MAURIZIO CASE

The following information is from the Maurizio case and shows the lengths the diocese went to keep a child molester in our ranks.  This story is provided by Elizabeth Williams who helped bring justice to these children.

The Least we owe Victims is a Thorough Post-Mortem

Elizabeth Williams

June 10 , 2016

 

They are called M&M Rounds.  Morbidity and Mortality Rounds.  It is one of the most painful, yet ultimately productive, things we do in healthcare. 

Every day and with every patient, we strive to avoid error.  We work to save lives, improve lives and at the least… do no harm.  But sometimes we fail.  People suffer and die due to error.  What then?

 

We health professionals do exactly what needs to be done in the Atloona-Johnstown community, specifically amongst Catholics who want to clean up the Church:  a thorough Post-Mortem.  Sometimes formally, sometimes informally, we take each “bad outcome” case and tear it apart.  We reconstruct exactly what happened.  We comb the documents.  We search for what went right, what went wrong and ultimately what can we do differently so it NEVER EVER happens again. 

 

Bishop Adamec and Monsignor Servinsky disregarded allegations that Father Joseph Maurizio was sexually molesting Honduran boys.  My best efforts in 2009 and 2010 to keep kids safe were rebuffed.  I quietly feared mine was not the only such case.  The 37th Grand Jury Report of March 2016 confirmed my worst fears about the Altoona-Johstown Diocese. Something had gone terribly terribly wrong.

Every Catholic in PA and every citizen in Atloona-Johnstown should read the report.  As adults, this is clearly our problem to fix.  We can no longer point to “someone else” and expect action.  If we want safer communities for our children and Churches that honor God, it is up to us to take responsibility for eradicating this evil.  Collectively, we failed these kids.  The least we can do is learn from this tragedy, so it NEVER EVER happens again.

 

By writing this, I hope to complete my obligation to the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese Grand Jury Report Post-Mortem.   So, here goes:

 

Dear Altoona-Johnstown Parishioners,

I think I have something that is yours.  This information, this story, belongs to you.  This is your Diocese.  Your children and your community will either thrive or suffer as a result of how the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese handles allegations of child sex abuse.  I have carried this knowledge long enough.  I am giving you your story.  I trust that you will now own it fully and bear the responsibility that comes with it.

My heart broke when I received the call regarding allegations of Father Joseph Maurizio (Father Joe) sexually molesting boys in Honduras living in the center for street children he heavily funded.  Deciding to take those allegations directly to Father Joe, to the authorities and to the Diocese was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.  During the short span of time between receiving the allegations and sharing them with my US colleagues, I was the only person outside of Honduras who knew this dark secret.  The daunting task of determining if the allegations were weighty enough to take further action was a crushing weight.  Sharing these allegations with even one person would forever alter many lives.  I barely slept.  I literally begged God for guidance.  I did not want to leave children in harm’s way.  I did not want to harm a man if he was innocent.  It was a gut wrenching time, soul searching time.  I wanted to run away. I wished I had never decided to work with poor street children.  I wanted out.  But I had taken the responsibility of leading the organization, and I couldn’t abandon ship despite the horrible dilemma it presented me.  I simply could not “unknow” what I had been told.  I traveled to Honduras to get closer to the situation and make a better assessment.  Within a few days, I had my answer.  While I am not a forensic expert, nor a psychologist, nor in a position to determine guilt or innocence, I was at peace knowing that the weight of evidence clearly warranted a professional investigation.  Proceeding would cost me and the organization dearly, but I was at peace with what had to be done.  Sometimes you have to do the right thing even when it cost you dearly. 

(If you have read the Grand Jury Report, you too will never be able to “unknow” what you have read)

Some on the board deemed going to the Church a waste of time.  “They will just circle around the wagon and protect him”.  But we knew that Bishop Adamec was the only person empowered to remove Father Joe from direct work with children while the matter was investigated.  I thought we should work with the Church in good faith, believing that surely they would be keenly interested in protecting children.  First, because it is the right thing to do, but second in response to the painful lessons learned out of Boston in 2002. 

