This post was put together by Father George David Byers (About) on Holy Souls Hermitage. Let me say from the start that I’m proud to stand by my fellow priest, Father Gordon MacRae (About) on These Stone Walls, truly a priest’s priest, who provided me with some of the material for this post. I include a photo of myself here as well. I’m not afraid that my picture will be associated with this story. Someone, somewhere has to stand up for the truth. Are there risks with that? Sure. But that’s THE FULL BEATITUDE of the beatitudes in the priesthood.
What is written here is in need of some Pulitzer type investigative journalism. And many journalists have written on the abuse crisis, winning Pulitzers for their efforts. Here’s another opportunity.
What is written here will make very many people livid with anger. Yet, many more will rejoice. This isn’t about sensationalism or disputable points among scholars. This is about the New Evangelization. Scarey for some. For others, that which puts one directly before our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. This is also a matter for civil and criminal courts and ecclesiastic tribunals involving, in the end, the intervention of the Holy Father, for many bishops will be implicated in what is put forth in this post, and rightly so. My incentive is justice and mercy. Period.
If an investigative journalist needs a bit of incentive in order to approach an editorial board or a publisher about this, just remember these few points:
- If priests can be treated with horrific injustice for the sake of sycophantically pleasing agitprop groups, you can bet that those responsible for this abuse of office/power won’t hesitate to once again cover up with the same abuse of office/power any sexual misconduct of the clergy. It’s all about political correctness. It’s all about appearances. And sexual abuse of the vulnerable is also all about abuse of office/power, is it not?
- As long as falsely accused priests are banned from the priesthood solely for the reason of a continuing abuse of office/power of their ecclesiastical superiors, know that absolutely nothing has changed with attitudes which brought us the abuse crisis in the first place. Nothing.
- We have all failed if bishops as guilty as Judas himself for such abuse of office/power are allowed to continue with impunity. If we don’t pursue this, it means that we want the abuse of office/power to continue. It means that we desire sexual abuse to continue. These things are all inseparably bound together.
- Following up on this will have the abuse crisis come full circle and will provide hero-priests for those who have truly been victims of sexual abuse by priests. Why? Not only will this be an occasion to gut any tendency to abuse office/power, but it will show real victims that there are many who have suffered in perfect solidarity with them, namely, those priests who were falsely accused by those who would capitalize on the sufferings of real victims, effectively raping those real victims once again. And, as Dawn Eden has shown, true victims do need real heroes to give them hope. Hope is essential. This is about the recovery of hope.
NOTE TO CLERGY ABUSE INSURANCE UNDERWRITERS: At first glance, you might be rather upset with what I write here, thinking that I’m out to incriminate you. Not to worry. In fact, when you realize that I might get a bit of money back for you, you might just want to thank me. Just take a step back, breathe deeply, and think about it. I’m doing you a favor.
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In a letter I received yesterday from Father Gordon MacRae (About), he states:
“I wonder whether you received my recent mailing with some direct quotes from circa 2002/3 news reports about the Diocese of Manchester settlements.”
Well, yes, I did, some weeks ago. But I didn’t put them up as I needed to understand them more. Now I do. First, I’ll put up the entire two pages Father Gordon sent to me, putting in bold that which he highlighted in yellow. Since these are excerpts, I’ll use bullet points. Then, after that, we’ll put all this into context. That’s when all readers’ jaws will drop to the floor, followed by their hearts.
Source: Mark Hayward, “NH Diocese Will Pay 5 Million to 62 Victims,” NH Union Leader, November 27, 2002 (Excerpts).
- The Catholic Diocese of Manchester [New Hampshire, U.S.A.] will pay more than $5 million to 62 people who claimed they were abused by priests…. The incidents took place as long ago as the 1950′s and as recently as the 1980′s and involved 28 priests… the diocese said in a release….
- The diocese disclosed the names of all the priests… except three which the reported victims wanted to be kept confidential, diocesan officials said.
