In 2002, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops rolled out a plan: they were going to reach out to survivors, remove abusive priests, allow independent lay people to review abuse, and miraculously transform the church into a safe haven for children and vulnerable people. They were going to do it all through self-reporting, self-auditing and transparency.
Little did we know how calculated the sham really was.
In short, the Bishops have used and continue to use their lay people as political and public pawns to protect the clerical power structure. How do they do this? The cunning Bishops have given lay people auspicious titles and duties, but denied them access to priest personnel files and removed any authority they could have to protect children. Bishops made these lay people ultimately accountable, but gave them no power.
The Bishops’ grand plan has played out in four distinct modes of tactical deception: National Review Board, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The Gavin Group, and diminishing enforcement.
The National Review Board
After the Dallas 2002 USCCB meeting, even some critics believed a real metanoia had occurred. People hoped that the Bishops had experienced true shame and actually wanted reform and change. That repentance and change of heart was to be embodied in the National Review Board and former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating.
Keating, who is also a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, soon realized that he was being played the fool. He publicly blasted the Bishops acting more like La Cosa Nostra than a moral religious authority: “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.”
Since Keating’s public resignation from the board, the National Review Board membership has done little, if anything, to force the Bishops to adhere to the law, their own reforms or common moral decency.
The John Jay Study
In another crafty tactic by the Bishops, they hired the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to conduct a “study.” Competent and world renown as the college is, John Jay was utterly dependent upon the information each Bishop decided to give them. You can review the 2004 study here.
The study was nothing more than a third-party rehash of only the information that the USCCB wanted to be publicly disseminated. Confused? Think of it this way: imagine a police detective is investigating a murder. Then, imagine that the only evidence the detective can examine is the evidence that the murderer himself freely turns over.
Now you understand how the Bishops work.
The Gavin Group
One of the bishops’ most cunning moves of all? Hiring the Gavin Group to conduct annual “audits” of child sex abuse prevention policies in individual dioceses.
For those of us in the real world, an audit is when an independent third party is allowed to freely comb through records, accounts, data and witnesses. Think IRS. Audits by definition are intrusive and force an individual or corporation to be transparent and accountable. In fact, an annual audit of the US Catholic Church makes sense: in 1971, church assets in the US were valued at $34 billion dollars. Through its education and other programs, the Catholic Church impacts the lives of every citizen. (See James Gollin, “Worldly Goods”).
However, the Gavin Group’s annual “audits” are conducted in a manner stunningly similar to the John Jay Study. William A. Gavin admitted as much just a few weeks ago: “We didn’t have the benefit of drilling down into personnel files to see what might be there,” Gavin says. “They were off limits.”
The Bishops ONLY give the Gavin Group what the Bishops want the public to know. And that’s what the USCCB calls transparency.
In the meantime, we learned that the Philadelphia Grand Jury found 37 alleged perpetrators in ministry – the same Archdiocese of Philadelphia that PASSED the Gavin Group audit every year.
In 2011, nine years after the Dallas meeting and 26 years after the Collegeville meeting, the fourth prong of the deception policy is now in full gear: diminishing enforcement. Instead of increasing participation and compliance with the Bishops’ own policies, we hear that 55 Catholic Dioceses and Eparchies received “Management letters” from the Gavin Group. The bishops are getting bored and complacent and can’t even keep up their own charade of compliance.
Not only that, but according to Mary Jane Doerr, associate director of the secretariat of child and youth protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, THEY WON’T TELL US WHICH 55 DIOCESES ARE NOT IN COMPLIANCE. Some of the problems include (taken from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune):
—Allowing clergy who had been barred from ministry to lead public prayers
—Downsizing local child safety offices, partly due to the recession, leaving key tasks undone
—Failing to meet with leaders of all religious orders that have priests working in a diocese
—Not checking whether safeguards were in place on the parish level, despite a directive since 2006 to do so
—Failing to collect written notice from parents who decide to keep their children from abuse prevention training
What does it mean when the Bishops can’t even play along with their own cover-up? It means that men like William Donohue of the Catholic League have to publish full-page ads in the New York Times to try and point fingers at everybody else.
Until recently, the deception has been quite successful. One only needs to look at the careers of Cardinals Bevilaqua, Law, Mahony, Levada, George, and McCarrick to see how abusers and enablers can continue to remain above the law. These Bishops were the men who had the final say about molesting priests. Through artful deception, they manipulated lay people and secular organizations to do their dirty work and secularly bless the cover-up.
The tide is changing, however, and three Philadelphia grand juries are leading the way. Laity groups across the country and the globe are beginning to see through the façade. And as they were used, the laity will now use law enforcement to finally demand accountability. Time and statutes of limitations are not always on the Bishops side.