Friday, January 15, 2016

A film crew from a well-known, national news outlet is looking to interview 3-4 survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Filming will take place in the Los Angeles area.

Paul --

A film crew from a well-known, national news outlet is looking to interview 3-4 survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. They are looking for a variety of ages and experiences and want to focus on people who were abused by priests, as opposed to nuns, employees, etc. (Sorry about that)

This is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to tell their story to an audience who may not be familiar with the crisis (or who may be too young to really remember the 2002 scandals).

Filming will take place in the Los Angeles area.

If you are interested, contact Joelle Casteix at jcasteix@gmail.com

Barbara Dorris
SNAP · PO Box 6416, Chicago, IL 60680-6416, United States

What Pope Benedict Knew About Abuse in the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI, in 2007, with his brother Georg Ratzinger, who, from 1964 to 1994, was the director of a Catholic boys’ choir that is the subject of a recent sex-abuse investigation.
The election of Pope Francis, in 2013, had the effect, among other things, of displacing the painful story of priestly sexual abuse that had dominated public awareness of the Church during much of the eight-year papacy of his predecessor. The sense that the Church, both during the last years of Benedict and under Francis, had begun to deal more forcefully with the issue created a desire in many, inside and outside the Church, to move on. But recent events suggest that we take another careful look at this chapter of Church history before turning the page.

During the past week, a German lawyer charged with investigating the abuse of minors in a famous Catholic boys’ choir in Bavaria revealed that two hundred and thirty-one children had been victimized over a period of decades. The attorney, Ulrich Weber, who was commissioned by the Diocese of Regensburg to conduct the inquiry, said that there were fifty credible cases of sexual abuse, along with a larger number of cases of other forms of physical abuse, from beatings to food deprivation.

The news received widespread attention not only because of its disturbing content but because the director of the Regensburg boys’ choir from 1964 to 1994 was Georg Ratzinger, the older brother of Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. Joseph Ratzinger was the Archbishop of Munich from 1977 until 1981, when he went to head up the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which establishes theological orthodoxy and was also one of the branches of the Church that dealt with priestly sexual abuse.

The developments in Germany raised the question of what the two Ratzinger brothers knew about the abuse in the Regensburg choir. Most of the sexual abuse took place, apparently, at a boarding school for elementary-grade students connected to the choir. The chief culprit, according to Weber, was Johann Meier, the boarding school’s director from 1953 until 1992. The composer Franz Wittenbrink, a graduate of the school, told Der Spiegel magazine, in 2010, when the abuse scandal became public, that there was “a system of sadistic punishments connected to sexual pleasure.”

At that time, Georg Ratzinger, who was on the three-person supervisory board of the elementary school, acknowledged that some choirboys had complained about the punishments they received at the school. “But I did not have the feeling at the time that I should do something about it,” he told the Passauer Neue Presse, in 2010. “Had I known with what exaggerated fierceness he was acting, I would have said something.”

In fact, accusations of abuse surfaced and were investigated in 1987, but no one saw fit to remove Meier from his post until the year of his death. When asked at his press conference last week whether Georg Ratzinger had been aware of the abuse, Weber replied, “Based on my research, I must assume so.” He estimated that a third of the students in the choir had suffered some form of abuse. Georg Ratzinger has said that he routinely slapped choirboys when their performance was not up to snuff, standard treatment until Germany banned corporal punishment, in the early eighties. So far, the Regensburg diocese has offered compensation of twenty-five hundred euros for each victim.

In the early nineties, a monk who worked at the Vatican told me, “You wouldn’t believe the amounts of money the church is spending to settle these priestly sexual-abuse cases.” He was not exaggerating. By 1992, Catholic dioceses in the U.S. had paid out four hundred million dollars to settle hundreds of molestation cases. These financial settlements were reached largely to keep the victims quiet: in almost all cases, the documents were sealed and the victims signed a non-disclosure agreement. Given the enormous amounts of money involved, the men running the Vatican were well aware of the problem.

The basic outlines of the sex-abuse scandal were already evident that year when Jason Berry, an American journalist, published his first book, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.” (While the “Spotlight” team at the Boston Globe is rightly getting its moment of glory, praise is also due to Berry, whose pioneering work on the subject, a decade earlier, was done with far less institutional support.) As Berry reported, Ray Mouton, a lawyer whom the Church hired in 1985 to defend a pedophile priest in Louisiana, warned that, if the Church did not adopt a policy for helping victims and removing pedophiles from the ministry, it could face a billion dollars in losses from financial settlements and damage awards in the next decade. It turned out that Mouton had actually underestimated the financial cost of the crisis. By 2006, the Church had spent $2.6 billion settling sexual-abuse cases, as Berry wrote in the 2010 edition of “Vows of Silence,” his second book on the pedophile crisis, which he co-authored with fellow-journalist Gerald Renner.

Most cases of abuse were handled (or not handled) by local bishops and archbishops, but some were adjudicated by Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The most prominent of these cases was that of Father Marcial Maciel, a favorite of Pope John Paul II and the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful Mexican religious order that, at its pinnacle, included eight hundred priests, fifteen universities, and a hundred and fifty prep schools, as well as a lay movement with a reported seventy thousand followers.

