The Untold Truth of Sexual Abuse by Clergy in Religious Orders

On Behalf of | Nov 8, 2020 | Abuser Profiles, Catholic Church

Imagine that, using a small sleight of hand, you could effectively deny about a third of everything that you’ve ever done wrong.

Imagine that, with some kind of magic wand, you could sidestep responsibility for about a third of every mistake you’ve ever made.

Imagine that, using an accounting tweak, you could get by without paying about a third of the bills you legitimately incurred.

While this is of course a pipe dream for nearly everyone, it basically works for Catholic bishops. Here’s how.

About a third of all priests in the US are called “religious order priests.” While they work in every bishop’s diocese, with the permission of that bishop, their paychecks are not signed by those bishops.

These clerics technically belong to what the church calls “religious orders.” You’ve heard of some of these groups, like the Jesuits, Marianists, Benedictines or Maryknolls. There are hundreds of these groups. And the virtually anonymous heads of those orders sign the checks for religious order clerics.

These orders can only operate in a diocese if that diocese’s bishop lets them. And their individual member clerics – who perform virtually the same jobs as regular diocesan clerics – can likewise only work in a diocese if that diocese’s bishop lets them.

BUT – and here’s where the tweak, the magic wand and sleight of hand come in – when a Jesuit or Benedictine or Maryknoll cleric abuses a kid in Scranton or Phoenix or Seattle, the local bishop in Scranton or Phoenix or Seattle simply waves his hand and says “He’s not my guy. He with that religious order.”

And the bishop walks away.

Not surprisingly, just like diocesan clerics, religious order clerics also abuse kids. Consider these three particularly egregious predators.

—-A Marianist, Brother William C. Mueller, who violated dozens in Missouri, Colorado and Texas (sometimes using knives and drugs, claiming he was engaged in science experiments”).

—-A Franciscan, Brother Stephen P. Baker, who violated dozens in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan (whose crimes were so extensive that one attorney general announced criminal charges against three of his church supervisors who were responsible for Baker’s assignments).

—-A Jesuit, Fr. Daniel J. McGuire who violated dozens in Wisconsin, Illinois and across the world in his extensive international travel. (He was Mother Teresa’s spiritual advisor and spent time in Germany, Austria, England, Ireland, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, California, New York, Alabama and the District of Columbia. Now behind bars, McGuire was sued by one man who said the cleric abused him for 40 years, starting when he was 11. McGuire reportedly had the boy “assist” him, live with him and accompany him on trips throughout the U.S. and abroad.)

Remember: this is a tiny smattering of the tens of thousands of religious order clerics in the US. (There are HUNDREDS of religious orders across the globe.)

And again, when these religious order figures break the law, bishops feign powerlessness, saying “Sorry, he’s not mine. You have to call the Jesuits or Franciscans or Maryknolls. . .”

Adding insult to injury, most bishops also refuse to disclose the names of credibly accused abusive religious order clerics who worked in their dioceses.

So a Paulist or a Capuchin or Redemptorist priest or brother could molest kids in half of the parishes in a diocese and be charged, convicted, jailed and ultimately defrocked. But many Catholics in that diocese wouldn’t know of his history because the bishop of that diocese essentially pretends the religious order cleric wasn’t around.

Why bring this up now? Because of a little-noticed Vatican move last week that reveals – again – that bishops can and do, in fact, have considerable control and power over religious order clerics and their purported supervisors.

“Bishops who want to establish a religious order in their dioceses must first obtain the written permission of the Holy See, Pope Francis said.”

That’s straight from the Catholic News Service.

In other words, until last week, bishops could basically create their own religious orders. Some of them, of course, have. And when crimes happen and scandals surface and parishioners rebel, those same bishops pretend they can’t do a thing to deal with these supposedly ‘independent’ entities and their offenders.

It’s the best of both worlds. It’s having your cake and eating it too. And it’s benefitting from one third of your workforce without being held responsible for any of them, no matter how widespread or devastating their crimes are.

Who wouldn’t want that kind of deal, if you could get by with it?

(*The Br. Baker supervisors/enablers who faced criminal charges are Robert J. D’Aversa, Anthony M. Criscitelli and Giles A. Schinelli. The first two pled ‘no contest’ to the charges; the third escaped accountability due to the statute of limitations.)