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Why?

35 questions and answers about the crisis in the Catholic Church.

By Times staff reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002


Celibacy is to blame. No, it's the fault of gay priests. Give the laity more power. Leave it in God's hands.

The outrage that has erupted over the current sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church comes with a multitude of ideas for cures -- some of which take aim at basic tenets of the church.

Yet, many experts say this crisis has its origins not in matters of celibacy and sexual orientation, but in factors unique to the Catholic priesthood: an all-male brotherhood rife with sexual immaturity; seminaries that have failed to adequately teach students how to live chaste lives; and a faithful flock that raises its priests to an elevated status.

But above all, these experts say, it is the church's silence on all matters of the flesh, its secrecy in dealing with wayward priests and its blind protection of the men in its own ranks that have catapulted it to controversy.

It's not the first time the Catholic Church has weathered a sex scandal. But this time, the U.S. church's beleaguered hierarchy made an extraordinary journey to the Vatican. After consulting with Pope John Paul II, America's cardinals have returned home with a rough outline for new policies.

Inside, a detailed look at the policies, the scandals that lead to them and their chance at success.

Q&A ON THE CRISIS

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AMERICA

What provoked the current scandal?

It started with the case of defrocked priest and convicted child molester John Geoghan, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month for sexually abusing a boy in Boston in 1991. Court documents showed that the Archdiocese of Boston had shuttled Geoghan from parish to parish even though officials knew about his 30-year history of pedophilia. Nearly 200 people have come forward to say Geoghan, 66, molested them.

Was Geoghan the only problem in Boston?

Outrage over the Geoghan case prompted Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, to apologize twice and turn over to prosecutors the names of nearly 90 priests accused of sexually abusing children over the past 50 years.

In a particularly notorious example, documents show that Law and other church officials allowed the Rev. Paul Shanley to continue as a parish priest in Massachusetts and California even though they knew he had been accused of molesting or raping at least 26 children and had advocated sex between men and boys at a 1978 meeting that led to the formation of a group known as the North American Man-Boy Love Association. Shanley, now 71, bounced from California to New York and back during the 1990s. He most recently lived in San Diego with his longtime companion, but has since departed for parts unknown.

How did the scandal spread?

Many of the nation's 194 dioceses began to review their records. Many were forced to admit that they too had covered up abuse allegations by moving priests from parish to parish. At least 174 priests have either resigned or been taken off duty in 28 states and the District of Columbia since the scandal erupted in January, an Associated Press review has found. In some dioceses, the names of the accused were turned over to prosecutors; in others, church officials said the cases were too old and they refused to reveal names. In only four states -- Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming -- the scandal seems to have had no impact on the way the church operates.

Besides Cardinal Law, are other high profile church leaders involved?

Reports say Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, allowed priests accused of sexually abusing minors to continue working while he was bishop of Bridgeport, Conn.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, was hit by recent disclosures that a Stockton priest imprisoned for molesting boys in 1993 had written a letter years earlier to then-Bishop Mahony thanking him for giving him another parish job, despite accusations of sexual abuse. E-mail messages between Mahony and his top advisers obtained by a Los Angeles radio station seem to show diocese officials debating over how open to be with the authorities on the number and identities of purported sexual abusers.

When an accused priest was moved, did his bosses warn the new diocese?

Some dioceses were warned and continued covering up for the priest. In other instances, the originating diocese made efforts to hide the priest's troubles.

In the Shanley case, for example, the Archdiocese of Boston arranged his transfer to a California parish in 1990 with a top-level written assurance that Shanley had no problems in his past, according to the San Bernardino diocese where he was sent. In Brooklyn, Bishop Thomas Daily sent a glowing recommendation of a priest in his diocese to a Venezuelan bishop in 1991 even though the priest was facing a 60-count indictment on child sexual abuse charges in Queens, according to the New York Times. That priest, the Rev. Enrique Diaz Jimenez, was later accused of abusing 18 boys in Venezuela.

A big cause of the outrage in this current scandal is that such coverups have allowed predator priests to rack up high victim counts.

Are all the accusations from incidents years ago?

