When church officials say they've reported to police, be skeptical

In a disclosure that's eerily reminiscent of several recent predator priest cases, an ex-police officer says that a reality TV show star lied about the extent of his son's child sex crimes. This isn't an isolated incident. And there's a crucial lesson in this case for all of us.

Jim Bob Duggar is an archconservative former politician whose 15 minutes of fame comes from the television program "19 Kids and Counting," centered on his huge family and conservative values. As a 2002 U.S. Senate candidate in Arkansas, Jim Bob argued that "rape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes."

Jim Bob and his family are making headlines these days because of disclosures that his son Josh had been investigated for "forcibly fondling" at least five girls. A police report indicates that Josh admitted his wrongdoing in 2002, and the following year, Jim Bob told the elders of his Baptist church about the crimes. Those elders decided to handle the situation quietly and "in-house."

So no one told the police.

Months later, Jim Bob and several church elders sat Josh down with an Arkansas state trooper, who gave the young man a "very stern talk." No official course of action was launched.

The now-ex-trooper said last week that both men told him that that Josh had molested only one girl.

This set of facts should sound familiar to NCR readers. It's almost exactly what Kansas City Catholic officials did with the sexual images of children on a cleric's computer: minimized how much wrongdoing the predator did and misled a police officer about it.

In that case, after months of sitting on hundreds of child pornography images that belonged to then-Fr. Shawn Ratigan, an aide to Bishop Robert Finn "called a police captain who is a member of the diocese's independent review board and described a single photo of a nude child that was not sexual in nature," The Associated Press reported.

Not surprisingly, that diocesan official got the answer he was looking for; basically, "There's no need to report this."

According to the AP, "without viewing the photo, the captain said he was advised that although such a picture might meet the definition of child pornography, it probably wouldn't be investigated or prosecuted."

And Ratigan quietly went on to hurt more kids. Eventually, when more of the truth about the case emerged, Finn was convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse.

Are these two cases anomalies? Hardly. Look at recent happenings in the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese.

In 2006, a man spent an hour on the phone with the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocesan victims' assistance coordinator, telling her about the abuse he says he suffered as a child at the hands of Fr. Gerald Grieman. Church officials told New Brighton police they'd received an accusation against Grieman. Years later, the victim and his family were startled to learn that the case was closed because officers couldn't locate the victim.

But church officials "knew where to find me," the victim said. Thankfully, last year, the man contacted police himself, filed a report on Grieman himself, and the case has since been reopened.

Last year, the same archdiocese said it contacted nearly 50 law enforcement agencies over a two-week period to provide files on priests accused of child sexual abuse. However, none of 12 metro law enforcement agencies contacted by Minnesota Public Radio confirmed that the archdiocese had offered files to review. MPR reported: "The archdiocese wouldn't provide a list of the 50 agencies." So the station's journalists "contacted 18 law enforcement agencies in the Twin Cities metro area and 12 responded. Eleven officials said they had no record of any contacts with the archdiocese in the past two weeks."

And consider the even more recent case of accused priest Fr. Gerald Dvorak, again as reported by Minnesota Public Radio:

"Tom Halden, the director of the archdiocese's communications office, said [Archbishop John] Nienstedt was unavailable for an interview. He also declined to explain when and how Nienstedt learned of the allegation."

In his statement, Nienstedt said, "Law enforcement has been notified." Halden declined to provide the name of the law enforcement agency, the person who reported it, or the date it was reported.

St. Paul Police Department spokesperson Steve Linders said police have no record of any report of abuse by Dvorak. In Richfield, where Dvorak has been serving as pastor since 2011, police also have no record of any report of abuse, according to Richfield Deputy Police Chief Mike Koob. The Minneapolis Police Department also has no record of a report, according to spokesperson John Elder.

The archdiocese hasn't said where the abuse allegedly happened.

The lesson here is as simple as it is painful: When church officials claim they've called law enforcement about child sex abuse allegations, don't believe them, especially when those officials have admitted or have been accused of concealing child sex abuse crimes. To church officials, the phrase "reported to authorities" or "turned over to law enforcement" can mean something very different than you might expect. It can mean, in reality, that "we made a deceptive and partial disclosure to one person we know and trust and who wears a police uniform but is actually one of our loyal, trusting members."

Instead, when you're told "we've reported to law enforcement," insist on seeing proof. Ask for names of police officers and prosecutors and their agencies. Ask for dates, too. It's important to know how much time elapsed between the report by a victim and the alleged report to the police.

If church officials give you a name of an individual officer or district attorney ask why they chose to report to that individual and what connections he or she may have to the church or the denomination or the accused.

Needless to say, there should be no connections. Alleged crimes in churches should be reported to not just the appropriate secular authorities, but also to the appropriate individuals in those agencies, not a biased congregant, parishioner or loyalist.

And they should be reported fully and accurately, not partially and deceptively.

[David Clohessy is the executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.]

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