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In the language of the legal profession, "res ipsa loquitur" means, literally, "the thing speaks for itself." Any Zero viewers concerned with issues such as protection of our children from serial child molesters, law enforcement attitude toward religious figures sexually abusing minors, and even the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state will be fascinated by this letter from one politician (the elected head of law enforcement in a major New York county) to another (the Majority Leader of the State Senate for New York). The Zero's commentary is interlineated throughout.

Text of Denis Dillon Letter on Clergy Reporting Bill

Originally published in Newsday, April 9, 2002

April 8, 2002

Honorable Joseph L. Bruno
Senate Majority Leader
New York State Senate
Room 909 LOB
Albany, NY 12247

Re: Legislation Related to Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy

Dear Senator Bruno:

I am writing with respect to the issue of sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy—a shocking situation, to be sure, and one that has prompted those of you in state government to consider legislation to address concerns about how Church authorities have handled such allegations.

Abuse committed against minors by any members of the clergy—or for that matter, by any authority figures who misuse their positions to exploit vulnerable young people—is among the most horrendous of crimes. It must be forcefully deterred. For that reason, I want to be fully supportive of responsible, effective legislative efforts that will enhance our ability to prosecute such crimes. Our forceful prosecution of two recent instances of priestly sexual abuse in Nassau County demonstrates how seriously I take such crimes. As you may know, I have obtained information from the diocese regarding past sexual abuse allegations by priests, and am reviewing that information to ascertain whether there are any more instances that merit prosecution.

It is precisely because of the seriousness with which I regard this issue, however, that I strongly disagree with legislation recently passed in the State Senate. What you have done is to expand state power over religious institutions—an action that would be justified if necessary to protect the innocent. In my opinion, however, the bill just passed is not justified, and I urge reconsideration of the matter, Whatever powers our state assumes over religious institutions must be (a) justified by the facts, (b) necessary to correct the problem, and (c) the most effective means of addressing that problem. Senate bill 6625 does not meet that standard.

Each day, media headlines blare new allegations, and offer us new instant analyses of what are the problems and solutions. We who are responsible for making and enforcing laws, however, have an obligation to be more deliberative in ascertaining all the relevant facts, and assuring that the solutions we impose by law are based on the facts, and not simply a reaction to the emotions of the moment generated by sensationalized media reports. Before passing legislation designed to address this problem, it was incumbent upon you to ascertain the true scope and dimensions of clergy sexual abuse, and the true nature of the actual crimes being committed.

For example, one gets the impression from the current media feeding frenzy that sexual abuse by Catholic priests in America has reached epidemic proportions. Yet even in Boston, where apparently widespread sexual abuse by priests ignited the entire issue nationwide, a careful analysis of the numbers suggests that that is not the case. The Boston Archdiocese identified 80 priests who have been the subject of sexual abuse allegations over the last 50 years. However, as Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, Ph.D.,a psychologist and consultant to the U.S. Catholic Conference's Ad Hoc Committee on Child Sexual Abuse points out, according to the Archdiocese, only 60 of those allegations are substantial; Leaving aside the obvious issue of the "investigator" being an employee of the same organization he is "investigating," what is the definition of the word "substantial?" Are there instances of "insubstantial" child sexual abuse? and over the last 50 years, there have been approximately 3,000 priests who have served the Archdiocese of Boston. That means that approximately 2% of the priests who have served the Boston Archdiocese over the last half-century have had credible allegations of sexual abuse lodged against them. Apparently, we are now to accept the "fact" that only those allegations the church's own "consultant" finds to be "substantial" are "credible." And even if that amazing leap of faith were to be accepted, to blithely brush aside a self-acknowledged statistic that one out of every fifty priests has had "credible allegations" of child sexual abuse lodged against them is astounding. Given that even the most ignorant, inexperienced investigator would never claim that each and every instance of child sexual abuse is even reported, this "statistic" raises the percentage even higher

Philip Jenkins, Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University and author of the scholarly work, "Pedophiles and Priests," who is much-quoted of late, observes that while the numbers of Catholic clergy involved may be higher than most other denominations—due to the far greater number of Catholic clergy in America—the rate of Catholic clergy involved in sexual abuse of minors is "not necessarily ... higher than or even equal to their numbers in the clerical profession as a whole." (My emphasis) Moreover, Jenkins suggests that the rates of such abuse by clergy are not appreciably different from those of individuals in other professions. Even assuming all of this to be true, two major issues are simply ignored by the politician who demands we look at the "facts." (1) Although predatory pedophiles exist in all walks of life, those in religious orders enjoy a degree of camouflage no other can match. Indeed, there is no need to search for victims when so many are entrusted to them. (2) The percentage of offenders may be similar, but not the percentage of offenses, thanks to the church's practice of "recycling" offenders to new parishes without any notice to its parishioners!