Much of the scandal has focused on decades-old incidents. And, partly because of the attention the issue is getting, people who were abused years ago are coming forward now. In California and Massachusetts alone, prosecutors and private lawyers said nearly 550 people have made new allegations of abuse this year. But a few new allegations of much more recent abuse are also being made. Church leaders say the dearth of these allegations of recent abuse shows their efforts to prevent molestation are working. Prosecutors across the country are looking into the old cases to see if a statute of limitations has expired, and they are actively prosecuting new cases.

So, overall, how many priests are actually involved?

There is no way to know. The Catholic Church has never tried to gather information on sexual misconduct by priests, many records were never turned over to public officials and, in many instances, victims have never come forward. Bishops have given law enforcement authorities details of claims against at least 260 clergymen. Some of those priests are among those taken off duty but others are long retired.

How many Catholics are there in the United States?

There are well over 63-million Catholics in the United States, who make up about 23 percent of the country's population. There are 13 cardinals, 402 bishops, 46,041 priests, 4,917 seminarians, 5,565 brothers and 79,462 sisters.

Is this the first time the U.S. church has faced such a scandal?

No. Sexual abuse charges have sprung up constantly over the past 18 years. During that time, at least 1,500 U.S. priests have faced public accusations, victims' lawyer Sylvia Demarest estimates.

The issue first drew attention in 1984. The Rev. Gilbert Gauthe of Lafayette, La., admitted abusing 37 boys, but he may have molested as many as 150. He accepted a plea bargain the next year and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Released after 10 years, Gauthe was detained for two years on a new accusation that he had raped a 12-year-old girl back in the 1980s. A provision in his plea bargain, however, gave him immunity for further acts that had occurred before 1985. He was set free in February 2000 and has not been heard from since.

In 1992, the Rev. James Porter was charged with molesting more than 130 children in Minnesota, Massachusetts and New Mexico. In 1993, he was sentenced to an 18- to 20-year prison term.

In 1997, attention focused on Dallas, where the diocese and its insurers had to pay about $31-million to settle claims that church leaders covered up for the Rev. Rudolph "Rudy" Kos, who was accused of molesting 11 boys he met at three churches. Kos was convicted and is serving a life sentence in prison.

Financially, how much is this costing the church in America?

The settlements with victims nationwide have run into the hundreds of millions. Some reports say the financial drain is expected to top $1-billion.

What has happened in Florida?

The scandal reached the state in early March when the Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell, bishop of the Palm Beach diocese, resigned after admitting he had sexually abused a Missouri seminary student more than 25 years ago when O'Connell was the school's director. O'Connell had come to the Palm Beach diocese three years ago to replace the Rev. J. Keith Symons, the first U.S. bishop to resign because of sexual involvement with boys.

Overall, six Florida priests have resigned or been taken off duty as a result of sexual misconduct allegations since January.

What has happened in the Tampa Bay area?

The response locally to the scandal has evolved over the past few months.

The Rev. Robert N. Lynch, bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which serves about 372,000 Catholics in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, joined with Florida's six other diocesan bishops in issuing a statement expressing compassion for sex abuse victims and explaining that Florida's dioceses had implemented procedures to deal with such allegations against church personnel.

As late as April 4, the diocese acknowledged that, in the past, sex abuse complaints against priests had been handled without contacting authorities. Church officials also said they had no plans to release any files.

In a letter to parishioners on April 13, Lynch said he had ordered a review of the diocese's 240 active priests to ensure that any allegations of sexual misconduct had been properly investigated. But he made no changes in policies regarding the handling of such allegations, and the diocese did not offer to open its files to law enforcement authorities. The review will not cover priests who have moved to other locations.

Last Sunday, Lynch told a Pasco County congregation that parishioners who think they have been abused should take their allegations to the police first, then the church. He emphasized in an interview that the church no longer can hide from scrutiny.

Are priests here being accused?

The Rev. Richard Allen, pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Largo, left the priesthood Friday after a St. Petersburg man reported to police that Allen had fondled him when he was an adolescent 30 years ago.

The Rev. Vincent Orlando was fired last week as a teacher from Jesuit High School in Tampa after he was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor 17 years ago in Houston. A former Jesuit principal, the Rev. Thomas Naughton, was removed earlier this month as a Catholic priest in Orange County, California. Naughton had been accused of sexual misconduct with a youth at Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas in 1978.

