Who's Who in the Sex-Abuse Scandal?

The Tribune Greeley, Colorado/May 17, 2010

It seems like 2002 all over again - only this time, instead of a media blitz reporting on clerical sexual abuse in Boston and other parts of the United States, the scandal has gone global and is focusing on how bishops and the Vatican handled allegations of abuse.

To assist Register readers in better understanding this developing story, here is a list of major players, events and issues involved, and their significance in the controversy.

Pope Benedict XVI

Prior to 2001, clerical sexual-abuse cases were handled in individual dioceses and, depending on their nature, were sent for appeals in Rome to either the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Clergy or the Congregation for Religious, and in some cases simply to the general superior of a religious congregation. That resulted in a wide range of interpretations and the tendency to be lenient with popular priests.

Cardinal Ratzinger realized that the Church needed to investigate allegations and punish offenders more aggressively and be more consistent in its approach.

In 2001 he centralized these cases under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As a result, the system has become more uniform, stricter and faster.

Pope Benedict's unprecedented letter to the Catholics of Ireland in March called for penance, Eucharistic adoration, an apostolic visitation and a nationwide mission in response to the country's history of sexual abuse there and the hierarchy's mishandling of it.

In a papal first, he has also met with victims of sexual abuse in Australia, the United States, Malta and Rome. "The victims of sexual abuse who met with the Holy Father here in the U.S. were deeply touched by their meeting," said Monica Applewhite, who has spent 16 years doing research and root-cause analysis in the area of sexual abuse in organizations. "If they say he ‘gets it,' I am inclined to believe them."

Pope Benedict's unique approach combines the spirituality of purification with the realism of swift action.

David Clonhessy

National director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) since 1991. Both he and Barbara Blaine, who founded SNAP in 1988, were victims of child sexual abuse by priests and are frequently quoted in news coverage of the scandals.

SNAP, which now claims more than 9,000 members in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, has called for the Vatican to remove bishops who protect abusive priests, hand such priests over to the secular authorities, and establish an Internet database of the names of abusive clergy members.

Blaine spent 10 days in April opening new SNAP chapters in Germany, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and England. Blaine called the Pope's May 11 comments on the "really terrifying" evil of pedophilia "pretty meaningless," and said "he hasn't taken any action that will protect children."

The group has come under fire for its lack of fiscal transparency - critics charge that it accepts donations from law firms that benefit from settlements on cases in which the victims first contacted SNAP - and for ignoring the progress that has been made in youth protection by the Church over the last eight years.

Laurie Goodstein

The New York Times' investigative reporter who has been at the forefront of recent critical coverage of the clerical abuse scandal. Her stories have alleged that the Vatican, and even Pope Benedict XVI personally when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, kept sexual abusers in the priesthood. Working with plaintiffs' lawyer Jeffrey Anderson, she reported extensively on the Father Lawrence Murphy case, which she broke with a front-page story. Her reconstruction of the facts of the Murphy case was debunked by Cardinal William Levada and called "egregiously shoddy reporting - or worse" by Father Raymond de Souza, writing in Canada's National Post. "I have no desire to hurt or wound the Church in any way," she told CNN on Easter Sunday, but went on to speak of "the politicians of the Church coming after The New York Times, and trying to impugn our credibility."

Father Thomas Doyle

A canon lawyer and attorney for abuse victims, he has been an outspoken critic of the way Church leaders have handled the sexual-abuse scandal. Father Doyle co-authored a report for the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1985 called "The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy," urging that the pastoral concerns of victims be put first. He says the conference "disdained" the report, though many individual bishops hired him and his co-authors to give workshops and counsel victims, and the Catholic bishops largely adopted the report's recommendations.

Jeffrey Anderson was quoted by The New York Times in 2004 as saying that Father Doyle's help was often crucial in forcing dioceses to settle cases: "He's the guy in the inside that knows how it works and how they work."

Father Doyle advocates for canonical trials but complains they are rarely held. (Bishops have recently preferred the much speedier expedient of taking direct administrative action to suspend or laicize priests. Only in about 20% of all cases are trials held.)

