"In all these years, I have to say, that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has a demonstrated history of having been both the most callous and the most disturbing. The most disturbing.
They have fundamentally violated the fundamental safety principles applying to children."
-- Jeff Anderson, Plaintiffs’ Attorney for Survivors of Clergy Sexual abuse
Frontline takes a hard look at the Catholic Church hierarchy in its documentary, Secrets of the Vatican, An Inside Look at the Scandals that Rocked Benedict's Papacy.
Coming in for harsh condemnation is the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for covering up mass rape and its hiding $ 57 million from over 500 claimants because the Archdiocese claimed it needs the $ 57 million to maintain a cemetery after the Archdiocese of Milwaukee went bankrupt.
The actions of Timothy Dolan also come under scrutiny, as does the Vatican and the efforts by allies to insulate money from rape survivors, supported by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson in an underreported story but in the same protect-the-Vatican-forget-the-victims mentality that pervades the Catholic Church hierarchy.
This callous act of mendacity by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was supported by Federalist Society Judge Rudolph T. Randa fronting for the Milwaukee child-molesting set in a ludicrous ruling for the Archdiocese in a bankruptcy case in July 2013, insulating the $57 million, and failing to disclose his connection to the archdiocese. See also Judge Randa Is Asked by Creditors of Archdiocese to Leave Case (Goodstein. NYT).
Here's a partial transcript from Frontline:
NARRATOR: When the Church chose to suppress stories of clergy sexual abuse, it was to silence people like Monica Barrett.
MONICA BARRETT: It was a Saturday, and I was 8 years old. And my father took my younger sister and I and we drove out to Lake Geneva to visit with this priest, William Effinger.
At one point in the day, Father Effinger said he needed help in the church with candles. And my father said, “Go help him.” And we went into the church, where he assaulted me for a period of time, and ultimately ended up raping me.
While he was raping me, I didn’t understand what was happening. I just knew there was this incredible pain and I could hardly breathe, and I kept praying that God would just let me die.
And when he finished, he stood up and he looked at me and he said, “If you tell anybody what you did, they won’t believe you. And if you tell anybody, your parents will burn in Hell.”
And then he gave me penance to do. And he turned and looked at me, and he smoothed his hair back with both of his hands, and he walked down the aisle of the church. And I remember hearing the door close. And I just sat there because I didn’t know what I should do.
And eventually, I realized that there was blood on my legs and there was blood on the new purple shorts that my grandma had given to me for my birthday. And so when I got to the end of the aisle of the church, I wiped the blood off with some of the holy water, and I went and sat outside under this big tree. And I was just crying because I was in pain and I didn’t understand what had happened to me, and I was scared.
As a child who went to Catholic school, we were taught that the priest is the closest you’ll ever get to God. And for me, when I was raped by that priest, it just pulled my entire foundation out from under me. Everything was just taken away in that day.
NARRATOR: Eventually, Father Effinger was convicted of sexual assault on another child, and died in prison. Monica never got her day in court because of the statute of limitations, but the diocese of Milwaukee sued her to recover $14,000 in legal expenses.
MONICA BARRETT: They very much were trying to intimidate me and to beat me down and to hold me out as the example, saying, “This is what will happen to you if you come forward and tell your truth.”
NARRATOR: Monica was not alone in her battle for justice in Milwaukee. Hers was one of hundreds of cases which were aggressively challenged by the diocese as they were compelled to pay about $30 million in settlements.
JEFF ANDERSON, Plaintiffs’ Attorney: In all these years, I have to say, that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has a demonstrated history of having been both the most callous and the most disturbing. The most disturbing.
They have fundamentally violated the fundamental safety principles applying to children.
NARRATOR: Jeff Anderson has represented victims of clergy abuse for 29 years. He has long argued that Milwaukee is following procedures laid down in Rome.
JEFF ANDERSON: When it comes to the Vatican and its role in this crisis, all I have ever seen them do is talk, both denying responsibility and saying that they’re doing something, when in fact, they’re doing nothing other than what they’ve done in the past for decades and centuries, which is to deny, minimize blame, keep secrets and protect themselves.
PETER ISELY: Intimidation is the strategy. It’s not part of it, it is the strategy. “You’ve exposed this part of us. We’re coming after you. We’re coming after you, and no one’s going to dare to file a lawsuit again.” And it’s meant to intimidate and make people afraid.
