$660 million goes to church abuse victims

A judge on July 16 approved a $660 million settlement between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and more than 500 alleged victims of clergy abuse, the largest payout yet in a nationwide sex abuse scandal.

Frank K. Flinn, adjunct professor of religious studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and author of the recently published “Encyclopedia of Catholicism,” comments. Flinn can be reached for additional comments to the media at fkflinn@wustl.edu or at (314) 725-4331.

“The pedophilia scandal is the most serious scandal to hit the Roman Catholic Church in modern times. The church and the Los Angeles archdiocese hope that the astounding $660 million dollar settlement is the last word on this deeply rooted moral disaster. It is not. The settlement came as a last ditch concession after years of denial, obfuscation, foot-dragging and outright obstruction of justice. That no bishops went to prison is not a sign of justice rendered but the result of the undue deference civil authorities have paid to clerics on the lamb. The same can be said for the press.

Frank Flinn
Frank K. Flinn

“In 1962 the Vatican Holy Office, under the prefecture of the notorious Vatican II nay-sayer Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, issued a Latin instruction Crimine Solitictationis on handling sex abuse cases. The process was meant not to seek out justice and reconciliation but to protect the reputation of the church. Perpetrator and victim alike were sworn under a “secret of the Holy Office” breach of which incurred excommunication. Every effort was to be made to keep the damning information from the eyes of civil authorities. The instruction was to be kept under lock and key and not to be translated into vernacular languages.

“In the very midst of the pedophilia scandal in 2001, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, heir to Ottaviani’s office under the renamed Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reissued the instruction with another Latin letter, also not to be translated. Some prosecuting attorneys in the United States have argued that this instruction amounts to an obstruction of justice. Given the church’s longstanding policy and practice of shifting pedophile priests from parish to parish and reassigning them as pastors and assistants, it is hard to argue with that judgment. Pedophile priests are both guilty and tragic. But the bishops responsible for their supervision aided, abetted and augumented their heinous activity and have been let off the criminal hook.

“In these days of the state as church-lenient I do not expect this situation to be rectified. But I do expect historians eventually to give a full accounting. Both the Vatican and the local bishops will emerge smelling with the taint of callous corruption. The serious person can wonder whether the $660 million was a buy out or a buy off.”

– Frank K. Flinn