California Governor Jerry Brown Vetoes Bill Written to Assist Survivors of Sexual Abuse

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Once again, Governor Jerry Brown has failed survivors of sexual abuse in California.  As he did in 2013, Brown vetoed a bill that would have provided opportunities for sex abuse survivors in California to seek justice in the courts.

The bill, written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), would have allowed victims to file abuse claims until they are 40 years old. It also would have permitted those who have repressed memories of abuse to sue within five years of unearthing the cause of their trauma.

“I’m exceptionally disappointed that even after the #MeToo movement, after the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings, that the governor isn’t doing what he can to reduce harm caused by sexual abuse,” said Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Under current law, victims can sue a third party that may have ignored or covered up abuse — such as a private school or a church — until they are 26 years old or three years after coming to terms with repressed memories, whichever occurs later.

In explaining his veto, Governor Brown noted, “There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits,” Brown wrote in the 2013 memo. “With the passage of time, evidence may be lost of disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die.”

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While what he says is true in most instances, survivors of sexual abuse are a unique exception to this principle.  Research has shown that most survivors of childhood sexual abuse are not capable of coming forward until many years after the abuse occurred, sometimes it takes decades.  In some tragic instances, the survivor never comes forward.

In cases where the abuse involves a clergy person such as in the Catholic priest abuse cases, the trauma is intensified because the perpetrator is supposed to represent God to the survivor.  The breach of such trust causes untold psychic damage that is not easily or quickly understood or assessed.  The transcendent dimension of the abuse should have allowed Governor Brown to recognize that justice is not served by upholding the traditional statute of limitations in such cases.

One has to wonder the influence Brown’s lifelong Catholicism and Jesuit training on his decision.  In a 2015 interview with the Sacramento Bee, Brown had this to say about his faith:

“I think the formation that I’ve undergone growing up in the Catholic faith, the Catholic religion, puts forth a world that’s orderly, that has purpose and that ultimately is a positive,” Brown said. “And that’s very helpful when you look at a world that looks very much the opposite, in terms of the wars, the corruption and the breakdown. And so even though from an intellectual point of view it looks very dark, in another sense I have great faith and confidence that there is a way forward. And I would attribute that in some way to my Catholic upbringing and training.”

Of course, one could just as easily argue that as a Catholic, Brown is duty bound to bring healing to those who are suffering and comfort to those who are afflicted.  In this case, Governor Brown did not choose the better part.  For that, he shouldn’t be rewarded.

 

Photo Credit: Bob Tilden via WikiMedia Commons

Australian Archbishop Found Guilty of Covering Up Priest Abuse

australian archbishop philip wilson

Photo Credit to the Archdiocese of Adelaide via ncregister.com

 

Just when the Catholic Church thought that it was getting a bit of positive traction with the media, another abuse case swallows any positivity and reminds the world about the ongoing problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

This time it’s Australia and it involves an archbishop who used to be president of the country’s bishops’ conference.  He stood accused of covering up for a priest, James Fletcher, who stood accused of a serious indictable offence, after being told about it in 1976 when he was an assistant parish priest in the state of New South Wales.

Lawyers for Wilson, 67, had argued that he did not know that Fletcher had abused a boy. Fletcher was found guilty in 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse and died in jail in 2006 following a stroke.

Wilson is expected to be sentenced in June by a local court in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales.

Last year, Australia completed a five-year government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions, amid allegations worldwide that churches had protected pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.

The inquiry heard that seven percent of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and that nearly 1,100 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.

The Australian guilty verdict comes in the wake of Pope Francis’ trip to Chile and his handling of the child sex abuse in his native country.  The media had been covering the Pope’s interaction with a young gay man who’d been abused by a priest.  The press were generally favorable to the Pope and gave him high marks for his compassion and sensitivity but the Australian news will drown that out.

Michigan State Settles with Larry Nassar Survivors for $500 Million

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The trustees of Michigan State University have agreed to settle sexual abuse lawsuits concerning Dr. Larry Nassar for $500 million.  The settlement will pay $425 million to the 332 girls and women who have come forward to date, averaging about $1.28 million per victim. Michigan State will set aside an additional $75 million in a trust fund for any victims who come forward in the future.

The proactive measure stands in stark contrast to the decades of denial and possible cover-up of Nassar’s behavior when he worked as a physician on Michigan State University’s campus.  The NY Times said the MSU settlement dwarfs other abuse settlements while the Washington Post opined that the settlement and the entire Nassar saga has had a significant impact on the university.

“The impact of the scandal on the university, which has about 39,000 undergraduate students, has been substantial, including the resignations of President Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis in January, and may extend beyond the financial. The settlement surpasses the more than $109 million paid by Penn State University to settle claims by at least 35 people who accused assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual abuse.”

