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  Home :: Articles :: It's Time For A RICO Prosecution of the Catholic Church:
It's Time For A RICO Prosecution of the Catholic Church:
Governor Keating's Forced Resignation Shows the Church Will Not Reform Itself
Thursday, Jun. 19, 2003

Recently, Governor Frank Keating, a former federal prosecutor,compared the Catholic Church's instinct for secrecy to that of La CosaNostra. He plainly hit a nerve:

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles called for his resignation.

Keatinghas been the one pure voice for truth in the Church since the scandalbegan. Mahony is the Cardinal who has refused to cooperate with LosAngeles prosecutors, or even to fill out the anonymous questionnaireintended to help the Church itself assess the scandal.

Tragically,Keating lost the fight; and Mahony won. The members of Keating's ownoversight committee for the Church, the lay National Review Board,joined Mahony in calling for his resignation.

Worse,rather than mounting a defense of Keating, the Church allowed him to beforced out. And it did so knowing full well the public was watchingparticularly closely, for the Bishops were getting ready for theirannual meeting. The message could not have been clearer: True internalChurch reform is not going to happen. Clear-eyed critics like Keatingwill be shown the door.

Keating now no longer heads theBoard. In his gutsy resignation letter, he stuck to his guns: "Myremarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. Imake no apology. . . . To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress thenames of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away;that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church."

Whydid Keating's remarks so deeply anger the Church? The answer is thatthis reference touched on the Church's own worst, and likelyunacknowledged, nightmare: that it is in fact corrupt and that thefederal RICO (Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations)statute might be used against it

That prospect is not asunlikely as the statute's title may indicate. RICO has not only beenused against the mafia; it has also been used to target apparentlylegitimate organizations, such as corrupt labor unions, as well. It isnow time to use it against the Catholic Church.

Why the Analogy to La Cosa Nostra Was Apt

Imagine a large, wealthy, and hierarchical organization that persistsin believing it is above the law. Over many decades, the organizationhas employed a tradition of blood brother secrecy to keep its illegalactions from being analyzed or criticized in the press, or prosecutedand punished by legal authorities. It employs powerful, adept, andhighly-paid lawyers, and resists judicial process whenever it can.

Meanwhile,the organization's leaders are united in a secret bond that requiresthem to do whatever it takes to protect the organization from scandal.For them, the cover-up of serious crimes is a way of life, a feature oftheir everyday business.

Those who believe Keating'sanalogy was overstated, or unfair, should consider that thisdescription fits both the Mafia, and the Catholic Church's approach tochild abuse by its own clergy.

Of course, one mightobject that there are differences between the two institutions. Mostobviously, the Mafia is in the primary business of murder and othercrime; the Church's primary business has nothing to do with sexualabuse, though it was an accessory to it numerous times over the years.

Butthat difference doesn't matter, under RICO: Labor unions aren't in theprimary business of crime, and they still face RICO prosecutions.Indeed, one major target of RICO is the takeover of a legitimate organization by criminal elements.

Onemight also object that the harms the Mafia wreaks are greater thanthose the Church has wrought. But that is a dangerous, and in some way,useless comparison to make: Both institutions have done grievousdamage.

Evidence by now has shown that numerous priestsin the United States have used their position of trust and power inorder to sexually victimize children repeatedly. Those children, manyof whom are now adults, have suffered lifelong tortures.

Somehave therefore said, correctly so, that the Church has been engaged inthe knowing murder of young souls. Years after the physical abuse ends,those souls continue to search for faith and for God within a darkcloud of crushed beliefs and shame.

Their suffering mustfinally be taken seriously. To disparage it by saying that it isn't"like murder," and thus that the Church is unlike the Mafia, profits noone.

And in any event, the Church need not be the twin ofLa Cosa Nostra to properly face prosecution under the RICO statute. Allit needs to be is what it is: An organization that has repeatedly beenused to perpetrate and cover-up serious crimes, including obstructionof justice.

It's High Time For a RICO Prosecution of the Church

RICOis needed, because local prosecutions are not going to suffice. Somebrave local and county prosecutors are going after the Church's crimesin the interests of the children who have been hurt so terribly. Butothers foolishly continue to trust the Church to set things rightitself - something it has had the opportunity to do for decades, andnever really tried, let alone succeeded in.

Instead, foryears, the Church told the newspapers not to report the stories and theprosecutors not to charge the perpetrators and the parents not toreport the crimes, because they would take care of it. But they did nottake care of it. They simply let the suffering, and the scandal, andthe evil fester. So why does anyone believe it can be trusted, now, toeffect meaningful internal reforms?

Scattershot local prosecutions cannot by themselves bring the Church to full confrontation with its institutionalproblem. As in the game of whack-a-mole, the Church has adopted astrategy of using whatever legal means are at its disposal to try toforce its problems back underground. Apparently, it hopes that, at somepoint, it will be able to put down the mallet and wander off to themerry-go-round.

A federal RICO prosecution would force theChurch to confront its problems more directly by forcing it to face afederal prosecutorial juggernaut, as opposed to isolated local actions.While worthwhile, commendable, and necessary, these local prosecutionsare not enough to prompt the thoroughgoing national, institutionalreforms needed.

After all, this is a scandal of nationalproportions. It affects children in many cities and states. The Churchis a national - indeed, an international - and not a local institution.Yet, neither the Department of Justice, nor the local United StatesAttorneys' Offices, have, to my knowledge, so much as held a newsconference.

When the Bush Administration recently - afterthe Elizabeth Smart kidnapping - pushed legislation to institute anational Amber alert system, the Administration recognized that childabuse is not an isolated problem; it affects all fifty states.Meanwhile, the Administration is pushing for educational reform in thepublic schools via federal legislation and the private schools viavouchers - seeing, once again, a federal interest implicated in anissue that affects children across the nation.

But now,when it comes to the Church, the Administration hypocritically pretendsthat the nation's children's interests are no longer of federalconcern. In so doing, it has left a nation's worth of children behind -when it had vowed not to leave behind even one.

That may bea serious miscalculation. The votes of Catholics are powerful, but theywill not always align with the views of the Church hierarchy. ManyCatholics support Church reform precisely because they are devout, andthey love the Church, and not those who have betrayed its mission.

TheAdministration may well have severely underestimated the hunger of theAmerican people--Catholic and otherwise--for justice in this instance.Citizens believe deeply in the rule of law, justice, and fairness. Andthere are few kinds of conduct more despicable, to the vast majority ofAmericans, than allowing predatory pedophiles to victimize trustingchildren, again and again.

Thus, if the Administrationever does the right thing, and uses the RICO statute to go after theChurch, it may find that it has done the politically advantageous thingas well. Conversely, if it fails to employ RICO, and the Churchcontinues its intransigence, the Administration may feel the heat fromcitizens, parents, and others come election time.


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia