A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Diogenes' Lantern

I confess to having been in the dark concerning the contemporary re-incarnation of the ancient philosopher (happily this occurred prior to the Chinese Government's prohibition).

But several posts by Grant enlightened me to his existence.

So, from time to time, I've surreptitiously peeked into his lantern.

Here's an example of what I saw:

Let us now praise illustrious women

InKing Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character thatShakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely "FirstServant." All the characters around him -- Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund-- have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story isgoing to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no suchdelusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But heunderstands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding ofold Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is outand pointed at his master's breast in a moment: then Regan stabs himdead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But ifit were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best tohave acted.
-- C.S. Lewis, "The World's Last Night"

Dismayed by Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger'slint-flavored observations on yet another predator priest he'd keptstashed in an Evansville parish, it struck me what a shabby figure myown sex has cut throughout the clergy abuse crisis, and, on thecontrary, how frequently the voices raised in opposition to the liesand injustice have belonged to women. None of these women was heeded,as it happens, but they deserve to be honored all the same for thedecency and guts to sound off in the face of iniquity.

High on the roll of honor is Boston housewife Margaret Gallant, who wrote letters to archbishops Medeiros and Law beseeching relief from Father John Geoghan's ongoing molestation of seven of her nephews.

"Our family is deeply rooted in the Catholic Church,our great-grandparents and parents suffered hardship and persecutionfor love of the Church. Our desire is to protect the dignity of theHoly Orders, even in the midst of our tears and agony over the sevenboys in our family who have been violated. We cannot undo that, but weare obligated to protect others from this abuse to the Mystical Body ofJesus Christ. ... [Fr. Geoghan's] actions are not only destructive tothe emotional well-being of the children, but hits the very core of ourbeing in our love for the church..."

Sorry, Margaret dear, no can do. Geoghan's "effective life of ministry" had another 16 years to run.

When I first read Margaret Galant's letter some years back, I was overwhelmed by the love and anguish it expressed. Love and anguish not only for the children, but for the church.

Diogenes' post gives further examples of such "illustrious women."

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Illustrious women indeed, treated shamefully by numerous bishops.I find other parts of the Gallant letter of interest, such as: It was suggested that we keep silent to protect the boysbut I am very angry with you (Cardinal) nowWe did not question the Authority of the Church two years ago, but left it entirely in your hands. Now, we will not settle for this. But of course, Mrs. Gallant and so many others had to settle for inaction and insensitivity indefinitely.Note the terrible price families paid for deference to church Authority (capital A). Even going to the police, one was apt to encounter further deference that often prevented investigations and prosecutions. Here is a sample of NH Bishop John McCormacks record with Geoghan, indicating what he knew, and another mothers deference, that surprises even McCormack:McCormack said he first learned of past allegations of sexual abuse against Geoghan when he began his review of priest personnel files after becoming delegate for sexual misconduct ** in 1993.** (Union Leader 7/9/02) NOT true, as document diving proved in several instances, only one of which I include here.Part of handwritten memo by Bishop McCormack **3/6/89:** (four years earlier)Re: John Geoghan1. 2/12/86 abuse of boy born in 74 in fall of 84 2 years to disclose it fellatio would show up when child is asleep with lights off couple mos. Case is closed. Encopretic DAs office Mother couldnt press charges!! Encopresis is the soiling of the underwear with stool by children who are past the age of toilet training. (Severe regression, sexual abuse trauma may be factors.)My reasonable conclusion after reading countless documents and being with many survivors is that deference, based on positive assumptions about clergy simply because they wear a collar, has been and is dangerous. Verify always before accepting something is true; examine actions, not words. The two are often in conflict.The mistake is to think that everything is fine now, either in the Catholic church or other churches. A good corrective is to read the Abuse Tracker daily at Yesterday, a judge ordered trials in the San Diego diocese pursuant to the dioceses earlier submission of blatantly dishonest data in bankruptcy proceedings.

Carolyn, correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand it's a very rare legal occurrence for the statute of limitations to be lifted, for a brief time, in order that one particular group can be held liable for crimes committed in the past.

It is unusual for a statute of limitations to be extended, but in the case of sexual abuse of children there are very good reasons for doing so:" The majority of states that limit the time within which criminal prosecutions must be brought extends the time for cases of sexual offenses against children. Those states have recognized the power imbalance between child victims and the adult perpetrators, who are often family members. Child victims are more easily intimidated by offenders. The position of authority occupied by the perpetrator also enables the offender to confuse the child, by both assuring the child that the sexual conduct is not wrongful, and/or threatening the child with terrible consequences if he or she discloses the activity. This makes reporting of offenses very unlikely. Moreover, child victims may be too young to know how or what to report. States also recognize that child victims may suffer memory repression or severe psychological trauma from the nature of the offense. They may even be unaware of the fact that a crime has been committed against them. For all of these reasons, most legislatures have extended the limitations period for the prosecution of child sexualoffenses. "More at

I wish this post by "Uncle Di" was representative of his usual offerings. Unfortunately, it's not even close.

