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Archive for the ‘Law Enforcement’ Category

Meet Ed Calabrese, Who Says a Little Pollution Can Be Good For You

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Kevin Drum blogs:

Susanne Rust of the LA Times brings us the latest fabulous news from the Trump adminstration:

In early 2018, a deputy assistant administrator in the EPA, Clint Woods, reached out to a Massachusetts toxicologist best known for pushing a public health standard suggesting that low levels of toxic chemicals and radiation are good for people….Less than two weeks later, [Ed] Calabrese’s suggestions on how the EPA should assess toxic chemicals and radiation were introduced, nearly word for word, in the U.S. government’s official journal, the Federal Register.

“This is a major big time victory,” Calabrese wrote in an email to Steve Milloy, a former coal and tobacco lobbyist who runs a website,, that seeks to discredit mainstream climate science. “Yes. It is YUGE!” wrote Milloy, in response.

We could stop right there if we wanted. Steve Milloy is one of the most prominent purveyors of crap science in the world. He’s a climate change denier with close ties to the tobacco industry and the author of (among others) Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them. If Calabrese and Milloy are buddies, that’s probably all you need to know.

And where has Calabrese’s funding come from? Do I even have to tell you?

By the 1990s, Calabrese had solidly established himself as a trusted scientist with the tobacco industry. He found they were interested in research that questioned the methods that regulatory agencies use to assess risk.

….It was when he began his work on hormesis that Calabrese got attention from a broader range of industries. With seed money from R.J. Reynolds, Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble and others, as well as the EPA, Calabrese established a hormesis working group at the University of Massachusetts, which he called the Biological Effects of Low Level Exposures, or BELLE….Between 1990 and 2013, Calabrese received more than $8 million from companies and institutions, including R.J. Reynolds, Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, General Electric, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Air Force, to conduct research on hormesis.

There you have it. As usual, the tobacco industry is the root of all scientific evil, and their approach long ago caught on with every other polluting industry out there. “Manufacturing doubt” is their goal, and abuse of research into processes like hormesis is their holy grail. It’s not that hormesis is impossible. There may well be a few isolated examples where it has application—and as far as polluting industries are concerned, one example is plenty. They can then fund research claiming to find it all over the place.

If you want to read the whole grim story, check out Rebecca Leber’s piece from last October about how Calabrese’s ideas became embedded in the EPA’s rulemaking process after Trump took office. It’s the Trump era in a nutshell.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2019 at 2:00 pm

Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him

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Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman, Nicholas Fandos, and Michael S. Schmidt report in the NY Times:

As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge, since Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.

Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.

An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And, there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting Mr. Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation.

Mr. Whitaker, who earlier this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said that the White House had not asked Mr. Whitaker to interfere in the investigations. “Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’” said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”

The White House declined to comment for this article.

The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line, and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.

It is a public relations strategy as much as a legal strategy — a campaign to create a narrative of a president hounded by his “deep state” foes. The new Democratic majority in the House, and the prospect of a wave of investigations on Capitol Hill this year, will test whether the strategy shores up Mr. Trump’s political support or puts his presidency in greater peril. The president has spent much of his time venting publicly about there being “no collusion” with Russia before the 2016 election, which has diverted attention from a growing body of evidence that he has tried to impede the various investigations.

Julie O’Sullivan, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said she believed there was ample public evidence that Mr. Trump had the “corrupt intent” to try to derail the Mueller investigation, the legal standard for an obstruction of justice case.

But this is far from a routine criminal investigation, she said, and Mr. Mueller will have to make judgments about the impact on the country of making a criminal case against the president. Democrats in the House have said they will wait for Mr. Mueller to finish his work before making a decision about whether the president’s behavior warrants impeachment.

In addition to the Mueller investigation, there are at least two other federal inquiries that touch the president and his advisers — the Manhattan investigation focused on the hush money payments made by Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and an inquiry examining the flow of foreign money to the Trump inaugural committee.

