SNAP rebuts criticism of UN report

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, [email protected])

A British Catholic, Austen Ivereigh, has blasted the United Nations panel that found that Catholic officials “still place children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children.”

Let's take a quick look at some of his claims.  

He claims Vatican officials were “ambushed” by the panel.

-- I'm not positive, but I'll bet that Vatican officials knew back in 1990 they would be questioned periodically on their compliance with the treaty. The Catholic hierarchy saw this coming long ago. In fact, they asked for it when they wanted to be treated like a nation and signed the treaty.

So this is not the UN “coming after” the Vatican.  It’s simply the UN doing what the Vatican agreed to have them do. 

He calls the panel a “kangaroo court.”

Really? The panel is a group of more than 20 volunteers from across the globe who are experienced in children's issues. They're with the United Nations, a pretty respected institution. They spent more than a year on this effort, giving equal opportunities to both abuse victims and church officials. A kangaroo court? Hardly.

He claims the report “was designed to produce headlines like the BBC’s — ‘UN slams Vatican for protecting priests over child abuse’ — in order to sustain the myth of the Church, and the Vatican in particular, as an unreformed institution.”

Really? He knows the alleged hidden and impure motives of more than 20 veteran children's advocates he's never met, from across the globe, who are experts in children's safety but have somehow conspired to abuse their positions and this process just to embarrass Catholic officials? Really?

He claims that “since 2001,” the Vatican “has been the catalyst of . . . best practices, cajoling bishops’ conferences across the world to put in place measures of the sort pioneered in the US and the UK.

–-Really? Where's the evidence? He doesn't cite or show a single document that indicates this.

On the contrary, church records obtained through civil lawsuits show – over and over and over again – that some bishops wanted Vatican approval to more quickly deal with predator priests but were repeatedly rebuffed by church bureaucrats in Rome. (See the Fr. Lawrence Murphy case in Wisconsin, among many others.)

In fact, in 2002, Vatican officials severely weakened the US bishops' draft abuse policy by removing a mandatory reporting provision and replacing it with the far weaker and vaguer instruction to 'comply with applicable civil laws.'

(He may be confused. It was 2001 when then-Pope John Paul II ordered bishops across the world to send all their abuse reports to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That, however, helped ensure secrecy, not openness.)

He claims that “The best interests of children . . .has been a central tenet of the Holy See’s efforts for at least the past decade.”

Really? In our view, the Vatican ever-so-slightly (and belatedly) gave a slap on the wrist to a notoriously corrupt serial predator (Fr. Marcial Maciel) and ever-so-slightly sped up a smart legal defense and public relations maneuver – the defrocking of a tiny handful of the most egregious child molesting clerics, long after they've been caught and have devastated dozens of lives. That's about it.

If Vatican officials put “the best interest of children first,” why won't they turn over an accused Polish bishop, wanted for allegedly molesting several kids in the Dominican Republic, to law enforcement officials?

If Vatican officials put “the best interest of children first,” why do they let bishops suspend proven, admitted and credibly accused predator priests but not house or monitor them, so they end up living (and sometimes working) among unsuspecting neighbors who are never warned there's a predator in their midst?

Why did the papal nuncio, just a couple of years ago, rebuff questions from an Irish government inquiry, claiming their request didn't follow proper diplomatic protocol?

Why have none of the world's 4,000 bishops – and hundreds of Vatican officials – even found the courage to denounce (must less discipline) convicted Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn?

Why did Pope Francis, just last month, say mass in public with – and meet privately with the most disgraced prelate in the US, Cardinal Roger Mahony? (That rubs salt into the already-deep and still fresh wounds of thousands of abuse victims and signals other church employees that no matter how irresponsibly you act and no matter how many kids are hurt as a result, you'll always still be welcomed in the highest echelons of the church. It's kind of hard to see how this helps “the best interests of children.”)

I challenge Mr. Ivereigh to name a single predator priest who has been exposed by Vatican officials or a single “enabler” bishop who has been exposed by Vatican officials or a single document about an abuse case voluntarily disclosed by Vatican officials or a single secular legislative child safety reform championed by Vatican officials or any similar move than has, in a practical sense, made even one child safer.

He claims that “hardly ever” since “the early 1990s” have bishops sent “well-known child sex abusers . . . from parish to parish.”

Really? Has he forgotten the 2001 Philadelphia grand jury which investigated and concluded that 37 priests still were ministering to parishioners despite accusations of sexual abuse or improper behavior with minors.

Just last month, we in SNAP disclosed that a credibly accused child molesting Catholic cleric, Brother Damien Chong, who reportedly abused a California child, was quietly moved to a Massachusetts church facility where he lives across the street from a Catholic pre-school with 90 kids and was working quietly at a chapel in a shopping mall.

We could cite dozens and dozens of examples over the past decade in which journalists have discovered or we have learned (often from concerned low-level church employee whistleblowers and parishioners) that a proven, admitted or credibly accused predator priest is still on the job.

Here in St. Louis, I am three miles away from a Catholic facility (the Aquinas Institute), across the street from another Catholic facility (St. Louis University). Working there is Fr. Vincent Bryce, who admits having molested two kids in another state.

