The FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. A rogue's gallery of murderers, drug dealers and more. To give you an idea of the level of villainy represented on the list -- Osama Bin Laden is on it.
When a fugitive on the list is apprehended, it's a cause for celebration at the Bureau. Such a banner day was April 23, when Michael Scott Bliss was captured in Los Angeles.
And what was his crime? Michael Scott Bliss was a pedophile.
Over the course of about a year, Bliss repeatedly molested a 9-year-old New Hampshire girl, and occasionally videotaped their "sessions." In some instances, he took the girl across state lines, making his crimes subject to federal prosecution. Based on federal sentencing guidelines, Bliss will face at least 15 years in jail, and possibly more.
But despite his Most Wanted status, Michael Scott Bliss did not make big headlines upon his arrest. No, the media was preoccupied with a pedophilia scandal in which the perpetrator was not some shabby, deliberate stranger; the perpetrator was the Roman Catholic Church.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people.-- Ephesians 5:3
The current storm shaking the foundation of American Catholicism started as a foul wind during the recent trial of defrocked priest John Geoghan, who was convicted of fondling a then-10-year-old boy back in 1991. Over the course of the trial, however, it was brought to the public's attention that over 130 people had brought accusations of sexual abuse against Geoghan during his 30 years of ministry. Prior to Geoghan's January conviction, the Catholic Church had paid out $10 million in civil suits filed by 50 different plaintiffs. There are still two criminal cases and an additional 84 civil suits to be heard against Geoghan.
Geoghan's crimes, however, were just the beginning. In April, the family of Greg Ford filed a lawsuit against another retired priest, Fr. Paul Shanley. Prosecutors filed a subpoena against the Boston Archdiocese, forcing the release of internal documents which provided background information on Shanley, who had been transferred to California (with the archdiocese's endorsement) in 1990.
According to the diocese's documents, which included Shanley's own diary, he addressed the first meeting in Boston of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), publicly endorsed sexual relations between men and boys, and admitted teaching teens the proper way to inject drugs. The damning revelations of these documents and Shanley's own diary proved sufficient evidence to the San Diego Police Department; Shanley was arrested on May 2 on charges of three counts of raping a child by force.
Michael Scott Bliss fit the stereotype of the criminal predator perfectly: a loner, moving from state to state and job to job, with a previous jail term for assaulting a young boy. Appallingly, Fr. Geoghan and Fr. Shanley were much the same. The biggest difference is, they weren't loners. They were aided and abetted with the full knowledge of their superior, Cardinal Bernard Law. The same documents which indict Shanley indict Law, who moved both Shanley and Geoghan from parish to parish -- job to job. Law kept both men's history of sexual abuse close to the frock, providing them with new, unwitting parishoners. While Cardinal Law may not have been fondling little boys, he was -- by allowing two priests with histories of sexual abuse to hold active ministry -- guilty by association.
In 1984, a story broke out of Louisiana about a priest named Gilbert Gauthe, who was on trial for child molestation. He was convicted and in 1986 he was sentenced to 20 years for sexually abusing 11 altar boys. Over the course of the trial he admitted to molesting "dozens more." The Gauthe trial became the impetus for two devout Catholic men -- one a priest, one a reporter -- to put pen to paper.
Father Michael Peterson was a gay priest who had left parish work to establish a treatment and retreat center for priests who were struggling with personal sexual issues. In an internal report to senior church officials, Fr. Peterson outlines the potentially devastating effects if additional cases similar to that of Gauthe come to light. Peterson outlines a variety of likely scenarios, and how he believes the church must act to minimize damage, and to treat both the victim of the abuse and the abuser.
At the same time, Jason Berry, a reporter in New Orleans, began delving deeper into the Gauthe story, trying to understand why a priest would allow himself to act on such unholy urges. But instead of insight, Berry discovered deeper and deeper layers of subterfuge, and additional accounts of pedophilia and sexual abuse within the Catholic Church emerge. Berry's research was proving Peterson right on all counts -- the sheer number of incidents of abuse, the money involved to settle civil suits quietly, and the church's fundamental desire to sweep the issue under the rug.
That desire is unchanged. In direct response to the Geoghan case, the Vatican issued the following rules on handling cases of sexual abuse by priests: "Bishops are now required to report probable cases of sexual misconduct directly to the Vatican which will carry out a discreet investigation. The new rules also call for the cases to be handled by Vatican courts which are staffed by priests only."
That was in January. Since then, following the addition of the Shanley case, the calls for the resignation of Cardinal Law, and a preponderance of new accusations against priests across the country, the Vatican summoned 12 out of 13 U.S. Cardinals to Rome to address the problem. After three days of deliberations, what was decided? Not a damned thing. Not even an apology to those who have been victimized. Cardinal Law remains head of the Boston Archdiocese. And only days after their return, the cardinals are distancing themselves from a suggested "zero tolerance" policy for priests who sexually abuse children.
The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God. Those are the words of "His Holiness" Pope John Paul II.
"A crime by society," and still the Catholic Church pays out hush money and shelters its priests from prosecution. "By every standard wrong," and still the Vatican allows pedophile priests and their quiet accomplices to pretend to be moral compasses for young and old. "An appalling sin in the eyes of God," and the Church neither apologizes nor begs forgiveness.
