Let me divert from my recent discussion about discipleship to address the serious matter of childhood protection. Soon the results of a statewide Grand Jury investigating six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses will be released. Archbishop Chaput recently penned a letter about this current situation in which he states that The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was not a party to that investigative process. Based on preliminary reports, and public comments from the PA Attorney General, the findings of the grand jury investigation will be “devastating.”
Let me clearly state that the protection of our children is our highest priority. Child abuse has no place in our places of worship, our schools, sports programs or in families. Prevention and accountability is now part of our Catholic Culture. Our zero-tolerance policy guides our response to any allegations and any allegations are immediately referred to law enforcement.
I was personally affected by this situation. I dealt with the fallout of the 2005 Grand Jury while at the Penn Newman Center and later as Pastor at St. Mary of the Assumption in Manayunk. There were parishioners at both assignments who had been abused by priests. In some cases, I think we pastorally handled the situation rather well. In other cases, the complexities were too significant to feel that we had helped enough in the healing process. I was in the Office for Clergy when the 2009 Grand Jury published their findings. I was asked to read the Grand Jury findings, inform members of the archdiocese, personally contact priest brothers to let them know that they had been mentioned in the Grand Jury findings and assist in the removal of a number of priests from their assignments. In addition, in the spirit of priestly fraternity, I was asked to keep in touch with a number of priests while their cases were being investigated in order to support them and help bolster their spirits. I never anticipated that this “ministry” to my priest brothers would continue for almost three years. I wrote my thoughts about this in an essay about the Monsignor William Lynn trial.
I have three concerns about the results of the pending grand jury. First is that some information will be presented and emphasized, while other information will be understated or withheld. This will present an incomplete and unfair portrayal of Catholic Church. My second concern is that certain parties will try and financially profit by leveraging the results of the grand jury, and the tremendous, raw emotions that it will elicit. This might sound crass, but I offer evidence of this below. Finally, my third concern is that the combination of the two previous items will encourage legislators to pass reactive laws that could border on unconstitutionality, be specifically biased against the Catholic Church, and could significantly effect the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in a financial way and maybe even have financial effects on St. Monica as well. Let me cover each of these below.
Media coverage of the pending grand jury report will be heavy. Although the Archdiocese was not a subject of this Grand Jury, local media will contextualize current matters with past ones involving our local Church. What will be lost are the significant steps that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has taken to protect children and support sex abuse victims. Let it be clearly stated, that anyone who abuses a child – whether priest or parent, coach or consecrated religious sister – should be arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced for that crime. The Church has accepted the responsibility for abuse that occurred within her ranks. Child protection policies and procedures in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are at a threshold that is higher than the standards set by law. The archdiocese spent $24.1 million between 2003 and 2017 to assist survivors on their paths to healing and to foster education and prevention initiatives that aim to ensure that the safety of the young people entrusted to the Church’s care. Over $5.9 million was spent between 2004 and 2017 on Safe Environment Initiatives, including costs for background checks and training programs. The archdiocese invested over $3.2 million in education and training since 2006. There are over 280 designated Safe Environment Coordinators working in archdiocesan parishes, schools and youth serving ministries to ensure compliance with laws and policies. Approximately 110,000 adults have received training to recognize, respond and report child abuse since 2003. Over 47,000 adults have received mandatory reporter training. Over 100,000 children receive age-appropriate abuse prevention education yearly. During the 2016-17 fiscal year alone, the archdiocese dedicated over $2.8 million to make available mental health services independent of the archdiocese, provide medication, assist with travel and childcare, and other forms of support to men, women, children and families. Further measures that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has undertaken can be found here. These are not insignificant expenditures. It goes against any portrayal that the Catholic Church “doesn’t care” about children and their protection.
Let me address my second concern. A few years ago, I participated in a fascinating, and I must say a somewhat dark, information session about legal issues involved in the wake of these grand juries. Certain law firms and legal entities have decided to specialize in cases of child sexual abuse, especially as it involves the Catholic Church. They have specific strategies to collect as many financial resources from diocese/archdiocese as possible and to support laws to allow this to occur with more frequency and ease. The presenters at the information session showed us the diagram below that was taken from one law firm’s website:
Another way to interpret the wording on the chart is to say that dioceses/archdioceses towards the left side of the chart were identified as having an environment that would be favorable to legislation and law suits at the cost of the Catholic Church. Presenters at our information session said that the strategy was to go after these dioceses/archdioceses first. Possible evidence for this can be seen if one examines information that I found from public sources:
- Wilmington, DE. $77 million settlement. Applied for bankruptcy
- Paul/Minneapolis, MN, $210 million settlement. Applied for bankruptcy
- Archdiocese of Los Angeles, $660 million settlement. Did not declare bankruptcy
- San Diego, CA. $198 million. Applied for bankruptcy
- Great Falls/Billings, MT, $20 million settlement. Applied for bankruptcy
- Fairbanks, AK, $50 million. Applied for bankruptcy
- Portland, OR. $53 million settlement. Applied for bankruptcy
- Spokane, WA. $48 million. Applied for bankruptcy
- Davenport, IA. $37 million. Applied for bankruptcy
- Milwaukee, WI. Greater than $29 million. Applied for bankruptcy
- Tucson, AZ. $22 million. Applied for bankruptcy
Notice two items. One, the states where significant settlements were awarded were on the left side of the chart – in the “easier to get settlements” category. Two (with one exception) the penalties, legal fees and settlements were so significant, that these archdioceses/dioceses had to declare bankruptcy.
The presenters at our information session said that settlements and the push to changing existing laws unfavorable to the Catholic Church would be more difficult in Pennsylvania and other states located towards the right side of the chart. Pennsylvania, for example, has a large, active and vocal Catholic population. Many Catholic citizens in Pennsylvania would not tolerate legislation that would “target” the Catholic Church and not address child abuse found in other entities such as public schools, civic organization, religious figures and worship sites from other faiths. Nevertheless, now that cases involving the “easier” states have been settled, the more difficult states, like Pennsylvania, will most likely be targeted now.
Now, to my third concern. In my opinion, there are legislators who want to punish the Catholic Church. A few state legislators have been quoted as saying that the grand jury report should be used as an impetus for the extension or elimination of statutes of limitation for civil claims related to abuse. In some cases, I don’t blame them. Some of them were sexually abused by Catholic priests. They are angry, and rightfully so. Nevertheless, it is important to note the Pennsylvania Senate has continued to cite that such a reach back is unconstitutional. I commented on this in one, and then a second, essay during debate about House Bill HB 1947. In addition, bankrupting churches is not a solution nor does it solve the problem. It merely removes millions of dollars from the primary mission of the Catholic Church which is to preach, teach, sanctify and support those less fortunate.
I recently read a Twitter comment about “the media and politicians’ relentless reduction of the Catholic Faith to the abuses of the past 80 years is so pervasive that it’s affected even committed Catholics. Not all critics are worth heeding. We are going to fix this. IN the meantime, it might be time to stop listening to people who 1) hate us and 2) want Catholicism gone.”
In closing, as I have said in previous essays, In understand that this is a very difficult topic. Some people will disagree with my assessment. I understand that. Nevertheless, if this issue has affected you, or has involved you in any way, we are here for you. We are here to pray for you and with you. I am open to personally meet with anyone to discuss these issues in depth. Please do not hesitate to contact me to begin a conversation. Thank you and God’s blessing be upon you.