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Bill Donohue stands by his man.

It has never seemed the best hill to die on, but apparently Catholic League president Bill Donohue doesn't know how to quit defending Bishop Robert Finn, who was found guilty this week of one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. (Be sure to read David Gibson's post on the devastating Times story.) Back in November, Donohue declared that Finn was "an innocent man," and flew all the way to Kansas City just to show how much he meant it. "In an ideal world," Donohue claimed, "there would have been no charges whatsoever: there was no complainant and no violation of law. Yes, and in an ideal world, when a U.S. bishop learns -- nearly a decade after the 2002 wave of scandals broke -- that one of his priests has crotch shots of kids on his computer, after having learned about a detailed letter of complaint about the guy from a Catholic school principal, the bishop would report the priest to the proper authorities, in accordance with civil and canon law.

But that's not the world Bishop Finn was living in. So now he stands convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse. In other words, Finn is not an innocent man. That's why he issued a statement -- both through his lawyer (.doc) and on his own behalf (.doc) -- that contains apologetic-sounding words arranged in a way that avoids actually accepting responsibility for his failure to report the pornographer priest Ratigan. (Do yourself a favor and read Mark Silk on that and morehere.)

You'd think Finn's conviction would be enough to force Donohue back from the ledge, or at least show a measure of contrition. But no. He's going all the way over. In his latest pronouncement, magisterially titled "Assessing Bishop Finn's Guilt," Donohue purports to bust some myths about the Finn case. Instead, he perpetrates some myth-making of his own. Let's have a look.

Donohue:

Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. The case did not involve child sexual abuseno child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography.

True, Finn was not convicted of a felony. He was convicted of a misdemeanor because he failed to call the police when he had reason to suspect Fr. Shawn Ratigan of being a threat to children.But Donohue is out to lunch when he claims that "the case did not involve child abuse."

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI amended church norms to define sexual abuse as including "the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology." (Canon law considers children under fourteen to be prepubescent.) Donohue may not think Ratigan's photos of children are pornographic, but the law does.

You know who else does? Shawn Ratigan. In August, he pleaded guilty to four counts of possession of child pornography. (Did you know that Bishop Finn's first pastoral letter warned about the dangers of pornography?) What's more, one of the stipulated facts to which both the prosecution and Bishop Finn agreed includes a key statement from Ratigan, taken from a February 2011 letter he sent to Finn, which begins: I am going to give you a brief summary of how I got to where I am with my addiction to pornography." A memo prepared by two diocesan employees describe some of the troubling images on Ratigan's computer this way:

In the hundreds of photos it became obvious the viewer is focusing on the female pelvic region. It is also obvious that some photos were taken from a camera positioned under a table in which girls were sitting in their swimsuits or under playground equipment in which girls were climbing above. There is also a photo with a little girl sleeping and someone has changed the location of her hand and clothing while she sleeps to take the photos. It appears that 45 photos were downloaded while the others seem to have been taken from a personal camera.

These are staged photos. They could not be taken without engaging in a form of sexual abuse. Who moved the child? How? This is why the Vatican amended its guidelines to include possession of child pornography in its definition of sexual abuse. Why doesn't Bill Donohue understand this?

Back to his missive:

On December 16, 2010, a computer technician found crotch-shot pictures of children, fully clothed, on Ratigans computer; there was one that showed a girls genitals exposed. The next day Ratigan attempted suicide. The Vicar General, Msgr. Robert Murphy, without seeing the photos, contacted a police officer about this matter. The officer, after consulting with another cop, said a single photo of a non-sexual nature would not constitute pornography. After a few more of the same types of photos were found, an attorney rendered the same judgment: they were not pornographic.

Not quite. Here's what really happened. Start with the technician's account:

"I looked at the first one [photo]. It was a young girl climbing up the back of a pickup truck and I thought, huh, that's kind of a neat shot," the 59-year-old [Ken] Kes recalled. "The next one that I clicked on was a girl...climbing out of swimming pool and all it showed was her rear end. Then there was a little girl on the grass with her legs spread. All you could see was the area from her belly button to her knees." By the time Kes got to a graphic photo of a little girl on a bed, exposed below the waist, his hands were shaking and he was in full panic. "I stopped looking right there and got on the phone," he said.

As reported by Reuters, everyone Kes talked to told him to call the cops -- except for his wife. She urged him to inform the diocese and take the computer back to Ratigan's parish (St. Patrick's). That's what he did. When he returned to St. Patrick's, he showed the photos to his friend Deacon Mike Lewis, who in turn phoned Msgr. Robert Murphy, vicar general of the diocese, and described some of what Kes had discovered.

