A number of years ago, a family reached out to me asking for help. Their son had been abused by a priest named Gerald Funcheon, and the family wanted to know what happened to the Crosier cleric.
At the time, I looked at the resources available. I saw a priest with huge holes in his assignment record and a couple of lawsuits. Other than that, he had simply vanished.
How times have changed.
This week, Funcheon (who had hidden assignments in Hawaii and California and very public assignments all over the country—including Indiana, where he was banned because of his “plans” to molest) was sued for sexual abuse by two more victims in Minnesota. That brings the victim tally to somewhere around 20.
Funcheon now lives is a facility for offending clerics in Missouri. But he’s free to do whatever he wants.
His victims? They are the ones who suffer for Funcheon’s crimes.
I was in an interview the other day when I was asked whether SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (the group for whom I have volunteered for the past 12 years) paid me.
When I said, no—that I am, in fact, a volunteer with the organization—the writer said, “That’s good. You wouldn’t want to be seen as a professional victim.”
I swallowed hard, and let it drop.
Here’s the rub: SNAP is constantly being bashed by its opponents for being “professional victims.” But since when is taking a stand, demanding change and accountability, and running an organization been “being a professional victim?”
No one looks at other great victim-based organizations like the National Center for Victims of Crime or RAINN: The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and says, “If you really care about the cause, you would work for free.” You certainly don’t look at your child’s teacher and say, “If you truly believed in education, you’d refuse a paycheck.”
So why do people look at SNAP’s full time, professional (and sorely underpaid) staff differently? It’s time for that view to end.
Which leads me to my next point: SNAP is successful. So successful, in fact, that its opponents have taken to SLAPP lawsuits to attempt to silence and bankrupt the organization.
A SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
From the California Anti-SLAPP Project:
While most SLAPPs are legally meritless, they can effectively achieve their principal purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and thus diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue. Equally important, however, a SLAPP also sends a message to others: you, too, can be sued if you speak up.
In a new SLAPP lawsuit, SNAP leaders, an alleged victim’s parents, St. Louis police officers, and city officials are being sued by a St. Louis priest, Fr. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang.
In June 2012, Fr. Jiang was arrested for repeatedly molesting Lincoln County girl and was also charged with “victim tampering.” The tampering charge was due to the fact that he gave the girl’s parents a check for $20,000 to ensure their silence. The parents turned the check over to police.
He also admitted to molesting the girl, according to press reports.
In November 2013, those charges were dismissed. Unfortunately, this is all too common in child sex abuse prosecutions.
Then, in April 2014, he was arrested again on charges he repeatedly molested a St. Louis boy between 2011-2012. Those charges were dismissed in June 2015, but circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce said that her office “remains hopeful that charges will be refiled in the future.”
The motivation for Jiang’s SLAPP lawsuit? From KMOX:
Barbara Dorris of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) tells KMOX that she believes the suit is intended to send a message.
“Our fear is that this is a way to intimidate victims, witnesses and whistle-blowers…into silence,” says Dorris. “If you tell the truth, we will sue you and I think it’s intended to silence people.”
SNAP has never been terribly popular. They expose cover-up. They show how victims and the public have been betrayed by beloved religious leaders. They talk about ugly truths that keep children safer from abuse. They demand that wrong-doers—even well-loved wrong-doers—be held accountable.
And they have changed the world in the process.
Their first amendment right to continue in their work should never be silenced by a SLAPP.
The more things change … the more they stay the same.
This morning the Vatican announced the appointments of three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
And one of them is a problem: vicar general and moderator of the Curia of the archdiocese Joseph Brennan.
LA’s vicars general have been a sorry lot.
Former vicar general Msgr. Michael Myers resigned in 2009 after a New York Times article showed that he allowed a self-admitted sex addict and molester to be a priest in the archdiocese.
Another former vicar general, Msgr. Richard Loomis testified in 2009 that “Mahony ordered him not to inform parishes of allegations against the now defrocked Rev. Michael Baker.” So he didn’t.
