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They Prey, You Pray — And Pay

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th-century Native American holy woman (Nancy Bauer/Shutterstock [1])

In the late spring, Bishop Michael Warfel of the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings (Montana), sent a letter to his flock. Here’s how it starts:

Hold on, here it comes:

In other words, the bishop is shaking down the people to pay the bill for the diocese’s priests molesting children. The cases here — 80 or so — are especially egregious, because past bishops dumped child molester priests onto Indian reservations. [2]More:

For decades, even lifetimes, the Catholic Church refused to turn in priests with known pasts of sexually abusing children, women and men. The story is known in as many corners of the world as the Catholic Church exists, including Montana’s two dioceses. 

In the Pacific Northwest, however, the Catholic Church and the Jesuit Order have been accused of using Indian Reservations as their “dumping grounds” for the worst recidivist priests accused of sexually abusing children throughout the 1900s. Here, church officials reportedly determined predatory priests could remain undetected. Here, the church acted as an anchor for the communities, and the victims lived with the abuse in silence.

Attorney Vito de la Cruz said Montana reservations were no different: They were the church’s rural and remote sites for hiding predatory priests. Cruz’s Seattle law firm has represented victims from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Montana, and he said the systematic issue is told from church documents revealed in cases already settled, and the active one against the Great Falls-Billings Diocese.

“I think the evidence points to that,” Cruz told the Tribune. “Those who had problems in respect to abusing kids, it’s easy to hide in the reservations; people won’t complain much, it’s isolated there, and there are massively disproportionate balances of power.”


When victims would tell a friend or family member, they sometimes told the victim to not put the church in jeopardy. The priests or nuns would tell the victim no one would believe them anyway, Cruz said.

“What’s a child who’s eight years old going to do?” Cruz said.

The details of the abuse were brutal and violent. In limited descriptions found in court documents, victims allege their abuse included “forced fondling of breasts and genitals, anal rape, forced fellatio, digital, penile and anal penetration, vaginal penetration, sexually motivated ‘washing’ and ‘spanking’ and forced masturbation,” by priests, brothers and nuns.

The bishop quotes a Christian pop singer to justify asking the people upon whom these monsters preyed to pay the bill for their criminal perversion.

If I were in that diocese, I might consider thrown a dollar into the pot in exchange for the bishop showing up in a public forum and facing questioning about the exploitive networks in the Church, including what he knows about sexually compromised bishops, Uncle Ted, and all the rest. Not that I would expect him to tell the truth, but it would still be worthwhile watching him squirm.

56 Comments (Open | Close)

56 Comments To "They Prey, You Pray — And Pay"

#1 Comment By Elijah On July 30, 2018 @ 10:01 am

“But there should also be limits on what the winners of law suits and settlements can touch, depending on source and purpose of various funds. To the extent that the bishop is saying “everyone pay in some extra to cover this, so I can keep the perks of my office and discretionary funds,” Rod’s criticism is correct. But the whole question needs some balanced assessment about who is paying for what and who suffers.”

I am in total sympathy with this. The problem is that such a balanced assessment depends upon the honesty and good faith of the parties. Since many bishops commingled funds, hid assets, transferred ownership, and have a history of concealing assets, I’m not sure it is practicable. I am very sympathetic to the family, for instance, who paid in advance for the upkeep of a loved one’s grave, but if some bishop commingled funds, making it a ‘discretionary’ asset of the diocese, then the loved ones have to seek recourse against the bishop. That is unfortunate, but it’s also the law.

After what victims of sexual abuse have endured, my solicitude goes to them first.

#2 Comment By James On July 30, 2018 @ 10:02 am

sb says:
July 29, 2018 at 9:08 am

What other organisation is forced to pay such ludicrous shakedowns? If a state doctor or teacher abuses a patient or student, the hospital or school are not forced to pay bribes to the victims.

Sure they are. Especially if the school district covers up the abuse and moves the teacher around to another school. Read the newspapers (or use Google).







#3 Comment By sb On July 30, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

Thanks Siarlys – nicely explained!

Engineer Scotty – I never claimed victims were being greedy; its not the victims generally who propose cash settlements, but they seem to accept them as a proxy for bishops accepting responsibility, whereas I feel bishops should be criminally tried if they covered up abuse.

I disagree the Vatican should pay. And I do understand the civil/criminal distinction.

