Monthly Archives: June 2012

**Updated with translations** Happy Anniversary, Holy See: It’s been 50 years!

Anniversaries are important mile markers.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of Father Gerald Fitzgerald s.P. giving notice to the Holy See of the problem of child sexual abuse by the clergy in the United States.  Fitzgerald not only informs the Holy See but suggests a low-cost simple solution to protect children:

“On the other hand, when a priest has fallen into repeated sins which are considered , generally speaking, as abnormal (abuse of nature) such as homosexuality and most especially abuse of children, we feel strongly that such unfortunate priests should be given the alternative of a retired life within the protection of monastery walls or complete laicization.”    April 11, 1962  

Father Fitzgerald’s solution to the Holy See is simple: assign priests who abuse children to monasteries.  This classic Roman Catholic solution of assigning religious order and diocesan priests to the protection of a monastery was well known in the United States.  Want an example? See the documents on Clement Hageman O.M.I. not being admitted to final vows.

The Holy See reacted to Father Fitzgerald’s warnings in line with tradition: The report was filed away in the Holy See’s Secret Archives and with no action.

The only published work about Father Fitzgerald, A Prophet for the Priesthood: A Spiritual Biography of Father Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald,  by Father John Hardon S.J., tip-toes around the issue of fallen priests.  Looking back, we know Father Fitzgerald was aware of the crime of stuprum (sex between an adult and a child) but there is no evidence he knew the work of Cardinal Peter Damien also warning the Holy See in the 11th century (Book of Gomorrah).  Neither was Father Fitzgerald was aware of the various instructions from the Holy See such as Cum sicut nuper (1561 AD), Universi dominici (1622 AD) or Sacramentum (1741 AD).

Knowingly, the Holy See allowed Father Fitzgerald from 1947-1968 to paddle upstream against the tradition of centuries of clear knowledge of priests molesting minors.  Tragically, the Holy See did not heed Father Fitzgerald’s warnings and removed him as Father General of the Servants of the Paraclete. He died in 1969.

Today we have criminal indictments of bishops, a conviction for vicars for clergy, a 2012 arrest of a priest I worked with in Saint Paul and ten diocese or religious order bankruptcies.  Despite the work of Father Fitzgerald, the tradition of child molesters in the ranks of Roman Catholic clergy is consistent and uninterrupted. Despite clear and consistent warnings from the most trusted clerical insiders within the tradition, the problem persists. Our vigilance must be even greater today than Father Fitzgerald warned the Holy See in 1962.

Happy anniversary, Holy See.

UPDATE: Click here for English translations of the documents.

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Filed under canon law, clergy abuse, Clergy Sex Abuse

Timeline of Philadelphia Archdiocese Child Sex Abuse Scandal

WHYY has created an interactive timeline of the Philadelphia Archdiocese child sex abuse scandal.

You can view it here.

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Follow the policy, break the law

Has anything in Roman Catholic Church changed when it comes to child protection?

At first blush I deeply want to be believe: yes. The faithful have endured 28 years of civil litigation, several grand jury reports, billions of dollars in settlements, and several high profile criminal trials. However, when I reviewed the most recent proceedings of the Canon Law Society at their 2011 convention in Jacksonville, Florida, my heart dropped.

Diane L. Barr JD, JCD (who is also the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore) presented a seminar, “Obligation of the Tribunal to Report Child Abuse“. Barr reviewed mandatory criminal child abuse reporting laws versus canonical responsibilities—that it, what “church law” says she should do.  She also discussed obligations to privacy, confidentiality and protecting the Diocese. No mention of victims or child protection.

Let’s get something straight: nowhere in the United States does Canon law trump federal, state, or local criminal or civil law. But apparently, Barr does not know that.

Lessons Learned? Eh … not really.

I mistakenly thought that history, common sense and legal knowledge would inform Barr’s recommendations for a model Tribunal policy for reporting child sexual abuse. I was wrong. Here was what she did present as the “proper procedure for abuse reporting”:

  • Step One: Notary brings information to the Judicial Vicar immediately.
  • Step Two: Judicial Vicar reviews information and contacts Youth and Child Protection representative (or diocesan attorney) to discuss further  action.
  • Step Three: Judicial Vicar calls person mentioning allegation and indicates that the person will be contacted by the Youth and Child protection representative (or diocesan attorney) to follow up and determine where to go with the allegation.
  • Step Four: Youth and Child Protection representative (or diocesan attorney) investigates and determines if reporting must be done.
Excuse me, Ms. Barr, but your presentation is flawed. According to the law in every state where there is mandatory reporting, a report must be made TO LAW ENFORCEMENT (not the boss, or the bishop, or the tribunal, or the office of Youth and Child protection) when the reporter, in his or her official capacity, suspects or has reasons to believe that a child has been abused or neglected.
In essence, if you follow Barr’s procedure above, a mandatory reporter is breaking the law.
This is insane and illegal.

After all these years, I offer a simple suggestion. Because the protection of children is a core belief of our society and the history of child protection in the Catholic Church is so pathetic, let’s be straight forward:

Call 911. Right now.


Filed under canon law, clergy abuse, Clergy Sex Abuse