Most of you who know me, know that I own a lawsuit funding company. My company assists people who need legal finance assistance to pursue litigation to a just conclusion. I work with their attorneys to help them achieve justice in their litigation. Back in the 1980’s, I was a practicing attorney. And, as a personal injury lawyer, I handled one of the early child/Catholic clergy sex abuse cases, one of the first of its kind in Michigan. My client was an 18 year old boy who had been molested by a priest when he was 13 years old. The priest had been transferred to my client’s parish from another Michigan parish. Unknown to me (and my client), at the time, four children had been abused by this same priest at the previous Michigan parish he served; a lawsuit had been filed by those children for their abuse. The previous case had been quietly settled by the Church hierarchy, and the record sealed from public view.
In my client’s case, the priest had been caught, criminal charges had been pursued, a plea bargain struck, and the priest served six months in jail for 4th degree criminal sexual conduct (a lesser charge). In my client’s civil case, I worked tirelessly to uncover suspected, previous acts of abuse; I was thwarted in my attempts, at the highest levels of the local and state Diocese. Bishops and Archbishops lied to me under oath; priests who knew the details of the perpetrator’s conduct were transferred, and I had to travel to 7 states finding witnesses. Why? Because the prior case was evidence of prior acts by this same perpetrator, events that were denied and covered up by Church hierarchy, and this made the Catholic Churchresponsible, under respondeat superior theories, negligent supervision, negligent hiring and training, public policy and other direct tort and negligence theories that would not have been available had I not been able to uncover the prior acts. Finally, after three years of digging and grunt discovery in several states, by sheer luck, I located the previous victims. All four boys (and their courageous mother) bravely testified to the priest’s prior acts, even though the record was under seal. Shortly after their depositions were taken, the Church suggested that we engage in private facilitation and the case was settled shortly thereafter. I did not permit the file to be sealed; the priest was transferred, several times, thereafter, but both the civil case and criminal conviction left a paper trail that followed him (and hounded him) until he was forced to retire. I wrote a fictional novel about the experience and tried to publish it, but to no avail (I wonder why I can’t get it published?).
Why am I sharing this with you? Because over 25 years later, millions and millions of dollars have been paid by the Catholic Church to hundreds of victims of clergy/child abuse across this country and around the world. Most of these perpetrators did their evil deeds while those in supervisory roles either deliberately looked the other way, or negligently ignored serious warning signs. These incidents have become much more public, in fact, they have become a public relations nightmare for the Catholic Church; these dirty little secrets of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s are secrets no longer. And now, we learn that these types of cover-ups may go all the way to the Pope. Yesterday, reports out of Germany suggest that The Pope, himself, faced fresh accusations of covering up child abuse. Apparently, he was present at a meeting where Church officials decided to allow a pedophile priest to continue working, the same type of decision making and supervisory conduct that I had experienced, so long ago.
At the time, the Pope was the Archbishop of Munich, and he is accused of covering up attacks on a number boys at a deaf school in Wisconsin. As then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he led a meeting that approved the transfer of the offending priest to a new diocese in Germany in the 1980’s, despite the priest being known to be a pedophile. The priest subsequently abused more children until being convicted of sexual abuse in 1986. And, worse than in my Michigan case, here, Church officials transferred the offending priest to new parishes (like they did in my client’s case), permitted him access to children, and they did so, even after his conviction! The priest was finally suspended, this month, as new allegations were uncovered.
The Pope’s former deputy has fallen on the sword for his boss; he took responsibility for the decision to place the offending priest in a pastoral setting with children. The Munich Archdiocese attributes the "bad mistakes" it made to Cardinal Ratzinger’s underlings. But these revelations and claims that the Pope personally covered up a previous case, cast suspicion on the Pope and doubt on the veracity of the story.
I’m not a Catholic; I’m not a Christian. It boggles my mind that those men of the cloth in charge of those who use their religious authority to sexually abuse helpless children were not only guilty of allowing these events to occur, but they also covered them up and transfered the offenders to re-offend. But, the evidence showed that it happened in the case I handled. Many other attorneys have handled similar cases, over the years, with similar behavior, similar results and similar evidence of abuse, cover up and transfer.
The Church has paid millions, if not billions, in damages but has not solved the root problem. Why are these predators allowed to continue to practice their vocation, year after year? Why, after criminal conviction, are they permitted to return to pastoral work and contact with children in a new community where their prior acts are unknown? Why does this seem to be endemic to the Catholic Church? And, now, we find that this abhorrent behavior can be traced to the highest levels of the Catholic Church. In the interest of justice and compassion and on behalf of past and future Catholic children, I ask: When does this international disgrace end? When will God’s children finally be safe?
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.