Articles Posted in Priest Abuse

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Three Franciscan priests have been ordered by a Judge in Pennsylvania to stand trial on charges of endangering the welfare of a child and conspiracy for covering up sexual abuse by a fourth Priest.

The priests are charged with enabling Brother Stephen Baker to sexually abuse a number of boys at Bishop McCort High School. According to witness testimony during the priests’ preliminary inquiry, the accused, Father Giles Schinelli, Father Robert D’Aversa and Father Anthony Criscitelli knew that Baker was a pedophile and yet the accused priests continued to assign Baker to jobs where he would have contact with children.

Systemic cover up?

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Newly ordained Pope Francis has certainly started his papacy by making the headlines. He turned down the luxurious Papal housing in the Apostolic Palace in favour of a simple hotel room, he travelled to a juvenile detention centre to wash the feet of the inmates, and he has issued what is seen as a strong statement against sex abusers in the clergy.

Pope Francis, the head of 1.2 billion followers of the Roman Catholic faith, called on the Church to act against clergy sex abuse. He demanded that the Bishops’ conferences around the world need to step up to disciplining the priests and assisting the victims. USA Today reports, :

“This could be an indication that he will move from a strongly centralized government of the church of 1.2 billion people to one that places increased authority locally.”

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Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

For those of you that have not seen the “Explosive” Documentary About Sexual Abuse at a School for the Deaf CBC is now showing the documentary Mea Maxima Culpa online.

Given the widespread media attention given to priest sexual abuse scandals around the globe I am concerned that the public is becoming desensitized to the issue.

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Priests Suspended After Alleged Child Abuse

Last week the Archdiocese of Moncton announced that two of it’s priests Rev. Yvon Arsenault and Rev. Irois Despres had been removed: “from any ministry whatsoever following allegations of serious sexual abuse on minors on their part.”

Concern Over Failure to Report

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Canadian Catholic Bishops are attending their annual Conference this week. The Conference (the CCCB) runs from Sept. 24-28th and is expected to include approximately 90 Bishops from across Canada.

New Rules?

One of the important items on their agenda is the updating of their guidelines for the prevention of clerical sexual abuse. On their approach to the new guidelines the CCCB president, Archbishop Richard Smith told The Catholic Register:

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Sexual Abuse Was “Friendship”?!

Dr. John Kirby, a Catholic Bishop in Ireland, recently apologized for the role he played in transferring abusive priests from one parish to another. In an attempt to explain his decisions he stated:

“I was unaware of the recidivist nature, or the compulsive nature of sexual abuse and I felt that it was a friendship that had gone astray, and was wrong.”

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On Friday, June 22, 2012, Monsignor William Lynn was convicted by a jury on charges of criminal endangerment. The case marks the first time that any official within the Catholic Church has been held criminally responsible for sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Landmark Decision

I don’t believe the importance of this conviction can be overstated. Every province in Canada and every state in the United States have laws that require persons in authority to report suspected cases of child abuse. The website BishopAccountability.org has a huge database of American priests who have been publicly accused of sexual abuse.

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Albert LeBlanc a fomer catholic priest from the Yarmouth Diocese pleaded guilty this week to charges that he sexually abused six boys in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Some of the charges stem from the period when LeBlanc was employed as a priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Yarmouth the later charges relate to periods when he was employed as a case worker with Social Services and then a probation officer.

LeBlanc is facing 44 more charges which are scheduled to be dealt with in August.

The Diocese of Yarmouth has already been sued by several of LeBlanc’s victims. The potential legal exposure for the Diocese, Family and Children’s Services and Probation Services could be enormous.

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The US Conference of Catholic Bishops released a report this week supposedly showing the number of sexual abuse allegations made against American priests last year. How the data in the report should be interpreted depends on your point of view.

The report indicated that there were 594 new credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest during 2011. That’s more than a 15 percent increase over the previous year.

However, the Conference of Catholic Bishops is quick to point out that “only” 23 of the new allegations involved children who were under the age of 18 in 2010 or 2011. In other words, the Bishops are trying to suggest that the problem of sexual abuse by priests is an historical one and that there are few current cases of sexual abuse by priests.

Needless to say, the Conference of Bishops puts the best possible spin on the report. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the USCCP President, said that the report: “Supports the conclusion of both studies done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice – that the majority of allegations are way in the past.” Of course, it’s not actually clear that the Jay report’s conclusions said any such thing.

Repressed Memory and Delayed Disclosure

This of course ignores the fact that victims of abuse often conceal what happened to them for years, even decades, before finally disclosing to their family, friends or therapists. Sometimes victims traumatic memories are repressed until they are triggered later in life.

Given the serious flaws with the Jay report, it is difficult to give much credibility to any conclusions arising from the report. For a more detailed discussion you can take a look at my article The Catholic Church and Sexual Abuse: Is the church’s response real action - or window dressing?

A couple of interesting facts from the report:

More than 6000 priests have been accused of sexually assaulting children in the United States since 1950.

Last year, allegations were made by 588 people against 461 priests.

More Accusations than Ordinations

Only 275 priests were actually ordained in the United States last year, so that means that the number of allegations against priests is actually outpacing the number of priests being ordained.

For those that are interested the website bishopaccountability.org has assembled an exhaustive database from a variety of sources outlining the total number of abuse allegations made against priests by year and the number of survivors along with references to supporting documents.

No Accountability

Given the thousands of priests that have had credible allegations of sexual abuse made against them and the hundreds of victims who have had the courage to come forward, it is astonishing that no Bishop, Cardinal, or Vatican official has ever been sanctioned or criminally charged for knowingly transferring abusive priests or covering up sexual offences against children.

