Another abuser Catholic bishop: Crux pieces together the long, painful story of Joseph Hart

Another abuser Catholic bishop: Crux  pieces together the long, painful story of Joseph Hart

Every so often, a piece of investigative journalism shows up that bears mention, which is why I wanted to draw attention to a three-part Crux series on the disgraced former Wyoming Bishop Joseph Hart and the tale of sex abuse allegations that have dogged him for years.

There’s more. This is also the story of the bishop who took his place and how he was determined to bring some just into the situation. Not all bishops are so minded.

The series, written by their national correspondent Christopher White, ran this past week and starts here with the story of one family.

KANSAS CITY, Missouri — As parishioners attended the Feast of the Assumption Mass inside Guardian Angels Catholic Church on August 15, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) gathered outside on the sidewalk for a press conference marking an occasion that many believed would never come.

Less than 24 hours earlier, police in Cheyenne, Wyoming recommended to prosecutors that a one-time Guardian Angels priest, who would go on to become a beloved Catholic bishop, face criminal charges for the sexual abuse of minors.

Prior to being named a bishop, Joseph Hart had served in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for the first two decades of his priesthood, following ordination in 1956. Although his ecclesial career has spanned over five decades, serving in two states where he was widely popular, he has been trailed by allegations of serial abuse — which he has consistently denied — dodging both civil and canonical adjudication for more than two decades.

Now, in the twilight of his life he not only faces criminal charges, where he could become the first U.S. bishop ever to face criminal prosecution for abuse, but also the possibility of being stripped of his title of bishop and removed from the clerical state as a church trial in the Vatican is also underway.

By the 1960s, Hart is accused of moving on to:

… organized sexual assault, becoming close companions with two of the diocese’s most notorious abusers: Monsignor Thomas O’Brien and Father Thomas Reardon…

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Associated Press digs into hush-hush network that protects priests -- on Catholic right only

Associated Press digs into hush-hush network that protects priests -- on Catholic right only

If there was an omnipresent reader who had somehow managed to follow my 30-plus years of work linked to the Catholic clergy sex crisis, I think that she or he would have spotted at least one overarching theme.

The big idea: This is a scandal that cannot be divided according to liberal and conservative prejudices. Anyone who tried to do that would have to avoid too many case studies, too many tragedies, too many people — on the left and right — hiding too many crimes. I have argued that wise, patient reporters will listen to liberal and conservative activists and then search for issues and ideas that they share in common.

Hold that thought, because I will end with that.

Every now and then, we see an important story produced by journalists (often in the mainstream press) who seem to think the scandal is all about the sins of conservatives or (often in some independent Catholic publication) all about the sins of liberals.

The Associated Press just produced a story of this kind, a report that raises important issues and was built on tons of journalism legwork to get solid sources. It’s a valid and important story. But it appears that these journalists only saw half of a larger tragedy. The headline: “Unmarked buildings, quiet legal help for accused priests.”

Yes, secrets were uncovered. But stop and think about that headline. Is the assumption that all Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse are, in fact, guilty? Is it possible to imagine that some Catholics might support efforts to research and clear the names of priests who they believe have been falsely accused and have valid reasons to do so? And are all these efforts on the right? Just asking.

Here is the AP overture:

DRYDEN, Mich. (AP) — The visiting priests arrived discreetly, day and night.

Stripped of their collars and cassocks, they went unnoticed in this tiny Midwestern town as they were escorted into a dingy warehouse across from an elementary school playground. Neighbors had no idea some of the dressed-down clergymen dining at local restaurants might have been accused sexual predators.

They had been brought to town by a small, nonprofit group called Opus Bono Sacerdotii. For nearly two decades, the group has operated out of a series of unmarked buildings in rural Michigan, providing money, shelter, transport, legal help and other support to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse across the country.

Again and again, Opus Bono has served as a rapid-response team for the accused.

That leads us to the big, sweeping thesis statement:

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A rather obvious hole in Guam reporting on sexual assault cases involving Catholic priests

A rather obvious hole in Guam reporting on sexual assault cases involving Catholic priests

Trust me, I know what it's like to be a reporter who has to call people who you already know do not want to talk to you. I mean, I am so old I worked the Godbeat in the 1980s, the era of the great televangelist scandals.