The president’s defenders counter that most of Mr. Trump’s actions under scrutiny fall under his authority as the head of the executive branch. They argue that the Constitution gives the president sweeping powers to hire and fire, to start and stop law enforcement proceedings, and to grant presidential pardons to friends and allies. A sitting American president cannot be indicted, according to current Justice Department policy.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers add this novel response: the president has been public about his disdain for the Mueller investigation and other federal inquiries, so he is hardly engaged in a conspiracy. He fired one F.B.I. director and considered firing his replacement. He humiliated his first attorney general for being unable to “control” the Russia investigation and installed a replacement, Mr. Whitaker, who has told people he believed his job was to protect the president. But that, they say, is Donald Trump being Donald Trump.

In other words, the president’s brazen public behavior might be his best defense.

The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign aided the effort presented the new White House with its first crisis after just 25 days. The president immediately tried to contain the damage.

It was Feb. 14, 2017, and Mr. Trump and his advisers were in the Oval Office debating how to explain the resignation of Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, the previous night. Mr. Flynn, who had been a top campaign adviser to Mr. Trump, was under investigation by the F.B.I. for his contacts with Russians and secret foreign lobbying efforts for Turkey.

The Justice Department had already raised questions that Mr. Flynn might be subject to blackmail by the Russians for misleading White House officials about the Russian contacts, and inside the White House there was a palpable fear that the Russia investigation could consume the early months of a new administration.

As the group in the Oval Office talked, one of Mr. Trump’s advisers mentioned in passing what then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin had told reporters — that Mr. Trump had asked Mr. Flynn to resign.

It was unclear where Mr. Ryan had gotten that information, but Mr. Trump seized on Mr. Ryan’s words. “That sounds better,” the president said, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Mr. Trump turned to the White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, who was preparing to brief the media.

“Say that,” Mr. Trump ordered.

But was that true, Mr. Spicer pressed.

“Say that I asked for his resignation,” Mr. Trump repeated.

The president appeared to have little concern about what he told the public about Mr. Flynn’s departure, and quickly warmed to the new narrative. The episode was among the first of multiple ham-handed efforts by the president to carry out a dual strategy: publicly casting the Russia story as an overblown hoax and privately trying to contain the investigation’s reach.

“This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn,” Mr. Trump said over lunch that day, according to a new book by Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and a longtime Trump ally.

Mr. Christie was taken aback. “This Russia thing is far from over,” Mr. Christie wrote that he told Mr. Trump, who responded: “What do you mean? Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”

Mr. Kushner, who was also at the lunch, chimed in, according to Mr. Christie’s book: “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing.”

As Mr. Trump was lunching with Mr. Christie, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office met with Mr. Spicer about what he should say from the White House podium about what was a sensitive national security investigation. But when Mr. Spicer’s briefing began, the lawyers started hearing numerous misstatements — some bigger than others — and ended up compiling them all in a memo.

The lawyers’ main concern was that Mr. Spicer overstated how exhaustively the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn and that he said, wrongly, that administration lawyers had concluded there were no legal issues surrounding Mr. Flynn’s conduct.

Mr. Spicer later told people he stuck to talking points that he was given by the counsel’s office, and that White House lawyers expressed concern only about how he had described the thoroughness of the internal inquiry into Mr. Flynn. The memo written by the lawyers said that Mr. Spicer was presented with a longer list of his misstatements. The White House never publicly corrected the record. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more and it shows how serious the crisis now is.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2019 at 11:33 am

‘The pope ignored them’: Alleged abuse of deaf children on two continents points to Vatican failings

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The failures—the terrible failures—of the Catholic church as an organization are striking, and the church’s continued evasiveness, denial, and efforts to escape accountability—and in particular its efforts to escape paying restitution and damages—are evident. Anthony Faiola, Chico Harlan, and Stefano Pitrelli report in the Washington Post:

 When investigators swept in and raided the religious Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf, they uncovered one of the worst cases yet among the global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church: a place of silent torment where prosecutors say pedophiles preyed on the most isolated and submissive children.