The settlement applies to only Michigan State. The U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and famed former Olympic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi all still face lawsuits filed by Nassar victims, who include Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas.

The settlement negotiated through mediation is not only significant because of the amount paid to survivors but the additional $75 million placed into a trust fund to cover future payments for any survivors who have yet to come forward.  In so doing, the university acknowledged that Nassar may have abused more young women and is prepared to deal with that fact.  Since Nassar admitted that he used his position and authority to gain access to unsuspecting young athletes for decades, there very well may be more women victimized by Nassar at Michigan State University.

 

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Catholic Cardinal Ordered to Stand Trial for Abuse of Minors

catholic church cardinal george pell

A powerful Australian cardinal of the Catholic Church has been ordered to stand for two trials for the abuse of minors.  The judge in the case ruled that the two trials are necessary because the spat of allegations from two separate time periods, the 1970’s and the 1990’s, and should be tried separately.

On Wednesday, Judge Susan Pullen said a trial date was expected to be set during an administrative hearing on 16 May.

The Melbourne court did not publish a complete list of the allegations, but news reports indicated they involved alleged sexual offenses committed in the 1970s at a pool in Ballarat, where then-Father Pell was a priest, and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The 76-year-old Cardinal Pell, head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, took a leave of absence from his position in the summer of 2017 to face the charges. His lawyer told the court May 1 that he had already surrendered his passport.

National Catholic Reporter called the decision a “turning point” in the decades long sage of Catholic priest sex abuse of minors.

“Whatever the trial’s outcome, the judge’s decision marks the victory of accountability over impunity, and of the rule of secular law over the Vatican’s failed strategy of cover-up,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse tracking website BishopAccountability.org.

Another Catholic cardinal is expected to face trial in 2019. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, has been ordered to appear in court over charges he covered up abuse by Fr. Bernard Preynat.

Thus far, cardinals in the United States have avoided a criminal trial but that may change in the future given the high profile trials in Australia and France.

Pell, who was appointed by Pope Francis to be the Vatican’s top financial adviser, is currently on leave from that post.

 

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Larry Nassar’s Former Boss Linked to Sex Abuse Allegations

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The former dean of Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel, allegedly paid pay medical students up to $100-an-hour for nude modeling sessions and invasive practice exams — which included breast and pelvic inspections, according to prosecutors.

Strampel has already been accused of sexually abusing athletes in similar fashion as Dr. Larry Nassar, the convicted head physician of USA Gymnastics.  Strampel was arrested in late March and charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Prosecutors say they want to call on the former students as witnesses at Strampel’s preliminary hearing in June. In their motion, they describe how the pair met the ex-dean and eventually agreed to take part in nude medical exams in exchange for cash.

One was a Central Michigan University student, the other an MSU hopeful who had applied to the college of medicine, but didn’t have high enough test scores to get in.

The two of them were forced to endure dozens of nude exams, some behind closed doors and others in front of medical students. There were breast inspections and pelvic examinations, which included vaginal and anal penetration.

The lead prosecutor in the Nassar case said he discovered the information about the nude modeling as he was investigating the Nassar crimes.

In addition to the molestation charges, Strampel is also facing charges of official misconduct and willful neglect of duty. Prosecutors claim he failed to enforce protocols put in place to protect a female patient from Nassar in 2014 — after she came forward and accused the doctor of misconduct.

The relationship between the boss and subordinate make it clearer how Larry Nassar was able to continue to molest athletes for years without his crimes becoming known or investigated.  Nassar’s immediate supervisor was engaged in the same criminal behavior and grooming processes and had a vested interest in concealing Nassar’s behavior.

A number of top officials at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics have resigned or been fired from their posts as a result of the school’s sex abuse scandal.


 

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Bill Cosby Guilty of Sexual Assault

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After a previous sex assault trial ended in a mistrial, a new jury found actor Bill Cosby guilty on all three counts of aggravated indecent sexual assault.

While many women have come forward in the past few years to accuse Cosby of drugging them in order to sexually assault them, it was Andrea Constand, a former employee with Temple University women’s basketball team. She testified that Cosby, a powerful trustee at Temple, drugged her and sexually assaulted her when she visited his home to ask for career advice.

During this trial, five other women were allowed to testify to similar events which established a pattern of deviant and criminal behavior on the part of Cosby that had gone on for years. The testimony of other victims was a crucial, possibly determining factor in the jury verdict.  Jurors heard from these women that Cosby had acted toward them in a similar fashion, drugging them and then assaulting them.

