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Preventing crime in the Catholic Church

| Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Investigating theft and other irregularities in corporations often starts with an analytical device known as the fraud triangle. This method examines three classic elements of criminal activity: opportunity, pressure/motivation and rationalization. Corporations typically claim that opportunity is the element over which they have the most control. Accordingly, companies focus on limiting opportunities for crime with measures like heightened security.

Businesses often assume pressure and motivation are beyond their control and characterize financial pressures, such as high medical bills, as personal matters. Individual rationalizations may include a bonus that was expected but not received or payback for a poor work environment. In fact, the focus on aggressive short-term earnings targets may create the very pressure that could drive people to consider criminal options.

Companies that operate under realistic market conditions, emphasizing sustainable growth and employee well-being, reduce pressures that skew behavior towards crime. Competent and trusted companies apply lessons learned to detect illegal behaviors, shut them down in their early stages and implement additional controls and structural changes to limit further damage.

The pedophile priest scandals, as detailed in the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” investigation, and the recent grand jury report on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, illustrate extreme examples of the fraud triangle run amok. In the Altoona-Johnstown cases, more than 50 priests and other Church employees molested hundreds of children over four decades in the central Pennsylvania diocese. In many cases, their superiors knew of the abuses but did not remove the priests or notify law enforcement.

If we analyze the crimes occurring here on at least two levels, then perhaps we can put ongoing processes in place to make sure this cannot occur again, at least not on such a rampant scale. With respect to individual priests and employees, the pressure or motivation to commit crimes against children is of a personal nature, but it may be aggravated by factors unique to these actors. Celibacy and sexual development truncated by entry into a seminary may contribute to an individual treating sex with a minor as acceptable behavior, but much more institutional input is likely involved.

In his differential association theory, criminologist Edwin Sutherland suggested that except for rare circumstances, criminals are not born. People learn criminal behavior from others through communication and example. Sutherland found that people learn criminal behavior in intimate personal groups and this education includes techniques of committing the crime and motives, drives, rationalizations and attitudes that support the crime. Can the very structure of clerical training and the Church hierarchy’s response to crimes against children actually work toward nurturing criminal behavior?

Terminology is critical in assessing the Church’s role in this matter. Sexual contact with children, from fondling to rape, are criminal actions and not solely “sins” (though they indeed are sins, of the most grievous and mortal type). The proper response is to handle these events as crimes and not assume recourse to the confessional and shuttling the offenders to new parishes with fresh victims offers anything except incentive for the next offender. Once Church officials know of an alleged crime, any response short of reporting the event to the proper law enforcement authorities may also constitute a criminal action.

In investigations of corporate crimes, special emphasis is given to high-ranking executives, characterized as politically exposed persons (PEPs), individuals with prominent public functions often seen as the “face” of an organization. PEPs generally present higher risk for involvement in corruption based on the nature of their positions and potential influence. Similarly, the pedophile priest cannot move himself from parish to parish, but the facilitator of such actions likely sits in a chair of high authority.

In the Altoona-Johnstown cases, Bishop Joseph Adamec, former leader of the diocese, learned of allegations against one serial pedophile in 2009, but Adamec and his successor, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak, kept the perpetrator on as a pastor until shortly before his arrest in 2014. They followed the tradition of Bishop James Hogan, who from 1966 to 1986 repeatedly persuaded police and prosecutors to drop criminal cases against priests, failed to discipline abusers and relocated predatory priests where they could molest again.

Last year, Pope Francis called for the creation of a tribunal to judge bishops accused of negligence, but the Vatican has yet to act on this. Recently, the pope said bishops who kept abusive priests in ministry should resign. While we applaud the Pope’s focus in going after the PEPs who place public relations wins above the well-being of their flocks, much more needs to be done on an ongoing basis to identify criminals who prey on children and subject them to the judicial system.

With respect to restitution, legislation has been stuck for years in committee in the Pennsylvania legislature to abolish the statute of limitations in civil cases involving child abuse, and a proposed bill would create a special, two-year window allowing past victims to sue the Church. Ultimately, federal legislation may be required to permit compensation for victims facing a patchwork of state laws.

These court and legislative actions may cast a harsh light on Church hierarchy and increase scrutiny of clerical training and the effects of celibacy on the all-male priesthood. Honest assessment of any institution whose goal it is to protect those entrusted to its care should be welcomed as a requirement for continued existence. When pressure to maintain reputation becomes the overarching rationalization and motivation for official actions, all that remains is opportunity for criminal behavior to be hidden or excused.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Raymond Ramirez

Ray Ramirez is an attorney practicing, yet never perfecting, law in Texas while waiting patiently for a MacArthur Genius Grant. You may contact him at patrayram@sbcglobal.net

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  • StevesWeb

    I think it is a good idea to try to get Catholic bishops to act as if they had moral values.

