It is hard to believe that the already-shocking revelations about the priest/bishop sexual-abuse scandal in Kansas City could get worse, but…
Reading Kansas City Star reporter Judy Thomas’ account of Wednesday’s testimony in a Jackson County civil trial, the breadth and depth of the cover-up is becoming even more horrifying and jaw dropping.
Yesterday was the third day of the trial involving Jon David Couzens, who alleges that the late Monsignor Thomas O’Brien — a now-notorious molester — abused him 30 years ago, when he was an altar boy. Related testimony about two other O’Brien victims indicated that not one but two former Kansas City bishops — the late Charles Helmsing and the late John Sullivan — both were apprised of sexual-assault allegations and did nothing.
Of course, the current bishop, Robert Finn, has been convicted on a criminal charge of failing to report child sexual abuse — meaning that three of the last four bishops averted their eyes to the burgeoning problem.
As far as I know, the only bishop about whom there have been no allegations — among bishops dating back to the 1960s — is the late Bishop Raymond Boland. Boland, who died earlier this year, served from 1993 to 2005.
Kansas city marketing and p.r. person Pat O’Neill said in an e-mail this morning that as far as he knew, Boland consistently forwarded priest sexual-abuse complaints to the Independent Review Board, which he established early in his tenure.
Like many current and former Catholics, I would like to think that at least one of the four bishops who has held office during the last half century acted appropriately and in good conscience.
The most riveting testimony yesterday came from a Catholic nun whose brother O’Brien allegedly abused in 1963. (That’s right, 51 years ago!)
The nun, Marilyn Barry, told jurors that after she learned about the abuse, sometime between 1989 and 1991, she picked up the phone and called O’Brien.
Here’s how Judy Thomas recounted Barry’s testimony:
“I said, “Hello, monsignor…You abused my little brother.” He said, ‘Which one was he?’ My final words were, ‘You dirty son of a bitch.’ And I hung up the phone.”
Whoa! I was a Catholic for about 60 years, and I don’t think I ever heard a nun even say, “Damn.” And in my long experience as a journalist, the “dirty son of a bitch” quote ranks up there with the best I’ve ever heard or seen.
Earlier, I mentioned that I’d heard from Pat O’Neill, who is a lifelong Catholic.
O’Neill testified yesterday that O’Brien suddenly groped him while standing next to him at a Halloween party in 1973. O’Neill, who was then 20, testified that he wrote to Helmsing in 1975, telling him about the incident, but that he did not get a response. O’Neill said he again contacted the diocese in 1979, both calling and sending a letter to auxiliary Bishop George Fitzsimmons. Again, no action was taken.
Last night, having read Thomas’ trial story online, I sent O’Neill an email, telling him how revolting I thought the testimony was.
We exchanged a few messages, one of which included this thoughtful and eloquent reflection:
“Evidence of conspiratorial silence just seems to get more and more damning. Hard to believe, isn’t it, that supposedly good men could lead such double lives…and get away with it? I was old enough and big enough to push the “good” Monsignor away. It is absolutely heartbreaking to meet and look into the eyes of guys like Jon David (Couzens), who couldn’t.
“You can’t help but wonder how many other sets of once-young eyes around us have that same damaged-puppy look and tortured souls because of the “ministrations” of O’Brien and (others)…There were fewer priests in the diocese then than there were guys in my high school class. Bishops Helmsing and Sullivan, and every priest in the diocese at that time, HAD to know these terrible thing were going on. Every one of them. The cock crowed three times, over and over again, and none of them spoke out publicly or went to the police.
“I hate the fact that none of us among the laity who knew or heard about these things had the guts, or enough faith in what’s right to storm the chancery and put a stop to it years ago.”
Storming the chancery would have been appropriate. But, then, those were the days when Mother Church, along with priests and bishops, reigned supreme and were above reproach. It took a long time for it to come out that many of those clerics were not only “human” but sub-human.
…Don’t beat yourself up, Pat, you did everything you reasonably could, without taking the law into your own hands.
— O’Brien died last year, and met his Maker, at age 87.
— Couzens, now 44, filed his lawsuit in 2011. The trial is taking place in Independence. Couzens is seeking millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. The diocese contends that it had only one report of O’Brien sexually abusing a minor — in 1983 — and that Bishop Sullivan dealt with it immediately.
— There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The Vatican is actively investigation Bishop Finn, and I thoroughly expect Pope Francis to oust him by Advent…If not Advent, at least by Lent.