Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Catholics Thoughts On Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse and the LA ArchDiocese Settlement Part I

It has been a good few weeks for Catholics. However, this is sad and tragic news. LA church to pay $600M for clergy abuse. There will be much more detailed analysis of this situation in the weeks to come. There are also some major things to be be concerned about whther you are Catholic or not as to the ramifications of this case.

This shall be a long post so be forewarned. I am going to make this a two part post. THe first post will deal with some background on myself as it related to this issue. The second part will deal with the case itself and how Catholics should respond to the questions.

First some background on this blogger you are reading. I have a legal background. In fact at one time I was a lawyer. After about 9 years of it I realized it was not what I wanted to do. In my short legal career , I functioned both as an assistant district attorney in a major north Louisiana parish and as a private attorney. My private practice was both criminal defense and family law.

Second I am divorced. It wasn't my idea but what can you do. Life moves on and you can get busy living or get busy dying .I live my now "Civil Divorced" life according to the laws of the Church. It is possible and can be fruitful. Getting to the point of this post , my wife not only worked in the Louisiana prison system(what a mess that is!!!) , but was very involved with working with sexual offenders. Later, she was involved with special needs children in the Louisiana public schools.

Lastly, I am convert. I was raised a Southern Baptist in north Louisiana. I knew few Catholics and most of my friends were the assorted kind of Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Baptists, Methodists, and members of other mainstream Protestants Churches you find up here. I tell you all these things so you can evaluate if my observations are worth anything on this issue. I think I have something to add to the discussion. I usually make points that all sides hate.

The sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church have been horrible. People have lost their faith and yes some people have lost their souls over it. People have been hurt beyond all belief. Cardinal Ratizinger observed in his book Introduction to Christianity, that there is a mystery of the unholy holiness in the Catholic Church. At times like this it seems less like a "mystery" than a horror show. However the current Pope was correct and insightful in that comment.

When this scandal started picking up steam, it did not shake my newly found faith to the same degree as other Catholics. I think we have all had it shaken to a certain degree. This was partly because I knew way back then that this wasn't only a "Catholic" problem. When I a kid and teenager ,I was the little kid that was always pretending not to listen to the adults talk. Things of these nature were talked about and it wasn't Catholic Clergy that was the topic. When I got to College, I had the experience many college students have once they away home. That is it was confession time. Friends told their stories whether over a beer, on a religious retreat, or a tearful four hour conversation in a car in the middle of the night. So whether it was roomate or a fraternity brother, I think many people needed to tell their deepest secrets to people they felt could be trusted. These secrets included tales of sexual abuse. Abuse that was done mostly by family but also others. Now, it was not like all my friends were abused. But the small number of people who confinded in me shocked me. It gave me a clue it was a much bigger problem.

Skip ahead to my legal career. As an Asst. DA I helped to prosecute sexual offenders of children. I also got to hear some of what was going on in the parish as to sexual criminal cases and investigations of this kind because my section chief was also the head "sex" DA.

The case I remember most is a young man that sexually abused this adorable little girl. Just picked her up and then violated her. He then proceeded to drop this 5 year old off at a pay phone. The young man was disturbed and was convicted. He is now at Wade Correctional Center in northern Louisiana. The disturbing fact is who else was at Wade Correctional when he arrived. That person was his dad. He was there serving a sentence for sexually molesting him 15 years earlier. That situation was not unique really. Today's victims sometimes become tomorrows hated sexual predators. It is indeed a complicated and cruel world at times. One has to search hard to find Christ or God in any of this hurt and violence.

My private legal career was the real eye opener. Lawyers talk shop and sometimes the cases that would be talked about were of clergy. Some of these cases involved sexual abuse of minors. In my experience, this was almost all protestant and evangelical because of our location. Many cases are settled over the years that the public never heard about. This was all occuring in very non Catholic northwest Louisiana. I shall post examples of news reports that broke last week on this subject.

But there was a flip side to the sexual abuse cases. I found this out in my private family practice. In divorce cases, I would hear the wildest accusations of sexual abuse. Nine times out of ten this was an allegation of the mother against the father. Often , the judge would order some expert to interview the child and all the parties involved. To my horror this so called "expert" would often think there was fire to the smoke that the accuser was producing. I saw how easy a badly trained person can manupliate a child into thinking something happened. This isn't a movie of the week on the Lifetime channel this really happens. I can tell you I have no doubt that there was nothing to many of those accusations. The sad fact is the lawyer on the other side knew that as well. I got to see the innocent people accused of some of the most heinous sexual accusations. It was a eyeopener. In most of the cases we reached a agreement and the accustions went away. However, for many of these folks there is a file in some office, including law enforcement and Social Services, that is full of unproven accusations. This is important as you shall see in part II of this post.

My wife was of course at these time involved with sexual offenders within the actual prison walls and later via Louisiana probation and parole(that is a mess too). These offenders were mostly those that abused childen. I helped her out on weekends as she went around the state holding required "self prevention" classes for these folks who were on parole. Again, many offenders were yesterdays past victims. A few of these offenders were ex ministers.

This is a brief outline of my experience. I am no trained expert on this subject at all. However, I have seen sides of it up close and personal that most have not.

Part II coming up

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