, when this finding was announced, did Matano not discipline a single staff member who was at fault?

Actions like these would show remorse, reform and commitment to change. On the other hand, passivity, inaction and mere words do not. In Vermont's Catholic diocese, there has sadly been little of the former and plenty of the latter.

Because of this disturbing and persistently callous track record, these 12 unbiased men and women were right to send a strong signal that neither child sex crimes by predators nor ongoing complicity by officials will go unpunished.

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