Monday, March 07, 2011

The Cloud Returns?

Just last night, when it was noted here that, with his yearlong transition completed, the work "now begins in earnest" for LA's new archbishop, little was it known that José Gomez would start his first full week in the post with a bomb on his desk: a lengthy Associated Press story that broke overnight, saying that "dozens" of current and former LA clerics accused of abusing minors, some of them convicted, "live unmonitored... across the state and nation."

Fresh off the forced resignation of the SoCal archdiocese's vicar for clergy last month amid evidence that he failed to perform due diligence in vetting a religious priest who was granted faculties despite a decades-old allegation, while none of Gomez's opening statements mentioned the crisis that overshadowed his predecessor's last decade in office and saw the LA church pay out a record-breaking $660 million settlement for over 500 cases in 2007, the scandals' fallout has suddenly become the new archbishop's first major test.

Between the story at hand, the ongoing "disaster" in Philadelphia, and a curious uptick of blips on the wider radar, the feeling has become ever more starker over recent days that -- much as no one would wish it -- the specter of 2002 is looming anew over the Stateside church.

Here, a snip of the AP's lede:
[D]ozens of former and current priests and religious brothers accused of childhood sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles... now live unmonitored by civil authorities in communities across the state and nation. For many, the statute of limitations had expired by the time the abuse was reported, making it impossible for prosecutors to land convictions and subject the priests to sex offender databases and monitoring.

Plaintiffs' attorneys have worked with private investigators since October to compile a list of the priests' addresses, the most comprehensive accounting of the whereabouts of the 233 clergy accused of abuse in civil lawsuits in the Los Angeles archdiocese. They hope to use it Thursday to persuade a judge to recommend the release of all church files for every priest or religious brother ever accused of sexual abuse in the sweeping litigation.

Those confidential files are at the center of a heated dispute between the church and plaintiffs' lawyers since the nation's largest archdiocese reached a record-breaking $660 million settlement nearly four years ago. Plaintiffs want the files — which could include internal correspondence, previous complaints and therapy records — released, saying it's a matter of public safety. The church is pushing for a more limited release of information.

The list of addresses, obtained by The Associated Press, contains nearly 50 former priests who live unmonitored in California, and another 15 in cities and towns from Maryland to Texas to Montana. More than 80 more cannot be located despite an exhaustive search by plaintiffs' attorneys. Four are believed to have fled to Mexico or South America. About 80 are dead.

Lead plaintiff lawyer Raymond Boucher says it's the only time anyone has put together a list of priest addresses in any other diocese or archdiocese nationwide. Lawyers hope to eventually make the names and locations of abusive priests available to the public, similar to Megan's Law databases that exist nationwide.
Even amid earlier developments, it was floated that a discussion on the state of abuse matters in the church might well be worked into the agenda for the next meeting of the USCCB's Administrative Committee -- the 30-prelate body's first session to be chaired by the new conference president, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York -- which is slated to take place later this month in Washington.

Given what's transpired since, suffice it to say, the thought would seem all the more bankable.