I and a fellow board member drove from Virginia and met with Bishop Adamec and Monsignor Servinsky in November of 2009 and conveyed the allegations that Father Joe had sexually molesting the boys in Honduras.  Much to my surprise and great relief, Bishop Adamec assured us that Father Joe would be put on some sort of Administrative Leave while the investigation was ongoing.  Unfortunately, that never happened. 

I don’t know why they changed their minds, assuming they ever intended to actually take action.  I never received a call or any form of communication explaining why they didn’t follow through with their promise.  Did they just think we were too stupid to notice that he was still working with children?  Why didn’t they 1) do what they promised? Or, at least 2) show enough regard for this grave matter to explain their lack of action.

You may be wondering why we went to the Diocese when Father Joe was acting in his position with his organization HIM when he traveled to Honduras.  We felt an ethical obligation to the children around Father Joe, including those abroad and those in his local parish.  We took our concerns to the board members of HIM, hoping they would take action to protect children in the many countries Father Joe regularly visited through HIM.  But only the Bishop could act to protect the children in PA.  According to the federal indictment, Father Joe did not travel out of the country from November 2009 until 2011.  I do not know why he curtailed his international travels.  According to church bulletins and some PA friends, Father Joe continued to minister as a parish priest in PA during from November 2009 until his arrest in September 2014.  

So, the Diocese left him in his position and we were ill with worry.  More nights than not, when I kissed my boys good night, I thought of Pennsylvania parents who were also putting their children to bed.  Didn’t they deserve to know what I knew?  I was protecting Honduran children, but who was protecting Pennsylvania’s children? 

We could not forget PA children, your children.  Maybe the information we gave the Diocese lacked specificity.  Maybe more information would encourage the Diocese to place Father Joe on leave. We decided the safety of children was worth more effort.   Video/audio tapes were made of each Honduran boy who was willing to share his allegations.     

I drove the tapes to Altoona Johnstown Diocese Headquarters for review by Monsignor Servinsky and several others (unfortunately I did not get the names of all the attendees).   I recall there was at least one addition lawyer than Monsignor Servinsky.  Bishop Adamec was not there, but Monsignor Servinsky assured me that he would share the information with the Bishop.  I showed the tapes one time through.  I did not leave copies.  The purpose was simply to give the Diocese enough information to see the need to place Father Joe on leave while the investigation unfolded. 

They thanked me and I left without any real discussion. The tone was rather cool and quite formal.

A synopsis of the tapes:  Individually, five Honduran boys describe witnessing and/or experiencing offers of money in exchange for undressing, urinating, masturbating in front of Father Joe; and witnessing and/or experiencing genital fondling and/or oral sex.

Homeless Child is a Netherlands based organization that has supported the Honduran project for many years.  Its president Bas Wiersma was aware of the situation. He and his European board members were distressed at the Diocese lack of action.  Bas and I coordinated efforts and he wrote a passionate letter explaining the plight of these boys who had experienced the abuse.  He pleaded with Monsignor Servinsky to take action and protect the children of PA.  He further explained that Father Joe and his organization HIM had abruptly ceased funding PNH when the allegations were brought forward, leaving the Centers in dire financial need.  Naturally this added an additional layer of guilt onto the victims.  The boys realized that by telling the truth, the entire organization was suffering.  Neither Bas nor I ever asked the Diocese for money.  We never suggested a lawsuit. Bas inquired as to the possibility of the Bishop encouraging HIMs to restore funding and pay for psychological support for the abuse victims.  Bas noted in his letter to Monsignor Servinsky that:

 

Father Joe Maurizio has been using his parishioners’ donations to pay for sexual favors or to buy his victim’s silence. In my view, his parishioners have the right to know what their spiritual leader does with their money, when he visits abandoned children in economically impoverished countries.

