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.
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.)