We are here today to prod Ft. Worth Catholic officials to do more to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded. Specifically, we urge Bishop Michael Olson to
1. make public the personnel files of Fr. Bede Mitchel, a recently-outed predator priest,
2. post at least three more names of credibly accused child molesting clerics on his website, and
3. send a letter rebuking an Arkansas church staffer who made harsh remarks that hurt a victim, and
4. aggressively reach out to others who may have been hurt by Fr. Mitchel and other predator priests.
Let’s take these one at a time.
First, last week a settlement was announced in a clergy sex abuse and cover up lawsuit involving Fr. Mitchel and two Catholic institutions: the Ft. Worth diocese and an Arkansas abbey. The victim is a Ft. Worth woman and the crimes took place in Cooke County at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Muenster. The alleged predator is a now-deceased priest, Fr. Bede Mitchel, who taught at Corpus Christi Academy and Laneri High School in Ft. Worth, worked at six local parishes and traveled extensively leading retreats and missions.
We urge Ft. Worth’s bishop to make public every piece of paper in his files about Fr. Mitchel. Since Fr. Mitchel’s colleague in Arkansas claims Fr. Mitchel is innocent, the Ft. Worth bishop should let parishioners, police, prosecutors, parents and the public see and judge for themselves about the allegations against Fr. Mitchel. (Besides, Ft. Worth’s bishop has repeatedly pledged to be “open” about clergy sex cases and the US bishops national abuse policy mandates such openness.)
Second, in 2013, the Ft. Worth diocese posted some names of predator priests on its website. About 30 US bishops have done this. We’re glad Ft. Worth’s bishop did. But his list is incomplete.
It makes no mention of three credibly accused child molesting clerics who spent time in the Ft. Worth diocese: Fr. Mitchel, Fr. Tony Pistone and Fr. Hugh John Sutton. It’s wrong and reckless to help these predator priests exploiting technicalities by keeping them off the diocesan website. For the safety of kids and the healing of victims,we urge Ft. Worth’s bishop to come clean now and add these three predator priests’ names – and any other child molesting clerics’ names – immediately.
(Last year, Fr. Sutton was accused of molesting at least one child at Notre Dame Catholic School in Wichita Falls, TX in the early 1990s. In 2005, Fr. Pistone left his post at a Catholic school in St. Louis MO, campus after accusations surfaced that he had groped a youth at Nolan Catholic High School in Ft. Worth TX in 1980s.)
Third, often in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases, we see church officials playing “good cop, bad cop.” One church figure postures as ‘pastoral’ while letting - or encouraging - another church figure to ‘talk tough’ and deter other victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from reporting possible crimes against innocent kids and vulnerable adults.
That’s what is happening here. In this case, the Ft. Worth bishop is playing good cop while letting his Arkansas Catholic colleague play bad cop.
Olson makes bland public comments about the Fr. Mitchel case while letting his Arkansas colleague make callous public remarks about the case and the victim. Last week, the Arkansas church official, Abbot Jerome Kodell of Subiaco Abbey, told the Ft. Worth Star Telegram that “If this had gone to trial, Fr. Mitchel would have been found innocent.”
Fr. Mitchel is deceased. So Kodell’s comments don’t help Fr. Mitchel. That begs the question: What possible good can come of these remarks? They depress and hurt victims and keeps them from reporting crimes and getting help. And they rub even more salt into the deep wounds of this brave family.
So we urge the Ft. Worth bishop to write – and make public – a letter censuring Kodell for this “insensitive” remarkwhich we believe was designed to discourage other victims from speaking up about Fr. Mitchel and other predator priests.
The Ft. Worth bishop would not sit idly by while an out-of-state Catholic figure told Ft. Worth Catholics to lobby for abortion or the death penalty or donate to Baptists, not to the diocese. Nor should the Ft. Worth bishop sit idly by while this Arkansas Catholic official makes the Ft. Worth diocese a more dangerous and secretive place.
Why should the Ft. Worth bishop publicly chastise his colleague in Arkansas? Because that Arkansas Catholic official’s mean-spirited remark was published in a Ft. Worth newspaper. Because that Arkansas Catholic official is hurting the Ft. Worth bishop’s flock. Because that Arkansas Catholic official is deterring Ft. Worth Catholics from speaking up about known and suspected child sex crimes. And finally, because all that’s needed for evil to triumph, as Edmund Burke said, “is for good men to do nothing.”
It endangers Ft. Worth citizens and Catholics for Ft. Worth’s bishop to tell his flock “If you were hurt, come to us,” while letting a colleague essentially tell that same flock “If you speak up, we’ll attack your honesty and publicly defend your predator.”
Fourth, a caring shepherd would, without prompting, aggressively reach out to others who may have been hurt by Fr. Mitchel and other predator priests. But too often, church officials talk like caring shepherds but act like callous CEOs. We beg the Ft. Worth bishop to use parish bulletins, church websites, and pulpit announcements to seek out others who may have been assaulted by Fr. Mitchel and prod them to speak up, expose wrongdoing, and start healing.
Regardless of what Catholic officials, in Texas or Arkansas, do or don’t do, we in SNAP urge every single person who may have seen, suspected or suffered clergy crimes or cover ups – in the Fr. Mitchel case or any case – to call police, protect others, deter cover ups and join us on the tough but crucial path to recovery, justice and prevention. Staying trapped in silence, shame, confusion and self-blame endangers kids, prolongs suffering and helps only those who commit and conceal heinous crimes against children.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org.