NARRATOR: When he was 13 years old, Peter Isely entered St Lawrence Seminary in Wisconsin.
PETER ISELY: At a very, very young age, I had an absolute faith and belief and love of the Roman Catholic Church, of its rituals, of its traditions, even as a small boy.
NARRATOR: At the seminary, Peter was a victim of repeated sexual abuse by his spiritual director, Father Leifeld. In 1988, when Peter was in his late 20s, he found the courage to confront his abuser and report to the Church authorities. He soon discovered that he was not alone.
PETER ISELY: There were survivors, just independent of each other just starting to come forward across the United States— now we know across the world, but starting— and we all went down the same path, which was we went to the religious officials and authorities first, the bishops and the provincials, and reported to them what had happened to us.
And now, in my case, there were promises made. The provincial told me “We’re going to keep Father Leifeld away from children. We’ve got him in a secure treatment facility. He’s never going to be around children,” this kind of thing.
It’s when I found out that they had lied to me, that he was, in fact, around children, that he was under no supervision at all, that there was no consequences whatsoever, that no one’s watching him, that I then came forward publicly.
NARRATOR: Six years later, Father Leifeld was finally arrested and admitted other past abuses in this court deposition.
FR. LEIFELD: I know that I touched his penis. I don’t remember whether or not he touched mine. I didn’t understand that there would be a psychological damage to the young man.
1st SPEAKER: I’m the victim, so why am I in Hell?
NARRATOR: Peter Isely founded the Milwaukee chapter of SNAP, a Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests.
2nd SPEAKER: My brother is the victim of criminal sexual assault.
3rd SPEAKER: I was raped at 13 years old in my— my church.
4th SPEAKER: He admitted to you, Bishop Sklba, what he was and what he had done. You sent him back to work!
5th SPEAKER: Victims can’t have peace until they have justice.
6th SPEAKER: It was reported to the Archdiocese and— by 14 families from that parish. And what did the Archdiocese do? Transfer him again! Why? I want to know why!
NARRATOR: The Vatican has always claimed the responsibility for these cases rests with the local bishops and dioceses. Jeff Anderson disagrees.
JEFF ANDERSON: In every case that we have worked on for 29 years, the Vatican and its role has been prominent because every action taken by every bishop and archbishop and cardinal in connection with sexual abuse is effectively orchestrated and controlled by the Vatican. Every action taken has demonstrated to us that all roads lead to Rome and to the Vatican.
NARRATOR: The Vatican’s secret archives contain the Church’s records back through the centuries, including evidence relating to sexual abuse cases from the early Middle Ages to the present day.
As a sovereign nation, the Holy See cannot be compelled to hand over its original documents, or any copies held by their embassies worldwide. The only hope for those representing victims of sexual abuse is to sue individual dioceses. That was how Jeff Anderson was able to subpoena crucial correspondence between Monica’s former archbishop, Cardinal Dolan, and Cardinal Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome.
JEFF ANDERSON: We have evidence that Archbishop Dolan got express permission from the Vatican to move $57 million from diocesan funds into a cemetery trust, and that permission was given by the Vatican almost immediately.
NARRATOR: Two key words in Latin from Cardinal Hummes said it all, “Nihil Obstat”— “nothing stands in your way.” With these two words, the Vatican allowed the diocese to protect its millions from further legal claims of abuse victims.
JEFF ANDERSON: To me it was designed to do one thing, to keep the archdiocese and the Vatican from having to account for their crimes and complicity in them. No other real or legitimate reason.
NARRATOR: The Church argued that the money was always committed to their cemeteries, and a court upheld the transfer. Meanwhile the diocese declared bankruptcy. While they recently proposed to set aside $4 million in a victims’ fund, there are over 550 outstanding claimants, Monica Barrett and Peter Isely, among them.
PETER ISELY: This is a beautiful cemetery. They’re doing a terrific job of really maintaining this sacred space. You don’t need $57 million for this space and seven other cemeteries. The real purpose was to keep money from compensating childhood victims of sexual assault by priests in this archdiocese from court-ordered settlements, period.
And that is so cynical and so just unacceptable. And it’s just a further way of trying to hide— hide things. You’re hiding money in a cemetery, just like you hide sex offenders in parishes. ....