"John Doe 1" says that Father John Fiala raped him at gunpoint when he was 16 years old, then threatened him, saying, "If you tell anyone what happened, I will hurt you and your family." When the boy spurned the priest's text messages, the priest allegedly said he would kill the boy and then kill himself so they could go to heaven together. He allegedly lavished gifts on the boy and demanded sexual favors, until the boy ran away from home and tried to commit suicide.
This abuse allegedly occurred not decades ago, like most clergy abuse cases, but in 2008. The petition for a trial also claims a cover-up, saying the Archdiocese of San Antonio knew that Fiala had sexually abused other boys, that it agreed to conceal the abuse, that it failed to report the abuse as required by law, and that it "repeatedly placed him in environments where he could prey on young boys." Just days before the suit was filed in April, the Vatican appointed the defendant archbishop, Jose H. Gomez, as archbishop of Los Angeles.
American bishops wrote stricter rules for dealing with sex abuse cases and now report that last year, only six allegations of abuse took place involving victims who were minors in 2009. But the abuse scandal has erupted worldwide.
In Germany, hundreds of abuse victims have come forward following the news that abuse took place at Canisius College, a Jesuit high school. The German newspaper Der Spiegel surveyed the nation's 27 dioceses and found that 94 priests are suspected or have been suspected of child abuse. Provost Martin Tenge, the regional Catholic deacon, said, "The entire institution is guilty because it fostered a 'please don't talk about it' mentality." Investigative stories have pointed to Pope Benedict XVI himself, alleging that he moved too slowly in defrocking offending priests as a senior Vatican official in charge of such matters.
The question now is what European Catholics have learned from the American sex abuse scandal, and what American Catholics still have to learn.
One positive outcome of the European scandal: It has led to a few more resignations. In Ireland, Bishop John Magee, who reportedly failed to inform police about abuse in the 1990s, has resigned with the pope's acceptance. Four other Irish bishops have offered their resignations but the pope has accepted only those of Magee and Bishop Donal Murray. Cardinal Sean Brady, who has admitted that he swore two minors to secrecy after they informed him of abuse, has not resigned.
Philip Lawler, director of Catholic Culture, says the Church in Ireland has done a better job holding its leaders accountable: "There's some progress." In America, none of the bishops who presided over abuse have resigned. Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002, but he remains a cardinal and participated in the conclave that chose the pope in 2005. Lawler called the resignation of guilty American bishops "huge, enormous, necessary, overdue. . . . I don't see how the healing can be complete until those who are responsible are held accountable. I don't think that the American hierarchy has yet realized that there are two parts to the scandal and they have dealt with the abusive priest part of the scandal but not with the complicit bishop part."
Secondly, the European scandals have shown the need for a strong government response in abuse cases. Government officials certainly bear their share of the responsibility for ignoring abuse victims in decades past. For instance, former California priest Steve Kiesle was sentenced to only three years probation after he was found guilty of tying up and molesting two young boys. Victims of Wisconsin priest Lawrence Murphy pleaded with both the police and the church for justice. In Ireland, the Department of Education inspectors failed to see and address child abuse.
More recently in Ireland, though, the government has responded with a thorough, independent inquiry. It commissioned a study that took nine years to complete and produced 2,600 pages describing the physical and sexual abuse that was "endemic" in Catholic industrial and reform schools. Another government report released in November 2009 named church leaders who covered up abuse to avoid scandal.
This is a much more hard-hitting report than the John Jay report in the United States, which was commissioned by U.S. bishops and depended on their disclosure for its statistics. David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said we know more about abuse in Ireland than we do about abuse in America.
The John Jay report is flawed, he said, because it is based on the assumption that bishops will suddenly become transparent and accountable, even though no one has been disciplined for the cover-up: "Let's put it this way: If the speed limit on a highway went from 55 miles to 25 miles an hour and the penalty for violating it was 20 years in jail and some people had actually been sentenced to 20 years in jail, then yes-we would and could assume that behavior would change. But in this case, behavior allegedly changed even though no one who misbehaved was punished."