The scope of the alleged abuse was vast. Charges are pending against 13 suspects; a 14th person pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, including rape, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The case of the accused ringleader — an octogenarian Italian priest named Nicola Corradi — is set to go before a judge next month.

Corradi was spiritual director of the school and had a decades-long career spanning two continents. And so his arrest in late 2016 raised an immediate question: Did the Catholic Church have any sense that he could be a danger to children?

The answer, according to a Washington Post investigation that included a review of court and church documents, private letters, and dozens of interviews in Argentina and Italy, is that church officials up to and including Pope Francis were warned repeatedly and directly about a group of alleged predators that included Corradi.

Yet they took no apparent action against him.

“I want Pope Francis to come here, I want him to explain how this happened, how they knew this and did nothing,” a 24-year-old alumna of the Provolo Institute said, using sign language as her hands shook in rage. She and her 22-year-old brother, who requested anonymity to share their experiences as minors, are among at least 14 former students who say they were victims of abuse at the now-shuttered boarding school in the shadow of the Andes.

Vulnerable to the extreme, the deaf students tended to come from poor families that fervently believed in the sanctity of the church. Prosecutors say the children were fondled, raped, sometimes tied up and, in one instance, forced to wear a diaper to hide the bleeding. All the while, their limited ability to communicate complicated their ability to tell others what was happening to them. Students at the school were smacked if they used sign language. One of the few hand gestures used by the priests, victims say, was an index figure to lips — a demand for silence.

“They were the perfect victims,” said Gustavo Stroppiana, the chief prosecutor in the case.

And yet they may not have been the first. Corradi, now 83 and under house arrest, is also under investigation for sexual crimes at a sister school in Argentina where he worked from 1970 to 1994. And alumni of a related school in Italy, where Corradi served earlier, identified him as being among a number of priests who carried out systematic abuse over five decades. The schools were all founded and staffed by priests from the Company of Mary for the Education of the Deaf, a small Catholic congregation that answers to the Vatican.

The Italian victims’ efforts to sound the alarm to church authorities began in 2008 and included mailing a list of accused priests to Francis in 2014 and physically handing him the list in 2015.

It was not the church, however, but Argentine law enforcement that cut off Corradi’s access to children when it shut down the Provolo school in Lujan. Argentine prosecutors say the church has not fully cooperated with their investigation.

As Francis prepares to host a historic bishops’ summit this week to address clerical sexual abuse, the lapses in the case — affecting the pope’s home country of Argentina and the home country of the Roman Catholic Church — illustrate the still-present failures of the church to fix a system that has allowed priests to continue to abuse children long after they were first accused.

Corradi’s lawyer declined multiple interview requests for this article and did not respond to emails seeking to speak with the priest. Attempts to reach Corradi through his family were unsuccessful. The Vatican declined to comment on a detailed list of questions.

But Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse-tracking site, said the Provolo case “is truly emblematic.”

“The church failed them abysmally. The pope ignored them, the police responded,” she said. “It’s a clear example of the tragedy that keeps playing out.”

As in Argentina, deaf students from the Provolo schools in Verona, Italy, kept their experiences of sexual abuse to themselves for years. But after they started opening up, they worked from bottom to top to inform the Catholic church, according to letters and other documents. They wrote to the local bishop in 2008. Soon after, they provided a list of accused priests and religious figures to the local diocese. By 2011, a list of names was with the Vatican. By 2015, a list was in the hands of the pope.

The rumblings started with Dario Laiti, a former student who came forward in 2006 after noticing a new children’s facility in the town and worrying that abuse might be happening there, as well.

“I was the first,” said Laiti, who for years had made excuses when his wife asked why he hadn’t wanted children.

Soon, more than a dozen other former students were telling their stories, using an improvised mix of sign language and limited speech. Their accounts ranged in time between the 1950s and 1980s. As adults, they had become woodcutters, delivery men, factory workers. Some were unemployed. Few had sustained relationships. One of their schoolmates had committed suicide.

