Let me report what I have found.
Suffice it to say, a close examination of the evidence (as opposed to rumor) reveals that the charges are really baseless. In fact, the more I've read about the cases in question the more impressed I am by the way Archbishop Gomez has handled these situations. As I'll explain, in one case cited by SNAP the victim herself has told the press that while the religious order involved appeared to drag their feet in answering her charges, it was the Archdiocese of San Antonio that helped expedite the investigation of her case. I wish I had known all of what I know now before I was interviewed.
I should add that I'm rushing to get this up. I've got classes to prepare for tomorrow and I number of other things on my plate. I apologize in advance for any embarrassing typos.
The guilty must be punished
Before I move on, let me just say that I am absolutely NO apologist for child-abusing priests are church officials who cover-up such crimes. Such evil deserves must be dealt with and the guilty must pay for their crimes.
Let me be clear: I have no interest in protecting criminals. I have no interest in hedging, spinning or massaging messages. As Jesus said, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt 18:5-6).
The need to be thoughtful . . .
Having said that, we need to be thoughtful and balanced here. Just because some priests and bishops have acted inappropriately does NOT mean that all have! Most priests are good men who have dedicated their whole lives, sacrificing a great deal, including having families of their own, to serve others. We cannot simply jump to conclusions. In fact, sociologists are urging greater caution here, identifying an increasing tendency to "moral panic". See, e.g., this piece by the Italian sociologist . Suffice it to say, each case needs to be judged on the merits--we can't simply implicate all priests and bishops in the scandal.
The charges against Archbishop Gomez
To avoid the impression that I am somehow creating a "straw man" argument I am going to post SNAP's press-release in full, as it was passed on to me by the producer of the show I mentioned above. It has since appeared elsewhere.
Statement by Barbara Garcia Boehland of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests 210-621-2177; Cell: 210-725-8329
With Gomez, the Pope is promoting a bishop with a troubling record of recent secrecy and risk regarding child safety. If the Pope is trying to convince us he’s “tough” on abuse, he’s shooting himself in the foot by elevating Gomez.
Just last year, Gomez kept silent about two clerics whose religious supervisors deemed ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing teenagers. One of those clerics now apparently works in
One is Brother Richard Suttle of the Claretian Missionaries, who Gomez is letting live and study in
. “He sexually abused a teen in the early 1980s in San Antonio Arizona, according to a public notice from the diocese,” wrote the Express-News last year. Phoenix
The other, Father Charles H. Miller of the Society of Mary “worked at St. Mary's University for more than two decades and was let go in 2007 after his religious order found a claim that he sexually abused a teen in 1980 to be credible. Last year (2008) he was moved to
,” the Express News wrote in 2009. Evidently Miller still works for the Marianists there. Rome
In both cases, Gomez let religious orders quietly transfer credibly accused clerics into the
diocese in recent years. Neither Gomez nor the religious orders apparently warned parishioners or the public. San Antonio
Then there’s Fr. Larry Hernandez. His religious order suspended his faculties in early 2008 because of credible abuse allegations. Gomez kept it quiet until March 2009.
Furthermore, Gomez hails from the
archdiocese which has and continues to distinguish itself by its particularly harsh legal maneuvers against clergy sex abuse victims. Denver
We're very saddened and disappointed by this choice.
Statement by David Clohessy of SNAP (314 566 9790, SNAPnetwork.org)
There are plenty of US bishops who have acted recklessly and secretively in one or two cases during 2009. Unfortunately, the Pope is promoting one who has acted recklessly and secretively in three such cases during the last year.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Joelle Casteix (949-322-7434), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Peter Isely (414-429-7259), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell)
There is a lot here and it deserves a careful treatment. I'm going to take each one at a time.
