Tag Archives: Joelle casteix

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

So much for “it was a thing of the past”: Active Clergy Criminal Cases

With the beginning of the clergy sex abuse and cover-up criminal trial in Philadelphia, as well as the recent guilty plea from Orange County (CA) priest Denis Lyons, I wanted to post a list of all of the currently active clergy criminal cases in the United States. If I have missed any, let me know. All of these are for sexual abuse or conspiracy to commit abuse, except for Fr. McCloskey in Albany. He was charged with fleeing from the police, reckless driving and auto theft.


Filed under Background Information, clergy abuse, Clergy Sex Abuse

THE CELTIC DIABLO: Reverend Brendan Smyth O.Prae

John Gerard Smyth joined the Norbertine Fathers in Northern Ireland in 1945 where he was given the religious name of Brendan to symbolize his total conversion to Christ.  The hundreds of children Brendan raped and sodomized would likely have a different name for him: The Celtic Diablo.

The Celtic Diablo sexually abused children in county Cavan, Belfast, Dublin, Scotland, Wales, Providence Rhode Island, Langdon North Dakota and anywhere he heard confessions – his primary access point to abuse children.

But there was a whistleblower. Father Bruno Mulvihill O.Prae.–beginning when he was a novice at Kilnacrott Abbey–told his Norbertine superiors in 1964 that Brendan Smyth was abusing altar boys.  Norbertine officials disregarded that warning and instead sent Brendan to Providence, RI, where he went on to hear more confessions and abuse more children.

Solicitation in the confessional (crimens sollicitationis) is one of the most ancient, consistent and unabated crimes particular to Roman Catholicism.  But little has changed: Even with all the documented history of children being abused in the confessional, last week Benedict XVI reaffirmed the need for Catholics to go to private confession, where the priest represents Christ and has the divine power to forgive sins. No where else but the confessional can a child perpetrator find a forum where the power differential is so great and the policy of secrecy pervades.

Like many priest perpetrators, Fr. Brendan Smyth O.Prae. was intentionally shuffled across dioceses, countries and continents. But Father Bruno Mulvihill O.Prae. remained on his tail. He spent his career reporting Smyth’s crimes to his own priors in Ireland, abbots in California, bishops in Ireland, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland and finally to Rome. In no other case has a priest dedicated himself to protecting children from a single serial predator.

While his actions did not get results, his efforts may not have been in vain.

Because of Mulvihill and decades of litigation in Ireland and the United States, we now know that Rome and the Congregation for Religious knew Smyth was a child molester as early as 1964.  Cardinal Sean Brady J.C.D. (Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland) conducted a canonical investigation and is keeping evidence under the “pontifical secret” while the public and Smyth’s victims await his production of the documents.

But we know this much so far: Not once but twice Brendan Smyth had his faculties to hear confessions rescinded because he was molesting kids.  What did the Abbots, Bishops and Papal Nuncio do?  They transferred him to parishes, dioceses and countries where no one knew about his past and no one could protect their children.

Reverend Brendan Smyth O.Prae. was finally arrested in 1991 and died in prison in 1997. But his superiors are still covering up for him and the men who protected him.

Who is the real Diablo?

Brendan Smyth was a monster, but the men who covered up for him are just as guilty. We know who they are because Father Bruno Mulvihill kept extensive documentation of every person he reported to about Smyth’s crimes. Although many of these men are deceased, the victims are still alive and still suffering. The more we know about what these men covered-up, the more we can help victims by holding responsible parties accountable.

The circle of eleven to remember:


Filed under canon law, clergy abuse, Clergy Sex Abuse

Castration vs. Isolation

Recently, German and Moldovan lawmakers have openly discussed using chemical castration as a viable treatment option for sex offenders.  Because the offender will no longer be able to act on his desires (and in many cases will lose sexual desire altogether), castration is offered as one option to prevent recidivism, or repeat offenses.

This topic deserves further discussion.

Roman Catholic Church has centuries of experience and could aid the discussion. Unlike any other institution, the church has trained psychiatrists and psychologists who specialize in child predators; has operated predator treatment facilities; and has sponsored internal studies where child predators were carefully evaluated, recidivism was discussed and chemical castration was practiced.

