11 Dec 2010

Dan Rather exposes Catholic tactics to shield assets from liability in abuse cases, SNAP founder compares Belgium raids to Toledo case

Dan Rather Reports - Tuesday, June 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET on HDNet

'Dan Rather Reports' Exposes Coordinated Effort by the Catholic Church to Protect Assets From Abuse Victims

Are local dioceses declaring bankruptcy in order to avoid paying settlements to victims of priest sexual abuse?

DALLAS, June 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Next week [tonight], "Dan Rather Reports" investigates how the Roman Catholic Church has been hiding and shielding assets from victims of priest abuse. Some say the Church is behaving more like a big corporation than a sacred institution.

From the Vatican on down, the church has vowed to make peace with hundreds of victims of a decades-long epidemic of sex abuse by its priests. But "Dan Rather Reports" found evidence that the church has done just the opposite: Wealthy U.S. Dioceses from California to Delaware have claimed to be broke and have filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying damages; Bishops have exploited arcane corporate laws to shield church assets from liability; and, in San Diego, parish priests have been caught literally hiding money in safes, according to court records.

"If you or I did what the Diocese of San Diego did in that bankruptcy, we'd be charged with bankruptcy fraud, and we'd probably be in prison," said attorney John Manly, who has represented dozens of priest abuse victims in lawsuits across the country.

"Dan Rather Reports" found evidence that some high in the church hierarchy have provided guidance.

"One of the comments that came from one of the bankruptcy attorneys is that, 'These guys make Enron look like altar boys.' Pardon the pun," said Don McLean, who was abused as a 10-year-old altar boy, and sought damages from the San Diego diocese.

"Dan Rather Reports: Spiritually Bankrupt" premieres on HDNet, Tuesday, June 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET with an encore at 11:00 p.m. ET.

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National Catholic Reporter - June 28, 2010

Outraged over police raid on church offices? Wait for what is revealed

By Barbara Blaine | Commentary

Peter Isely and Barbara Blaine, both of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, speak to journalists in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 25. (CNS /Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

The police raid last week on Catholic offices in Belgium wasn't exactly received with open arms by church officials. All nine of the nation's bishops were detained for nine hours. Their cell phones and the phones of other diocesan personnel were held.

It was "not pleasant," one church staffer said. Another called it "not very agreeable." A third accused law enforcement of "paranoia" and a fourth claimed police showed "excessive zeal."

I was not sympathetic to their plight. Six years ago, I watched closely as another law enforcement raid of a diocesan headquarters took place in my home town of Toledo. The deception it uncovered was stunning. And the evidence it obtained was later used in a trial to convict a murderer.

In 2004, Fr. Gerald Robinson stood criminally charged with brutally stabbing and slaying Sr. Margaret Ann Pahl 24 years before. A devout Catholic police detective, who considered the Toledo diocesan chancellor a friend, was in charge of the investigation.

At that point, Robinson had been a priest in the Toledo diocese for 30 years. But when the detective asked the chancellor for Robinson's personnel file, he was given just three pages.

Puzzled, the detective, who is also an attorney, began researching canon law. He learned that each bishop is required to keep a secret archive, and to not ever disclose its existence. Armed with this knowledge, the police secured a search warrant.

On Sept. 15, 2004, according to Toledo Blade reporter David Yonke, "two detectives walked into the Catholic Center, ignoring the receptionist's pleas to sign in" and went straight to the Bishop Leonard Blair's office. They showed Blair the warrant, cited the secret archive, but were told by the bishop "it simply doesn't exist."

But when pressed, the chancellor eventually gave the detectives a file an inch and a half to two inches thick containing 148 documents about Robinson. "Many of those records were dated before the detective's request nine months earlier for all of the [cleric's records]," Yonke wrote. "Clearly, the diocese had not turned over all of its Robinson files."

The results of the case are mixed.

On one hand, a jury found Robinson guilty. He's now behind bars where he can't hurt anyone else, adult or child. (He's accused in a civil lawsuit of molesting girl as well.) On the other hand, however, despite claims that Pope Benedict speeded up the defrocking process, Robinson remains a priest today. And Robinson is appealing his conviction. Should he succeed on some technicality, he'll walk out of prison still a priest.

Another diocesan cleric, who prevented police from questioning Robinson as a suspect almost 30 years ago, has since passed away. Shockingly, a downtown street is named in his honor. The signs remain posted even today, rubbing more salt into the already-deep wounds of Sr. Pahl's family and local clergy sex abuse victims.

