Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Long Lent Explodes in Los Angeles

I've been home the last week for my 30-year high school reunion.

The headline in Sunday's (Los Angeles) Daily News:
Sins of the fathers to cost church $660 million

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles will pay a historic $660 million to more than 500 victims who were abused by clergy during the past 70 years, sources said late Saturday.

In what would be the largest payout in the church's sex-abuse scandal, sources close to the archdiocese and a lawyer for the victims said Saturday that terms of a settlement are being worked out this weekend. If the agreement holds, each victim would receive between $1.2 million and $1.3 million.

The news came just two days before the first of more than 500 clergy abuse cases is scheduled for trial jury selection Monday.

Ray Boucher, attorney and negotiator for the victims, confirmed late Saturday that a settlement had been reached, but he declined to provide specifics.

He said a news release will be issued today (Sunday) about the formal announcement of the settlement, which will take place on Monday morning.

A source close to the archdiocese confirmed to the Daily News that an agreement had been reached but said details and legal language were still being hammered out.
Read it all here.

This has been the story in LA ever since. The Daily News' front page on Monday and Tuesday remained focussed on this $660 million settlement. Monday:
Mahony's mea culpa
Cardinal offers apologies to sexual-abuse victims; claimants doubt sincerity

Calling sexual abuse by clergy a "terrible sin and crime," Cardinal Roger Mahony apologized Sunday to hundreds of people who claim they were molested by priests in the nation's largest archdiocese.

The apology came during a news conference following Sunday Mass and a day after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay a record $660 million in a settlement with 508 victims.

"There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them," Mahony said. "The one thing I wish I could give the victims ... I cannot.

"Once again, I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused. It should not have happened and it will not happen again."

Mahony said he has met with dozens of victims of clergy abuse in the past 14 months and those meetings helped him understand the importance of a quick resolution to the lawsuits.

The cardinal is scheduled to be in court this morning to go over the final settlement. He said the church's decision to settle on the eve of the trials - which were set to begin today - had nothing to do with keeping him from testifying.
Read it all here.

We're reading notes from an interview with Cardinal Mahoney (which apparently upset His Eminence), stories about victims, and questions about the Cardinal's future. That last links concludes ominously:
Meanwhile, with the civil case now settled, it appears a criminal case isn't out of the question. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley issued a statement Monday afternoon making that clear.

"Today's massive civil settlement highlights the institutional moral failure of the archdiocese to supervise predatory priests who operated for years under its jurisdiction," he said.

Regarding confidential documents that could be released as a result of Monday's settlement, Cooley said, "If these documents reveal evidence of criminal activity on behalf of individual priests or anyone else, we will pursue them.

"The book is not closed on our investigation."
I can hardly wait to see tomorrow morning's paper.

Meanwhile, LA's talk radio is blistering the Cardinal Archbishop, at least on KFI (where John and Ken seem to have nothing good to say about the Church) and KABC (where the usually common sense Larry Elder is beside himself over Cardinal Mahoney still having a job).

What the people of Los Angeles are not hearing or reading about is the outrage among faithful Catholics that dates to the beginning of the sexual abuse scandal, which blew open in January 2002 in Boston and then spread across the nation. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things was calling this the "Long Lent" back in 2002. At one point he wrote:
I have said it before: we have probably not yet felt the full fury of the storm aroused by the grave misgovernment of the Catholic Church in America. I do not want to write about this, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do not want to read about it. Since all this broke in January, I have given no less than thirty hours per week to the subject, talking with endless reporters, and doing radio interviews. (I’ve been turning down as many as half a dozen television interviews per day, because they take so much time in traveling to studios, and mainly because most of them provide an opportunity for no more than a few sound bites and a food fight.) Please, I’m not whining. It is just to say I’m weary of the subject, but recognize the probability that it will not let us go.

For weeks now, the media have been in a feeding frenzy. I do not say that in criticism of the media. Let it be stated unambiguously: the leaders of the Catholic Church, meaning mainly the bishops, are responsible for the crisis and for the consequent frenzy. Of course some reporting is sensationalistic, and of course it is amusing to see the New York Times, day after day, running essentially the same story on the front page, as though they’re afraid people are going to forget about it. But, regrettably, there are also new developments, and no doubt will be more, that legitimate the major attention paid.