The Roman Catholic Church has grappled for years with the question of what to do with bishops, priests, religious and employees after they have sexually abused minors.  Thousands of pages of internal church documents outline topics like: “Post Treatment Options”, “What to do with the unassignable” and, “Where to place those given a sentence by a church court of a life of prayer and penance”.

Whatever the pithy phrase employed, the church has intensely studied the problem of predator clerics for nearly a century.

In the early 20th century, Reverend Thomas Verner Moore M.D. studied the causes behind the high rates of insanity amongst the clergy, including the driving forces of human nature.  Another early pioneer in treating child molesting clergy was Dr. Leo Bartemeirer M.D. at the Seton Institute.

On the west coast, the Servants of the Paraclete and Reverend Gerald Fitzgerald S.P., treated molesting priests with depo-provera as a form of chemical castration.  Fitzgerald surmised that if you turned off a predator’s sex drive, he would not be sexually attracted to children.  Depo-provera use continued into the 1990s where Father Stephen Rossetti Ph.D. makes mention of depo-provera at the Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, MD.

None of these institutions have had great success.

Experience has taught me that chemical castration of clerical sex offenders of minors is only effective for a small few.  For the clerics I have known or interviewed, the causes and composition of their sexual attraction to children are very complex.  According to Father Cannice Connors O.F.M. who ran the Southdown treatment facility in Canada and the Saint Luke Institute for three decades, the causes and composition of clerical sex offenders are more than bio-chemical.  It surely is not a “software” issue, only requiring a “reboot” of the clerics hard drive.  Complex clerical criminals such as Gilbert Gauthe, Oliver Francis O’Grady or Donald J. McGuire S.J. are cunning and calculating. In fact, even Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, S.P. calls them “Vipers.”

Ockham’s Razor – Isolate Sex Offenders from Target Population

William of Ockham’s (also known as Occam’s) Razor, or principle of economy, states that the simplest answer to a highly complex question is often the best answer.  Using that methodology, the answer for keeping children safe is simple: isolate sex offenders from their target population. Chemical castration is complex, difficult to maintain, and must be carefully monitored.  Its success rate is poor.

The simplest answer? Complete isolation where there is no possibility of predators have any access to their target population. The children of today and tomorrow are worth it.


Filed under canon law, catholic, clergy abuse, Clergy Sex Abuse

Let’s Have A Chat About Perpetrator Treatment Centers and Medical Records

I was honored when I was asked to present at next week’s Law and Religion Scholars Network Conference at Cardiff University School of Law in Wales.   The Center for Law and Religion, a think tank based at the school, has hosted some of the world’s leading scholars on the rapidly intertwining subjects of law, religious organizations and sexual abuse.

They tapped me to speak about a long-running and fascinating topic in my case load: medical records of clerics who have been accused of sexually abusing children.  I’ll also discuss Catholic Church-run perpetrator treatment centers on the European continent and the new facility imported from the United States Catholic Bishops: The Saint Luke Institute.

Some of the issues I’ll cover:

  • What are abuse victims’ legal rights regarding clerics’ medical records from church-run treatment facilities?
  • The church’s notion of “good name” versus the public need for safety and child protection, and
  • Recent legal developments regarding the medical records of clerics who have been accused of the sexual abuse of minors.

Then I’ll address some recent church practices, including:

  • What have bishops or their staff done upon discovering a cleric has been sent to a medical facility?
  • What do they do when they discover medical records for perpetrator treatment in a cleric’s personnel file?
  • When a bishop or his staff comes to the conclusion that a cleric would benefit from psychological assessment or a leave of absence to attend an in-house treatment program, how are clerics convinced to go?
  • After a cleric has been sent for assessment and/or residential treatment, how do bishops handle the medical records? How do they determine who owns the records?  How do they view doctor/patient privacy? How do they keep the records out of the reach of prosecutors?

If you find yourself in Wales next week, be sure to drop by.


Filed under Uncategorized