  • PetrusRomanus1

    BIG difference between corporations and dioceses is that corporations are accountable to shareholders, while bishops are NOT accountable to parishioners. Bishops in fact continue to take unfair advantage of parishioners, often by invoking “avoiding scandal” and “religious liberty” to escape monster liability, and the pope keeps right on letting it happen.

    The bishops are not on board with crime prevention. And they have no plans to come aboard.

  • Robert Landbeck

    Having left the ‘chuch’ long ago, and in the light of so much new corruptions, I remain convinced that this institution could not possibly represent the Word of God. What true God would trust his Word to individuals or an institution subject to such corruptions which have been part and parcel of the entire RCC history. This ancient Borg is no more than a theological counterfeit. The sooner it is exposed as such the better. If God cannot do better then this, there probably isn’t a God any way!

    • John Robin

      Robert, I sympathize with your view, but would add that the presence of serious sin within the Church is not a sign that God has abandoned the Church, but rather a sign that sometimes He is defied or at least ignored. It is shameful to see such rotten corruption within the Church. The injury to victims is devastating, and the scandal upon exposure causes further harm by driving away those who otherwise might have trusted the Church to be a faithful disciple of the Lord. Well, the hard truth needs to be brought to light if the Gospel is to reach the world.

      Justice and wisdom demand we identify institutional rot where it exists, firmly dig it out by the roots, and take measures to prevent further aberrations. But we should not give in to the temptation to give up on the Church or on God. Sin isn’t God’s fault, it’s man’s. And as Peter said, when many disciples were abandoning Christ, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

      As far as bishops and administrators who sheltered abusers and concealed crimes… let the heads roll and indictments commence. The world needs to see the Church repent and reform at an institutional level. Just as we must have the courage to do in our personal lives.

      • Robert Landbeck

        “presence of serious sin within the Church is not a sign that God has abandoned the Church,” Corruption within any institution is a reflection of a deeper corruption of individuals that make up the institution. And while we have sadly come to expect that ethical and moral erosion within secularism, to observe it within an organization that ‘pretends’ to a higher standard of justice and moral authority is a flat denial of that authority, God in this case, and thus can only be a purely human institution. The God I believe in would not trust His revelation to a human nature subject to such corruption. The ‘church’ whatever its claims, has nothing to do with God! History will be my judge. And that judgement may already be starting!

        • John Robin

          Robert, thanks for your thoughts. Yes, the Church does claim to rest on divine authority. You argue that institutional corruption is a result of corruption of the individual members of the Church, and that such a defect proves that the Church is not a divine institution.

          But does that really hold water? The Church affirms that its members -indeed all humans in general- are wounded by sin and have an inclination to sin. We are sinners. Therefore there is no human institution in the world that is free from corruption. If man could free himself of sin, there would be no need of a divine redeemer, a Gospel, sacraments, or the Church.

          If perfect holiness were an absolute requirement of membership in Christ’s Church, the Church it would be empty, and it would serve solely as a sign of judgement against man. It could offer no help, and no hope of help. What would be the use of such a church?

          But Christ showed His love for us by dying for us while we were yet sinners. He reached down to found His Church with leadership populated by weak sinners. And it was founded for the sake of sinners and is full of sinners who are seeking salvation by God’s mercy, through the sacraments He has entrusted to the Church.

          The existence of sin within the Church is not a proof that God has failed, but merely that sinners have sinned. It is a proof of God’s mercy, that He has not wiped all humanity from existence in judgement against our sinfulness. Rather, He has provided us a hospital -the Church- full of sinners and tended by sinners, where we can receive powerful medicine: the healing and grace we need to live as disciples of Christ.

          What a pity if the sick should refuse to enter upon finding sick people inside!