There may be a trend in the making to allow survivors to seek justice after artificially short statutes of limitation. See,... by law professor Marci Hamilton.BTW, the CA "window" led to the identification of 300 additional abusers. Since the criminal courts are time-barred for abuser prosecutions, civil redress is the only means of publicly identifying past abusers, who in some cases have been arrested elsewhere. As to window legislation bankrupting the church in CA (a point made in DE testimony by Villanova Law School dean Mark Sargent), survivor advocate Fr. Tom Doyle successfully rebutted him before the legislature. Doyle said that in Orange County, where the church settled for $100 million in May 2005, half was covered by insurance companies, half by a loan that has since been repaid. And in the last year, ground has been broken on a new $300 million cathedral. Oakland's new cathedral now under construction will be the most expensive in American history.DE passed its SOL reform bill overwhelmingly last month, establishing a two-year window and abolishing civil SOL. May many more states follow.The question of sovereign immunity has been something church supporters try to tack on to SOL reform bills to kill them. Public and private entities are usually handled in separate legislation, according to Prof. Hamilton.DE will take up waiving that immunity in Jan. and it will probably pass, setting a new standard.

Never a truer word spoken, Grant, about Diogenes. Sampling wider is an eye opener.Readers may enjoy his comments about Commonweal - Kathy defends us - though I exclude myself from her generous comment (grin).See "the price of victory" about MSteinfels' post on ESCR at above link, scrolling down toPosted by: Diogenes - Aug. 14, 2007 2:19 PM ET USA.Fr. Imbelli, it is nice to find common ground occasionally, so thank you for that. On the whole, though, no thank you.

The question about "window legislation" is not whether it will bankrupt a diocese (although it seems improbable that funds earmarked and donated for a cathedral can easily be converted to cover legal costs) but whether it is just. Whether one group of persons out of the whole world of grievous sinners is being singled out for very unusual punishments by the state of California. How deep Catholic pockets are, because of the diocesan structure. And why this singularly punitive legislation is not enough.

When the very nature of a crime prevents legal remedies within SOL laws on the books, those laws need revision.All institutions guilty of criminal negligence in enabling sexual abuse of minors should be liable under the law. The gross injustice has been that institutions intentionally ran out the statutes to escape liability. They can no longer play that game. The punishments are the usual monetary settlements, which the Manchester, NH diocese calls requests for pastoral assistance. Finally, there is full access to justice for victims in accord with the realities of the crime, at least in CA and DE. My purpose in mentioning San Diego was to highlight a recent example of dishonesty, a reason to avoid the deference of the past (Mrs. Gallant, law enforcement). I believe SOL reform has been discussed at length in other threads, and may get picked up again sometime. But I'm out of time to go through the whole issue here. It's a long one!

