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

michigan state university logo

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.

 

Photo Credit via Wikimedia Commons

Larry Nassar’s Former Boss Linked to Sex Abuse Allegations

By LauraKP1 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

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.


 

Detroit Skyline Image: Alex Brisbey

Bill Cosby Guilty of Sexual Assault

By The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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.

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

Pope’s Actions Contradicting His Words

Pope Francis Actions Contradicting His Words

On January 2nd, Pope Francis released a letter reminding the world’s Catholic bishops that he will not tolerate any tolerance of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.  The letter was dated December 28th.  In the letter, Pope Francis is unequivocal about the issue and if you were to judge him solely on his written words, you’d have to conclude that he was serious about stamping out clergy sexual abuse.

Yet, the press have caught Francis in at least two instances where his actions directly contradict his words.  The first incident involves Italian priest Nicola Corradi who, along with four other men, was arrested in November for sexually abusing hearing impaired children.  All but Corradi were sanctioned by the Vatican.  This was not the first time Corradi’s name had been linked to the sexual abuse of children at the school.  He was named along with other priests in 2009 for abusing children.  The students from the school sent a personal letter in 2014 directly to the Pope asking him to do something about Corradi, who was living in Argentina, the Pope’s native country.  The Pope did nothing with the letter.  In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that the Vatican acknowledged its existence.

Pope Francis Oddly Reinstates Mauro Inzoli Despite Sexual Abuse History

Mauro “Don Mercedes” Inzoli

The second instance is perhaps more troubling and indicates a papal mindset that should be deeply troubling to those of us concerned with child safety.  It involves the case of Mauro Inzoli or “Don Mercedes” as he was known for his flamboyant lifestyle.  Pope Benedict had defrocked him in 2012 for child sexual abuse.  In 2014, Pope Francis took the highly unusual step of reinstating Inzoli as a priest.  Michael Brendan Dougherty, writing in The Week wrote,

But Don Mercedes was “with cardinal friends,” we have learned. Cardinal Coccopalmerio and Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, now dean of the Roman Rota, both intervened on behalf of Inzoli, and Pope Francis returned him to the priestly state in 2014, inviting him to a “a life of humility and prayer.” These strictures seem not to have troubled Inzoli too much. In January 2015, Don Mercedes participated in a conference on the family in Lombardy.

This summer, civil authorities finished their own trial of Inzoli, convicting him of eight offenses. Another 15 lay beyond the statute of limitations. The Italian press hammered the Vatican, specifically the CDF, for not sharing the information they had found in their canonical trial with civil authorities. Of course, the pope himself could have allowed the CDF to share this information with civil authorities if he so desired.”

Dougherty intimates that Pope Francis in speaking one way but doing the opposite is more of a Machiavellian figure than a vicar of Christ.  He’s not the only writer to come to that conclusion.  Rod Dreher, writing on the same topic, concludes, “As ever with church leaders who talk about reform, don’t listen to what they say, but rather watch what they do.”

Photo Credit By Tânia Rêgo/ABr (Agência Brasil) via Wikimedia Commons