- Manchester attorney Peter Hutchins… represented the 62 people…. The diocese did not make any requests for confidentiality in the settlement, officials stressed. But at the request of Hutchins’ clients, the diocese will not disclose their names, the details of the abuse or the amounts of individual settlements.
- During settlement negotiations, diocesan officials did not press for details such as dates and allegations for every claim [Hutchins] said. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hutchins said.
- Hutchins would not disclose his fee and said he was offended to be asked such a question. Hutchins said the diocese has “absolutely acknowledged that the people were abused.”
- Church spokesman Patrick McGee said the settlement shows that the church recognizes people were harmed… but he stressed that “the harm caused by these people was from individual actions.” [Bishop] “McCormack is sorry that these pepole have been harmed, there’s no question about it,” McGee said.
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Source: Albert McKeon, “Settlement Reached in Abuse Claims,”Nashua Telegraph, November 27, 2002 (Excerpts)
- The Diocese of Manchester will pay 62 alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse more than $5 million, the second private settlement reached by the church in just over a month.
- Peter Hutchins, a Manchester attorney who represents the 62 people, would not detail individual settlement amounts… but all 62, who claim they suffered abuse as minors, will have enough money for counseling, a significant purchase and donations to charitable organizations…, the attorney said.
- “We achieved what we hoped to achieve from the beginning: The New Hampshire solution,” Hutchins said. “I’m very pleased that we were able to accomplish a settlement of this magnitude without the need to resort to litigation…
- That New Hampshire solution contrasts with negotiations seen with other Catholic dioceses, Hutchins said. He and his clients did not encounter resistance from the Diocese of Manchester in their six months of negotiations, either through lengthy legal procedures or a refusal to accept victims’ claims, the attorney said. Some victims made claims in the past month, and because of the timing of negotiations, gained closure in just a matter of days, Hutchins said.
- The Rev. Edward Arsenault, the diocesan delegate to the bishop for sexual misconduct, called the settlement only the beginning of a difficult process for the alledged victims, who upon their request will have their names and claims of abuse kept confidential.
Do the math. $5,000,000.00 divided by 62 is a mere average of $80,645.16 per settlement. Remember that litigated claims might be rewarded, for instance, 1.2 million. Is there an incentive to do a settlement regardless of the truth of the matter if you literally don’t give a damn about your priests? Yep. There sure is. I’m not pointing at anyone in particular. I’m just saying that there is a motive.
Continuing with the letter I received yesterday from Father MacRae, he states:
“Enclosed is a page from the 2002 National Catholic Directory. At the time, Monsignor Edward Arsenault was mediating all these settlements at the expense of priests’ rights, he was also Chairman of the Board of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group overseeing the interests of insurers of Catholic Dioceses.”
Did he say, “money”? Yes, I think he did.
Let’s take a look at that page. Note the bibliographical data at the top:
Click on the above picture to enlarge it. Now, let’s take a close up view of that paragraph:
Uh-huh. Conflict of interest, perhaps, for Monsignor Edward J. Arsenault in all this? And not one bishop in the entire Episcopal Conference of these United States of America caught this? Really? I mean, 56 (Arch)dioceses is about 1/4 of the whole conference, right? Sniff, sniff… I smell filthy, filthy lucre. It’s better to slit the throat of any priest with an allegation against him, so that, without investigation, even without him knowing about it, a settlement will have been made so that he finds himself out of the priesthood. The idea is that if it might all be true, and it is litigated in court, one will have to pay out a lot more money. A lot more. So: slit the throats of all priests, guilty or innocent. It’s better that some innocent priests die than that some bishops lose a few bucks in this matter, right? Right? I mean, I really have to wonder if some bishops get kickbacks from insurance underwriters to ensure that they will slit the throats of priests without question. But is this really going to save insurers money? Really? Think about it.
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Read the following with all that in mind. See if my conjecture is possible. It’s written by a journalist for insurance underwriters, who are rather interested in saving money, no?…
Catholic Church Risk Management Effectively Reducing Abuse, Claims
September 27, 2011 • Reprints
A history of well-publicized events of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has led to much soul-searching, resulting in risk-management guidelines and procedures that have lowered injuries and claims of children and youth, according to a priest and risk manager for the church.