If the Holy Father of the Church will not be accountable, then who will?
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.10.02 @ 7:18a
I wonder if it will actually have any long lasting effects on the Catholic Church. There are those wonderful concepts of confession and atonement that make almost anything forgiveable, providing you've been given the right penance.
My grandmother was scandalized by this whole sex-in-the-priesthood thing, so she figured she would help out and gave herself a penance: no chocolate except on Sundays.
5.10.02 @ 12:31p
I believe it to be nearly unforgivable to force yourself on a child who barely has a concept of what parts of their body do what, much less of sex. This is really one of those situations where, human or not, if anyone is expected to ask themselves What Would Jesus Do, it's priests. If they fail to uphold the covenants established and agreed to, then they should tumble from the alter and spend time in the pews like the rest of us.
5.10.02 @ 3:16p
The biggest obstacle in this column was knowing where to stop. Every link revealed a dozen other links to a dozen other cases. Whatever the (mainstream) media's showing, it only scratches the surface, and it's not overstating the problem to call it an epidemic. The number of allegations is staggering. That the RCC is doing very little beyond a lot of public hand-wringing is appalling.
5.15.02 @ 10:54a
Ya know, here it is, a few days later, and the scandal is still so fresh. Many of my Catholic friends are in an uproar over bishops and cardinals hiding these people rather than helping them and, more importantly, helping the children, by turning the perps in.
Do you think the protection is mainly because the Catholic church is losing attendance? I know it's been documented that church attendance rose after 9/11, but not enough to resurrect the masses.
So to speak.
5.15.02 @ 11:36a
And here's the latest from the Washington Post:
A Roman Catholic priest was shot outside his Baltimore home Monday night by a man who had accused the priest nine years ago of fondling him in his church office, police said yesterday. It is apparently the first incident of violence against a priest associated with the church's growing sex abuse scandal.
I'm not saying this is a great way to deal with the problem, but I'd be surprised if only one person comes up with this "solution."
5.15.02 @ 11:52a
Tracey: Are you asking, "Is the RCC protecting these priests, etc., to attempt to minimize the damage, and so prevent a mass exodus?" (pun intended, and it's tougher than you know to be witty here)
The only flaw I see there is that these abuses have been going on for decades in some cases -- and so has the protection. And while I think media manipulation has fueled the scandal, the RCC did itself a disservice by protecting too much...allowing the burdens of both victims and perpetrators to build up pressure until the whole thing erupted. That's why I mentioned Fr. Peterson, who warned against doing that very thing.
Cardinal Law's been giving his deposition since last week...this isn't going away any time soon. And yeah, thanks to the guy in Balmer, it's not just rape and child abuse, it's attempted murder. My guess is, someone already *has* come up with this solution, somewhere in the past, but no one's put it together yet. Find me a murdered priest, and suddenly there's a new list of suspects with a motive.
Sounds like a Jilly Sant'Angelo mystery to me.
michelle von euw
5.15.02 @ 4:00p
My opinion is that the RCC is protecting priests because that's their MO. The system is one of secrecy, sheltering their own guys at the expense of the innocent, and remaining entrenched within a heirarchical structure that violates the very principles upon which the church was originally founded.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to exist due to the devotion of people who are either completely entrenched in the system that they can't believe anything but it; and people who have become very good at "ignorning Rome" while focusing solely on the good within their own parish and daily Catholic-based experiences.
5.15.02 @ 4:17p
My opinion is that the RCC is protecting priests because that's their MO. The system is one of secrecy, sheltering their own guys at the expense of the innocent....
Let's go one farther, then: Does the RCC's past track record on this issue then encourage men with predilections toward these abuses to join the ranks of the priesthood, in the expectation that while their actions may not be condoned, they won't be punished, either...and may in fact be aided and abetted by their superiors?
5.15.02 @ 4:27p
I wouldn't go that far. It seems like a troublesome, risky, and expensive way to feed a loathsome habit.
Jilly Santangelo would definitely be on the case.
5.22.02 @ 9:52a
Did anyone see Dennis Miller this weekend discussing this very topic? Whoo-wee, I love it when he gets teed off.
12.13.02 @ 10:48a
Seven months later, an update: Paul Shanley was released on bail on Wednesday, and this morning Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as head of the Boston Archdiocese.
Meanwhile the Archdiocese continues to contemplate seeking bankruptcy protection as a means of keeping the church out of court, limiting the number of new claims which can be filed (currently active claims: about 450), and consolidating (any eventual) settlements into a standardized figure. At the same time, more details are coming to light about just how insidious and rampant these behaviors have been, for decades.
And still, the Vatican mumbles everything but apologies.
12.13.02 @ 11:22p
The Vatican cover-up doesn't surprise me. With the level of wealth amassed by the church over the centuries, the fact they are trying to protect themselves via bankruptcy seems ludicrous. What surprises me more is the fact more allegations aren't popping up worldwide.
8.23.03 @ 7:14p
New update: John Geoghan was murdered in prison today by a fellow inmate.
2.7.05 @ 8:44p
Nearly a year and a half later, another update: Fr. Paul Shanley was convicted today on four counts of raping and fondling a young boy during his tenure at a Boston parish during the 1980s. Shanley faces up two two life sentences; he will be sentenced next week. Here's the story.