One student, Alda Franchetto, said she had tried to confide in her parents years earlier — running away from the school as a 13-year-old in a burst of euphoria and explaining to them what was happening to her there. Her parents, she said, didn’t believe her and returned her to the institute.

“They said, ‘You need this to learn how to speak and write,’ ” Franchetto said.

By the time the adult former students started reporting their abuse, it was too late to press criminal charges. But it was not too late for accountability through the church. They wrote to the local bishop in 2008, informing him of their claims. Soon after, at the request of a journalist from the Italian news magazine L’Espresso, 15 former students took another step: writing sworn statements describing sodomization, forced masturbation and other forms of abuse. The statements named 24 priests and other faculty members, including Corradi. The student association said dozens of others had experienced abuse but did not want to come forward publicly.

The bishop, Giuseppe Zenti, was dismissive. In a news conference, he called the allegations “a hoax, a lie, and nothing more,” and he noted the association for former students was involved in a property dispute with the Provolo Institute. The former students filed defamation charges against Zenti and included their statements as part of the lawsuit — essentially handing the names of the accused priests to the diocese.

The case caught the notice of the Vatican, which in 2010 asked Zenti to look more deeply into the claims, according to church letters. The local diocese brought in a retired judge, Mario Sannite, to investigate.

“That’s how I found myself in the middle of this story,” Sannite said.

Sannite became the on-the-ground representative of the Holy See, asked to relay his findings — and his analysis — to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In December 2010 and January 2011, Sannite interviewed 17 former students from Provolo, with the help of a sign-language interpreter. He said the accounts were harrowing, and he later wrote that there was no reason to doubt the “majority” of the accusations. In the report sent to the Vatican, though, Sannite wrote that he had doubts about one former student, the only one who happened to name Corradi as an abuser — even though some of the others interviewed had overlapped with Corradi’s time at the school.

Gianni Bisoli, a then-62-year-old ski instructor, accused 30 religious figures and other Provolo faculty members of abusing him — a number far beyond the others. And his allegations were particularly explosive; one of those he accused was Giuseppe Carraro, the bishop of Verona in the 1960s and 1970s, who after his death was on the path to canonization.

“Bisoli’s statements were likely deemed quite dangerous,” said Paolo Tacchi Venturi, a lawyer who at the time was representing the victims.  . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The Catholic church has done good things, and it also goes to extraordinary lengths to conceal its despicable misdeeds.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2019 at 8:53 am

William Barr’s Son-in-Law Just Landed a Job Advising Trump on “Legal Issues”

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Corruption, pure and simple. The US is falling and failing fast. Bess Levin writes for Vanity Fair:

Later today, William Barr is expected to be confirmed as Donald Trump’s next attorney general, despite just three Democrats voting to advance his nomination earlier this week. But the Barr family is intent on gaining the nation’s trust. In order to avoid any thorny work situations, Barr’s son-in-law, Tyler McGaughey,will be leaving his job in the Justice Department . . . for a new gig that will seemingly provide even more opportunities for conflicts of interest, this time of the Russian variety!

CNN reports that McGaughey, the husband of Barr’s youngest daughter, has been hired as an attorney in the White House counsel’s office, where he’ll “advise the president, the executive office, and White House staff on legal issues concerning the president and the presidency.” While the division is separate from the legal team that defends Trump in the Russia investigation—a group of leading lights that includes Rudy “maybe there was collusion” Giuliani—its work nevertheless does “intersect with the investigation.” (Trump reportedly blamed former White House counsel Don McGahn for failing to bring the probe to a close.) Meanwhile, Mary Daly, Barr’s oldest daughter, will be leaving her current job in the deputy attorney general’s office for a gig at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which has had its own Russian intrigues.

