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Excerpts from 1985 document
The following excerpts have been compiled by Gary MacEoin from the June 1985 report by Fr. Michael Peterson, Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, and F. Ray Mouton titled The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner. Block letters appear as they appeared in the report:
The ordinary [bishop of a diocese], if convinced initially by his trusted chancery interviewer of the parent(s) that the allegation has any possible merit or truth, should suspend immediately the cleric. This may be done without a trial and by means of an extra-judicial decree (Canon 1342). I would next suggest that the cleric be moved IMMEDIATELY from the parish rectory and into a retreat house, monastery, and bishops residence.
Each ordinary [should] consider carefully the development of a diocesan internal policy concerning clerical personnel files and their contents, the procedures to be followed uniformly when sexual accusations are made against clerics in that diocese, clear legal opinion documented concerning the reporting laws in your respective state and other pertinent policies that will be followed when the next unforeseen accusation is made.
These are lifelong diseases for which there is now much hope for recovery and control of the disorders, but NO HOPE AT THIS POINT IN TIME for cure.
Especially in small dioceses, the cleric should not return to his own diocese until the youngest child has reached the age of majority plus two years.
Pedophilia, for unknown reasons, occurs almost exclusively in men.
Some extremely serious issues have arisen which presently place the church in the posture of facing extremely serious financial consequence as well as significant injury to its image. ... The criminal considerations, civil considerations, canonical considerations and clinical considerations are of such magnitude, not to mention the other substantial considerations such as insurance and public relations, that it was decided that the presentation of these extraordinary issues necessitated an extraordinary response. Time is of the essence.
The necessity for protecting the confidentiality of this document cannot be overemphasized. The national press has an active interest in items discussed herein, and therefore, an abundance of caution is required.
Over ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS ($100,000,000) in claims have been made against one diocese as a result of sexual contact between one priest and a number of minor children. ... A TEN BILLION DOLLAR ($10,000,000,000,000) class-action lawsuit has been threatened, which threat is documented.
A minimum of national print publications (NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER, VANITY FAIR, MOTHER JONES and ROLLING STONE) have reporters in place trying to tie the isolated episodes into a national story, presumably one of scandalous proportions. Several of these publications have already published lengthy articles (NCR, June 7, 1985).
This is the age of litigation. It might have been unthinkable a few years ago for a Catholic parent to sue the church. Similarly, there was a time when it was unthinkable for a patient to sue a physician. The analogy with medical malpractice is well taken. The Catholic church is undoubtedly perceived by plaintiff lawyers to have very deep pockets, to have a very serious interest in its image, and therefore should become the biggest target in this newly developing field of jurisprudence.
The entire issue of child sexual abuse, whether same be categorized as pedophilia, homosexual or heterosexual, is displayed prominently across the front pages of newspapers where it shall remain for at least the balance of the decade (having replaced the sexual issue of the 70s, homosexuality). ... This increased awareness, widespread publicity, and the excellent educational programs available to children, which we all support, shall increase the reporting of such incidents and increase the likelihood that both civil and criminal actions shall be instituted against the offender and those sought to be held legally responsible with the wrongdoer. Also, the secular press attempts to portray the church as hypocritical, as an organization preaching morality and providing sanctuary to perverts.
It is highly probable that specific, exclusionary language shall begin to appear following a few years of experience in all diocesan liabilities policies which shall exclude coverage to the diocese, the bishop, vicars, clergy and other personnel for coverage of claims arising as a result of sexual contact between a priest and parishioner, an employee and any member of the public. The cost could be hundreds of millions.
Presently there are efforts to sue, successfully, not only a diocese but also a bishop, diocesan vicars, the metropolitan archdiocese, the Holy Sees representative in the United States and the Holy Father himself. These cases are being partially settled by the insurance companies.