Jeffrey Anderson

A St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who has filed thousands of lawsuits against the Church and by 2002 had won $60 million for his plaintiffs. He was among the lawyers representing abuse victims in the $600 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2007, the Church's largest payout ever. The Associated Press reported that Anderson "earns the standard 30%-to-40% fee of most personal injury lawyers," and according to The New York Times, "some in the legal community refer to his role as co-counsel in so many abuse cases around the country as ‘the Jeff Anderson franchise system.'"

Anderson provided the documents for Times reporter Laurie Goodstein's stories on abusive priests Father Lawrence Murphy and Father Stephen Kiesle, which attempted to pin the blame for delays in their cases on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Anderson is seeking access to internal Church correspondence on all alleged priest abusers.

Since the bulk of Catholic clerical abuse cases date from between 1960 and 1985, Anderson's cases often surpass the statutes of limitations set in place in most states. He has lobbied for the repeal of the statute of limitations in several states and was successful in having California's statute lifted for a year in 2003.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to hear Anderson's appeal of a 2002 suit calling into question the Vatican's sovereign immunity that was rejected by lower courts. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March 2009 that this civil lawsuit against the Holy See can go forward. (However, the Supreme Court reversed 94% of the 9th Circuit cases it reviewed in its 2009 term.)

Jeffrey Lena

This California expert in sovereignty law has become both the Vatican's counsel in the U.S. and its unofficial spokesman on sex-abuse cases, arguing its immunity from prosecution in the U.S. as a sovereign entity. Previous attempts to sue the Holy See have failed repeatedly. "The Pope is not a five-star general ordering troops around," he told The Associated Press. "Diocesan bishops are not agents or vicars of the Pope at all. A bishop's authority comes from his office. It is the bishop who controls his diocese and what happens." Having received threats because of his advocacy for the Holy See, he recently moved his office to an undisclosed location in Berkeley, Calif.


Based in Arlington, Texas, Praesidium, Inc., is considered the national leader in abuse risk management. Its mission is to help organizations protect those in their care from abuse by setting standards to ensure safety, accrediting organizations that develop appropriate internal guidelines, performing background checks and providing ongoing auditing. Praesidium has worked with 4,000 clients, both religious and secular, including the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, 18 U.S. dioceses, many religious groups and other Christian denominations, schools, camps, social services, boys and girls clubs, YMCA, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Salvation Army.

The National Review Board

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the National Review Board in 2002 and slightly revised and reconfirmed its charter in 2005. Its purpose is to work together with, and be accountable to, the bishops' conference in preventing sexual abuse of minors by persons in the service of the Church.

Among the National Review Board's functions are:

  • to advise the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People specifically on policies and practices on matters of child and youth protection,
  • to review the work of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and make specific recommendations to the director assisting in the development of resources for dioceses and eparchies,
  • to commission research on behalf of the bishops' conference on causes and context of the crisis of sexual abuse, periodically assessing data, and
  • to make recommendations to prevent sexual abuse of minors.

In 2006, the board commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City to study and report on the causes and context of Catholic clerical sex abuse. Study results are anticipated in December 2010.

The 13 current members of the board, chaired by Diane Knight, have all been appointed since 2007.

Opus Bono Sacerdotii

What happens when a priest is accused of sexual abuse and instantly removed from ministry? Opus Bono Sacerdotii (Work for the Good of the Priesthood) tries to be there for him with Christian charity so he is not merely turned out "on the street."

The purpose of the Detroit-based organization, founded by Joseph Maher and two other businessmen in 2002, is to find "solutions to the problems confronting priests and religious in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Church, and of the Holy Father and his predecessors." It provides for the canonical and legal defense of an accused priest, pays his basic living expenses, finds a place for him to live and finds meaningful work for him to do until his case is settled. In the past eight years, the organization has been contacted by more than 5,000 priests.


Laicization, known colloquially as "defrocking," is a canonical process by which a bishop, priest or deacon is dismissed from the clerical state and is automatically relieved of his offices and obligations and barred from celebrating the sacraments in most circumstances. This occurs rarely at the request of his bishop with the approval of the Holy See, or most commonly at the cleric's own request, often to marry or sometimes to be free of Church supervision.

