Thursday was a Bad Day for the Church

Thursday October 1st was a sad day for the Catholic Church.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans, who filed for bankruptcy May 1, 2020, added one priest, Rev. Patrick Wattigny, to its ever-growing list of sexually abusive clergy. Another clergyman, Fr. Travis Clark, was arrested for sexual obscenity involving women. He remained in jail as of yesterday afternoon.  Archbishop Gregory Aymond refused to add Fr. Travis Clark to his list of sex criminals since his crimes apparently did not involve a minor.

The Diocese of Camden in New Jersey filed for bankruptcy.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York filed for bankruptcy.

Also today, there was a report on corruption inside the Vatican that revealed attempts to steal almost a half billion in funds, including some from the Papal account.

All of this happened Thursday the 1st of October:  

  • Financial corruption inside the Vatican,
  • Two more American Catholic dioceses using the federal bankruptcy courts to hide records on abuse and to limit the amount of restitution that must be paid to victims,
  • The addition of yet another clergy abuser to the Archdiocese of New Orleans list, which has grown by almost a dozen since it was released on November 1, 2018, and
  • the arrest of the 16thCatholic employee to be charged with an abuse related crime in the United States this year.

Fr. Patrick Wattigny was the chaplain at Archbishop Rummel High School for 13 years until he was transferred in 2013.  He admitted to his boss that he sexually abused a minor in 2013.  We do not know if that victim was a Rummel student or a parishioner of the nearby St. Benilde Parish where he was pastor.  One thing is crystal clear. Pedophiles strike often and brazenly 

Since Fr. Wattigny worked at Rummel, St. Benilde, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Visitation of our Lady, Saints Peter and Paul, St. Luke the Evangelist, and finally, Pope John Paul II High School, it is frightening to think how many innocent minors may have fallen victim to this priest. 

According to Canon Law, Archbishop Aymond is required to report Fr. Wattigny to law enforcement. He is also required to commence a canonical investigation of this priest. Since Fr. Wattigny was added to the list of “credibly accused” clergy today, we must assume that an internal investigation has been completed.  When was this investigation was opened?  Did a child or parent complain about this priest prior to 2013? When was the Archdiocese aware of the 2013 allegation, or any others, prior to 2018 when the Archbishop published his clearly incomplete list of abusive priests and deacons?

We have a right to know the answers to these questions.  A group of survivors, including myself, submitted letters to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, DC and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in Vatican City requesting information from the internal investigations of our abusive clerics.  The Apostolic Nuncio referred us back to Archbishop Aymond, who responded with a letter telling us that the lifting of the Pontifical Secret by Pope Francis in December 2019 only entitled us to the Canonical Investigative reports made by us to the Archdiocese about our abusers.  We were then referred to Fr. Charles Benoit, his canon lawyer.  Fr. Benoit politely echoed his boss’ directive that we communicate with him first prior to writing to the Archbishop. The Pope offered survivors hope for transparency, yet provides his prelates with a Canon law loophole to deny us anything remotely resembling honesty and openness.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection stays all civil litigation. In the New Orleans case, it prevented attorneys from deposing Archbishop Aymond on May 28, 2020.  He and his highly paid civil and bankruptcy lawyers stated on the record all summer that the multitude of sexual abuse claims resulted in the bankruptcy filing.  They further stated on the record that the abuse claims were from between 20 and 50 years ago, emphasizing the remoteness of the claims while at the same time minimizing the severity of emotional scarring to the victims.  The lack of compassion exhibited during the hearings this summer has been mind boggling. The only legal recourse sexual abuse survivors possess due to statute of limitation laws in Louisiana is to sue in civil court.  That right was taken away from us on May 1st.

Archbishop Aymond repeatedly stated that he prays for survivors and pledges to walk with us during this difficult journey of healing.  I received two letters that were written and signed by him last month which offered, at best, a vague attempt at empathy and cooperation. When the going gets tough, he hides behind his civil, bankruptcy, and canon lawyers.

Bishop Fabre from the Diocese of Houma Thibodaux parrots his ecclesiastical leader when it comes to being open and transparent. He blatantly refused to add an admitted pedophile, Fr. Brian Highfill, to his diocesan list of abusive clergy even though Archbishop Aymond did so in August.  Highfill served for a year in Houma in 1975, which was two years before that diocese was officially formed.  That didn’t stop the Bishop of Las Vegas to add this accused priest to his list since he currently lives there. Bishop Fabre has refused to meet with at least 3 survivors who were abused in Houma in the 1970’s.  I have written him twice.  He finally responded thru his PR director, but failed to mention whether he would meet with us in person or virtually. 

Today’s inclusion of one more abusive priest to the Archdiocesan list, not to mention another one sitting in jail, will hopefully educate the bankruptcy court and the good people of Southeastern Louisiana that the scandal of clergy abuse is not just a thing of the past. It is still happening. 

Our hope is that this will spur you to take action to help Catholic survivors:

  1. Dismiss the Federal Bankruptcy
  2. Give us our days in Civil District Court
  3. Depose Archbishop Aymond
  4. Depose retired Archbishop Hughes
  5. Seize the secret archives held by Archbishop Aymond
  6. Stop the undeserved deference to men in Roman collars
  7. Add Fr. Brian Highfill to the Houma-Thibodaux list of abusive clergy

CONTACT: Kevin Bourgeois, SNAP New Orleans (neworleans@snapnetwork.org, 504-376-5445), Zach Hiner, Executive Director (517-974-9009, zhiner@snapnetwork.org)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

 


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