It is highly probable, nearly certain, that each and every ordinary in the United States shall be made a party -- defendant -- in a federal class-action suit, the threat of which has been documented in correspondence to the general counsels office of the [National Conference of Catholic Bishops and U.S. Catholic Conference]. In a class-action every ordinary in the country would have to testify about every instance of aberrant sexual conduct in their diocese, producing all records relating to aberrant sexual practices, and defend their action or inaction in each instance. The Papal representative in the United States, the Holy Father, and the NCCB will be the primary target of lawsuits seeking to establish direct responsibility for the grave injury suffered by the child-victims.
The responsibility for seminarians is two-edged in that there is a responsibility on the part of the Ordinary for things done by the seminarian and things done to the seminarian.
A bishop may extend hospitality to a priest who is not incardinated in his diocese and allow said priest to live and work as a priest in his diocese. If the priest has a history of problems involving sexual misconduct and the bishop is aware of this and allows the priest to live and work in his diocese anyway, there are serious considerations regarding his responsibility to act in the event of a subsequent incident.
It is important to know what matter should be contained in a priests personnel file, considering the very discoverability of these files.
The idea of sanitizing or purging files of potentially damaging material has been brought up. This would be in contempt of court and an obstruction of justice if the files had already been subpoenaed by the courts. Even if there has been no such subpoena, such actions could be construed as a violation of the law in the event of a class-action suit. On a canonical level, to sanitize the personnel files could pose a problem of continuity from one diocesan administration to another.
One other suggestion regarding files has been to move them to the apostolic nunciature where it is believed they would remain secure, in immune territory. In all likelihood, such action would ensure that the immunity of the nunciature would be damaged or destroyed by the civil courts.
The canon law speaks of secret archives. Are these safe from civil discovery, whereas ordinary files might not be? Thus far it appears that the secret archives afford no more security from discovery than regular diocesan archives.
If all of the possible questions related to this problem are posed and a suitable and complete set of answers drawn up and set forth in the form of a policy manual or procedural guideline, it would not be advisable to release such a manual/document to the bishops of the country or to the diocesan lawyers.
Such information could fall into the hands of either the plaintiffs, or the press and the document itself could be deemed discoverable and used as evidence.
Nevertheless, it is virtually impossible at this time to compose a document or manual which a) adequately addresses the problem with all of its important aspects and b) would not cause damage if it fell into the hand of the press or plaintiffs.
Every civil jurisdiction (usually by states) has statutes, which impose civil and criminal penalties on persons who engage in illicit sexual activities with children and/or adolescents. If a clergy is charged with sexual misconduct, civil lawsuits can be lodged against him and his ordinary for monetary damages to the victim and families resulting from felonious conduct. The defender could also be charged with criminal activity. If a sworn complaint is received by a police agency or a prosecutor, it is inevitable that criminal charges will be filed causing the press to publish reports of the charges. This would lead investigative reporters to delve into the details of the case.
In most or all jurisdictions there are statutes which require that instances of child abuse be reported to the civil authorities. The failure to do so can result in civil and/or criminal penalties.
Plea bargains are unavailable in criminal cases where there is the commission of a heinous and odious crime against a young and defenseless victim.
It is especially important to understand that evaluation centers may be located in states having reporting laws which might prove problematic for the ordinary. For example, some states have enacted legislation that does not extend privilege of communication between a patient and his psychologist or psychiatrist to cases involving child abuse, including sexual abuse of children. In Massachusetts, a therapist, no matter what his training, must report the incident to the local authorities if there is any indication that the incident occurred within the state of Massachusetts. It is also possible that this extends to people who were involved with other adults who were involved with the incident in the state of Massachusetts. For this reason, this state would be a hazardous area to send a priest for evaluation because of the stringency and extent of the reporting laws. Almost all states require and suspend the privileged communication between health professionals and the child if the child is the patient. A sexually or physically abused child seen by such a mental health professional must be reported in all 50 states along with the names of the persons offered by the child. The point here is that the ordinary should determine the reporting laws in the states of possible evaluating centers. It would be wise to consult with lawyers knowledgeable of these issues prior to sending the priest for evaluation.
