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Tag: Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal

Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Leo Riley Accused of Sexually Molesting Four Altar Boys in the 1980s

father leo riley

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Leo Riley, a Roman Catholic priest, stands accused of sexually molesting four altar boys when he was an associate pastor at Resurrection Parish in Dubuque, Iowa in the 1980s.

Channel 2 reports:

A Port Charlotte priest was arrested Wednesday on multiple counts of capital sexual battery, with allegations connected to his previous tenure in the 1980s as a priest in Iowa.

Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office detectives and Dubuque, Iowa, police worked together to arrest Leo P. Riley, 68, at his Port Charlotte home.

According to the Dubuque Police Department, four people reported being sexually abused by Father Riley from 1984 to 1986, when he was the associate pastor of Resurrection Parish in Dubuque. The victims were identified as grade school-aged boys, all serving as altar boys of Resurrection Parish.

The Diocese of Venice told NBC2 that in May of 2023, they learned of sexual misconduct allegations involving Riley. He was immediately put on administrative leave.

CCSO said Riley was last assigned to San Antonio Catholic Church in Port Charlotte. The news caught some parishioners at the church by surprise.

“When we first were told about it, I couldn’t believe it,” parishioner Geraldine Oswald said. “I didn’t know him when he was in Iowa, but when he was here, I just enjoyed him very much.”

Dubuque police arrested Riley for five counts of capital sexual battery within their jurisdiction, CCSO said.

Capital sexual battery refers to an adult over 18 years old sexually battering a child under 12 years old.

Previously, Riley served as a priest at Resurrection Church in Dubuque, Iowa. During the early 2000s, he spent time as a priest at Saint Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte, St. Peter the Apostle in Naples and Sacred Heart in Punta Gorda.

“Our faith is in Jesus Christ, who founded Catholic Christian Church,” Giacomo Thompson said. “We fully support the police in pursuing their investigation and trial to the full extent of the law. We don’t know any other Catholics that aren’t in agreement with this same position.”

Thompson has been a member of Saint Charles Borromeo for a year and has met Father Riley once.

“We don’t abandon Jesus because of Judas. We will pray for all the victims of abuse, the parishioners and the possible perpetrator,” Thompson said.

CCSO arrested Riley at his home and took him to the Charlotte County Jail overnight.

On Thursday, Riley stood virtually before a judge who is holding him without bond until his hearing on Friday.

NBC2 spoke with Riley’s attorney, who issued the following statement:

“Father Leo Riley has dedicated his life to the Catholic church. He has multiple decades of exemplary and honorable service as a catholic priest. He is baffled by these forty-year-old allegations and vigorously denies any wrongdoing.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Stop with the “Few Bad Apples” Rationalization When Excusing Clergy Misconduct

a few bad apples

Six years ago, I posted the first story in the Black Collar Crime Series. Focused primarily on clergy sexual misconduct, the sheer level of reports puts to rest the notion that such crimes are committed by a “few bad apples.” Numerous times a day, I receive notices from Google Alerts, notifying me that a new report of alleged clergy crime has been posted to the Internet. I look at every notification, choosing to only publish the stories that are publicly reported by reputable news sites. I am often contacted by victims who are looking to expose their abusers. I do what I can to help them, but if there are no public news reports or other information that can corroborate their stories, I am unable to do anything for them. Believe me, I WANT to help them, but it would be legally reckless of me to post a story without sufficient evidence. I generally also only publish reports about clerics from the United States — mostly Protestant, Evangelical, Southern Baptist, and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB). While I post stories featuring Catholic priests from time to time, I usually leave such reporting to others. The same could be said of widespread clergy sexual misconduct in Africa. The point I am trying to make here is this: the 1,000+ published reports in the Black Collar Crime Series are just the tip of the iceberg. As of today, I am also sitting on over 1,000 clergy sexual misconduct stories I have not published due to lack of sufficient evidence or a shortage of time to do so.

Not only are there more than just a “few bad apples” preying on church members, when you add to the total the number of pastors and other religious leaders who have consensual sexual relations with congregants, it is clear for all to see that so-called “men of God” are hardly the pillars of moral virtue they claim to be. In 2015, I wrote a post titled, Is Clergy Infidelity Rare? Here’s an excerpt from the post.