So I can't summon much compassion for the Belgian church employees who were inconvenienced for a few hours last week. It's theoretically possible, I suppose, that every one of them is completely innocent of committing or concealing child sex crimes (though just this year, hundreds of alleged victims of Belgian predator priests have stepped forward). It could be that Catholic bishops and chancery staff in Brussels handle, and have handled, pedophile priests radically differently than their Toledo counterparts. It's conceivable that Belgian law enforcement officials will uncover nothing questionable in the records they seized at the church headquarters and a bishop's home.

But based on what we've seen in Toledo, I sure wouldn't put any money on it.

[Barbara Blaine, a Toledo native, is the founder of a Chicago-based support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She can be reached at SNAPblaine@gmail.com.]

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Belgian police raid Catholic headquarters and independent abuse commission over concerns of continuing cover-up by church leaders


Beliefnet.com - June 28, 2010

Danneels approved pedophilic catechism?

by Rod Dreher

That is the shocking allegation by Alexandra Colen, an orthodox Belgian Catholic, who details her long fight with Cardinal Danneels and the Belgian Catholic hierarchy (including the pedophile recently retired bishop Vangheluwe) over a pedophilic sex-ed book approved for Belgium's Catholic schools. Excerpt:

His predecessor, the liberal Cardinal Danneels, who was very popular with the press in Belgium and abroad, was Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium from 1979 until 2010. The sympathy for pedophile attitudes and arguments among the Belgian bishops during this period was no secret, especially since 1997 when the fierce controversy about the catechism textbook Roeach made the headlines. The editors of Roeach were Prof. Jef Bulckens of the Catholic University of Leuven and Prof. Frans Lefevre of the Seminary of Bruges. The textbook contained a drawing which showed a naked baby girl saying: "Stroking my p**sy makes me feel groovy," "I like to take my knickers off with friends," "I want to be in the room when mum and dad have sex." The drawing also shows a naked little boy and girl that are "playing doctor" and the little boy says: "Look, my willy is big."

The drawing also showed three pairs of parents. Those with the "correct" attitude reply: "Yes, feeling and stroking those little places is good fun." This "catechism textbook" was used in the catechism lessons in the catholic schools, until one day I discovered it among the schoolbooks of my eldest daughter, then 13 years old. On 3 September 1997 I wrote a letter to Cardinal Danneels, saying:

"When I see this drawing and its message, I get the distinct impression that this catechism textbook is designed intentionally to make 13 and 14 year olds believe that toddlers enjoy genital stimulation. In this way one breeds pedophiles that sincerely believe that children actually think that what they are doing to them is 'groovy', while the opposite is the case."

I told Cardinal Danneels that, although I was a member of Parliament for the Flemish-secessionist party Vlaams Blok, I was addressing him as a Catholic parent "who wishes to remain faithful to the papal authority and also wishes to educate her children this way." I insisted that he forbid the use of this book in the catechism lessons: "This is why I insist - yes, the days of meekly asking are over - that you forbid the use of this 'catechism book' in our children's classrooms."

Today this case, that dates from 12 years ago, assumes a new and ominous significance. Especially now that I know that Mgr Roger Vangheluwe, the pedophile child molesting Bishop of Bruges, was the supervising bishop of both institutions - the Catholic University of Leuven and the Seminary of Bruges - whence came the editors in chief of this perverted "catechism" textbook.


After I started my campaign against the Roeach textbook, many parents contacted me to voice their concerns. Stories of other practices in the Catholic education system poured in. There were schools where children were taught to put condoms over artificial penises and where they had to watch videos showing techniques of masturbation and copulation.

Because Cardinal Danneels refused to respond to requests to put an end to these practices, I and hundreds of concerned parents gathered in front of his palace on 15 October 1997. We carried placards with the text "Respect for parents and children," and we said the rosary. Cardinal Danneels refused to receive a delegation of the demonstrators. "I shall not be pressured," he said in the libertine magazine Humo on 21 October 1997. The Archbishop's door remained closed when we demonstrated again on 10 December 1997.

... On 18 February 1998 we were at Cardinal Danneels's door again, myself and a group of parents. Again the door remained closed. So on 18 March 1998 a group of two hundred parents went to the Papal Nuncio, the ambassador of the Vatican, in Brussels. But the Nuncio, who was a friend of Danneels, also refused to meet us. He had, however, alerted the police, who had several water cannons at the ready just around the corner.