          • Robert Landbeck

            “The Church affirms that its members -indeed all

            humans in general- are wounded by sin and have an inclination
            to sin”

            That we hold the potential for ‘evil’ within us is no great revelation. human nature is tself
            bond and rooted in the moral and ethical limitations of an evolutionary
            paradigm for which there is has no escape. Thus sin and evil are part and
            parcel of the human condition. Yet the Promise of the Incarnation was for the expectation
            to overthrow ‘sin’ and evil. That would require an increase in moral
            insight, conduct and fidelity to that conduct that Christian history does
            not teach nor our species realized by any means. If Christ came only to tell us
            we’re sinners without offering the ‘light, way and truth’ to overcome
            that sin, His death and Resurrection are in vain. For there is no progress
            to be made away from the existing materialist paradigm. I cannot imagine
            a God that chooses to intervene directly into the natural world for any reason then to
            offer mankind a path moral progress. The results do not demonstrate
            any such activity. Quite the contrary! So my position remains: God has not even started yet!

          • John Robin

            Oh, but He has: the fix is in. Part of what Jesus has shown through His Passion and death is that He is unwilling to abandon man to an incurable condition of sin and eternal death. Rather, Jesus was willing to endure death for our sake, and then by His Resurrection destroy the iron grip of death. Doing so, He gave us powerful reason to place trust in all His words and deeds. Because of this we have reason to trust that despite our continued struggle with weakness and sin, God’s mercy and love are so efficacious that we can have real hope in final salvation: if we keep getting up again after each fall, and persevere in following Jesus… no matter how many times we fail.

            Falling into sin again is not a sign that God’s plan for us has failed. It is a sign that we have not yet fully overcome our defects and corresponded to God’s plan. But if we refuse to give up, if we persist in turning to Jesus after every failure, and make use of the sacraments and other helps that the Church offers, this is a sign that God’s grace is working in us and that we will reach our final goal.

          • Robert Landbeck

            ” He is unwilling to abandon man to an incurable condition of sin and eternal death.” That was two thousand years ago! The question is whether, man, provided such a profound opportunity, accepted the Word or thus abandoned God? Is the original teaching taught by Christ and his apostles reflected by religious tradition? A teaching that required no physical, institutional church. And has history replaced what was lost with a mere theological counterfeit?

            ” So what’s missing? If our Fall from grace came from within a spiritual union of a man and woman created and joined by God, by a single disobedience, one might imagine, even expect that our return to the grace and favour of God would be by the obverse path, not a collection of theological dogmas, doctrine and ceremony, BUT by a yet unknown, single command to a single Law and obedience which re-establishes the divine union, which was once the foundation of a Covenant, Command, Law and direct knowledge of God.”

            “Of course the existence, ‘as in the beginning’ of such a single Law and command would be heretical to the established religious orders, for in practical terms, it would make them all instantly redundant, changing the very nature of religion itself from the top heavy, institutional temple/church traditions we observe in the world today, to an individual spiritual-virtue ethic conception, founded within the marriage of one man and one woman and without the need of a self ordained, theological priesthood or any other mumbo jumbo at all! Just integrity and fidelity to new moral purpose. Sounds like revolutionary stuff. Maybe questioning and threatening ‘tradition’ is what sent Jesus to be crucified on the Cross?

            What the Resurrection demonstrates absolutely is that God will more than willing to intervene directly into the natural world on behalf of those who do His will. Probably to provide for our own ‘Resurrection’, an event in this life that raises us, saves us from the ‘deadness’ of our sins which above all means our misunderstanding of God. For the moment, all is vanity, all is just chasing after wind!

  • FixtheLaw

    Ray, well said! I have no doubt what so ever. that unless state law makers issue laws which demand accountability and consequences for institutional leaders who have given safe haven to known predators AND placed new victims in harms way, little will change.

    Law makers who think it’s their duty to protect powerful institutions instead of children absolutely need to go. It is they who are the enablers for corporate officials, bishops and the like, giving them a green light to continue “business as usual” for the simple fact that they will pay no price for such immoral and often criminal actions.

    As the line repeated in “Spotlight” says “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one”. It’s time to ask these law makers to which village do they belong?

  • John Robin

    Great letter, Raymond.

  • Robert Landbeck

    “I think you might be underestimating what Jesus did for us” Not at all, but I think history and tradition have not only greatly underestimated the potential of God, but completely misunderstood exactly what the death and Resurrection represents for the rest of us. That religion has turned a Biblical narrative into a question of faith void of purpose, without any literal transformitive power that God represents only demonstrates how theology and religion has reduced the majesty of God to an impotent abstraction subject to open questioning and ridicule. A disgrace to the very idea of God. I have no doubts that the purpose of the Incarnation was not for men to ‘reason’ God down to their own level of understanding but for God to ‘raise’ man up from his spiritual ‘death’ and above the corruptions of body and mind that are innate to human nature itself and thus for making for true righteousness under a moral ideal not of human intellectual definition or origin.