In Germany, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for an independent inquiry but has only gotten a roundtable discussion so far. When the Catholic Church objected to being singled out for its abuse problem, the Ministry of Justice widened the roundtable's focus to include the Ministry of Family and Youth, and the Ministry of Education.
Then there is the case of the pope himself. Most observers agree that Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has done a better job of acknowledging the abuse. He has met with several groups of abuse victims-most recently abuse victims in Malta-and sent a strong reprimand to Irish bishops, saying they made "serious mistakes . . . grave errors of judgment" and failed in leadership, undermining their "credibility and effectiveness."
But when Ratzinger was an archbishop in 1980, he approved the transfer of an accused molester to another diocese only to have the molester be convicted of abuse in 1986. Pope Benedict's time at the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), which oversees church doctrine, has also come under scrutiny. The New York Times said that the CDF failed to defrock a priest who abused 200 deaf children, ending Lawrence Murphy's canonical trial after he wrote a letter saying he was old and ill, and begging for clemency. However, Thomas Brundage, the vicar who presided over the canonical trial, corrected the Times and said that Murphy was still under trial at the time of his death.
In another case, the Vatican delayed in removing California priest Stephen Kiesle from the priesthood. In 1978, he pleaded no contest to tying up and molesting two boys; in 1981, he asked to be released from the vows of priesthood. Cardinal Ratzinger replied with a letter in 1985, saying it was "necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner," and that the Congregation must take a longer time to consider. Kiesle was finally laicized in 1987.
It is important to note that these cases involve releasing priests from the vows of priesthood and making them lay people. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, notes that a delay in defrocking doesn't endanger children: "Defrocking quickly is not absolutely necessary."
Victims are of two minds about laicization. Some want the priests removed from the priesthood to make a statement that the Church will not tolerate their behavior; others reason that it's safer to have priests locked in a monastery than out in the community, seeking more victims. (Defrocked priests in Ireland went on to immediately find jobs working with children.) Laicization is also rare. According to the John Jay report, the Vatican removed from the priesthood only 6.1 percent of priests with substantiated allegations.
Lawler said the media and those calling for a papal resignation have the wrong target: "I think the pope is part of the solution and I think the record shows it." SNAP's Clohessy said the pope could do more: "Benedict has said more words and clearer words and stronger words, but they're still words. Just words." Clohessy said there's an easy way to resolve the dispute: Have the pope turn over his records for the period when he was handling sex abuse cases for the Vatican.
The scandal in Europe has also changed the debate about the source of sex abuse. Until recently, European Catholics considered clergy sex abuse an American problem, said Reese. Now that it's clearly a universal problem, they can no longer blame the permissiveness of American culture. Some blame celibacy, but Reese points out that 96 percent of celibate priests do not abuse children. Others blame homosexuality, but Reese said the empirical data doesn't support that, either: "There are millions of homosexuals and they're not all out raping little boys. The evidence isn't there."
Accused priests still slip back into ministry. Staff at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, N.J., were shocked to find that the Archdiocese of Newark assigned the hospital a chaplain, Michael Fugee, who had been convicted in 2003 of groping a 14-year-old boy. The Archdiocese removed Fugee, who had confessed to police but whose trial ended in a mistrial, at the hospital's request. In 2006, a jury voted 9 to 3 that Eric Swearingen was guilty of abusing a 12-year-old boy in the 1980s. The two sides settled, but Bishop John Steinbock went on to appoint Swearingen rector of San Joaquin Memorial High School and Swearingen continues in ministry today. A priest accused of abuse in the United States, Joseph Jeyapaul, is still working in India. Francis X. Nelson, a priest convicted of fondling a girl, has also returned to India and continues to work as a priest.
When governments have roundtable discussions with church officials instead of conducting tough investigations, it sends a "distressing signal" to sex abuse victims and makes it harder for victims to come forward, said Clohessy. The crisis of authority-both ecclesiastical and governmental-takes a spiritual toll. John Doe 1's petition for a trial includes this line: "Doe 1 has suffered many other damages, including . . . loss of faith."