Barr, of course, has his own special conflicts of interest when it comes to Robert Mueller’s probe. Last June, he sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to the Justice Department calling the inquiry into potential obstruction of justice by Trump “fatally misconceived” and Mueller’s actions “grossly irresponsible,” and insisting “Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction.” (Presumably, the memo didn’t hurt Barr’s position on the short list to replace the long-suffering Jeff Sessions.) While Barr said in January that he would not end the Mueller inquiry without cause if asked to do so by the president, he also toldlawmakers he saw no reason to recuse himself in light of the memo, saying he would “seek the counsel of Justice Department ethics officials” but would not necessarily take their advice.

Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said it was a “good idea” for McGaughey and Daly to leave the D.O.J., but added that McGaughey’s beeline for the White House was “concerning.” “That’s troubling because. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2019 at 1:23 pm

How Donald Trump Got Involved in a Global Fraud

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Fascinating report and worth watching.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2019 at 9:45 am

Federal Watchdog Issues Scathing Report On Ed Department’s Handling Of Student Loans

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Cory Turner reports at NPR:

A critical new report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General finds the department’s student loan unit failed to adequately supervise the companies it pays to manage the nation’s trillion-dollar portfolio of federal student loans. The report also rebukes the department’s office of Federal Student Aid for rarely penalizing companies that failed to follow the rules.

Instead of safeguarding borrowers’ interests, the report says, FSA’s inconsistent oversight allowed these companies, known as loan servicers, to potentially hurt borrowers and pocket government dollars that should have been refunded because servicers weren’t meeting federal requirements.

“By not holding servicers accountable,” the report says, “FSA could give its servicers the impression that it is not concerned with servicer noncompliance with Federal loan servicing requirements, including protecting borrowers’ rights.”

“It’s hard to look at this as anything other than completely damning,” says Seth Frotman, a consumer advocate and former government, student loan watchdog who is now executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center. “This is the most damaging in a long line of investigations, audits, and reports that show the Department of Education is asleep at the switch when it is responsible for over a trillion dollars of student loan debt.”

The Education Department’s independent watchdog reviewed FSA oversight records from January 2015 through September 2017, a period that includes both the Obama and Trump administrations. Among the inspector general’s findings: While FSA did document servicers’ many failures to follow the rules, it did not study these isolated failures to identify broader patterns of noncompliance that could have hurt many more students.

The inspector general’s office writes that, without looking more broadly, the department ignored the possibility of patterns of failure by servicers that could result in “increased interest or repayment costs incurred by borrowers, the missed opportunity for more borrowers to take advantage of certain repayment programs, negative effects on borrowers’ credit ratings, and an increased likelihood of delinquency or even default.”

Colleen Campbell studies the loan servicing industry at the Center for American Progress and says this audit “brings to light issues that we have thought existed for a long time but that we couldn’t say for sure were happening across the entire system. And, as time has gone on, we’ve been increasingly certain that Federal Student Aid wasn’t properly overseeing servicers. And this really confirms that that’s the case.”

The audit documents several common failures by the servicers, among them, not telling borrowers about all of their repayment options, or miscalculating what borrowers should have to pay through an income-driven repayment plan. According to the review, two loan servicing companies, Navient and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, better known as FedLoan, repeatedly placed borrowers into costly forbearance without offering them other, more beneficial options.

Representatives from Navient and PHEAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more. Betsy DeVos would be called a failure as Education Secretary, except that she is succeeding in her own aims: protecting and extending for-profit education, undermining student rights and protections, and ignoring education quality.

Later in the article:

The Education Department’s internal review arrives in the middle of a standoff between the department, led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, and many state leaders. Stories of loan servicers failing to act in borrowers’ best interest are easy to find. In the past year, NPR investigations have documented sweeping failures in the management of both the federal TEACH Grant program and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

But as state lawmakers and attorneys general have tried to step up their own oversight of servicers, the Education Department is opposing them, arguing in court that only it has the authority to police these loan companies.

In a memo entered into the Federal Register nearly a year ago, the department defended its role as sole watchdog: “The Secretary emphasizes that the Department continues to oversee loan servicers to ensure that borrowers receive exemplary customer service and are protected from substandard practices.”

