Summer Required Reading for Catholics: The 2011 Grand Jury Report

As practicing Catholics, it is our responsibility to read the 2011 Grand Jury Report on clergy abuse. Please read it. Pray on it. And, then most importantly, I ask you to act on it. No real solution can be found until the entire Church addresses this issue. Pedophilia can and does occur anywhere. What doesn’t happen everywhere is the cover up – which has taken on global proportions.

The laity must stand up to protect their children and fight for their faith. If you sit in the pews silently, then you enable the cover up to continue. We can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope the hierarchy handles this. They’ve proven they can’t or won’t. For evidence of this, please read the 2005 report and ask yourself what they did between the two reports. Below is the opening of the 2011 Grand Jury Report. Catholics4Change will be posting excerpts as a series.

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In September 2003, a grand jury of local citizens released a report detailing a sad history of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. That abuse was known, tolerated, and hidden by high church officials, up to and including the Cardinal himself. The previous grand jury was frustrated that it could not charge either the abusers or their protectors in the church, because the successful cover-up of the abuse resulted in the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Now, measures taken in response to the previous report have led to new information about more recent abuse, which this grand jury was empaneled to investigate. The fact that we received that information, and from the church itself, is some sign of progress; and this time there will be charges. The present grand jury, however, is frustrated to report that much has not changed. The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers – dozens of them, we believe – remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey. (C4C editor note: Despite stating that no abusive priests were in active ministry, the Archdiocese removed over 20 priests after the report was released. Investigations into those cases are ongoing.)
Billy and Mark
This grand jury case began because two men came forward, while still young, to say what was done to them as children. By no means do we believe that these are the only two parishioners who were abused during this period. It remains an extraordinarily difficult thing for adults to tell authorities that they were taken advantage of, in the most intimate, shameful ways, by people they trusted. Their stories must be told, however, because they reveal a great deal about the current treatment of sexual abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

Twelve years ago, Billy was a 10-year-old altar boy in the fifth grade at St. Jerome School in Philadelphia. “Billy” is a pseudonym; he is still reluctant to name himself publicly, although he knows he will have to do so soon. While alone with him in the sacristy, Father Charles Engelhardt began to show Billy pornographic magazines. Eventually, the priest directed Billy to take off his clothes, and to put his penis in the priest’s mouth. Then the priest reversed positions, until he ejaculated on the boy.

After that, Billy was in effect passed around to Engelhardt’s colleagues. Father Edward Avery undressed with the boy, told him that God loved him, had him engage in oral intercourse, and ejaculated on him. Next was the turn of Bernard Shero, a teacher in the school. Shero offered Billy a ride home, but instead stopped at a park, told Billy they were “going to have some fun,” took off the boy’s clothes, orally and anally raped him, and then made him walk the rest of the way home.

That was the beginning of a longer journey. Billy stopped talking with friends and started smoking marijuana. He would often gag and vomit for reasons the doctors could not discern. He checked books out of the library about sexual abuse. By high school he was taking pills, and then heroin.

The second victim, Mark, was only nine when he first met Father James Brennan, a parochial vicar at St. Andrew Church in Newtown. Father Brennan became a family “friend” who often visited the house. Mark, though, was the subject of special attention from the priest, who persistently wrestled with the boy, rubbed his back and shoulders, and openly brought up sex talk.

When Mark was 14, in 1996, Father Brennan was finally ready to make his move. He arranged with Mark’s mother for a “sleepover” at an apartment the priest was renting. Once he had the boy there, Brennan showed him pornographic pictures on his computer, bragged about his penis size, and insisted that Mark sleep together with him in his bed. Then he lay down behind the boy and put his penis into the boy’s buttocks.

Mark told his parents what happened, and they confronted Brennan, but he denied it and they believed the priest. From that point, Mark suffered depression, dramatic weight loss, and drug and alcohol addiction. Ultimately he attempted suicide.

For what they did, Father Avery, Father Engelhardt, Father Brennan, and teacher Shero will all be charged with rape and related offenses.

Read more here.

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Bishops Break Promise Despite Clear Needs of Church

“Bishops Won’t Focus on Abuse Policies” by Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, June 14, 2011

My take on the info in the above linked article: Are they for real? My daughter graduates from Catholic grade school this week. The Bishops and the Holy See have more than let down her wonderful teachers, the parish priests and fellow classmates. Parents who work hard to raise their children in the Catholic faith deserve so much more.

Their refusal to hold each other accountable will endanger children. Their refusal to be transparent on this issue will push families away from Catholic schools and churches. I am beyond disgusted. A new fire is lit.

Excerpts from NYT article (link above):

“I have never seen the anger as deep and widespread as I have seen and heard and felt it these last three weeks. It’s coming from people that I know of as very conservative, very devout, especially younger people.”

“In both of these dioceses, the bishops never informed their sexual abuse “review boards” about the cases. In his two years in the diocese of Gallup, N.M., Bishop James S. Wall never met with his review board even though the diocese was supposedly conducting a review of abuse cases, a situation first reported by the Gallup Independent newspaper.”