In the seventies and eighties, former members of the Legionaries reported that, as young boys, they had been sexually abused by Maciel. As the Church later acknowledged, the complainants were highly credible and had no ulterior motives: they were not seeking monetary compensation or notoriety. They followed Church procedures by filing formal charges through ecclesiastical courts in Rome, but nothing was done. In fact, Pope John Paul II called on Maciel to accompany him on papal visits to Mexico in 1979, 1990, and 1993.

When one of the former Legionaries expressed his frustration, in the lawsuit, about the Church’s inaction, Berry and Renner reported in their book, the Legionaries’ own canon lawyer, Martha Wegan, who made no secret that her first loyalty was to the Church, replied, “It is better for eight innocent men to suffer than for millions to lose their faith.”

Cardinal Ratzinger reopened the case against Father Maciel in 2004, and, when he became Pope, in 2006, he acknowledged the validity of the claims, forbidding Maciel to continue his ministry and limiting him to a “life of prayer and penitence.” The Vatican found Maciel guilty of “very serious and objectively immoral acts . . . confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies” that represent “true crimes and manifest a life without scruples or authentic religious sentiment.”

Though the sexual-abuse crisis reached its peak in the public sphere during Benedict XVI’s papacy, the single figure most responsible for ignoring this extraordinary accumulation of depravity is the sainted John Paul II. In the context of his predecessor’s deplorable neglect, Pope Benedict gets slightly higher marks than most. In 2001, he acted to give his office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, jurisdiction over all sexual-abuse cases, and soon he began to push the Maciel investigation, despite considerable Vatican opposition. After ascending the throne of St. Peter, he became the first Pope to kick predator priests out of the Church: in 2011 and 2012, the last two full years of his papacy, the Church defrocked three hundred and eighty-four offending priests.

That said, it was too little, too late. As the second-most-powerful man in John Paul II’s pontificate, Ratzinger had more ability to know and to act than almost anyone. The actions he finally did take were largely dictated by a series of embarrassing scandals: his move to take control of pedophilia cases in 2001 closely followed scandals in the U.S., Ireland, and Australia, and staggering financial settlements for American plaintiffs. The decision to reopen the case against Maciel would almost certainly not have happened without the courageous reporting of Berry and Renner. And the zero-tolerance policy that led to the systematic defrocking of abusive priests happened only after the annus horribilis of 2010, in which a new sexual-abuse scandal seemed to explode every week and loyal parishioners left the Church in droves.

Ratzinger understood better than most, if late, that priestly abuse was the negation of everything the Church was supposed to stand for. But, for much of his career, his focus and priorities were elsewhere. During most of his tenure, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was too busy disciplining anyone who dared step out of line with Church teachings on personal sexuality and family planning to bother with the thousands of priests molesting children. In 2009, a nun named Margaret McBride sat on the ethics committee of a San Diego hospital that had to decide the case of a pregnant woman whose doctors believed that she (and her fetus) would die if they did not terminate her pregnancy. The committee voted to allow an abortion, and the woman’s life was saved. Almost immediately, McBride’s bishop informed her of her excommunication. It took multiple decades and thousands of cases of predatory behavior to begin defrocking priests, but not much more than twenty-four hours to excommunicate a nun trying to save a human life. In 2011, also under Pope Benedict, the Vatican lifted its excommunication of McBride.

A reëxamination of the sexual-abuse scandal may help the Church reconsider the standoff between traditionalists and progressives during Francis’s papacy. The traditionalists, who oppose changes such as offering communion to remarried couples, bemoan the good old days when papal authority was unquestioned, civil authorities treated the Church with extreme deference, and parishioners obeyed without objection. They have forgotten that those good old days were also a time when children were slapped, beaten, and often sexually abused, and priests, bishops, parents, and police looked away.

The physical act of rape ruins a woman’s life, Offer says. “She feels like her life has been taken away from her. One thing we have to do with therapy is give a woman back her life.” Teenagers who have been abused often lose their self-confidence, become either abstinent or completely permissive, use drugs and develop eating disorders....

What Israel’s spate of high-profile sex scandals says about its culture

Therapist Beth Offer, who counsels rape victims, discusses the flurry of recent accusations by women

Israelis protest outside the Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv against the court’s decision to sentence a convicted rapist to community service rather than jail. The decision has sparked a storm of protest among rape victims’ groups and a Facebook page calling for the resignation of one of the judges. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Yaniv Nahman was a well-known figure in Tel Aviv’s nightlife scene. Multiple women described meeting the handsome investment manager at a club, then waking up in his bed the next morning without any recollection of how they got there. Police suspected he was using the date rape drug GHB but couldn’t prove it because by the time women filed a police complaint, it was no longer detectable in their bloodstream. Nahman agreed to a plea bargain in which he admitted to one instance of rape, and on December 27 he was sentenced to 6 months of community service.

 The judge cited several reasons for the light sentence: first, he did not use a lot of force and second, the shaming he experienced on social media during the trial had done irreparable damage to his reputation. 

