Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Ulm Diocese files for bankruptcy to settle clerical abuse claims: What if some Catholic bishops had gone to jail?

Earlier this month, the Catholic diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to settle clerical abuse claims.  St. Ulm is the  third Catholic diocese in Minnesota to file for bankruptcy because of sexual abuse claims against priests.

This is the list of American Catholic dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy so far---all triggered by revelations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests:
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Spokane, Washington
  • Davenport, Iowa
  • San Diego, California
  • Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Wilmington, Delaware
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • St Paul & Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Duluth, Minnesota
  • Gallup, New Mexico
  • Helena, Montana
And of course, several other dioceses were stained by clerical abuse that didn't file for bankruptcy: Boston Archdiocese, for example, and the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. Clearly this scandal rocked the Catholic Church in every region of the United States.

It is perhaps too easy to lump this enormous tragedy into an easily summarized phrase: clerical abuse. But we should remind ourselves from time to time that we are talking about crimes against children. In fact, almost all these abuses involved a priest who put his penis in a little boy's mouth or rectum.

The psychological literature--not to mention our own life observations--confirm that these rape victims will never recover from what they experienced no matter how much counseling they receive or how much money they are paid. Some have committed suicide.

In my view, this shameful episode is not behind us and won't be behind us until the Catholic Church pays an enormous penance--and I don't mean money.  The bishops, diocesan administrators, and brother priests who covered up the scandal should be in jail--and not some fancy federal prison that has a golf course and ping pong tables.  I'm talking about a prison like Angola.

Just yesterday, Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, former officials at Penn State University, plead guilty to child endangerment for failing to follow up on a report that Jerry Sandusky was in a shower with a small boy. They received that report in 2001, and it took 16 years for them to face justice.

Curley and Schultz have not been sentenced yet, but I fervently hope they both do hard time. I do not say this in a spirit of vengeance. Rather, it will take a harsh dose of justice to convince people they cannot shut their eyes to child rape.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up clerical abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, is a prime example. Cardinal Law should be eating his daily oatmeal in the Massachusetts state prison in Shirley, not dining in some quaint little trattoria in Rome.  

All 50 states have child abuse reporting laws and child endangerment laws; and Catholic officials flagrantly violated those laws many times when they didn't turn sexual predators over to the police. Until some of these birds are jailed and publicly humiliated, the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal is not over and will never be over.

Cardinal Bernard Law: This guy should be eating oatmeal in Shirley, Massachusetts


Lori Falce & Shawn Anarelli. Schultz, Curley plead guilty in Sandusky scandal. Centre Daily News, March 13, 2017.

Amy Julia Harris. Several Catholic dioceses declared bankruptcy on eve of sexual-abuse trials. Minnpost.com, February 2, 2015.

Phillip Martin. In search of Cardinal Bernard Law. Huffington Post, August 7, 2016.

New Ulm Diocese to file for Chapter 11 protection. The (New Ulm) Journal, March 4, 2017.