In October 2013, Doug Phillips, president of the now-defunct Vision Forum Ministries confessed to church leaders that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife. Defenders of Phillips took to their blogs, websites, Twitter, and Facebook to do damage control on the behalf of Phillips and the patriarchal movement. One such defender is Independent Baptist pastor Voddie Baucham, a man who is widely viewed as the African-American version of Doug Phillips.

A Christian woman by the name of Julie Anne posted an article on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog about the Doug Phillips scandal. Her post mentioned the following quote by Voddie Baucham:

Dennis, You ask, “How many times do we see this in Christian leadership?” The answer may surprise you, but it is actually quite rare. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We hear of these types of things on a national basis when they happen to high profile people. However, considering the number of people in Christian leadership, the numbers are quite small. As to your other point, most men who go through something like this never recover. Of course, there are exceptions. Moreover, there are some circles wherein things like this, and much worse, are merely swept under the rug. However, in circles where leadership is taken seriously, it is very difficult for a man to come back from things like this. People have long memories, and tend to be rather unforgiving. (emphasis mine)

Baucham repeats the oft-told lie that clergy sexual misconduct is quite rare. I have heard this line more times than I can count. It is an attempt to prop up the notion that clergy are more moral and ethical than most people; that they are pillars of virtue and morality.  Such claims are patently false.

In 2007, Dr. R.J. Krejcir of  the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute, wrote a post detailing his recent study of clergy infidelity. Krejcir stated:

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

So much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Numerous studies have been conducted concerning sexual infidelity among married people. The percentage varies widely, but it is safe to say that between ten and twenty percent of married people have been sexually unfaithful to their spouse. The percentage is higher for men than it is women.

We know that men of the cloth are not morally or ethically superior. In the United States and Canada, there are approximately 600,000 clergy. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion and Research, this total includes active clergy and “retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries.” This number does not include clergy who are affiliated with independent churches. If between ten and twenty percent of married people commit adultery, and clergy are no different morally from non-clergy, then this means that between 60,000 and 120,000 clergy have committed adultery.  Again, so much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Keep in mind, this is only the number of CONSENSUAL sexual relationships.

Most people in the United States profess to be Christians. Taught to think that their churches are safe havens and their pastors have only their best interests at heart, many of them have a hard time believing and accepting that bad things happen, and far too often the perpetrators are pastors, deacons, elders, youth leaders, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, church janitors, evangelists, missionaries, bus drivers, Christian school teachers, and principals. Wherever Christians have authority over others, you will find sexual misconduct — both legal and criminal.

What makes churches and clergy so dangerous is that congregants trust pastors. It’s the world they need to worry about, or so church leaders tell them anyway. Led to believe that Christians — thanks to salvation and the Holy Ghost — are above the fray and oh-so-humbly morally superior, church members naively trust those who have “God-given” authority over them. Even after their pastors and other church leaders have been exposed as sexual predators, many congregants refuse to believe that the men and women they looked up to abused others. You who read the Black Collar Crime Series regularly know that it is not uncommon to have congregants comment, defending their pastor or suggesting that the police or district attorney are out to get their preacher.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for church members to blame victims instead of putting the blame where it belongs: on their ministers, youth pastors, and other church leaders. Even after church leaders are found guilty in criminal court, congregants will often line up to testify at sentencing hearings; letting courts know that their pastors are good men who made a momentary mistake (never mind the fact that most pastors convicted of sex crimes are repeat or habitual offenders). Worse yet, on way too many occasions, once incarcerated clerics are released from prison, they find their way back to churches looking for pastors, or they start new churches — hiding from their new congregations their criminal past. One of the reasons I continue to publish Black Collar Crime stories is that this blog becomes a database of sorts for people doing their due diligence before accepting as fact the “testimony” of prospective pastors.

