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I am trying something new here. I have been corresponding with a woman who’s sister was sexually abused by a Catholic Priest in the Diocese of Scranton. The priest has enjoyed staying under the radar all these years and the Diocese has not publicly acknowledged that he was/is a problem. Without further ado, I give you Rachel’s guest blog post:
Rachel Lawhon Powers
Upon being a Witness
I find myself visiting scenes of my childhood to reckon with the sense that I’m going through the motions Sunday after Sunday in a church I no longer fully trust or respect. I attempt to reconcile two versions of a parish priest from my childhood. Writing this narrative gives voice to not only my sister’s experience of abuse but my own experience of spiritual doubt and uncertainty – a Lent where I have needed to articulate this past.
I mostly remember Father Houston’s large build, his reddish hair in the light and his hands holding up the host during the consecration. St. Paul’s church and rectory still stand on Penn Avenue, expansive and empty. The nuns across the street are more etched into my memory. Etched also is the image of our monsignor when we greeted him in unison or my humiliation as he pointed out my grades on my report card. We, the grandchildren of immigrant mill workers and miners, were indoctrinated to respect and obey without question. This was Scranton, Pennsylvania in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It remains an Irish Catholic enclave to this day.
In 2002 my sister Gretchen broke her silence and emailed each sibling what she described as her freedom letter. Only later would she disclose the truth to our parents. She was releasing herself from a burden that was not hers to carry. This is what she wrote – “Regardless of my willingness and involvement in the relationship it comes down to one very simple and straightforward fact: you were a 32-35 year old adult man who was a Catholic priest and I was a 14-17 year old adolescent girl. This relationship that I hold you responsible and accountable for was absolutely wrong.”
In the wake of the Boston scandal and while raising an adolescent son, Gretchen realized that she could no longer remain silent. Our associate pastor, 18 years her senior, abused her from the time she was 14 until she was 17. After my sister’s report was found to be credible, the priest, Joseph Houston, was formally dismissed in accordance to the Dallas Charter. However, The Bishop of Scranton, Bishop Timlin(now Bishop Emeritus Timlin) allowed Houston to serve one more month to support him in presenting a facade that he was retiring and taking a previously scheduled sabbatical. In a similar tactic to avoid media attention, Timlin refused to release the names of the eight other priests dismissed from the diocese despite media pressure. The opportunity for more victims to come forward and begin the healing process was lost.
What I remember of Houston is linked with my sister. Houston took my sister under his wing and made her feel more mature than her peers.They both prepared my second grade class for our sacraments of penance and Eucharist. Ten years my senior, Gretchen had been a responsible middle child in a large family. Often if our parents were out, Gretchen would assume the duties of dinner and bedtime.
Houston and another priest often joined our dinners. Afterwards, the adults sat in the living room for drinks and conversation. I recall a set of Irish coffee cups muted greenish brown that Father Houston had given to my parents. For a long time the cups had been in the china cupboard in our dining room. I don’t remember at what point Houston stopped being a family friend but by the time I was ten or so he no longer visited.
In May of 2002, I was vaguely aware of the sex abuse cases being reported out of the Archdiocese of Boston. I recall thinking of that line “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” To be honest—my life was more focused on tending to the needs of my two small children. My philosophy was not to think about it.
Sitting upstairs on a hot May morning in 2002, I began to read Gretchen’s emails-one by one. They broke down my sister’s facade and likewise my denial. When I was 12, Gretchen had married a man who always felt like an wise older brother and they raised two smart well adjusted sons. She also was the first and only member of my large Irish Catholic family to earn a doctorate degree. We were and continue to be competitive and like many families we had things we didn’t talk about. We didn’t talk about the times when the adults drank too much and things turned ugly or when our other sister spent nine months in Tennessee: the child given away. This time the lines opened up, after all we were all adults.
I’m not sure I said that right things to my sister. What does one say? Except of course, I know that anyone needs to know that he or she isn’t at fault. Because my sister’s situation happened when I was so much younger- I realize now I had been between the ages of 4 and 7, I hadn’t felt the full impact of her disclosure. I hadn’t wanted to feel the full impact of her disclosure.