What did Brennan do as vicar general?
Well, we know that he used LA’s Catholics to lobby lawmakers on behalf of Archbishop Gomez. In a 2013 email, he asked Catholics to write and call their state representatives and tell them to vote no on SB131, the California Child Victims Act. If passed, it would have opened the doors of the civil courts to victims of child sexual abuse.
The bill ended up passing through both houses. It was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, at the behest of the bishops.
It’s no secret why Gomez and Brennan lobbied so hard against the bill. A similar bill in Minnesota unearthed decades of child sex abuse and cover-up. The cover-up was so bad, in fact, that one archdiocese is subject to a criminal probe and St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstadt just resigned in disgrace.
Heaven forbid something like that happen in LA.
But it gets better: one of the three new bishops will be assigned to head the San Gabriel Region. Its former bishop, Gabino Zavala, resigned in 2012 after it was discovered that he had fathered two children.
There has been no shortage of news this summer when it comes to the US clergy sex abuse crisis. Although the Vatican is attempting to clean up the mess as much as possible before Pope Francis’ September visit (including accepting the resignations of the St. Paul and Minneapolis archbishop and bishop, as well as finally ousting the convicted Kansas City-St. Joseph bishop), very little has changed when it comes to zero tolerance.
We still need to remain vigilant. And as more victims in other organizations such as the Boy Scouts and religious groups besides the Catholic Church come forward and demand justice, it’s vital that we remember that our top priorities must always be child safety and victim healing.
In light of this, let’s go back to basics: the Code Words.
If you or your child are a part of an organization with an allegation of child sexual abuse, demand transparency … or leave the group. And if you’re wondering if your institution is transparent, keep an eye out for these cover-up Code Words. Not every code word means that there is sexual abuse, but every one of these code words can be a sign of real trouble and cover-up.
- Boundary violation
- Inappropriate touching
- Victim alleged additional details, discredited
- Long hugs
- Confidential investigation
- Accused is a minor
- Tickling, horseplay, rough-housing
- Questionable photos
- Monitored employee
- Not allowed to work with children
- Immature (when describing an employee)
- Consensual relationship with a teen/child
- Well-developed child
- Troubled/emotionally disturbed child or family
- History of alcohol/drug abuse (in victim or alleged perpetrator)
- Mature teen
- Overnight, unsupervised trips
- Affair with a teen/child
- Inappropriate (and not described) conduct
- Internal investigation (that is not made public)
- Employee sent to undisclosed treatment
- “Times were different”
- After numerous interviews, child retracted the story
- Complete review of personnel file (that is not made public)
- Misunderstood affection
The code words fall into categories: victim blaming (victim changing story, mature teens, consensual relationships, affairs, emotional disturbance), ignorance (“times were different”), minimization (treatment, misunderstood affection, tickling, horseplay).
I am more than happy to add to the list … so feel free to respond in the comments.
One of my closest friends once told me, “When you really think about it, bullying is just low-level sexual abuse.” That thought stuck with me.
What also stuck with me is how prevention of bullying is similar to the prevention of child sexual abuse. It requires good communication, strong self-esteem, and engaged parents who understand the depth of the problem.
Stopping the cycle of bullying also requires many of the same things required in the prevention of child sexual abuse and cover-up: victim-friendly laws that extend the statute of limitations, exposure of the problem, and a concerted effort to hold enabling school or other officials accountable.
SCRAM! A Parent’s Quick-Start Guide to Preventing, Identifying, and Ending Bullying is now available for purchase in paperback or as an ebook.
I was at the doctor’s office the other day when I saw a card for the OC WarmLine.
Sponsored by the National Alliance of Mental Illness-Orange County, the WarmLine is staffed by “warm, friendly voices” who can provide help with substance abuse or mental health concerns (including depression), provide referrals for mental health services, and (this is the best part) just listen and talk to the person who is lonely and confused.
The service is only available to Orange County, California residents.
The numbers are:
Learn more (or live chat with a trained operator) at their website: www.namioc.org
Remember: if you or someone you love is suicidal, call 911.
My latest piece in the Generation X: Are You There God, It’s Me blog focuses on the Duggars and five things we can all do to prevent and identify child-on-child abuse.
You can read it here.
It’s been two weeks since I was on the TEDx stage. I am still reeling at the amazing day, the supernatural speakers, and the wonderful friends I made. I spoke about the power of responsibility and how—when we take responsibility for our emotions, reactions, and decisions—we can create the future that we WANT.
Other speakers talked about virtual reality, focusing on the WHAT instead of the WHO, space exploration, financial health, cutting men some well-deserved slack, the future of global journalism, roller derby and motherhood, and taking power back during and after cancer. (p.s. buy a Fighter T – even if you don’t have cancer or a recent surgery, it’s a great shirt for any woman. And the WHY? Foundation working to get these T’s in the hands of women with breast cancer who can’t afford them)
Every speaker was a badass and a fighter. All of us had a message. All of us faced odds and won. I am so honored to have shared that stage with those men and women.
My talk is scheduled to be online by the end of June. I will provide a link as soon as I have one.
My email was flooded this morning with news that St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piché had resigned. If you haven’t been following the news, the archdiocese has been hammered during the past two years as legal disclosures showed that Archdiocese officials knew about child sexual abuse and covered it up for decades.
Less than two weeks ago, prosecutors filed criminal charges against the archdiocese. Although Nienstedt and Piché were not charged, the complaint outlined how both men knew about abuse and did little to nothing to protect children.
This morning, the Vatican announced that they had accepted the men’s resignations.
The resignations a positive moves and show a huge step in the right direction when it comes to punishing church officials who covered up abuse. Following on the heals of the resignation of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn, these ousters are well-needed, if not very overdue.
But Francis is not a brave reformer.
Before you wag your fingers at me and say, “Gee, Joelle! Why are you always so critical? Francis is doing great things. He’s different,” we need to take note of some very important facts:
1) The Vatican was not the group that exposed the wrongdoing of these bishops.
The ONLY reason we know about Finn is because brave prosecutors did the right thing and charged him with child endangerment. No one in the Vatican was going to do a thing. In fact, none of Finn’s fellow bishops called on law enforcement indict Finn for covering up child pornography. Even after the conviction, Finn’s fellow bishops said nothing in support of the victims.
2) The only reason we know about the scope and scale of crimes in Minnesota is because of their three-year civil window for victims.
Recently Minnesota passed The Child Victims’ Act, a three-year “window” that allows victims of child sex crimes to use the civil court to expose their abusers and get justice, no matter when the abuse occurred.
As more and more victims came forward to file child sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits, their attorneys were able to get access to and expose THOUSANDS of secret internal church documents that outlined how men like Nienstedt and former vicar general Kevin McDonough knew about abuse and abusers and did NOTHING to protect children at risk.
Documents exposed in the civil proceedings—proceedings started by brave VICTIMS using the CIVIL COURTS—are the reason that these bishops were exposed and are resigning. The Vatican did not turn over the documents. Nienstedt did not hand them over voluntarily. It was only because of a victim-friendly civil law and brave survivors.
3) Francis is not the reformer. Survivors who use the civil courts are the true reformers in this story. Francis is only reacting to bad press.
Pope Francis is coming to the US later this year. He and his astute PR team saw the writing on the wall. They realized that if they did nothing, the entire trip would be marred by questions about abuse and cover-up (especially in the case of Finn, who was convicted of child endangerment). Instead of interviewing happy Catholics and gushing US leaders, the press would focus on victims’ groups and advocacy organizations who (rightfully) demand change.
In accepting these bishops’ resignation, the Vatican made the shrewd move.
But remember: Survivors made the BRAVE move.