Robert Schaeufele, pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Pasco County, left the priesthood this month after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor during the 1970s.

Diocesan officials were named in a lawsuit that accuses Brother William Burke of repeatedly molesting a 14-year-old student in 1987 at Mary Help of Christians School in Hillsborough County. The suit contends the church moved Burke to New Jersey to thwart a criminal investigation. The diocese says it should not be a party to the lawsuit because the school was owned and operated by the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order and the diocese had no authority over Burke.

The Rev. Richard McCormick, who taught theology and English at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, resigned his teaching post after a female student complained that he greeted her with a hug and a kiss.

Church officials cleared the Rev. Louis Molinelli, principal of that school, of wrongdoing after a man came forward to claim that Molinelli had improperly touched him 20 years ago at a church school in Tampa. The priest strongly denied the accusation and took a polygraph test administered by an FBI expert. Church officials said they found inconsistencies in the accuser's story.

In late March, diocesan officials denied charges that the Rev. William Swengros of the Most Holy Name of Jesus parish in Gulfport had made improper advances against the former technology specialist for the parish's school. Ronald B. Zigmund said the priest touched him "in private places" and tried to kiss him. An investigation conducted by an independent firm hired by the diocese concluded that there had been no wrongdoing, a church lawyer said.

Did Bishop Lynch face accusations himself recently?

Yes, but those claims have nothing to do with child sexual abuse.

A former spokesman for the diocese, Bill Urbanski, said that Lynch sexually harassed him. An investigation by the diocese found that Lynch did nothing wrong, and at a March 22 news conference, Lynch denied making advances toward Urbanski. He also said he has never violated his vow of celibacy. The diocese paid Urbanski $100,000, which it characterizes as severance pay.

Have there been previous scandals here?

The St. Petersburg diocese was forced to deal with several sexual misconduct scandals in the mid 1990s.

In 1996, a suit accused the Rev. Rocco Charles D'Angelo of assaulting a boy in 1967. D'Angelo admitted abusing that boy and three others but was never charged. D'Angelo retired in 1993.

Also that year, the Rev. William Lau resigned after Bishop Lynch learned that Lau engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor several years earlier. No charges were ever filed.

The Rev. Simeon Gardner, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Lutz, resigned in August 1996 after it was discovered that he diverted at least $200,000 in church money to a man with whom he had been sexually involved. He was sentenced to two years' house arrest, 1,000 hours of community service and 15 years' probation, and ordered to repay the money.

In October of 1996, Bishop Lynch said that the Rev. Patrick J. Clarke was on paid leave until he decided to continue as a priest or leave the priesthood for the wife he had been secretly married to for 15 years. Clarke eventually left the priesthood.

The next January, the Rev. James E. Russo resigned as pastor of St. Michael's the Archangel Catholic Church in Clearwater after an "episode of misconduct" involving a minor was revealed.

Is this just an American problem?

Pedophilia scandals have hit the Catholic Church in Canada, Australia, Ireland, Britain, France, Germany, Mexico and Poland. However, the phenomenon has gained far more attention in America, where the culture makes victims less inhibited about stepping forward and the right to sue in court offers the prospect of financial damages.

Is it just a Catholic problem?

Sexual misconduct by members of the clergy has been documented in virtually every religious tradition. National studies show no differences in its frequency by denomination, region, theology or institutional structures.

What forms does sexual abuse by priests take?

Some priests have been accused of rape, but Dr. Frederick Berlin, founder of the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital and a member of the Catholic Church's committee on sexual abuse, says he has found that the majority of activity involves fondling, mutual masturbation and sometimes oral sexual contact.

There seems to be a preponderance of male victims. Are girls and women also abused?

Gary Schoener, a Minneapolis psychologist who has been diagnosing and treating clergy abuse for 28 years, has said he thinks victims are much more likely to be girls and women. In his practice, he said, he sees six times more female victims (both adolescent and adult) than male victims.

Dr. Berlin has said he thinks there are more male victims than female. But he isn't sure, and says it's possible that Schoener could be right.

Dr. William Stayton, a psychologist who worked on a surgeon general's report on sex education, told the New York Times that he suspects many adolescent girls and women have been abused by priests. "My guess is that if the number of women who were abused came out, it would be even more than the males," he said.

