In April of 2008 I followed the story of Pope Benedict XVI visiting the United States. I was very interested in what he had to say about clergy sex abuse of minors. He set aside his homily at Holy Mass at Washington Nationals Stadium, Thursday, April 17, in Washington ,DC to address the problem.
The Pope's homily began with a commemoration of the first Catholic diocese in the United States, created by Pope Pius VII, and established in Baltimore, MD in 1789. For the most part, I found the content to be somewhat tame with religious abstractions, scriptural quotations that were not very illuminating to a listening audience, and exhortations that I did not feel were especially inspiring.
Finally, he addressed the problem of sex abuse of minors in “the Church in America.” At this point the tameness of the Pope's homily took on a weirdness.
“It is in the context of this hope born of God’s love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America [emphasis mine] has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church. [emphasis mine] Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly [emphasis mine] with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children – whom our Lord loves so deeply (cf. Mk 10:14), and who are our greatest treasure – can grow up in a safe environment.”
Sex abuse of minors was limited to “the Church in America.” However, damage was done to “the community of the Church,” an expression of universality. I also noticed a slight emphasis or stressing in his speech, when he pronounced the word, “fairly.” I understood this to be a reference to large damage awards to date, with more to come. If my powers of emphasis/stress detection were working, I could have concluded that he was very, very concerned that future monetary damage awards might be 'unfair,' from the Church's point of view. Or, is he talking only about “the Church in America.”
The Popes' words bothered me because he could not talk about the horror in the Church without a reference the money the Church will have to pay the victims. At least he could have put his anxiety over damage awards into a different paragraph. Here's the rest of the paragraph.
“These efforts to protect children must continue. Yesterday I spoke with your Bishops about this. Today I encourage each of you to do what you can to foster healing and reconciliation, and to assist those who have been hurt. Also, I ask you to love your priests, and to affirm them in the excellent work that they do. And above all, pray that the Holy Spirit will pour out his gifts upon the Church, the gifts that lead to conversion, forgiveness and growth in holiness.”
At this point, I was wondering if the Pope had taken the time to educate himself on the traumatic nature of child sex abuse. Did he understand how the effects of this horror are manifest in victims? Did he know what is required to treat victims, and help them to heal, recover, and integrate? Has the Pope any idea of the consequences of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) for children and minors who have been sexually abused? Did anyone on his staff arrange for the Pope, and others in the Curia, to receive instruction or briefings on the effects of child sex abuse for the victim?
He said, “Yesterday I spoke with your Bishops about this.” Just yesterday? What did you tell them? Have they been educated on the nature of child sex abuse, the character of the perpetrators, the effects on the victims? I wondered, because it was clear to me, at that time, that priests, pastors, bishops, and Cardinals were not exhibiting any mastery of the subject, and certainly were not showing any interest in doing so.
There was not the slightest hint of awareness that the Church had already lost credibility in the eyes of many faithful, among priests, nuns, other religious, and among believers and non-believers outside the Church. He asked for love and affirmation for your priests. He did not ask for the clergy to earn back the love, respect, and affirmation they lost. Maybe he didn't see the need. The laity were being asked to heal, reconcile, assist, and pray. Was there no awareness of the absence of counsel, admonishments, and requests of the clergy from his homily?
It is impossible, for an uninformed reader of this homily, to know who was sexually abusing children. Not once is the word clergy or priest connected, directly or by inference, to the act of child sex abuse, itself. Yes! Reread the paragraph and see if it tells you who were the monsters that violated the children in “the Church in America.” You can't figure it out if you didn't know already. There is no reference to the clergy as the perpetrators of abuse.
It is impossible for me to take, seriously, Pope Benedict XVI's counsel for conversion and forgiveness. In his mind, who needs conversion and forgiveness? It can't be the priests and the bishops, because he said nothing about their transgressions, and did not indicate that they needed conversion or forgiveness. Is it the victim of clergy sex abuse who needs conversion and forgiveness? What would a naïve reader conclude about the intended target of conversion and forgiveness? Two years later, the Pope acknowledges that justice must come before forgiveness. By this time, the Pope is clear that clergy were the perpetrators of the abuse; he states that justice is for the victim; and the victim is asked to forgive the Church. This is progress, as far as sentence structure and paragraph organization are concerned.