And to churches who hire registered sex offenders, knowing what they did at their previous churches? Don’t be surprised when your new God-fearing pastor treats your church as a hunting ground. Get your head out of your ass and protect the children, teens, and vulnerable adults in your churches. “But, Bruce, as Christians, we are supposed to forgive and forget. It’s forgetting I have a problem with. Forgetting what clergy have done in the past invites and encourages new abuse and harm. A few years ago, a family member who is an IFB pastor, mentioned in a positive light the “ministry” David Hyles has to “fallen” preachers. (Please see Disgraced IFB Preacher David Hyles Helping Fallen Pastors Get Back on Their Horses and Is All Forgiven for David Hyles? and David Hyles Says My Bad, Jesus, and UPDATED: Serial Adulterer David Hyles Has Been Restored.) I thought, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!  But, when you believe in 1 John 1:9 Christianity (If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness), it is easy to dismiss past bad behavior as being “under the blood” and “buried in the depths of the sea of God’s forgetfulness.” No matter what Christians do — including rape, murder, and fraud — wiping their slates clean is but a prayer away. (Note: I later talked to the family member. He genuinely didn’t know about David Hyles’ past. He was a child in the 1980s when the Biblical Evangelist published its expose on Jack and David Hyles. I guess I am officially an old man.)

Years ago, a former colleague of mine in the ministry, told me that at his church they believed in forgiveness, and that’s why they didn’t run criminal background checks on church workers. “Bruce,” this pastor said, “when a person gets saved, their past ‘sins’ are forgiven and remembered no more. If God doesn’t remember their sins, neither should we.” In his naive, Bible-sotted mind, once a person is really, really, really “saved,” there’s no reason to not “trust” them, even if, in the past, he or she was a murderer, rapist, serial adulterer, or child molester. “Either our sins are under the blood, or they are not, Brother,” this preacher told me. Many years ago, I warned him that one of his daughters was in a sexual relationship with a teen boy in my church. He told me, “Oh, they would never do that!” Right, two horny kids, all alone on a back-country road? What were they doing, studying the Bible and praying? A month or so later, he came home early from his church’s midweek prayer meeting, only to find his daughter and her boyfriend naked and having sex on the living room floor. Sadly, in far too many churches, trusted church leaders are assaulting and abusing congregants, and everyone around them is saying, “oh, they would never do that.” As the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, such thinking is not only naive, it’s dangerous. Throw in pastors who psychologically manipulate congregants and use those who trust them as a means to an end, and I can safely say that churches are some of the most dangerous places in the United States; that parents who “trust” church leaders with their children and teenagers risk their charges being misused, abused, and assaulted.

No, I am not saying all church leaders are bad people, but I am saying a large enough percentage of them are — more than a few bad apples, to be sure — that wisdom and prudence demand keeping children right by your side when attending houses of worship. Better safe than sorry, I say. (Dear Evangelical Church Leaders: It’s Time to Get Rid of Your Youth Pastors and Youth Departments) Suppose you went to the local grocery with your children to buy some groceries. Suppose there were 200 shoppers in the store, and ten of them were child molesters or registered sex offenders. Knowing this, would you let your children wander through the store unattended? Of course not. Why, then, should churches and preachers be treated any differently?

Let me leave you with one poignant thought: countless Christians have prayed for God to deliver them from the hands of their abusers, and without exception, God ignored their prayers. If left up to “God,” predator church leaders will, with impunity, cause untold harm. It is up to us to put a stop to clergy sexual misconduct. All I can do is write about the subject. But if you are a church-going Christian, you have the responsibility and duty to make sure children, teens, and vulnerable adults are safe when attending church, school, or church events. Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Catholic Brother Rajnal Rehmat Pleads Guilty to Child Enticement

rajnal rehmat

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Rajnal Rehmat, a religious brother who has worked in the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty to one count of child enticement. He could face two years in prison.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

A former brother with the Diocese of Madison pleaded guilty Monday to enticing a 17-year-old girl into a vehicle for sex, and prosecutors say they will recommend he get two years in prison.

As part of a plea agreement, a Dane County court dismissed a separate sexual assault charge against Rajnal Rehmat, 31, who has been in custody since December for the inappropriate relationship with the girl he met in Bible study at a DeForest-based parish.

Rehmat’s contact with the girl occurred in September and October and involved sexually touching her in a vehicle, sexually explicit video chats and kissing her in an elevator at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, according to a criminal complaint. The former brother had been warned by St. Olaf/St. Joseph lead pastor Jared Holzhunter not to text with minors and Rehmat frequently remarked to the girl that their relationship was forbidden, the complaint said.

He was “warned” not to text minors? The first inappropriate text should have sent his sorry ass out of town and out of the ministry.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest James Beighlie Sentenced to Five Years in Prison on Child Pornography Charges

James T Beighlie

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

James T Beighlie, a retired Catholic priest in Missouri, was sentenced to five years in prison on child pornography charges.