Just seven months earlier, St. Patrick's School principal Julie Hess had shared with Lewis parents' and teachers' concerns about Ratigan's behavior with children (on one occasion, parents of Brownie Girl Scouts were planting flowers in Ratigan's yard and found a pair of a young girl's underwear in a planter). [Edit: I should have mentioned that Lewis urged Hess to convey these worries directly to Msgr. Murphy. She sent him a long, damning letter (.pdf) dated May 19. Read it. About a year later, Ratigan was arrested.] So Lewis must have sensed the urgency of the situation. Presumably he conveyed some of that to Murphy.

Yet when Murphy turned around and called Rick Smith, a cop who served on the diocesan review board, he only shared Lewis's description of one nude photo of a girl thought to be Ratigan's niece. Murphy hadn't yet seen any of the photos. According to Smith, Murphy said the photo depicted a girl in a nonsexual pose. Murphy asked Smith whether such a photo would constitute child pornography. The police officer said he'd seek advice from an expert in the department and get back to Murphy. Smith too had not seen the photo in question, nor did he have any idea how many more problematic photos were in Ratigan's possession. The expert Smith contacted said the photo might or might not be pornographic.

But on Donohue's telling, the expert "said a single photo of a non-sexual nature would not constitute pornography." That is false, as the independent report (.pdf) Finn commissioned makes clear. Has Judge Donohue even bothered to read the Graves Report? (Most of my summary of events comes from that document.) Donohue asserts, "After a few more of the same types of photos were found, an attorney rendered the same judgment: they were not pornographic." But he doesn't tell you that the attorney worked for the diocese. Nor does he tell you that Murphy had asked Julie Creech, diocesan director of information systems, to examine Ratigan's computer, and that she found photos like this (from the report):

In a staged sequence, the photos depicted the girl lying down in a bed, from the waist down, and focused on the crotch. The girl was wearing only a diaper, but with each photo, the diaper was moved gradually to expose her genitals. By the last photo, her genitals were fully exposed. According to Ms. Creech, there were approximately six to eight pictures in this sequence of photos; two displayed fully exposed genitals and one displayed her fully exposed buttocks.

After finding many more disturbing photos -- photos she considered sexual in nature -- along with web-browsing history indicating an interest in spy-cams and two-way mirrors, and links to the Facebook pages of several young girls, Creech shared that information with Murphy and advised him to call the police. So did the diocesan communications director at the time, Rebecca Summers. (Murphy told investigators that he had no recollection of those conversations.) Instead, Murphy informed Bishop Finn of the discovery. The next day, December 17, Murphy contacted diocesan attorney Jon Haden, gave him Ratigan's laptop, a memo summarizing its contents, along with some printed photos. Haden didn't think the images amounted to pornography under state law.

According to the Graves Report, Haden said he'd "viewed only those images that had been printed and attached to the Creech and Moss memorandum [which described in some detail what the laptop contained], which were only a subset of all of the images viewed by Ms. Creech and Ms. Moss and described in their memo." But he had the laptop, which means he had access to all the photos. Still, even if he couldn't be bothered to look through the images on Ratigan's computer, why wouldn't he think the photos described in the memo were pornographic according to Missouri state law? Here's how the statute defines child pornography:

(a) Any obscene material or performance depicting sexual conduct, sexual contact, or a sexual performance, as these terms are defined in section 556.061, RSMo, and which has as one of its participants or portrays as an observer of such conduct, contact, or performance a minor under the age of eighteen; or(b) Any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computergenerated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct where:

a. The production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;

b. Such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computergenerated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or

c. Such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to show that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

As the Graves Report clarifies, "sexually explicit conduct" is defined in 573.010(18). It includes lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person. Who would doubt that a series of shots gradually revealing a little girl's vagina counts as lascivious exhibition? Indeed, according to the report, Missouri has seen cases in which "defendants have been successfully prosecuted and convicted of possession of child pornography for pictures focused on the nude genitalia of children, even where the children were not engaged in sexual acts."

That may surprise Bill Donohue, but it shouldn't. Children depicted in pornographic photos do not pose themselves. This concern was raised by diocesan employees, including the lawyer Haden. They pressed Bishop Finn and Msgr. Murphy to take steps to learn the identity of the faceless children in Ratigan's collection. Because no one knew how many of the photos he had downloaded or how many he'd taken himself, "there was a distinct possibility that the children in some of the photographs had been abused by Fr. Ratigan in the process of taking the pictures or at other times," according to the Graves Report. Yet Finn and Murphy told investigators they had made no effort to identify those kids. Nor did they inform the diocesan review board, offering the pathetic explanation -- one Donohue has happily parroted -- that there was no identifiable complainant. Which is not surprising when you make no effort to figure out the names of the kids in Ratigan's collection. Of course, it doesn't matter whether there is a complainant. Possessing child pornography is defined by the Vatican as a form of sexual abuse -- and is illegal. Photos can't complain. The point is that you can't take pornographic pictures of kids without abusing them.