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2019 at 8:50 am

Theodore McCarrick was just defrocked by the Vatican. But is it justice?

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It’s a tricky business when the Catholic church tries to take on the role of the criminal-justice system: they are not set up for it, they do not have the remedies and resources for that role, and they are strongly inclined toward forgiveness, which resulted in the expansiveness of the pedophile scandal. The Church’s focus seems to have been on the perpetrators, with the victims left to fend for themselves, and the Church’s attitude was to forgive and protect the perpetrators, moving them to new locations and offering them new victims. That proved not to work, but really they don’t see to know what else to do.

Michelle Boorstein writes in the Washington Post:

In Catholic Church law, being forcibly laicized is sometimes called the death penalty for priests – a dismissal from the priesthood, a status change that is permanent, something that can’t even be said of excommunication. Even priests who request laicization are told to move away, and to not divulge what happened unless they have to, in order to avoid scandalizing other Catholics. No working in parishes, seminaries, Catholic schools. Your previous identity is wiped out.

At the same time, in the eyes of the church the mark of priestly ordination can never be removed. Something metaphysical changed then that can’t be undone. A Minnesota diocesan official who was laicizing a man still warmly reassured him, tapping his chest: In here, you’re a priest forever, the official said, a former church lawyer present testified in a 2014 affidavit. The man had abused women, including in the confessional, one of whom killed herself.

Theodore McCarrick is believed to be the first cardinal — a title he held until allegations surfaced last summer — laicized for sexual misconduct, and one of just six bishops accused of similar crimes and dismissed, according to the abuse-tracking group BishopAccountability. But in an era of rampant clergy scandals, when the words “bishop” and “cardinal” are being removed from Catholic fundraising drives in order to boost giving, experts predict many Catholics won’t see the rare defrocking as particularly weighty. Or as sufficient justice for McCarrick’s alleged victims.

“The reality is that, leaving aside the issue of embarrassment — and I’d be cautious on that — what difference does it make to McCarrick?” said Jennifer Haselberger, a canon lawyer who represented the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis until 2013, when she quit over what she described as the office’s mishandling of abusive priests. “Realistically when we think of justice, what will he experience? And he will know in his heart of hearts that he’s still a priest.

In fact there is a lot of debate in Catholicism about the value of defrocking abusive clerics, an action that is extremely rare, and somewhat new in Catholicism. Since the sex abuse crisis erupted in the early 2000′s, new fast-track legal systems created by Rome have led to more defrockings, and church leaders have wrestled with whether it’s wiser to keep abusers in-house, where they can be monitored closely, as well as whether Catholicism’s main business should be forgiving – not condemning. McCarrick’s high-profile defrocking has raised another question: Should the church’s legal system be focused less on the accused and more on restitution for victims?

“If we kick this person out, [and] he’s no longer on our books, what are we doing then? Are we just protecting the liability of the institution or are we doing justice?” said Kurt Martens, a canon law professor at Catholic University.

Haselberger suggested dismissal isn’t as crushing a punishment as it may sound for McCarrick, who was one of the most powerful, popular U.S. clerics until his case exploded last June. To her, the fact that rumors surrounding McCarrick’s conduct had been circulating for years before the public allegations surfaced is proof that the system is broken. She predicted he won’t suffer financially or go to jail and in fact could, given his previously high-profile as a do-gooder and fundraiser, come out of this viewed as a martyr by some. Many will continue to treat him as a priest, she said.

McCarrick and his lawyers haven’t commented since last summer, so it’s impossible to know how he feels about the penalty. Shamed? Justified? Wronged? But people who know him say McCarrick, now a frail 88, hasn’t seemed able to fully accept what’s happening. The former cardinal could still face civil suits.

But priests who have been forcibly laicized and canon lawyers who represent accused priests say laicization can elicit a wide range of reactions. To some it’s a kind of personal trauma, like being forcibly separated from your children. For people being crushed by a celibacy vow they couldn’t keep, it can feel like relief. Many say they still feel, act and sometimes are treated like priests, even if they can’t wear the clothes or perform the sacraments.