The case is the first celebrity sexual assault trial since the #MeToo movement began last fall, and as such, represents a test of how the cultural movement will translate into a courtroom arena. In closing arguments, defense attorney Kathleen Bliss positioned Cosby’s legal team as standing up against “witch hunts, lynchings (and) McCarthyism.”  Cosby’s defense team also portrayed the victim as a schemer who sought to extort money from Cosby in return for keeping quiet about his behavior.  While the lawyers didn’t dispute that there were physical relations, they argued that it was consensual.  The jury didn’t find it credible and convicted the disgraced actor on all three felony counts.

The World Affairs Council and Girard College present Bill Cosby (6344411496) (cropped to Cosby)The 80-year-old comedian faces up to 10 years in prison on each count, but would likely serve them concurrently. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

 

 

Image from: By The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped to fit featured image field.

 

Diocese of Rockville Centre Knows How to Deal with Pedophile Priests

Long Island skyline

The Diocese of Rockville Centre is home to 1.5 million Catholics living in the counties of Nassau and Suffolk, a region known better as Long Island.  It is the sixth largest diocese in the United States and approximately 60 of its priests have been accused of the sexual abuse of children.  But Rockville Centre knows how to deal with this issue.

The diocese routinely reassigned accused or suspected pedophiles to churches on the East End dating back to the 1960s.  The East End is sparsely populated and the strategy of moving problem priests there is analogous to the dioceses of Ireland banishing offending priests to Australia.

According to the grand jury report filed in 2003, “Bishop William Murphy aided and abetted the concealment of criminal conduct of defendant individual priests by failing and refusing to report sexual abuse allegations by said priests to civil authorities, which caused, allowed, and permitted additional children to be molested by predatory priests.”

Murphy learned how to deal with pedophile priests as an assistant bishop in Boston.  He was Cardinal Law’s principal assistant and was part of the cover-up involving notorious priest John Geoghan.

Rev Angelo Ditta was a priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck in 2002. According to the grand jury, “He began abusing a boy when the boy was 10.” An associate pastor testified that he heard “horsing around” in the priest’s bedroom and believed it was sexual in nature. The pastor told the jury he “never made an official report to anyone in the diocese” about the priest.

Two weeks after Bishop Murphy said there were no “credible” allegations of sexual abuse against any active priest on Long Island, the diocese quietly removed Rev. Ditta from active duty based on a complaint.

“The diocese required the priest to receive psychological counseling, and it later assigned him as chaplain to an ‘area’ hospital, allowing him to celebrate Mass at a parish on weekends,” according to the grand jury minutes.

It was later discovered in civil court the allegations that a victim and his therapist made to a top diocesan official were five years old and kept under wraps by the diocese. Then-Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota said the charge “might have been prosecutable had the diocese reported them” in a timely manner.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre knows how to deal with pedophile priests — transfer them to the end of Long Island where their crimes will go unnoticed and unreported.

Is the Catholic Church Capable of Transparency and Truth Telling?

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The recent Lettergate scandal coupled with the US bishops inability to reveal the truth about the history of sexual abuse within their own dioceses leads one to ask “Is the Catholic Church able to tell the truth?”

Lettergate has become a public relations nightmare after the Vatican selectively released portions of a letter that implied Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI supported him wholeheartedly.

The previously hidden part of the letter provides the full explanation why Benedict refused to write a commentary on a new Vatican-published compilation of books about Francis’ theological and philosophical background that was released to mark his fifth anniversary as pope.

In addition to saying he didn’t have time, Benedict noted that one of the authors involved in the project had launched “virulent,” ″anti-papist” attacks against his teaching and that of St. John Paul II. He said he was “surprised” the Vatican had chosen the theologian to be included in the 11-volume “The Theology of Pope Francis.”

“I’m certain you can understand why I’m declining,” Benedict wrote.

The Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications said Saturday it was releasing the full text of the letter due to the controversy over the “presumed manipulation” of information when the volume was launched Monday with great fanfare on the eve of Francis’ anniversary.

Perhaps the more important example of the inability to tell the truth is occurring in the Diocese of Buffalo.  Bishop Robert Malone has announced that he is reconsidering whether he should reverse the longstanding diocesan policy of withholding the names of priests accused of abuse.  At the same time, he is quick to point out that he inherited the policy of secrecy when he took office.

What is there to consider?  What has to be deliberated?  Do the right thing especially since the Bishop has announced a plan to compensate certain victims for sexual abuse and the recent admission by a retired Buffalo priest should make the decision quite easy.

The Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits admitted the abuse to The News after a South Buffalo resident accused the priest of molesting him on a ski trip in the early 1980s. The admissions prompted additional allegations against Orsolits, as well as new public accusations against other priests.

