The Church’s ‘Geographic Solution’
Back in 2003, I had a conversation with a Dallas plaintiff’s lawyer who had been involved in sex abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church. She told me that the Church was going to be hit with a second wave of abuse lawsuits once the Latino community started facing up to what priests had done to them.
She explained that it was hard to get Latino Catholics to talk about the scandal, and about clerical sex abuse that had happened in their communities. There were various reasons for this; I recall the lawyer telling me that there was a lot more shame about it within Latino culture, and also priests were held in much higher regard than in Anglo culture. Sooner or later, she said, it’s going to come out.
I wonder if we are starting to reach that point. From NPR:
Catholic Church leaders in Los Angeles for years shuffled predator priests into non-English-speaking immigrant communities. That pattern was revealed in personnel documents released in a decades-old legal settlement between victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Now clergy sex abuse victims throughout California are calling on the state’s attorney general to investigate clergy abuse and force church officials to release more information about their role covering it up. The goal is to discover how wide-spread the practice of hiding abusers in immigrant communities really was.
Manuel Barragan was one of those victims.
DeMarco says that settlement forced local Catholic officials to turn over thousands of pages of personnel files on accused priests. Those files showed how higher-ups repeatedly sent predators into communities where they knew people were less likely to speak up.
“Blatant statements as to ‘there is no need to take corrective action, because folks who were undocumented won’t report,'” DeMarco says. “That’s in some of these files.”
There are dozens of examples of immigrant communities thrown under the bus.
“This is complete pattern,” says Patrick Wall, a legal advocate who coined the term ‘the geographic solution’ to describe the church’s actions.
There’s a good reason Latino Catholics view this issue differently than the rest of the Church, says Cecilia González-Andrieu, who teaches theology at Loyola Marymount University.
“The Latino Church was already in a really painful spot and needed the Catholic Church with moral authority to continue to fight for our human rights,” she says.
Immigrant Catholics depend on the Church to speak out on issues related to legal status, poverty and healthcare.
“With this scandal cropping up, that voice is now completely gone from the conversation,” González-Andrieu says.
Back in 2002, I wrote about Father Robert Larson, a serial molester in the Diocese of Wichita. There were five — five! — suicides of young men who had been his victims. Larson died in prison a few years back, and I noted that here. Excerpt:
Hearing of Larson’s death gets to me, because I well remember the telephone conversation I had with Horace Patterson on the day I interviewed him for that NRO article. He described to me sitting on his front porch after having received the news by phone of Eric’s suicide. He watched his wife Janet driving up the lane towards the house, knowing what he was going to have to tell her when she arrived.
Something inside me broke when I heard that story. I was at the time a relatively new father; my son was not yet three. I imagined myself in Horace’s chair on that day. I imagined myself in the places of all the parents of Father Larson’s dead. What would I say to the bishop(s) who allowed Father Larson to remain in ministry, knowing what he was? What would I say to the diocesan officials who repeatedly lied to mothers and fathers about this monster the diocese allowed to come into their midst and prey on their children?
After this essay appeared online, I heard from a Vietnamese-American man who said he was one of the boat people refugees that Father Larson had responsibility for. He too had been molested by the priest, but like so many of the other boys, he did not have the language to tell others what was happening to him. And he was a child in a foreign land. He was scared. They all were.
And the Diocese of Wichita let this happen to them.
By some accounts, Larson’s assaults began in the 1960s when he served as a church pastor in Wichita. Karen Schneweis recalls complaints about the priest in the mid-1970s when she worked for the local Catholic social services organization and Larson was managing a resettlement program that found homes for thousands of Vietnamese refugees.
At lunch, Schneweis recalled Larson’s hand running up and down the legs of Vietnamese boys clearly uncomfortable with the contact. When she complained to her supervisor, she said he replied: “Oh God, here we go again,” and promised to take her report to the bishop.
Those refugee kids, who had no English, were a geographic solution for the Diocese of Wichita.
Here’s a different kind of “geographic solution” that’s going to cause the Catholic Church a world of trouble. I’m hearing about it from various worried priests. The clergy shortage nationwide is causing a number of US dioceses to import priests from other countries. In part because the churches in Africa, much of Latin America, and elsewhere in the Global South have yet to go through their own abuse crisis — that is, their scandals are yet to be revealed — many of these countries have nothing like the screening processes that the US does, to identify and weed out problematic priests. Dioceses here that accept priests from those places typically do so on trust.
US priests I talk to worry that that trust is going to prove catastrophic.
This is what happens when you regard the Church as a Sacrament Factory, and bishops think of themselves and the clergy as management.