 

 

The First Letter from Monsignor Servinsky:

In April on 2010 we received the attached letter from Monsignor Servinsky.  Shock, dismay and disbelief flooded my mind as I read the letter.  In the third paragraph, Monsignor Servinsky states, “You, however, never provide names of any individuals who claim to be victims.  We do not have names of those who were approached or abused.”  He goes on in the next paragraph to state that, “we have been presented with testimony of witnesses who make this accusation.  Our difficulty is that the “victim” denies that anything occurred.”   He closes the letter by stating he must have the names and statements of victims and witnesses. 

 

An Untruth and a Disturbing Question from Monsignor Servinsky’s Letter:

Monsignor Servnsky himself witnessed the tapes in which five boys clearly give their names and clear accounts of witnessing and/or experiencing sexual molestation/harassment from Father Joe.  So yes, Monsignor and other Diocesan officials did in fact have the names. 

Furthermore, they state that the “”victim” denies that anything occurred”.  What in the world do they mean by that?  Carefully consider:

  • Out of the 5 boys’ statements, one boy did not report a particular sex act that another boy  witnessed.

  •  That leaves 4 boys who claim to have witnessed or been subjected to genital touching and/or offers of money to masturbate themselves (and other acts) in front of Father Joe. 

 

The Diocese simply disregarded the statements of FOUR boys, or maybe they don’t have a problem with those acts?? Does the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Diocese really think there is no victim if a priest fondles the genitals of a child? Or offers him money to undress, urinate, have pictures taken of himself naked and/or masturbating in front of the priest?  These are serious questions the Diocese should answer.

Think of it this way: how would you respond if your son came home distraught that his coach offered him a starting position on the basketball team if he just let him take some nude pictures, maybe with him masturbating?  Parents unanimously have the same response: immediate outrage.  No need to reference a parenting book!  It is disgustingly wrong.  Unbelievably, according to their own words, the Diocese does not see a “victim”.  Does that mean they are OK with a priest propositioning your son in that way?  …are you OK with a priest propositioning your son/daughter in that way? 

Bas and I were disheartened, but still hoped the Diocese would reconsider.  We were not asking for money. We were not asking that Father Joe be fired.  We ONLY asked that children be protected during the investigation.  Bas sent another letter to Monsignor Servinsky (Spring 2010) in which he again requested that steps be taken to protect PA children while the investigation was ongoing.  He pleaded with Monsignor Servinsky to look carefully at the allegations and remove him from priestly duties involving children.  Still, the Diocese took no action. 

 

 

The Next Letter: Lawyering Up.

Shawn Sullivan of HSK&G Attorneys at Law signed the next letter we received (see attached).  Highlights from that letter:

  • First paragraph: “The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown takes seriously credible allegations involving one of its diocesan priests.”   “…this diocese has established a review board of lay and religious members to hear the tales of victims who have suffered abuse, sexual or otherwise, at the hands of our diocesan priest”

  • Second paragraph:  “The Diocesan review board would welcome the opportunity to meet with any of the children who claim that Father Maurizio has sexually abused them.  This offers the opportunity for the review board to question the children in order to ensure the credibility of the claims being made. Unfortunately, it does not appear that these boys are able to appear before our diocesan review board.”

  • Third paragraph:  They point out that there have been no other allegations against Father Joe.

  • Fourth paragraph:  “The diocese cannot act on unverified allegations.”

  • Final paragraph:  The law firm advised us that any further correspondence with the diocese concerning the matter should be directed to them… the lawyers.

Attempting to understand the incomprehensible:

A wave of nausea hit when I read the words “hear the tales” of the victims.  “Tales”??  As in Fairy Tales?  Tall Tales?  Maybe it was just a poor choice of words, but referring to a victim’s recounting of sexual violation against them as a “tale” is demeaning at best.  At worst, it implies that the individual is “telling a tale”, ie… lying.   Does attorney Sullivan, or the Diocese he represents, understand the lifelong horror exacted by childhood sex abuse?  Every research study on CSA (childhood sexual abuse) reaches the same conclusion:  sexual abuse in childhood is very difficult to for victims to discuss.  Victims are often well into adulthood before they are able to confront what has happened to them.   These are not “tales”.  They  are issues of life and death for victims.  They are issues of moral credibility for the Church.  Words matter.