However, before we move on there is one detail that must be underscored--all of the priests in question are members of religious communities, they are not diocesan priests. Remember that a bishop is the head of a diocese (e.g., the archdiocese of Los Angeles), they do not run religious communities. Members of religious communities report to their "superiors" ("Superior General," "Mother Superior", etc.), who are responsible for those under them. Bishops cannot snap their fingers and make religious communities do whatever they will. Their jurisdiction is over their diocese, and over diocesan priests.
The media might like to make it seem like bishops are "kings" with absolute power--in fact, they are not!
Of course, the response to all of this is: "Well, the Archbishop must at least make such cases public knowledge and work to ensure the safety of his flock." As we'll see, the charge that Archbishop Gomez has kept this information secret is flatly false.
1. Brother Richard Suttle
The story of Brother Suttle begins not in San Antonio but in Phoenix. Here's the report from the Phoenix diocese, which posted this notice on its official website back in 2008. I'll let the brief fill you in on the details. I'll italicize a few points that are especially important to underscore and make some comment in red ink along the way.
The Claretian Missionaries of the U.S. Western Province have notified the Diocese of Phoenix that their review board has found a report of sexual abuse of a minor to be credible against Br. Richard Suttle, a religious brother of the Claretian Order. Credibility does not imply either guilt or innocence but rather that the allegations made in the report are possible. [Notice the investigation was done by the religious community. This is not a matter of a cover-up--they wanted to get to the truth. This was not somehow mandated by legal officials.]
In that report, Br. Richard Suttle, CMF, is accused of engaging in sexual abuse of a minor during the 1982-83 school year while at Sacred Heart School in Prescott, AZ, where Br. Suttle was a teacher and a coach. After becoming aware of the report during the fall of 2008, the Diocese of Phoenix promptly conducted a thorough investigation into the charges and forwarded its findings to the Claretian Missionaries for their review and disposition. [Note the swift action and thorough action taken by the Diocese of Phoenix, which was clearly done in an objective matter--there is no cover-up here.]
To date, the report of the 1982-83 abuse at Sacred Heart is the only report of sexual abuse of a minor against Br. Suttle that is known to the Diocese of Phoenix. Likewise, the Claretian Missionaries have confirmed that they are not aware of any other allegations of sexual abuse of a minor against Br. Suttle. [In other words, while the charge is "credible" it has not been definitely proven. The fact that there has only been one report is significant here--there is no evidence of a pattern of misconduct.]
The Claretian Missionaries have officially informed the Diocese of Phoenix that Br. Suttle no longer resides in Arizona and will not be assigned to the Diocese at any time in the future. The religious order has removed him from any ministry involving minors and has placed him on a plan that restricts and monitors his movements.[Again, it is the religious community who assigns their members, not the bishop.]
The Diocese of Phoenix has confirmed that Br. Suttle was also employed at Bourgade Catholic High School in Phoenix from 1988 to 1998, where he was a teacher and coach, and that he served as principal of Sacred Heart School in Prescott between 2006 and 2008.
The Diocese urges anyone who may know of any sexual abuse or other improprieties by Br. Suttle or who may have any other such information about him to contact the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office at 602-506-3411, the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office at 928-771-3485, or the Claretian Missionaries at 626-289-2009. [Does this sound like a cover-up?]
As always, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and the Diocese of Phoenix encourage anyone who has experienced sexual misconduct or abuse by a member of the clergy or by any worker of the Church to make a report to local law enforcement and to contact Jean Sokol at the Office of Child and Youth Protection at 602-354-2396.
Brother Richard Suttle, a member of a California-based religious order who is accused of child molestation, has moved to San Antonio [note: he was not invited by the diocese; as a religious he reports to his superiors who decides where he is sent], igniting a campaign by a victims' advocacy group demanding he be stripped of his religious credentials and forced to leave.
The local director of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and her husband protested Suttle's relocation Thursday in front of the Archdiocese of San Antonio's headquarters.