A suspension of the cleric, especially if he is a priest, should happen in all cases. This makes a clear separation between the ordinary and the cleric. It is a statement that the man is not capable of carrying out his sacred functions or ministry until an evaluation is completed and a determination of his fitness for ministry is made.
It is essential that there be some form of mandatory self-help group such as AA or a sex offender group for the rest of this persons life.
While the welfare of the priest offender is considered very important to the church officials, the welfare both at the time of the abuse and well into the future of the victims is most important and should be given a priority by the ordinaries. The effects of sexual abuse of children by adults are long lasting and go well into adulthood. This is well documented, though it may well be difficult to predict the extent of the effects in particular cases. We are speaking not only of psychological effects but also the spiritual effects since the perpetrators of the abuse are priests or clerics. This will no doubt have a profound effect on the faith live of the victims, their families and others in the community.
In addition to the other effects of sexual abuse on children and their families, since the perpetrators are priests or members of the clergy, there will also be serious spiritual consequences. Those affected include the victims, their immediate families as well as others in their circle of friends and acquaintances. There will also be serious spiritual consequences for the wider church community. Spiritual concerns also encompass the clerical offenders and other members of the clergy in the diocese and other areas.
Sexual abuse of a child by a cleric, especially a priest, can have a devastating effect on the childs short and long-term perception of the church and its clergy. How will the child be able to perceive the clergy as authentic, unselfish ministers of the gospel and the church as the body of Christ?
The victims capacity to develop trusting relationships with adult clergy will be impaired.
The abused childs faith in the sacraments as sources of grace and communications with Christ, through the ministry of a priest, will be seriously weakened.
Depending on the manner with which church authorities deal with the case, the victim and others may quickly develop a perception of the churchs leadership as ineffective and unauthentic vis-à-vis its commitment to its leaders and the clergy.
Church attendance by the victims and other members of the faithful may decline.
The first objective [of a public relations policy], of which one must never lose sight, is to maintain, preserve and seek to enhance the credibility of the Church as a Christian community. ... The church should not be presented as or identified with only the hierarchy or the governing structures or the clergy. The public relations approach can emphasize positive programs utilizing imaginative and creative thinking converting adversity into advantage.
A second objective of the media policy should be the public separation of the offender from the church authorities. In appropriate cases, the offender must be made to accept the consequences of his actions, and the public must be made to understand that the offenders acceptance of this responsibility indicates that the church authorities could not have done anything to prevent the incident (in cases wherein this assertion is true). Separation does not mean that the church authorities abandon the offender. It means that his action will be portrayed not as an action of the church or an action even indifferently condoned by the church but as an action which the church views as profoundly unfortunate.
The Peterson Report proposes the creation of a crisis control team and a policy and planning group to provide specialized services to any bishop or religious superior who might need help in dealing with these legal issues. It outlines strategy to ensure that any materials developed by these bodies not be available to victims trying to enforce their rights to redress.
A base contract shall be executed between the group of four bishops and the trial lawyer which, among other things, would provide that (a) a client-counsel relationship exist between the group of four and the lawyer, (b) between the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the lawyer, and (c) between each diocese and the lawyer.
This shall be done in an effort to avoid discovery of any information transmitted by any of the clients to counsel to any of the clients, providing as free a flow of information as possible without the discovery of plaintiffs or the press.
All consultants who work on the team or with the group shall be retained under contract with the trial lawyer and not with anyone else. All of their fees and expenses shall be paid by the trial lawyer and the entirety of their work product shall be performed for him.
This is an effort to legally shield from discovery all the sensitive studies and other materials which might be generated during the existence of the project.
The only official evidence that this project was ever proposed or in fact exists, assuming that each of these documents is returned without copying, would be the base contract between the bishops and the lawyer which document by its very nature is private, privileged and may not be discovered.
In the confidential discussions mentioned herein above before, it was the consensus that this work might be best performed by an Ad Hoc group in a method and manner whereby only the final product is officially provided to an existing committee of the National Conference, and in the interim, perhaps forever, subpoenas would be avoided.
National Catholic Reporter, May 17, 2002