Meanwhile Danneels's friends in the press started a campaign against me. "Colen continues to pester the bishops," was the headline in Gazet van Antwerpen. One evening Toon Osaer, Danneels's spokesman at the time, phoned me to tell me that as a Catholic I had to "be obedient" to the bishops.

If this is true, then it certainly puts the Belgian police raid into context, does it not? And it also puts Benedict's response into context -- one that is not flattering to the Holy Father.

I am reminded of a Dutch Catholic mother I met eight years ago after mass in suburban Amsterdam. She told me about having volunteered to teach catechism to Catholic schoolchildren, and being sent to a diocesan training seminar for lay teachers. What she and the others got was just bizarrely heretical. She protested to the bishop, and got absolutely nowhere. In some parts of this world, lay Catholics who wish to be faithful to the Church's teachings really are on their own.

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Catholic News Service - June 30, 2010

Parish money part of abuse settlement, judge rules

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Diocese of Wilmington, Del., plans to appeal a federal bankruptcy judge's ruling that the funds deposited by parishes, schools and other Catholic entities into its investment fund are property of the diocese and subject to distribution to victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Judge Christopher Sontchi said in his June 28 decision that the entire $120 million pooled investment account held in the name of the diocese should be considered diocesan assets, even though the diocese said it has only $45 million of its own money in the account.

Others with funds in the pooled investment account include five parishes, four schools, three cemeteries, three present or former group homes for children, the Catholic Youth Organization, and the Catholic Diocese Foundation, incorporated in 1928 to promote "the Catholic religion, Catholic education and Catholic charity within the diocese."

In a statement issued late June 29, the diocese said it "disagrees with this ruling and intends to appeal."

Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington announced in October 2009 that the diocese had filed for bankruptcy protection. His announcement came a day after settlement negotiations broke down with representatives of eight victims of abuse whose trial was scheduled to begin the next day.

The bishop said at the time that it had become clear from the dollar amounts being discussed in possible early settlements that the diocese "would never get through to 142 claimants in any fair or equitable way." The filing of bankruptcy halted lawsuits against the diocese.

Most of the civil cases filed against the diocese came during a two-year window (July 2007 to July 2009) opened by Delaware's 2007 Child Victims Act, which allowed individuals to file suits previously barred by the statute of limitations.

Sontchi said in his decision that although the assets of each entity were kept in separate subaccounts in the investment fund, lawyers for the "nondebtor defendants" failed to show that the funds had not been commingled with those of the diocese, which the judge called "debtor" in the decision.

"The question at this stage is not whether the defendants can properly identify and trace the trust funds but whether the trust funds have been commingled with the debtor's property," the judge wrote in his 44-page opinion. "The answer is clearly yes -- both in the debtor's operating account and the PIA," or pooled investment account.

The diocesan statement said it was "surprising" that Sontchi ruled that the investment fund's accounting records "are insufficient to enable the trust funds of the pooled investors to be traced into and within the pooled investment account," noting that an expert witness for the creditors in the case had "described these accounting records as 'meticulous.'"

The diocese said the parishes and agencies had joined in the pooled investment account "to lower costs and realize better returns," but the funds "remain the funds of those agencies and parishes, and the diocese simply serves as the custodian of the account."

Sontchi acknowledged that the nondebtor defendants "use much of their money in the PIA to fund their extensive and important charitable activities." But he said the "dueling equities in this case ... support the court's application of established trust law, which was developed, in part, to balance fairly such competing interests."

Only one parish -- St. Ann's in Wilmington -- was excluded from the decision because it had a written trust agreement with the diocese. The parish had about $1.6 million in the investment fund as of Dec. 31.

The judge said the nondebtor defendants "still have a claim against the debtor for their lost investment."

"That claim, however, will share pro rata with the other claims against the debtor's estate," Sontchi said. "Almost certainly, the claims in this case will not be paid in full. This may seem a harsh result for the nondebtor defendants. But to ignore precedent by ruling in their favor would have a negative impact on the other creditors -- the vast bulk of which are involuntary creditors that have asserted tort claims against the debtor related to sexual abuse."

The diocese said the agencies and parishes participating in the investment fund "will pursue these claims, and in the meantime they will seek court approval to access their funds to enable them to continue to fund their ministries."

Stephen Neuberger, an attorney representing some of the sex abuse victims, called the pooled investment account "a corporate shell game" that the diocese was using to "hide its assets."

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