“The church, like any other institution, has risks it has to manage,” says Monsignor Edward J. Arsenault, a Roman Catholic priest for 23 years. He also is president and CEO of Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which offers education and treatment for Catholic priests and religious men and women. He is a priest of the Diocese of Manchester, N.H.
“As much as we try to prevent things from happening in the first place, when they do happen we work with insurers and self-insurance,” he says, observing that the church “generally is not oriented to risk management in a traditional business sense. Our natural pastoral inclination is if somebody is harmed, you ask, ‘What can I do to help you?’”
When dealing with crimes against minors, “bishops often rely on attorneys to help them manage risk, and attorneys build the walls,” says Arsenault, whose risk-management efforts have been implemented in the state of New Hampshire and on a national level.
This orientation is different from that of lawyers, he adds, whose job is to manage litigation and try to avoid it.
As a risk manager in the church he engages experts but does not let those experts become decision makers, “which I think is one of the mistakes the church has made.”
He explains that in the past, often an incident that had been reported “ended up on a lawyer’s desk, who managed it in a way other than how a pastor or bishop or risk manager would handle it.
He notes that the risk management process would be to look into how the event happened. And if it did happen, “find a way to mitigate the loss and what can be done to resolve it.”
If the loss is valued at $25,000, for example, “I don’t want to spend that on a lawyer arguing, and then have to pay for the loss, too,” Arsenault says. “So manage all the costs associated with it.”
He adds that while it’s “not all that complicated in the long run to find out whether something happened, it’s quite complicated to determine how you’re going to monetize it.”
Finding a paradigm for risk management that is “considerate of the church’s mission and is looking for the truth and facing the truth honestly, without giving away the bank and caving in to plaintiff’s lawyers, is challenging, but I think it can be done,” he says. “That you can manage risk pastorally as well as be fair.”
Arsenault emphasizes, “If I had one thing to repeat it would be that lawyers should not be decision makers; they are experts. Risk managers can be experts, the claims adjuster is an expert, but there is a tendency when there is a difficult decision to be made to want to put it off on the expert.”
The decision maker, whether it be the officer, shareholder “or the bishop, has to ultimately accept the responsibility to gather the right kind of expertise and to make a decision, to render a judgment.”
PLACING PARAMETERS A NECESSITY
In most churches, pastors and others involved with church ministry are not administrators but are oriented to helping people. “It’s the art of persuasion to convince people in helping positions to think through systems on how to manage risk,” he says.
While this can be a challenge, “It’s not impossible, but the art of it is to help them to see how this will help them ultimately in their work,” Arsenault says.
To develop a platform to raise awareness and orient those who work in the church to a safe environment for children and young people, he says he turned to the expertise of The McCalmon Group Inc. in Tulsa, Okla.
“I think the importance of an organization like that is our best dollars are spent in raising awareness and educating people to risk, because that goes a long way in preventing things from happening,” Arsenault says.
And even when bad things do happen, as they inevitably will, he notes, “You have raised the awareness to a level where the community is ready to respond. They won’t say ‘it’s none of my business.’”
Now, he says, “They have been trained that if they are suspicious about the behavior of an adult around a minor, they should do the right thing—call someone with authority to look into it. Call the civil authorities, notify church authorities. This creates a responsible environment that ultimately mitigates the risk.”
He adds, “It’s a lot easier to deal, for example, with a boundary violation by an adult employee with a minor six months after it happens than to deal with it 15 years after it’s happened. So creating that kind of awareness and an environment that’s oriented to education is key.”
The programs that have been created, he says, have “made a big difference in the church. Our claims are much, much lower in terms of malfeasance with minors by adults in the church.”
According to a research study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the City University of New York in 2004 for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade, peaking in 1980.
PREVENTION IS KEY
Preventing abuse in the first place is the primary objective, he says. “I know enough about how nefarious the reality is: People who want to abuse minors identify with organizations that are porous and don’t screen—so we’re not on that list anymore.”