The idea that we could have actually had the boys “appear before our diocesan review board” is simply preposterous.  I am not sure I can adequately express how utterly and completely impossible, laughably ridiculous, is that notion.   When judging the sincerity of their regret that the boys did not appear, consider these points:

 

  • No one from the Diocese ever told us about the review board or the process by which the boys could “appear” before them.  We were neither given information nor instructions about the existence or utilization of such review board.   Furthermore,

  • Us bringing Honduan children to the US was a complete impossibility.  The organization was always strapped for funding.  When Father Joe immediately ceased funding the program when I confronted him, we could barely feed the children.  With the loss of 20-30% of our operating budget, a very difficult financial situation became incredibly bleak. Those were dark days as we contemplated which children would have to be put back on the street to face lives of danger and neglect due to lack of funding.  We doubled our fundraising efforts, an uphill battle in the recession of 2010 when all non-profits suffered financially.   The expense of bringing children to the US to speak with an allegations review board was completely out of the question.  Ludicrous really.  Furthermore,

  • It was impossible to get visas for the children to come to the States.  The resources of the Federal Government, in Father Joe’s federal trial, were needed to secure visas and provide 24/7 monitoring in order to bring them to the States to testify in front of a federal jury.

 

Next, let’s consider the “lawyering up”.  Why did they refer the matter to a LAWYER?  We had not filed a lawsuit.  We came to them in good faith, hoping to find a partner in the search for Truth and protection for children.  Why did they so quickly shut us out? Did they hope to shut us up?

 

Fast forward to the PA Attorney General, 37th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report (GJR) released March 2016.  Page 78 addressed Father Joseph Maurizio:

               

A monsignor in the Diocese contacted the FBI in an effort to confirm that an investigation was taking place.  The Diocese engaged in an effort to investigate the complaint and hired their own translator to translate the victims’ claims.  Documents obtained from the Diocese show a high ranking Diocesan official concluding the alleged conduct was “impossible.”  Maurizio was convicted in 2015. 

 

I read this paragraph several times, took a walk around the neighborhood to clear my head and read it several more times.  Surely, it didn’t say what the combining letters clearly communicated.  I was then, and to this day, remain completely dumbfounded.

 

  • True, Monsignor Servinsky and I discussed my taking the allegations to the FBI and at some point he told me that he confirmed this with the FBI.  Beyond this true statement, I remain perplexed…

  • If the Diocese traveled to Honduras to meet with the children I would have known.  I was working very closely with the Program leadership and would have been well informed of anyone from the US traveling to Honduras to meet with the boys.  That simply would not have happened without my knowledge.  Indeed, it did not happen.  There was no on the ground, in Honduras, investigation by the Diocese. 

  • Translate the claims?? Hired their own translator?? 

    • So, the day I took the tapes to PA for their viewing, did they have their own translator?  They never informed me of that. I do not recall anyone taking the kind of notes indicating they were trying to take a verbatim dictation.

    • There was ONE SINGLE viewing/listening of the tapes.  I found that quite odd.  No one asked, not once, to rewind the tape so they could hear it again.  I had listened to the tapes … probably several DOZEN times to ensure accuracy.  Any sincere translator would have done the same.

    • At least three English/Spanish speakers had previously verified the translations.

    • After the release of the GJR and reading the above, I had yet another independent translator view the tapes.  It is all in there.  Nothing is lost in translation.

    • Most importantly (at least regarding translations), if the Diocese had such good translators, how did they miss EACH boy clearly stating his name at the start of his interview?  Recall that the Diocese claimed they did not know the names of the boys…

 

 

Now, let’s move to more grave considerations.  What about the matter of credibility?

