USCCB committee bishops accused of abuse cover-up
3 members of panel named in lawsuits; criticism
Monday, January 19, 2004
By SUSAN HOGAN/ALBACH / The Dallas Morning News
Three of five bishops on the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops' sexual abuse committee are accused in lawsuits of
aiding cover-ups of molestation by clergy, according to a
background check by The Dallas Morning News.
The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse is preparing a response
to clergy sex scandals for the bishops' June meeting in Dallas.
The bishops are hoping to rebuild trust from the fallout.
But that effort is undermined by the makeup of the committee,
said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theologian at the University
of Notre Dame. He said the bishops tied to scandals should
step aside, regardless of guilt or innocence.
"If they don't, it seriously impairs the credibility
of the committee and the sincerity of all the bishops,"
he said. "Catholics already think bishops as a whole
botched this issue."
Two-thirds of the nation's 62 million Catholics said in recent
polls that molestation by priests is a significant problem.
Bishops are being widely criticized for their handling of
deviant priests and, in some cases, aiding cover-ups.
Bishops say the criticism isn't fair. They say many of the
pedophile cases date back 30 to 50 years to a time when psychiatrists
assured them the behavior was curable. No one thinks that
anymore, they say.
"We used to think of this as a moral lapse, and now
we know it is a crime," said Dallas Coadjutor Bishop
Joseph Galante, the national spokesman for the bishops' conference.
"I would be shocked at anybody who would continue to
reassign priests who have this kind of a history."
Two bishops on the sexual abuse committee are named in lawsuits
recently filed by attorney Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, Minn.,
who has represented 400 clients in cases against dioceses
"It's like the FBI's most wanted list of criminal concealers,"
he said of the bishops' sex abuse committee. "After years
of sex scandals, Catholic bishops still say, 'It's just a
few priests. We relied on the therapists.' It's the same old
Named in lawsuits
The committee members under scrutiny are:
Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Mo. A new lawsuit
accuses him of conspiring to cover up molestation by Anthony
O'Connell, who resigned last month as bishop of Palm Beach,
Fla., after admitting to abusing seminary students 25 years
ago in the Missouri diocese.
Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn of Cleveland. Comments
he made in 1990 on how to prevent public access to files on
pedophile priests are being used in a lawsuit filed last week
that will attempt to prove Vatican culpability in protecting
Bishop John M. McCormack of Manchester, N.H. He has
spent nine years as Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's adviser
on how to handle clergy sexual abusers, and is named in two
lawsuits. The nation's current pedophile crisis erupted in
Boston, where church leaders moved a former priest accused
of molesting 130 children from parish to parish for 30 years.
Bishop Quinn couldn't be reached for comment. Bishop McCormack's
spokesman said the bishop had dealt aggressively with molesters.
"That makes him perfect for the committee," Patrick
Bishop Gaydos, who has been in Jefferson City since 1997,
said he learned about Bishop O'Connell's misconduct only two
weeks before it became public.
"I've not been involved in a cover-up," he said.
"But if people want somebody else on the committee, I
won't stand in the way. I'll do anything to continue the work
of the church."
The other committee members are Bishops Galante and George
Niederauer of Salt Lake City.
"We have to earn back the trust of our people,"
Bishop Galante said. "We know we cannot just assume trust."
Since the Boston case came to light in January, dozens of
priests in more than 10 states have been removed because of
allegations of sexual misconduct. Catholics are calling it
the third wave of scandals.
The watershed case in 1985 involved former priest Gilbert
Gauthe of Lafayette, La., and more than 70 victims. In 1992,
former priest James Porter was charged with molesting more
than 100 children in Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Mexico.
Dallas was thrust into the spotlight in 1997, after a judge
ordered the diocese to pay nearly $120 million in damages
for molestation cases involving Rudolph "Rudy" Kos.
The award was later negotiated to a $31 million settlement.
"After the colossal, tragic disaster in 1985, the bishops
have no excuse for not handling this," said William Donohue
of the Catholic League, a media watchdog group based in New
Refusing to believe
But disbelief among Catholics may have played a role in the
problem, too. Until recently, many didn't believe that priests
would commit sex crimes. Victims were ostracized and their
stories attacked as media fabrications attempting to discredit
Today, the outcries of victims are being joined by outrage
from the pews in response to new reports of crimes and cover-ups.
The financial drain is expected to top $1 billion. The fallout
in respect for the bishops is immeasurable.
"The bishops have lost their moral prestige," Mr.
Donohue said. "It's a self-inflicted wound. You can't
blame the media or anti-Catholicism for the implosion."
Bishops formed the sex abuse committee in 1993, a year after
they announced five principles for dealing with sexual abuse:
prompt response to allegations, quick removal of alleged offenders
from ministry, adherence to civil laws requiring reporting
incidents, assisting victims and respecting privacy.
The norms were guidelines and left bishops in the nearly
200 dioceses across the country free to establish their own
policies, or to have none at all. Catholics are calling for
a uniform national policy, which would need the Vatican's
approval to become binding.
"Bishops understand the need to be more accountable
to their flock so that we don't have a patchwork-quilt response,"
Bishop Galante said.
Many bishops are calling for "zero tolerance" of
priests who molest minors. But many Catholics want a full
accounting of how many clergy have been caught up in scandals,
as well as tougher reforms.
"The reason the bishops are going for zero tolerance
is because they have zero credibility with the public,"
said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine
America. "In the past, they've apologized for mistakes
in these cases. It's going to take a lot more for Catholics
to trust them this time."
The verbal assault on bishops comes from moderates, liberals
and even conservative Catholics, usually the bishops' most
loyal defenders. One of them is Monsignor William Smith, academic
dean of St. Joseph Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y.
"Never in my life have I been so embarrassed for the
priesthood and so ashamed of our bishops," he said.
Dallas Bishop Charles V. Grahmann said bishops were being
"There's a lot of rhetoric out there now," he said.
"Bishops are accused of covering up and moving people
from one parish to another. That's a bunch of bull."