The decision had women’s groups in Israel up in arms, including the Counseling Center for Women. 

“In this case, in which there was no physical evidence and only the word of the complainants against the word of the defendant,” says Beth Zaslow Offer, a counselor at the CCW, “judges chose to side with the defendant rather than the complainants, because they did not place equal value on the emotional toll of both having been raped, and having to come forward.”

According to Offer, people underestimate the courage it takes for women to come forward, as society still often shames and blames the victim. That’s why she sees the recent spate of rape and sexual harassment scandals in Israel as a healthy thing.

In November, Jewish Home Knesset member Yinon Magal resigned after several women accused him of sexual harassment. In December, interior minister Silvan Shalom stepped down from public life after 11 women came forward with accusations of assault. And last week, Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni was arrested on rape and corruption allegations.

There have also been a string of sexual harassment scandals in the upper echelons of the Israel Police as well as a social media storm surrounding alleged misbehavior by former celebrity rabbi Marc Gafni.

Offer says that rape and harassment are nothing new. In fact, they’re grossly under-reported. What’s new is people’s willingness to talk about it.

“I think social media is helping. More and more people are saying this is not okay, what you women went through.”

According to Offer, Israel has come a long way. When she began working as a social worker in 1989, there was no law against wife-beating.

“I would visit a home and see a woman crying hysterically, with two huge black eyes. Two policeman were standing there and they said, ‘Don’t get too upset about this, honey. This happens all the time. She won’t put in a complaint so there’s nothing we can do.”

But in 1992, Israel passed a law where even if the abused partner doesn’t file a complaint, the alleged attacker will at least get questioned. In 1998, Israel passed its first sexual harassment law. Offer sees the current spate of scandals as part of Israel’s maturation process on these issues.

Woman holds sign saying, "I was raped" at Jerusalem SlutWalk, May 29, 2015. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)
Woman holds sign saying, “I was raped” at Jerusalem Tendler SlutWalk, May 29, 2015.

She also credits the rise of women’s organizations, such as the Counseling Center for Women where she works, for raising awareness.

The center was founded in 1988 by new immigrants from the United States and England who were inspired by the feminist movement and wanted to bring those messages to Israel. It has 24 therapists in Jerusalem and Ramat Gan who handle issues related to sexual assault and trauma.

According to the Women’s Security Index, a survey by several feminist NGOs in Israel, 61 percent of Jewish women in Israel fear that someone will force them into sexual contact against their will, 38.4% fear that a family member will humiliate, attack or abuse them, and 65.9% fear being attacked on a dark street. Among Israeli Arab women, 66.7% fear being forced into sexual contact, 67.5% fear abuse from a family member, and 74.3% fear an attack on a dark street.

The survey also asked Jewish women how many had experienced sexual harassment (34.3%), but among Russian-speaking women it was 50%; 26.4% of Jewish women said they experienced rape by a known or unknown person, while 45.5% of Russian-speakers said this.

People demonstrate in front of the Alenby 40 club, in Tel Aviv, demanding to close it after a video was released showing a group of men having sex with one young girl, which stirred a controvercy around whether the incident was rape or not. October 6, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
People demonstrate in front of the Alenby 40 club in Tel Aviv demanding that it close after a video was released showing a group of men having sex with a young girl, which stirred a controversy around whether the incident was rape or not, October 6, 2015.

Beth Offer says she also sees a lot of abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community. A typical scenario involves a young girl or woman visiting a friend, when her friend’s father does anything from harass to rape her. Sometimes, the community will tell her to shut up and not talk about it. On other occasions, even if she tells her family and they believe her, the rest of the community does not.

“This girl needs therapy. Often she comes to us because we are outside her community.”

What sexual abuse does to the psyche:


  The physical act of rape ruins a woman’s life, Offer says. “She feels like her life has been taken away from her. One thing we have to do with therapy is give a woman back her life.”

Teenagers who have been abused often lose their self-confidence, become either abstinent or completely permissive, use drugs and develop eating disorders.

Sexual harassment, says Offer, lies on a continuum, with catcalls and whistling at one end and assault and rape at the other.

She is happy that we’re in a cultural moment when men are being called out and shamed for harassment, as this will make them think twice about their behavior.

Does this mean that if a man and woman are on a date, the man should ask the woman every time he makes a move? She says it’s possible for the man and woman to transmit nonverbal cues to each other, but when in doubt, they should “use their words.”

“Keep your hands to yourself until you know it’s okay. In a way, shomrei negia [those who generally abstain from physical contact with a person they are not married to] are better about this, because they need to talk about it at each stage.”

Offer is all too aware of the Hollywood idea of the man being a little daring and taking control, which is fine, she says, as long as “he looked in her eyes and saw it was okay. If she moves back he won’t go in for the kiss. If he sees her leaning towards him then he will.”

In general, Offer says, it’s not a bad thing that in light of all the scandals, men today are more nervous about how they speak and act around women.

“We need smarter men. Mothers need to educate their sons. I have three adult boys and none would dare make a move on a woman without asking her first. Their father was the same and we’ve been married for over 30 years.”