Mea Maxima Culpa: Voices Unheard, 5

From Newfoundland to Cajun land

Back in the 80s, when head CFC honcho McHugh told reporters that brothers were being transferred because of excessive corporal punishment and some minor relationship problems, Harris calls this “top-spin that bordered on deceit” [italics mine]. All I can think is that “bordered” must have another meaning in Canadian English, rather like the difference between the British English car boot which translates into trunk in American English or the Australian English chemist that translates into pharmacy. We have those words, but they don’t mean the same thing.

Harris’ fellow reporters, one of them Catholic, smelt a rat and wanted to run with the story, but once again someone in power, this time the newspaper publisher for The Evening Telegram, vetoed the story. Just a few weeks later, the same newspaper praised the Irish Christian Brothers to the hilt on the occasion of their centennial celebrations, calling them “a shining example to all who had been entrusted with the care of children in Newfoundland.” Heavens to Betsy! So: no report on child abuse, glowing praise of the abusers. You really can’t make this stuff up.

One mistake I’m convinced that Harris makes, though, is his unfortunate and perhaps unwitting attempt to blame Vatican II for the increase in “psychological and emotional problems” in priests. According to Harris, the “sudden emerging of dizzying new personal freedoms” was to blame. No mention of the possibility that increased reporting and decreased tolerance might be the issue. Plus, my research into the history of the Church and its popes indicates that all these problems have been around for centuries, long before Vatican II was even a twinkle in the eye of 1965’s Second Vatican Council.

The same unwillingness to call a spade a spade occurs when Harris reports that Brother McHugh assured social services that a “thorough police investigation into the affair had produced no grounds to press charges.” Since there had been no such thoroughness, for Harris to call this a “gross deception” and “bitter irony” makes me wonder once more about Canadian English or perhaps it’s just their legendary courtesy that balks at calling out a bold-faced lie. The social workers were never allowed to counsel the boys, even after insisting that it was their legal obligation to do so. Oh, and by the way, the Newfoundland government eventually paid over $11 million to the victims. The Church paid nothing except a settlement to Shane Earle. In fact, they made money on the sale of the Mt. Cashel site after it was bulldozed in 1992.

Heritage: Newfoundland and Labrador, a website providing public history of the provinces, provides a succinct valuable timeline for the Mr. Cashel case. Its stark nonjudgmental statement of beatings, complaints, questioning, and even confessions, generally followed by “no action is taken,” “no further action taken” or “no charges laid” lays bare a landscape of abuse.

Harris’ word paintings of frozen waters set the stage for a freeze-out of the boys’ rights. Police officers who reported on investigations of Mt. Cashel found those reports deleted from the official record, but Detective Hillier kept trying. As in church hierarchy, collaborators within the law enforcement apparatus were rewarded. Vince McCarthy, Deputy Minister of Justice during all this mishegas was moved up from his DOJ post to one as District Court judge.

In contrast, when Detective Sergeant Pike released documents to the public in an attempt to jumpstart actual justice, he was demoted with threats of dismissal. The Christian Bros who abused children were transferred in the grotesque type of human piranha catch-and-release program that the rehab-recirc practice had become.

So, here’s how it works: conduct in favor of the abused children is judged unbecoming and gets you humiliated and demoted; child abuse gets you sympathy and “therapy.” The local constabulary was essentially a sheaf of broken reeds, but when the RCMP got word of Father Ronald Kelly’s abuse of boys they went into hyperdrive and their top brass supported them all the way.

Several boys had reported the abuses to the officers but their parents consistently supported the independently wealthy parish priest. Some children were even abused in their own homes while their parents were there, but the parents still took no action. Despite all this, the evidence was sufficient for arrest which, in a real departure from the typical, is exactly what happened. Kelly’s reaction? He was insulted to be treated like a common criminal. And the appeals court panel agreed that he was “no criminal in the common sense of the word.” I can see their point. To fondle children under their parents’ roof, with the parents in the home is surely quite uncommon.

Remember 2011, when former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich ludicrously blamed his extramarital affairs on his love of his country? Well, it looks as if he may have plagiarized from Fr. Kelly who had invented that same playbook in 1979: “I think I was overly emotionally involved with my parishioners and work and this may have led to my becoming too involved with them.”

“Too involved”? Oh, I’d say sticking your hands down a pre-teen’s pajama bottoms and grabbing at his genitals qualifies as “too involved,” if by that you mean being a total fucking pervert.

Kelly pleaded guilty to ten counts, but the defense tried to step past the prosecution and get the attorney general to withdraw the charges. When that didn’t work, the Church made plans to whisk the priest away to a therapy center. Despite the confession, guilty pleas, guilty verdicts, recent precedents of incarceration for abusers, Father Kelly received a suspended sentence and two years probation from a magistrate who had met privately with the defense and Kelly’s bishop prior to the verdict.

Not ten minutes in physical prison did he spend after creating the emotional prison to which he had sentenced those boys. According to the judge, “no useful purpose would be served by a period of incarceration if the process of rehabilitation is to be given a chance to work.” Say what, now?

This time, however, the prosecution would not give up. They filed a notice to appeal the sentence. Amazingly, the Director of Public Prosecutions agreed, but resigned before taking action. In less than five months of his two-year probation, Father Kelly was on his way back into action as a pervert priest. Michael Roche, crown prosecutor, still kept pushing. He received permission for his appeal hearing, but apparently the fix was in. The hearing panel ignored the elements of pedophilia completely and sustained the suspended sentence, citing the possibility of “a decidedly adverse effect on him.” The “him” in question was the abuser, of course.

Kelly was later promoted to a senior post and the new parish never knew what he had done. By 1997 he had left the Church, become a multimillionaire real estate mogul, and has apparently been involved with fraud. He legged it to Panama where, apparently he lied on his entry visa. They have laws about letting molesters into their country. But he got in and bought a huge estate from a pornography merchant. The bad guys win again. And again.

When Brother David Burton — a johnny-come-lately abuser, relative to the others at Mt. Cashel — was tried, convicted and sentenced in 1982 to four actual months of jail time and three-years probation, an appeals court lowered the sentence to time served, twelve days. Twelve days. Twelve days in exchange for fifty admitted assaults on the same boy. Talk about the luck of the devil.

But in those early Eighties, things were finally coming to crisis point across North America. And it all started in Louisiana, home to French Acadians who had been forcibly removed from their native Nova Scotia by the British. Some migrated to Louisiana, preserving Acadian culture as what we now call “Cajuns.”

This is where the Canadian story travels south to the South, with Harris making a quick transition to the first major indictment of an American priest, making comparisons between Canadian James Hickey and Louisiana priest Gilbert Gauthe, such as their common tastes in licking their victims’ faces.

Gauthe specialized in boys between the ages of seven and nine, initiating them as part of their induction into the ranks of his altar boys. Unlike the brothers of St. Cashel, he didn’t beat them physically, but he pounded them psychologically with threats to kill their parents. Perhaps he was angry that these parents actually believed their children when Father’s Gauthe’s activities became known. In his very first 1972 parish assignment in Broussard, children told their parents what the priest was doing. He admitted molesting three boys, asking for help finding a psychiatrist.

Harris and I are on the same page in being shocked that the parents helped the pedophile priest and paid his therapy bills. Nobody reported him either to civil authorities or the authorities of the Church. Nuns in the parish had doubts about him, but made no report. Other priests had heard the rumors, but made no investigation.

Of course, as a sidebar, I guess that, given this history, it’s no surprise that this very same region supported a president who bragged about being a sexual predator and who caged children and let them die as a “lesson” to their parents seeking the same Dream his parents came here to find. It has always struck me has terminally ironic that those professing a religion pledged to protect “the least of these” seem unfailingly predisposed to protect those who harm them. Anyway.

Two years later, Bishop Gerald Frey appointed Gaulthe to be Boy Scout chaplain for camping trips in New Iberia. Camping trips. With boys. (Jesus take the wheel.) Two years after that in Abbeville, more parents complained, followed by more therapy, but still the monsignor refused to act and the camping trips continued. The very next year in 1977, the bishop just stopped listening to parishioner complaints.

Each time Gaulthe was accused, he confessed. Each time he confessed, no action was taken except to move him to another parish and another set of boys. According to an article in USA Today, Gauthe himself had been molested at the same age as the boys he grew to abuse. His brother, Raymond, also a pedophile who ended up in jail, was his confidant about this shared predilection. He was moved around and about a small area southeast of Baton Rouge and about 100 miles from the Texas border.

Father Gauthe with arresting deputies
Father Gauthe under arrest (Times Picayune/ G Andrew Boyd)

Were it not for the fact that I’ve worked as a university professor with tenured senior faculty and administrative colleagues who — having achieved the highest ranks at their job with a permanent employment guarantee — had nothing to lose, yet whose obdurate cowardice and dogged unwillingness to take any responsibility whatsoever allowed them to stand by as others committed grievous wrongs on innocent junior colleagues, it would be hard for me to comprehend how a bishop with nothing to lose could ignore such unconscionable abuse of innocent children.

In the case of my former colleagues and this bishop, not to mention Polish collaborators in the Nazi regime, and the federal collaborators with the Trump regime’s Muslim ban (one of whom reportedly handcuffed a five-year-old child; others who arrested immigrating parents whose infant was in surgery), their own spurious peace of mind is more important to them than the health of their charges.

These may seem like extreme cases, but the basic impulse is the same: Ostrich Head-in-Sand Syndrome. Let’s just hope it all goes away, they desperately pray. They know that what is happening is wrong, but they will never take the least action. Not even to save what “the least of these.” In fact, they seem to misread the “suffer the little children to come unto me,” interpreting it as simply “let the little children suffer.”

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