Then why do we just hear about boys?

Girls are less likely to report abuse by a priest, according to A.W. Richard Sipe, a Catholic priest turned therapist and author. He says that's because girls falling in love with older boys and men is consistent with their psychosexual attractions, though that doesn't mean it's not abuse. Society also places more pressure on female victims with attitudes like, "She must have seduced him." Schoener, the Minneapolis psychologist, says female victims typically get less sympathy from the courts and they receive smaller verdicts if they do successfully sue their abusers.

And the cases that make the big headlines usually involve boys. Schoener says he believes homophobia plays into that. "In modern society, homosexual rape is considered a more heinous act," Schoener told theSacramento Bee.

So gay priests are the problem?

"People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said last month. Not so fast, say researchers who study sexual offenders. Homosexuals are no more likely than heterosexuals to be pedophiles. Those experts go on to say that few of the abusive priests can be considered genuine pedophiles, those who target young children. Their victims are post-pubescent adolescents, ages 14 to 17.

The Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti is president of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., which treats abusive priests. Rossetti has said that even though many in this group are homosexually oriented, their sexuality is regressed or stunted. These men are "stuck in adolescence themselves, and so are at risk for being sexually active with teenage males," Rossetti said. His solution: Don't ban homosexuals from the ministry, but screen out regressed homosexuals before they are ordained.

How many homosexual priests and bishops are there?

Just as it is impossible to nail down the number of abuse cases, no reliable statistics exist on questions about the sexuality of the clergy. A church that requires its ministers to remain celibate has had little interest in commissioning or allowing such studies. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says "it is an ongoing struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men."

What is this celibacy rule?

The Roman Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law requires, with a few exceptions, its clergy to be celibate, meaning that they do not marry and they do not engage in sex. Celibacy is seen as a way of giving oneself completely to God and to the people the priest ministers to as a living example of Jesus Christ.

In the earliest days of the church, the Apostle Paul urged Christians not to marry because they believed Christ's return would be very soon. Later, the issue was one of property rights: Who would inherit the estate of a dead priest? His wife and sons or the church? Church councils in 1123 and 1139 settled the question by declaring that priestly orders were an impediment to marriage and marriage an impediment to priestly orders. Because these rules are part of church discipline and not religious dogma, they can be changed. However, no matter the outcome of the current scandal, Pope John Paul II has made it clear that all priests must remain celibate.

So if priests could marry, they wouldn't abuse children?

As many people have tried to link the scandal to homosexuality, others are using it to say the ban on marriage needs to be dropped. Psychologists and other experts on sexual development say there is no correlation between celibacy and sexual abuse. National statistics show that nearly 68 percent of the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children are parents or relatives of the victims. Presumably these people are not leading celibate lives.

It should be noted that celibacy could bring added tension to the life of a priest who is not psychologically healthy or emotionally mature. Experts say better screening of prospective seminarians could help weed out such candidates.

What type of screening do candidates undergo?

It varies from place to place, but mostly seems to involve psychological testing and background checks.

For example, seminarians wishing to enter Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit undergo psychological tests and provide at least six personal references. Academic, medical, dental and even driving records are considered.

In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, candidates for the priesthood who acknowledge they are gay are rejected, archdiocesan officials say. The archdiocese also attempts to identify personality traits.

Psychologist Phillip J. Miraglia is a screening consultant for St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Philadelphia archdiocese. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer he was not certain he has ever weeded out a pedophile in his two decades of screening.

"I'm a lot better at weeding out psychosis, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, than I am at suggesting specific sexual distortion," he said. "The instruments just aren't good for that."

Priests have been in short supply over the past 20 years. Some Catholic academicians say the church has not instituted more rigorous demands for fear of hindering recruitment.

For all this time, what was being done about sex abuse?

In 1992, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted five principles for dealing with abuse accusations. The principles said church officials must respond promptly to abuse allegations; remove priests if evidence supported the allegations and refer them to medical help; comply with all laws on reporting the incident; reach out to victims; and deal openly with the problem while respecting the privacy of those involved.

Why wasn't that enough?

