Victims pan plea deal with Kansas City bishop

Initially, Finn was the first bishop to face criminal charges for concealing suspected abuse. Then, he was the first bishop to undergo questioning by two grand juries. Now, he's become the first bishop to face criminal charges in two jurisdictions. And, he's now the first bishop to be charged with two separate child-safety related crimes: refusing to report suspected abuse in Jackson County and endangering the welfare of a child in Clay County.

Given this, it's tempting, but reckless, to believe that Finn's the real problem here. He isn't. He's just the public face of a much more widespread, deep seated and intractable problem. And because the problem is far broader and deeper than any one man, the solution must be broader and deeper too.

That's one reason we're disappointed in this announcement today - it implies that Finn is the main, or only, wrongdoer here. But several top church staff - Msgr. Robert Murphy, Rebecca Summers (diocesan public relations staffer), Jon Haden (diocesan lawyer), Julie Creech (Diocesan Director of Information Management Systems) and who knows how many others knew of Ratigan’s very troubling behavior around kids and those very disturbing naked and inappropriate photos of young girls’ private areas. Yet none of them had the decency or courage to call 911. And none of them are being held responsible.

So the problem in KC is a pervasive and on-going cultural and structural problem of secrecy and self-preservation being valued over openness and kids’ safety. It’s not one ‘bad apple.’ It’s a dangerous, corrupt barrel. That was the case and remains the case.

We’re also disappointed because Finn has now done here what bishops have almost always done - make any promises, payment or plea deal to avoid having to face tough questions in open court about their disgraceful and irresponsible deception

Catholics, citizens and children need and deserve the truth. The truth surfaces in court. That’s what bishops work overtime to avoid. And that’s what Finn has achieved here - he’s taken the cheap, easy, convenient way out, avoiding real scrutiny and concealing damaging misdeeds.

We hope Jackson County officials don’t wimp out. We hope they understand that jail time, or the threat of it, is the best way to deter well-educated white collar criminals who have hidden crimes for years or decades.

Historically, bishops have always been given special treatment in situations like these and are treated with kid gloves are far as punishment is concerned. Historically, these bishops have gone on to put more children at risk after “successfully” completing “diversion.” So we’re disappointed that a chance to send a strong message about kids safety and expose wrong doing and deter cover ups is being squandered.

Showing 3 comments

  • John M Shuster
    commented 2011-11-16 11:34:46 -0600
    Who is going to be vetting the “observer” who represents the state government? Will it be one of the diocese’s latent supporters? This is a travesty of justice that will only result in more Ratigans and more sexually assaulted children.
  • Michael Ference
    commented 2011-11-15 14:49:03 -0600

    For more information, contact:

    Mike Ference


    [email protected]

    The Last Call: Second Protest Announced

    Pittsburgh, PA — November 10, 2011 — On December 5, 2011, well-known local activist Mike Ference will stage the second in a series of “Last Call” protests targeting local institutions and individuals tied to cases involving the abuse of children and young adults. The protest will take place at 10:00 AM in front of the Allegheny County Detectives Bureau in Dormont.

    Ference is targeting the bureau for failing to take action after he presented detailed information about alleged clergy sex abuse, cover-ups and other criminal behavior to them several years ago. “Detectives Dennis Logan and Keith Andrews basically blew me off. They weren’t the least bit interested in asking me any questions or following up on anything,” Ference says.

    He adds that Assistant District Attorney Laura Ditka also showed little interest, although she did help him secure the police report on the attempted murder of his son in 1989 — the event that inspired him to begin his work as an activist. Ference says he had been unable to obtain the report directly from the McKeesport Police Department, and that then-McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster remained reluctant to release the files, even though they are considered public record.

    Ference initially began investigating the attempted murder of his son because he felt the case had been botched and prematurely closed by the McKeesport police. William Scully, then Public Safety Director in Clairton, gave Ference notes on the case and encouraged him to continue investigating on his own. A central issue was whether the shooter had been sexually abused and encouraged to study the occult by a local Catholic priest. In more than two decades of work since then, Ference has uncovered and written about numerous related tales of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in the region.

