Black victims of sex abuse charge inaction, cover-up by the Catholic Church
* Click here to read Part 2 of this series
Originally posted, Dec. 8 2009
CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) – Attorney Phillip Aaron said after hearing the emotional stories of victims of sexual abuse by religious authorities within the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, he felt obligated to help.
Part I of a series
Mr. Aaron, a legal representative for dozens of Black men who allegedly were sexually abused by Catholic priests while in their teens, is leading the charge on behalf of his clients, who claim the religious hierarchy was slow to respond to their complaints, and once responding, were uneven in their dispensation of financial compensation and subsequent counseling services that were made available to White victims.
“Somebody had to help these guys,” Atty. Aaron told The Final Call “I think that I would die if I didn’t.”
For the last nine years, Atty. Aaron has worked on behalf of at least 50 Black victims of pedophiles. Some say the abuse began when they were as young as age nine.
David Nolan, now 42, said his sordid tale of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest began when he was 13 years old. He said the priest used his position of authority and power to have sex with dozens of young boys at will, and seemingly without fear of punishment.
“We put them (priests) on pedestals almost to the point where I thought they were more than superhuman in a sense,” said Mr. Nolan. At one time, Mr. Nolan tried to tell, however, when he went to the Chicago Police, they called him a liar and laughed at him. Scared with no resources and no protection, Mr. Nolan’s victimizer forced him to recant. Even after many complaints by members of the congregation, his victimizer was transferred to a bigger church on Chicago’s Southside.
“No one cares about young Black boys being molested, but I’m reading in the news everyday how holy hell is being raised by White victims being sexually abused,” said Mr. Nolan, who said a young male relative was also sexually abused by the same priest.
Reginald Montgomery’s nightmare of abuse also began at age 13, when he was homeless after being kicked out of the house.
He looked up to his priest as a father figure, until one evening the priest told him he could sleep upstairs in the rectory. The seemingly benevolent priest came and woke him up.
“I felt somebody rubbing on me.” Mr. Montgomery said when he opened his eyes, “He was standing there in his underwear.”
“He just did what he wanted. I tried to get him off me, but he was stronger then me. He actually raped me,” said Mr. Mongtomery.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the guarded and mysterious nature of the inner-workings of the Catholic Church throughout history were key factors creating an atmosphere where priests could engage in this type of sexual abuse, almost at will.
“For centuries the (Catholic) Church hierarchy has been a rigid, secretive, all male monarchy and remains so today; that is the crux of the crisis right there,” said Mr. Clohessy. “With virtually no checks and balances, you have almost limitless power in the hands of a few secretive men. That alone is a recipe for disaster,” he added.
According to their website, SNAP “is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims.”
For its part, the Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged this problem, with an intensified effort and focus over the last two decades in which a number of institutional controls have been put in place.
According to officials from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, every effort is being made to resolve cases of sexual abuse involving priests in order to right the wrongs of the past, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
In an exclusive interview with The Final Call at the administrative offices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago on Nov. 13, John O’Malley, director of the Legal Services Department, while acknowledging that institutional racism and bias exists, categorically denied there was inequity in the treatment of Black and White victims of abuse by Catholic priests that were a part of the Chicago Archdiocese.
“It’s not true,” said Mr. O’Malley, adding that he had spoken several times with Atty. Aaron regarding allegations of racial disparity.
“The first was that Blacks receive less in settlements than Whites; that’s not true. The second is Blacks are demeaned in the process; that’s not true. And the third is (Black) people are offered less in counseling services than White people; that’s not true. None of those three allegations are true,” said Mr. O’Malley.
“Cases are unique, they are individual and they are based on a lot of circumstances,” Mr. O’Malley added.
At the time of The Final Call interview, no official numbers were available, Mr. O’Malley said he looked into the charges made by Atty. Aaron’s clients and said he was “disappointed” that the race issue has continuously been raised. He challenged Atty. Aaron to identify the financial disparity in the records of those clients who have received financial settlements.
However, on November 20, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago delivered a report to The Final Call complied by the law firm Pugh, Jones, Johnson and Quant. According to the report, there was no evidence of racial discrimination during the review or settlement process.
“It has never been an Archdiocesan practice to compile statistics about abuse claims based on race or ethnicity. However, it felt compelled to do so when these allegations were made,” read the statement from the Chicago Archdiocese.
“The outside investigators found no evidence in determining monetary settlements. They also found no evidence to suggest that the review and settlement process differed based on race.”
In the 27-page report, the law firm did indicate that the “perception of having been demeaned is disproportionately felt by African-American claimants.” This was attributed to the fact that a quarter of the claims brought by Blacks were against a cleric who is a member of the Benedictine Order of St. Procopius Abbey. According to the law firm, it employed a “deposition-style statement” in its evaluation and settlement process that differs from the process used by the Chicago Archdiocese. Any other differences in settlement amounts were attributed to “race neutral factors.”