Two months later I was watching “In Depth” on Book TV, broadcast on C-SPAN 2. “In Depth” is a three hour, live interview, call-in program with one author discussing his or her body of work. “In Depth” was featuring George Weigel, author, Catholic Theologian, scholar, and public intellectual. Of his many books, two titles convey a great deal about Weigel: “Witness to Hope: The [Official] Biography of Pope John Paul II” (1999), and “The Courage To Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church,” (2002). He is important and influential in the Catholic Church in the United States, and in the Vatican.
He is very smart, extremely well read, a prolific author, a strong voice for orthodox Catholicism, absolutely loyal to the Catholic Church, critical of the Church in some areas, and a biblical scholar. His discourses on religion, theology, philosophy, history, culture, society, war and peace are always instructive and well informed. [You can watch the entire interview HERE. The section I will address is fourteen minutes from time mark 01:46:00 to 01:59:30. ]
In the past, I've watched a few shorter interviews with George Weigel, and I enjoyed listening to him, even when I disagreed. But not this time. Not on the problem of clergy sex abuse of minors in the Catholic Church. I was not so much disappointed with Weigel, as bewildered by his complete lack of understanding the nature and consequences of child sex abuse; he does not understand what is involved in treating victims of child sex crimes; and he doesn't have any semblance of insight into the psychology of the perpetrators of child sex crimes.
He is harsh in his criticism, even contempt, for bishops who were irresponsible or made “grave errors of judgment.” But, there is not the scintilla of awareness that lying, perjury, stonewalling, protecting known paedophiles, recycling them through other parishes, enabling abusers, and contemptuous behavior toward the law, victims, and their supporters are not manifestations of irresponsibility and making “grave errors of judgment.” They are manifestations of criminal behavior, psychopathy, behavioral and mental disorders, narcissism, selfishness, a sociopath's belief that rules don't apply to them, sinful disregard for the spiritual well being of the faithful, sinful failure as shepherds who should protect their flock from harm, and pure self interest.
George Weigel does not entertain the possibility that this may be evidence that clergy sex abusers are among their ranks; that some are known to each other and help each other with support, cover up, and protection; that they promote each other into powerful jobs to perpetuate their virtual immunity; and that they can blackmail, explicitly and implicitly, non-abuser bishops and Cardinals, with the threat of exposing their significant sexual activity. (Over a clerical career, almost half of the priests will have significant lapses in their own celibacy.) These are child sex abuse rings. There is no evidence that they have disappeared.
George Weigel doesn't have a clue. What he does have are pat answers, shallow analysis of problems that miss the mark completely, lots of disinformation, and messages of guilt for the victims. He is participating, explicitly and specifically, in a continuing abuse of clergy sex abuse victims. That would be bad enough, if it were not for the fact that he is a central figure in discrediting critics, including victims. To make things even worse, he completely obfuscates the fundamental psychopathic character of those that commit and enable clergy sex abuse of minors, by characterizing the cause of clergy sex abuse, and the 'bad judgment' of bishops and Cardinals, as a spiritual failure. More on this later.
George Weigel said the following about damage awards to victims of clergy sex abuse of minors, in his 2008 “In Depth” interview. (Reader, please note that George Weigel has not changed any his ideas, discussed here, since the time of this interview.)
“How much of this money is going to victims, and how much money is going to the plaintiffs' bar. A lot of people who were not sexually abused in any way shape or form have made an extraordinary amount of money out of all this. And that is an aspect of this that needs to be addressed as well.
“This also brings us, if I may just broaden the lens here, to a larger problem in our democracy, and that is the way our tort law operates. I think we are all beginning to understand – I hope we are – that getting several million dollars in damages for spilling a hot cup of McDonalds' coffee on you is a little ridiculous, legally.
“My wife's late courtesy uncle was the chief civil court judge of northern Scotland for 20 years. And as you may know, Scottish law divides the civil and criminal, there are two different court systems. When uncle Stanley, as I knew him, he was a wonderful man, who survived the River Kwai as a Japanese prisoner of war, very distinguished legal scholar, when he heard me tell him in 1975 that juries fixed damages in these kinds of cases his already low view of the American legal system went subterranean. And he said, “Are you crazy? How can you possibly expect a jury to come to a reasonable judgment, here?”