In the case of a canonical penal process of a priest found guilty of child sexual abuse, dismissal from the clerical state is the most serious penalty leveled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In very serious cases where a civil criminal trial has found the cleric guilty of sexual abuse of minors or where the evidence is overwhelming, the CDF may petition the Holy Father to issue a decree of ex officio dismissal from the clerical state, against which there is no appeal.

Once laicization - which can take years - is carried out, an abuser, though publicly and unambiguously punished, becomes free of all Church supervision.

However, laicization is not the only penalty available to a bishop, who at any time can restrict or prohibit a priest's public ministry, effectively permanently removing perpetrators from ministry and keeping them away from children.

According to the CDF's Msgr. Charles Scicluna, in about 60% of cases handled by the CDF, the advanced age of the accused priest precludes a canonical trial, but disciplinary provisions are issued against the priest, who though neither tried nor absolved is no longer a danger to children; another 20% of cases result in laicization, either at the request of the priest himself or by an ex officio decree of the Holy Father.

Statute of Limitations

The amount of time, varying from state to state, after an alleged crime after which court proceedings can no longer be initiated. There are two types: criminal, which deal with the prosecution of an individual for a crime, and civil, which deal with lawsuits for monetary damages.

Efforts to lift the statute of limitations for child sexual-abuse cases have been considered in at least 12 states, with varying results. Other states have opened one- or two-year windows during which victims can bring forth old claims.

The United States Model Penal Code justifies the use of statutes of limitations with "the desirability that prosecutions be based upon reasonably fresh evidence," since memories fade and the possibility of erroneous conviction increases over time; a perpetrator who refrains from further criminal activity is more likely to have reformed and to be less dangerous to society; the likelihood of misguided compassion and of blackmail is reduced; and they "promote repose by giving security and stability to human affairs." Statutes of limitations do not exist to protect abusers.

Statutes of limitations in child sex-abuse cases are generally longer than in the case of other crimes, since child victims are more easily intimidated by offenders, making reporting of abuse very unlikely and often resulting in memory repression or severe psychological trauma, which can greatly delay eventual legal action.

Some states even have no statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of most sexual offenses against children, but the statute of limitations for civil actions for damages from sexual abuse is generally more reduced.

The statutes of limitations which are usually proposed for elimination apply only to private institutions' liability for civil damages - which tends to single out Church institutions - but not to public institutions, since the principle of sovereign immunity prevents such claims from being brought against a public entity for its negligent supervision or treatment of its agents.

Testifying before the Wisconsin State Assembly in October 2009, attorney James Birnbaum said that repealing the statute of limitations on private institutions would "in effect create two classes of both victims and institutions. If you are sexually abused by a public agent, you have no recourse and the public entity has no obligation. The same actions by an agent of a private entity could be subject to suit without limitation and victims compensated."

Critics of repealing the statute of limitations charge that it would open the possibility of millions of dollars in judgments against dioceses for cases that are decades old, draining charitable institutions of funds given by individuals for charitable works, without protecting children today or bringing real healing to a victim.

"The clear trend is to make it easier to bring old cases by any victim of sexual abuse," said Patrick Schiltz, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas. "When they are brought, the pastor is almost always dead."

Bishop's Resignations

A number of bishops in Europe have resigned since last fall because of their mishandling of sexual-abuse cases. Ireland is the only country to have had an investigation commissioned by the government of how bishops handled allegations of clerical sex abuse. The aftermath of the publication of the Murphy Report on the Archdiocese of Dublin has resulted in the resignations of a number of bishops.

The resignations of Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium, and Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, Germany, have also been accepted by the Holy Father over allegations of sexual or physical abuse committed by the bishops themselves.

While some bishops in the U.S. have resigned over their own sexual misconduct, only one U.S. bishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly archbishop of Boston and now archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, has ever stepped down due to public outcry over how he handled allegations of abuse.

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