Tag: Catholic bishops sexual abuse

Bishops sexual abuse

How Catholic Bishops Are Chosen Is Just Plain Crazy

The following description of how Catholic bishops are chosen hits the nail on the head. And the hammer-holder is someone who will surprise you.

“The system usually delivers a Bishop whose only loyalty is upward, and not to his own priests and people.”

We at Horowitz Law love this sentence, because it succinctly explains why child sex crimes and cover ups continue in the church: the top dogs primarily care about the other top dogs.

And we love it because of its source and its author. It appears in a Catholic publication (Commonweal) and was written by a widely-known and respected Catholic professor and attorney Nicholas Cafardi. He’s written extensively about this crisis and nearly 20 years ago was hand-picked by the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to serve on the National Review Board, a body that would supposedly oversee how prelates were complying with new abuse rules.


So, many consider him an expert in this field. But he didn’t just blast the clerical system that produces bishops. He proposed an alternative.

And his is not a novel reform. Cafardi wants more lay people to play a role in choosing bishops. Apparently, that’s the way it was done ages ago.

We at Horowitz Law think this can only help make the church safer and healthier.

Ask yourself: Who would you rather have help pick your bishop

Parents or non-parents?

Mostly men or a better balance of men and women?

Married people or men who say they’ll forever refrain from sex?

On this blog, we often pan the so-called ‘reforms’ pushed or adopted by church officials, the internal, public relations-driven panels and policies and protocols and procedures.

They nearly always sound good but are rarely followed.

They lead to premature complacency (“Well, at least bishops are trying something!”)

They fritter at the very fringes of this crisis without addressing root causes.

And how priests become bishops is, in our view, one of the “root causes.”

For those unfamiliar with the Catholic church’s structure, a bishop is basically like a king. Technically, he reports to Rome. But practically, he runs his diocese as he sees fit.

And he becomes bishop very largely because of how other clerics regard him. Not so much on objective measures of performance or how rank-and-file Catholics experience him.

Cafardi tells us that even when US priests and bishops put together a list of possible candidates to fill a bishop vacancy, “the pope can reject it entirely and ask for a new (list) with names on it that he suggests; or he can ignore (recommendations) completely and just choose his own man.”

Then, the lucky winner remains a bishop essentially forever.

That kind of system – hierarchical, insular, male-dominated and subject to one man’s whims – is far from ideal (or, as Cafardi puts it, is “deeply flawed, producing bishops who are, in turn, deeply flawed”).

There’s an old proverb of unknown origin that says “A fish rots from the head down.” And until a more open, inclusive and lay-driven system of promoting priests to bishops becomes routine, real reform will continue to elude the Catholic leadership.

catholic Churc sexual abuse

Symbolic Steps are OK. But Real Reform is Better.

The head of the Washington DC archdiocese has erased his abusive predecessor’s coat of arms from the DC cathedral.

Through one of his public relations staff, Archbishop Wilton Gregory says removing former archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s shield is intended “to help bring healing and peace to survivors of abuse.”

Maybe so. Or maybe it’s being done to make Gregory seem sensitive. Or maybe Gregory wants to distance himself from McCarrick as the release of an investigation into McCarrick seems imminent. Who knows?


(McCarrick, who also worked in New Jersey, was defrocked last year after being found guilty of numerous crimes, including the sexual abuse of minors and adults and improper handling of other abuse reports by other predators.)

Some say steps like this validate victims.

Others say these gestures are really self-serving, because they minimize or whitewash this crisis by removing reminders of horrific scandal that church donors and church-goers would rather forget.

We at Horowitz law have ambivalent feelings here. But moves like this will seem far less cynical and self-serving if, at the same time, church officials take tangible steps that protect others.

Is that too much to ask?

This is a very simple request – that when a pastor or denominational leader does something to supposedly help abused adults FEEL better, he or she ALSO does something that actually makes vulnerable kids BE safer.

“Like what?” you ask.

Like publicly list names, photos, work histories and current whereabouts of every credibly accused child molester who was or is in the pastor’s or denominational leader’s area (whether alive or dead, employed or volunteer, lay or ordained).

Like publicly declare his or her support for reforming the hurtful statute of limitations on child sex crimes.

Like publicly discipline, demote or at least denounce current or former church staff, volunteers or members who hid or ignored abuse or suspicions of abuse.

Like forbid or publicly blast accused predators and their supporters who say or do things that are apt to intimidate victims, witnesses or whistleblowers from speaking up (like attacking their motives or timing or holding rallies for the accused).

This is just a very short list. The group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has made many helpful suggestions to church officials over the years.

