The third installment of the 2011 Grand Jury Report.
Victim “assistance” procedures
Prompted by the pressure of the prior grand jury report, the Archdiocese has in recent years revamped its policies for handling victims of clergy sexual abuse. Now, at least in some cases, the church reports abusers to law enforcement authorities, something that in the past never occurred. And the Archdiocese pays for counseling, and sometimes other expenses.
Those are positive steps, if small ones.We are very troubled, however, by what we learned about the church’s procedures by examining its treatment of Billy and Mark after they reported their abuse.
The previous grand jury heard extensive testimony from the former Pennsylvania Victim Advocate, a state official appointed to represent the interests of crime victims throughout the Commonwealth. The state victim advocate outlined eleven essential attributes of an effective abuse victim program. In a dramatic move, the Archdiocese went out and hired that victim advocate as a consultant. As it turns out, however, the church has not implemented her recommendations.
Instead, the present process is burdened by misinformation and conflict of interest. The Archdiocese’s “victim assistance coordinators,” for example, mislead victims into believing that their discussions with the coordinators are protected by confidentiality. That is not the case. In Pennsylvania, licensed rape counselors are indeed required by statute to maintain confidentiality, like lawyers. The church’s victim assistance coordinators, however, are not licensed counselors to whom the statutory mandate applies – and they do not keep victims’ statements confidential. They turn the statements over to the Archdiocese’s attorneys, who of course have an ethical obligation to protect their client from potential civil and criminal liability.
In a further breach of confidentiality, church employees press victims to sign releases as to records in the possession of third parties, such as outside therapists and the military. Victims are led to believe that these releases will assist the coordinators in helping them. In reality, the records secured through these releases are, once again, turned over to the attorneys. The church’s position, it appears, is that coordinators must uncover every fact in order to make a determination about whether to refer the case to law enforcement. But that is not true. No detailed information is necessary for a referral.
Public officials will conduct their own investigation, assuming they are ever told about the accusation. The only rational explanation for such procedures is not to guarantee the victim’s recovery, but to guard the church against what its highest officials repeatedly refer to as “scandal.” We found notations on records in both Billy’s and Mark’s victim assistance files that discussed the statute of limitations – a legal defense that would be asserted by the church or its priests to block civil and criminal liability.
Indeed the military records that Mark was asked to release had no relevance to his case except for that one purpose: to assist the church in calculating whether any potential legal claims against it were still within the limitations statute. And once they were done making those calculations, church employees handed Mark’s (previously) confidential records over to the last person in the world he would have given them to: his abuser, Father Brennan.
One additional practice during the victim assistance process is of particular concern. The manner in which the coordinators pursue statements can have no salutary purpose. The policy is not even to ask the abuser to speak, although he is obviously a crucial witness; the explanation we were given for this policy is that it might “put the priest in position of admitting” his guilt.
In contrast to this kid-glove treatment of the abuser, victims are virtually hounded to give statements. Victim coordinators (like Monsignor Lynn before them) make it their business to “get details – even unimportant” ones. The only possible reason for this tactic would be to use the statements as ammunition to impeach victims, in an effort to make them appear incredible. Thus Billy was practically chased out of his house in pursuit of a statement, after repeatedly declining to speak. Mark, meanwhile, was accosted by an “assistance” coordinator while he was still in the hospital, recovering from his suicide attempt.
Such procedures are, to state it softly, one-sided – and the side taken is not that of the victim. They are not worthy of a church that says it is committed to righting the wrong of clergy sex abuse.