The Diocese noted, in both letters, that they were willing to act on “credible allegations”.  This raises a very serious question:

What constitutes a “credible allegation”? 

Who determines what is and what is not “credible”?

How is the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese track record in determining credibility?

A federal jury found Father Joe guilty and a federal judge sentenced him to over 16 years in prison.  The Diocese concluded the allegations against him were “impossible”??  How could the Diocese conclude the abuse “impossible” if they never spoke to the boys?  Please take a moment and consider… they never even spoke to the boys, but yet they deemed their allegations “impossible”.

Forensic investigations into child sex abuse is a highly sophisticated field.  Is it fair to ask lay people to make determinations of “credibility”? Particularly if they are under pressure from the Diocese to skew the balance. 

Under the current arrangement, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown gets to determine credibility.  It seems clear to me that they do not have the ability (or willingness?) to adequately fulfill that task.  This leaves your children at risk and your Church mired in this immorality. 

I beg you to read the GJR section on the Allegations Review Board, pg 123-125.  Case after case show that Allegations Review Boards true purpose is to assess potential liability and intimidate victims, not humbly search for Truth.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

If we had not gone to the secular authorities, Father Joe would still be molesting boys.  Remember, the Diocese deemed the allegations “impossible”, so they would not have gone to the authorities.  How many more predators are among your children right now because the Church disregarded allegations?  The system is broken and broken badly.

I have tried very hard to think I was just “missing something”.  But the bottom line is this:

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown did not Tell the Truth.

The lied to me.  They did not do what they said they would do. They made false statements in their letters.  But the problem is much more pernicious.  There was an absolute lack of interest in finding the Truth.  No one seemed the least bit interested in determining if in fact the boys had actually been harmed.  Not once did they make any attempt to speak with the boys.  They did not offer to bring them to the States, they did not offer to go to Honduras.  They did not seek to have a Catholic representative in Honduras meet with the boys.  Nothing.  They engaged in blaming us … you can’t get the boys to the review board… you failed to give us the names (untrue).   You see this pattern over and over again in the GJR. 

 

As a Christian I find this lack of interest in the Truth deeply disturbing.  Jesus said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life”.  Telling the Truth is a central Christian discipline.   In grave matters of sin before God and crimes before man, the Church actively avoided the Truth.  God help us.

As the Bride of Christ, the Church sets herself apart from the world.  In particular, priests take vows of celibacy.  If priests violate their vow, and Bishops fail to hold them accountable, the moral credibility of the Church suffers. Worse than failing to protect the most innocent among us from the sexual sin of priests, Bishops acted to protect these perpetrators.  Hence we Christians find ourselves in a most grievous situation.  We, the people of God, are depending on the secular system of laws to enforce the most basic of moral principles:  adults should not violate children.  Has the world turned upside down?

Most Catholic Christians want their Church to honor God.   I wish no harm to the Church.  The Church represents Christ and should be a bright beacon of Light in this dark world.  Eradicating this scourge will restore, not harm, the Church.  Catholics who love their Church should be making the most noise, leading the drive to cleanse the Church of sexual abuse against children.

I am relieved to share this story with you and thus complete my part in the Post-Mortem. I now ask you to do yours.  How the Church handled this… how they left your children at risk, horrified me.  Maybe it horrifies you.  Maybe not. But at least, now you know.  You have the right to decide for yourselves, and you families, how to proceed.

The Grand Jury Report brought this disaster to light.  It is now up to every responsible adult to fix it.  We can no longer expect “someone else” to do it for us.  Ultimately, the process of handling unfit priest belongs to the laity.  For the sake of the children, I plead with you to stand up for Truth and fix this problem.  Almighty God is Truth.   If we tell the Truth, isn’t He strong enough, and won’t He give us enough strength, to handle the consequences? 

 

Yours in pursuit of Truth,

Elizabeth Williams

 

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