Back to Bill:

Finn then asked a psychiatrist to evaluate Ratigan. The bishop was given the judgment of a professional: the priest was not a risk to children (he was diagnosed as suffering from depression). Finn then placed restrictions on Ratigan, which he broke. When it was found that Ratigan was again using a computer, upon examination more disturbing photos were found. Murphy then called the cops (Finn was out of town) and a week later Ratigan was arrested.

Yes, after Ratigan survived a suicide attempt, Finn sent him to a Pennsylvania shrink, Richard Fitzgibbons, who had worked with diocesan priests before. [Edit: He has also served as an adviser to a support group for accused priests.] That was January 9, 2011. Rather than rely on the diocesan review board to determine whether Ratigan should be removed from ministry, Finn decided to let the psychiatrist handle it. Ratigan convinced the doctor that his porno problem stemmed from loneliness and depression, which was exacerbated by his sense that the school principal was "out to get him." So the doctor initially concluded that Ratigan posed no threat to children.

It wasn't until weeks after he'd offered his provisional conclusion that the shrink asked to see the photos. Finn had a CD containing the images sent to him, and informed him about Ratigan's internet usage. Yet the doctor didn't change his mind. Finn seems to be the lone diocesan official who thought that one doctor's opinion was sufficient. Murphy said he urged Finn to seek a second opinion. So did Msgr. Bradley Offut, chancellor of the diocese.

While it's true that Finn limited Ratigan's ministry, and that determined abusers will usually find a way to act on their urges, the restrictions conveyed a mixed message. Ratigan was to "avoid all contact with children," yet he was allowed to say mass for youth groups at the Franciscan Prayer Center, across the street from the Vincentian residence he was assigned to. Finn had intended to bar Ratigan from all contact with minors, but when he learned that families and youth groups sometimes visited the Prayer Center for retreats, Finn decided to allow Ratigan to say Mass for kids or when they were present.

Finn told the Graves investigators that he had the superiors of the Vincentian residence informed of the circumstances of Ratigan's assignment -- including his restrictions. But the superiors said they were told no such thing. Instead, they thought Ratigan was just going to live there while he recuperated from his suicide attempt. If they had known about the laptop, the Vincentians told the Graves investigators, they never would have allowed Ratigan to stay with them.

By the end of March it became clear to Finn and other diocesan officials that Ratigan was not following the restrictions placed on him by the bishop. He was found using Facebook -- just to check e-mail, he promised Finn. The bishop admitted he'd made no attempt to make sure that Ratigan was using an internet monitoring tool. Then Ratigan showed up at a local parade -- lots of kids there, of course. And he attended a birthday party for a young girl. Finn talked to him about it on April 8, admonishing him to obey the restrictions. But Ratigan pushed back, saying Finn "didn't want him to have a life." Three days later Ratigan heard the confessions of minors at the retreat center. Then he hosted an Easter party for parents and their kids. The federal indictment of Ratigan includes charges that he attempted to take pornographic photos of a girl at that party.Donohue again: "When it was found that Ratigan was again using a computer, upon examination more disturbing photos were found. Murphy then called the cops (Finn was out of town) and a week later Ratigan was arrested."

That's wrong too. In fact, according to the Graves Report, there were no new photos discovered. [Edit: At that point, I should have said, no new photos had been found.] On April 19, Msgr. Murphy contacted Capt. Rick Smith (the review-board member he'd called the day the laptop photos were found), and asked if they could discuss something in person following a scheduled knee surgery. He didn't say what. On May 11, they met, and Murphy led off the conversation by admitting that "there were hundreds of photos" on the laptop. "That's not what you told me," Smith replied. He told Murphy this was now a criminal matter, and that the laptop had to be turned over to the police straightaway.

Murphy told Smith that the laptop was at the offices of the diocesan legal counsel. Smith said the firm should call the police and arrange for a voluntary pickup. Murphy said he couldn't do that right away because he had to meet with the bishop immediately following the meeting with Smith. (Apparently Finn wasn't out of town on May 11. On May 12 he had a conference in Washington, D.C.) Smith agreed to give Murphy till that afternoon to call him back to verify that the law firm had set up the pickup. That call never came. So the next morning Smith contacted the Crimes Against Children Division to advise them of the situation, and soon after Ratigan was arrested. [Edit: After Smith contacted the Crimes Against Children Division, a parish where Ratigan had previously worked turned over a computer he had used there, which contained several images similar to those found on his laptop.] In fact, Murphy had been mistaken about who had the laptop. Finn had been in possession of the device for a time, but eventually he turned it over to Ratigan's brother, who of course destroyed it.