Postcript: I received an email from a participant here who asked what DE stands for.It is the state of Delaware. I wanted to provide URL's to news stories but keep getting an error for the story key. I have only the sponsor's op-ed in my Word files, so will just include it here, and end with that. I hope it is not too long. (My recollection of sovereign immunity was incomplete; it apparently is in the bill.)"Should we put a time limit on justice?Opponents of S.B. 29 want to let the worst offenders get away with their crimesBy KAREN PETERSON Posted Sunday, June 17, 2007PERSPECTIVEIn recent weeks, the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington has published a number of articles, letters and editorials purporting to support the objectives of Senate Bill 29, The Child Victims Act, while urging the Legislature to pass amendments that would actually "gut" the bill. The church's claims about the legislation range from misleading to downright false. The purpose of this article is to set the record straight.First, some facts about the problem: 1 in 5 children is sexually abused. It's an epidemic. The average age of a child-abuse victim is 9. 85 percent of victims are molested by family members or family acquaintances. Less than 10 percent of victims are molested by clergymen or teachers. The majority of abusers are white, heterosexual, married men who consider themselves "religious." Abusers typically molest between 12 and 77 children.Delaware law gives abuse victims only two years to sue their abuser for damages.Last year, I was approached by a representative of the Diocese of Wilmington who wanted to talk to me about my efforts on behalf of child sexual-abuse victims. He said, "Do you realize how much money this could cost the diocese?" My response was, "They should have thought of that when they were allowing innocent little kids to be molested."To the church, S.B. 29 is all about the money and keeping its records of cover-ups secret. It should be about the children.In diocese after diocese, the church hierarchy not only protected known predators, they actually aided and abetted them in committing their crimes by moving them from one unsuspecting parish to another, setting them loose on a whole new batch of innocent children. As one mother said, "They threw our kids to the wolves." There were the kids at St. Mary Magdalen (two of whom committed suicide), St. Ann's, St. Elizabeth's (my alma mater), Our Lady of Fatima and virtually every parish in our diocese.Our diocese officials knew that children were being raped, sodomized and otherwise molested and did nothing to stop it. Now they are appealing to us, the Catholic faithful, to help them deny justice to our own children. That is unconscionable.The diocese claims that S.B. 29 isn't "fair" because it does not allow public employees to be sued. That is absolutely false, and the diocese knows it. Line 12 of the bill specifically includes "public entities" and the state solicitor has confirmed (in writing) that the bill does, indeed, cover public as well as private employees. The diocese has thrown this "red herring" out there in an attempt to garner support from private institutions to gut the bill. Some have fallen for it.Its argument relies on the notion that people will think that "sovereign immunity" means that public employees cannot be sued. The truth is that public employees are sued all the time (the numerous successful suits against the state police and Department of Correction are evidence of that). The state's "immunity" simply means that if a state employee performs an act that is a) within his/her discretion to do, b) is done in good faith, and c) is not done in a "grossly negligent" manner, they will have immunity from suit.I cannot imagine that any court would find that a public employee: a) had the discretion to sexually molest a child; b) molested the child in good faith, or c) was not grossly negligent in his/her duties when molesting the child. That is why the church's argument on this point is a "red herring."The second excuse the church is using is its claim that the bill isn't fair because in older cases, witnesses have died, records have been destroyed, and the accused could not get a fair trial.First, the burden of proof in proving a case is on the accuser, not the accused. Therefore, if the witnesses are all dead and the records are all gone, the plaintiff will never be able to establish that the abuse occurred and such a case would never get past the courtroom doors. But the truth is that the Catholic Church does, in fact, have the records -- and therein lies their real concern. As Father Tom Doyle testified in the Senate, canon law requires that the church keep such records and, as he said, the Catholic Church is the best record-keeper in the world.The third excuse the church has used is that the diocese could be "forced into bankruptcy" if this bill passes. Why would the Wilmington Diocese be "forced into bankruptcy" when the church has not been "forced into bankruptcy" anywhere else in the country?The church is banking on Catholics' not understanding the difference between Chapter 7 bankruptcy (liquidation of assets) and Chapter 11 bankruptcy (reorganization).The church routinely chooses to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy at the last minute before a child sexual-abuse case is scheduled for trial. It pulls this legal maneuver to shield its assets and its records of cover-up from the plaintiffs. This maneuver has nothing to do with the church's ability to pay claims -- and not one diocese in this country has been "forced" into bankruptcy.During a public forum on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, District Attorney Lynne Abraham said that the reason there is no statute of limitations on murder is because murder is so "unspeakably evil." So, too, she said, is child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse kills children's innocence, their souls, and robs them of their childhood. Its effects last a lifetime.The diocese would have us believe that this matter is all behind us now and that they are voluntarily "taking care of" the victims. The truth is that this matter is far from over for the "kids" who were raped, sodomized and molested 20, 30, and even 40 years ago. They can tell you every single detail about the molestation, no matter how long ago it occurred. Those who didn't turn to suicide or drugs to escape the psychological pain are like the "walking wounded" or, as one victim described himself, "the walking dead." They fill our prisons, our mental-health clinics, our Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and our divorce courts in disproportionate numbers. Allowing the diocese to decide how to compensate its victims would be like the courts allowing the convicted criminal to decide his own sentence.The law needs to change and it needs to change drastically. Those who preyed upon our children and those who were complicit in those crimes need to be identified and brought to justice.Right now, child molesters in Delaware are "home free" two years after their crime. Senate Bill 29 would make it clear that child molesters will never again be "home free" in Delaware.State Sen. Karen Peterson represents the 9th Senatorial District."

If the law needs to change, change the law. But what is the justification for opening a window for action against a particular group? Is this ordinarily a legal possibility?The timing of the window is just right for suing Catholic dioceses, not the many other organizations whose dirty laundry could be aired.

Kathy,I read your comment as implying the Catholic church is the "particular group" singled out for "punitive legislation." Every group is covered by the window law, not just the Catholic church. This allows anyone to air the dirty laundry of any organization, whose victims now have the opportunity to seek justice. That Catholic dioceses qualify so amply is a tragedy and disgrace. But it is their own fault, and they need to be held responsible. If it had turned out to be any other church or organization, no matter. Their strategy of using SOL to escape accountability for past crimes is foreclosed, and mirabile dictu (correct usage?), they don't get away with it.This has not been an ordinary legal possibility but thank God the law is evolving to accommodate new understandings of the inability of victims to come forward within the old punitive limits.As Sen. Peterson wrote: Our diocese officials knew that children were being raped, sodomized and otherwise molested and did nothing to stop it. Now they are appealing to us, the Catholic faithful, to help them deny justice to our own children. That is unconscionable.I do call it justice that past victims can get into court, identify abusers, and let us hear the truth of what was done in the name of the church. I believe the church has the largest list of unregistered sex offenders anywhere due to their corrosive secrecy. Now, thanks to window legislation, what was done in secret can come into the light.I believe I have posted beyond the endurance of many, including myself, and respect that we have opposing views. I doubt we will ever persuade each other, and believe the issues have been sufficiently laid out.Peace.

Carolyn: And with you.

Yes Indeed there is a trend in the making to allow survivors to seek justice after artificially short statutes of limitation. =======================ChristineAddiction Recovery Delaware

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment