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Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia suspended 24 priests who had continued to serve despite having been accused of abuse

Msgr. William Lynn was indicted by a Philadelphia grand jury on charges of endangering the welfare of children.

Child sex abuse revelations in Philadelphia challenge authenticity of Catholic Church reform plan

PHILADELPHIA (By Laurie Goodstein, NYT) March 26, 2011 ― Nine years after a scandal in Boston prompted America’s Roman Catholic bishops to announce sweeping policy changes to protect children from sexual abuse by priests, the bishops are scrambling to contain the damage from a growing crisis in Philadelphia that has challenged the credibility of their own safeguards.

When a grand jury in Philadelphia reported last month that the archdiocese there allowed 37 priests accused of abuse or inappropriate behavior to remain in ministry, it came as a complete surprise to the local and national “review boards” that the bishops have put in place to help keep them accountable, members of those boards said.

Church officials are also deeply troubled by how it is possible that in the bishops’ most recent annual “audit” — conducted by an outside agency to monitor each diocese’s compliance with the policy changes — Philadelphia passed with flying colors, said Teresa M. Kettelkamp, executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, which issues the annual audit reports.

“To have that level of compromise of our programs and our process, I was totally shocked,” said Ms. Kettelkamp, who spent 30 years in law enforcement and corruption investigations before she was hired by the bishops.

The revelations in Philadelphia have called into question the efficacy of the bishops’ reform plan, unveiled in 2002 under the intense spotlight cast by the Boston scandal and called the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

The church says it has spent tens of millions of dollars to fingerprint volunteers, organize “safe environment” prevention programs in parishes and schools, reach out to victims and deal with accusations. At least 1,000 workers nationwide are employed in carrying out the charter’s mandates, church officials say. Now the bishops are hearing parishioners, abuse victims and the church’s own child protection workers voicing a sense of betrayal.

“This is confusing and demoralizing to many people,” said Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., chairman of the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, who said he recently met with a large group of these workers at a convention in Los Angeles. “Everybody is very saddened by this because people are working very hard, each and every day, to implement the charter. And to have this happen is really just painful for all of us.”

The main governing committee of bishops took up the issue this week at a regularly scheduled meeting in Washington, and late on Thursday issued a statement that sought to convey reassurances that the bishops were still committed to their policies.

The core of the charter was a “zero tolerance” pledge to remove from the ministry any priests credibly accused of abuse. So the grand jury’s charge that the Philadelphia Archdiocese allowed as many as 37 priests to continue serving, despite an array of charges against them, provoked the most searing questions.

Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia at first rebutted the grand jury’s findings, then changed course, suspended three priests and ultimately suspended 21 more — the largest mass suspension by a diocese in the three-decade history of the abuse scandal.

A Philadelphia grand jury also indicted the former head of the archdiocesan office for clergy, Msgr. William Lynn, on charges of endangering the welfare of children — the first indictment ever of a senior church official in covering up an abuse case.

The statement from the bishops’ committee, signed by the bishops’ president, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, said, “We remain especially firm in our commitment to remove permanently from public ministry any priest who committed such an intolerable offense.”

The bishops’ statement says they have “confidence” that the charter is effective, but will consider whether it needs to be revised or strengthened. A long-planned review of the charter is scheduled for the bishops’ meeting in June.

“We want to learn from our mistakes and we welcome constructive criticism,” the statement says.

In recent interviews with local reporters, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, the former chairman of the bishops committee on child protection, and Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, expressed anguished anger about the developments in Philadelphia. “There’s no excuse for cover-up,” said Archbishop Aymond.

However, the bishops’ committee avoided any direct criticism of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia — even though some had pressed for something more hard-hitting, said some church officials who did not want to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Cardinal Rigali worked for many years in the Vatican and still has powerful allies there. A kingmaker among American bishops, he serves on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, the body charged with recommending bishops’ assignments to the pope. (Also serving on that Vatican congregation: Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 during the abuse scandal there.)