WSGW reports:

A retired priest has been sentenced to five years in prison after it was discovered he had made slideshow presentations containing thousands of images of child pornography. The 72-year-old’s arsenal of abusive material was discovered after he left nude images of himself on a church printer, officials said. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Missouri said on Tuesday that Vincentian priest James T. Beighlie of St. Louis, Missouri, had 6,000 pictures containing child sexual abuse material on a computer, including child pornography and images of child erotica. 

“Beighlie created two PowerPoint presentations with graphic titles that linked to thousands of the images, and often visited and edited the presentations over a period of years,” the office said, adding that he had a second computer with an additional 236 images and 40 videos of similar content. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Lang said during court that the now-retired priest revised his slideshow presentations more than 200 times. 

“This criminal conduct was part of his daily life,” Lang said.

Beighlie had been looking at child sex abuse material since at least 2008, Lang said, but it wasn’t until 2021 that it was found out. In May of that year when he was working as an associate pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in St. Louis as part of the Congregation of the Mission, some of his colleagues found “compromising images” of him on a church printer. 

That finding launched an investigation within the church. A private IT support company soon found videos of what appeared to be “minors engaging in sex acts,” the attorney’s office said. During that time, he was removed from his position, according to the Congregation of the Western Province and “placed in a monitored environment.” 

The church’s attorney contacted the FBI, which then began its own investigation.

The priest pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of child pornography in October. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to five years and ordered to pay nearly $25,000. A portion of that money, $4,750, will go to one of the victims who was portrayed in the child pornography, the office said, while the remaining $22,000 will go toward other victims of crimes involving children. 

In a letter to the presiding judge, one of the victims seen in the child pornography spoke out about the abuse. 

“It’s depressing and sickening to know that people were looking at images and videos of my online sexual abuse when I was a little girl and that they were getting pleasure from it – my abuse,” they said. 

Prior to serving at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Beighlie was on the faculty at St. Thomas Aquinas/Mercy High School and Vincent Gray Academy, both in St. Louis, and had also spent time as an associate pastor at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in House Springs, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. 

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Bill Donohue Says Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal Over

bill donohoe

There is no on-going crisis. In fact, there is no institution, private or public, that has less of a problem with the sexual abuse of minors today than the Catholic Church.

— Catholic Apologist and Right Wing Extremist Bill Donohoe

CWR: The subtitle is “Clarifying the facts and causes of the abuse scandal”. So do you discuss that misinformation, disinformation, misunderstanding? What is it exactly that needs clarified?

Donohue: There’s no question that the media has convinced the public. I call it the poisoning of the public mind. They’ve convinced the public, and many Catholics as well, that the scandal is ongoing. In fact, the scandal is largely over and it’s been over for about a half a century. The worst damage that was done in the Catholic Church by molesting priests, almost all of whom were homosexual, was done between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s.

We still have cases of it here and there. What you’ll typically see in the media are reports of an old case, but a lot of times, people won’t read past the headline. And if you do, you find out this is back in 1963, 1971, 1985. And, by the way, they don’t bother to tell you almost all the molesting priests are either dead or they’ve been thrown out of ministry. The idea that the priests are walking around looking for kids is simply a lie, and it’s a vicious lie. So I wanted to set that straight.

The other thing is, we’ve made tremendous progress. We are down to single digits now in terms of the average number of substantiated accusations made against approximately 50,000 members of the clergy. There is no organization in the United States, secular or religious, which has a better record today in maintaining the safety of minors than the Catholic Church.

Yes, we dropped our guard—particularly in the 1970s. It was a terrible, terrible decade. And the Church deserves criticism for what happened then. But also, if we’re going to be fair about it, we have to give credit where credit is due: the Dallas reforms, as well as many other reforms that were taking place. We’ve made tremendous progress and I’m very proud of that. The Catholic Church has largely turned the corner on this issue.

CWR: Why do you think public perception is that the problem of sexual abuse of minors lies primarily within the Catholic Church? People hear about child sexual abuse and they think of priests. Why is that?

Donohue: That’s the perception. Well, it’s really not hard for me to figure out at this point. As someone who has a doctorate in sociology, the Catholic Church is hated by secular militants within the activist organizations, many of them legal organizations, non-profits, and large segments of the media, in large segments of education (particularly in higher education), as well as in other quarters.

