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Massive Action Taken Against Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse
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Massive Action Taken Against Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse

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INDIANA — August 23, 2018

After a case was opened against more than 300 "predator priests" accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children, mass prosecution of Catholic priests began throughout the US. Moreover, new abuse cases are raging in Catholic parishes across the country, sometimes decades after evidence of crimes appeared.

In may 2003, Thomas O'Brien, then Bishop of the Phoenix Diocese, admitted that he had sheltered at least 50 priests accused of sexual abuse, often sending them to parishes across the state.

In his confession, he stated that he "allowed Roman Catholic priests under my supervision to work with minors after becoming aware of allegations of sexual misconduct."

Thirteen years later, in a lawsuit filed last September, O'Brien himself became a defendant for sexually abusing a grade-school boy.

The allegations are for events that took place between 1977-1982. According to court documents, O’Brien was charged by an Arizona resident, who sued, claiming that repressed memories resurfaced two years ago. Since June 2003, O'Brien stepped aside as an active Bishop. His involvement in the case he denied.

In addition, journalists were able to uncover scores of allegations involving 14 Catholic priests in Guam, where a former altar boy's accusation last summer that Archbishop Anthony Apuron sexually abused him in the 1970s prompted other revelations.

Another 60 Roman Catholic priests or church employees have also surfaced in the judicial investigation, dating back to the 1950s, along with alleged cover-ups.

The diocese itself eventually exposed some priests as part of an agreement with Arizona prosecutors in the early 2000s. At least two priests have fled from the U.S. and remain at large, and a significant number are now dead.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge is considering the petition of lawyers of the diocese to dismiss several of the 14 claims.

After the O'Brien case, the Church made major changes to the provisions in the Phoenix area, including victim assistance and training on sexual misconduct for all diocesan staff and volunteers.

As for the other States, in Louisiana, charges of sexual crimes involving Catholic priests and children may date back seven decades, according to court records.

The case of the Rev. F. David Broussard, which is expected to begin in a St. Martin Parish court on November 27, is the most recent. The 51-year-old former pastor in Breaux Bridge, Los Angeles while not charged with sexual contact with children, he was charged in July 2016 with 500 counts of possession of child pornography after investigators say they found hundreds of images on his personal computer.

Broussard wrote a public apology after his arrest but pleaded not guilty to a felony in May. He remains free on bail of $25,000 and is on administrative leave.

Another former priest Mark A. Broussard, who was convicted in March 2016 for molesting altar boys in the neighboring diocese of Lake Charles in the late 1980s was arrested in 2012 after a man wrote to the Bishop of Lake Charles Glen John Provost, leveling charges against him.

He was sentenced in May 2016 to two life sentences for aggravated rape and 50 years for other allegations of sexual abuse.

In 2014, a number of court documents were processed in the Lafayette-area, including accusations again Bishop Harry Flynn. At least 15 Lafayette priests were accused of sexually abusing children in total.

The Lafayette district cases are just two of many related to local priests and children. In 2014, a Minnesota Public Radio investigation uncovered a plethora of court documents related to such incidents in the Lafayette diocese.

The accused served in myriad church positions across the Lafayette diocese, including in small Acadiana towns such as Abbeville, where Gilbert Gauthe's case drew nationwide attention in the 1980s. Gauthe admitted to raping or sodomizing 37 children dating back to 1972; in 1986, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of child molestation and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he was released a decade early. As many as 100 people may have been abused by Gauthe, according to bishopaccountability.org, a watchdog website.

Bishop Provost turned over accusations against Mark Broussard to police; Bishop Douglas Deshotel cooperated with local authorities when F. David Broussard was arrested.

The Diocese of Lafayette currently says it marches in step with the mandates of the Catholic Church to protect children and since 2003 has introduced the practice, including criminal checks and fingerprinting for the clergy and other persons who have contact with minors.

In Delaware in 2002, the first scandal involving sexual violence against children in the Boston Archdiocese swept the Catholic Church.

By 2011, the Diocese of Wilmington and several religious orders throughout the diocese had distributed more than $110 million to 152 adults who had been sexually abused by Catholic priests.

Tens of millions more were paid in confidential settlements with dozens of other childhood rape survivors who had been abused in families, other churches, non-profit groups or in public, private or religious schools in Delaware. Dozens of living and deceased priests were exposed as abusers.

The Wilmington diocese filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2009, just hours before the start of Delaware’s first trial involving sex abuse by a Catholic priest. At the time, the diocese listed assets of as much as $100 million and liabilities of as much as $500 million.

But the victims had the law on their side. In 2007, Delaware passed the Child Victims Act, one of the toughest child abuse laws in the nation. It gave accusers two years in which to file civil suits that otherwise would be barred by statutes of limitation. Under the settlement terms, the church agreed to measures designed to prevent future abuse, such as having survivors address candidates for the priesthood and appointing an independent child protection consultant.

