Three former leaders of a Franciscan religious order in Pennsylvania were charged with felonies on Tuesday for allowing a friar who was a known sexual predator to repeatedly work with children, including as a high school athletic trainer who massaged students naked, and pull some out of class for what a grand jury report called “private physical therapy sessions.”Regrettably, I think Clohessy is right. The Church's hierarchy is so firmly embedded in the culture of clericalism and avoidance of scandal that only the erosion of the taboos against secular law deploying criminal sanctions may have an effect.
Tuesday’s complaint was the first time members of a Roman Catholic religious order have been charged with aiding an abuser. While the church has faced thousands of lawsuits over sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the past decade, criminal prosecutions of the supervisors accused of covering up for abusers have been rare.
The complaint, filed by the state’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, charged three leaders of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars — Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D’Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61 — with conspiracy to endanger children.
The three are accused of knowing about accusations of abuse against the friar, Brother Stephen Baker, but of not reporting him to the police or removing him from positions where he had access to children. In one, he was an athletic trainer for nearly a decade at a school where he regularly told students to undress for massages.
“They were more concerned with protecting the image of the order and more concerned with being in touch with lawyers than with the flock that they served,” Ms. Kane said at a news conference Tuesday.
Lawyers and victims groups said the prosecutions were a stark warning to the church that covering up abuse could lead to jail time.
“This is the missing piece,” said David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “For years, there have been pledges of reform, but we still see the same deceitful practices because those who stay silent or lie to cover up have not been held accountable.”
Back when Thomas Becket was vying for clerical immunity from secular law, his adversary Gilbert Foliot sought to establish a balance between the legitimate interests of Church and State. Becket's martyrdom brought his cause success, and that tradition of immunity and the dread of the Church's losing its ability to command loyalty (as rationalized ably by John Henry Newman in his defense of suppression of inconvenient truths by the Church) maintained the ethical and theological bases for a culture of cover-up. It needed, and still needs, to be sandblasted away.
How sad that it had to come to this.