Letters to the Editor

Week of Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Church in State

A continued effort at justice:The article "Zipped Up" [Jan. 19] reveals the politics surrounding the maneuverings of various Bay Area district attorneys and lawyers representing the Archdiocese of San Francisco as they play a sad game of "hot potato" concerning the release of documents by the Marin County district attorney [that] detail the story of sexual assault and abuse by priests with the complicity of officials of the S.F. Archdiocese.

As reported in this same article, I was the first chair of the Independent Review Board (IRB) of the S.F. Archdiocese. The facts, as reported by Mr. Russell, regarding the assaults by priests of the archdiocese on students of Marin Catholic High School almost 30 years ago are essentially consistent with my memory of the investigations by the IRB of these assaults.

I was particularly struck by the courage of Jane Parkhurst to come forward with her story in such a public way. Jane's personal witness will hopefully give encouragement to other survivors, many of whom must still struggle with the abuse, to speak their truth. The Catholic Church has a moral obligation to reach out and to heal such gaping wounds in the body of Christ. Thank you, Jane.

The article also revealed a disturbing development that takes some extended explanation. In November 2004, the San Francisco Chronicleprinted a story about my resignation from the archdiocese's IRB. In that same news account, a former U.S. attorney and recent appointment to the National Review Board, Joseph Russoniello, was quoted: "My concern as a lawyer is balancing the protection of the public with due process for the rights of those accused. My experience as a prosecutor tells me it's easy to make an accusation -- especially from a deranged, angry, vengeful person striking out against an authority figure."

The ignorance, willful blindness, and prejudice contained in this statement coming from someone who has been asked to defend the safety of children is staggering and over the line. If Mr. Russoniello really believes these things about survivors of clergy sexual abuse, that alone should disqualify him from service on the National Review Board.

Now, as SF Weeklyreports, Mr. Russoniello is directing legal efforts in court on behalf of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to suppress the release of documents by the Marin County district attorney, which detail the story of sexual assault and abuse by priests with the complicity of officials of the San Francisco Archdiocese.

This constitutes a gross conflict of interest for Mr. Russoniello, and flagrant continuing efforts by church officials to suppress the truth, and further conceal the abuse and corruption of priests and bishops. It would seem his appointment to the National Review Board is further evidence that "the fix is in."

Mr. Russoniello should resign or be removed from the National Review Board immediately. The suffering of survivors, many of whom still carry the marks of their crucifixion, calls out for justice.

James Jenkins, Ph.D.

Protecting the flock, not the wolf:I find it more and more disheartening as the days go by that the Catholic Church, in which I grew up and was raised, is determined to protect her "good" name regardless of the price victims/survivors have to pay.

I am not a victim of priestly sexual abuse, but I was sexually molested by my mother superior when I was a young sister. I know the horrible lifelong effects. What happened to me was a murder of a large part of my soul. As I read each day of the efforts of the church to cover up these heinous crimes, and to protect these heinous criminals, I am disgusted, revolted, and scandalized. I have learned to accept that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has one mission in mind: to survive this scandal as intact as possible, no matter how much that continues to victimize those who have already been horribly hurt.

Thank you for printing more of the awful truth. Perhaps if we keep rubbing it in their faces, eventually the concept that as bishops they are supposed to be shepherds to their flock will kick in.

I doubt it.

Gabrielle Azzaro
Cardiff by the Sea

Perhaps the church needs its hearing checked:Thank you for publishing Ron Russell's excellent article. Once again Mr. Russell has revealed the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of San Francisco Archbishop William Levada. In spite of the calls by the laity for greater accountability and transparency in the Roman Catholic Church on the part of the hierarchy, deaf ears are still turned toward those making such demands.

Although Archbishop Levada has alleged compliance with all requests to turn over documents relating to sexual abuse by Catholic priests to the district attorneys in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo, it is obvious that his behavior has been duplicitous. By choosing which documents to release to the district attorneys and then fighting to keep them concealed, the archbishop continues his pattern of secrecy.

A further affront to trusting Catholics and other interested citizens which was revealed in Mr. Russell's article is the fact that the lead attorney helping Archbishop Levada to keep hidden the documents requested by SF Weekly is Mr. Joseph Russoniello. This attorney has been recently appointed to the National Review Board, which is charged by American bishops with ensuring the bishops' compliance with the so-called Dallas Charter to prevent any future cover-up of clerical sexual abuse. Clearly Mr. Russoniello has a conflict of interest and should be removed or resign from the National Review Board. The fact that he could even have been nominated, much less appointed, is an affront to everyone expecting impartiality from board members.

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