Pope Lowers Toy Hammer On Bishop Bransfield

by Susan Matthews

The IHM nuns who taught me doled out tougher punishments for uniform violations than the sanctions Pope Francis just placed on Bishop Michael J. Bransfield.

According to Vatican news released today, the pope’s sanctions on the former bishop are in response to findings from a preliminary investigation into allegations of Bransfield’s sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties. Archbishop William E. Lori of the Baltimore Archdiocese headed the internal investigation.

You might remember that Bransfield allegedly gave lavish financial “gifts” to successfully buy the silence of fellow bishops. So who would be better than a fellow bishop to conduct the internal investigation? Totally makes sense.

What were the findings? Those details didn’t make it into the “communique.” Windex, please. There’s still no transparency to laity. But the Vatican did share the details of these not-so scathing sanctions.

The former bishop is no longer allowed to live in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, WV. He is prohibited from presiding or participating anywhere in any public celebration of Mass. And, the following is quoted from the letter issued today by the Apostolic Nunciature and posted on the WV Diocese’s website.

He has an obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused; the nature and extent of the amends to be decided in consultation with the future bishop of the diocese.

In taking these concrete actions, the Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.”

The defrauded parishioners who donated to Sunday collections in West Virginia have zero chance of getting their money back. His adult victims can cool their heels, too. I’m not feeling the Holy See’s concern. Are you?

These “concrete actions” are more like blowing smoke. As we know from other removed priests, including those in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Bransfield can still score swanky digs, hang out on altars and collect his sizable pension. How long does it take to recover from a slap on the wrist. Seconds?

When my daughter was a toddler, she served longer sentences on a cute Time-Out Teddy chair. Seems Pope Francis found an adult-sized version for Bransfield. But the pope isn’t raising a fairly well-behaved child. Reforming immoral clergy will require meaningful consequences.

No one should forget the facts. Read previous blog posts on Bransfield and his co-conspirators:

Rigali Bypassed Review Board In Clearing Bransfield – 2012

Witness Links West Virginia’s Bishop Bransfield to Abuse – 2012

ON THE ROCKS: Cocktails at Bishops’ Conference Belies Church Suffering – 2019

The God Fathers: Time for RICO Investigation of U.S. Catholic Church – 2019

The Bishop Is Back in Town – 2019

New System Is Old Bandaid For Bishops’ Broken Promises

by Susan Matthews

Coming out of last week’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a new oversight system for handling clergy child sex abuse and attempted cover-ups has been announced. It’s the same old bandaid that’s lost its sticky since they created the Dallas Charter in 2002.

Ostensibly, this system creates greater accountability. In reality, it’s just less of the same. In some instances, it’s not as comprehensive as the Charter. A lack of laity involvement, let alone management, and the rules for reporting allegations fall short.

According to an article in The New York Times, some bishops lobbied for mandatory lay involvement, but were unsuccessful. Why would that be objectionable given bishops have failed at self-investigation?

The answer according to a panel of bishops was that the pope’s decree didn’t mandate lay participation. So much for the “Holy” spirit of Church law.

“The system really perpetuates clericalism, which is something Pope Francis has criticized in other situations — the idea that priests exist on a different level than lay people and bishops exist on a different level than priests, and that’s by divine origin and you can’t even talk about changing it.”

Nicholas P. Cafardi, former chairman of the national review board, as quoted in The New York Times article

This “fix” adds more insult to injury. Survivors and betrayed Catholic laity know this bandaid is just another cover-up to promote donor healing and that the Church has cured nothing.

Read The New York Times article “Catholic Bishops Vow to Hold Themselves Accountable for Sexual Abuse and Cover-Ups,” June 13, 2019

The God Fathers: Time for RICO Investigation of U.S. Catholic Church

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.

Read The Washington Post article here.

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.

Catholic Church Aborts Pro-Life Morality

By Susan Matthews

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) highlighted its flawed morality when it shamed a clergy child sex abuse survivor on its Facebook page yesterday.

Why do you have to troll here Carolyn? Don’t you get enough media attention?”

Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Facebook Comment, 5/15

The comment was aimed at Carolyn Fortney, who was sexually abused from age two to 12 by Father Augustine Giella.

The originating post celebrated the passing of a bill restricting abortion. Fortney’s comment read, “Next up… statute of limitations Reform with a 2 year retro active window to give victims of Child Sexual Abuse Justice and to EXPOSE pedophiles and co-conspirators who helped to cover it up so we can be #ProChildren and protect them.”

#ProChildren

Albert Gnoza, the PCC communications director told Kathy Kane that he didn’t expect many people to see his reply to her comment. Sadly, Kathy had to point out the one person who would absolutely see it is a child clergy sex abuse survivor. Aside from exposing a detrimental deficit of public relations and social media skill, it highlights an alarming lack of empathy.

Gnoza went on to say that Fortney’s comment didn’t relate to the original post. Even if this were an acceptable excuse, he is wrong.

The pro-life movement is intended to protect ALL human life from conception to death. It advocates against abortion, murder, assisted suicide, the death penalty and more. Clergy child sex abuse has often been referred to as “soul murder.”

Bishops Pratice Cafeteria Catholicism

As the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic Bishops, the PCC lobbies for legislation that protects unborn children while it lobbies against legislation that would help to protect ALL children from sex abuse by any adult.

