Several weeks ago, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing the exhaustive extent of child sex abuse allegations in the state’s Catholic dioceses. Some survivors of similar abuse are calling for that process to be repeated state-by-state.
That perspective is shared in two members of the Denver chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Chapter leader Jeb Barrett and member Michael Carpino talked to Colorado Matters about how their abuse impacted their lives, and what steps they want to see taken.
On what changes they believe should be made to the legal system to help other survivors:
"I think the Attorney General, any investigation needs to ask for the opening of personnel records where the Catholic Church has kept fastidious records of their clergy's conduct, their placements and so forth, for what that reveals, because it is there. That is the first piece.
But the goal should be to see that we eliminate criminal statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors, I would call it. And also that the victims have the ability to sue the diocese in a reasonable and timely manner. And then all of these confidentiality agreements that have been signed over the years need to be disclosed and tossed aside so that people can come forward and say, 'This is more evidence of cover up.'"
On coming forward about their abuse in the Church:
"I was 63 before I talked to anybody about my abuse. And went to my first SNAP meeting. Heard other stories. And it began to bring up stories that I had hidden behind layers and layers of denial and fear and trauma myself. It was from that that I began to recover I guess. And that's like 15 years ago. I'm much more comfortable talking today about what happened, the grooming, the use of alcohol, the fact that I was taught to never say no to an adult, so when somebody asked me to do something or did something to me, I was a very vulnerable victim and went along with it, and drank myself almost to death over those experiences of betrayal."
On the influence of the Boston Globe's reporting and the movie "Spotlight":
"For me the pivotal point was the article that broke in the Boston Globe with the reporters. That piece of it gave me a safe avenue. The next portion of the safe zone for me came about when the movie Spotlight came out. And that's when I really came out publicly, because I dreamt about that movie being told, I wanted the truth to be told about what the Catholic Church has done."
Ryan Warner: Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
Michael Carpino: Thank you very much.
Jeb Barrett: Thank you.
RW: What is your response to the letter from the Denver Archbishop calling for this independent lay investigation? Jeb?
JB: My first response is I don't trust that the fox can guard the hen house, because we've seen efforts like this many times before. An external, and independent examination, such as a grand jury report, is the only way that we're going to get to the real facts underlying this endemic problem in our society.
RW: SNAP in fact has called for attorneys general in every state to conduct their own investigation. Is that a conversation you're having with Cynthia Coffman?
JB: We do plan to request a chat with Cynthia Coffman, the Attorney General's office to see what has to be done to bring about a grand jury investigation in the state of Colorado like other states are doing.
RW: What specifically would you want the Attorney General to look into. Help us understand what you think the scope of that should be.
JB: I think the Attorney General, any investigation needs to ask for the opening of personnel records where the Catholic Church has kept fastidious records of their clergy's conduct, their placements and so forth, for what that reveals, because it is there. That is the first piece. But the goal should be to see that we eliminate criminal statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors, I would call it. And also that the victims have the ability to sue the diocese in a reasonable and timely manner. And then all of these confidentiality agreements that have been signed over the years need to be disclosed and tossed aside so that people can come forward and say, "This is more evidence of cover up."
RW: The Denver Archdiocese has said that 2002 was really a pivotal year for the Church in dealing with sexual abuse, and that since then there have been no new acts that have come to light. What do you say to that?
JB: I would only guess that they know of, that they're willing to talk about. The only way we're going to know for sure is if those personnel records are opened to an independent external authority for examination.
MC: The piece I would add to this, it's not unusual for victims to wait decades before they come forward. So we do not know whether or not any victims are out there. One of the things that I would ask for Cynthia Coffman to do is to put up hotlines to ask for victims to come forward since those dates. We've known from the past the Church has lied to us about victims. They've lied to society in general. It's been a pivotal year.
RW: Talk to me about this hotline. Why do you think that's an important step?
MC: Because they have to, victims need a very safe place to come to. For a lot of them, it's a very painful act to step forward because there's fear involved. There's denial involved that it happened. Some victims just do not want to address the problem. It hurts too bad.
RW: Do you remember feeling that yourself?
