Parish transfers of abusive Catholic priests
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The parish transfers of abusive Catholic priests, also known as priest shuffling, is a pastoral practice that has greatly contributed to the aggravation of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases. Some bishops have been heavily criticized for moving offending priests from parish to parish, where they still had personal contact with children, rather than seeking to have them permanently returned to the lay state by laicization. The Church was widely criticized when it was discovered that some bishops knew about some of the alleged crimes committed, but reassigned the accused instead of seeking to have them permanently removed from the priesthood.
- 1 By country
- 2 Catholic Church position
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Cardinal George Pell, himself convicted of child sexual abuse in 2019, sat on a committee that approved moving Australia's most notorious sexually abusive priest Gerald Ridsdale from parish to parish dozens of times, including Mildura, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Apollo Bay, Ballarat and Mortlake, 'allowing the priest to abuse countless more children while keeping the scandal under wraps'.
In 2010, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives installed the Special Commission on Sexual Abuse to investigate sexual abuse in power relations, especially within the Catholic Church. The Succeeding Commission on Sexual Abuse produced a report in 2011, that included a regulation that no convicted priest may be moved to another parish where he could once again come into contact with children, and the Catholic Church in Belgium agreed to stop this practice. Nevertheless, bishop Jozef De Kesel of Bruges tried to appoint a priest convicted of molestation in 2008 to the parish of Middelkerke in 2014. The priest eventually backed down from the appointment. De Kesel apologised to any sexual abuse victims he might have offended when The Succeeding Commission asked him for clarification.
In August 2006, Catholic priest Charles Sylvestre pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting 47 girls (aged 7 to 15) between 1954 and 1986. For four decades, the police buried all filed reports instead of acting on them, while the Catholic Church repeatedly 'solved' all the complaints and accusations by moving Sylvestre to a new parish, including Bluewater, Ontario (where he was first reported), an unnamed place in Quebec, then Delhi, London, Windsor, Chatham-Kent and Pain Court (all in Ontario), where he made new victims. He died 3 months into his three-year jail term.
A well-documented case involves Peter Kramer, ordained as priest in Viechtach in 1997, who abused two boys in 1999, and was convicted to three years probation in 2000, in which time he was barred from working with children and had to undergo therapy. However, in 2001 he was transferred to a parish in Riekofen where he worked with young children again, violating the court order, and in 2004 was officially appointed as the priest of Riekofen. Bishop Manfred Müller and bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller were accused of mishandling the case, with the presiding judge commenting: "To send a priest convicted of abuse back into a parish is like a bank employing a criminal convicted of fraud as a treasurer." Kramer was imprisoned for 8 years in 2010.
Tony Walsh was a Catholic priest who, according to chapter 19 of the Murphy Report (published in 2010), 'was moved from one parish to the next 'to prevent a scandal' and kept on abusing children, even though his superiors knew about it.'
Journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi compiled a number of cases of parochial transfers of alleged pedosexual priests in Italy. For example, in 1980, a priest who molested a boy in a school in the parish of Valleggia in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savona-Noli, was moved ten kilometres away to Spotorno to supervise a Boy Scout troop at the local Catholic youth centre, where new complaints were made against him. Bishop Dante Lanfranconi of Savona then moved him a few kilometres away to a community centre for troubled youths in Orco Feglino. Former diocesan treasurer Carlo Rebagliati warned Domenico Calcagno, who became the new bishop of Savona in 2002, about the danger of this priest because of his daily contact with minors, but Calcagno dismissed his concerns as mere rumours. A victim of abuse who contacted Calcagno was told not to take the priest to court, because the priest 'might commit suicide and then I would have that on my conscience.' In 2003 Calcagno finally wrote a letter to cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for advice, providing a full documentation of claims of sexual abuse by the priest since 1980. Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI 2 years later) is not known to have replied, but the priest in question was later moved to Portio Magnone (12 km from Feglino) to another Boy Scout camp where he was once again reported for sexual molestation. He remained in holy orders until voluntarily quitting the priesthood in 2010 without any prosecution.
On 14 September 2018, NRC Handelsblad compiled a list of Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops in the Netherlands who ineptly dealt with accusations of child sexual abuse, including parochial transfers of suspects. At least sixteen cardinals, bishops and auxiliary bishops transferred known paedosexual priests to other parishes, all of whom were no longer in holy orders and their cases all exceeded the statute of limitations by the time of the NRC publication. The next day, a spokesperson of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands confirmed that NRC's investigation was carefully conducted and the findings were largely correct.
Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink, archbishop of Utrecht from 1955 to 1975, moved a pastor, sentenced to 4 months in prison for abuse of underage girls, from Zutphen to Slagharen in 1956 and later to Netterden, where he abused another girl in 1967; Alfrink ignored a warning letter from another pastor and moved the convicted pastor to Eemnes and then to Lunteren. The cardinal did not intervene in a chaplain's case in Groenlo, moved another pastor to Haarle where he molested again, promoted an Utrecht chaplain who confessed to abusing boys to a priest in Braamt where he continued abusing children, and promoted an Arnhem chaplain known to have abused altar servers to pastor in Albergen where he abused another 9 altar servers.