Suttle, a member of the Claretian Missionaries of the U.S. Western Province, denies the allegation of abuse, and his order says he came here in July from Arizona to study for a doctorate. He lives at a residency along with five other Claretians on the campus of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, 617 S. Santa Rosa St., downtown. [Is this a secret? No. It's in the mainstream press!]
The allegation was made public in December when the Diocese of Phoenix issued a statement that a “credible” claim of sex abuse had been made against Suttle. It also said this conclusion didn't mean he was either innocent or guilty, but that the claim was “possible.”
The abuse is alleged to have taken place during the 1982-83 school year at Sacred Heart Parish School in Prescott, Ariz., where Suttle was a teacher, coach and principal.
SNAP Director Barbara Garcia-Boehland said she believes Suttle's emergence here reflects a strategy to conceal the allegation and questions why the archdiocese and the order did not make public his whereabouts sooner. “Obviously, they are not sticking with their own policies and doing background checks,” she said. “We need this guy out of the city. He's a danger.”
The order's provincial superior, Father Richard DeTore, defended Suttle in a phone interview Thursday, citing the public notifications made in Arizona to the police and Catholic communities and the restrictions placed on him while living here. He added that Suttle has not been charged with a civil or criminal offense. [This is entirely reasonable. Note, for that there has been no attempt by the state to prosecute this case. Whether this is because the statute of limitations has run out or not is unclear to me. But realize that this has all transpired as part of the new policies regarding transparency enacted by the religious order itself and diocesan officials.]
DeTore said Suttle came to San Antonio in July exclusively to study for a doctorate — three months before the allegation was made. At that point, DeTore said he put Suttle on a “restrictive safety plan” that keeps him away from children and young people by banning him from all ministry. He is also required to sign in and out of the residence and declare where he's headed and for how long. [This is an extraordinary measure. He has not been convicted a crime--yet he agrees to live, of his free accord--in the religious community and abide by all of these limitations!]
DeTore said there was a brief period when Suttle was helping to distribute Communion as a Eucharistic minister at Immaculate Heart parish, which is run by
the Claretian community. DeTore said that once he learned of the situation, he put a stop to it. [He can't even distribute communion at a Mass in public!] “We are currently putting together an investigation for ourselves and allowing Richard, who claims he is innocent of these charges, to bring forward a defense against these charges,” DeTore said. [C'mon, really. Does this sound like a cover-up to you?]
Deacon Pat Rodgers, archdiocesan spokesman, said the religious order is primarily responsible for handling the matter since Suttle is living with them and he has no ministry assignment for the archdiocese to manage. And so far, Rodgers said, the order's actions have been appropriate. “We have a long history with the Claretians, and there is no reason to think the safety of the parish is threatened,” he said. [It certainly seems clear to me that the diocese has good reason to think that this man is being carefully restricted and watched by his religious community. Of course, and let's underscore this, the bishop runs the diocese and not the religious community to which this priest belongs. Furthermore, the order had already informed the police and the local community of the charges and of his whereabouts. And, again, his guilt has never been proved. The authorities here are simply taking the word of the accuser because his charges were deemed credible.]
Garcia-Boehland of the victim's group demanded that San Antonio Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantú meet with her in the archdiocesan lobby since Archbishop José Gomez was out of town. She wanted to hand-deliver a letter of concern. Rodgers assured her he'd give the letter to Cantú, but not before a tense exchange filmed by TV news cameras and watched by a couple of security guards.
Garcia-Boehland eventually left the letter at the front desk after chiding Rodgers and the archdiocese.“What are you waiting for?” she asked Rodgers. “For him to rape children here before doing anything?”
We have one allegation that has surfaced coming from 1982. It appears the sstem was working. We have a finding of "credible" which is described as this abuse possibly could have happened which is a much lower standard than Preponderance of Evidence which is used by Grand Juries to file a indictment. [Very important consideration.]
It appears the Order is working to find the truth of the matter.
It also appears that while this investigation is happening the Brother is just living members of his order while he attends school.
