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SEXUAL ABUSE BY CATHOLIC CLERGY

CHURCH REACTION: 2002-JULY

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Creation of a National Sexual Abuse Review Board:

By 2002-JUL-24, the president of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops had appointed twelve lay, practicing Catholics to a blue-ribbon review board which will monitor church leaders as they implement the church's new clerical sex abuse policy.

Makeup of the review board:

Included are:

bulletRobert S. Bennett, a prominent attorney from Washington, DC.
bulletMichael Bland, a victim of clergy abuse and a counselor who works with other victims for the Chicago Archdiocese.
bulletAnne M. Burke of Chicago IL, a justice on the Illinois Appellate Court.
bulletWilliam Burleigh, board chairperson of E.W. Scripps Co., a media company
bulletNicholas Cafardi, dean of the Duquesne University School of Law.
bulletJane Chiles, recently retired executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.
bulletAlice Bourke Hayes, president of the University of San Diego.
bulletPamela D. Hayes, an attorney from New York who has past experience prosecuting sex offenses.
bulletLeon Panetta, a former congressman and White House chief of staff.
bulletFrank Keating, the governor of Oklahoma.
bulletPaul McHugh, director of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
bulletRay Siegfriend II, board chairperson of the Nordham Group an aviation service and manufacturing company.
bulletOne more member remains to be appointed, probably during the week of JUL-29.

Frank Keating is the chairperson of the Board.

Allegations of backpedaling by the board chairperson:

In an June interview, Keating allegedly stated that his board may call for the resignation of some church officials. However, the Boston Globe reported in a JUL-24 interview that: "he  described as a 'misunderstanding' the belief by some observers that his board may call for resignations of bishops and said that 'most probably and most appropriately it would be the local boards that would be dealing with each individual case and diocese.' Bishop accountability has emerged as a key issue for many American Catholics in the clergy sex abuse crisis that began in January." 9

As reported in the Washington Post, he promised that the board will be tough on priests who molest minors and on church leaders who hide abuse cases. He said: "This is an impressive group of Catholic lay leaders who are committed to restoring credibility and faith in the church...We care deeply about the church, which has been deeply hurt. Our community is angry, because the Catholic Church is trailing blood." 1

Keating repeated his defense of the Board in the Boston Globe on 2002-JUL-24: "We do not intend to be apologists in any sense for corrupt acts or indifference or evasion; we don't have time for that...Look at this list of people...No one is going to push Leon Panetta around. No one is going to push Bob Bennett around. We care deeply about the church, which has been deeply hurt here. Our American Catholic community is angry because the American Catholic church is trailing blood, and we do not intend to be anything but forthright and aggressive advocates of change and reform." 9

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (SNAP) commented: "The commission is only going to be effective if people trust it, and people won't trust it if the chairman or the members talk tough on one  day and then start backpedaling the next day...We have to remember that local boards have existed for a decade, and none of them have been profiles in courage... [they have been made up of] very loyal and not very assertive and independent- minded Catholics." 9

Criticism of the board makeup by St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an editorial criticizing the makeup of the review board. He made a number of points:

bulletThe national review board may have far less authority than originally advertised. 
bulletThe chairperson stated that the panel will not have the power to recommend that bishops who shelter abusive priests be removed. Only the local review board will be able to do this. But the membership of those boards will be selected by the local bishop.
bulletDozens of abusive priests have been fired. But all of the bishops who engaged in cover-ups continue to serve.
bulletThe national board consists of:
bulletThree defense lawyers, but no plaintiff's lawyers.
bulletOne victim of abuse who is a former priest who works for the Church in Chicago.
bulletOne psychiatrist, Dr. Paul McHugh, who is a "leading skeptic of 'recovered memory syndrome.' " 9

Criticism of the board makeup by victim advocacy groups:

According to the Washington Post, the selection of members for this board was criticized by victim advocacy groups:

bulletDavid Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) suggested that a member from a victim advocacy groups should be added to the panel. Clohessy said: "The panel can only be effective if it is independent and is perceived as such." 1
bulletSusan Archibald, organizational director of the Linkup, another victims' group, said some panelists' past or present church connections "suggest a conflict of interest."