MC: Yeah, Ryan, from my standpoint, I went nearly 30 years before I came forward. And that's not unusual. Some people wait until their 80s until they come forward.
RW: What happened after 30 years?
MC: For me the pivotal point was the article that broke in the Boston Globe with the reporters. That piece of it gave me a safe avenue.
RW: Your abuse occurred in New England.
MC: Yeah. The next portion of the safe zone for me came about when the movie Spotlight came out. And that's when I really came out publicly, because I dreamt about that movie being told, I wanted the truth to be told about what the Catholic Church has done.
(excerpt from “Spotight” begings)
Speaker 2: Well apparently this priest molested kids in six different parishes over the last 30 years and the attorney for the victims, Mr. ...
Speaker 3: Garabedian.
Speaker 2: Thanks. Mr. Garabedian says Cardinal Law found out about it 15 years ago and did nothing.
Speaker 4: Yeah, I think that attorney's a bit of a crank, and the Church dismissed the claim.
Speaker 3: He said, she said.
Speaker 2: Whether Mr. Garabedian is a crank or not, he says he has documents that prove the Cardinal knew.
Speaker 5: As I understand it, those documents are under seal.
Speaker 2: Okay, but the fact remains, a Boston priest abused 80 kids. We have a lawyer who says he can prove Law knew about it. And we've written all of two stories in the last six months. This strikes me as an essential story to a local paper. I think at the very least we have to go through those documents.
(“Spotlight” excerpt ends)
MC: And with the Boston Globe report, I thought I was one of a few victims. And there has been thousands in the United States that have been sexually assaulted by priests. When you look at it globally it's even more than that.
RW: Jeb, did you have a similar experience. How long did it take for you to speak up.
JB: I was 63 before I talked to anybody about my abuse. And went to my first SNAP meeting. Heard other stories. And it began to bring up stories that I had hidden behind layers and layers of denial and fear and trauma myself. It was from that that I began to recover I guess. And that's like 15 years ago. I'm much more comfortable talking today about what happened, the grooming, the use of alcohol, the fact that I was taught to never say no to an adult, so when somebody asked me to do something or did something to me, I was a very vulnerable victim and went along with it, and drank myself almost to death over those experiences of betrayal.
RW: We spoke to the Archdiocese and they mentioned several important changes. One is much better screening of potential priests, sort of weeding this out from the beginning. And also just a zero tolerance policy that says if there is a credible allegation, that will be immediately told to law enforcement and it will be immediately investigated and that priest will be at least temporarily removed from that Church. Do you take some comfort in those types of changes?
JB: I certainly do. It gives me great hope that they are doing what they're willing to do to stop the abuse where they see it right now. But I still have the concern about those they don't know about. Or have been released from the priesthood and are out in the community now, hidden from the public, because there was never any sort of report of their crimes.
MC: Yeah, my view's a little bit different than Jeb's. Last year it was in June timeframe, there was a priest that was ordained in New Jersey. He was 30 days into his ordainment and he sexually assaulted a female, a thirteen-year-old girl. When I hear that they have processes in place to prevent this from happening, the processes aren't working if there are still individuals that are becoming priests that are abusing kids. You talked about zero tolerance, if I can, Ryan.
MC: Let's talk about Cardinal McCarrick. The Catholic Church, from what I've read, have known about McCarrick's issues of abusing kids going back into the 1980s-
RW: But this is really, by the way, the case that has brought into question the future of the Pope, just to be clear.
MC: And so McCarrick was inside the Church for another 30 plus years, almost 40 years when the Church knew about he had abused children, and the only way they implemented the zero tolerance when it became public knowledge. Public knowledge because the media exposed it, not because the Catholic Church came forward and said that McCarrick was an abuser. It was because an individual came forward. The press picked up on it and they ran with it.
So, there is cases out there that and I believe still within the Catholic Church, however you want to define that in the United States or worldwide, there is individuals that have abused kids that are still working for the Catholic Church.
RW: I want to ask this question for folks listening in Colorado. Does SNAP have any evidence that there are people working for the Catholic Church right now in this state who are threats?