And the reason for that is because we live in a society obsessed with sex. It’s not the Catholic Church which is obsessed with sex. It’s the secular militants who are. They don’t want any restrictions on anything they do, no matter how many people have wound up with STDs and in the grave as a result of practicing liberty-ism (liberty with license, without any restraints). They never seem to learn.

The Catholic Church—like our Jewish friends, and for that matter, Mormons and Muslims, evangelical Protestants—we all agree to an idea of sexual reticence, of a sexual ethics which emphasizes restraint. And marriage and sexuality should be entered into by a man and a woman—a biological man and a biological woman. And that other forms of sexuality are not really well-accepted. We live in a society today where the three most dreaded words in the English language are “Thou shalt not…”

So when they see bad news about the Catholic Church, they’re going to drum it up. They don’t want to let it go. They want to convince the public that the scandal will never end because they want to weaken the moral voice of the Catholic Church. And after they do that, they’ll go after the Orthodox Jews, evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Muslims and everybody else who agrees to a more traditional understanding of sexual morality. That’s why this is happening.

CWR: The public, for the most part, seems to ignore or deny the role that homosexuality and the sexual revolution in general have played in the abuse crisis, in the Church and across society. Why do you think that is?

Donohue: Well, the denial is in the Catholic Church as well. The denial is in the Vatican. Let me be very explicit about it: in the book, I talk about the Vatican summit in 2019. Everyone from the Pope on down, all the Cardinals: all they talked about was clericalism as the driving force of sexual abuse.

Clericalism, or a sense of elitism, certainly may have something to do with why some bishops were enablers, but has absolutely zero to do with why a priest would molest a minor. Nothing. They don’t want to talk about homosexuality.

….

Pedophiles are about three and a half percent. When a man has sex with a post-pubescent—an adolescent or above—man, that’s homosexuality. I am not saying that all homosexuals are molesters. That would be gay bashing. What I’m saying is that gays, more so than heterosexuals, are more likely to abuse minors. And this is clearly the case in the Catholic Church.

Why? Because of the emotional and sexual immaturity that marks so many homosexuals—not all of them, but so many of them. And it is immaturity—sexual and emotional immaturity—that leads to this kind of sexual abuse, because these guys are stunted, and their psycho-sexual development hits a plateau. They can’t identify with anybody beyond adolescent age, which is why they associate with them. And, in some cases, molest them. That’s the God’s honest truth.

— Bill Donohoe, The Catholic World Report, “We’ve been lied to.” Bill Donohue on clergy sexual abuse, homosexuality, and the media, May 26, 2022

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Closer to Home

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

He made it—just barely—out of Sobibor. So, it was no surprise that any time a former Nazi was found, or a new revelation about the regime and the Holocaust emerged, he took notice.

Louis is gone now. Though I can’t imagine what he endured, in the camp or in his nightmares and flashbacks, I feel I’ve become like him, in a way. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, I can’t help but to notice when some clerical predator is exposed.

Or what he and his brethren left in their wake.

Since “coming out” about my abuse two years ago, I have met others who had to endure similar horrors, whether from priests, professors, professional colleagues, parents or others in positions of authority. I have also learned about lives, families, communities and institutions that were destroyed as a result.

Some of the institutions will be missed. Others, however, deserved, like Hitler’s regime and its agencies, to be swept into the dustbin of history.

Perhaps the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Rockville Centre and Camden won’t disappear any time soon. There can be little doubt, however, that they’ve lost their powers, including their abilities to harbor and enable priests who preyed on people’s trust.

Last week, within the space of a couple of days, they declared bankruptcy, citing the financial strain of lawsuits from sex-abuse litigation. They are, of course, not the first dioceses to take such action. But their going into receivership is significant because of their relative prominence. Camden, in New Jersey, is directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia which, in 2015, was tied with Chicago as the second-most Catholic city in the US. (Boston, New York and Pittsburgh were tied for first.) Rockville Centre, comprising the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk, is one of the largest dioceses (by population) in the nation—and the largest, to date, to declare bankruptcy. It’s also directly east of the Diocese of Brooklyn, of which it was a part until 1957.

Camden’s and Rockville Centre’s proximity to two of the largest and most Catholic American cities is reason enough to take notice of them. Equally important, though, is another characteristic they share, and I know all too well.