There is this difference: for the first time in years, I have the impression that most journalists are really trying to understand what is happening, or at least to find a story line that makes sense of what is happening. In other words, the story doesn’t conveniently fall into the conventional left/right, liberal/conservative boxes on which reporters usually depend. Recall that the story started out as a “pedophilia” scandal. The story has rightly moved beyond that now. The scandal is only very marginally about pedophilia. With very few exceptions, it is about adult men having sexual relations with adolescent and older teenage boys. So everybody has by now heard a great deal about “ephebophilia.” It is not necessary, however, that we learn a new vocabulary. There’s a perfectly good old fashioned word for same-sex sex. Homosexuality is very close to the center of the crisis. At the epicenter is the grave negligence of bishops. Not all bishops, to be sure, but too many. And, as in the case of Palm Beach, Florida, not only grave negligence but active complicity. Two months ago a lawyer and friend of the Church told me that before this is over we will see a bishop or two in jail. I thought that hyperbolic. Now I am not so sure.
That was in June 2002. In May 2004, Fr. Neuhaus wrote about "The Catholic Reform:
The cover of the 150-page report of the National Review Board (NRB) is deep purple, the color of Lenten penitence, which is just right for this telling moment in the Long Lent that began with the Boston exposures of January 2002. It is titled “A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States.” Not the “Sex Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church” but the “Crisis in the Catholic Church.” Long before there was a sex abuse crisis, there was a spiritual crisis, a moral crisis, a doctrinal crisis, and a crisis of misgovernance in the Catholic Church in the United States. All these crises finally come down to what the bishops did and did not do, what the bishops have and have not been doing for decades. The report is about priestly perpetrators and their victims; it is about seminaries and spiritual formation; it is about lawyers and the compromising of the Church’s independence. But, mainly and most importantly, the report is about bishops.

When, in their panicked Dallas meeting of 2002, the bishops created a National Review Board of prominent Catholic laity, I was opposed to the idea. I said and wrote that the bishops should take the heat and the responsibility for what had happened. I thought it was a dangerous precedent to have lay episcopoi of the episcopoi, overseers of the episcopal overseers; that it would play into the hands of dissenting Catholics who challenge what, in Catholic teaching, is the divinely constituted structure of the Church governed by bishops who are successors to the apostles. I hoped the bishops would devise some means—perhaps a plenary council or a long collegial retreat—to honestly examine what had gone wrong and come up with a believable program for reform. I was wrong. It is now apparent that the bishops as a body, meaning the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), were incapable of doing what the National Review Board has done. It is inconceivable that the bishops and bureaucracy of the USCCB could have produced the forthright analysis and program of reform that the NRB issued in Washington on Friday, February 27. The NRB has done what the bishops should have done. The report is a great gift to the bishops and to the Church. Now the question is whether the bishops are capable of receiving the report, and acting on it. If not—and the initial responses are not encouraging—they will, as the report suggests, further undermine the confidence of the Catholic faithful in the authority, competence, and moral integrity of their leaders. That is the “Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States.” The report leaves no doubt that clerical sex abuse opened a window, exposing to sight a much larger reality of nonfeasance and malfeasance in the leadership of the Church.
Read it all here. Alas, the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles did not seem to get it in full. Phil Lawler says it like this in a special to Catholic World News:
Five years ago Cardinal Roger Mahony was reportedly encouraging Vatican officials to ask for the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law. Using the same logical arguments that the American prelate presented in 2002, the Vatican should now ask Cardinal Mahony himself to step down.

The sensational cost of the sex-abuse scandal for the Los Angeles archdiocese far exceeds the devastation in Boston. The $660-million legal settlement announced on July 16 is nearly five times the total of the financial damages in Boston. Combining that settlement with previous agreements, lawyers' fees, and other associated costs, the overall price to be paid by the faithful Catholics of Los Angeles will approach $1 billion.

Yet the monetary costs, grave as they are, still do not reflect the most serious damage to the Catholic faith. Only rarely do I agree with an editorial in the Boston Globe, particularly when the topic is the Catholic faith. But today's Globe editorial is on target:
In the eyes of victims, the scandal will never be fully resolved as long as bishops who put the interests of their fellow priests over the protection of children remain in positions of leadership.
One could – and should – go further. This ugly chapter in Catholic history cannot be closed until the Church rebukes those prelates who put their own interests ahead of the needs of the Catholic faithful and the Catholic faith. Cardinal Mahony is the most conspicuous example.
Thanks to blogger Steve Ray for that report.

Bishops stopped acting like Bishops, and trusted secular counselors to fix priests who could not keep their vows. When they got caught, they let their defense and insurance lawyers stall and protect, rather than confessing their sin and doing their penance. (Which, it seems, is exactly what "saved" the original offenders.) The $660 million this has finally cost the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, after millions more paid elsewhere and even the bankruptcy of other Dioceses, is only the money side of the cost this has been to the Catholic Church. What about the cost to the faithful laity, clergy, and religious? And worse, the cost of (and to) those who lost their faith, or had it stripped away -- Catholic, protestant, and others?

And in all this we cannot set aside that this Long Lent, which still continues, has been deftly used by anti-Catholic zealots who attack the Catholic Church because it indeed has some sort of accountability for this sort of thing, even when it is horribly misused and mangled by those who should know better. Meanwhile other parts of our culture, in both sacred and secular realms, this same sort of behavior does not get much attention, or where in the popular media it is even encouraged.

Who'll pay for that when those chickens come home to roost?

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