But I disagree that “dioceses are legally responsible for official misconduct of their officers” applies when the corporation/diocese never authorised the actions of the officers (to abuse, or cover up abuse), and in fact, the abuse and coverup go against corporation/diocesan policy (10 commandments, etc).

If a CEO has Board approval to build an apartment, but buys cheaper dodgy concrete and pockets the cash surplus from buying cheap concrete, then the building collapses, the Board has a strong argument that the CEO is liable, not them (that is countered by the extent of the Boards responsibility to show oversight – testing the limits of vicarious liability for employees). This happened in Italy a while back….

The US is alone in the West in giving huge settlements for actions of ‘staff’, as most Western nations have stronger welfare states, which offsets Brian of Brooklyn’s concern for victims support for the rest of their lives.

Example – the secular state middle school I went to had a deputy principal who showed an ‘unhealthy interest’ in several boys, including myself. He was later convicted of molesting several boys (not me). The school justifiably paid nothing to victims, as the Board and Principal were decent people who never knew or authorised his abuse. The DP went to jail though, and had the Principal known and ignored it, he would have been jailed too.

The difficulty for the Church is when bishops and diocesan flunkies knew, and allowed the abuser to continue, which is being viewed as tacit approval (and may have been!). But that is highly arguable, especially if the bishop made some efforts to remove the abuser from contact with potential victims.

US liberal judges are just beating the church with a stick because it virtue signals, not to fix the problems. If judges refused diocesan liability for abuse the church/laity/diocesan councils didn’t approve, and hence refuse to award payouts, that would put the blowtorch back on bishops for personal liability, which is where it should be I feel. It would be the same effect as if the pope banned payouts – focus on the abusers and enablers, not the money.

Nobody seems willing to say what these settlements are *FOR*. The victims of abuse, sure, but why is the diocese liable? Because the bishop did not notify police promptly? Moved abusers into situations where abuse could continue/restart? That makes them personally (civilly and criminally) liable, not the diocese…

#4 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 31, 2018 @ 1:18 am


In cases of misconduct by a corporate officer (or employee), there may or may not be company liability. There is almost never liability allotted to employees personally, or to shareholders (the whole purpose of a limited-liability enterprise!)–unless specific things occur to pierce the corporate veil.

But companies are often held liable for the misconduct of their staff, if occurring on the job. Not always–a company that sacks someone after a credible report of harassment probably can evade liability, but a company that knowingly covers it up certainly should face the music. (There are lots of grey areas between where we might reasonably disagree). In many cases, it’s well established that church officials did knowingly cover up for molestors, which makes the church liable.

Settlements are often for nothing more and nothing less that avoiding the expense and uncertainty of a trial. Going to trial is expensive (discovery, trial lawyers, appeals), for both parties.

Sometimes, of course, settlements do include silence clauses and are offered to keep malfeasance secret.

I’d be all for a law which banned any nondisclosure agreement or court settlement from requiring silence concerning criminal behavior–so if a future bishop has credible evidence that one of his priests is a rapist, he can no longer buy silence with cash.

#5 Comment By EngineerScotty On July 31, 2018 @ 2:01 am

Me: Again, nobody expects the innocent to pay into the future…

Siarlys: You just said that you do.

I think there is still a misunderstanding here, perhaps around the word “expects”.

* Victims have no legal claim on the untithed assets of parishioners, period. Nor do I consider it the moral duty of rank-and-file Catholics to bail out the Church.
* That said, a refusal to tithe if there is the chance that the collections may be used to pay off settlements seems a bit hard-hearted.
* This particular bishop, obviously, does expect his flock to cough up. I’m still unclear as to what his angle is–but an argument could be made that he is abusing his discretionary authority to protect “hard” church assets (in particular those central to the diocese) by exposing parish assets (including things like cemetery funds, in which parishioners may also be legal creditors of the church) to collection. This doesn’t seem to be a moral argument, but a practical one (“nice church you got there…”)
* Quite a few bishops in quite a few dioceses have engaged in financial shenanigans that were they to occur in the corporate world, would land people in jail.

In short, it’s a difficult problem. Getting blood from stones often is. But many people are wronged and never compensated, as those who do wrong to them are or become judgment-proof.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 31, 2018 @ 4:30 pm

That said, a refusal to tithe if there is the chance that the collections may be used to pay off settlements seems a bit hard-hearted.

Scotty, you really tried, but this statement puts us right back where we were. If blood has to be squeezed from stones in order to compensate you, then your compensation may fall short of what ideally you deserve, and way short of what you expect.