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  Home :: 2006 December :: For bishops, sex, lies and sealed records

For 18 years,Richard Sipe belonged to the brotherhood of Catholic priests. For thelast 14, he has been helping their victims across America seek redressfrom men like Fort Worth Bishop Joseph Delaney – men who, as lastweek's unsealing of court records showed, have deceived their flocksand protected predators.

Time and again, people ask Mr. Sipe whymoral leaders would do these things. The San Diego-area researcherexplains with a little story, about a priest who challenged a bishopfor denying knowledge of a sexual abuse case.

"Look, Father," the bishop responded, "I only lie when I have to."

He"has to," Mr. Sipe says, if he thinks it will protect the church's goodname. And many shepherds equate "church" with themselves, not theirsheep.

"Clerical narcissism," Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea calls it.

"Theycall each other 'your excellency' and 'your eminence,' and they'reserious about it," says the Charlotte, N.C., psychologist, who treatssex-crime victims and has researched the Catholic hierarchyextensively. "They really are royalty. Truth is what they say it is."

Theseand other students of the Catholic Church's ongoing clergy abuse crisissee much familiar in the revelations about the Fort Worth CatholicDiocese, which resulted from a 19-month legal battle waged by The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Thematerial documents complaints of depravity against seven priests whoserved for years under the late Bishop Delaney: enticing little girlswith candy and older boys with booze; fondling kids as they preparedfor first communion; masturbating them behind the altar; abusing themwith enemas; attempting rape; raping. The bishop and his aides excusedmuch of it away, helping molesters stay in ministry and hiding it allfrom police.

The records build on findings that date to 1998, when The Newsreported that Bishop Delaney had hired two priests with histories ofquestionable conduct with boys in other states. He retained them afterthey were convicted of crimes there – the first for contributing to aminor's delinquency, the second for stealing from a parish and usingsome proceeds on tropical vacations with boys.

Bishop Delaneytold a judge that the first priest would not work again with boys, buthe did. The Rev. Thomas Teczar became a target in a Texas investigationof sexual abuse and left the state with the knowledge of the bishop,who died in 2005. Bishop Delaney gave The News conflicting accounts of the matter. Authorities said he wouldn't aid their investigation.

FatherTeczar faces a criminal trial in Eastland County in February. The FortWorth Diocese paid two of his victims a settlement totaling $4.15million last year.

Managing the fallout

Noneof this happened on new Bishop Kevin Vann's watch, yet he has beenstruggling to manage the fallout from the court records' unsealing.

Heapologized at a midweek news conference for what the abusers did butnot for the cover-ups that Bishop Delaney and his aides orchestrated."Not being here at the time those decisions were made, I can't say theyshould have done this or that," he said.

But Bishop Vann was doing exactly that by week's end, having come under fierce criticism from victims.

"I can't defend the indefensible," he told the Star-Telegram.He said he planned to talk to, but not discipline, four priests whohave been accused of enabling abusers or mistreating victims.

The Newsasked him repeatedly to talk about the general mindset of diocesanmanagers over the last quarter-century, when he was working his way upthe ladder in Springfield, Ill. What, he was asked, would explainputting a priest's career above children's safety?

Bishop Vann, who was a top bishop's aide in Illinois, would not answer.

There'sno good way to have that conversation without addressing the church'sbroader web of sexual secrecy, said Mr. Sipe, the former priest whoconsults on civil and criminal clergy-abuse cases. He is the co-author,with the Rev. Thomas Doyle and former priest Patrick Wall, of therecently published Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse.

Mostpriests and bishops don't abuse children, Mr. Sipe said. But many, hesaid, violate their vows of celibacy with adults and end up afraid tochallenge more serious misconduct.

"Celibacy is a myth," Mr. Sipe said. "And getting into this exposes a corrupt system."

BishopVann was surrounded by this culture in Springfield. An August 2006report commissioned by the diocese there and conducted by a formerfederal prosecutor found that:

• Previous Bishop Daniel Ryan"engaged in sexual misconduct with adults and used his authority toconceal this misconduct ... the investigation found a culture ofsecrecy fostered under Bishop Ryan's leadership which discouragedfaithful priests from coming forward with information about misconduct."

• A top aide to Bishop Ryan and the current bishop "was involved insexual misconduct" before two teens attacked him in a city park andnearly killed him. He has been removed from ministry.

• Two other high-ranking veteran priests "are now on leave because of allegations of personal and ministerial misconduct."

Thereport did not name four other priests who were implicated in financialmisconduct or using computers to access inappropriate Web sites,according to the Springfield State Journal-Register. They reportedly admitted wrongdoing and agreed to undergo rehabilitation.

Bishop Vann was not mentioned in the report.

"Ihave to be responsible now for making the right and just decisionsnow," he said at last week's news conference. "That's been theprinciple of all of my life. I've always tried to make the rightdecision wherever I've been."

There are other issues toconsider when trying to understand cover-ups like the ones in FortWorth, said Robert Scamardo, a lawyer who formerly worked for theArchdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

First, he said, is that bishops do not consider priests employees.

"Theanalogy is that of a parent to a child," said Mr. Scamardo, who spentyears in seminary but decided not to become a clergyman. "There is nogroup more important to a bishop than his priests."

Shortage of priests

Thechurch's increasingly dire shortage of priests reinforces that bond, hesaid. And even if a bishop finally concludes that a man should beremoved from the priesthood, the Vatican's expulsion process is longand cumbersome.

Charles Curran, who teaches moral theology atSouthern Methodist University and formerly worked as a priest, seesanother issue: Bishops tend to have more experience identifying withvictimizers than victims.

Bishops' "primary experience of peopledoing wrong is the sacrament of penance," or confession, he said. Inmany cases, the bishops dispense forgiveness and "there is noconsideration" of victims.

"This is the mindset."

And whydon't victims speak up more often and go to the police themselves?Because they are typically devout people steeped in church traditionsof secrecy and shame, said Mr. Scamardo, who was abused by a priest anda lay minister as a boy.

Instead of seeking justice via civilauthorities, he said, these victims hope for better from the verypeople who have betrayed them: "It's this childlike belief that thechurch is going to do the right thing. You've got to give that up."

Fouryears ago, at a landmark meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas, Dr.Frawley-O'Dea told Bishop Delaney and his brothers from around thecountry that secrecy was the "cornerstone of sexual abuse." They mustall do penance – make "genuine confessions of failings and remorse,"she said at the time.

She was the only mental health professionalinvited to address the bishops' gathering, which produced "zerotolerance" reforms and vows of increased transparency.

The bishops were in free-fall at the time. The Boston Globe had gotten court records unsealed that showed a pattern of violation and concealment much like that now emerging in Fort Worth. The News showed that at least two-thirds of U.S. bishops had left priests on the job after accusations of sexual misconduct.

TheRev. Wilton Gregory, who was president of the bishops' conference,praised Dr. Frawley-O'Dea at the time and pledged a new day of"openness, forthrightness and courage."

It hasn't happened, shesaid, citing the recent events in Fort Worth as but one example: Afterthe Dallas promises, the diocese fought to keep the priests' filessealed, then fumbled in the aftermath.

"The transparency promise was bull," said Dr. Frawley-O'Dea, author of the forthcoming book Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church. Even now, "whenever they come to a crossroads, they take the wrong turn."



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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia