With dioceses across the country falling under avalanches of sex abuse cases, victims have been told to consider bringing their accusations to diocesan-run abuse-reporting programs rather than to civil courts. Promised the hope of avoiding lengthy proceedings and armies of diocesan attorneys financed at rates up to $1,000 per hour, many victims think these programs could be their first step on the road to healing. Here is why some of these victims now feel robbed of justice.
Chris O'Leary alleges that he was 11 years old when he was raped by Fr. LeRoy Valentine in the rectory of the Church of the Immacolata in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Assigned to the same parish during the time of the alleged abuse was none other than newly ordained Timothy Dolan. In a published account, O'Leary reports, "Fr. Tim Dolan saw — at least in part — our sexual abuse by Fr. LeRoy Valentine in the late 1970s."
In 2002, when the sex abuse scandal tore through the Church and Dolan was made an auxiliary bishop, one of his first jobs was to handle abuse cases. Interestingly, one of the first persons to come to him on March 2, 2002 with a complaint was 36-year-old Chris O'Leary. When O'Leary said he told Dolan that he had been raped by Valentine, Dolan reportedly told him, "I know Fr. Valentine well. We were at the seminary together. We lived and worked together at Immacolata. I know Leroy Valentine didn't do any of the things he's being accused of."
Dolan had O'Leary meet with a psychologist employed by the archdiocese of St. Louis. The psychologist tried to convince him that he was "just 'misinterpreting' Fr. Valentine's actions and/or his intentions." However, when O'Leary later learned that Valentine was under investigation based on the testimony of two other victims, it became evident that Dolan and those the archdiocese appointed to receive sexual-misconduct allegations were trying to get the victims to forego filing abuse claims. Years later, when the archdiocese was required to report all the abuse cases to Missouri state officials, O'Leary discovered that his name, information and allegations were not in Valentine's file. When he approached the archdiocese to inquire why his name was excluded, he was told that there was no record of him ever having spoken with Dolan or the archdiocesan psychologist.
Abuse victims' advocates and lawyers will recount that what happened to Chris O'Leary has happened to thousands of other clerical sex abuse victims. As many have observed, this is the way the "game" works: An abuse victim reports his abuse to Church officials who will meet with him and lead him to believe they are terribly sorry for the pain and suffering he endured. They assure the victim they will investigate his allegations and will be in touch with him shortly. When the victim does not hear back from them, he contacts them and is either told they are still investigating his case or they could not uncover enough evidence to substantiate his claims.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) affirmed that priests are removed from ministry pending the outcome of an investigation "primarily to assure that children are not in danger should it prove true that the cleric has committed acts of abuse." Even so, some bishops will not remove such priests because they fear other victims might come forward when they share the allegation with the parishes in which the accused priest has served over the years. The chances of being found guilty of abuse are much higher if there is more than just one accuser.
A recent example of this method of dismissing abuse claims involves Fr. Thomas Devery, a priest of the archdiocese of New York and former director of priest personnel, who was revealed in a recent statement published by the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to have been accused of sexually abusing a minor in an ongoing New York State Supreme Court case.
Devery admitted in a March 18, 2021 letter that allegations against him were first brought to the archdiocese of New York at least as far back as 2016. The archdiocese's Office of Priest Personnel was headed at the time by Msgr. Edward Weber, Devery's successor in this role, who himself would face accusations of sexually abusing a boy at least 150 times. As the Dolan-appointed director of priest personnel, Weber was discovered to have signed a formal letter of recommendation for accused priest Fr. Donald Timone certifying that Timone was "a priest in good standing" and had "never been accused of any act of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct involving a minor," despite the fact that two settlements were paid for allegations that Timone had sexually abused two teenage boys.
Just as in the investigation overseen by Dolan of accused-priest LeRoy Valentine, the parishioners and families of Devery's present and former assignments were never informed that he was under investigation for alleged abuse. As the verdict in a case is determined by how well it is supported by witnesses, one is left to question how the archdiocese could have reached an unbiased conclusion without inviting all additional possible victims from Devery's assignments to come forward on the matter. A reasonable step such as this would have been crucial, as observed by SNAP advocates, because "false allegations of sexual abuse are extremely rare" and "perpetrators seldom have just one victim." While the archdiocese of New York reportedly called the 2016 accusations "unsubstantiated," the outcome might have been very different had all of Devery's present and former parishioners and school-parents been given a chance to be heard beforehand.
In an effort to discourage legislators from passing laws extending the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases, Church leaders such as Cdl. Dolan have attempted to pass off Church-sponsored "reconciliation and compensation programs" as a way to remedy the clerical abuse problem. Recent laws, such as the New York Child Victims Act, have forced allegations against accused priests like Devery to be revisited in a forum in which archdiocesan-appointed officials cannot prejudice the outcome. Such review by the Courts may not only underscore the credibility of the allegations, but also the dubious methods employed in Church-sponsored investigations.
While the archdiocese may have hoped that a dubious conclusion of "unsubstantiated" would prevent the alleged victim from considering filing suit, the individual advanced the accusations against Devery to the New York State Supreme Court in 2019. Were the archdiocese's conclusions from 2016 true, one wonders why the plaintiff would re-subject himself to bearing the burden of proof in the more rigorous state Supreme Court. It's also reasonable to ask why the attorneys of Jeff Anderson & Associates, America's leading sexual abuse victims' firm, would have taken on the cause of the plaintiff in the first place if the allegations were implausible.
With scandal tearing through Our Lady, Star of the Sea (OLSS) parish, the community is left questioning why it has taken more than four years for parishioners and school parents to be informed that the pastor of one of the largest elementary schools in the archdiocese of New York is being named in litigation ongoing in state Supreme Court. OLSS parishioners and parents may wish to have known what archdiocesan, parish and school administrators were aware of about Devery before being asked to recommend him for a six-year reappointment as pastor to their children and fellow parishioners.
In December 2018, Boston cardinal Sean O'Malley found it necessary, in the interest of vulnerable minors, to report Cdl. Dolan to the Vatican Embassy for keeping accused-predator Fr. Donald Timone in ministry despite two settlements. Just as Dolan allowed Timone to celebrate Mass in New York parishes, so too has Dolan kept Devery in ministry as pastor of one of Staten Island's most prominent Catholic parishes and elementary schools — even while grave allegations are pending in state Supreme Court.
Owing to the experiences of victims who regret having entrusted dioceses with their abuse allegations, victims in search of healing may now think twice about whether diocesan abuse programs are as "transparent and independent" as bishops claim them to be.
Gene Thomas Gomulka is an abuse advocate/consultant and a retired Navy captain/chaplain who served on active duty at Marine Corps and Navy commands for over 24 years. Ordained for the Pennsylvania Altoona-Johnstown diocese, Fr. (Monsignor) Gomulka and Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle were reprised against by prelates whom they confronted for underreporting and covering up abuse.