The parish in which I, as an altar boy, was abused by a priest, is in the heart of the Diocese of Brooklyn. In other posts, I’ve talked about the church’s centrality in my old neighborhood: Nearly everyone attended it, and I, like many of my peers, were pupils in its school. Many kids were encouraged, or even forced, to become altar boys or participate in other church activities; I, and some other kids, volunteered for such things because our families or other people in our community didn’t have the time, or didn’t know how to give us the kinds of non-material support we needed. (For some kids, that support was material.) Our parents worked long and hard (our fathers at paid jobs, our mothers at uncompensated tasks) but, because they married and birthed us when they were very young (or for other reasons), didn’t know how to deal with anything besides fawning obedience. They did not know how to respond to the kinds of tiredness, sadness, or bewilderment children experience, sometimes because for no other reason than they don’t have the language or other means of expressing it.

What I didn’t know, of course, was that at the time I was growing up, we were part of a way of life that was dying: The cops, the firefighters, the factory workers were moving their families to Rockville Centre and other places on Long Island.

And to New Jersey, where I moved with my family when I was twelve. Our new church was part of the Diocese of Trenton, the northern neighbor of Camden diocese. The city of Camden, once home to RCA and Campbell’s soup, was in steep decline. But the surrounding communities in its diocese flourished as bedroom communities to Philadelphia, from which cops, firefighters and factory workers moved.

There, and in the Rockville Centre enclaves, their parents worked even harder to pay and keep up their houses and car payments. That meant kids were, perhaps, even more isolated and alienated than they would have been in South Philly or South Brooklyn — and, in those pre-Internet days, with fewer ways of reaching others who felt the way they did.

A lonely or alienated kid is to a sexual predator—whether a priest or some other authority figure — like tinder to a forest fire. So, if a kid feels isolated in an urban enclave, imagine what it must be like in a suburban town, with the family’s breadwinner(s) commuting for several hours a day in addition to the time he/she/they work.

Fortunately for me, I did not get involved with our new church, beyond attending mass, after my family moved to New Jersey: I become more involved with Scouting (which I joined before our move) and school-related activities. But other kids who weren’t drawn to such things (literary magazines, photography clubs, sports teams and the like) were probably even more stranded than their peers in the neighborhood my family left. So, some of them might have been even easier prey for predacious priests than I was.

Although I have never met them, I thought about those young people when I heard that the Dioceses of Camden and Rockville Centre declared bankruptcy — just as I imagine my late friend Louis thought about inmates at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz whenever a former Nazi was found in Cleveland or Argentina or some other place far from where they committed their horrible crimes.

In short, the bankruptcies of the Camden and Rockville Centre dioceses were personal for me — just as the capture of John Demjanjuk was for Louis, my late friend.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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She Knew Me

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Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

For the past month, I’ve been recovering from a bike crash.

After getting stitched up in a local hospital, I was transferred to a larger facility with a trauma unit. Just after I arrived, a doctor asked me a series of questions about my health: No, I’ve never smoked. Yes, I drink: one or two glasses of wine or beer with supper, and spirits on rare occasions. No serious or chronic illnesses. Two surgeries: the first, twenty-five years ago, for a deviated septum; the second, fifteen years later, to align my genitals with my gender identity.

Thankfully, no one raised an eyebrow over my last answer. I think he, and the nurses in the room, realized that I was speaking slowly because I was tired and in pain, but that I was coherent. Ironically, that may have been exactly what raised that doctor’s alarm when I unequivocally answered one of the mental-health questions: Yes, I have attempted suicide. But, I explained, not recently: I tried to kill and caused other kinds of harm to myself because of some experiences—including sexual abuse—in my childhood.

The doctor called in someone else —a psychiatrist, I believe. They asked, several times, whether my accident was not an accident. I insisted that my mishap was just that: an unfortunate circumstance. One of the nurses, a native of a Caribbean island, looked into my eyes. She interjected: “No, she wasn’t trying to kill herself. And she’s not going to try anything like that now.”

The other nurse in the room—also from the Caribbean—nodded. The doctor and psychiatrist stopped their conversation and note-taking. The psychiatrist glanced toward them, then at me. “I don’t think she needs to be under watch,” he declared. The doctor scribbled something, which I took as agreement.

