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Maryland is once again considering opening up the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors.  Presently, the law in Maryland allows a victim to bring a civil claim until the victim reaches the age of 25.

Proponents of the new measure argue that most sexual abuse victims are unable to bring claims that early in life due to fear, trauma, and shame.  The new proposal would give survivors until they reach 50 years of age to bring a civil claim.

Opponents of the bill, namely the Catholic Church, oppose the bill stating that it would open up the Church to frivolous lawsuits.

According to an article in the Baltimore Examiner, “State Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, is proposing the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits against alleged abusers increase from 25 years of age to 50, and create a two-year window for retroactive claims previously barred by the current limit.
"Victims don't wait around in silence, so they can file frivolous lawsuits, ... but live in fear of being named the guilty party and having their family torn apart," Kelley told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the ultraconservative Catholic religious order the Legionaries of Christ, is back in the news again in spite of the fact that he’s been dead for more than a year now.  Maciel’s last years of life were dogged by numerous accounts of sexual abuse allegations.  When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, Maciel lost his strongest supporter in the Vatican.  The new Pope Benedict XVI disciplined him in 2006 as a result of the sexual abuse charges.  However, Benedict did not order a canonical trial (which he could and should have done).  Rather, he forbade Maciel from celebrating Mass publicly or holding himself out to be a priest in public.

 

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Rev. Maciel founded the religious order in 1941 and soon thereafter was accused of sexually abusing seminarians.  The whispered reports of sex abuse continued throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s at the height of Maciel power and influence.  A charming, intellectual priest who had a flair for fundraising as well as ingratiating himself with the wealthy and powerful of the world, Maciel was able to quash the rumors from public view until 1996.  It was Hartford Courant reporters Gerald Renner and Jason Berry compiled their investigative reporting on Maciel into a book, “Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II" (2004).  According to Renner and Berry, 9 men decided to come forward after letters from priests in 1978 and 1989 had been ignored.  The letters complained of the sexual abuse and asked for an church investigation into the matter.  In spite of the letters, Pope John Paul II continued to publicly support Maciel.  In 1997, the Hartford Courant published a letter from Maciel categorically denying the sex abuse allegations.  In the same letter, Maciel vowed to pray for his accusers. The reporting prodded the Pope into disciplinary action even though a previous canonical trial in 1999 had been inexplicably quashed.  As Maciel stepped down from his post Church leaders continued to heap praise on the disgraced cleric.  The National Catholic Reporter reported that “The Vatican's top official for religious orders, speaking of Maciel as he stepped down from leadership of the Legionaries, called him “the instrument chosen by God to carry out one of the great spiritual designs in the church of the 20th century.” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano came to his friend Maciel's defense, hailing “the great work that you do.” Sodano was the number two man in the Vatican at the time.

 

The latest news about priest is no less sensational.  A Legionaries of Christ spokesman admitted that Maciel had had an affair with a woman and a child was fathered by Maciel.  According to the Hartford Courant, “Asked about the allegation, the spokesman, Jim Fair, said, ‘We know that he had a relationship with a woman and there is a child,’ but he would not go into detail.”

FACT: Transparency as stated goal-The entire stated purpose of the Dallas Charter concerns the restoration of public trust. The authors of the Charter, namely the US bishops, understand that this is not possible without transparency.

That’s why Article 3 of the Charter repudiates the use of confidentiality clauses in any settlement agreements unless specifically requested by the survivor of abuse. The National Lay Review Board, established by the Dallas Charter, states in its preamble, “In drawing this blueprint, we first resolved that in order to establish credibility for our actions we had to operate with independence and transparency.”

<--> Yet, the Diocese of Gary has fought our legal efforts for an entire year. Fortunately, the judge in the priest sex abuse case ruled in our favor. In her order she wrote, “The Court has now reviewed all of the above-mentioned documents in camera and finds that none constitute attorney-client communications, or violate any appropriate or necessary instructions or inquiry into ecclesiastical matters, nor are discernably work product privileged.”

