The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: October 3, 2003
Costs of abuse scandal becoming clearer
Dioceses release information on number of allegations, amount of settlements
By DENNIS CODAY
The scope and cost of the clergy sex abuse crisis is becoming clearer.
In September, auditors from the Gavin Group, an independent audit agency selected by the U.S. bishops conferences Office of Child and Youth Protection were checking dioceses compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the U.S. bishops and approved by the Vatican last year.
Meanwhile, a number of dioceses released information on such things as the number of allegations they have had, the number of priests involved, and the amounts spent on treatment, settlements and legal fees.
The Boston archdioceses $85 million settlement with 552 plaintiffs made big headlines, but it was not alone. The Seattle archdiocese settled 15 clergy sexual abuse lawsuits for $7.87 million but still faces several others, including two new lawsuits filed Sept. 12. The Tucson, Ariz., diocese, in debt and facing nine pending lawsuits, has sold its diocesan headquarters. In the last year, the Milwaukee archdiocese has spent half a million dollars in attorney fees for cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors.
The Chicago archdiocese announced Sept. 17 the formation of the Archdiocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth and a professional on-site training program for the prevention of sexual abuse of children and young people. Completion of this training will be required of the archdioceses 25,000 employees and volunteers including bishops, priests, deacons, teachers, catechists, youth ministers, administrators, social service professionals and all volunteers who regularly work with children.
The archdiocese also said it has contracted with an independent investigator to perform criminal background checks on all adults who work for or volunteer with the archdiocese.
Officials in Cincinnati and Des Moines, Iowa, announced Sept. 22 the removal of three priests each from active ministry and claimed that neither jurisdiction had any priest in active ministry with a substantiated case of sexual abuse against minors.
Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk said that suspending the three priests -- Thomas Brunner, 55, David Kelley, 55, and Daniel Pater, 50 -- closes one of the most difficult and painful chapters of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in Southwest Ohio. They were among five priests the archdiocese had returned to ministry under restrictions a decade or more ago after substantiated reports of sexual abuse of minors.
Pater, who had been in the Vatican diplomatic corps, recently resigned as counselor of the Vatican Embassy in India and returned to Ohio. All are on administrative leave, under which they cannot function as priests, and are waiting for their cases to go to the archdiocesan review board. The other two priests, Lawrence Strittmatter, 70, and Francis Massarella, 80, have already been on administrative leave for a year and six months respectively.
In this case, [administrative leave] is a move toward permanent removal from ministry, according to Dan Andriacco, the archdioceses communications director. Andriacco told NCR that the cases against these five had been dealt with under norms established in 1993, which allowed abusers to be returned to restricted ministries. The cases have been updated to match the sex abuse charter approved by the U.S. bishops last year, he said.
Ten archdiocesan priests are on administrative leave pending hearings before the review board, he said.
In a letter published in the Sept. 29 edition of The Catholic Telegraph, the archdiocesan newspaper, and sent to NCR, Pilarczyk wrote, It is no longer possible for priests who have offended even one time to remain in good standing for priestly ministry in the United States. I supported these norms, and I will obey them.
I know there is a lot of hurt and anger around the archdiocese because of these matters, he wrote. Some are staying away from Mass on Sunday because of their hurt. Some have chosen to express their displeasure by withholding financial contributions.
Pilarczyk expressed sorrow and apologized in the name of the archdiocese and asked, forgiveness of all those who have suffered from the crisis. He said, I am ashamed that such things have happened.
He also pledged to carry out the demands of civil and canon law and that I will try to be as sensitive as I can be to the hurts that the members of our local church are experiencing. In return, I ask for your patience and understanding. He also encouraged any other victims to come forward and seek counseling.
The incidents of abuse by Des Moines priests Albert Wilwerding, 73, John Ryan, 79, and Richard Wagner, 68, date back to the 1980s. Wilwerding and Ryan had been forbidden from exercising public ministry since 1993 and 1984 respectively. Wagner had been serving in parish ministry in a supervised environment, according to documents the diocese sent to NCR.
After reviewing the cases as stipulated by the U.S. bishops abuse charter, the diocesan review board recommended that the three priests be permanently removed from ministry and dismissed from the priesthood. Each agreed to cooperate with the process of laicization, a diocesan news release said.
In a letter read during Masses Sept. 21, Bishop Joseph Charron of Des Moines announced the actions and outlined other steps the diocese is taking to create a welcoming and safe environment for all our people.
Charron told the news media Sept. 22 that part of the reason for announcing the priests names was to give other victims an opportunity to come forward. Anne Marie Cox, the dioceses communications director, told NCR the dioceses review board is currently investigating one case of alleged sexual abuse. She said she is not aware of any current civil litigation or criminal investigations against the diocese or clergy in the diocese.
The week of Sept 15, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee sent the Catholic households in his 10-county archdiocese a three-page document detailing the impact of the clergy sex abuse crisis on the church in southeast Wisconsin. A cover letter from Dolan said the report would be issued annually so Catholics can judge for themselves our sincerity and commitment to the just resolution of this issue.
The report is online at www.archmil.org/aboutus/ShowResource.asp?ID=1278. It said that since 1994 between 250 and 300 persons have contacted the archdiocese with allegations of sexual abuse. About 50 of these calls were within the last year. Of all the allegations brought forth, only two people have reported allegations of sexual abuse of a minor occurring after 1990, the report said.
As of Sept. 1, allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been made against 55 archdiocesan priests and three deacons, according to the report. For 10 of the priests, allegations could not be substantiated. Of the 45 remaining priests, 15 have died, six have left active ministry or sought laicization prior to 2002, and Dolan is seeking administrative laicization from the Vatican for seven priests.
Four cases are awaiting a canonical penal trial, one case is awaiting review by the archdiocesan review board and one case from the 1990s is on appeal in Rome. Because of advanced age or ill health, six priests are prohibited from functioning as priests or identifying themselves as priests.
The archdiocese turned over all files of living priests to the Milwaukee County district attorney. Of the 30 living priest offenders, 15 have been publicly identified -- either by the archdiocese, by victims or by the media. Six are of advanced age or in seriously ill health. Five were laicized before 2002. Four individuals have not been publicly identified.
The report repeats data made available with the archdioceses financial report released at the end of the fiscal year June 30; specifically, the archdiocese spent $777,392.65 on cases of sexual abuse involving priests and minors. Of this total, nearly $153,000 went to therapy and victims assistance costs; $115,000 for pastoral mediation agreements and about $5,600 for victims-survivors dialogue sessions. Attorney fees were reported at about $62,000 for general fees and about $432,000 for three cases with ongoing litigation.
The report noted, These expenses are paid for by monies accumulated in the Properties and Building Fund. No money from the Catholic Stewardship Appeal, from parish resources or from any funds solicited or designed for other purposes are used to pay the costs associated with clergy sexual abuse of minors.
The Tucson diocese last year settled 11 lawsuits out of court for an undisclosed amount, although news reports have said it was about $15 million.
Diocesan spokesman Fred Allison said in mid-September that the diocese recently sold its central headquarters, the Bishop Manuel D. Moreno Pastoral Center, to the private Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Tucson for $1.65 million, in order to pay off a $1.5 million debt it had owed the foundation since the 1980s. The diocese is now renting the property from the foundation for about $167,000 a year.
Allison said Sept. 16 that some 1,300 Catholic school teachers and support personnel from across the diocese attended an all-day program the day before that provided in-service training on sexual abuse issues and the new diocesan code of conduct.
Among other developments across the country:
This story incorporates material from Catholic News Service.
National Catholic Reporter, October 3, 2003
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