Then he asked whether I wanted a chaplain. No, I’m not religious, I explained. I didn’t mention my atheism because I didn’t want to risk a debate for which, at that moment, I didn’t have the energy. I glanced back at the nurse who advocated for my sanity. She looked at me, knowingly.

Two days later, I went home. The nurse and I have stayed in touch. “It was a priest, wasn’t it?”

She didn’t have to pose it as a question. She knows; I think she knew it that night we met in the trauma center.

I’d like to know how she knew. Or do I already know?

I Could Have Been One Of Them — In Alabama

guest post

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

In my previous article, I mentioned that in 2015, Ireland became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote. In another ballot last year, the Irish approved a bill that struck down the country’s near-total ban on abortion. The procedure had been allowed only if the mother’s life was at risk. That, in what was one of the world’s most devoutly Catholic countries just a generation ago.

Now the State of Alabama has, in essence, the sort of law Ireland just got rid of. The other day, Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill into a law that allows abortions only “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy, and if “the unborn child has a lethal abnormality.”

Oh, it gets worse: Alabama’s new law, like Ireland’s old law, doesn’t allow the termination of pregnancies that result from rape or incest. Exceptions were made, however rare, in Ireland, such as the one made in 1992 for a thirteen-year-old rape victim who was deemed at risk for suicide.

She was allowed to undergo an abortion in her own country, but the same right wasn’t granted to other girls and women. Instead, an amendment to the Irish constitution was passed, guaranteeing the right to travel to another country (usually England) for the procedure. That was fine for those who could afford to make the trip, as I’m sure Alabamans who can get to other states won’t be hampered by the new law in their own.

But in one area Alabama does old Ireland one better (or worse): Doctors who perform abortions can be punished with life in prison. Even televangelist Pat Robertson howled: “I think Alabama has gone too far,” he said during an episode of The 700 Club.

Ireland is starting to look really, really good right about now, even though I am not, and have never been, at any risk of getting pregnant. And hearing what’s transpired in Alabama and Georgia, and what may well come to pass in other states — not to mention thinking about the possibility of striking down Roe v Wade altogether — gives me the chills.

It would have given me the chills even when I was still living as a man. For me, the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term has never been an abstraction. On one level, it is also about sovereignty over one’s body and life. Now, I’m not a constitutional lawyer or scholar. But, for what it’s worth, I have to wonder whether a government which can tell a woman or girl that she has to carry her father’s or brother’s or some stranger’s baby can also give itself the right to tell people such as I that we can’t take the hormones, have the surgeries or do whatever else we need to do in order to live at peace with ourselves. Also, would such a government imprison a doctor who prescribed the hormones or did the procedure—or even a psychiatrist who diagnosed a transgender, or a social worker who showed that transgendered person how to navigate a gender transition?

For all that I worry about such possibilities, I am affected in a more fundamental, even visceral, way by attacks on the right to a legal, safe abortion. As a child—an altar boy—I was sexually abused by a priest. That was half a century ago. I talked about it for the first time less than two years ago. By then, he was long dead, so I never had the opportunity to confront him. On the other hand, I never had to face him every day, directly or through the child I might have been forced to carry had I been, say, a 13-year-old girl instead of a 9-year-old boy. The state in which I was abused (New York) hadn’t yet legalized abortion, and Roe v Wade wouldn’t be decided for several more years. In the community in which I lived—almost entirely Catholic—young women were disowned or worse for having abortions. Even if abortion were legal, it would have been as unavailable to me as it was to most Irish women and girls—and will be for many in Alabama.

I am thinking of those women and girls. I could have been one of them. That is why I am so appalled at the law Alabama just passed. More importantly, though, I realize that for all I suffered as a result of my abuse and sexual assault, things could have been even worse for me. Unfortunately, in Alabama, they will be for many girls and young women.

I could have been one of them.

The Real “Crisis” And “Scandal” In the Church

if you tell anyone

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

It is difficult to confront the past: victims are made to relive their pain; victimizers are forced to face the truth. That, of course, is the reason why histories, whether writ large or in one’s own life, are too often unresolved: the victim’s suffering may just be too much to bear, and the victimizer’s guilt causes him or her to lie, evade, or flee.

The unfinished business, if you will, doesn’t go away. It is carried across generations, through history, and among families and cultures. As an example, many of the difficulties faced by African-Americans today are direct consequences of their countries’ inability or unwillingness to deal honestly with slavery and its aftermath, as well as other aspects of their nation’s history.