Houston’s letter of three lines apologizing for his actions written in 2002 felt inadequate to my sister. The church full of compassionate words failed to do much to amend the wrong. The Bishop had seemed more concerned with giving Houston a graceful exit. Needing more closure, my sister enlisted the help of the Scranton diocesan vicar to set up a restorative justice and mediation prayer service in March of 2006. To Houston’s credit, he agreed to participate in the restorative justice prayer service at his wife’s urging and took full responsibility for his actions. What would I ask Joe Houston if I had the opportunity to meet him? Why? How many others did you use? What was it like for you to come back to Scranton and look my sister, her husband and my parents and apologize? Why did you and your bishop evade the truth when you slipped away from your ministry for good?
I kept my inner turmoil about the deceit of the Church at bay until November of 2007 when a classmate of mine, a priest from the same diocese, was on trial for raping an altar boy. The fact that a Monsignor in the diocese testified that the diocese had knowingly shuffled this priest from the now defunct St. Pius X Seminary to a parish in 1992 stunned and angered me. Clearly by the 90’s, it was common clinical knowledge that pedophiles would continue to rape and abuse children. However, Bishop Timlin opted to put this priest into a parish where he abused a young man for three years. In an ironic twist, the attorney representing the victim was also a childhood acquaintance who went to the same Catholic grade school and knew Houston as his parish priest. I’m not alone in grappling with this contradiction. For every victim who comes forward, there are friends and family who must come to terms with the hierarchy which has shielded wrong doers and obstructed justice instead of coming forward with the truth. I can only speak from my perspective as a witness raising the questions, doubts and thoughts on the brokenness and the hope which comes from honestly looking at the past.
My wife told me, when I first shared my secret with her, that I would be angry when I found out who knew that Gibson was a pedophile and who was protecting him. She was right. I am angry at the entire apparatus that has protected him and the other perp priests in the Scranton Diocese. Some emails and blog posts that I have read in the last few days have brought it all into some clarity.
Let’s take a look at the litany of the protectors of the child rapists.
- Bishop Timlin actively protected several priests. He seems to have deftly moved perps from parish to parish or from parish to treatment center all on the down low.
- Bishop Martino inherited the mess from his predecessors. However, he cast his lot when he continued to keep the secrets of the rapist priests. He is also, by many accounts, a bit of a bully. This makes him difficult to communicate with and he prefers sending other people to do what the boss should do. He sent his auxiliary Bishop to impose his will on St Patrick’s Day organizers in the Electric City. He has his Chancellor and his Victim’s Advocate speak in his stead to victims. That seems to smack of cowardice. It may be my 23+ years in the Navy speaking, but the axiom fits here – “When in command, command”. Translation – When you are in charge, be in charge and take responsibility. Man up!
- Bishop DiLorenzo, currently the Bishop of Richmond, Virginia. He served as an auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Scranton. Nice to know that the Bishop of the Diocese in which I currently live may have had a hand in protecting my rapist and has ties to the Electric City Catholic Pedophile Conspiracy. I bet he knows where some of the priests are hidden!
- Bishop Dougherty, the current auxiliary Bishop and former Chancellor of the Diocese of Scranton. As chancellor and now as auxiliary bishop he would be in the know on the extent of the misconduct and felonious activities of diocesan pedophiles. I wonder if auxiliary bishops are like vice presidents. It is a great title, but they don’t seem to have much to do except for the boss’s dirty work and hope that a better gig comes along.
- James Earley, Chancellor of the Diocese of Scranton. His signature is on most of the correspondence from the Diocese to victims. He is the one who writes the letters to civil authorities (if prodded enough or when the diocese is cornered). This man knows the names of the priests who are committing crimes. I wonder how much they pay him to keep silent.
- Father Richard Locke, Episcopal Vicar. He is the one that tracks all the personnel issues involving clergy. I bet his file cabinet is chock full of felonious activity.
- Monsignor John Bendik. I have to ask, Monsignor what did you think Gibson was doing in the St. Luke’s rectory with all those boys in the 1970’s? You may have walked in on inappropriate behavior, you must have seen something? And yet you kept your silence. Your name also appears in court cases for other priests accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. So close to the flame so many times! I wonder if your reward for silence is your current position as Monsignor?
