dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Unsettling revelations

In a rejoinder to those who view the media as inimical to religion, and to the church in particular, the Providence Journal-Bulletin has been running a lavish--and largely positive--serieson Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence. At the same time, however, court documents sought by BishopAccountability.org have revealed that the diocese apparently hadtwice as many clerical abusers (125) than the diocese accounted for in the John Jay survey, in which it reported 56 priest-abusers over the past decades. In an Oct. 19 report in the Journal-Bulletinthe diocese put the disparity down to "a difference in reporting criteria and methodology."That does not seem to explain it all, however.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

The further explanation might be, David, that the bishops are getting better in PR. They are hiring Public Relations Directors at the cost of $150,000 a year or better. The euphemism is "Diocesan Spokesman."Get this. Bishop Tobin actually wrote a Letter of Welcome to the Votf convention in Providence. Votf printed it on the inside page of its program. (Of course you would have known this if you covered the convention. You had company as niether America nor Commonweal seems to have covered it)Bishop Murphy of Queens, of all people, is learning with his new PR director. He is a "changed" man. Externally for sure. The bishops are learning public relations. Maybe the gospel will be next.

Hello All,The (perhaps unintended) implication of this post and Bill's comment is that Bishop Tobin is responsible for the under-reporting. I am not sure that's the case.I could be mistaken, but I believe Bp Tobin was only recently installed in the Providence Diocese--after the John Jay survey. I believe--and I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong--that he was the Ordinary at Youngstown during the thick of the scandal (and Bp Wuerl's secretary in Pgh before that). And I believe his record in Youngstown was quite good if memory serves.Anyone know if it was Tobin or his predecessor?Greg

Indeed, Bishop Tobin was not installed until May 2007, and so I think pointing the finger at him so vigorously does not seem warranted. I am glad he welcomed VOTF--wish I could have been at the conference, Bill, but I have a family to feed, and can't do your p.r. for free. You might try to understand that before popping off. It does seem that the Bishop wasn't exactly forthcoming with updated information, however. Above all, my concern is how such "methodological" differences may have skewed the John Jay study, and its follow-up reports. And primarily, whether methodology means some men are in ministry who should not be.

Oops...Meant to write May 2005 for the installation.

David, I understand you have a family to feed, unlike the bishops who, nonetheless, can feed hundreds of families with their assets. Amazing how they outdo us with our money.

"Bill, but I .... can't do your p.r. for free." Just for the record David I am a volunteer.

And I admire and appreciate your efforts, Bill, truly. But not all of us--or every news outlet--has the resources to cover every story, nor the market to get such coverage printed. I suspect the Providence Journal-Bulletin will do stories, if they haven't already. That is something to be thankful for.

I'd never heard of Bishop Tobin until David's post, and after working my way through the links David provides, I know Bishop Tobin a little better, but still at a distance and for the most part through the eyes of the Providence journalist who is doing the series on the Bishop. Perhaps there is someone who lives in Rhode Island who can provide additional perspective about the Bishop. However, as legalistic a response as "a difference in reporting criteria and methodology" is to explain the disparity in abuse allegations, there is hole big enough to drive a truck through between the "plausible, credible allegations" the John Jay survey sought and the "any allegations" sought as part of the state court suit. From a purely legal perspective, I don't think the diocese can be faulted for the difference in the numbers reported. From other perspectives--e.g., the Church should be above legalistic hairsplitting--the difference may have significance.

While we're on the topic of unsettling revelations, any thoughts on ABC's coverage of Guiliani and Msgr. Placa (or ex-Msgr. Placa?)One of the sftermaths of VOTF conference is some criticsim of VOTF not being sufficiently pro- victim. That's understandable as over the past five years, some f0olk have bent over backwards to try not to offend the bishops they sought dialogue (bishiops, who, in general, didn't care a fig about dialoging with VOTF.)The Bishop Tobim story would be no story as Bill Collier points out if there hads been more open dialogue and truthfulness.Come the Bishop's Conference in November, we'll see how far they've moved - probably not many inches...

William Collier makes a good point, and one I don't have an answer to. How many of these allegations are credible, and how many came to light after the initial John Jay numbers were submitted? Then again, who determined crediblity, and how many--if any--priests were suspended subsequent to the initial figure reported? Too many questions, that's always the problem.

PS: Bob Nunz: Where and when was the Placa report?

I beleive ABC this morning - SNAP had it on its website and the total text is there,Folks from VOTF on LI think the only reason Placa got off the hook was Statute of Limitations. They think he is holding "something over the head" of Bishop Murphy there - a longtoime Law associate.They find it scandalous that he has a superexpensive lower Manhattan (waterfront view) apartment he coowns with the pastor of his parish.You might, when you get a chance go back to the clippings of the LI Grand Jury investigations on this - an interesting story,

Forgot to say ABC report was by "investigative team", viz. Brian Ross and Avni Patel

Snap is doing something about it tomorrow.Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests Dear Friends,We will be holding a press conference on Wednesday, October 24th, at 11:00 AM outside of Rudy Giuliani's offices, 5 Times Square. Giuliani has Monsignor Placa working for him. Placa has three allegations of child sexual abuse against him, has been removed from ministry by his bishop and has actively covered for other predators. We feel it is dangerous for this man to be given such a prominent position. The offices are located in 5 Times Square. Please try to join us- call Barbara Blaine for all the details at 312-399-4747.Thanks for the help.Barbara Dorris

I'm amazed by your consistent talent to begin with what is ostensibly good news, then quickly remind us why we shouldn't be happy about it.You never fail to remind us how bad things are!

Who are you addressing, Mark?

Bill's post of 11:44 a.m. refers to Bishop Murphy of Queens. Please do not mind my correction of geography: William Murphy has been bishop of Rockville Centre (Nassau and Suffolk counties) since 2001. Queens is part of the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the bishop has been Nicholas DiMarzio since 2003.

From Voice of the Faithful Westchester. http://votfwny.blogspot.com/ The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has a website which they are advertising nationwide. However, there is no acknowledgment that it is the diocesan website. Who are they trying to fool? I guess it pays to advertise.la-clergycases.com/

I was at the ba.org press conference and the VOTF convention, and (in my spare time) am researching the criteria for reporting.What I do know is that the bishops' JJ study excluded mentally handicapped victims unless their abuse began before their 18th birthdays. That is an offensive restriction on its face. The victims of seminarians who did not go on to ordination were likewise excluded. Someone in my parish was apparently missed based on that limitation. So much for hairsplitting.Tobin also filed a first amendment defense against the survivor lawsuit in question, but the judge ruled against him early this month. Tobin and all other bishops who routinely use this defense are basically asserting a legal right to negligence in supervising perpetrator priests, and to be exempt from neutral principles of law to protect children. Justice Constance Sweeney in Boston basically demolished diocesan attorney Marty Nussbaum's efforts to claim the bishops could in effect be as negligent as they wanted without consequence under the law.More and more states are disallowing the first amendment defense, but bishops keep using it where the matter has not been adjudicated just to see if it sticks. This is not a matter of theological fine points or faith, but crime. Bishops should be ashamed of distorting reality with their fine tuned claims to be above criminal and civil laws that should apply to everyone.The Providence Journal piece could not have been written better by hired diocesan PR practitioners. Balance was notable only by its absence. The few sentences on abuse cases was misleading in the extreme.

Share

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.