We’re still waiting to obtain these documents which the Judge has ordered released to us. Interestingly, some are from the former Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who was involved in reviewing Emerson’s disciplinary case at the Vatican. Perhaps an invitation to appear in court in the U.S. while he is here through service of a subpoena would help us get the documents that the judge ordered produced.

Attorney Joseph Saunders is a leading priest sex abuse lawyer and can be reached via this website, email or telephone. 100% Confidential

Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to make his first visit to the United States as head of the Catholic Church on April 15. During his visit he will visit Washington, D.C. and New York City.

He will celebrate mass at two baseball stadiums, say prayers at Ground Zero, meet President George W Bush at the White House and address the United Nations. Unfortunately, he has declined to speak with sexual abuse victims and attorneys or address the priest abuse scandal at all during the trip.

In fact, he declined to visit Boston, the archdiocese at the epicenter of the sexual abuse scandal since its inception in 2002. This in spite of the fact that Boston’s archbishop, Sean Cardinal O’Malley lobbied hard for Benedict to visit the archdiocese.

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Once again, the church hierarchy proved to be overly sensitive to criticism. The Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J. of America magazine, a New York-based Jesuit weekly, said Keating's departure is "a setback for the bishops" and "another stumble on the way to cleaning up the bishops' reputation."

Keating's resignation "basically sends the message that if you're too much of a straight shooter you're going to get pressure to resign," said Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis, a conservative Catholic magazine in Washington, D.C. Reese and Hudson are hardly radical in their views of the church yet even they recognize the church’s basic failure at transparency.

Another important aspect of the transparency issue concerns the church abuse documents which chronicle the sexual abuse scandal. These documents are absolutely crucial to the church at large as well as the general public and priest sex abuse lawyer Joseph Saunders (myself) if an understanding of the root causes of the crisis is ever to be achieved. The only way to prevent sexual abuse in the future is to understand how it was allowed to happen in the past.

An example of the church’s transparency failure relating to the publication of internal church documents can be found in many of the civil lawsuits pending around the country. For example, in a lawsuit in which I am representing a survivor of abuse against the Dioceses of Orlando and Gary we have been fighting in court for over a year now to obtain internal church documents.

These documents relate to church disciplinary proceedings against the former Fr. Richard Emerson. Emerson has been credibly accused of sex abuse by two survivors. He’s been subsequently laicized which means removed from the priesthood.

In spite of assurances of transparency from the Vatican as well as the US Bishops in their Dallas Charter, church officials continue to downplay the impact of the sexual abuse and pedophile priest scandal as well as the fact that it isn’t over. Here’s a sampling of the “pearls of wisdom” uttered by those close to Benedict XVI regarding the priest abuse scandal:

Monsignor Pietro Sambi, the papal ambassador to the US who was in charge of planning the trip, said the Pope would turn 81 in America, and did not have the strength to visit Boston. "He just can't go everywhere," he said.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope's second-in-command, said the church had already "responded with great dignity" to the situation, and added that the "clamour created in the US around this scandal is really unbearable".

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, said the media had "exaggerated" the issue of pedophile priests and clergy sex abuse

It’s hard to understand the church’s protestation of transparency in light of these comments as well as the Pope’s refusal to address the scandal or meet with the victims or their lawyers. I would like to objectively examine what the United States bishops proposed to accomplish in establishing the Dallas Charter in 2002.

FACT: Transparency not the reality-Within a year of assuming the chairmanship of the National Review Board, Governor Frank Keating quit in protest.
In his resignation letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory, who, at that time was President of the Confernece of Bishops, Keating reiterated the reasons for his resignation: “As I have recently said, and have repeated on several occasions, our Church is a Faith institution. A home to Christ's people. It is not a criminal enterprise. It does not condone and cover up criminal activity. It does not follow a code of silence.

My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology. To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church.” Keating’s comparison of the church to la cosa nostra was condemned by no less than Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles. <-> Continued -->

Clergy Sex Abuse and Foreign Born Irish Priests Serving in the United States

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Clergy Sex Abuse and Foreign Born Irish Priests Serving in the United States

As the Catholic population of the United States grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a dearth of Catholic priests to serve their spiritual needs.  During this period in Europe, Catholic seminaries were overflowing with men studying to be ordained Catholic priests. 

Bishop in the United States began an aggressive recruiting campaign with their colleagues in Europe, especially in Catholic countries such as Ireland, Spain, and Germany.  The European bishops of these countries were all too willing to send priests to the Catholic New World since they couldn’t afford to pay them.  Unfortunately, the US bishops didn’t always receive the cream of the priestly crop.  The fledgling church in the United States was viewed as an ecclesiastical backwater and the US dioceses were considered by many European bishops as the church equivalent of Australia.

As these foreign born priests flocked to the United States, they often encountered cultural, social, and economic difficulties with their new flocks as well as governance issues with their new superiors in America. 

During the first half of the 19th century, Ireland became a principal supplier of clergy to the United States.  The Irish church often sent young seminarians or priests who were dismissed from their home dioceses in Ireland to the United States.  Others were considered sub-par candidates and the US bishops were so desperate for clergy they would taken any warm body.

When the foreign born Irish priests began work in the parishes of New York, Baltimore, and Boston (to name a few places), they brought with them the discipline and puritan teachings of their homeland.   Since they were foreigners in a foreign land, they’d often socialize and work together. 

At the advent of the 20th century, 62% of US bishops were foreign born Irish.  By 1963, 33% of the pastors in the Archdiocese of San Francisco were foreign born Irish and in Los Angeles 80% percent of priests were Irish. 

Priest Abuse Scandal and Irish Clergy
As the foreign born Irish clergy infiltrated and dominated the clerical culture in the United States in the 20th century, its presence was also deeply ingrained in the sexual abuse scandal. 

 

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In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, 1/5 of all the priest abuse lawsuits have involved foreign born Irish clergy. 

One of the Irish clergy that rose to prominence prior to the sex abuse scandal was Anthony O’Connell who was named Bishop of Palm Beach in Florida.  Ironically, O’Connell was tapped to replace another priest who had abused children-Bishop J. Keith Symons.  O’Connell had applied and been rejected on 12 separate occasions as a seminarian.  When he finally found an obscure diocese in Missouri, he jumped at the chance.  O’Connell rose through the ranks and eventually was named the rector of a Missouri seminary prior to becoming a bishop. 

O’Connell resigned as bishop of Palm Beach in 2002 after it was revealed that he had molested a student at the seminary.  The student, who would later become a priest, had told O’Connell in confidence that another priest had abused him. 

This wasn’t the only boy abused by O’Connell.  He had sexual relationship with other young men studying to be priests and paid them for their silence.  On some occasions, he would refuse to ordain them priests because of their homosexuality.

Unfortunately, O’Connell isn’t an isolated case.  Oliver O’Grady, a Limerick native, moved to California as a priest in the 1970’s.  He ended up in the Stockton Diocese which was headed by now Cardinal Roger Mahony.   The law finally caught up with O’Grady and he was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison for lewd and lascivious behavior with two brothers.  In that case, the sexual abuse began when they were three years old and didn’t stop until they were 13.  O’Grady left prison after serving only half his sentence.  Upon release, O’Grady was deported back to Ireland where he remains a target of civil lawsuits for the systematic and serial rape of numerous children.

O’Connell and O’Grady serve as only two examples of an Irish connection to the priest abuse scandal in the United States.  While the impact in Ireland over the recently released Ryan report is devastating, the horrific cost of Irish clergy abuse in the United States is no less grave.  As one researcher put it, “It’s a cancer that spread west.”