The Compassionate Response: How to help and empower the adult victim of child sexual abuse is now available in Spanish. Paperback and Kindle editions.
About the book:
One of the hardest things that many adult survivors of child sexual abuse will ever do is come forward and tell someone. Even if the survivor finally discloses decades after the crime, the pain is still fresh and the shame still stings.
But for the person the survivor tells, hearing the news and knowing how to react in a compassionate, safe, and empowering way can be almost as difficult.
This easy-to-use book gives friends, spouses, and loved ones guidelines on compassionate responses and appropriate resources—including services, information on civil and criminal statutes of limitation, and support—that can help adult survivors of child sex begin the path towards healing.
Una de las situaciones más difíciles que pueden experimentar muchos sobrevivientes adultos de abuso sexual es tomar la decisión de contárselo a alguien. Incluso si el sobreviviente finalmente lo revela muchas décadas después de que el abuso sucedió, el dolor todavía se seguirá sintiendo como algo reciente y la vergüenza todavía lastimará.
No obstante, para la persona a quien el sobreviviente le cuenta el suceso, puede ser casi igual de difícil escuchar la noticia y saber cómo reaccionar de manera compasiva, segura y fortalecedora.
Escrito por una sobreviviente que es una experta nacional en el tema, este libro fácil de leer es el punto de partida perfecto para alguien que conoce a un sobreviviente adulto de abuso sexual infantil.
Relationships are brutal, honest, naked, and charged—few more so than those between women who are brave enough to trust each other beyond small talk and social niceties. Lisa Lutz (author of The Spellman series) in her latest novel HOW TO START A FIRE, creates a complex and page-turning saga of three women—imperfect and completely human—as they grow from college to almost-middle-age.
What makes this book so readable and intriguing is the compassion and integrity she maintains for her three main characters, who—while quirky—are elevated beyond cookie-cutter stereotypes.
Coupled with a rapid-action storyline, Lutz’ razor-sharp insight draws the reader into a world where nothing is black and white, but where everyone has a capacity for forgiveness and redemption.
Kind of like friendship itself.
A great read.
From the publisher:
From a bestselling writer, a story of unexpected friendship—three women thrown together in college who grow to adulthood united and divided by secrets, lies, and a single night that shaped all of them
When UC Santa Cruz roommates Anna and Kate find passed-out Georgiana Leoni on a lawn one night, they wheel her to their dorm in a shopping cart. Twenty years later, they gather around a campfire on the lawn of a New England mansion. What happens in between—the web of wild adventures, unspoken jealousies, and sudden tragedies that alter the course of their lives—is charted with sharp wit and aching sadness in this meticulously constructed novel.
I was nominated by my cousin and friend Darcy Fehringer-Mask*, who won the award herself in 2008 for her work in diversity and anti-bias education, including bullying awareness and prevention. I was chosen for my work on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse, prevention and awareness education, and my efforts towards changing civil and criminal statutes of limitations for sex crimes against children.
Looking at the other winners, I’m in awesome company and am very humbled by the honor.
The ceremony is a June 5 luncheon in Costa Mesa. Let me know if you want to come. I’ll save you a seat!
*While Darcy still does great work in that field, she focuses most of her time on her photography business. Like my headshots? See more here.
Friday’s document release from religious orders whose members abused children in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles shines a very bright light on ugly doings at Anaheim’s Servite High School.
But the other Servite file—Brother Gregory Atherton—is uglier. Not because of the graphic nature of the abuse, but because of the cover-up. Not because of the fact that Atherton was sent to treatment for abusing kids at Servite High School, but because the Servites lied then and continue to lie now about his status.
The quotes say it all.
“We’ve put him under a safety plan. He reports to a supervisor. He mostly stays home and does some work like bookkeeping or helping around the house.”
Let’s see how the facts pan out.