Cardinal Ad Simonis, bishop of Rotterdam (1970–1983) and archbishop of Utrecht (1983–2007), ignored well-documented accusations against the Albergen pastor in 1983. He appointed a man, that he knew was convicted of sexual abuse of boys in 1990 in Zoetermeer, to pastor in 1991 in Amersfoort where he abused children again, and did not prevent his 2005 appointment to pastor in Eindhoven. He ignored a victim's letter against auxiliary bishop Jan Niënhaus in 2000, and in 2007 ordained a father known to have abused pupils in a Twello boys boarding school to acolyte (leading altar servers) in Oldenzaal. In 2010, he controversially said on live television show Pauw & Witteman that Wir haben es nicht gewußt ("We did not know about it").
Martinus Jansen, bishop of Rotterdam (1956–1970), in 1965 reappointed a priest convicted of molestation elsewhere in his diocese. He also appointed a priest, that he knew had committed sexual abuse in a pastoral relation in 1965, to religious teacher in an Oudenbosch boys boarding school; the priest went on to sexually abuse three underage boys there around 1970.
Philippe Bär, bishop of Rotterdam (1983–1993), transferred multiple priests accused or found guilty of abuse to other dioceses when he could no longer maintain their position in his own. Did not undertake action in at least 5 cases, and is known to have had sex with underage students of his own priestly seminary.
Ad van Luyn, bishop of Rotterdam (1993–2011), when leading a Salesian congregation in 1979 urged the police to stop prosecuting a Rijswijk priest in a case of sexual abuse; the suspect was transferred to a parish in Terneuzen where he abused children again. In 1995 he appointed a priest, who had already confessed to abusing children in 20 separate cases, to doing pastoral and youth work; when the priest transgressed again, Van Luyn waited 6 months before transferring him to Amersfoort in the archdiocese of Utrecht, where he once again abused children. He ignored complaints by three victims in 2002, 2008 and 2010 and covered them up.
Guillaume Lemmens, bishop of Roermond (1932–1957), maintained a priest in his diocese for 20 years, even though he knew the man was convicted in 1941 for abusing two boys and a girl in Sittard. He died in 1960; in 2011 the diocese acknowledged that a 1946 complaint against the priest for abusing a 7-year-old girl in Doenrade was valid, and that the priest in question (then director of a Heel lunatic asylum and a Sittard hospital) was examined by the police again in 1952.
Petrus Moors, bishop of Roermond (1959–1970), appointed a Belgian priest, knowing he had been convicted of sexually abusing boys, to chaplain in Broekhem-Valkenburg in 1959, where the chaplain abused boys once more. Nevertheless, Moors appointed the chaplain in 1966 to Hulsberg and in 1968 to Venlo, where he transgressed again. Moors did not act against a chaplain known to have abused multiple children; the chaplain went on to rape a 17-year-old girl in Heerlen in 1961. Despite numerous warnings, the man remained a pastor in Breust-Eijsden and later Puth-Schinnen until 1982. In 1969, bishop Moors transferred a chaplain from Maastricht, where he was known to have abused children, to Thorn, where the chaplain struck again. He appointed a Rolduc seminary teacher who had previously abused underage boys to pastor in Sittard and Tegelen.
Wilhelmus Mutsaerts, bishop of Den Bosch (1943–1960), in 1957 moved a Grave chaplain to a new parish in Tilburg, knowing he had abused an altar server 'very frequently', personally seeing to it that the matter received no publicity. In 1959, he moved the chaplain again, to an institute for deaf-mute children in Sint-Michielsgestel. One of his victims was later paid 15,000 euros for pain and suffering.
Jan Bluyssen, bishop of Den Bosch (1966–1983), transferred an Oisterwijk pastor imprisoned for five months in 1968 for abusing 6 altar servers to the diocese of Groningen, where he became chaplain in Sneek that same year, and later pastor in Groningen city. The victims were ordered to remain silent and not given any care; decades later, 5 of the victims got a combined compensation of almost €100,000. Bluyssen also destroyed documents implicating several clerics in the 1970s.
Antoon Hurkmans, bishop of Den Bosch (1998–2016), in 2004 appointed a priest to pastor in Helmond; that priest had two years earlier resigned from his position of director of the episcopal priest seminary after accusations of rape and sexual abuse of boys.
Martin de Groot, acting bishop of Haarlem (1966), in 1966 transferred a chaplain from Den Helder to a parish in Amsterdam; the chaplain had been convicted of sexual abuse in 1958.
Theodorus Zwartkruis, bishop of Haarlem–Amsterdam (1966–1983), in 1970 transferred a chaplain convicted for abuse from Amsterdam to the diocese of Groningen, where he became a pastor in Emmeloord; Zwartkruis did not inform Groningen's bishop Bernhard Möller about the chaplain's criminal history. He also transferred another chaplain three times between 1974 and 1983 after complains of child abuse. Zwartkruis had a policy of ignoring and destroying anonymous letters implicating abusive priests.