- The Legal Staff- I am not sure who the attorneys for the Diocese are. It is probably best that I don’t name the firm here. They are the pit bulls employed by Bishop Martino to insure that the victims remain in their place. These are the people who cover the tracks of the guilty and those that protect them. You guys should be really proud.
- The Comptroller of the Diocese. Follow the money! They were able to get Al Capone because, when it came down to it, the bookkeeper gave him up. Where does all the money go? How much is paid to keep perp priests out of sight and away from the glaring light of truth? How much is spent on lawyers who are there to revisit the pain on victims? How much is spent on the meager payments to victims in those rare instances where a token settlement is paid to the victim? Where do they hide the money in the diocesan accounts? Where are the settlements recorded in the books? How much do you pay for insurance in case another priest turns out to be a serial child rapist? I bet those premiums are unpleasant!
- Accounts Payable Supervisor. Who writes the checks or pays cash to the counseling centers that provide therapy to the protected priests? How much is being paid out for counseling expenses for victims? The person making these payments must know why they are made. Perhaps some trusted lieutenant to the Bishop is personally overseeing those payments. Your payments are not that far from the payment made to Judas. Think about it!
- The Diocesan Review Board: Sister Celilia Meighan, RSM; Monsignor Peter Madus,V.F.; Mr. Donald Nicastro; Mr. Joseph Knecht; Carl Frank, Esq. I hope you all realize that your job is to protect children and those who are preyed upon by priests and other diocesan employees who commit crimes. If you see your job as protecting the Bishop of Scranton, I would say you are doing a great disservice to your faith, the parishioners and the truth. I recommend that, if you have a spine, you resign in protest.
- Teachers and Administrators at the schools where these men preyed on victims. I cannot believe that no one noticed anything. Hell, I had a nun walk in on a very ugly incident and she turned and walked away! In my case I have little doubt that someone at Notre Dame knew Gibson was a pedophile. Why was nothing done? The current principal was my 9th grade English teacher, he has been at that school for many years. I wonder how much he knows? I wonder how many more victims he can name? I am not accusing him of complicity. I do respect the man, I hope that anything he knows is after the fact. I could not stand another disappointment.
- The Parishioners in the Diocese. When are you people going to get it? They are spending your money, the money you tithe, to protect pedophiles. Is that what you want? If it is, just keep stroking your checks. You are complicit by not demanding that the Bishop be accountable.
- The District Attorneys for the counties in the Diocese. When are you people going to act? Why do you give the Diocese a free pass and allow them to quietly take care of their own? If this was any other company, someone would be in handcuffs. The Diocese does not seem to be that far away from being an organized crime enterprise. Law enforcement should be doing investigations and the justice system should be the final arbiter of the truth. Stop allowing the Diocese to police itself.
The Diocese of Scranton is a safe haven for pedophiles as long as the people listed above continue to support the priests. It is time for a change in the way business is done in Scranton!
Abuse thrives in an environment of secrecy! These people are enablers of abuse as long as they keep the Bishops’ secrets.
Kelly is back up and blogging. You can catch up with her recent posts at Marquette Diocese Clergy Watch.
Please give her the courtesy of a close read. You will find that the attitudes of the dioceses across the country seem to be aligned. How sad!
When are Catholics finally going to take control of their church from the people that are more interested in clinging to power and all the trappings that go along with it? Secrecy and deception seemingly have become the corner stones of the strategy to keep bishops firmly at the helm of their little fiefdoms.
A detective from Orlando contacted me yesterday to tell me that they could not prefer charges against Father Gibson for the event that occurred when he brought me to Disney World in the summer of 1974. This was not a surprise to me. The statute of limitations had long since expired on Father Gibson.
What surprised me was when the detective offered that his department regularly receives reports similar to mine about priests that bring their young victims to the “Happiest Place on Earth” to get their jollies off.
Maybe someone should file a freedom of information act request to collect all the letters notifying the District Attorney about pedophiles priest who have come into the jurisdiction with children. I am sure the results would be startling. I am sure the Catholic Church would fight that with a vigor usually reserved for protecting children. Oh wait, check that, they are not interested in protecting children.
Maybe I should start researching the number of letters that are sent by the diocese to jurisdictions around attractions like Disneyland, Disney World and major amusement parks.!