So our advice to the hierarchy of every church, school, camp or institution that’s experienced child sex abuse and cover ups is simple: You want to make a symbolic gesture that might help victims? Fine. But at the very same time, take a real step that will, in fact, help kids be safer.

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Don’t Fall For the Claim That Bishops are Being More Open

More bishops are being more open about abuse, right?

Nope. Not really.

Consider these cases from Mississippi, Virginia and Missouri publicized just this week.

—–Case One: Fr.  Paul Victor Canonici just died. He’s a credibly accused child molesting cleric who was ‘outed’ by Bishop Joseph Kopacz.


But according to the local newspaper in Jackson:

Over the course of his tenure, Fr. Canonici served as the diocesan superintendent of education, assistant principal and then principal of St. Joseph High School in Madison, as well as the priest for multiple parishes throughout the Jackson metro area.

He retired when he was in his mid 70s. Despite his five decades with the diocese, he’s not listed on the church’s website of retired priests.

What possible reason would Bishop Kopacz have for keeping Fr. Canonici OFF his ‘retired priests’ list?

Well, here’s a theory. Say you were molested as a kid in Mississippi by a priest you think was named Fr. Canonici. But you’re not sure if you recall his name correctly. Since it was long ago, you go to the Jackson diocese’s website, and look for him under ‘retired priests’ but don’t see his name. And you think “Well, I’m obviously wrong about his name, so I probably can’t or shouldn’t try to do anything. . .” That keeps one more predator priest hidden, which is what bishops have done for years and benefit from even now.

So it’s in the Jackson bishop’s interest to hide as much info about Fr. Canonici as he can.

—–Case Two:

Richmond Virginia Bishop Barry Knestout claims he reported child sex abuse allegations against Fr. Raymond Barton to “civil authorities.”


But the local newspaper reports the bishop “did not identify the location of the alleged crime or the agency that it notified.”

This is a still-living, just ‘outed’ accused child molester.

What possible reason would Bishop Knestout have for NOT saying which prosecutor, sheriff or police he told about the accusation?

Well, here’s a theory: Imagine you were molested as a kid by Fr. Barton  (or saw or suspected one of his crimes). You might want to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute him. But if you don’t know which agency to call, you might make three or four or five calls and eventually give up. That might help this accused predator – and current or former diocesan staffers who ignored or hid his crimes – from being publicly exposed.

So it’s in the Richmond bishop’s interest to hide as much info about Fr. Barton as he can.
(Ironically, Knestout “remains committed to transparency and accountability when allegations of child sexual abuse are reported,” his PR staff wrote in a recent press release.”)

—-Case Three: In Missouri, Fr. Frederick Lutz has just been charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse with children.

According to one news account “The Missouri Attorney General’s Office discovered the allegations in church documents  they received during a (statewide) investigation of Catholic priest abuse in September 2019.”


“According to court documents, the victim made a formal complaint about the alleged incident with the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese in 2006.” That’s almost 15 years ago!

Can we REALLY think that Bishop Edward Rice, who’s headed the very small Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese for nearly four years, did not know about these accusations? That his predecessor, Bishop James Johnston – who now heads the national bishops USCCB child protection committee – didn’t tell Rice about this accused predator?

What possible reason would Rice have for NOT turning over this report to law enforcement long ago, before the Missouri AG asked for abuse records?

Well, here’s a theory: Imagine you were molested as a kid by Fr. Lutz. You might be able to prosecute him criminally or sue him civilly, if you came forward quickly enough. But if enough time passed and you didn’t act, maybe Fr. Lutz – and his bishop – would escape controversy and consequences. That saves the bishop time, money and embarrassment.

So it’s in the Springfield bishop’s interest to hide as much info about Fr. Lutz as he can.

Here’s the bottom line: Bishops don’t like to deal with child molesting clerics or their suffering victims. Bishops don’t like the headlines, headaches and court and legal complications victims and predators cause them (from the bishops’ point of view). And bishops are virtually never rewarded by their supervisors or peers for being open about abuse.

Therefore, when it comes to abuse and cover ups, it continues to be most comfortable for bishops to divulge only what they have to divulge. And it continues to safest and easiet for bishops to keep secret what they can keep secret.

So please remember this: When a bishop posts names of child molesting clerics on his website, that’s good. But that is NOT an indication that centuries of self-serving deceit has suddenly been reversed.

(And here’s more irony: Decades ago, the Jackson diocese ordained disgraced Boston Cardinal Bernard Law a priest. And Law’s first promotion was to become the head of the Springfield diocese.)