“It’s a marvelous occasion for us,” said Servite Brother Gregory Atherton, who also attended a national anniversary celebration in June in Chicago. As Brother Atherton spoke after Friday’s Mass, people swarmed around tables nearby to grab slices of vanilla and chocolate cake, decorated with congratulatory words marking the occasion.
Three Grotto employees have worked every year: Brother Gregory Atherton, Grounds/Facilities Manager Mark Combelic and Master Puppeteer Celeste Rose. Bonus facts: The three worst years of weather were 1990, 2006 and 2008. Three groups from far-flung locations perform this year: Vancouver BC (St. Charles Borromeo Choir), Anaheim, CA, (Servite High School), and the Philippines (University of the Philippines). emphasis mine
So … Atherton is also working with high school choirs?
Around Thanksgiving several of his nieces from the Carolinas visited Damian Kobus for several days. His sister was not able to travel with them nor is Damian able to travel to visit her. The nieces told Gregory Atherton that they were pleased to find Damian doing so well. They were pleasantly surprised with his happy disposition, the 3 quality of his room, the care he is receiving, and the food they and he were served.
Brother Gregory Atherton, OSM, has managed to find someone to really care for our aging organ in the Chapel of Mary who can keep it going in spite of occasional glitches. Greg made a recording of his organ solos for the chorale concerts so he can have things a bit easier for himself. The personnel who manage the sound and recording can slip his recording on when needed so Greg can get a break.
Greg needs a break? I thought he was only doing light housework.
The Servites lied. Atherton was not monitored. He is probably not being monitored now.
I repeat: The Servites are lying to you. They just don’t do it very well.
This is probably the most telling document trail from today’s release of clergy sex abuse documents.
Letter from Fr. Steven Ryan to Servite Provincial Fr. Terence O’Connor:
Servite provincial Fr. Terence O’Connor to Fr. Steven Ryan:
Makes you want to call your Servite friends and see if they can get a tuition refund.
What do you do when you get the chance of a lifetime?
Worry. And sweat.
I was selected to be a speaker for the May 30 TEDx Pasadena Women conference. Being a speaker at TED and TEDx are HUGE goals of mine … so I have to admit: when I received the acceptance, I thought that (perhaps) they had made a mistake and sent the invite to the wrong person. So, I did what I was supposed to do (send in materials, bio, etc), and I waited for the “Oops! Never mind,” email.
When instead, I was given the speaker’s checklist, I knew that I was in.
Between now and May 29 (when we have our dress rehearsal), it’s time to dive into my talk. I already have a first draft, but I know that it’s going to change as the days pass. The folks at TEDx have great coaches who will help be hone my message, and I am sure that my friends will get sick and tired of having to watch me practice. I don’t want to go into this unprepared—TEDx is only the first part of the goal. I want to grace the main TED stage … and soon. And since I am not a household name (yet), I’m going to have to do my best to dazzle the powers that be.
What I am I worried about right now? There are two things: one biological and one mental.
The first is a doozy: I sweat when I am nervous. I sweat a lot. Which is odd, because in every other aspect of my life, I am not a sweaty person. Even when I do press conferences, I don’t sweat. I was never sweaty when I was a performer. But the last thing I want is an HD video of my talk on YouTube with HD focus on my sweaty pits. (“Gee, I think I remember Joelle’s talk. But someone tell that girl to wear antiperspirant!”)
The second? I bet you can guess. Can I pull it off? Is my message powerful enough? Can I deliver it in a way that makes a difference? Will people say: Joelle changed the way I look at the world … ? Will I engage the audience? Will I make people laugh? Am I good enough?
Antiperspirant is the easy part. The rest will take hard work.
A federal bankruptcy judge has set an August 3 deadline for victims of child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The deadline, called a BAR DATE, is the final day and men and women abused as children can file claims against the Archdiocese to expose their abuser and get justice and accountability.
The Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, after approximately 140 men and women came forward to file sex abuse and cover-up lawsuits under Minnesota’s civil window. The civil window, enacted in 2013, allows victims of child sexual abuse to use the civil courts for justice, no matter when the abuse occurred.
