By Susan Matthews
Early in the life of this blog, a very passionate commenter demanded a RICO investigation of the Catholic Church. Kathy and I thought he was overly dramatic and maybe even a bit crazy. Now, we agree with him. Using popular quotes from the The Godfather, let’s break it down.
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Yesterday, The Washington Post broke the news that Bishop Michael Bransfield* gave $350,000 in cash gifts to Cardinals and priests, including some who accused him of sexual harassment. Vatican records reportedly reveal the money trail. Bransfield wrote “gift” checks from his personal account and the West Virginia diocese reimbursed him by raising his compensation to match “gift” amounts plus his added income tax burden.
What other organization engages in payoffs to possible informants? The mob. And just like the mafia, the Catholic hierarchy appears to be involved in organized crime. But there’s at least one difference. I don’t believe the mafia would sanction the coverup of child rape. They have a code.
With recent revelations, we’ve reached a national, if not global, tipping point. If doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result is the definition of crazy. It would be crazy to offer the Catholic hierarchy another opportunity to reform itself.
Let’s turn to the law. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is a federal law intended to combat organized crime in the U.S.
“Goddam FBI don’t respect nothin.”
Federal prosecutors would have to prove the Catholic Church is an enterprise and engaged in two or more instances of racketeering. They would have to prove the church directly invested in, maintained an interest in or participated in criminal behavior affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
Child sex abuse and obstruction of justice could establish racketeering, said David Hickton in an article on Pennlive.com. Hickton, a former U.S. attorney in the Western District of PA, used RICO in 2016 to initiate a suit against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The time wasn’t right, but it could be now.
Special agents from the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime reviewed evidence collected by the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation of clergy sex abuse across six dioceses. The FBI found all six dioceses employed the same pattern of practices to systematically cover up abuse, according to an article in The New York Times. It stands to reason these practices span the U.S. Catholic Church.
The civil provisions of RICO offer a wider berth than the criminal. Take the case of Art Cohen vs. Donald J. Trump. Cohen filed suit against Trump on behalf of students claiming they were defrauded thousands of dollars each by Trump University. The case was settled out of court for $25 million.
I paid for my kids’ Catholic education and donated to the Catholic Church, a supposed nonprofit. Hasn’t the Church abused its tax-exempt status and operated counter to its stated institutional mission?
In just the last year, the U.S. Catholic Church spent $301.6 million on clergy sex abuse-related costs, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This sum doesn’t include all the “gifts.” That’s only ONE year of expenditures! Imagine the total cost for the past 50 years. Read the breakdown of last year’s payouts at CNN.
Clearly, I’ve been defrauded by the Catholic Church. How about you?
“Times have changed. It’s not like the Old Days – when we can do anything we want.”
Those seeking justice for clergy child sex abuse should take note of federal anti-racketeering charges filed against Harvey Weinstein on behalf of multiple plaintiffs. RICO suits were filed against his brother Bob Weinstein, Miramax and some board members of The Weinstein Company. They are accused of complicity in facilitating and concealing a pattern of sexual misconduct and violence. Does that sound familiar?
In an August 2018 letter to the U.S. Justice Department, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights asked for the following:
a full-scale, nationwide investigation into the systemic rape and sexual violence, and cover-ups by the Catholic Church, and, where appropriate, bring criminal and/or civil proceedings against the hierarchy that enabled the violations.”USA Today, August 22, 2018
“It’s true I have a lot of friends in politics.”
There seems to be plenty of evidence to warrant the investigation the U.S. Catholic Church. Why has it been so difficult? Aside from a narrow interpretation of RICO, there are political pressures. Evidence can be found in the battle to reform existing child sex abuse laws.
In eight northeastern states the Catholic Church spent $10.6 million on lobbyists to fight legislation that would help clergy sex abuse victims. In Pennsylvania, where victims of child sex abuse can come forward with criminal allegations until age 50 and file civil claims until age 30, the church spent $5,322, 979 to keep those limitations in place, according to a report covered by NBC News.
Why? Because the current law is not retroactive. It only applies to eligible victims from when that law was passed in 2002 and moving forward. Advocates are fighting for a limited window of time during which victims, whose abuse doesn’t fall within current statutes, can file civil lawsuits. This would provide an opportunity for justice AND awareness of alleged perpetrators currently living anonymously – – maybe in your neighborhood.
No sequel to The God Fathers
In light of yesterday’s breaking news in The Washington Post and a federal investigation into the Catholic Church in PA, a demand for a federal U.S. investigation is forming.
Editor’s note: Bishop Michael Bransfield is a Philadelphia native. The former Bishop of the West Virginia Diocese has been banned from ministry in two dioceses. Why not all dioceses? Read more in The Philadelphia Inquirer.