Donohue closes by gesturing toward something that resembles seriousness when it comes to sexual abuse.

The Catholic League supports harsh penalties for child sexual abusers, and for those who cover it up. But it also supports equal justice for all, and given what we know of what is going on in many other communities, religious as well as secular, we find the chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn to be as unfair as they are contrived.

We would be remiss if we did not mention that only two newspapers in the nation put this story on the front page: the Kansas City Star, understandably, and the New York Times.

Equal justice for all, naturally -- if not equanimity in presenting all facts. But don't forget this stuff happens in other communities too. (He neglected to mention that Jews have also been struggling with this problem. His computer's F7 key must be broken.) And only Bill Donohue would be stunned that when a bishop is convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse -- that is, the crime that has fueled the scandals from day one -- it would be front-page news.

But what is he thinking when he calls the "condemnations targeting Finn...as unfair as they are contrived"? The man is guilty of not reporting suspected child abuse. He was informed of Ratigan's disturbing photos of children (children, not teenagers) on December 16, 2010. There is nothing contrived or unfair about condemning his failure to respond adequately to the threat posed by Ratigan. He chose not to forward the case to his own sexual-abuse review board, and to take as gospel the evaluation of one psychiatrist even though his closest advisers were urging him to send Ratigan to another shrink. And when Finn learned Ratigan was not abiding even the light restrictions the bishop had placed on him, what did he do? He gave him a stern talking-to. What would have happened if Msgr. Murphy hadn't made the decision to tell Capt. Smith the whole truth? We know what Ratigan did in the meantime. He kept looking at God-knows-what online. He heard kids' confessions. He had parties for kids and their parents, where he apparently continued his work as an amateur pornographer. Because the bishop failed.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that a man who responds to perceived anti-Catholic humor with ethnic slurs, or whose initial response to news that a friend was accused with sexual harassment is to joke about the accuser as "a drunken girl," or who has publicly wondered what's wrong with teenagers who "allow themselves to be molested," wouldn't be able to discern the seriousness of Finn's failures. Still, the fact that the president of the Catholic League does not grasp the gravity of these matters remains as mysterious to me as the support he receives from several bishops.

Comments

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Bill Donohue, put a sock in it. You are doing our Church no favors with your bombastic, knee jerk rhetoric.

A devastating take-down of both Mr Donohue and Bishop Finn. The former for being, well, the former. Bishop Finn for the weave of half-truths to outright lies in this sorry affair. No wonder there was no jury trial.

If ever there was a clear case of cover-up, the Finn case is it. How can Donahue be so blind?I wonder how many conservatives -- or, better, reactionaries -- agree with him. And I wonder how many of them are bishops.

Donohue's credibility ought to be in the sewer with his friends, the bishops. Or does he just know his audience?Another great post with extensive research by Grant Gallicho.

I say his board of advisees are fools to maintain their relationship with this propagandist."birds in a flock are always the same'

Donohue's on the take.

"But he doesnt tell you that the attorney worked for the diocese."The argument would be stronger if this sentence were not included, or at least not so breezily dismissive.

Grant - have you looked at the financial connection between the Big Bill's League and Opus Dei?Agree with Ed - some of the advisor board should be ashamed to have their names listed - the usual suspects e.g. Glendon, Monaghan, Weigel. Amused by Alan Keyes.Do we know if the bishops' quoted have given permission to be quoted? Wonder if any have asked that the League remove their quotes? Just saying?

The most vicious and I think dangerous thing about Bill Donohue is the spin that he takes on issues that most of us find shocking.TRYING TO SILENCE BISHOP CORDILEONE was the headline for the story about Bishop Cordileones arrest after it was determined that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit.The body of the story is a rant against the way that gays will use the story. The only words about Bishop Cordileones two misdemeanors: he was arrested after it was determined that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit. He has since apologized.

Bill de Haas:Could not have said it better myself. As a matter of fact, here is the comment that I was on the verge of posting: I went to the Catholic League website to see who are the members of the Board of Directors and Advisory Board. The first thought that came to my mind was: Round up the usual suspects.Mary Ann Glendon, no big surprise. She is on the advisory board of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty and a big time Romney supporter.Raymond Arroyo, show caser of Bill Donohue as (See EWTN, The World Over)Alan Keyes, What???I may be wrong but I believe that Cardinal Mahoney used to be one of the members of the hierarchy to give a testimonial for the Catholic League.

Good post, Grant. Well written. Well argued. Keep up the good work of criticizing Bill Donohue. He deserves to be criticized.

Thank you, Grant, for this comprehensive work. I can only think of the words of Christ: "God alone is good . . . Be not afraid."