“So there's a broader question at issue here, and frankly a broader spiritual and psychological issue, and that is to what degree does money fix things. The Church I think should bend every effort, including every financial effort, to heal what can be healed in people who have been seriously hurt by an institution both we and they love. At a certain point, although our tort law may not recognize this, our culture should recognize that some things can't be fixed by money. And that's a tough argument for people to make in our society. But it's in this instance, and in many other instances of our culture, that is perhaps not a bad idea to start talking about in public.”
The great McDonalds coffee cup lie.
The first thing I have to do is expose the absolute lie Weigel is promulgating, about the McDonalds Coffee Cup case. He falsely creates disgust with our system of civil tort justice, and erodes the confidence of our citizens (in this case, deliberately so for American Catholic citizens) in the fairness of civil tort law. This is what Weigel has done by saying that, “…getting several million dollars in damages for spilling a hot cup of McDonalds' coffee on you is a little ridiculous, legally.” I'm surprised he didn't use the phrase, “frivolous law suits.”
The actual facts of the case are found HERE. Very briefly, here are the facts.
“There is a lot of hype about the McDonalds' scalding coffee case. No one is in favor of frivolous cases of outlandish results; however, it is important to understand some points that were not reported in most of the stories about the case…[.]
“McDonalds coffee was not only hot, it was scalding [180°F] — capable of almost instantaneous destruction of skin, flesh and muscle.
“Stella Liebeck…was in the passenger seat…when she was severely burned by McDonalds' coffee…[.] Liebeck, 79…ordered coffee that was served in a Styrofoam cup at the drive through window…[.]
“…Liebeck placed the cup between her knees…to remove the plastic lid…[.] As she removed the lid, …[coffee] spilled into her lap.
“…[S]weatpants…absorbed the coffee and held it next to her skin. A vascular surgeon determined…[she] suffered…third-degree burns…over 6 percent of her body,…her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days,…[and] underwent skin grafting…[and]…debridement treatments, [and] sought to settle her claim for $20,000, but McDonalds refused.
“The trial court…reduced the punitive award to $480,000 — or three times compensatory damages [$160,000]…[.]
“The parties…entered into a secret settlement…never…revealed to the public…[.]”
At the very least we expect more from a scholar, Catholic theologian, and official biographer of Pope John Paul II. He should acknowledge his mistake, as publicly and as frequently as his telling of the untruth. He should apologize to the victims of clergy sex abuse for associating their damages, caused by pathological Catholic clergy, with an untruthful story of reaping millions of dollars for a frivolous claim. He should apologize to the public, and to the Church.
Weigel should do everything possible to undo the effects of his untruthful story telling, and educate his audience about the terrible and painful truth of the Liebeck case. He should retract his claim that our civil tort system of justice, as exemplified by the untruthful story he told, is a problem for our democracy. I sincerely hope he will have “The Courage To Be Catholic,” confess, and make amends for telling and retelling a huge untruth of great consequence.
Another patently untruthful story he tells is that the American jury system, in civil tort cases are incapable of rendering appropriate judgments on damages. He invokes the opinion of a deceased Scottish relative of his wife. He quotes the gentleman as saying about American juries in tort cases, “Are you crazy? How can you possibly expect a jury to come to a reasonable judgment, here?” Weigel suggests that only a judge can formulate appropriate damage awards.
He says the relative was a civil judge in Scotland for 20 years. It pains me to criticize a man about whom Weigel says, “…he was a wonderful man, who survived the River Kwai as a Japanese prisoner of war, [and] very distinguished legal scholar…[.]” Certainly, he was not a scholar of international civil tort law that included the United States. I would think twice about using the status of a dead relative who was distinguished, and a war hero, to prop up another gross untruth.
In the civil tort system in the United States, juries do not make compensation awards in a vacuum. Often, judges work with juries on a process for making decisions on monetary values. There are guidelines, recommendations, formulas, and lots of history. While there seems to be more consistency in compensatory damages, there seems to be more variability, and higher awards for punitive damages with juries.
