Red Buttons

cassockLast week, we posted a story about the grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Catholic diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. The report revealed the scope of the problem in the small, central Pennsylvania diocese. This week, the Guardian newspaper published an in-depth story about the details found in the grand jury’s report.

One of the worst priests described in the report is Father Francis McCaa. The grand jury described him as a monster because he abused so many boys in so many ways. Children were so afraid of McCaa that they used a code word when he approached them. They called out “red buttons” so other kids could escape. McCaa sexually abused boys in the church sacristy, in the confessional, and wherever he could lay his hands on them.

The grand jury found that, “In some cases children tried to report their abuse to their parents … but were not believed … the grand jury aches at hearing the hopelessness these victims felt when being offended on by a pastor they were taught to respect and honor.” But another group of “outraged parents” confronted the bishop at the time, James Hogan, who promised action. Hogan met with two district attorneys, but no charges were brought. McCaa was removed from the diocese and replaced with a different priest who also turned out to be a pedophile.

Another priest, Monsignor Michael Servinsky (69), failed to notify law enforcement in 2001 and 2002 about two priests who admitted past abuse to him, one of boys the other of girls. Servinsky told the newspaper:

I think the grand jury did quite a hatchet job on Bishop Joseph – they did him in. He was very concerned about making sure the victims got covered [financially]. And they talk about Bishop Hogan manipulating the legal system. No. I know situations where police and judges would collar him and say: ‘Get that guy out of here and we will not prosecute.’ We are talking about a different age, going back 40 or 50 years.

While Servinsky told the paper there is no excuse for child abuse, his statements show his “protect the institution at all costs” mentality. He believes the grand jury report made him a victim rather than the innocent children who were sexually abused. How can such thinking still exist among members of the clergy?

Until everyone in the Church honestly accepts that the children were the victims, not the clergy who abused them or the clergy who covered up the problem, the wound of this scandal will continue to fester in the Catholic Church.

Dumas Law Group has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, California, and other states.

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