There comes a day, however, when there is no choice but to deal with the crimes committed by individuals and institutions that had, and sometimes still have, power. Those crimes are like bubbles that could have been submerged only for so long: eventually, they must rise from the depths to the light of day.

Just as those bubbles rise, whether they are in oceans or puddles, abuses must find expression by the individuals who experienced them or the societies in which they occur. Such expression might be in works of art, organizing communities, or simply in telling one’s story and someone else listening to it, without an agenda. Otherwise, those bubbles explode, and the people, their communities and cultures do not survive—or, at least, are tainted.

I am one of the people who could have been blown apart, if you will. Less than two years ago, I named the abuse I experience and my abuser—a priest who, half a century earlier, took advantage of my availability and vulnerability. I have, on a number of occasions, come close to destroying myself: whether consciously, through what people readily identify as “suicide attempts,” or unconsciously, through addictive and reckless behavior.

What seems odd to me now is that some might see recounting my abuse and remembering my abuser as the most difficult thing I’ve done, just as some people thought my “coming out” as a transgender woman was a “big step” for me. Yes, it took a lot of emotional and mental work to be able to take the reins away from the abuser and to stop the emotional blackmail he generated. But I realize now that the difficulty, the pain, of “coming out” as an abuse survivor is temporal, if not momentary. At least I know that, whether or not that pain has an end, it is at least something that I can use to forge new paths in my life and, possibly, help someone else do something similar.

As difficult as confronting that part of my past was, and is, having to live through, and with, the abuse and the shame I felt for so many years was far more difficult and caused much greater damage. Whatever is ruptured by breaking my silence—including that shame and the self-loathing that it too often became—didn’t deserve to survive intact.

Some might accuse me of “projecting,” but it’s hard for me not to think that, in some way, so many cases of sex abuse by clerics and others connected with organized religion is a greater, wider example of what I experienced in my own life. The “scandal” or “crisis” in religious institutions isn’t that the stories of abuse and exploitation are coming to light, by the thousands. The “crisis” has been going on for centuries, and the “scandal” is that its perpetrators kept their victims silent for so long.

In short, the “crisis” or “scandal” in the Roman Catholic Church (and other religious organizations and communities) is nothing more than an institution and its leaders being forced to confront its past—and present—because we, the victims, have had to deal with our pain, for ourselves and those who couldn’t. And those of us who are living could not keep silent any longer, or else we would explode like the Langston Hughes’ “dream deferred.”

Why I Didn’t Help Him

orthodox jewish boys

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Sometimes I recall occasions when I didn’t help someone.

There were the times I couldn’t, whether because I didn’t have the resources or simply didn’t know how.

Other times, I simply didn’t; the situation seemed too complicated or I just didn’t want to get involved. Or I was afraid.

That last explanation applies to the way I dealt with something Moishe told me. (Please see the post The News Makes Me Think About Him.)

He was a student in the yeshiva where I taught for a year. For months, he circled around me before he asked whether we could talk. We did, and he complained about the restrictiveness of his community. Finally, in despair, he revealed that a rabbi in his synagogue was sexually abusing him.

I expressed sympathy—or, more precisely, I channeled my anger into words of understanding. I asked whether he told anyone else. He shook his head: “He made me promise not to tell anybody.”

Were my words coming out of his mouth? I felt as if my lips were moving in sync with his. If they were, I don’t know whether he noticed.

He didn’t ask me not to tell. At least, I don’t recall that he did. But there was no way that I would, even if I could. Perhaps he understood that; I understood his fear because it was my fear.

At that time, I had not told anyone about the sexual abuse I’d experienced at the hands of a priest. Even if I had the language for it—which no kid of my age in that place and time had—I couldn’t have described it for anyone.

For the same reasons, Moishe didn’t talk to anyone besides me. Even if I’d had the words, it would have been my word against the priest’s. Moishe had the words in spite of his community’s and school’s effort to keep him from knowing them. Still, it would have been his word against the rabbi of his synagogue—and the rabbis who ran the school and surely would have sided with Moishe’s abuser. And my word, as an outsider, would have no more weight—actually, probably less than—Moishe’s.

That, of course, is another reason why he told me. He knew I wouldn’t tell, because I really couldn’t. Because I was afraid, as he was.

Bruce Gerencser