I just can't understand what is Bill Donohue's REAL mission or intent. As this bombastic, high paid, intentionally misleading propagandist ACTS as if he is defending high ranking church officials who are wrongly VICTIMIZED by victims of clergy sexual abuse. He continues to drive Catholics AWAY. Yet he is often praised by the likes of Cardinal Dolan and other bishops. I believe he will not stop, nor will our Bishops and Cardinals, in their infinite wisdom, repudiate him until our churches are completely empty. We are definitely getting there.

I think it's interesting that some of the more conservative posters on here have not jumped in to defend Bill Donohue. I have a suspicion that most thinking conservatives feel that he poorly represents their own allegiance to the Church, though they're not going to feed liberal satisfaction with Bill-bashing.

What else would we expect from Donohue? He makes a lucrative living (between $300,000 and $400,000, reportedly) and gets to be treated as a Very Important Catholic Person from being offended by everything.

I'm probably like most people in that I was introduced to this guy back when he first got publicly pissy about something (incredibly unoffensive) that he saw on The Simpsons.In other words, he's always been easy to dismiss as being "that guy."

Isn't Bill Donohue closely linked to the Opus Dei?

Abe --Many years ago, when Donahue started his rent-a-rant organization, I thought the stated purpose of the organization was a good one. Yes, there has been a lot of unwarranted Catholic-bashing in the West and there has been for some centuries now. (Much is warranted, of course.) I even joined his initial group. But even within that first year I could see that this was an intemperate man with little concern for accuracy, and I didn't re-join. Bad new almost from the very beginning.

Bill Donohue's role is the same today as it always has been: To say the outrageous things, no matter how offensive, sexist, etc., the hierarchs say in private to each other but can't say in public for political reasons.Nothing more or nothing less.Donohue [who once had an office inside the NY chancellory building] is supported and funded in the kooky "right-wing" universe by the same conservative reactionary ideologues - the familiar denizens of the Dark Side - that seek to extend a political hegemony over women, people of color, gays & lesbians, capital markets, labor unions, religious institutions, academic institutions, and most especially governments and politicians.[I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Donohue and his so-called "Catholic League" are finanically, but secretively, underwritten by Catholic bishops themselves!]This is where the nexus of "Donohue" world and Catholic hierarchs meet: The corporate hierarchs with all their unaccountable access to $billions are fighting a pitch battle to push back against the march of history - and cover-up their own shame at the same time.When B16 gets the vapors and starts spotting off about "moral relativism," remember in his mutant little mind, Joseph Ratzinger is channelling Leo the Great facing the barbarian hordes at the gates of Rome.Little does little Joseph understand that Catholic hierarchs are on the cusp of a very painful lesson at the hands of Mother Nature about evolutionary science and especially vestigial species.

Sorry. Spelling correction: "[spouting] off about "moral relativism.""

Let's see here: two computer technicians ... a diocesan lawyer ... a monsignor ... a vice-chancellor ... a psychiatric doctor ... and a deacon ALL allegedly saw the disturbing images from Fr. Ratigan's computer, but NONE of them officially alerted law enforcement. Why not?!?The Graves report said all the people who saw the images should have called the police.Yet Bishop Finn, who stated he "never saw the images," was the one who took the hit.

DPierre: why did he, who had the responsibility for directing the investigation and taking decisions, not see the images?

"Lets see here: two computer technicians a diocesan lawyer a monsignor a vice-chancellor a psychiatric doctor and a deacon ALL allegedly saw the disturbing images from Fr. Ratigans computer, but NONE of them officially alerted law enforcement.... Yet Bishop Finn, who stated he never saw the images, was the one who took the hit."Well, another well known Catholic Al, Capone, ran a prohibition-era liquor empire but never sold a single ounce of moonshine. I guess we can't send him to jail, then.

Donahue:"The Catholic League supports harsh penalties for child sexual abusers, and for those who cover it up." Fine. What would Bill Donahue consider to be a fair sentence for a person with no prior criminal record convicted of a single count of faliure to report suspicions of child abuse?How about a suspended sentence and probation followed by expungement of the conviction?Would he consider such a punishment "hash" "medium" or "lenient?"

The article spends a lot of time on the infamous laptop. There's a problem with that: the charge involving the laptop was the charge that the bishop was found "not guilty".

@ Joe McFaul:I get your point. But....Al Capone was sent to prison for tax evasion. I believe, Capone died of neurosyphilis syndrome surrounded by his family at age 48 at his Palm Island, Florida home.The best that we could hope for with Finn is that he will be appointed senior assistant shelf duster at the Vatican library in the not too distant future. The hierarchs always take care of their own. The hierarchs have spent a fortune defending Finn in court - that's why he got such a light sentence. The hierarchs know that in America rich people just don't go to jail. Remember, O.J. Simpson got away with double murder.