“The question of what to do about bishops who do not follow the charter is not addressed in the revisions. The charter says only that bishops should apply “fraternal correction” to one another.”

Q&A: Why Are So Many Priests Silent?

Q. Why are members of the priesthood silent on the various issues that challenge the church, today? What are the factors that silence them? Why do they permit the factors to silence them? Why don’t they organize and provide substantive insights and remedies. And, why do we call silent priests “good priests”? If there is anything I will never come to understand, it is that.
– submitted by Katherine Fitzgerald
A. Dear Katherine,

Thank you for this insightful question that has been raised by many in the weeks since this latest round of crisis began.  I will try to offer my own insights on this question. In no way do I claim my answer to be anything other than my own insights as a priest who has had many conversations with other priests throughout this sad chapter in the life of our Church.

I think it is important to begin by stating that not all priests have been silent.  There are many priests who have spoken out strongly against the abuse of children, the perceived cover up, and the lack of communication and authentic pastoral concern. These priests have spoken through their homilies, in their bulletins, in parish meetings and in casual conversations with concerned people like yourself.

I believe other priests are trying to find their voice and express this same frustration and concern in a manner in which they are comfortable (some research has revealed that by personality preferences, many priests prefer to avoid conflict which might explain some of what you are experiencing). As priests, we live in a culture that makes every attempt to resolve things privately.  I am not offering this as an excuse, but as a possible reason for why priests are not being as vocal as you and many others would prefer.  In addition, on the day of our ordination we made the promise to “respect and obey” the Bishop of our Archdiocese and as men of integrity we seek to do this very thing (even when our respect and obedience may be perceived as tacit approval, which it is not).

Thus, I believe priests are trying to make their voice heard in a way that will be received as respectful of the Archbishop and his assistants. Priests have been offering insights and possible remedies to the Archdiocese through a variety of forums and this will continue. I know of several priests who have had meetings with different Bishops that they found to be productive and very hopeful. I ask that you not take the silence of all of your priests to mean that they are not concerned, nor that they are not having meaningful conversations, nor that they are not searching for the best way to raise their voice.

As a priest of this Archdiocese I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving amongst the priests in a new way (especially as we prepare for Pentecost) and I pray that the priests who minister to you will find the voice that is needed to continue announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ!

– Father Chris

Father Chris Walsh is Pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Northwest Philadelphia. Prior to this assignment, he served as School Minister at Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster and Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Ransom Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. Father Chris is originally from West Chester and is a graduate of Temple University.  He firmly believes that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, even in these difficult days, and that the Catholic Church remains a true instrument of God’s grace in our broken world.


Kansas City Star Calls for Bishop’s Resignation

Why won’t The Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board take this strong a stand? Kudos to the Kansas City Star. Even though Cardinal Rigali sent in his resignation papers upon his 75th birthday (as required), our newspapers could do a better job of making him more uncomfortable while he waits.

“Kansas City Star Calls for Bishop Finn’s Resignation,” by Thomas C. Fox, The National Catholic Reporter, June 4, 2011.

Philly Archdiocese Protection Policy Seriously Flawed

By Kathy Kane, Catholics4Change

The most recent bulletin insert distributed from the Archdiocese highlights the The Standard of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries. The Standards apply to clergy, teachers, coaches, volunteers – all who interact with children. The most important sentence in that document is the following:

“Any Church personnel or volunteers who violate the Standards may be removed or suspended from their position depending upon the nature of the offense.”

If there is an incident or even suspicion of sexual abuse, contact the police. But many of the Standards describe behavior and conduct that although inappropriate, are not criminal.

Who has the authority to enforce these Standards and make sure they are upheld on a parish level? The Archdiocese?  The Office of Child and Youth Protection?  The Office of Catholic Education? None of these.

Each pastor is responsible for overseeing the safety of children enrolled in the parish school, religious education program and/or CYO as well as teens in Youth Ministry. If there’s a problem such as inadequate child/chaperone ratios or off-site event issues, the handling of the problem is at the pastor’s discretion.

If something is not handled properly on a parish level by the pastor, is there any recourse? No. There is not. If you bring your concern to the Archdiocese they will refer you back to your parish.

Of the recent suspensions of 26 diocesan priests, I think 11 of these men were pastors of parishes. I know that Father Ayres, suspended in November of 2010 was pastor and acting pastor of two parishes. They were pastors responsible for the safety of the children in their parishes and they are now being investigated for allegations ranging from boundary issues to child sex abuse.

In researching how other Dioceses address child safety, I’ve found many adopted additional customized charters of child protection. In the Philadelphia Archdiocese we have no such additional child protection charters.

In other Dioceses, there are specific child safety policies that pastors must follow. Some Dioceses have classified these child protection policies as “diocesan law”. Those who do not uphold the charters, face specific penalties. What is the current accountability for pastors who do not enforce the Standards in the Philadelphia Archdiocese? From my research and phone calls with the Archdiocese, it’s very unclear if any penalties exist.