Any jury award of consequence is always appealed. The usual result is a lowering of awards, particularly punitive awards. This is what happened in the Liebeck case against McDonalds. The judge reduced the compensatory and punitive award. The civil tort system of justice has balance and participation between an experience jurist (the judge) and the CONSCIENCE OF THE COURT (the jury of citizens.)
There is a very good discussion of the issues in an article titled “Killing Off the Jury with Tort Reform,” by attorney Clay S. Conrad. The article can be found HERE. I quote a few sections from the article:
“Tort reform advocates say that their goal is…to end frivolous lawsuits and the excesses of “trial lawyers”. …[A]ll the talk about those evil, greedy trial lawyers is a smokescreen. What…[they] really want to eliminate the risk of being held liable and punished by a civil jury.”
This is the part that raises the hackles of George Weigel.
“The plaintiff's lawyer only gets paid if he wins, and then he receives a percentage of the jury award…a contingency fee. The lawyer puts a great deal of time into the case, and usually advances the funds to pay experts. This can quickly run into very large sums of money. If the case is lost, so is that money. Obviously, plaintiff's law is a high risk business – like drilling oil wells. You sometimes win big – and sometimes lose big.
“Reduce the possible gains and you reduce the willingness of plaintiff’s lawyers (for the most part small businessmen) to take big risks. So, the corporate tort reform agenda is to raise the raise the risks and void the gains.
“Tort reformers claim that excesses by those dreaded “trial lawyers”, (which somehow only includes plaintiff’s counsel, but not the lawyers defending corporations) make tort reform necessary.”
George Weigel is unashamed in his cynical characterization of attorneys who represent victims of clergy sex abuse.
“A lot of people who were not sexually abused in any way shape or form have made an extraordinary amount of money out of all this. And that is an aspect of this that needs to be addressed as well.”
Of course, the Church in America has spent tens, or possibly, hundreds of millions of dollars in fees to their own attorneys. I believe it is safe to say that most of the attorneys for the Church in America “…were not sexually abused in any way shape or form…,” and that these law firms “…have made an extraordinary amount of money out of all this.” I doubt, though, that Weigel sees the extraordinary income collected by law firms for the Church “…is an aspect of this that needs to be addressed as well.”
Some victims are not worth the money.
One of the most sickening things I heard, coming from George Weigel, was the unsubtle floating of a proposal to eliminate monetary awards if the damage caused by clergy sexual abuse cannot be fixed by money.
“At a certain point, although our tort law may not recognize this, our culture should recognize that some things can't be fixed by money. And that's a tough argument for people to make in our society. But it's in this instance, and in many other instances of our culture, that is perhaps not a bad idea to start talking about in public.”
I would hate to think he is baiting an uninformed public, who will vent their own disappointments in life upon the winners of the clergy sex abuse lottery.
Consider the calculated insensitivity in his proposal. It is a straight matter of how the Church can reduce monetary awards because the cancer patient is going to die soon, anyway.
Is he kidding? Is this the pastoral love and care the Pope promised to victims? What Weigel withholds in his proposal is the fundamental principle that tortfeasors (wrongdoers), who injure others, should not profit from their act. Not being required to provide relief to a victim is a windfall for the tortfeasor. We should call this “Winning the tortfeasor lottery.”
There is a purpose for monetary awards for which punitive damages are a vehicle. Punitive damages are, typically, an amount equal to three times the compensatory damages. They are awarded when the injurious act is found to be intentional, willful, wanton, or malicious. The purpose is to reform or deter the tortfeasor, and others, from engaging in similar conduct. This means that the Church in America cannot avoid monetary penalties because the victim of clergy sex abuse is a self-destructive substance abuser, or has committed suicide, is unable to form relationships for any period of time, or becomes an unrepentant, virulent anti-Catholic.
Thank you for reading, and please come back on, July 18, for Part 2. I will discuss more disinformation from Catholic Theologian George Weigel, examination what contributes to clergy sex abuse, propose what the Church in America should do now, and recommend what should be done in the future.