The prosecutor, exercising prosecutorial discretion, did not charge Finn with obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence in his handling of the laptop. That doesn't mean that ordinary observers can't consider the handling of the laptop in gauging the degree of the perp's maliciousness and lack of contrition and Donahue's misrepresentation of the facts relating to the laptop in his efforts to enable pedophiles.

She could not charge him with obstruction of justice, the laptop was all but inoperable while in the hands of the diocese, yet Ms Creech did manage to copy the hard drive and that copy WAS handed over. Furthermore, the state did not use any of the images on that laptop to prosecute Ratigan, all of that evidence came from sources outside the chancery on property belonging to Ratigan and his extended family. Any other evidence gathered came after Ratigan violated the restrictions placed on him. For the sake of this argument, the laptop is a non issue.

"Bill Donohues role is the same today as it always has been: To say the outrageous things, no matter how offensive, sexist, etc., the hierarchs say in private to each other but cant say in public for political reasons."Jim J. -That's an awfully strong accusation against "the hierarchs". What evidence do you have of many individual bishops actually saying such things privately? Who talks like this?

Of course it is an issue. Because the bishop knew about it and apparently never bothered to see what was on it. Are you in the employ of the diocese?

Nope. I am a recent convert that has been like a fly on the wall, witnessing all of the hand wringing while having no axe to grind with either side. My experience this last year is that one side always takes the time to courteously answer even the most difficult of my questions. The other side always censored me and then branded me a "pedophile protector" for even daring to ask a question. In the meantime, we have major media sources leaving out pertinent details in their reporting. It's a very stark contrast in behavior in both sides, and I have taken notice.

I'm not going to subscribe to emotional shrill in the absence of relevant facts and basic due process.

Due process? The bishop agreed to a series of stipulated facts including a statement by Ratigan -- made in a letter to Finn -- that he was a porn addict. There is no disputing that Bishop Finn knew about the laptop and did not try to see what was on it. It was not "all but inoperable." It was operable enough for Creech to find lots of disturbing images, catalog them, and copy them. When the bishop was informed of these, he should have done due diligence -- especially given the fact that seven months before he was notified of a detailed letter from the school principal warning about Ratigan's strange behavior with children. A girl's panties in a planter in his yard. Then he sent the priest to a shrink halfway across the country who was an adviser to an accused-priest support group, and who thought phone conversations were sufficient to determine whether Ratigan was a threat. Now we know how wrong he was.What does it mean you have been like a fly on the wall? What wall?

I made the mistake of reading the link in which Bil donohue talks about his views about sexual abuse by priests to teenagers: These are his words:"First, there is a huge difference between being groped and being raped, so which was it Mr. Foley? Second, why didnt you just smack the clergyman in the face? After all, most 15-year-old boys wouldnt allow themselves to be molested. So why did you?"I was abused by a priest when I was 16. I was groped instead instead of raped. And it was and incredibly painful and devastating experience because for many years I thought it was my fault, because I believed I should have stoped it. I thought I had overcame it, but after hearing his hateful and mean-spirited words I relived again all the guilt and shame of those years. I had to repeat myself all over again the reasons why i was unable to escape from and abusive situation. I came from a troubled home. I had had no father figure. I believed/hoped/prayed my abuser could be the father i never had. I was a deeply religious person. I trusted the church, I trusted priests, I believed they were unable to hurt, deceive, exploit vulnerable people like me. They were the representatives of Christ on earth, for Christ sake!! If the Catholic Church is in such a mess is because it has lacked a compasionate and Christian response to victims. Instead it has denied/minimized the severity of the harm inflicted on victims and it has tried to shift the blame from the priest abusers/bishop enablers to everybody else (the victims for not stoping it/seducing the priests; the parents for not having detected; the lawyers for being greedy; the press for being sensasionalist, society at large for being corrupted and corrupting,...).With lovers of the Church like bil donohue, the Catholic Church doesn't need enemies. Shame on him for blaming the victims and trying to silence them into guilt and shame. We should be telling victims that it wasn't their fault, that they did nothing wrong. We should be encouraging them to ask and reach for help. Only then healing will begin and we could start to put such horrible situacions behind us.

@ Ann Olivier:What evidence is there that Donohue is a mouthpiece for hierarchs?Have you ever hear any hierarch ever repudiate Donohue and his hateful speech?Look at the very close association [almost coordination] between Donohue's Catholic League antics and the hierarchs media campaigns. [Remember the summer of "Religious Liberty?"]Where does Donohue get his money for his operations? There is no public accounting.Donohue is associated with every wing-nut in the right-wing ideologue universe - many times speaking as a spokesman for the hierarchs. I have failed to ever find any distance created by the hierarchs. Have you ever heard some of the things that Cardinal George have said about the motivations of folks who defend children against sexual predation?I personally sat in meetings with hierarchs who expressed anger and consternation about media attention for the sexual assaults by priests.I have personally heard hierarchs express very derogatory comments about women especially who seek "to trap" priests in sexually compromised situations.

