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

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn Announce a Sexual Abuse Compensation Plan

Catholic-Diocese-of-Brooklyn

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn announced last week that it will offer a sexual abuse victim compensation plan similar to the one the Archdiocese of New York began last year.

The Brooklyn program will initially consider the cases of about 280 abuse victims already known to the diocese, for claims of abuse that date to the 1930s.

At least 54 priests in the Brooklyn diocese, which also includes Queens, have been accused of child sexual abuse

The compensation program is intended for those whose accusations do not fall within New York State’s statute of limitations for bringing a legal or civil case for molestation, which requires victims take action before age 23.

The Brooklyn Queens Diocese released the following information:

“The Diocese has already begun reaching out to survivors who have previously reported abuse by a diocesan clergy member. These known survivors are invited to participate in Phase I of the IRCP. In the next few days, these individuals will be receiving further information by mail from Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros with details about the IRCP process and instructions for submitting a claim. (The deadline for filing a claim in Phase I of the IRCP isSeptember 30, 2017.)

Those who may come forward with a previously unreported allegation of abuse will be eligible to participate in Phase II by first registering through the program’s website to receive information for Phase II when it becomes available.”

The Catholic Church has relied on the statute of limitations to get lawsuits dismissed and avoid paying any money to those who have come forward to report being sexually abused by catholic priests. Now it appears that there is an opportunity to recovery compensation for those harmed by priests.

I represent survivors from many states in the Union and have found the Diocese of Brooklyn to be one of the most difficult dioceses in the country when it comes to sexual abuse survivors.  They’ve been aggressive in refusing to help survivors and in some cases claiming that the survivors’ allegations are unfounded without having done any investigation.

Our firm is accepting new cases for survivors of childhood sex abuse by priests that occurred in Brooklyn and Queens no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

The Bill Cosby Sex Assault Mistrial and Its Impact on Sexual Assault Survivors

Bill Cosby Sex Assault Mistrial

While Saturday’s news that the jurors in Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial had deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial was not a victory for sexual assault and abuse survivors, it did give the pubic a glimpse into the trauma and the victimization endured by survivors of these crimes.

Some legal experts opined that the jury deadlocked because the survivor wasn’t credible, that she changed her story, and that she continued to contact Cosby after the assault.  On the surface, those sound like pretty convincing arguments to side with Cosby.  However, anyone who has worked with sexual abuse survivors like I have knows that memory is fragile and does not always recall the details of events.  That doesn’t mean the victim is not credible especially in cases that happened some time ago.  Secondly, trauma affects memory in such a way that recall of a sexual assault may seem disjointed.  Kathryn Gigler of Northwestern University published an article a few years ago about this phenomenon.  She writes in part, “this situation affects pathways important for memory formation, which means that an individual can fail to correctly encode and store memories experienced during trauma. While an individual generally will remember the traumatic event itself (unless alcohol or drugs are present in the system), these memories will feel fragmented, and may take time to piece together in a way that makes narrative sense.  Behavioral patterns in individuals who have experienced sexual violence mirror those seen in other traumatized populations, like combat veterans. This pattern of symptoms, known as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can include emotional numbness, intrusive memories of the traumatic event, and hyperarousal (increased awareness of one’s surroundings, or constantly being “on guard”).”

Lest we forget, Cosby’s victim was indeed drugged prior to the sexual assault which will have a detrimental effect on memory and later recall.  In Gigler’s article, she opens by recalling an interview conducted by a police detective who concludes that an alleged assault victim is lying after listening to her try to recall the event.  Gigler comes to a different conclusion based on her studies of trauma on sexual assault victims.  She writes, “Therefore, the detective who was unable to believe the story told to him by my crisis caller was likely misinterpreting the discrepancies in her story as lies, rather than as her brain’s responses to extreme trauma. Best practices now suggest that officers wait at least two sleep cycles, generally 48 hours, before interviewing a victim of sexual violence. Additionally, the interview should be handled in a victim-centered manner, not as an interrogation. Research-informed practices have the potential for not only better outcomes for survivors of sexual violence, but also for reporting and prosecution rates for our legal system.”