We also have Fr. Alex Anderson in a St. Louis parish. He's been accused of molesting three boys, none of whom know one another. Church officials claim one of them recanted. Another reported to a church panel but they claim his report is “unsubstantiated. The third was sued for allegedly slandering Fr. Anderson, but church officials ended up paying that victim a settlement. Fr. Anderson is a pastor today.

Across my home state, a Kansas City priest, Fr. Thomas Cronin, was sued for alleged child sexual abuse and suspended in 2010. But he was quietly kept on the job until 2012 at a church in Nevada where he also, according to the local newspaper, “the president of a (local) women's shelter called Rachel's Sanctuary.”

When we discovered and disclosed this, then Reno Bishop Randolph Calvo suspended Fr. Cronin.

In 2006 in California, after hearing witnesses and examining evidence during a civil trial, an impartial jury voted 9-3 that Fr. Eric Swearingen was "more than likely" to have abused a former altar boy when the child was between 12 and 15 years old.

Technically, the trial ended in a hung jury because jurors could not agree on whether or not the Diocese of Fresno knew about Swearingen’s abusive propensities before he molested the victim.

His bishop chooses to believe the accused priest over the impartial jurors, so Fr. Swearingen now pastors Holy Spirit Church in Fresno where he oversees youth ministry.

Here are more examples:

He claims that the CDF helped “ensure that action was taken by local bishops in civil law.”

– I challenge Mr. Ivereigh to cite even a single case in which a single CDF official urged a single bishop anywhere to obey civil or criminal laws or sought to punish a single bishop for ignoring or breaking those laws. (Obviously, CDF officials should be urging bishops to go above and beyond the bare minimum requirements of civil and criminal laws, but I don't recall ever seeing this happen either.)

Just last month, a Vatican official, Bishop Charles Scicluna made this disturbing admission to the UN panel: that the Vatican does not require bishops to report sexually violent priests to civil authorities:

Interviewer: A recurring accusation made against the ecclesiastical hierarchy is that of not reporting to the civil authorities when crimes of paedophilia come to their attention.

Scicluna: In some English-speaking countries, but also in France, if bishops become aware of crimes committed by their priests outside the sacramental seal of Confession, they are obliged to report them to the judicial authorities. This is an onerous duty because the bishops are forced to make a gesture comparable to that of a father denouncing his own son. Nonetheless, our guidance in these cases is to respect the law.

Interviewer: And what about countries where bishops do not have this legal obligation?

Scicluna: In these cases we do not force bishops to denounce their own priests, but encourage them to contact the victims and invite them to denounce the priests by whom they have been abused.

According to, “The Vatican’s policy of allowing bishops to not inform civil authorities of crimes against children has had devastating results. It has caused abusers to stay in ministry and children to be raped and sodomized. In August 2013, a criminal court in Argentina had to dismiss a case against a priest who had abused up to 50 boys; the statute of limitations had expired because his archbishop, Cardinal Estanislao Esteban Karlic of the Parana archdiocese, had refused to report the priest’s crimes in 1995 AND HAD SWORN THE VICTIMS TO SECRECY.  The cardinal instead allowed the priest to move to another Argentine diocese, where he REMAINED pastor of a parish UNTIL 2012. Last August, the cardinal’s lawyer applauded the dismissal of the case, saying, “Parents should have made the complaint.” bishops

(Here's a link to's excellent report and letter:

He claims that “the Catholic Church in the western world has led safeguarding, creating guidelines and best practices which are routinely recommended by governments to other institutions to emulate.”

Really? This is a bit like saying that British Petroleum has done more to clean up the Gulf of Mexico than anyone else.

I've been involved in this crisis for 25 years. Catholic officials make claims like this often. But I know of no government anywhere which has recommended that any institution anywhere follow the church's lead or example on child sex cases. I look forward to seeing this list.

Enough. Like many Catholic officials, this Catholic layman puts tons of stock in formal, written church protocols and policies and procedures. There are two problems with this. First, in our experience, those policies are observed usually in the breach, and Catholic officials continue to handle clergy child sex abuse and cover up cases in whatever way is most expedient for them, irrespective of what they're allegedly supposed to do. And why shouldn't they, since virtually no Catholic employee on the planet – from Cardinal to custodian – is ever disciplined for breaking, no matter how often or egregiously, these internal church guidelines.

I'm sure Mr. Ivereigh has good intentions. But we in SNAP don't have the luxury of living in a make-believe world of vague, rarely enforced guidelines. We live in the real world, where most Catholic officials continue to rebuff police, stonewall prosecutors, transfer predators, destroy evidence, intimidate victims, threaten witnesses, discredit witnesses, fabricate alibis, blame others, exploit technicalities, split hairs, evade responsibility, maintain secrecy while pledging reform. Admittedly, many of them in the developed world do this more shrewdly and carefully than ever before, taking great pains to say new, right things in public while doing old, hurtful things in private.



Showing 1 comment

  • Michael Ference
    commented 2014-02-06 11:49:04 -0600
    The following letter was sent to Rita Flaherty of the Pittsburgh Diocese. She responded that it was passed on to the appropriate people.