The current criminal prosecutions against Monsignor Lynn in Philadelphia and Bishop Finn in Kansas City are a welcome change.

What about Canada?

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops does not keep a database similar to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. At least, not one that they make public.

This information would be readily available to dioceses across Canada. In fact, Bishops in each diocese are required by Canon Law to keep a record of priests accused of abuse.

There can be only one reason why this information is not being collected or made public. It is because the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops does not want to know how a big a problem sexual abuse by priests actually is here in Canada.
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Sexual abuse victims often struggle for years with memories of the traumatic abuse they suffered as children. In some cases, the experiences are so traumatic that they block out (or repress) the memories.

This week the Minnesota Supreme Court is hearing a motion to determine the validity of repressed memory in sexual abuse cases.

Courts will not allow expert evidence unless the party seeking to submit the evidence can establish that the evidence is reliable.

In Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Mohan decided the test to be applied when considering expert evidence. Mohan sets out four specific criteria for the admissibility of expert evidence. They are:

1.Relevance;
2.Necessity in assisting the trier of fact;
3.Absence of any exclusionary rules; and 4.A properly qualified expert.

The Supreme Court recently weighed in on this issue again in R. v. Trochym where the majority of the Supreme Court Justices reiterated that reliablity is an essential component when determining the admissibility of expert evidence.

Is Repressed Memory Reliable?

Determining the accuracy of a plaintiff’s memory in cases of childhood sexual abuse is critical to the success of a plaintiff’s claim.

When considering evidence relating to repressed memory syndrome the court needs to understand how human beings store memories.

Experts agree that there are three components to our memory:

1.Sensory memory;
2.Short term memory; and 3.Long term memory.

The scientific literature generally agrees that although our ability to store and retrieve memories is usually accurate, memories naturally tend to fade over time.

Factors Resulting in Better Memory

Psychologists have found that there are five factors that tend to result in clearer or better memory retrieval over time:

1.Recency;

2.Meaningful memories (you are more likely to remember the details of your marriage twenty years ago than what you had for breakfast a week ago);

3.Emotional events are more likely to be remember than neutral events. (So you are more likely to remember the drive to work where someone almost crashed into your car than the hundreds of other routine commutes you made every other day of the year);

4.Paying attention. Obviously if someone is focused on paying attention to events around them they are more likely to remember the act than if they are not paying attention; and
5.Reviewed after the event. If you are in a car accident and write down what happened or give a statement to the police or an insurance adjuster you are more likely to remember the event because you have reviewed or repeated the event over again in your mind.

Dates are Difficult

Experts have found that specific dates are very difficult to remember unless they can be tied to a specific event or milestone. In other words, you are more likely to remember an event that happened in the past because you remember that it happened after your birthday party than you are to remember an event that happened on a random uneventful day.

Does Trauma Effect Memory?

Sexual abuse lawyers, and experts who treat survivors of childhood abuse, have to consider what effect trauma has on memory. The weight of scientific evidence appears to indicate that the content of traumatic memories are usually accurate and can be retained over very long periods of time.

Traumatic memories appear to be different than ordinary memories. They tend to be very vivid despite the passage of time and often are re-experienced as flashbacks (one of the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder).

One of the most common differences between traumatic memories and ordinary memories is that gaps in recall or fragmented memories are very common. Memories tend to be disjointed or lack detail.

Fragments?

Psychologists believe in situations of extreme emotion, a victim’s attention may be narrowed, causing fragmentation of their memories.

Victims may dissociate during and after traumatic events.

Finally, victims may repress the memories all together. Psychologists believe that repression of traumatic memories may be a means of coping. The fact that child abuse often takes place secretly means that the events are not likely to be reviewed at a later date (one of the factors which helps increase recall).

What about False Memories?

Defendants in sexual abuse cases often claim the victim is experiencing false memories. See for example:

Priest Sex Abuser Appeals Conviction: Denies Existence of Repressed Memory

Repressed Memory of Sexual Abuse a Creation of the Media?

Can False Memories be Created?

It does appear that false memories can be implanted. The ability to create and implant false memories tends to depend on the importance of the event and the likelihood or plausibility of the memory.

Experts agree that false memories are more likely if the suggested event is believable, plausible or has some basis in reality.

For example, I normally stop at a local drive through for a coffee on my way to work in the morning. Experts suggest that it would be possible to implant a false memory that in addition to my coffee I bought a donut on my way to work. On the other hand, it would be unlikely that I would go to the drive through and buy a watermelon.

Experts have determined false memories for positive events (like a birthday party) and neutral events (wearing a blue baseball cap) are more likely to be produced than false memories for negative events (like sexual abuse).

Amnesia

Can you forget traumatic events?

It is well documented that traumatic events can be forgotten. Studies of war veterans has determined that combat trauma can result in amnesia.

There are well documented studies proving amnesia for victims of childhood physical abuse, rape victims, car accident victims and survivors of natural disasters.

Childhood Sexual Abuse

Studies of victims of documented childhood sexual abuse have shown that between 20% to 60% of abuse survivors are reported having times in their lives when they had no memory of their childhood abuse.

Studies also appear to confirm that recovered memory is as reliable and accurate as continuous memory in studies that compared abuse that was documented in hospital records.

What does it all mean?

Victims of childhood sexual abuse can have periods where the abuse is forgotten and then remembered at a later date.

Traumatic memories may be fragmented or disjointed but generally tend to be accurate.

False memories can be implanted but it is unusual and very unlikely if a memory is of an improbable or unusual event.

Finally, memories can be recovered and corroborated by objective third party evidence.
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