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David Clohessy and Barbara Blaine:

Stop pedophile priests who are fleeing from justice

We must end their escape across borders

The Dallas Morning News
Monday, November 6, 2006

Last month, a civil lawsuit was filed that accuses two of the world's most prominent Catholic officials, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City, of shuffling a serial predator from country to country. The priest faces criminal charges of molesting dozens of boys.

Just over two weeks ago, our group – the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP – sounded the alarm that a notorious pedophile priest from Ireland, Oliver O'Grady, is on the move again. Mr. O'Grady, defrocked, imprisoned and eventually deported to his native land, is reportedly heading abroad again, possibly to France or Canada.

On Oct. 25, a civil lawsuit was filed in Florida accusing a Catholic priest of molesting a boy. The cleric is a Malta native who was sent to Brazil, the United States, Haiti, back to the United States, and now lives in Malta again.

That same day in California, we in SNAP helped warn the public about two abusive priests from Stockton who are believed to be have fled to Mexico with the help of church authorities.

And that afternoon in San Francisco, child molestation victims asked the U.S. attorney to investigate a Santa Rosa priest and his supervisors, including the bishop. This priest admitted molesting kids in May. But he too escaped prosecution by fleeing to Mexico, because the bishop and at least four other top church officials waited several days before reporting the admission to law enforcement.

Last week, in Michigan, news broke that a priest who had molested boys there was sentenced to prison. He had been on the run in South America for years. Also last week, in Arizona, a priest pleaded guilty to sex charges involving children. He was one of the few accused abusive priests who was returned to the United States from Mexico to face prosecution.

We could go on and on, but here's the bottom line:

As predator priests become more scared of capture and complicit bishops become more frightened of being exposed, more abusive clergy will be sent abroad. It's a disturbing trend that was first exhaustively researched and painstakingly documented in a 2004 Dallas Morning News series. Many had hoped this startling exposé would shame Catholic officials into at least slowing the shuffling of dangerous priests from country to country and prod bishops into at least doing more to supervise and monitor admitted, convicted and credibly accused child molesting clerics.

Sadly, that doesn't seem to have happened. There is some good news, however, on this front.

As victims become more courageous, Catholics more outspoken, investigators more sophisticated and prosecutors more determined, the movement of abusive priests across national borders is slowly being revealed – and in a few encouraging instances, reversed and punished.

Long-term remedies include reforming archaic laws that protect molesters, like the dangerously restrictive statutes of limitations that prevent criminal or civil charges even being brought against predators who flee.

But short-term solutions lie with Catholics, both at the top and bottom of the church hierarchy.

At the top, bishops must obey U.S. law and immediately report known and suspected abuse to the police. They must use their considerable resources to publicize the names of runaway priests and warn vulnerable residents of the nations to which these predators are believed to have fled. At the bottom, lay Catholics must demand that their bishops take these commonsense steps.

That may seem like a daunting prospect. But lay Catholics should be encouraged by Pope Benedict's comments last week to Irish bishops. In his most extensive remarks on the clergy sex crisis, the pontiff urged Irish church officials to "to rebuild confidence [and] establish the truth of what happened in the past and, above all, to bring healing to the victims."

Stopping the international shuffling of potentially dangerous predatory priests would be terrific place to start.

Barbara Blaine and David Clohessy are leaders in a Chicago-based support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. You may contact them through www.SNAPnetwork.org.