Since the civil window opened, the Archdiocese has been pounded in the media and by victims for covering up child sex abuse. The pounding was well-justified.
From MPR news:
For decades, leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been reassigning, excusing and overlooking sexually abusive priests among their ranks. Some received additional retirement benefits. In August, a top church lawyer, shocked at what she saw, brought the story to MPR News. What happened next is still unfolding.
An important note: The Archdiocese bankruptcy and bar date deadline do NOT affect victims of other entities in Minnesota. So, for example: Victims from Shattuck/St. Mary’s, other dioceses in Minnesota, religious orders, churches, or other private entities have until May 2016 to come forward.
I am not an attorney and do not have the authority to dispense legal advice. But let me say this: if you are considering filing a claim in the bankruptcy, talk to an attorney who is familiar with the process. Be sure that your rights are protected.
The victim, who waited until after he earned the honor of Eagle Scout to file the lawsuit, was molested by a former Assistant Scout Master who was criminally convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with the victim in this case as well as another boy. The convicted Scout Master is also an Eagle Scout.
The victim held up his end of the bargain. Now it’s time for the Scouts to uphold theirs.
I was honored to be at the press conference and speak with the victim and his father. It’s not often that I get to meet victims who are brave enough to come forward at such a young age.
And there were also some pretty disturbing revelations. The molester in this case was young—20 years old at the time of the abuse. He sexually assaulted the victim when he was 13 and 15.
Why are the Scouts liable? Other scout leaders were inclined to give the predator a “pass.” Even though they saw suspicious and/or criminal behavior, they thought that a former Eagle Scout was beyond reproach. Others may have also considered the 20-year-old predator “one of the boys” and did not understand the severe imbalance of power that existed.
Not only was the victim a child and the predator an adult—but the victim in this case wanted to be an Eagle Scout. The only way to do that? Uphold the Boy Scout Law:
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty,
brave, clean, and reverent.
And when your scoutmaster (who is a fairly recent Eagle Scout) holds your future and dreams in his grip, your options are clear: Obedience, reverence, and loyalty.
The victim was physically, emotionally and psychologically powerless … but he’s not anymore.
It’s the the papal version of the back-handed compliment:
In a one-sentence throw-away line in yesterday’s Vatican press bulletin, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn.
The Holy Father Francis has accepted the resignation from the pastoral government of the diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City, Mo. (U.S.A.) presented by His Excellency Msgr. Robert W. Finn.
In case you didn’t know: in 2012, Finn was convicted on one count of failure to report child sexual abuse. He covered up for Shawn Ratigan, a Missouri priest who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for producing child pornography.
Because of that incident, Finn served a two-year suspended sentence in Jackson County, Mo., and struck a deal later that year with a Clay County, Mo., judge to avoid a similar charge by entering a diversion compliance agreement that included regular meetings with the county prosecutor for five years.
As I have noted on this blog before, if Finn were to apply for a job at his own diocese, he would not pass the background check.
Removing Finn was low-hanging fruit for Pope Francis, who has called on churches to enforce “zero tolerance” (even though Francis recently appointed a Chilean bishop who is accused of covering up for child sex abuse crimes). It would have been easy for Francis to deliver a strong message and fire Finn. It would have been very easy for the Vatican to make a powerful announcement stating that Finn’s behavior was unacceptable and will not be tolerated in a pastoral Christian environment.
In fact, it would have been amazing if Francis or a high ranking Vatican official came to Kansas City-St. Joseph to address the hurt and pain that Catholics there are suffering.
But no. Francis let Finn quit and “save face.”
And Catholics in Kansas City-St. Joseph are still left with questions. And pain.
So, yes, I am elated that a convicted bishop is no longer leading a Catholic diocese. But since Finn’s “transition” was treated like an afterthought, I can’t help but wonder how much else is treated like an afterthought.