I have been corresponding with the Bishop of Scranton. The exchange has been frustrating, infuriating and absolutely exhausting. I firmly believe that words are important, that words have meaning. If you have read anything I have written in the previous 39 posts I have put in this blog, it should be of no surprise to you that I read and reread letters and emails to understand what is being said and, more importantly, how it is being said.
I had written a letter to the bishop in hopes of gaining some insight into the lack of action taken against Father Gibson. The reply that came from the bishop was most likely drafted by a subordinate for the bishop’s signature. The bishop seems to speak through proxies, as a matter of course, when dealing with people who have been victimized by one of his priests and then again by the diocese.
The premise of the reply was that I misunderstood actions and statements by the diocese in the handling of Father Gibson. The bishop in the first paragraph stated “I pray that I may be able to help clear up so much of what is troubling you.” Therein lies the rub. Bishop Martino, the only way you can clear up so much of what is troubling me is to explain to me and other victims why the Bishops of Scranton protected animals like Father Gibson.
In his letter, the Bishop used terms such as “abusive behavior”, “sexual misconduct” and “encounters with Father Gibson”. I do not know who drafted the Bishops response, but I think that they drank the diocesan Kool Aid. Allow me the courtesy of being blunt. When I was 13, I was repeatedly raped by Robert Gibson. It was not an “encounter”; it was a violent, devastating, brutal series of assaults and a complete violation of not only my body, but of my sense of trust, safety, faith and personal worth. The term “sexual misconduct” was also not accurate. It was statutory rape of a child. Your Excellency, do me and other victims of your pedophile priests the favor of not using words to make theirs actions more palpable to your tender sensibilities. Words have meaning, and the words you used to refer to his criminal behavior only serve to minimize the magnitude of his crimes and marginalize victims. Had a teacher, police officer or any other person in the community committed crimes similar to Father Gibson they would not have enjoyed the care and protection of their employer. They would have been in prison and rightly so!
Father Gibson’s case was not referred to the Vatican by either Bishop Timlin or Bishop Martino. Why this man is not a candidate for a canonical trial or excommunication is beyond me. Is the Vatican even aware of all the priests who have admitted to their bishops that they had raped and molested children?
The Bishop of Scranton’s continued support for this man is a continuation of the abuse that he inflicted years ago. Even though he is banned from ministry, he is still a Roman Catholic priest. That, in itself, is an insult to his victims and is an act of fraud committed against parishioners. He should be reported, he should go through the process. The fact that you had him away in the Vianney Renewal Center, a plush alternative to prison conveniently located out of the jurisdiction where he committed his crimes, does not excuse his behavior or mitigate the Bishop’s responsibility to take appropriate action against this man. Had the Bishops of Scranton been thinking of the safety of the children in the Diocese, they would have handed him over to the police and supported prosecution when he was initially reported. Instead, they circled the wagons, protected the criminal and continued to victimize those who are most vulnerable. I wonder how many confidentiality agreements were signed by victims as a part of an insignificant settlement.
I have agreed, in principle, to meeting with the Bishop of Scranton to discuss concerns I still have. I did make the demand that such a meeting would not be held in a diocesan office. I have no intention of going to the Bishop’s fortress of solitude. I recommended that we meet on the campus of the University of Scranton. In the typical style of an organization that is oblivious to the victims of its pedophile priests, the Bishop recommended that I meet him at the Jesuit Residence on the campus. I am loathe to point out the obvious to the Bishop, but I will in case he is reading this. Bishop Martino, I was raped in a rectory, I have no interest in meeting you in a residence for priests! I am sure you can borrow an office in the Alumni House or in one of the Administration buildings. If your staff can’t figure out how to do that, maybe you should get yourself a new staff.
The link to the film “Holy Watergate” was sent to me by Rachel in a comment she was kind enough to leave on one of my earlier posts. The film is very powerful and it definitely deserves to be front and center in the consciousness of anyone who is either dealing with the effects of priest sexual abuse first hand, knows someone who was abused or would like to understand the problem that the Bishops would prefer never see the light of day.
The film is about an hour long and the only real problem I see with it is in the poor placement of some advertising added by the website from where it was pulled.
Thanks Rachel! (Rachel, if you are reading this, please send me an email)
The National Catholic Register website reports that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed a suit in Oregon to proceed against the Vatican in a sexual abuse case.
Read the details at NCRegister.com