    “What has happened in the Mon Valley is every bit as disturbing as Cardinal Bernard Law’s cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese and the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case unfolding at Penn State,” Ference says. “What I’ve found again and again during my investigations is that such abuse can’t happen without various community stakeholders ‘looking the other way.’ My Last Call protests are an effort to expose some of the individuals and institutions we need to hold responsible.”

    Ference’s December 5 protest will concentrate on one specific report of clergy sex abuse, cover-up, and possible intimidation by persons associated with the Pittsburgh Diocese. Based on an interview and email exchanges with the alleged victim, telephone conversations with the victim’s parents and interviews with other individuals in community, Ference summarizes the case as follows:

    In 1988, former Catholic priest John Wellinger fed drugs and alcohol to an 18-year-old college student from the University of Pittsburgh at the student’s apartment. According to the victim, Wellinger also gave him a “Mickey” which knocked him out for several hours. Upon waking, the youth called 911, ran down his apartment steps and met the Pittsburgh EMS squad at the bottom. The EMS took him to the emergency room of Presbyterian University Hospital, now part of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The young man was given a bed. Wellinger followed him to the hospital and into his room. The victim asked Wellinger to get his nurse. When the nurse entered the room, the young man informed the nurse that Wellinger was the person who harmed him. The nurse ushered Wellinger out. The parents of the victim were summoned, but the victim claims that he was never seen or treated by a doctor and that the police were not called.

    Ference also quotes from emails sent to him by the alleged victim: “My dad did report Wellinger’s behavior. Did you forget the excommunication letter he received from the diocese that I told you about? Did you forget about my dad being forced off the rectory grounds by West Mifflin police? Or maybe you forgot that I told the nurse in the ER that night that a priest did this to me. Or maybe you forgot how my family was ostracized from the neighborhood. We weren’t quiet, Mike. We were ignored. Just like you and everyone else. I was abused.”

    In correspondence with Rita Flaherty from the Pittsburgh Diocese, Ference has been told that the Diocese is not aware of any allegations concerning this individual. In an email dated November 9, 2011, Flaherty writes:

    “If someone has come to you with information that they have been abused, please have them contact me directly at 412-456-3060 or through our hotline number 1-888-808-1235. We would want to meet with that person and hear their story first hand and see what assistance we could provide to them. After dealing with the person directly, we follow our policies of reporting any alleged abuse involving a minor (no matter how old the alleged victim is now) to the appropriate civil authorities in the area where the abuse allegedly occurred. It is certainly my desire to assist any victim of abuse with their healing to the best of my ability.”

    Ference says this email represents a positive change from the “deny, stonewall, cover-up and hush up” tactics that he has found to be common in cases involving clergy. However, he also feels the time for patience and gradual change is long past. “For two decades I have called on certain institutions and individuals to come forward and take responsibility for their roles — active or passive — in child sex abuse,” he explains. “This is the last call — those who don’t do the right thing will be ‘outted’ at a series of protests where I will publicize incriminating details from my 22-year investigation. Abusers who have harmed children and those who knowingly covered up the crimes will be named — I want everyone in our community to know who the bad guys are.”

    Additional protests are in the planning stage. Ference says UPMC Hospital in Oakland is a likely site because of its ties to the clerical abuse case discussed above. He is also considering the police departments and municipal buildings of McKeesport, Clairton, and West Mifflin, due to their involvement in the mishandled investigation of the attempted murder of his son. District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were also mentioned as stakeholders who have been more interested in protecting the church hierarchy than punishing abusers and defending children.

    Ference says, “apparently in western PA the rules to protect children do not apply.”

    For more information on the December 5 protest or other upcoming events, call Mike Ference at 412-233-5491, or email [email protected].
  • Peter Isely
    published this page in Official SNAP Media Statements 2011-11-15 12:42:00 -0600

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