Criticism of the board makeup by believers in Recovered Memory Therapy:

But by far the greatest source of criticism came from supporters of Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT). This is an experimental form of therapy that was designed to uncover memories of childhood abuse that the therapists and clients believe had been repressed. It was a common form of therapy in the 1980s and early 1990s, and is in rapid decline. There is now a near consensus of psychiatrists and psychologist who recognize that RMT is junk therapy, that is profoundly dangerous. Most now recognize that RMT often generates images that coalesce into what feel like memories, but are of events that never happened. A few recovered "memory" cases have surfaced recently in connection with clergy abuse.

In the sometimes vicious "memory wars" of the 1980s and 1990s, therapists and memory researchers fought about the reliability of recovered memories. This conflict has been largely settled; a near consensus of psychiatrists and psychologists and their professional associations warn of the extreme danger of false memories being developed during RMT. However, there are still some quite vocal supporters of RMT in the U.S.  At least five criticized the appointment to the review board of its only psychiatrist: Paul McHugh. He has long been concerned about the inaccuracy of many recovered memories. He serves on the scientific advisory board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. That group believes that some recovered "memories" are false, and that RMT has harmed or destroyed the lives of many tens of thousands of clients and their families of origin. McHugh had testified at court cases about the unreliable nature of recovered memories, on behalf of people accused of child abuse.

bulletPaul Fink, professor of psychiatry at Temple University and past president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), has described false memory syndrome as "junk science." Yet the APA that Fink once headed stated in 1993 and later confirmed in 2000 that RMT "memories" are unreliable, and that images recovered during RMT are often false. Referring to McHugh's appointment, Fink said: "People are upset by this because he's clearly someone who wants to downplay the horror of sexual abuse." McHugh and other members of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation's scientific advisory board have stressed both the seriousness of child sexual abuse, and the dangers of accusing and imprisoning adults on the basis of RMT-generated false memories. 1
bulletStu Philip of Vienna, Va., was an editor for a newsletter in the 1990s which supported victims of child sexual abuse. He was astonished the church would put on the panel "somebody who in any way is affiliated with an organization which says...that the vast majority of people who make claims [of abuse] are deluded or had memories implanted by therapists." In fact, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) has continually suggested that the vast majority of people who have been seriously sexually abused as children retain memories of the abuse continuously into adulthood, and must be carefully listened to. The FMSF has also taken the same position as the APA that some memories recovered by RMT are of real events and others are of events that never happened. They suggest that corroboration is necessary before a recovered memory can be considered reliable. 1
bulletMary Gail Frawley-O'Dea is a psychologist working with sexual-abuse victims. "My problem is that I think he's an extremist. {The board does]...not need someone with this baggage." 2
bulletRichard B. Gartner is a psychologist from New York City, and heads the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization. He said that it was "really disappointing that the board would choose as its only mental health professional someone whose main professional identification is involved with being skeptical of victims' stories. I think it gives the message that the church is going to be skeptical of accusations, and when at all possible, will try to once again abrogate its responsibilities." 2
bulletMark Serrano, spokesperson for SNAP said, "To appoint someone  with a background like McHugh's, where he has worked directly against the interests of victims in the courtroom, I think reflects a cynicism and arrogance of power on behalf of the bishops that is reflected in [the sexual abuse policy adopted in Dallas] as well." 2
bulletThe editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch mentioned above said: "However controversial recovered memory syndrome is among psychiatrists, Dr. McHugh's presence on the panel suggests the bishops have already made up their minds. The idea behind this commission was to restore credibility, not lessen it even further." 9