“I joined this men’s group, and three weeks into it, they all called me ‘Father.’ I asked why, and one said: ‘It’s what you are. It’s who you are.’ This is a lovely thing to hear. It’s painful but lovely. Whether they call me [my name] or ‘Father,’ both ways it’s a little bit of the knife,” said a man who was laicized several years ago after being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he doesn’t want the accusations against him publicized, said he lost health care and other reimbursements owed to him by his diocese before he was laicized, has been professionally damaged by the allegation and is too young to start receiving his church pension yet. Among the biggest losses, he said, is being barred from celebrating Mass for himself every day, privately, which he could do for the years while he was suspended, before being defrocked. “That’s a big deal. [While celebrating Mass,] we believe the whole church celebrates with you, even if you’re alone, you’re still part of the community.”

Canon law allows bishops to strip defrocked clerics of all financial benefits, though civil law requires they receive their pension once they’re vested. Deals vary; some receive nothing while others may negotiate for health care or education that will allow them to make a new career. Experts say diocesan legal officials like laicizing clerics because it relieves the organization of future liability.

According to BishopAccountability, more than 1,000 priests have been laicized in the past few decades for sexual misconduct, while of 99 bishops worldwide accused of similar crimes, just six were laicized. A new process the church created in the early 2000′s made it easier to remove priests, but still didn’t clearly establish rules around dismissing higher-up clerics.

Robert Ciolek is a former priest who the church paid a settlement, in part based upon his accusations that McCarrick pressured him into backrubs and into sleeping in the same bed when Ciolek was a seminarian and young priest in McCarrick’s diocese. Now a lawyer, Ciolek said the forced laicization undoubtedly must be “devastating” to McCarrick, who had built up decades “of administering the sacraments, hearing confessions and baptizing babies, marrying, forgiving people their sins, last rites. All that is gone….all the good he might have done, the church is taking away the core of his essence by laicizing him. But, make no mistake, based on the accusations against him, especially those involving sexual abuse of minors, it is fully deserved.”

Ciolek recalled the pain of petitioning the Vatican to approve his own request to leave the priesthood. He was already married and a father, but wanted to be formally released from his promise of celibacy, allowing his civil marriage to be recognized and thus be in good standing to receive the sacraments. He had to wait about 10 years and submit thick documents arguing, essentially, that it was a mistake for him to have ever have become a priest. In reality, Ciolek said he believes he was called to be a priest and loved being a priest, and might still be one if not for the Church’s celibacy requirement. He didn’t like having to put in writing that there was something flawed with his ministry.

Pat Noaker, who represents two men who say McCarrick abused them when they were minors, said neither of his clients feel celebratory about the laicization, though they may feel it’s merited.

“Both have hope the church can be reformed. That is unique. Most of my clients don’t have that hope. Both of them do,” he said. Asked if the outcome was justice, Noaker said: “Neither of these men had a particular result in mind. Having him laicized or otherwise, they didn’t care which avenue the Vatican chose – – they just didn’t want McCarrick using his power to have access to children.”

Laicizing a priest — whether by choice or not — doesn’t mean they aren’t still a priest; they are. It means they are free of the rights and responsibilities of the position. They may not present themselves as priests in their dress nor perform sacraments such as celebrating Mass or hearing confession. The one exception is that they are still obliged to hear the last rites of the dying if no other priest is available.

People choosing to leave or being forced to was exceedingly rare over the centuries, Haselberger said. Even in cases of priests suspended for abuse claims, she said, laicization was usually done at the request of the priest. The church was loathe to dismiss clerics. The big wave came after the second Vatican Council in the 1960′s, a series of meetings many expected to liberalize the church more and perhaps let priests marry. Disappointed changes weren’t made, many priests left and asked to be relieved of their celibacy vows. After a decade or two, Pope John Paul II stopped granting the petitions. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2019 at 10:16 am

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