Finally, one legal scholar concluded that the survivor was unreliable given that she continued to contact Cosby after the assault.  However, sexual assault trauma victims often behave in this fashion.  I have represented many courageous survivors of Catholic priest abuse who continued to stay in touch with their perpetrator after the initial assault.  This does not make the survivor unreliable and this phenomenon is not anomalous.  Therapy and healing for sexual assault survivors is complex and fraught with contradictory emotions and behaviors including self-loathing and even sometimes feeling temporary sympathy for the predator.

Sexual assault and abuse cases are not black and white.  Rather, they are layered with issues that must be addressed before healing takes place.  In a similar vein, our criminal justice system would do well to understand all of these factors and proceed accordingly and cautiously when handling a sexual assault case.

 

Photo Credit via USA Today

Catholic Church Reports Dramatic Rise in Sexual Abuse Claims Last Year

Sex Abuse Claims Rise in Chatholic Church

The Boston Globe is reporting that the Catholic Church in the United States experienced a sharp increase in abuse claims last year.  It is the largest rise since the country’s Catholic bishops began keeping tallies of claims in 2004.

The annual report from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which covers July 2015 to June 2016, said 911 victims came forward with allegations the church deemed credible, the vast majority of which were from adults who said they were abused when they were children.  The bishops’ report noted that the previous year there were only 384 claims of abuse.

The report attributed the rise in claims to Minnesota, the state temporarily lifted its statute of limitations in 2013 to allow alleged victims older than 24 to sue for past abuse, and the deadline to file such claims was in late May 2016.

However, other factors such as the documentary film Spotlight which served to bring the issue back into the forefront of public attention.

Victims who came forward during the most recent reporting year included 26 minors, the report said.

The report’s definition of “minors” included people under age 18 or anyone who “habitually lacks the use of reason.”

As of June 30, 2016, two of the 26 cases had been substantiated, while 11 had been deemed unsubstantiated by church officials. The rest remained under investigation, the report said.

The offenders in the substantiated cases were removed from ministry, as were 26 other priests or deacons accused of past abuse, officials said.

The report did not break down the location of the allegations but said its data was based on information from all 196 diocese and eparchies of the bishops conference and from 180 of the 232 religious institutes of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

The latest figures mean that between 1950 and June 2016, more than 18,500 people nationwide made clergy abuse allegations deemed credible by US Catholic officials, and more than 6,700 clerics have been accused of abuse, church records show.

Activists have questioned whether the church’s count of clergy sex abuse victims is lower than the actual total.  The Media Report, a conservative online site, hit back against the Globe’s article accusing the newspaper of attempting to keep an old story alive by rehashing old news and false claims.  Of course, they also include the obligatory criticism of lawyers.  The truth of the matter is this:  lawyers who are involved in this fight for justice are doing it to help the survivors of sexual abuse and those who come forward show a great deal of courage and their claims have been shown to be true.

Florida Behavioral Therapist Arrested on Child Molestation Charges

Florida Behav Therapist Arrested on Child Molestation

Jessica Lazzara, a Maitland behavioral therapist, has been arrested on charges of child abuse, lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure. She was taken to the Polk County jail and held without bond.

Lazzara, 42, was employed as an intern according to Big Bear Behavioral Health in Maitland, Florida and had been meeting with two young girls who were sexual trauma victims, 11 and 13, since November 2016.

At a press conference on May 30, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made the case that Big Bear Behavioral Health did not conduct an adequate investigation of Ms. Lazzara’s background.

Lazzara met with the two sexual trauma patients at their home at 3:15 p.m. on April 24 for a therapy session. The session started and the patient stayed in bed at her own request. The therapist proceeded to threaten the girl with a bow and arrow and then started striking her, deputies said. The suspect went outside to the back of the property with the two girls and their 27-year-old mother, where Lazzara inappropriately touched two of the females with a lighter and spray paint, according to the affidavit. The victims were dressed during the incident, Judd said.

The three females went to the front yard and Lazzara lifted up her shirt to expose herself to them, deputies said. The victims turned away from Lazzara and ran inside, locked the door and called 911.  When confronted, Lazzara said that she would kill everyone and herself, the arrest affidavit said. Lazzarra went on to bang on doors and windows until police detained her, according to deputies.

She told authorities she was having a bad day and couldn’t remember everything that happened.