    Hello Rita Flaherty,
    Can you review this information with the appropriate people at the diocese. I believe the attempted murder of my son could have been avoided if the Pittsburgh Diocese had properly reacted to the many warnings received about Father John Wellinger, a credibly accused sexual predator.

    I also want this letter passed on to Bishop David Zubik, can you advise how I can best do this.
    Please respond that you did receive this message. I can be reached at 412-233-5491

    Mike Ference

    An open letter to Bishop David Zubik, Pittsburgh Diocese

    Could the attempted murder of my son, Adam Ference been averted if diocesan hierarchy had properly supervised former Catholic priest Father John Wellinger.

    Please review my allegations, noting which ones are true or false. If you need additional information, I would gladly provide it.

    Question 1. Allegedly, in the first quarter of 1987 Fr. John Wellinger, a priest of the Pittsburgh diocese and pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in West Mifflin, PA, drugged a University of Pittsburgh student in an apartment that the victim shared with his older brother, also a Pitt student.

    According to the victim, he was knocked out for hours. When he awoke, he intuitively called 911. After rushing downstairs, against the wishes of Fr Wellinger,
    the teenage victim flag down meet the ambulance and the attending EMTs in the street.

    The allegation of the rest of the event goes as follows:

    The ambulance whisked away to Presbyterian University Hospital emergency room (now University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; UPMC). Fr. Wellinger allegedly followed the young victim to the hospital. Upon finding him in the emergency room, the victim requested that Wellinger find his nurse. When the nurse returned the victim would explain that Wellinger was the man who had drugged him.

    Wellinger was ushered out by the nurse. To the best of my knowledge police were not notified; not even a security guard from the hospital. The victim was not examined by a doctor. In other words, the entire event was covered-up.

    The parents of the victim came to the hospital and took their son home. Furthermore, I was told by then Clairton Public Safety Director William Scully, in January of 1990, that a hospital worker, possibly a social worker, warned the parents to not take on the Pittsburgh diocese, because they are too powerful and wealthy.

    I can provide the victim’s name and contact information to verify my story.

    Bishop David Zubik is this event TRUE or FALSE. If it’s true, the attempted murder of my son could have been averted.

    Question 2. Allegedly, a few days after the above event, the victim’s father searched out Wellinger at the parish house. At the time, Wellinger was holding a parish council meeting. So, there were plenty of witnesses present, including the victim’s mother. The victim’s father was angry, because Andreas Wellinger had allegedly drugged his son and possibly raped and sodomized him. The man was also angry over an outing that lasted all night long between Wellinger and his wife. According to an eyewitness Wellinger was ushered out a back door and the West Mifflin Police were called.
    Concerned for the safety of Fr. Wellinger, parish council members ushered the priest out the back door and called the West Mifflin Police. Parish councils were logically concerned, because the victim’s father may have been intoxicated and carrying a weapon.

    Is there evidence of any police report? Did the father would receive notification from attorneys for the Diocese of Pittsburgh to stay away from Father John Wellinger and to stay off Holy Spirit property in West Mifflin, PA.

    Bishop David Zubik is this event TRUE or FALSE. If it’s true, the attempted murder of my son could have been averted.

    Question 3. An allegation was brought to my attention within the past year or two, by a Catholic priest who stated to me via telephone that a person by the last name of Volmer went to Father Charles Bober in 1987 and warned Bober about Fr Wellinger’s deviant behavior. To the best of my knowledge, nothing was done.

    Bishop David Zubik is this event TRUE or FALSE. If it’s true, the attempted murder of my son could have been averted.

    Question 4. Sometime in 1988, the personal secretary of Father Wellinger allegedly went to the Pittsburgh diocese and spoke to Father Ronald Lengwin about Wellinger’s deviant behavior. She also reported that a teenage boy used the rectory as his home for the longest time and enjoyed making 900 calls to porn sites, while costing the parish hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

    Sadly, the women whom I interviewed would be labeled as a rumor-monger, and once again, Bishop Bevilacqua and would err on the side of dysfunctional sex freak, Fr John Wellinger, rather than erring on the side of caution.

    Bishop David Zubik is this event TRUE or FALSE. If it’s true, the attempted murder of my son could have been averted.

    Question 5. A suicide occurred in Father John Wellinger’s parish in 1989. According to then Clairton Public Safety Director William Scully, the suicide allegedly was linked to Wellinger. Scully said that he just didn’t have the needed proof. The boy was a 16 year old who took a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

    According to Scully, the boy had an interest in the occult and Satanism. Wellinger would hold a seminar on occult practice and Satanism months later.

    Bishop David Zubik is this event TRUE or FALSE. If it’s true, the attempted murder of my son could have been averted.

    Here’s her response:
    I did receive your email and will share it with the appropriate people here. If you want to send a letter to Bishop Zubik, you can send it to him at:

    Bishop David Zubik
    Diocese of Pittsburgh
    111 Blvd. of the Allies
    Pittsburgh, PA 15222

    Have a good afternoon!
    Rita Flaherty

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