McHugh, 71, labeled such criticism of his appointment as "ridiculous," adding, "I don't have a bias for child abusers." Speaking to the Baltimore Sun, he said that his opposition to recovered memories does not mean that he is not concerned about child abuse. He said: "I don't know why they would think for a minute that my concern with  bad psychiatric practices would have anything to do with my concern with victims today." He noted that most of the cases involving abusive priests are not based on repressed "memories." He said: "The church is in trouble because of things that have been corroborated over and over again. The issues here have very little to do with false memories." He stated that he remains very proud of his long-standing involvement with the foundation. 2

Frederick S. Berlin, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins and founder of an affiliated sexual disorders clinic, defended his colleague. Berlin said: "It's very unfair criticism. He's committed to making sure the abused children are given proper care, but he's also concerned about the horror of being falsely accused. He simply tried to suggest that people keep their minds open." 1

Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesperson for the U.S. bishops' conference, defended the appointment. He said that McHugh "is not only a distinguished psychiatrist but a longtime administrator in one our finest universities. Obviously there is a controversy in the scientific community over recovered memory. But we're not talking about looking at individual cases. The work of the review board is to monitor the compliance of the dioceses with the (church's sexual abuse policy)."

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Voice of the Faithful:

This is an organization of Roman Catholic laypersons, which has been growing rapidly since its founding in 2002-FEB. As of 2002-JUL, they have 19,000 members in 40 states and 21 countries. On the weekend of 2002-JUL-20, four thousand members met in Boston, MA, at their first national convention to "listen, pray and take steps of their own to end clergy sexual abuse of children." Mark Serrano, an abuse victim, an activist with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and attendee at the conference said: "We know that in the church, power is ordained by the pope. But in America, power is ordained by the people. Today, that power is being ordained."

At their workshops, they learned "new tools for keeping church leaders accountable: a checklist for rating bishops, for instance, and information on a new fund to support church charities while circumventing church coffers." Other workshops were labeled: "Creating a Sexually Safe Parish," "Guide for Renewing and Restructuring the Catholic Church" and "Our New Financial Voice: How Money Matters." One serious problem with the group is the lack of involvement of church conservatives. Conference chairperson Paul Baier said: "No real change ever occurred without liberals and conservatives getting together. But I'm not seeing a lot of conservatives standing up for children's rights. I'm sorry, but 'pray and trust the bishops' is not a leadership plan."

Reactions among the attendees varied:

bulletSusan Renehan, an abuse victim and local activist said: "Priests are raping and torturing your children, and your bishops are hiding it." Her comment directed at the church hierarchy was: "We don't need your voice. You need ours."
bulletRev. Thomas Doyle, an Army chaplain, said: "The privileged are not the ones in the robes or on the thrones, but the poor and the marginalized. Today we're taking back what has been hijacked from us."
bulletTheologian Ann Riggs of River College (probably of Sacramento CA) said: "American Catholics are sometimes prone to seeing laity and clergy as an us-versus-them struggle. My model would be more of a family in crisis, where you hang together and work it out. I don't want to be bishop-trashing." 3

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World Youth Day in Toronto:

The pope attended the 17th World Youth Day in Toronto, ON, Canada. The "day" ran from  2002-JUL-18 to 28. The organizers expected about 450,000 young people to attend; a little over 200,000 came.

Some developments related to priest sexual abuse were:

bullet2002-JUL-24: Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia addressed a group of 500 young Roman Catholics in Brampton, near Toronto. They were attending World Youth Day. He said that abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests who sexually abuse young people. He described Jesus as promising to punish anyone who strays from the church's teachings on premarital sex, abortion, physician assisted suicide, various other social justice matters, and helping the poor. He said: "Jesus offers punishment and consequences. It's right through the Gospels....It's important for you to defend Catholic tradition as coming to us from Christ and the apostles....The function of the Pope is to protect that tradition, to say this belongs to Catholic tradition and this doesn't. We are not free to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. Our conscience can be wrong." He received a standing ovation from the youth at the end of his speech.