“I don’t remember everything that happened that day,” Lazzara told deputies, according to the report. “I am sorry for what I did. I don’t need to be a therapist anymore, I don’t need to work around children.”

In a post-Miranda interview with police, Lazzara said she wanted one of the deputies to shoot her. Responding deputies took Lazarra to a hospital where she was held under the Baker Act.

The Baker Act is a Florida law that enables families and loved ones to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention for people who are impaired because of their mental illness, and who are unable to determine their needs for treatment. The Act was named after Maxine Baker, former Miami State representative who sponsored the Act in 1972. People who require the use of the Baker Act have often lost the power of self-control, and they are likely to inflict harm to themselves or others.

Attorney Joe Saunders is an experienced and compassionate advocate for all sexual abuse and trauma survivors.  If you or a loved one has been abused by a teacher, coach, priest, or counselor, please contact him for a free consultation.

 

Photo Credit via wptv.com

Pinellas Teacher Arrested in Largo for Child Porn

Robert James Plotkin Clearwater Teacher Arrested for Child Pornography

Robert James Plotkin, a teacher since 2012 at Clearwater Intermediate, a dropout prevention middle school at 1220 Palmetto St. in Clearwater, Florida has been arrested and is being charged with on 10 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of tampering with physical evidence, according to Largo police.

Local police were tipped off about Plotkin on March 15 after his roommate called police to notify them that she had spotted child pornography on Plotkin’s laptop.  Plotkin knew officers were on the way, police said, because his roommate told him she reported him. The teacher then threw his laptop in a lake near his apartment at 225 Country Club Drive, police said. When officers arrived, Plotkin told them his computer was in the lake. Then he retrieved it for them, police said.

Officers took the laptop but did not arrest Plotkin. A cyber crimes investigator later retrieved images from the hard drive showing pornography involving children ages 3 to 17, police said.  “This is 2017. It’s not gonna happen,” said Largo Police Lieutenant Joe Coyle, referring to Plotkin’s efforts to destroy the evidence. “You’re not going to throw a computer in the water and think that you’re gonna erase all your images.”

Plotkin has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the criminal charges.

Plotkin’s Facebook page has no entries but states that he is originally from Ohio.

Child pornography is a scourge on our society and our community in particular.  It endangers our children and the harm wrought by child sexual abuse leaves life-long scars.

 

Photo Credit by WTSP Tampa Bay Sarasota News

Pennsylvania Diocese Collaborates with Feds to Curb Child Sex Abuse

US Attorney of Pennsylvania Collaborating with Catholic Diocese

At least that’s what officials of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in Pennsylvania want all of us to believe.  Earlier this month, the bishop and the acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song held a press conference to announce their collaboration on preventing further child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

“This is a memorandum of understanding, it is not a court document,” Song said. “What we found is that the diocese was a willing partner.”

While the new partners appear willing to cooperate such ventures in the past in other dioceses have led to frustration on the part of secular authorities.  After a withering grand jury investigation which revealed that two former bishops of the small Pennsylvania diocese had cover-up past cases of child sex abuse by priests, the diocese is in sore need of good news.  While it is too early to know whether the present bishop is sincere, past announcements, including the Pope’s own commission, have led to recriminations, resignations by lay members, and accusations of obfuscation and secrecy.

During their joint press conference, the US attorney and the bishop announced the following reforms:

  • The creation of an independent, multidisciplinary oversight board that will include a former U.S. attorney and a Lutheran clergyman;
  • The retention of an outside expert to develop a new, comprehensive child abuse prevention program;
  • A reporting protocol that requires the diocese to report allegations of child sexual abuse to law enforcement within 12 hours after receipt;
  • Taking immediate steps to prevent any contact with minors by the suspected perpetrators;
  • Placing clergy on personnel or administrative leave within 24 hours of notice of a credible allegation of child sexual abuse;
  • Counseling and support services for victims by qualified and independent mental health professionals chosen by the victims.

During the press conference, US Attorney Song referred to the reform measures as “unprecedented” which may be true in Altoona-Johnstown but similar measures have been announced and failed miserably in other dioceses around the United States.  Time will tell if the parties are sincere and able to work together to protect children.  As an attorney advocate for abuse survivors, I’ve learned from experience that the Church is unable and unwilling to police itself.