He explains that it is now church law in the U.S. for the Catholic Church that every person who works with minors has to have a background check and must be trained in a safe environment.
“There has to be a policy in place in the local diocese or community, where the civil authorities are notified where there’s a report, and where the church is oriented to being helpful to someone who reports being harmed,” Arsenault says.
While the risk-management program is national, “this is an international phenomenon as old as the ages and the church is just now trying to get its arms around it as an international issue,” he says. “I would say the church in the U.S. has taken the lead in developing policies for prevention and assistance for people who may be harmed.”
The policies, he says, are laid out in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Its second revision was approved by U.S. Catholic bishops in June 2011.
Wow. Just, wow…
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With all that in mind, read the following. It’s a Presbyterian church, but don’t let that side-track you. Msgr. Arsenault will also be found here…
Church abuse cases and lawyers an uneasy mix
By Peter Eisler, USA TODAY
5/10/2011 10:55 AM
VIENNA, Va. — When officials at Vienna Presbyterian Church decided to acknowledge the church’s failures in handling reports of sexual abuse by a youth ministries director, they thought it might upset some in the congregation.
Vienna Presbyterian has a new ministry to recognize and respond to sex abuse.
By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY
Vienna Presbyterian has a new ministry to recognize and respond to sex abuse.
What surprised them was the admonishment from the church’s insurance company. And it wasn’t the church’s lapses in responding to the abuse a half-decade ago that bothered the insurer — it was the church’s plan to admit those lapses and apologize to the victims.
The insurance company’s position was clear: On March 23, a lawyer hired by the company, GuideOne Insurance, sent a warning to church officials:
“Do not make any statements, orally, in writing or in any manner, to acknowledge, admit to or apologize for anything that may be evidence of or interpreted as (a suggestion that) the actions of Vienna Presbyterian Church … caused or contributed to any damages arising from the intentional acts/abuse/misconduct” by the youth director.
But in a letter sent to congregants the next day, the church’s governing board, known as a Session, took a different course.
“Members of Staff and of Session are profoundly sorry that VPC’s response after the abuse was discovered was not always helpful to those entrusted to our care,” the letter said.
In a sermon the following Sunday, March 27, Pastor Peter James went further: “We won’t hide behind lawyers. … Jesus said the truth will set us free.”
Then, turning to a group of young women in the audience, he continued:
“Let me speak for a moment to our survivors,” he said. “We, as church leaders, were part of the harm in failing to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed in this church. I am truly sorry … I regret the harm this neglect has caused you.”
As churches nationwide struggle with disclosures of sexual abuse in their midst, many find inherent conflicts between the guidance they find in Scripture and the demands of the insurance companies and lawyers responsible for protecting them from legal claims.
Common religious tenets of atonement — admitting mistakes, accepting responsibility, apologizing — often run counter to the legal tenets of avoiding self-incrimination and preserving all avenues of defense against potential lawsuits.
“This sort of conflict is happening all the time,” says Jack McCalmon, a lawyer whose company, the McCalmon Group, is hired by insurers to help churches set up abuse-prevention programs.
“The church is in the business of forgiveness, of being forthright and open and truthful, but that often creates liability in a world that’s adversarial, in the judicial world,” McCalmon says.
Meanwhile, he adds, insurers are in the business of limiting liability. “So, the insurance company has a contract with the church that says, ‘If we’re going to put our assets on the line, we want you to perform in a way that protects our assets and interests.’”
Church officials often face a wrenching dilemma: If they do what they feel is right in the eyes of God, they can put their church at risk of financial claims that could end its existence.
For the lawyers and insurers obligated to protect those churches, the decisions are equally difficult: If church officials make admissions that suggest liability for the damage caused by sexual abuse or other wrongdoing, the resulting claims could ravage the insurance company.
It’s an issue that can fundamentally shape the way churches respond when they discover sexual abuse involving clergy or lay employees.