I’d venture a guess the Bishops have spent far more on the latter to protect themselves. Who funds the Bishops? Parishioners across Pennsylvania. Some unknowingly and some whole-heartedly. Shortly after founding this blog, my husband and son were approached by a fellow parishioner after Mass. He loudly told them that what I was doing was wrong. This was especially surprising to me because this man was an active member of the pro-life group. Aren’t children equally important as unborn babies?

The Bishops promote this moral blind spot. Their credibility on social issues crumbles as they defy the answer to “What would Jesus do?”

Carolyn, your life is sacred and worthy of protection. The Church failed you. We will fight hard along with you to ensure children are protected now and in the future.

That’s the appropriate reply.

Read more here.

 

Major Flaw In Pope’s Promising New Law

This week Pope Francis issued a mandatory reporter law requiring all Catholic diocesan priests and religious orders, including sisters, to inform Church authorities when they have “well-founded motives to believe” abuse has occurred. It also directs them to obey civil reporting requirements where they live. This Church law is retroactive and includes past abuse.

Those reporting will receive whistle-blower protection and dioceses must have a confidential reporting system in place by June 1, 2020.

But there is a glaring flaw in the new law.

The Definition of Insanity

Bishops will continue to investigate reported bishops. History has proven this fails. Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is an excellent point in case. Fellow bishops knew about McCarrick’s predatory behavior. Worse than doing nothing, they put him in the role of spokesman on the subject of child sex abuse prevention measures.

Truth Or Consequences

We might get somewhere if the bishops who didn’t report McCarrick were laicized as well. That’s not happening.

Speaking of the failure to report, there is no punishment for an individual who neglects to report abuse or for dioceses that don’t have a confidential reporting system.

Laws without consequences are ineffective, if not useless.

Clericalism Strikes Again

Instead of merely allowing lay experts to assist, Pope Francis should have made it law that qualified laity investigate all cases. But clericalism got the last word in this law.

Why We Need More Info With ‘Credibly Accused’ Clergy Names

By Susan Matthews

New York’s Cardinal Dolan recently released the names of 120 ‘credibly accused’ priests. His belated transparency is missing a few key details.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan should update his list to include, at a minimum, the work histories of each accused priest so that communities where abusers served know to look for survivors in their midst,” according a statement from SNAP issued on Friday. “Similarly, he should include information about when the archdiocese first received the allegations and what they did in response.”

The Catholic Church should release work, volunteer and accusation history along with each name. Why?

It Wakes People the Hell Up

Child sex abuse feels very distant to most parents. It’s something that happens to other people’s kids. When one learns a predator had proximity to their own child, it finally clicks. The betrayal and the potential harm finally make it real. We need that kind of awareness for protection, prevention and justice.

Connects the Dots

Priests can have more than a dozen assignments, chaplaincies and volunteer positions that spread across diocesan and state lines. A credibly accused priest in NY may have once served in a Philadelphia parish. Along with the allegation history, a timeline of positions held helps investigators connect the dots.

And as we’ve found, the lapse between accusations being found credible and removal can be extremely concerning. If compelled to release this information, Church leadership might accelerate better response to avoid scrunity.

Empowers Victims

Information is power. Victims could finally believe in a world where they may have an opportunity for justice and to protect others. This results in more survivors coming forward. Which…

Creates A Safer Environment

The safe environment programs will be a sham until we demand all the facts, the full truth and crystal clear transparency.

Read more from the NPR article here: “Archdiocese of New York Names 120 Clergy ‘Credibly Accused’ of Child Sex Abuse”

Window To Justice: Will PA Senate Support Victims Or Child Predators?

Pennsylvania senators must decide whose interests they’ll represent. Will it be the victims and children or will it be the predators, their enablers and insurance companies?

When the PA Grand Jury Report revealed 1,000 victims of Catholic clergy child sex abuse and that it had been covered up, there seemed to be a bi-partisan wake-up call. Yet, there’s been no progress in the senate. Where is the humanity and common sense?

Pennsylvania’s legislative shortfalls enable child rapists and molesters to live among us – unnamed, unpunished and undeterred.

Current law allows child sex abuse victims to pursue criminal charges against abusers until age 50; they can file civil lawsuits until age 30. The grand jury recommended eliminating the statute of limitations for prosecutions, noting that “no piece of legislation can predict the point at which a victim of child sex abuse will find the strength to come forward.”

Eliminating the statutes of limitation for child sex abuse is smart, but it wouldn’t be retroactive. Marci Hamilton, an expert in constitutional law and CEO of Child USA, explained to CNN in a recent article, that US Supreme Court precedent prohibits extending criminal liability after a case’s statute limit expires. So, even if a bill passed in Pennsylvania, it would not apply to any victim age 51 or older.

And worse, the limits for child sex abuse cases used to be five years for prosecution and two years for civil suits. Think of the thousands of victims silenced due to that short time frame. If that doesn’t grab you, think of all their anonymous abusers.

The solution is to eliminate the statutes of limitation for child sex abuse AND pass limited window legislation to clean up the past and prevent abuse.

A two- or three-year window would allow victims, who aged out of previous statutes of limitation, to file civil lawsuits. Arguments that a window is unconstitutional have been refuted by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who references ample precedent in other states, including Delaware. He is confident that window legislation will survive legal challenges.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW

Every Pennsylvania parent, grandparent, person who cares about kids should let their state senator know they support this solution.

Download the Excel spreadsheet compiled with the help of attorney Slade McLaughlin. It provides insight to each PA senator’s stance on window legislation as well as contact information. Please tell them you want them to open a window to justice and send them pictures of the kids they should be representing.

With more feedback, we will continue to update spreadsheet.