Monday 16 September 2019

The US grand jury found the smoking gun

The Pope's smiling face tells one story. The letters his bishops wrote tell a different, depressing tale, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

In recent days, various politicians and public figures have asked Pope Francis to do two things: 1) acknowledge the reality of what his church did to children; and 2) put safeguards in place, not just in words but in actions, to effectively protect our children from his priests, bishops and cardinals.

This suggests that up to now the Pope and his highly skilled executives were bumbling eejits who have somehow failed to flush evil from their midst.

Could we please stop this nonsense?

Last week, I spent three days ploughing through the Pennsylvania grand jury report on the widespread abuse of children by the US Catholic clergy.

After a while I stopped taking notes. Before long I was skipping pages. Reading that report is depressing.

And I'm not referring merely to the details of the abuse - the groping of juveniles, the oral and anal rape of young boys, the years of pain and counselling and suicide that followed.

In this country, we've lined the shelves with reports - Ferns, Cloyne, Ryan - and investigations, none of them an easy read. But this grand jury report is something else.

This is the smoking gun.

Here's the key sentence in the 1,356-page report from the grand jury: "We subpoenaed, and reviewed, half-a-million pages of internal diocesan documents."

Yes, the report has the witnesses and the allegations, as other reports have had; but what makes this different is that the investigators got judicial support that enabled them to get into the secret archives. The report shows us what went on behind the scenes.

Cases scattered throughout the USA followed a similar pattern: abuse, cover-up, move-him-on, "evaluate" him, off you go now and be a good boy.

Above all, no cops.

Likewise, cases throughout the world - from the USA to Ireland to Australia - followed that pattern. It's clear that the cover-up strategy wasn't a local thing that just happened to be replicated across the world.

The grand jury report documents the trail - abusing priest to local bishop, local bishop to fellow bishops, bishops to cardinals, cardinals in the Vatican.

These bishops and cardinals, in truth, are the local executives contacting Head Office, getting the nod to help the offenders stay in business. The grand jury report has the documents.


A priest in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Thomas Skotek, raped a girl, made her pregnant. He arranged an abortion.

And here's the Bishop of Scranton, James Timlin, writing to sympathise - not with the victim but with the abuser: "This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realise how upset you are. I too share your grief."

This was 1986, when we in Ireland were being patted on the back for passing the Eighth Amendment, because the right to life is such a central tenet of the church's beliefs.

Meanwhile, Timlin arranged compensation for the family of the girl, not out of compassion - but to shut them up. The agreement had a strict confidentiality clause. It's published in the grand jury report.

Timlin wrote to Rome in 1989, got the priest reinstated and moved him to Boston, where Skotek sexually assaulted a woman. Only in 2002 was Skotek finally "removed from active ministry".

A priest offended, a bishop protected him, and a cardinal supervised the cover-up.

Over the past week, in widespread media coverage of the World Meeting of Families, we've been treated to a celebration of the Catholic family - gushing, ecstatic Catholics joyfully expressing their commitment to Catholic values. And quiet, thoughtful Catholics secure in their faith.

I was raised in an Ireland that was almost entirely made up of such people. I like them, I'm comfortable with them, though I no longer share their faith. But watching that carry-on, and reading in the grand jury report about the reality of the church they venerate, was jarring.

They are celebrating Catholic values that differ dramatically from the values exposed in the grand jury report.


In the 1980s, Fr Raymond Lukac got a girl pregnant. She was 17, a minor. He married her. Then, a few months later, he divorced her.

Lukac statutorily raped a minor. The police were not informed.

Lukac broke his vow of chastity. He abandoned his child. He broke church law on priests marrying. He broke church law on divorce. To this day, these things are supposedly matters of great principle. Yet, they mattered not at all to senior clerics. His bishop asked around, found what was termed a "benevolent bishop" in another state, who took him under his hospitable wing. Lukac offended again and was moved on his merry way again. And again.

As the truth emerged about the tsunami of abuse throughout the world, the Vatican fought a rearguard action. It continues to do so. The Cloyne Report noted the Vatican was "entirely unhelpful" in getting at the truth.

It's beyond doubt that when its own interests conflict with ours, the Vatican actively intervenes to thwart our institutions.

Enda Kenny, in the Dail in 2011, noted that the Cloyne Report "exposes an attempt by the Holy See to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic".

This is no longer a matter of insisting the Pope match action to words. It's not as though the Vatican has been absent-minded or lazy. The Vatican is a political entity that hoards power. It is made up of competing power bases, each as vicious as any faction in Fianna Fail.

At Dublin Castle yesterday, Leo Varadkar asked the Pope to "ensure that from words flow actions. Above all, Holy Father, I ask to you to listen to the victims".

We need a lot more than that. The Vatican today is engaged in a cold, deliberate attempt to minimise the consequences of its decades of despicable behaviour.

It is a sovereign state. Its executives - cardinals and bishops - act here in its interests.

These are not lapses of some sort, this is how a ruthless institution defends itself.

It covered-up when it could; now, it must manoeuvre more carefully.

If Vladimir Putin interfered in our affairs to the extent that the Vatican has done, we would quite properly kick out the Russian embassy.

But, isn't Pope Francis different? Hasn't he changed everything?

He displays modesty, he chooses a smaller car, he has been known to carry his own case when travelling.

Pope Francis is precisely what a church needs when it's seeking a new image. To have a man of truth and compassion, yes - such a man is always preferable to some of those who held his position.

Then, you look at the record. Chilean victims of abuse accused Bishop Juan Barros, a confidant of Pope Francis. Barros stood by in the room, they said, as they were abused by another bishop.

The Pope accused the victims of slandering Barros. He also denied getting a letter warning him of Barros's conduct.

The letter was delivered to an associate of the Pope, a man chosen by the Pope to act on abuse matters. The letter was handed to this man, Cardinal O'Malley, by our own Marie Collins, an abuse survivor who has worked strenuously for change in the church.

O'Malley told her later he gave the letter to the Pope. The Pope has since had to apologise to the Chilean victims. His apology was worthy of a Fine Gael spin unit. The error, he said, was one of "assessment and perception".

This is business as usual, albeit with a smiling face front and centre.

Sunday Independent

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