This may be an inopportune time to criticize the Maryland attorney general’s office. After all, the staff there had just spent four years investigating child sex crimes and cover-ups in and by the Baltimore Archdiocese. They estimated that over 80 years, more than 600 kids were victims of the Catholic clergy. They wrote a 450-page report and fought a judge to make much of it public. They identified 158 priests, nuns, and teachers who were accused of abusing kids. They cited 37 church employees who were accused of wrongdoing but whose names were ordered redacted by a judge. They even listed a number of parishes that had multiple predator priests assigned to them, including one that had 11 abusive priests assigned to it over a 40-year period.
The Maryland AG report also contains some long and gripping narratives about how some of these clergymen selected, groomed, manipulated victims, and deceived their parents. And – almost as disturbing – these narratives reveal how so many of these predators’ peers and supervisors turned a blind eye to devastating acts or actively enabled them by not calling the police, not cooperating with prosecutors, not informing parishioners, and not removing known and suspected child molesters from churches. All of this is not only helpful in understanding the atrocities that have happened in the Maryland church but also in preventing future atrocities in society as a whole.
In short, the Maryland attorney general’s office has done a great public service and deserves our gratitude and praise. However, we at Horowitz Law respectfully take issue with a serious mischaracterization in the AG report. It is one that we see made repeatedly, often by church observers and sympathizers but also too often by journalists, law enforcement officers, and neutral parties. It’s most upsetting, of course, when it’s made by church officials in a self-serving effort to ‘spin’ the actions to minimize their wrongdoing and disguise their complicity. It’s the use – or rather the misuse – of the word ‘failure.’
On page 21 of the report, the AG staff writes: “Time and again, leaders failed to properly investigate, report, or remove the offending priests from positions with access to children.” They go on for six sentences describing church officials’ inaction, apparently for a number of years, despite at least one abuse report from a victim. Then, it says, “There is no indication that (an unnamed archdiocesan supervisor) made any attempt to contact the victim directly, to investigate further, or to report the abuse to civil authorities.”
In Order to Fail, You Must First Do Something
Failure? Absolutely not. This was a conscious, ongoing effort by men who knew exactly what they were doing. When you try to hit a baseball or tennis ball but miss it, that’s a failure. When you try to plant a vegetable garden, but nothing edible grows, that’s a failure. When you try to keep your car from sliding off an icy highway but end up in the ditch, that’s a failure. But remember, these church officials did not “investigate, report, or remove the offending priests.” They didn’t even TRY. You can’t ‘fail’ if you don’t even try. This was, in fact, the opposite of ‘failure.’ It was intentional. It was deliberate. It was calculated. And very likely wasn’t one individual who chose to keep silent. We’ll likely never know how many people in the Baltimore chancery office played a part in maintaining this secrecy.
Notably, this particular predator, Fr. John “Jack” Banko, was kept on the job for eight more years. He was eventually convicted twice for molesting children in New Jersey. Elsewhere in the report, the AG staff write about Baltimore Archbishop William Lori’s hand-picked internal board of Catholics that is tasked with ‘investigating’ abuse reports. The report talks of “the failure to list priests like Albert Julian, who admitted to child sex abuse and for whom then-Cardinal Lawrence Shehan sought laicization. . .” (page 11)
Again, this is not ‘failure.’ This is ‘refusal.’ None in the archdiocesan hierarchy TRIED to put Fr. Julian on the ‘credibly accused’ list but mistakenly erased his email – instead of sending it – to the archdiocesan webmaster. Omitting Fr. Julian was an intentional act, made repeatedly, over the years, by well-educated men who repeatedly told parishioners and the public they were committed to ‘transparency’ about abuse.
The group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says it has identified around 30 other proven, admitted, or credibly accused Maryland child molesting clerics who are named in the AG report but who are NOT on the archdiocesan ‘credibly accused’ list. Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org essentially told the New York Times about the same omissions. Lori is the latest of hundreds of Catholic officials to re-frame decades of intentional callousness and deceit as something more benign. “I see the pain and destruction that was perpetrated by representatives of the church and perpetuated by the failures that allowed this evil to fester,” he wrote in response to the report. It’s convenient to depict repeatedly self-serving behaviors as mere ‘failures.’ But it’s also inaccurate. And hurtful. As a society, we won’t make headway in reducing intimate partner violence if we say, “Some men just fail to keep their hands to themselves when they get mad.” We won’t make a real dent in drunk driving if we say, “Some people fail to take cabs or mass transit when they should” or “Some people just fail to stop after their second drink.” We won’t cut human trafficking if we say, “Some guys just fail to get legitimate jobs” or “Some men just fail to treat women with respect and dignity.” Instead, let’s abide by the wise words of Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who said, “The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie.”
If you have been sexually abused by a priest – or anyone else working in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in Maryland – you may have a limited time to seek justice due to the expected passage of a new law suspending the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases in Maryland temporarily. Horowitz Law is now evaluating legal claims for anyone sexually abused by a priest, brother, nun, teacher, coach, or other lay employees of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Contact us at 844-598-2376 or [email protected] to learn more.