Because we have no additional charters of protection for children in the Archdiocese, child safety can vary from parish to parish. An activity or event that could put children at risk could be forbidden by one pastor – mandated by another. The policies that do exist are not enforced on an Archdiocesan level. Many things are recommendations with absolutely no penalties if they are not followed on a parish level.

Does anyone think this is a good plan? How could this possibly work? The simple answer is obvious. It doesn’t work.

I advocated for policy concerning safety protocol for the thousands of children in Archdiocesan CYO programs. The issue I brought to the Archdiocese’s attention didn’t have any existing policy. However in other Dioceses, there was policy in place. I was repeatedly told by Archdiocesan employees how difficult it is to have policy all pastors would have to follow. Why? In other Dioceses it works.

I spent months emailing and placing phone calls. In the Archdiocese, nothing seems to move forward without a clergy member on board. I finally contacted Monsignor Joseph Marino, vicar of Chester County, in Sept. 2010 – before the recent scandals came to light. Along with being the pastor of his own parish, he was also acting pastor of two parishes and oversees the 18 parishes of Chester County. Monsignor Marino was compassionate, knowledgeable and proactive. His assistance moved the process forward. He got involved and did what was necessary for the safety of the children of the Archdiocese.

I contacted Bishop Fitzgerald’s office on several occasions since November 2010. I had questions and also offered to share my research. Although Bishop Fitzgerald approved the child safety policy (which I fought an uphill battle to have implemented), he still to this day has not replied. I verified he received my emails. I called his office two months ago to ask why I hadn’t heard back. His administrative assistant told me it would be a priority and he’d contact me. I’m still waiting.

I’ve been told Bishops are very busy. If I am to believe what Cardinal Rigali has stated, he and the Bishops are very busy ensuring the safety of the children of the Archdiocese. I‘m a parent, a professional and an advocate for children. I have identified the flaws in the system. Wouldn’t they want to meet with me to learn from a parent’s perspective how the system will continue to fail the children of the Archdiocese?

Kathy Kane received a Bachelor Degree in Social Work from Cabrini College and a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice.

St. Thomas Parish Meeting Leads to Determined Fight

By Kris Strid, Guest Blogger

I attended an opportunity for prayer and dialogue concerning the sexual abuse scandal at our parish St. Thomas of Villanova last week. The meeting was initiated and run by the Parish Council. The format was perfect for honest dialogue. Our Pastor and assistant sat in the back and listened.

I was touched and proud of my parish council and fellow parishioners who spoke freely and openly about their anger, dismay, betrayal and experiences. After a reading and mediation from the Bible (Lamentations) we broke into discussion groups. Then, moderated by a Villanova professor, we openly talked about what was on the minds of members in each group.

People were most angered by the cover-up, the fact that it has taken so many years with nothing done since the first grand jury report, and the abuse of power by the hierarchy.  Many of us knew people who had been abused and most all had read the grand jury reports─ A must do for any catholic who cares about children and their church. Many wanted to know where the good guys where. Why haven’t the good priests spoken out like a group in Chicago of 300 who signed a document against the abusers and cover-ups.

Most all were looking for an apology and the removal of Cardinal Rigali.  We also talked about the Statute of Limitations issue and were in agreement that it needs to be changed in PA.

One man, who had a son who was abused at a local parish was very vocal. He talked about how the victim, his son, became the victim of the archdiocese and their lawyers.  I was amazed he was still  going to church. Another women, whose family has been deeply hurt by the abuse  spoke eloquently and fairly. She was raised in a very Catholic family and she said she was ready to leave the church but then decided “I’ll be damned if I will let them drive me away ─I need to fight for what is right.” She said most victims were not looking for money but healing, reconciliation and justice. She spoke about the methods of restorative justice used in Rwanda after the genocides ─  accusations by victims and apologies by perpetrators face to face in a public forum. This united a country.

We broke again into small groups to talk about what we should do as a group to initiate change and again told them to the whole group. There were lots of ideas from drafting a letter to the Cardinal asking him to step down, and joining forces with other parishes who are forming groups. We wanted the church to publicly state that abuse victims should report to the police not the church. Maybe put of a billboard asking the church to admit guilt. Many talked about withholding their contributions to the archdiocese. ( I put my check in the collection basket with a note attached saying that none of my contribution is to go to the archdiocese.)  There are a number of people who do that and their donations are put aside for Parish use only, not included or considered with the general collection of which eight percent goes to the archdiocese.

We ended with the determination to keep up the fight and desire not to abandon our church ─ to keep the faith ─ change the church.

Cardinal Rigali on National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

“National Sexual Assault Awareness, Child Abuse Month,” by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia for The Catholic Standard and Times

The Cardinal writes: “The resurgence of news coverage concerning sexual abuse causes further pain. Every time there is a report of abuse it not only re-injures the victims, our parishioners are shaken by each disclosure, and it erodes the true image of the priesthood.”

Here’s an idea from C4C: Cardinal Rigali could ease the pain by fulfilling the recommendations of the 2011 Grand Jury Report. Doing this would cut down on abuse and media coverage. Doing this would restore our faith in Church Leadership and reinforce respect for priests.