"... the state did not use any of the images on that laptop to prosecute Ratigan, all of that evidence came from sources outside the chancery on property belonging to Ratigan and his extended family...For the sake of this argument, the laptop is a non issue."The handling of the laptop is a significant issue. The state did not "use the images" because Ratigan pleaded guilty. In the absence fo a guilty plea the images woudl ahve been exhibit A at his trial. Do you have any inside information as to what images were shown to Ratigan or his lawyer in the plea bargain negotiation? I am pretty sure Ratigan and his lawyer were shown the images so they could evaluate how many decades the maximum sentence would be. The images were very clearly "used" to negiotiate a plea. Unfortunately, the worst images may have been "disappeared" by the dishonest or incompetent diocese. Imagine if the diocese had hypotheically discovered a "large amount" of heroin in Ratigan's room and six months later, "several ounces" of heroin were turned over to the police. Since sentencing is often connected to volume, the tampering may have allowed Ratigan to avoid a commercial quantities conviction. Because the evidence had been tampered with Ratigan is the recipient of a lucky break.The laptop is the same situation.Since the evidence was tampered with, we don't know how bad the images that were NOT copied by the diocese were--they diocese prevented law enforcement form obtaining complete information. That's morally wrong. If the diocese can't see that, then there is a serious problem.There is another more serious problem in Finn's handling of the laptop. Finn avoided impartial advice, and "forum shopped" to obtain legal advice about child pornography from a sycophantic ear. He didn't even have the moral fortitude to telll the sycophant the full story and concealed the signifcant details. (The advice was wretchedly bad even under those circumstances).It is an understatement to characterize this conduct as "bearing false witness." I sincerely hope Finn has made a thorough examination of conscience regarding his handling of this affair and has a good confessor. There is a millstone waiting for him.

"Thats an awfully strong accusation against the hierarchs. Hi Ann, Well, the truth hurts.Here's Dolan's approval http://blog.archny.org/?p=1556 of an earlier offensive Catholic League post insinuating the victim asked for it and since she was a teenager, it;s not "child" abuse:As posted on the Archdioceswe website:"A 16-year-old girl started working in a Bronx parish last Saturday and now claims she was inappropriately touched by an 87-year-old priest. She returned to work on Monday, where she now says she was touched the wrong way again. Then she voluntarily decided to go back to work on Tuesday, where she now claims she was wrongly touched for the third time. On Wednesday, the cops show up, with TV cameras rolling, and handcuff the elderly priestwho has never had a single allegation made against him in over 60 years as a priesttreating him as if he were Jack the Ripper." and this gem:"But neither of the two cases involved pedophilia: in both instances, the alleged victims were teenagers. The name of the game is to paint priests as child abusers, which is a bold-face lie."Dolan and Donahue discern a moral difference between the sexual abuse of teenagers and sexual abuse of children under 13. Somehow, that distinction seems to escape most parents of teenagers. "I am Timothy Dolan and I approve of Donahue's message."

"What evidence is there that Donohue is a mouthpiece for hierarchs?"Jim J. --That wasn't my question. I don't doubt for one second that he is such a mouthpiece. That's why I call him rent-a-rant. My question asked about "the hierarchs" (unnamed) speaking sexist privately.

@ Ann Olivier:"The hierarchs" (unnamed) speaking sexist privately."Well, once I was at a SF review board meeting where [now] Cardinal Levada had just returned from consultations at the CDF in Rome regarding their [the CDF's] "concerns" over certain provisions of the Dallas Charter. {Ratzinger participated in these consultations.]One of the CDF's objections was that most of the American dioceses review boards' membership included women - some were chaired by women. Levada explained that the CDF did not want any precedents set where especially women [and "lay" men, too] could be construed to be in a "supervisory" role in relationship to priests. Only clerics could/should hold other priests to account.Another beauty from these consultations: There were/are many allegations pending against priests by women who were teenagers at the time of their assaults. The CDF wanted to use the canon law standards regarding minority/majority age "at the time of the assault(s)" that were in effect at the time of the assault. [Remember most of these assaults took place decades ago.] If you used the canon law standard, this would mean that it if the female was more than 14 y.o. [or the male was older than 16 y.o.] at the time of the rape/assault, then the adolescent child under canon law could be considered an adult. Therefore, the Dallas Charter which only applied to assaults on "minors" [another Ratzinger amendment to the Charter] would not apply to those priest predators.The net result was that many credible allegations of abuse against priests by especially women were voided.I considered both these CDF objections to be rooted in a systemic sexism. Levada had to be convinced and only conceded when he was told that the public would never accept or understand this kind of canonical law technicalities and legal slight-of-hand. We told him that women especially would be outraged.Remember, Donohue is useful to the hierarchs because he has license to say the most odious, outrageous, repugnant things while the hierarchs don't have to get dirty saying those things themselves. Get vile messaging into the media echo chamber where they get repeated ad nauseam until they are rooted in the public discourse, and take on the aura of fact.Donohue is one of the prime sources for the canard that survivors are just gold diggers out to empty the church's treasury. Another is that critics of the hierarchs are "anti-Catholic." Donohue pushed the theme that the most critical news organizations [i.e., NY Times, etc.] were dominated by Jews and lesbian feminists. These are in fact some of Cardinal George's favorite memes but said in the more unctuous style of cardinals - many times followed in a few days after public outrage with the most insipid apologies.If you want more, you (or maybe Commonweal) should do an investigative report on Vatican coordination of media strategies to push back against critics and survivors.

