Unfortunately, child sexual abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church, have become almost routine over the past 34 years. Today’s case of the week involves a diocese in another state that asked for our assistance. A priest had been accused of molesting a 17-year-old female. The Bishop, who is in reality the CEO of a diocese that includes multiple parishes, would end up being pleased that his staff reached out to us.
In September of 1964, I entered St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California to begin studies to become a diocesan priest for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. After taking some time off to actually live with my cousin who was a priest in Patterson, New Jersey, I graduated in May of 1969 from the seminary with a degree in Scholastic Philosophy. Those years introduced me to hundreds of seminarians studying for the priesthood. Most would withdraw from the college. A few would go on to graduate studies at the School of Theology, which involves another four years of study and prayer. A few would be ordained to the priesthood after those four years. Sadly, most who were ordained are no longer serving as priests today.
With that as a backdrop, coupled with my many years serving as a federal agent with the Department of Justice, it was not surprising when many Dioceses throughout the United States call on me and my staff to defend accused priests of these horrible crimes. Over the years we have come to be retained by attorneys who not only represent the priests, but also many who represent the victims of child abuse. We played no favorites, and most of these cases are solvable by engaging the priests and/or victims in the art of interview and interrogation.
There are also rules that the Dioceses throughout the United States must agree to before we are retained. It is important to understand that we have had a front row seat to many of these cases throughout the United States. There is never a rush to judgment, but there will be three hard and fast rules:
First, from the Bishop on down to the administrative staff, they must all agree that the culture of secrecy previously invoked by the church must be not be allowed to enter into the investigation.
Second, the art form developed in the past by the church of “self-preservation” of priests must never, ever be invoked.
Third, that if we obtained evidence or even probable cause that the priest had committed a crime, it must be brought to the attention of the local district attorney’s office for prosecution.
Back to this case: We flew to the Diocese in question and met with personnel in the office of the local Bishop. This included a senior priest, an administrator and two attorneys for the Diocese. We suggested and everyone agreed that the first step in the investigations was for me to interview the accused priest. That interview was preceded by an extensive background check on the priest which was completed by investigators in my office. No red flags appeared.
The interview of the priest lasted about two hours. It was crystal clear to me that the priest was being completely truthful and exhibited absolutely no deception. Having interviewed hundreds of people and dozens of priests in my career, this was a fairly straight-forward conclusion to draw. Most pedophiles and child abusers pose little or no problem to skilled investigators during such an interview.
It is rare that we interview a victim. There are for two reasons for this. First, if they are a minor, we don’t want to engage them. Second, most are represented by an attorney and any first year law student knows that not letting us interview their client would be paramount.
In our age of social media, many “victims” have a footprint that can easily be accessed. We have a division in our corporate office that specializes in performing a deep look into all the available photos and posts across the various social networks, including Twitter and Facebook. (We all know about corporations that hire private investigators to find risque photos, including drinking alcohol, posted by a immature, non-thinking teenager that comes back to haunt them we they begin the job interview process.)
Our staff was able to obtain photos that were totally inappropriate but also verbiage that made it crystal clear that this victim was sexually active since she was fourteen years of age. She also not only used drugs, but actually was engaging in correspondence on the Internet advising she was in a position to sell small quantities of drugs.
I know what your are thinking: No matter what her behavior, this should not give a pass to the priest if he did, in fact, engage sexually with her while a minor. I would agree with you if my client was guilty. Just the contrary. It has been my experience that the family and most certainly the attorneys in these matters begin the process by painting a portrait of their daughter and client as a living Mother Teresa. Most parents do not have a clue and the vast majority of attorneys never dig deep into the background of their client. Yes, many put their head in the sand and hope for a big score.
In this case, our investigation was turned over to the family and the attorney, and within a few days, the attorney dropped the lawsuit in it’s entirety. He was even gracious enough to advise the diocese that his client confessed she had fabricated the entire story. This was a gratifying end to our investigation and gives the priest a clean bill of health to continue his ministry with no cloud over his efforts.
A very difficult surveillance case.