Since 2002, when reports of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston made national headlines, scores of churches have wrestled with similar problems.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against churches by people alleging sexual abuse by clergy or church employees. Jury awards and settlements have ranged from tens of thousands of dollars to many millions.
In a 2007 case, the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to 500 people who alleged they were sexually abused by clergy.
A divide with the insurer
It has been five years since the Vienna Presbyterian congregation got a letter from church officials saying they’d learned that Eric DeVries, student ministries director, had “crossed the boundary of emotional and physical propriety in his relationship with female students.”
In the years since, there have been many painful conversations, but so far no lawsuits.
DeVries, hired in 2001, resigned in September 2005 amid allegations that he forged romantic relationships with female students. Church officials reported him to authorities upon learning of the conduct, and he was charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor, a felony.
He later pleaded guilty to the lesser, misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and received a 12-month suspended jail sentence.
The church community reacted with a mix of disbelief, confusion and repulsion.
Some supported DeVries, even writing character references for his sentencing hearing. And, as the pastor’s sermon noted, the church did little in the years that followed to help the students who said DeVries had mistreated them.
In 2009, the church began to re-examine what went wrong.
It was through that process, Pastor James said in his March 27 sermon, that church officials “became aware that we were not caring adequately for the victims of Eric’s abuse.”
The church formed a new ministry to care for those women and is setting up a program to educate its community in preventing, recognizing and responding to sexual abuse. The discussions also led to the decision to acknowledge failures in responding to the abuse, apologize to victims, and recommit the church to their care.
In letters and e-mails, GuideOne and a lawyer it hired to defend the church against possible claims raised increasingly adamant concerns about Vienna Presbyterian’s approach. Church officials who were handling that matter responded with increasingly adamant refusals to let legal interests steer their decisions.
Among other things, the correspondence shows, the church balked at the idea of defending potential lawsuits by invoking the two-year statute of limitations or raising questions about the sexual histories of women who might file claims.
The conflict intensified when GuideOne learned that church officials were cooperating with The Washington Post on a story about the church’s failures — a course the insurance company’s lawyer had warned against.
In a Feb. 10 letter, GuideOne reminded the church of its contractual obligation to “cooperate with us to the fullest extent reasonably necessary” in protecting against potential claims.
The church’s actions “have impeded our right to investigate the claims and the future defense of this matter,” the letter warned. “Any failure … to comply with the conditions of the policy will jeopardize any future coverage available to Vienna Presbyterian Church.”
The church stuck to its plan.
“The directions from the insurance company and its lawyer were clear and possibly correct from a legal perspective,” says Peter Sparber, who is on a panel of elders handling issues related to the abuse. “They did their job, but as elders, we had to do ours. We still have lots of work cleaning up the mess created by Eric DeVries, but not following their legal advice was a good start.”
‘A very clear standard’
Officials at GuideOne declined interview requests.
“The situation with Vienna Presbyterian Church continues to evolve, and we have a policy to not comment on open claims,” Sarah Buckley, a company spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail.
Buckley noted that GuideOne offers clients extensive resources to help them respond to abuse cases. The company encourages churches to react with concern and compassion, report allegations to authorities, investigate and document all events, seek legal counsel, and encourage counseling for victims, she added.
But what happens when a church feels the need to do more — to apologize or accept some responsibility for the damage caused when one of its own emerges as a sexual abuser?
Satisfying those needs while shielding the church from liability “is the most delicate task of lawyering in this situation,” says Robert Tuttle, a professor of law and religion at the George Washington University Law School.
“It’s not unusual for (church officials) to think they did something wrong because they feel grief or guilt for what happened, when in truth they might not be legally responsible,” Tuttle adds.
This often results in discussions between the church, the insurer and its lawyers to “find a way for the church to express the sense of the wrongness of the conduct and to be sorry it happened without inappropriately taking legal responsibility.”
Both the church and the insurer have an interest in avoiding a potentially devastating lawsuit, but that doesn’t mean they can find common ground.