Jim Jenkins"If you want more, you (or maybe Commonweal) should do an investigative report on Vatican coordination of media strategies to push back against critics and survivors".Are you sure that the Vatican is calling the shots? I am not so sure. i am beginning to think that it is the US Church that much influence. Why? Follow the money, e.g., the Knights of Columbus.

Joe, you are making stuff up to suit your bias. My info came straight from the court filed affidavits, readily available to anyone that takes the time to actually read them, and the state's case has yet to be tried.

Ken, Then you have a comprehension problem. I've read the affidavits, the Graves report and the principal's letter. Do you understand what a guilty plea means?It means Ratigan won't be tried.

Jim J. --We all know that the American hierarchy has sexist attitudes (as do some of the lower clergy), or at least they doesn't publicly disagree with Rome (e.g., about women's ordination). But I was really enquiring about bishops who might, for instance, privately tell sexist jokes for the fun of it and that kind of demeaning talk. The latter, I think, shows a fundamental ill-will towards women.

If bishops do not want to be held legally responsible for failing to report to civil authorities, there is a simple solution. Just announce, and make it plain that you mean it; that any parishoner, employee, or priest, should NOT report suspected abuse to the parish or diocese, but should immediately take any suspicions directly to the police.It should be emphasized that there will be no consequences for the reporting individual. In the case of Ratzinger, such a policy would have meant that the responsibility for reporting his suspicious behavior would have fallen to the parents, teachers, and principal of the school, and would most likely have exposed him much earlier.That the bishops will never adopt such a policy shows how much they desire to maintain total control. And if you insist on having control, you can't complain if you are held to account for misusing it.

Kelly g --What would happen if a person, not a bishop or school principal or some other authority, went to the police with suspicions of abuse by someone? Could the person who reported the suspicion be sued for slander if he/she didn't have enough evidence to prove the accusation?And does the law treat accusations of abuse and suspicions of abuse differently? It seems to me the police investigate both suspicions and outright accusations.

Ann,If a private citizen reports suspicion of child abuse to their state, they are not liable to be sued for slander. What are reported are suspicions, not proof of abuse. Intervention is to ascertain whether or not abuse exists. If it does not, the matter is settled. If it does, intervention continues many, many times in the form of treatment for abusers and---if warrented---protection for the children through removal. As a mandated reported, I have filed suspicionof abuse on at least 3 occasions. All three times there was an intervention and treatment.

Sorry, that should be mandated reporter.

Years ago, I reported a neighbor for suspected child abuse in the form of verbal ranting and belittling toward her little girl. Apparently the CPS intervened, and I never heard further about the matter.And I'd do it again if I had to!

Thanks, Molly, that's good to know. I wonder if the rest of us need to be made aware of some of these ins and outs of the problem. I can understand not wanting to tell the police about a not very strong suspicion, both because I might be wrong and because it might involve a child and its parents in something they didn't want to pursue. Or can we say that all children are better off if all suspicions are reported? Some children are quite fragile emotionally, and I can see where going through an investigation might possibly just make matters worse. In fact, in the Finn case the police themselves were hoping to avoid a trial for the children's sake.It is all so complex, and inidvidual children are not all alike.

Jean - just speaking for myself, I ignore Donohue. I don't think he's said or done anything in years that merits my attention. Focusing media attention on him just perpetuates the notion - false, in my view - that he or is organization are important contributors to our national Catholic life.The USCCB could easily run an operation that shines disinfecting sunlight on anti-Catholic bias in the media or public life. If they did, I suspect they would do it far more responsibly than Bill Donohue does. It seems to me that this is part of a bishop's job - to defend the church in his pastoral care when it is unfairly or maliciously attacked in the public square. The bishops shouldn't be ceding that responsibility it to Donohue or his organization.

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