The Catholic Church has not been a stranger to allegations of child sexual abuse. In fact, catholic diocese across the country have made settlement payments to survivors who were abused at the hands of the priests within the church. Up until the 1960s, there was very little discussion about the sexual abuse of minors at the hands of the priests. One of the first discussions took place in 1967 on the University of Notre Dame campus. All United States Catholic Bishops were invited.
The problem was one that was known and can be traced back further than that meeting in 1967. Catholic Bishops had been sending sexually abusive priests to facilities like Servants of the Paraclete since the 1950s. The Servants of the Paraclete were formed as a congregation of men who were dedicated to the ministry and to priests who were dealing with personal issues.
The Dallas Charter
When the first major allegations of clergy abuse hit the Roman Catholic dioceses at the beginning of 2000, the Bishops in the United States created The Dallas Charter. The Dallas Charter is the baseline for sexual abuse reporting, training, and other procedures to prevent child abuse in the clergy. At that time, lawyers advised every diocese to be transparent about the allegations and name priests who had been accused and, in many of the cases, let them go.
Many of the dioceses did not heed the advice of the lawyers. Instead, they chose to withhold the names of these priests. Over the next few years, dioceses released lists, either voluntarily or as part of a lawsuit or bankruptcy proceeding. A canon lawyer, Rev. Thomas Doyle, stated that The Dallas Charter was supposed to fix everything, but that is not what happened. He had tried to warn of widespread abuse to the bishops and that it was their job to “clean house.”
Laicized and Defrocked
While the terms essentially mean the same thing, defrocked is considered forceful laicization for misconduct on the part of a priest. Laicization on its own is a neutral term used to describe a priest requesting to be released from their ordination vows. There is one problem with the laicization and defrocking process, though. When these priests leave the church, they are no longer tracked or monitored.
Being acknowledged as a sexual predator within the Catholic church is different than being convicted. Predators who are convicted are placed on a registry and not allowed to live within so many feet of a school or interact with children. Problems with the release of the lists from The Dallas Charter saw instances where clergy members were defrocked or laicized in the early 2000s because of their involvement, but some lists were not released until the 2010s. Many of these priests found jobs in roles that put them in the direct paths of children. In many background checks, an unprosecuted allegation is rarely a reason to dismiss an applicant’s application.
Remaining in the Church
Although most of these priests are removed from their position of power, they may have the chance to remain in the church, but at a cost. Those who remain within the church are subjected to restrictions and intrusive monitoring. It is the only way that the church keeps track of where the accused priests are and can prevent them from being within range of children. Chicago’s Archdiocese’s prayer and penance program not only monitors the priests, but they track their phones and usage, require daily logs of where they go, track internet usage, and check their financials. Every month they are required to meet in person with their manager twice. If compliant with the program, they will get the honor of “dying a priest.”
Bankruptcy and the Catholic Church
To cover their own assets, the Roman Catholic diocese has been using Chapter 11 bankruptcy to cover the abuse lawsuits faced across the country. With the “every state for themselves” mentality, the most recent diocese to file bankruptcy amidst the child sexual abuse allegations is the New York Catholic diocese.
In August, New York state passed the Child Victims Act, which temporarily allows victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits that would normally fall under the statute of limitations. In a wave of over 200 lawsuits filed by childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse, the diocese filed their bankruptcy petition at the end of September.
Prior to the New York diocese filing its bankruptcy, a total of 27 Catholic religious organizations had sought out protection under the cloak of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Of these cases, 19 have concluded, and eight were pending as of June 2020.
- Archdiocese of Portland (2004)
- Archdiocese of Tucson (2004)
- Diocese of Spokane (2004)
- Diocese of Davenport (2006)
- Diocese of San Diego (2007)
- Archdiocese of Fairbanks (2008)
- Diocese of Wilmington (2008)
- Society of Jesus, Oregon Province (2009)
- Archdiocese of Milwaukee (2011)
- Christian Brothers of New York (2011)
- Diocese of Gallup (2014)
- Diocese of Helena (2014)
- Diocese of Stockton (2014)
- Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (2015)
- Diocese of Duluth (2015)
- Crosier Fathers and Brothers (2017)
- Diocese of Great Falls-Billings (2017)
- Diocese of New Ulm (2017)
- Archdiocese of Santa Fe (2018)
- Diocese of Winona-Rochester (2018)
- Archdiocese of Agana (2019)
- Diocese of Rochester, NY (2019)
- Diocese of Harrisburg (2020)
- Diocese of Buffalo (2020)
- Archdiocese of New Orleans (2020)
The restructuring of the first 19 are already in effect, many with monetary values set aside by the church for those victims of the lawsuits filed.
The Catholic Church and Vatican Involvement
In March 2020, an investigation was conducted by ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle. The published investigation proved that the Catholic Church was responsible for transferring more than 50 United States clergy members to other countries despite the credibility of the sexual abuse allegations against those priests.
The Holy See Secretariat of State published a report in November 2020 that confirmed Pope John Paul II was made aware of the sexual abuse allegations made against Theodore McCarrick, but he did not believe them. The report also showed that further allegations were made against McCarrick, but Benedict XVI made little effort to stop them. While the report absolved Pope Francis from blame, it did place it on both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI for McCarrick’s rise in power even though both men were aware of the sex abuse allegations made against him.
Theodore McCarrick was ordained into the priesthood by Cardinal Francis Spellman, the Archbishop of New York, in 1958. In 1977, McCarrick was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of New York and Titular Bishop of Rusibisir by Pope Paul VI. As an auxiliary to Cardinal Cooke, he also served as vicar of East Manhattan and the Harlems.
In 1981, McCarrick was appointed the first Bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. He was installed at St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral in January 1982. In 1986, he was appointed the fourth Archbishop of Newark. In 2000, Pope John Paul II appointed McCarrick to be the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and in February 2001, Pope John Paul II made him a Cardinal.
The allegations of his sexual misconduct with children can be dated back to a letter that was sent to bishop Edward T. Hughes, McCarrick’s successor in New Jersey, stating that he had been sexually abused by McCarrick. These are not the only allegations that came out over the years regarding McCarrick’s actions.
Between 2005 and 2007, the Diocese of Metuchen and the Archdiocese of Newark paid two settlements totaling $180,000 for the abuse inflicted by McCarrick. In 2005 the Archdiocese of Newark and the Dioceses of Trenton and Metuchen paid a total of $80,000 for sexual abuse allegations on McCarrick and another teacher. The contribution from Metuchen for that settlement was for the involvement of the teacher who had been accused of sexual abuse, not for McCarrick.
In 2006, $100,000 was paid by the diocese where McCarrick spent 1981 to 1986. Then-current Metuchen bishop Paul G. Bootkoski authorized the payments and notified law enforcement of the allegations. This prompted a look at the 2005 and 2007 settlement payments.
In February 2020, the Vatican became formally involved in the investigation against the former Cardinal.
McCarrick was laicized from his church duties in 2018 and was last reported to be living in prayer and penance at one of the dioceses. Since the exposure of McCarrick, many more of his victims have stepped forward.
TorkLaw Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawyers
If you or a loved one have been a sexual abuse victim to the clergy, our law offices are ready to hear your case. Lawsuits against priests and the dioceses that harbored them are being faced with lawsuits every day because many cases go unheard. We want to help change this by pursuing those priests who are guilty of sexual abuse against their child patrons.
Our case consultations are FREE and confidential. The number to call to begin your clergy sexual abuse case evaluation is 888.845.9696. We are available 24 hours a day and seven days a week to help you.