But way back then, journalists had a way of letting readers know that the newsroom tried to give people a chance to respond to their critics, to tell their side of complicated stories. Reporters would call and call and call. You might even knock on someone's door.

Finally, you'd have to put a statement in the story that said something like, "Leaders of the so-and-so group declined repeated requests for interviews." Sometimes, you could even quote a source saying that they didn't want to talk.

Now, this brings us to a strange story from Guam, of all places, care of the Pacific News Center (which appears, from its website, to have a working relationship with ABC News and, thus, the Disney empire). The headline: "The Vatican failed to submit a comprehensive report to the UN by the Sept. 1 deadline." I don't do this often, but here is 90 percent of this short report:

Guam -- As sexual assault cases against the Archdiocese of Agana continue to increase, it appears that the Vatican has found itself in trouble with the United Nations.
Three years ago, the Vatican was called to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which begged the Vatican to take concrete steps to remedy decades of institutional complicity and cover-up of widespread sexual violence.
September 1, 2017 marked the deadline for the Vatican to submit a comprehensive report on their progress, but the Vatican did not submit the report.
According to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Holy See was provided with committee recommendations aimed at ensuring the protection of children from sexual violence, however the Vatican has not implemented any of those recommendations. ...

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Cardinal Pell coverage: Is the vast, hellish, agonizing Catholic sex crisis all about pedophilia?

Cardinal Pell coverage: Is the vast, hellish, agonizing Catholic sex crisis all about pedophilia?

Significant, if somewhat muted, coverage continues of Vatican debates surrounding the sexual-assault charges against Cardinal George Pell -- one of the current pope's closest advisors.

If you look at this as a religion-beat case study, there are several issues to consider, building on my earlier post: "Bad day for Pope Francis: Sexual-assault charges against Cardinal Pell fuel media firestorm."

First, Pope Francis is a media superstar because of his reputation among journalists as a progressive on sexuality issues. Yes, it does help if one quotes only selected parts of what this pope says on issues of sin, confession, repentance and mercy.

Then there is the problem of how much to say about Pell's alleged victims. In practice, this boils down to two questions: (1) What should American journalists report about the controversial books (especially “Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell,” by Louise Milligan) emerging that reference the Pell accusations? Also, (2) should journalists continue to describe this as a story about pedophilia, alone, avoiding evidence that these crimes -- statistically speaking -- usually involve ephebophilia (illegal sex with under-aged boys and girls, in their teens)?

Why keep mentioning this rather technical point? I do so because I have interviewed experts on this topic (on the Catholic left and right) who stress that, in the past, many bishops were convinced it was more important to remove pedophiles from altars (because they rarely responded to therapy), while they held out hope for recovery among the far greater number of priests who had sex with teens.

Is there really a difference? Here is how one very blunt expert described the situation to me:

A 40-year-old man who wants to have sex with a 16-year-old Britney Spears is sick and disturbed and being tempted to commit a crime. But this man is not sick, disturbed and a criminal in precisely the same way as a 40-year-old man who wants to have sex with a 6-year-old Britney Spears.

The same would be true of a gay adult priest (click here for background). Discussing this fact leads to heated debates on both the Catholic left and right.

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New bishop in Harrisburg: One story, one side, one problem

OK, gentle readers, once again I need to stress that the following post on a recent story in The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.) focuses on a journalism issue in this story, not the tensions centering on the appointment of a particular Catholic bishop to a particular post in the American hierarchy. This post is also not a commentary on what Catholic leaders have or have not done about the decades of sexual abuse of children and teen-agers by clergy or the cover-up of some of these crimes. I mean, my views on this issue are clear. No, this is a post about the construction of a particular new report. In many ways, this post is an example of one of the most disturbing trends that your GetReligionistas have seen in religion-news coverage over the past decade.

The headline hints at the central problem: “Victims advocate: Appointment of Bishop Ronald Gainer the most distressing promotion yet from Pope Francis.”

The top official for a national group that advocates on behalf of people who have been abused by Catholic priests on Friday denounced the appointment of the new bishop of the Harrisburg Diocese.

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