He is now it appears on something similar Bail requirement where he has to sign in and out and has restrictions where he can go. NOTE THIS WOULD NOT BE HAPPENING IF HE WAS OUT OF THE CHURCH.
Now this is the touchy issue. We are dealing with a complant that is "Possible" and appears to be under investigation still. What is the standard do we need to apply to "possible". Let us say that you were a LAY Catholic Youth Minister and are accused of something that occurred in 1982.
It is the only complaint and there has been no litigation Civil or Criminal. Lets say you moved to a different State where you attend Mass . Does the Church need to put an ad in the paper and announce to the Diocese and to the local church that have you been accused. If that happened to me I would be contemplating a huge ole lawsuit!! If we were talking School systems instead of Dioceses and Teachers instead of Priests [or] brothers that is exactly what would happen. [A key point!]
I'm not going to go into a lot of depth here. Let's just cover a few things.
1) Fr. Miller is also a member of a religious order. He is a Marianist.
The order has kept the matter private, saying the victim wanted it that way. The woman, now 47, said that when the finding wasn't made public, as she requested, she came forward this week out of frustration.
In the letter, the order said it barred Miller, now 75, from public ministry, forced him to resign from St. Mary's and placed him on a “safety plan,” which includes monitoring his whereabouts and keeping him away from children and youths.
He was sent to the order's General Administration building in Rome to live and work, the order's spokeswoman said.
Sex-abuse victims aren't identified by the San Antonio Express-News. The woman has not sought criminal charges or a civil suit because the statute of limitations prevented it, she said. She also said she hasn't requested money from the order.
The woman first contacted the Marianist order in 2005. At the time, Miller was director of the Roamin' Rattlers, organizing overseas trips for former students and university associates.
During his roughly 25 years at St. Mary's, he was a theology professor and dean of the humanities department known for his expertise in the Holy Land.
In May 2007, the Marianists review board backed the woman and offered her therapy.
So what made the difference here? The answer: contacting the diocese of San Antonio. Is Archbishop Gomez involved in a cover-up? No. Just the opposite. The ball only started to get rolling after the archdiocese was brought in here. The victim thinks contacting the people working for Gomez helped "expedite" the process. Again, if you're looking for evidence of a Archbishop Gomez cover-up this is also a dead end.
Reviewing old family photos in 2005, she began to unlock her memories, she said.
Increasingly upset and feeling violated, she said she wrote Miller a letter that same year, asking him to acknowledge the abuse. She also wrote the Marianists a letter notifying them what happened, she said.
She said she assumed the letter would trigger a full investigation. Instead, the order didn't consider the letter a formal complaint until she wrote another letter in early 2007 specifically requesting its review board take up the matter.
She also wrote the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which she thinks helped expedite her complaint.
Once again we are here dealing with a member of a religious community, not a diocesan priest.
First off, the story about the allegations against Fr. Hernandez first broke back in 2008. The story ran in a Catholic paper in Washington, D.C. You can read the whole sorted account there. I'd just like to note that it underscores that the religious order immediately contacted the police and alerted them of the accusations. In addition, the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. handled the case extremely well. As soon as the allegations were made a letter was read at the parish level, alerting the people in the pews. The archdiocese asked any other possible victims to please come forward to help the investigation and to receive assistance from the archdiocese.
In 2009, after an investigation, the Archdiocese of San Antonio came out publicly and made it clear to the press that they found the accusations "believable". Again, the whole story was covered in the mainstream press. In short, contrary to the claims of SNAP, there was nothing secret about this whole episode. The Archdiocese of San Antonio, of its own initiative, publicized their findings regarding not only Fr. Larry Hernandez, but other priests.
In none of these cases is there evidence at all of a cover-up. On the contrary, the Archdiocese has gone out of its way to publicize such stories. In one instance, the victim credits the Archdiocese of San Antonio with expediting the process of investigation.