Pieter Nierman, bishop of Groningen–Leeuwarden (1956–1969), appointed an Oisterwijk pastor, who had in 1968 been convicted of sexually abusing 6 underage boys, to chaplain in Sneek that same year, and later to pastor in Groningen.
Joseph Baeten, bishop of Breda (1951–1962), in 1956 appointed a known paedosexual pastor from a parish on the isle of Texell (diocese of Haarlem) to the Zealandic village of Hansweet, where the pastor transgressed again in 1959 and received a 1-month suspended sentence. Then, the bishop transferred him to the Catholic hospital in Halsteren.
In 2005, the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands introduced an obligatory screening of any priest's criminal record before any appointment can take place, and since 2014 clerics are required to provide evidence of good behaviour.
In May 2019, the documentary Tell No One claimed amongst other things 'that the Polish Church moved known paedophile priests from parish to parish, as happened in other countries.' One string of transfers is documented extensively by victims of father Andrzej Srebrzyński, led by Marek Mielewczyk from Kartuzy, who claims to have been sexually abused and raped multiple times by Srebrzyński from the age of 13 until he attempted suicide and was hospitalised in 1987.(45:50) Treating doctor Irena Drewla wrote a letter to bishop Marian Przykucki of Chełmno, informing him of Srebrzyński's abuse and rape of Mielewczyk. Bishop Przykucki responded on 20 January 1988, writing: 'I am familiar with the case. After the retreat programme, the priest was moved to another place, under the penalty that should this crime repeat, he'll be deprived of the possibility of performing his priestly vocation.'(56:31) Nothing else was done with Mielewczyk's complaints, who recounts: 'Years later, we found out that he was moved to Wejherowo; then to Czerna, a small town close to Czersk; then to Papowo Biskupie; then, much further, to Mszano, close to Brodnica; he was a parish priest there until 2013. Over ten victims of Srebrzyński came to me personally.' Although Pope Francis finally defrocked Srebrzyński in 2016 (28 years after the Mielewczyk case was reported), he was seen participating during the June 2017 Lady of Fátima procession in Mogilno in full liturgical garment.(58:23)
For example, John Geoghan was shifted from one parish to another although Cardinal Bernard Law had been informed of his sexual misconduct on a number of occasions such as in December 1984 when auxiliary Bishop John M. D’Arcy wrote to Cardinal Law complaining about Geoghan's reassignment to another Boston-area parish because of his "history of homosexual involvement with young boys."
Another example was the case of Joseph Birmingham who was assigned to a number of parishes over a period of 23 years during which he molested a number of children. In response to a 1987 letter from the mother of an altar boy inquiring as to whether Birmingham had a history of molesting children, Cardinal Law replied, reassuring her that there was "no factual basis" for her concern.
Oliver O'Grady served in at least five parishes in the Diocese of Stockton during the 1970s and 1980s as he molested dozens of children. His abuse and Cardinal Roger Mahony's attempts to hide the crimes are the subject of Amy J. Berg's 2006 documentary film Deliver Us from Evil.
According to the John Jay study, 3 percent of all priests against whom allegations were made were convicted and about 2 percent received prison sentences."
Instead of reporting the incidents to police, many dioceses directed the offending priests to seek psychological treatment and assessment. According to the John Jay report, nearly 40 percent of priests alleged to have committed sexual abuse participated in treatment programs. The more allegations a priest had, the more likely he was to participate in treatment. From a legal perspective, the most serious criticism aside from the incidents of child sexual abuse themselves was by the bishops, who failed to report accusations to the police.
The Grand jury investigation of Catholic Church sexual abuse in Pennsylvania published its report on 14 August 2018. It showed that 301 priests were accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children in the six dioceses and were routinely shuffled from parish to parish in order to avoid scrutiny. Senior priests and bishops knowingly reshuffled offenders from parish to parish, allowing them to continue their abuse unchecked.
In response to the failure of many organisations to report abuse to the police, lawmakers have changed the law to make reporting of abuse to police compulsory. In 2002, Massachusetts passed a law requiring religious officials to report the abuse of children.
In response to these allegations, both ecclesiastical and civil authorities have implemented procedures to prevent sexual abuse of minors by clergy and to report and punish it if and when it occurs.
Catholic Church position
"Best medical advice available at the time"
Defenders of the Church's actions have suggested that in reassigning priests after treatment, bishops were acting on the best medical advice then available, a policy also followed by the US public school system when dealing with accused teachers. Some bishops and psychiatrists have asserted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling. Many of the abusive priests had received counseling before being reassigned. Critics have questioned whether bishops are necessarily able to form accurate judgments on a priest's recovery. The priests were allowed to resume their previous duties with children only when the bishop was advised by the treating psychologists or psychiatrists that it was safe for them to resume their duties.
Responses to criticism
In response to criticism that the Catholic hierarchy should have acted more quickly and decisively to remove priests accused of sexual misconduct, contemporary bishops have responded that the hierarchy was unaware until recent years of the danger in shuffling priests from one parish to another and in concealing the priests' problems from those they served. For example, Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said: "We have said repeatedly that ... our understanding of this problem and the way it's dealt with today evolved, and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn't realize how serious this was, and so, rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully, they were moved."
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