This is a critical point, because what the Senate passed is clergy-specific mandatory reporting requirements that go beyond the requirements contained in the state Social Services law for those involved in other child-centered professions. If such abuse is no more prevalent among clergy than among those in other child-centered professions, why should you single out only clergy for increased reporting requirements? Here's why! How many other professions "treat" child sexual abusers exclusively within their own ranks, and then turn them loose to see if their "experiment" worked? And how ethical is it to do so without notice to those who will be victimized if the "experiment" fails?

It is also essential that, before acting to pass laws designed to address this problem, we properly characterize the problem. As Jenkins, New York Times columnist John Tierney, Newsweek religion writer Ken Woodward and numerous others have observed in recent weeks, it is demonstrably not primarily a problem of pedophilia. Pedophilia is sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children. While there have been some reported instances of this—and some instances of abuse of female adolescents as well ["Some" is hardly the term others might use: see links below] —the reported allegations have overwhelmingly involved abuse by male priests of male adolescents. This is the tired old claim that such priests are not pedophiles, but "ephebophiles," a separate, and uniquely "treatable" class of child molester. This "special category" is not recognized or accepted by the American Psychiatric Association or any other reputable organization. It is a creation of the church, designed to serve the church's purposes. And how does the church explain recycling its "heterosexual" offenders? That makes it likely that the problem is homosexuality in the priesthood, and how best can the church predict which homosexual applicants to its seminaries can remain chaste and which can't. This statement is as insulting as it is ignorant. First, it implies that homosexuals have less self-control than heterosexuals, and are more likely to abuse power over children. Worse, it blames the victims, with its clear implication that the child sexual abuse was, in fact, a consenting homosexual "relationship." The truth is that pedophiles are not homosexuals, and victims of pedophiles are certainly not "gay."

We can hardly hope to remedy the problem if we are mis-identifying it. [see "res ipsa loquitur!"] More significantly, it speaks to the whole question of just how irresponsible was the Church in routinely reassigning such priests after sending them for treatment. With pedophiles, argues Jenkins, "the behavior is likely to be deeply obsessive and very hard to cure," thereby militating against ever placing such a person in a position of authority over, or in situations of unsupervised contact with children. "But when it's someone who had sex with an older teenager," Jenkins continues, "then with treatment and proper supervision and restrictions, the priest might well not cause future problems." This is a blatant apologia for the church's practice of "recycling" pedophile priests. The "logic" is that, since the church had "faith" the predators were not pedophiles, but oh-so-treatable "ephebophiles," secretly moving them into church-controlled "treatment" facilities, and then returning their "rehabilitated" priests to new parishes without notifying anyone of the risk they pose to children is perfectly justified. Such an argument seems far more suited to a defense attorney than a career prosecutor.

Rev. Rossetti cites significant success rates in the treatment of those—including priests—who had abused post-pubescent adolescents, and observes that the Church was following the advice of psychiatric experts in opting for that approach. For an alleged lover of "facts," this entire letter is full of references to unidentified "experts." As all the "data" is carefully guarded by the very organization which claims such "success" with its unique and proprietary "treatment," how could any rational observer not be suspicious of the results claimed? In retrospect, it clearly seems to have been ill-advised; but was it intentionally and criminally negligent, as daily headlines now seem to suggest? Before rushing to pass new laws, we need to examine this question more closely.

In raising these concerns, I am certainly not minimizing the abuse of young people by trusted clergy, nor the possibility that some in the Church may have failed in their responsibility to adequately address this problem. Nor am I voicing opposition to legislation that may prove necessary and appropriate.

All of us in government have a vital role to play in protecting our children from anyone who would prey on them. I am fulfilling my role by investigating and, where possible, prosecuting allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. You are fulfilling yours by examining possible changes in our laws that can enhance our ability to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

I am simply asking that, rather than acting hastily to just "do something" in the face of media-generated public pressure, you reconsider the matter, and be careful to gather and analyze all the facts. And all we ask is that voters do the same. In that way, you can do something effective that will truly help to address the problem. There is a greater "you" than any individual politician. And "addressing the problem" is not a job for the church, it is a job for all those who care about the protection of our children.

Many thanks for your consideration.


District Attorney

A long time coming, but, finally...
Pope ends “secrecy” rule on child sexual abuse in Catholic Church
The Guardian, December 17, 2019

Priest Acquitted of Rape, Convicted of Molesting Girl In 1980s
Article reprint from The Associated Press, April 17, 2002.

Priest 'Abused' Girls
BBC News, April 5, 2002

Calif. Dioceses Settle Abuse Claim
The Associated Press, April 1, 2002

Priest Arrested On Child Rape Charges
The Associated Press, January 15, 2002

Priest Jailed For Abusing Children
BBC News, May 25, 2000

Sex Charge Priest Found Guilty
BBC News, February 12, 1998

(rayz ip-sah loh-quit-her) n. Latin for "the thing speaks for itself," a doctrine of law that one is presumed to be negligent if he/she/it had exclusive control of whatever caused the injury even though there is no specific evidence of an act of negligence, and without negligence the accident would not have happened.
Source: Dictionary © 2000


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