WI- Capuchin report: 46 friars alleged to have assaulted children, 23 named

www.snapwisconsin.com

 

Capuchin report:  46 friars alleged to have assaulted children, 23 named

 

Abuse “audit” a good and important start, but much more needs to be done, victims say

 

Order spent “eight times” more on lawyers than compensating victims

But key abuse documents have yet to be obtained or were destroyed

Today, in a first voluntary effort of its kind in the history of the child sex abuse crisis, a Catholic religious order, the Midwest Province of the Capuchin Franciscans, released a voluntary “audit” of their clergy abuse files, naming 23 of 46 friars alleged to have raped or sexually assaulted children. 

 

The list of the 23 “substantiated” offenders has been posted at the Capuchin website this morning. (The list of Capuchin offenders, the audit report, and other documentation can also be found at the SNAPwisconsin.com at this page).

 

The audit was conducted by a three member team hired by the Capuchins, including Fr. Tom Doyle, a well-known critic of how the church has responded to sexual abuse.

 

The Capuchins are to be commended for this earnest effort to bring transparency to this dark and deceitful corner of their organization and history.  

 

The report provides a very long overdue validation to victims of Capuchins, many of whom continue to live in shame and silence, especially those who were raped and assaulted at the Capuchin run boarding school for minors, St. Lawrence Seminary, located in rural Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin.

 

Founded in 1859, St. Lawrence is the historic and symbolic birthplace of Capuchins in America.  Many current and former Capuchins themselves attended Saint Lawrence as youngsters. That may explain why, twenty years since the first stories publically surfaced of the abuse of children at St. Lawrence, the Capuchins are still trying to comes to terms with the trauma, and their responsibility for it. 

 

Perhaps the single most disturbing and appalling case in the Capuchin files is Fr. Jude Hahn.  Hahn, recently deceased, was a faculty member at St. Lawrence for three decades, appointed the Freshman dorm supervisor, and co-pastor of Holy Cross, a parish operated by the Capuchins for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  Hahn sexually assaulted children at both St. Lawrence and the parish, including what the Capuchin provincial twice refers to in documents as “small” children, not minors. 

 

While the audit at times tries to praise the Capuchin Provincial at the time, Ken Reinhart,  for how he addressed the public revelations of abuse at St. Lawrence surfacing in the press in 1992, Reinhart’s subsequent handling of Hahn’s case is appalling and unforgivable.  Reinhart and the Capuchins, according to the file, in order to avoid “scandal”, aided and abetted Hahn’s secret interstate flight to Washington State and provided upkeep for over a year for a man they considered to be untreatable, unrepentant, and clearly dangerous to small children.  Reinhart, as the audit points out, never notified either the St. Lawrence student body, alumni or the Mt. Calvary parish of what they knew about Hahn, much less report him to the police. 

 

What is so damning about Hahn’s case is that Reinhart and the Capuchins undertook this cover up from 1992-1995 and onwards, well after they were publically insisting that they were being forthright, and had issued and released an “independent” report that “cleared” them of being no longer engaged in these secret maneuvers. 

 

In fact, by the time Hahn was safe and sound in his new home in Washington State, thanks to the Capuchins, and free to have access to as many children as he desired, his criminal history was known and directly covered up by Capuchin leadership, officials of the archdiocese of Milwaukee (including Archbishop Rembert Weakland) and the highest offices of the Vatican. 

 

One can only conclude by the publically deceitful and dangerous manner in which Hahn was protected, coddled and supported by Reinhart and the Capuchins, that anyone involved in this case, deserves unambiguous condemnation, not praise, no matter what “policy” changes were made at the time or how personally likeable or sincere these guilty officials may now present themselves to auditors years later. 

 

That is why, because the Capuchins partially but significantly and deliberately misled the public once before with an “independent” report in 1992, the burden of proof weighs heavily with this current audit. 

 

Uncovered in the audit, but strangely buried in the report, is the disturbing fact that there is a vast cache of potentially critical federal court records, transcripts, depositions, testimony and evidence in Detroit about Capuchin offenders that the auditors have yet to obtain and examine. 

 

Even more alarming, there appears to be evidence that significant material and documentation has been directly destroyed by the Capuchins sometime before this audit.  It is clear from these facts alone, that the audit process is not completed  and a timely follow up report needs to be commissioned based on the new evidence.  

 

The limits of the audit report is also the likely reason why the voice of victims seems so muted. The experience, trauma and horror undergone by children and their families is hard to find or hear in the report.  (For a 2004 independent victim report based on Capuchin documents that does include victim testimony go here.) 

 

This is perhaps emblematic of how poorly the Capuchins have responded to victims, which is a major criticism of them by the auditors. It’s a truism that how an organization spends its money is a reflection of their true values and commitments.  In this case, the Capuchins fare very poorly.  The report shows that the Capuchins spent eight times more on their lawyers defending mostly guilty sex offenders and officials than on providing restitution to the victims they harmed. 

 

The report, although a good and important start, is nowhere near the kind of intense and appropriate review one would find, say, in a grand jury or true forensic criminal evaluation.  In comparison to that standard, the true transparency the Capuchins say they want has yet to be realized and even seems distant.  But, in comparison to other religious orders or dioceses, the Capuchins certainly merit special recognition and credit, especially because they undertook this effort voluntarily, not through some court ordered dictate or criminal investigation. 

What the Capuchins need to do next to get even closer to true transparency and accountability can be derived directly from the audit and should be contained in a follow up report within the next 6 to 9 months:   

 

  1. The percentage of false reports of abuse by clergy nationally is as low as three percent.  Almost half of the Capuchins in the audit alleged to have abused children have not been “substantiated”.  This is a legitimate cause for concern and further analysis and explanation by the auditors is necessary.
  2.  As mentioned earlier, thousands of pages of court documents pertaining to Capuchin offenders and church officials in Federal Court in Detroit has yet to be obtained or examined.
  3. The possible destruction of documents; documents made available to the auditors by outside sources and not directly given to them by the Capuchins raises the question that critical documents were destroyed sometime before the audit and this must be fully investigated and explained.
  4. A truly victim-centered response, including opening up woefully inadequate restitution claims, needs to be planned and implemented.
  5. Because the Capuchins have transferred known offenders across state lines, possible prosecution of current and former offenders needs to be investigated and files turned over to law enforcement wherever an offender was assigned. 
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