After the class, he clarified his statement about priest abuse to Michael Valpy, a reporter. He said that abortion is the more serious crime, "Because it's always a destruction of human life. I'm not in any way attempting to downplay abuse. I'm saying there's been a lot of attention on sexual abuse, but not on other things. That's all I'm trying to say." Valpy wrote that Pell "...has been accused of hearing complaints of sexual molestation and having done nothing and of agreeing to payments to victims on condition they not speak out -- accusations that he has denied. There have been demands he resign." 4
bullet2002-JUL-26: Cardinal Law of Boston MA addressed a group of pilgrims at a catechism session associated with World Youth Day. Cardinal Law, more than any other church official, is associated with the priest sexual abuse scandals and church cover-ups. He answered a question about how a Roman Catholic should follow the church's rule to love homosexuals while opposing their right to marry. Law replied that Catholics should boycott their gay and lesbian friends' union ceremonies because to attend them would lend support to unnatural relationships. He said: "For us to give public recognition of that in any way is to confirm a pattern of living that is not ordained by God....The general principle is we are called to love and accept every human being." But, he said that all persons, both married and single are expected to "live chaste lives." i.e. to restrict sexual activity to only between a husband and wife. Anything else, he said, "is not in accord with the teaching of Jesus and the church." 5
bulletIn his message to a crowd of about 800,000, Pope John Paul II said:  "If you love Jesus, love the church. Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members. The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame. But think of the vast majority of dedicated priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good. Be close to them and support them." 6

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Other developments:

bullet2002-JUL: Philippines: Various news services reported that 200 Roman Catholic priests in the Philippines have been investigated for "sexual misconduct and abuses" over the past two decades. Some have been dismissed; most have resigned voluntarily. This would represent almost 3% of the total population of about 7,000 priests. However, it appears that not all of the misconducts were criminal acts. The behaviors included many offenses against both the laity and church policy, ranging from child abuse to rape to the keeping of adult mistresses. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued an unprecedented statement on JUL-8, apologizing for the "grave sins committed by some leaders on members of the flock." There are more than 50 million Roman Catholics in the Philippines. The only other country with large Catholic populations in Asia is the newly independent East Timor. 8

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References:

  1. Caryle Murphy and Sandra G. Boodman, "Psychiatrist on Catholic Panel Criticized," The Washington Post, 2002-JUL-27, Page A02.
  2. John Rivera, "Baltimore doctor's post on bishops' panel is criticized;
    Critics say work refuting repressed-memory theory should disqualify him,
    " The Baltimore Sun, 2002-JUL-27, Page 4A.
  3. G. Jeffrey MacDonald, "Catholic group discusses ways to end sexual abuse," 2002-JUL-27, Pioneer Press, at: http://www.twincities.com/mld/
  4. Michael Valpy, "Schisms of theology run silent, run deep," The Globe and Mail newspaper, Toronto ON Canada. 2002-JUL-25, at: http://www.globeandmail.com/special
  5. Eric Convey, "Law: Catholics should boycott gay unions," Boston Herald, 2002-JUL-27, at: http://www.metrowestdailynews
  6. "Toronto bids farewell, as pope heads to Guatemala," Associated Press, 2002-JUL-29, at:  http://www.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/americas/
  7. Breda O'Brien, "Bleeding the Church," The Irish Times, Dublin, Ireland, 2002-MAR-30, at: http://www.worldpress.org/Europe/547.cfm
  8. "200 priests investigated for sexual abuses in Philippines," Agence France-Presse, 2002-JUL-9 at: http://sg.news.yahoo.com/020709/1/30cew.html
  9. Sacha Pfeiffer, "Crisis in the church: Head of US Panel wants priests' fates put in local hands," Boston Globe, 2002-JUL-25, Page A1.

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Copyright © 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAR-25
Latest update: 2002-SEP-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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