JB: No specific evidence.
JB: That is probably because people are still hesitant to come forward in this climate.
RW: What did this mean for your faith? Do you still identify as Catholic, by the way?
MC: I do not, absolute not, no. To back up, I was an altar boy at the time that I was abused. During that timeframe prior to my abuse I actually thought about becoming a priest, but I have nothing to do with the Catholic Church today.
RW: How about you, Jeb?
JB: I've separated myself from the Catholic Church except when I am employed as a musician, and that is just to do concerts. I have no faith in the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy. And that is something I really need to make a distinction about. I still believe that the Church is really the people. I have a sadness for the people who are still feeling shame and guilt because of what the hierarchy has done to smear the name of Catholicism, the religion and so forth.
RW: You make a distinction between the power and the people?
JB: I love people. I love those people. I care for those people. I love the music.
RW: We also heard from the Denver Archdiocese that to extend statute of limitations, so far as their argument was made to us that, that would lead to injustice because you have people's poor memories, you have perhaps the deaths of witnesses. What do you say to that?
JB: I say that reveals their position that they're more interested in protecting hidden predators than they are in protecting children. The question that needs to be asked of law makers, as well as the hierarchy is, are you more interested in protecting children and vulnerable adults, or in protecting predators, sexual predators, not just in the Church, but across the culture?
RW: What do you want to see happen from here? Let me ask that under the broader context of the future of this Pope?
MC: I don't, the Pope has his own issues that he has to deal with at this point. What I want to happen from here, now Ryan, I always had the dream that I wanted a movie to be told about what went on in the Catholic Church. When I heard the movie was coming out-
MC: Spotlight, exactly, it sent chills through my spine because it was part of the story that I wanted. It was my dream. Today what I want, I would love to see happen, it's not within the Catholic Church. I would like to see every Attorney General in this nation do an investigation of the Catholic Church. I would like to see the Department of Justice do an investigation because there was federal laws violated here too, and everybody will know the truth is what I'm looking for. The truth of what went on, what transpired, so that people can make their own judgment, not the judgment that may be tainted by individuals, but the truth of the matter of what actually went on in the cover-up.
I define it that they were wolves in sheep's clothing in what they've done. There's a lot of cover up associated with the pedophiles that abuse children and the individuals that cover it up need to be exposed. And that is why they didn't want the grand jury to put the report out in Pennsylvania because individuals were identified that grossly covered up the assaults and the crimes that were committed.
RW: Jeb, what do you want in the long term?
JB: I'd like to see the names of all those who have been convicted and possibly even those where there's credible allegations on sexual offender registries. Of course, only those convicted can appear there. But I think it's most important for the public to know just who should not be trusted. From whom should they protect their children?
RW: What would that look like, practically? So let's say that there was an allegation against a priest, today.
JB: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
RW: And now the Church says it will be investigated thoroughly. Would you like to see some sort of centralized database so that if there were multiple accusations, you could start to put a picture together? Practically, what do you think that would look like?
JB: Well I can only say what I've seen happen to some dioceses and that is where there have been credible allegations, they first of all publish the names of the clergy, including deacons, on their websites, and also nuns, on their websites, for people to see where they have served so that some would say, "Oh, yes, he was in my parish."
But I think, again, the government needs to provide such a listing for people to be made aware. The other thing that has happened to many of them is they have promised a visit, or committed to a visit to the parishes where there were offending priests, to talk with them about it and encourage others to come forward. I think that's important, so they can be a part of the healing process for the victims because we need to see more attention given to the work the victims need in order to survive. Not so much on what the Church is doing, but what are the victims getting? Are they getting any kind of reparation? Are they getting any kind of counseling? Are they getting support in overcoming the trauma?
RW: Does this moment in time feel different from past pivotal moments in this?
MC: For me, absolutely. There's been a change that has occurred with the report that came out of Pennsylvania and I hope the rest of the states will line up. It will expose the truth, and that's, you know, Ryan, that will be closure for me.
RW: Thanks to both of you for being with us.
MC: Thank you.
JB: Thank you very much for having us here. I really appreciate that.