A crisis in the Catholic Church
In 2002 the powerful United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the governing leadership body comprised of the Catholic hierarchy nationwide, established a “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. According to the organization, the charter also contains guidelines for accountability, reconciliation, healing, and the prevention of future abuse.
The late Pope John Paul II, in an April 23, 2002 address to the Cardinals of the U.S. and officers of the USCCB, said the sexual abuse of young people is “by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God.”
In his message at Washington Nationals Stadium on April 17, 2008 to the Catholic faithful, Pope Benedict XVI addressed challenges facing the Catholic Church regarding pedophilia within Catholic clergy.
“No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse,” said the pope. “It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church,” he added.
In a 2004 letter written by Francis Cardinal George to all of the parishes within the Chicago Archdiocese, he wrote, “The Church is called to be holy; for our sanctification, Christ died. The Church has saints, but each saint is a reformed sinner. The sins of each harm us all. Each day I pray for those who have been sexually abused by priests of the Archdiocese. No matter when or how that abuse occurred, terrible harm, spiritual and psychological and sometimes physical, was inflicted. I pray also for the priests who have to face the Lord and his people as well as themselves.” In 1990, Francis Cardinal George was appointed a Bishop by then Pope John Paul II and served on the West Coast. In 1997, he was named Archbishop of Chicago. Francis Cardinal George, also serves as president of the USCCB, a position he has held since 2007.
In Mr. Clohessy’s view, the words as well as the collective actions of the Roman Catholic hierarchy are “largely public relations,” however, representatives from the Church say that transparency, and a continuous outreach effort is being made to right the wrongs of the past.
Large financial settlements
Media reports of financial settlements awarded to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests are heard daily with dollar figures climbing into the millions.
As a case in point, the Archdiocese of Chicago has paid out millions in financial settlements to victims of sexual misconduct and abuse involving priests over the years.
According to their 2008 annual report, the Archdiocese of Chicago paid out $11 million in fiscal year 2008, $8.6 million in fiscal year 2007 and $17.7 million in fiscal year 2006. For the period covering fiscal years 2001 through 2007, the Archdiocese of Chicago paid a total of $64.7 million “for settlements of sexual misconduct, related legal expenses and other costs related to direct victim assistance,” according to financial reports.
On August 12, 2008, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced a $12.675 million financial settlement to be paid to 16 victims of sexual abuse by eleven Catholic priests and as recently as July 21, 2009, announced another $3.9 million financial settlement to be paid to six victims of sexual abuse involving four former Catholic priests between 1970 and 1986.
Mr. Clohessy says despite the large financial settlements, the Roman Catholic Church is not being financially crippled and the filings by various U.S. Catholic dioceses seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in advance of civil trials are simply used as part of the cover-up strategy.
Seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection halts action in civil lawsuits and bars the filing of new suits while the church reorganizes its finances. Wilmington, Delaware, Davenport, Iowa, Spokane, Washington, San Diego, California and Tucson, Arizona are just some of the dioceses that used Chapter 11 bankruptcy to allegedly shield themselves from claims by victims.
“The common denominator is they all filed for bankruptcy on the eve of a trial at which the bishop was going to have to take the witness stand and put his hand on that Bible, and face tough questions in open court about what he did,” said Mr. Clohessy. “The bottom line is what the bishops fear is their own complicity (being) scrutinized and they will do anything to prevent that, even if it means seeking bankruptcy protection,” he added.
Black Catholics in the U.S.
It would not be unusual if an image of a Black person did not immediately come to mind when thinking of adherents to Catholicism. The vast majority of Catholics in Chicago are White and Latino, and the same is true nationwide.
The Chicago Archdiocese serves a little over 2.3 million Catholics, of those, approximately 90,000 or 4 percent are Black.
According to the Department of Communications for the USCCB, there are a little over 68 million Catholics in the U.S., and of those, 3 million are Black. Of the 195 archdioceses and dioceses in the U.S., only six are led by Black Bishops. There are 41,489 diocesan and religious order priests in the U.S., with only 250 being Black. Of 16 Cardinals in the U.S., none are Black.
Similar to findings that rogue police officers with numerous complaints are often stationed in neighborhoods largely populated by Blacks and Latinos who lack economic and political power, and despite denials from the Catholic Church, a similar dynamic appears to be at work with offending Catholic priests finding themselves quietly transferred to parishes in Black and Latino neighborhoods.
“The sad fact is they are less inclined to tell if abuse occurred, less inclined to be believed if they do report it, distrustful of law enforcement and more trusting of religious authorities,” said Mr. Clohessy.
“People coming forward to talk about being abused by priests is a difficult thing,” said Mr. O’Malley. “Priests are trust figures in their lives like a parent or a family member and talking about that is hard, so I would not speak harshly of anyone who said it was a difficult process,” he added.
“This is true racism in America,” said Mr. Nolan. “We found out that the Catholic Church doesn’t have love for young Black Catholics.
“We were young devout Black Catholics who cared about God, who were good kids, not in gangs, not in trouble, but this man took our innocence and they helped cover it up.”