USCCB June Retreat marks Twentieth Anniversary of the Dallas Charter; SNAP doesn’t find much to applaud.
(For Immediate Release June 13, 2022)
In a statement released on June 9, 2022, the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, issued a statement saying, "Since the passage of the Charter, the Catholic Church in the United States has worked hard to fulfill our pledge to support the healing of those hurt by sexual abuse, along with their families. We have also strived to be faithful to our promise to protect children and young people. Today, millions of children and adults have been trained to spot the signs of abusive behavior, allegations of sexual abuse are reported to local law enforcement, background checks are the norm, review boards comprised of lay experts meet to assess allegations, and victim assistance coordinators are in place to assist survivors in finding help."
Regardless of the rosy assessment of Archbishop Gomez, we find the Church to be deficient in supporting the healing of those hurt by sexual abuse, responding promptly and effectively to allegations, cooperating with civil authorities, and holding offenders accountable.
Despite the 2002 pledge "to support the healing of those hurt by sexual abuse, along with their families," victims continue to struggle to find the help that they need to move forward. Absent a legally binding settlement or judgment, assistance is at the mercy of those in charge, not the needs of the survivor. A recent tragic example is the case of Nate Lindstrom. For ten years beginning in 2009 the Norbertine religious order paid Nate $3500 a month, plus help with his therapy and medication. Nate was suffering the long-term effects of abuse at the hands of three order priests. This secret arrangement was not in response to a lawsuit but as a result of Nate's parents approaching the Abbot for help for their son's worsening mental health. Yet when a new Abbot took charge of the Norbertines, the order abruptly stopped these desperately needed payments, saying there was “no basis” for the sex abuse accusations against two of the three priests, not even addressing the accusations against the third. Nate took his own life shortly after this life-line was withdrawn, leaving behind a widow and three young children.
Similarly, a blatant violation of the pledge for prompt and effective response to reports of abuse can be found in the case of Fr. Manuel Larosa-Lopez of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. In the early 2000s, two people, one male, and one female came forward to accuse Fr. Lopez of sexual abuse. In response, the Archdiocese transferred the priest. When the woman came forward again in 2010 to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Fr. Lopez was still in ministry. This was ten years after the first report of abuse was made, eight years after the adoption of the Dallas Charter. Unsatisfied with the Archdiocesan response to this renewed report, the woman repeated her accusations to law enforcement. At least six people ultimately reported their abuse to the police. Fr. Lopez was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to ten years in prison and required to register as a sex offender.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston appeared not to have reported the accusations against Fr. Lopez to the police at all. Bishop Howard Hubbard, who led the Albany, New York, Diocese from 1977 until 2014, admitted in a deposition that he consistently returned accused priests from treatment back into ministry, without informing local police, families of abuse victims, or Catholics in the parishes where the men were reassigned. In 2006, four years after the implementation of the Charter, Bishop Daniel Walsh failed to report Fr. Francisco Xavier Ochoa to the police for four days after the priest admitted his crimes, allowing the priest time to flee to Mexico. More recently, Bishop Michael Barber of the Diocese of Oakland, California, failed to report accusations against Fr. Alexander Castillo to the police in a timely manner. Fr. Castillo also absconded in the interim. The Archdiocese of Chicago apparently exploited a loophole in the promise to report abuse allegations to the civil authorities. The accusations from grown men of child sexual abuse by Rev. Michael Pfleger were apparently sent to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, not to the police. Yet DCFS is not permitted to investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect made by adult victims. We find it hard to believe that the Archdiocese was not aware of this distinction.
Obviously, the above cases also illustrate the failure of Catholic prelates to hold offenders accountable, as promised by the 2002 Charter. Yet another example Msgr. Craig Harrison of the Diocese of Fresno, California. Allegations against the priest were deemed "unsubstantiated" in 2002. More than a decade later, just last year, the monsignor was included on the Diocese's list of "credibly accused" clergy.
These examples above span the country. Moreover, they are clear illustrations of the Church's failure to fully implement the Charter, not a definitive list. We know that there are many, many, more examples in each of the categories. Yet we anticipate when the USCCB meets in San Diego this week for a spiritual retreat, that they will congratulate themselves on putting abuse in their rearview mirror. SNAP cannot in good conscience allow this self-serving evaluation to go unchallenged.
The elephant in the room is within the Dallas Charter, it states that a credible accusation must be “substantiated.” We want to know by whom, where, and when. We highly suspect these determinations are made by the bishops themselves with the illusion that a committee made recommendations. As we see it, any committee that does play a role in substantiating abuse allegations is concerned with protecting the reputation of the bishop as “tough on abuse.” We want to know what evidence “counts” in determining that an accusation has been “substantiated”? The abstraction and obscurity surrounding the entire process ensure that priests enjoy protection under canon law. All of this occurs within a church in which bishops trumpet their commitment to accountability, truth, and transparency.
CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(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)