The bishops conference is a network where bishops mull over mutual problems, propose projects and act as the voice of the Vatican to the United States and the voice of Americans to the Vatican. It issued the 1992 policy as recommendations for each diocese to follow. But the bishops and archbishops who lead the nation's 194 dioceses were under no obligation to implement them, experts said.

Now, nearly all U.S. dioceses have adopted some formal sexual abuse policies, but they vary widely. Also, many bishops have concluded recently that despite the abuse policies, some priests were holding positions that were inappropriate.

Why didn't the Vatican get more involved?

Bishops and archbishops are the ultimate authorities in their dioceses. The Vatican usually avoids intruding on local matters. For months, the sexual abuse scandals were seen as an administrative issue that should have been handled on the local level. The Curia, the bureaucracy that actually runs the Vatican, is immersed in a European culture that regards sex abuse and other aberrant behavior as inappropriate for public discourse. Some reports said curial officials thought the sex abuse allegations were being orchestrated and reported by opponents of the church's stance against abortion and birth control, and its insistence on celibacy.

Couldn't the pope have done something?

The church is not run like a multinational corporation. Churches in St. Petersburg or Brooksville are not Rome's branch offices, and the pope does not function as the CEO. John Paul II has always concentrated on the big picture and a handful of themes. When the pope did finally intervene, it was after a contingent of American bishops asked for the Vatican's guidance on how to proceed. U.S. cardinals and other top church officials were called to a meeting with the pope at the Vatican last week.

What came from that meeting?

The pope told the cardinals that sexual abuse by priests "is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God." The cardinals issued a statement in which they:

Recommended a process to defrock -- that is, to strip of priestly privileges and functions -- any priest who has become "notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors."

Agreed that in cases that are "not notorious," local bishops should decide if such a priest is a threat to children and should be defrocked.

Declared that "a link between celibacy and pedophilia cannot be scientifically maintained" and reaffirmed priestly celibacy.

Decided to ask the U.S. bishops conference to approve a set of national standards in sexual abuse cases that will be imposed on every bishop and diocese.

Suggested that dissent from Catholic moral teaching was an underlying cause of the scandals and proposed that priests publicly reprimand individuals who spread dissent.

Outlined a plan to crack down on screening and training at seminaries.

Called for a national day of prayer and penance for the American church.

What has been the reaction to the plan?

There appears to be a consensus for a zero tolerance policy toward future serial offenders. There is also a consensus that anyone who is dangerous to children should not be involved in ministry. There is disagreement over what to do with a priest who was once involved in non-serial abuse but has reformed and undergone treatment. Critics of the plan say no healing can take place until all priest abusers are removed. The cardinals and the pope took pains, however, to note that "the power of Christian conversion" could cause the guilty "to turn away from sin and back to God."

Why can't any priest who abuses children just be fired?

This is how the New York Times explains it:

Catholic doctrine says ordination is a sacrament, and a priest is a priest for life. There is no mechanism for punishing an ordained man by taking away his ability to administer the sacraments, unless he wants to give it up. A priest who strays is not like a schoolteacher who can be fired or a police officer who can be banned from the union. A priest can be reassigned to the Siberia of an office job or even sentenced to prison by the courts, but unless he decides to cut himself off from the priesthood, he is still a priest. Even a defrocked priest is still a priest.

What does 'defrocked' mean?

It means, essentially, that a priest is laicized, or permanently authorized to live as a layman. He is banned from conducting services in a Catholic church and is not allowed to use his sacred powers except in an emergency. Defrocking is usually a last resort because it can involve lengthy appeals through three ecclesiastical courts, the final one in Rome.

What's next?

The cardinals cannot make decisions binding on the other American bishops. Armed with input from the cardinals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plans to draft new rules based on the cardinals' work in June. The meeting will be in Dallas. The proposed rules would then need Vatican approval, but there has been speculation that such approval was guaranteed by the meeting in Rome.

Will the new rules apply worldwide?

Unless they require changes in canon law, which is binding on all Roman Catholics, the new rules would apply only in the U.S. church.

-- Compiled by Times executive news editor Ron Brackett with assistance from Times researcher Caryn Baird.

-- SOURCES: Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, BBC, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, www.catholic-pages.com, Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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