Bishop Cupich and other church officials said that the bishops were withholding any judgment about what exactly went awry in Philadelphia and who was responsible because they did not yet have enough information. Bishop Cupich praised Cardinal Rigali for hiring an investigator — after the news of the grand jury report came out — to go through the files and determine which priests should be suspended from ministry.

But those involved in oversight in the church are asking themselves why the local review board in Philadelphia and the auditors did not know about so many accused priests still in ministry. Did the church staff in Philadelphia fail to show them the files? Were the files scrubbed?

Church officials and those involved in oversight say they do not know. And they said that they were looking to the investigators and prosecutors in Philadelphia to come up with the answers.

The episode identifies a key weakness in the bishops’ charter: neither the bishops’ auditors nor the review boards have the same power as a grand jury or a prosecutor to subpoena witnesses or compel the church to turn over files.

“They can only review the information they’re given,” said Diane Knight, chairwoman of the National Review Board, the advisory and accountability committee appointed by the bishops. “It is startling and discouraging that after nine years of the charter and all of the work that has gone into it, to have this kind of a grand jury report come out is troubling at best.”

A statement from Mr. Cuomo’s office said there was “mounting evidence” the program, called Secure Communities, had not only failed to meet its goal of deporting the most serious immigrant criminals but was also undermining law enforcement and compromising public safety.

“There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York,” Mr. Cuomo said. Unless those concerns are eased, the statement said, New York will not take part.

Mr. Cuomo’s decision makes New York the second state to announce its intention to withdraw from the program, and sets up a confrontation with the Barack Hussein Obama administration, which has made Secure Communities a cornerstone of immigration enforcement strategy. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois said in May he was canceling his state’s participation.

Under the program, begun by the Bush administration in 2008, the fingerprints of everyone booked into a local or county jail are sent to the Department of Homeland Security and compared with prints in its files. If officials find a suspect is in the country illegally, or is a noncitizen with a criminal record, they may seek to deport the person.

By Wednesday, fingerprint sharing had been introduced in about 41 percent of the nation’s jurisdictions, including 27 of 62 counties in New York. Mr. Cuomo’s move means those counties’ participation will end. The entire country is scheduled to join the program by 2013.

The practical effects of Mr. Cuomo’s decision are unclear. New York law enforcement agencies regularly check fingerprints with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Homeland Security officials said regardless of New York’s participation in Secure Communities, the F.B.I. would still share fingerprints with the immigration agency.

Federal officials said if states did not share fingerprints with the F.B.I., those states would lose access to federal criminal databases, undermining their ability to fight crime.

While Secure Communities has contributed to a sharp rise in deportations under President Barack Hussein Obama, it does not appear to have won him many allies. It has angered immigrants who supported Democrats in recent elections. It has also failed to convince many of the president’s Republican opponents he is sufficiently committed to enforcement.

Opponents of the program contend even though it was mainly intended to ensnare convicted criminals and people deemed a security threat, it has instead caught too many immigrants charged with low-level crimes or guilty only of being in the country illegally. This pattern, the opponents argue, has driven immigrants deeper into the shadows and deterred them from helping officials fight crime.

In addition, critics have assailed the rollout of Secure Communities, which has been plagued by seemingly contradictory statements about how it works and whether local and state participation is voluntary.

Mylan L. Denerstein, counsel to Mr. Cuomo, cited these concerns in a letter on Wednesday.

“Until the numerous questions and controversies regarding the program can be resolved, we have determined New York is best served by relying on existing tools to ensure the safety of its residents, especially given our overriding concern the current mechanism is actually undermining law enforcement,” Ms. Denerstein wrote to John Sandweg, counsel to Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary.

Officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of Homeland Security that oversees Secure Communities, said it was reviewing the program to make sure it focused on criminals.

Immigrant advocates praised Mr. Cuomo. “It is clear the tide is turning” against Secure Communities, said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles. “It’s high time for the president to terminate the program before any further damage is done to our communities.”