Clergy and legal experts who have been involved in such cases say churches often struggle with the notion that they should let concerns about legal liability dictate the terms on which they apologize or hold themselves accountable.
“For a church, doing what is right is informed by our understanding of what God would have us do, so there’s a very clear standard, articulated in Scripture,” says Monsignor Edward Arsenault, president of the St. Luke Institute, a Catholic ministry in Silver Spring, Md., that offers mental health services to clergy.
Lawyers typically want to shape a church’s response based on questions of intent and legal responsibility, says Arsenault, who has advised clergy struggling to chart a course in responding to abuse cases.
Churches, meanwhile, are more inclined to focus on concepts of “restorative justice,” taking a more general, unencumbered view of what went wrong and how to make injured parties whole again.
‘Do the right thing’
Ultimately, Arsenault adds, lawyers are advisers; the decisions clergy and congregants ultimately reach must be their own.
“I have dealt with instances where there was wrongdoing in the past and my church wanted to do the right thing, but a lawyer representing the insurance company said, ‘No, you can’t do that,’” Arsenault says. “My solution in that instance was, ‘I’m going to do the right thing, and I believe you owe me coverage. And if you don’t extend me coverage, I’m going to do it anyway, and then I’m going to come back and argue that you owe me coverage,” after claims are settled.
But the risks of such a course are substantial: If a church loses its argument that its insurer is responsible for paying a claim, it could be left with a debt it can’t afford. In a worst-case scenario, that could mean closing its doors.
There’s no telling how often that sort of impasse occurs. Discussions between churches and their insurers on how to handle abuse cases are typically kept confidential, as are any resulting settlements.
In the case of Vienna Presbyterian, the church’s decision to ignore the demands of GuideOne and its lawyer was as plain as The Washington Post‘s page 1 headline on the first Sunday of April: “A church seeking redemption; Riven by an abuse scandal, Vienna Presbyterian tries to do right by the women it says it failed.”
Since the story ran, the rancorous discussion between the church and its insurer about potential liability has remained in limbo. And if no lawsuits are filed in connection with DeVries’ abuse, it may never be resolved.
“We don’t know what happens next,” says Sparber, the church elder. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
I’m guessing that that church was totally above board and that the insurers were just doing their thing. The reason to add all that is to see if an analogy could be made about such protestations by the church involved along with such protestations by the insurance company, to the effect that, regarding the Manchester Diocese approach, it’s all a big smokescreen, meaning that all the protestations and sobbing about victims on the part of the diocese are a distraction applauded by insurance companies and underwriters. The more sobbing, the more quicky settlements, the less money they have to pay. Get it?
Don’t forget that, in all of this, true victims, who often don’t get a chance to be heard (as pointed out by Hutchens above), are not served. Will some commit suicide? We don’t know, because no one listened to them in favor of going for the quicky settlement to save money. This is a travesty. Should those involved in this travesty be brought to justice? I think so.
Should priests who were falsely accused be brought back? I think so. It’s interesting to see the names of those who make comments that this is not viable. More on that in future posts. Familiar names will come up. That’s just as jaw-dropping.
Is all this cynical of me? No. This is another step in the New Evangelization. Justice and mercy for all. That’s what I want. When there is no justice for one, there is no justice for the other. In the case of quicky settlements, no one wins, not true victims, not those falsely accused. Oh, sorry, the winners would be… those involved with “The New Hampshire solution” — “The Final Solution.”
The Judas Crisis didn’t end well for Judas did it?
Time to do something about this.
Again, this is about justice and mercy for all.
In favor of justice and mercy, if any of this conflict of interest is true — and it’s consequences with many innocent priests out of the priesthood — I’d like to see the perps be taken out of their positions and have done to them what they did to the priests who were innocent. I’d also like to see true victims heard, not just have money thrown at them. Re-read the comments by Hutchens above. Throwing money in the faces of people is not the New Evangelization.
Let’s do this right people! The Catholic Church and the priesthood is not about sex abuse, not about money! It’s about the goodness and kindness of Jesus.