Victims’ advocates for years have called for greater transparency from the diocese, including the release of names of clergy alleged to have molested children. Withholding names, they argue, fosters secrecy that allows the abuse scandal to fester.

In spite of all this, Bishop Malone can’t bring himself to do the right thing.  He is unable or unwilling to tell the truth and release names of priests who are accused of sexually abusing young children.  It is apparent the Catholic Church doesn’t enjoy a strong relationship with transparency or the truth.

 

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Nacho Arteaga

The Hypocrisy of the Catholic Church

Cardinal Pietro Parolin

As Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, was giving his keynote address at the opening of “Child Dignity in the Digital World,” the Vatican was hiding a Catholic priest diplomat wanted in the United States and Canada for accessing child pornography.  That’s not only hubris but hypocrisy of the highest order.

How can the Vatican Secretary of State speak credibly about the Catholic Church’s commitment to the online safety of children when it is harboring someone who is wanted for child pornography?

Italian Monsignor Carlo Capella was recalled to the Vatican from his post at the Vatican nunciature in Washington, D.C., after the U.S. State Department notified the Holy See of his possible crimes. Police in Canada also issued a nationwide warrant for the monsignor’s arrest on charges of accessing, possessing and distributing child pornography while he was visiting Canada.

Parolin said the Vatican was treating the Capella case with “utmost concern, utmost commitment” but also confidentiality to protect the integrity of the investigation. He spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a Catholic Church-sponsored conference on protecting children from online threats.

Canadian police have issued an arrest warrant for Capella, accusing him of accessing, possessing and distributing child pornography during a visit to an Ontario church over Christmas. He is now in the Vatican after being recalled from the Vatican’s embassy in the U.S.

Vatican prosecutors have also opened an investigation into Capella’s actions.

Parolin — Capella’s boss — headlined the opening of the four-day conference on protecting children online that has drawn leading researchers in public health, Interpol, the U.N., government representatives as well as executives from Facebook and Microsoft.  It’s time for these folks to demand the Church act in the best interests of children.

The cognitive dissonance was not lost on the media who immediately pounced on the church’s mode of saying one thing and doing another.  At this point, the church has little credibility in advocating for the welfare of children.  It talks a good game but its actions always belie the words spoken.

Unless and until the church stops protecting suspected criminals it will have no credibility with the public.  The bottom line is that the church has always been more concerned with protecting the institution rather than protecting children.  That has not changed and I suspect it won’t change until the church feels the effects of its actions in terms of financial support.  Perhaps once the money dries up the church will begin to listen to the world and accept its fate.  Until then, law enforcement officials and the justice system must hold the church and its officials accountable for their misdeeds.  We are well beyond hoping the church will reform or police itself.

 

Photo Credit via Telegraph.co.uk

Papal Regret and the Italian Priest Whom the Pope Gave a Second Chance

Mauro Inzoli

In a recent meeting with his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis expressed regret over his handling of sexual abuse allegations involving an Italian priest who molested again after being granted a papal reprieve.

The Pope told the Commission that he was “learning on the job” and has now come to believe that a credible allegation of sexual abuse against a minor or vulnerable person should allow for no second chances.

“Why? Simply because the person who does this (sexually abuses minors) is sick. It is a sickness,” he told his advisory commission on child protection during an audience at the Vatican Sept. 21. Members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, including its president – Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston – were meeting in Rome Sept. 21-23 for their plenary assembly.

After nearly two decades of being in the spotlight for its role in the sexual abuse of children, it is difficult to believe that Pope Francis is only now learning that zero tolerance in sex abuse cases is the only path.  His remarks strain credulity when he makes remarks that make him appear to be a neophyte who had no previous dealings with such issues.

As in all matters pertaining to Catholic sexual abuse, we’ll have to wait and see if the papal remarks are supported by action.  The most recent remarks stem from Francis’ handling of the Mauro Inzoli case.  Mauro Inzoli, 67, was initially defrocked in 2012 after he was first accused of abusing minors, but Francis reversed that decision in 2014, ordering the priest to stay away from children and retire to “a life of prayer and humble discretion.”

Inzoli, who was also dubbed Don Mercedes because of his love of luxury cars, was found guilty last year by an Italian court of eight counts of sexual abuse of children aged 12 to 16. He reportedly paid $28,000 in compensation to five victims he molested between 2004 and 2008.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI first moved to defrock Inzoli but Francis decided to give him another chance.

The decision proved to be a disaster as Inzoli abused again.  While the Pope expresses regret for the fateful decision, what about the person Inzoli abused?  It’s one thing to express regret to your own Commission.  It would be quite another to reach out and try to help the young person Francis allowed Inzoli to abuse.

 

Photo Credit via La Stampa