The Wilmington diocese emerged from bankruptcy in 2011, after it laid off employees, liquidated an emergency funds and sold properties, including the bishop’s home.

Since the two-year window closed in 2009, six additional plaintiffs have said they were abused as children during the 1970s and 1980s, says Wilmington attorney Thomas Neuberger, who represented many of the original victims.

Wilmington diocese spokesman Robert Krebs said the diocese has not settled any abuse claims since 2011. The diocese did ask Pope Benedict XVI to laicize, or formally remove from the clergy, the nine priests it had suspended because of abuse allegations. Four of the cases are still pending, Krebs said.

In Minnesota, Catholic dioceses are struggling with new accusations of priest abuse after a 2013 state law temporarily abolished the Statute of limitations for file civil action. Under the law, victims aged 24 and under as of 2013 have unlimited time to file a claim. Those over 24 had a three-year window that ended in May 2016; by then, accusers had filed more than 800 lawsuits against churches, schools, Boy Scouts, and children's theater.

The heightened scrutiny also led to the downfall of two bishops, and two Catholic dioceses — including the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis -- filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

 Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Anthony Piché resigned in 2015, days after the archdiocese was criminally charged with child endangerment over its handling of an abusive priest who ultimately went to prison.

The Duluth diocese filed for bankruptcy in 2015 after a jury found it responsible for $4.8 million of an $8.1 million jury award to just one accuser.

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minnesota disclosed a list of 71 priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of minors, archdiocese spokesman Tom Halden says. Most incidents occurred from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s. The archdiocese says all men who were assigned there have been permanently removed from ministry.

The Diocese of St. Cloud, which covers a large part of rural Minnesota, is still working to resolve 74 claims, including 31 against clergy members that were made during the three-year window, spokesman Joe Towalski says. Most claims are related to allegations from several decades ago.

As for New York, the victims there filed more than 118 allegations of abuse by Catholic clergy. The Archbishop of New York has paid more than $ 1.5 million to settle claims filed against six former Catholic priests from the Hudson Valley.  These cases date back to the 1970s.

Seven people said that the priests abused them when they were children. As a result, they recovered from the dioceses from $150 000 to $350 000 for each victim.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesperson for the Archbishop's diocese, has called the 2016 compensation program "a sincere effort to try and help people achieve some measure of healing from what was done to them.”

The Diocese of Rochester published a list in 2012 of 23 priests accused of abuse and said all had been removed from public ministry. Bishop Matthew Clark,  who has since left, had promised to update the list as new allegations of abuse arose and disclose the fates of four priests whose cases were still in progress. That never happened.

Doug Mandelaro, a spokesman for the Rochester Diocese, said no allegations have been made since 2012.

In California, an assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Redding, surrendered himself to the Sacramento Police Department on November 30, 2011, after complaints he sexually assaulted a young teen girl in her bedroom when he worked in Sacramento that year.

In 2013, Uriel Ojeda began serving an eight-year sentence at Avenal State Prison. Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said Ojeda was removed from the priesthood and no longer receives money or spiritual support from the diocese. The victim and her family received counseling.

As for the others, The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento came under fire in 2005 when 33 people accused 10 priests of sexual assault from decades earlier. The diocese settled the lawsuit, offering $35 million to victims one day before a civil trial was to begin.

Since then, the diocese change their rules to include background checks and fingerprinting for priests and evaluating whether they are fit to work with children. “There’s no excuse for what happened,” Eckery said.

Rev. John T. Sweeney of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, was accused of using his position to force a 10-year-old-boy to perform oral sex.

A statewide grand jury is investigating six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses. Five dioceses confirmed they were served subpoenas.

According to the latest data of state attorney general’s office, at least 50 priests or religious leaders were involved in the sexual abuse of children into the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, and one 2005 report found abuse by 63 priests.

In 2015, at least one Iowa Catholic diocese was still dealing with the fallout from an abuse scandal that rocked the state in the mid-2000s.

In January 2015, Pope Francis removed Howard Fitzgerald, a veteran pastor who worked in central and western Iowa for decades, after an investigation revealed he sexually abused a minor decades ago. Fitzgerald was the fifth priest defrocked for sexual misconduct in the Des Moines diocese since 2003.

Davenport's diocese, with $4.5 million in assets, became the fourth in the nation to file for bankruptcy in 2006, following Portland, Oregon; Tucson, Arizona; and Spokane, Washington. Days later, Pope Benedict XVI appointed a new bishop.

“The bottom line in all of this is that the Catholic Church cares about children — all children — and wants to protect them,” Des Moines Bishop Pates wrote in 2010. “Jesus had a special place in his heart for them, and the church can be no less loving."

What is going on in America’s religious communities today? Is this a social problem, simply unsubstantiated accusations, or the Church's rotten system? The reader must decide. One thing is clear, which is that not all of the accusations which have come forth can actually be substantiated, and are likely a product of false memories derived from media hysteria. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to find concrete answers to these questions. This is a matter of every man's conscience.

Author: USA Really