Altweeklies to the rescue: The press has been the driving force in bringing to light the extent and the desperateness of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy ["House of the Accused," Jan. 4]. The kudos for this heroic contribution to the health and welfare of our children is not reserved for the "big" papers. The Boston Globe deserves the credit it received for bringing the problem to national attention in 2002. But the Phoenix, the Boston altweekly, blazed the trail -- the right direction -- months before the Globe launched its investigative report.
The church and its lawyers are counting on the general public to "get tired" of the issue of clergy abuse. Indeed, there is danger of audience/reader/viewer fatigue of the sordid secrets of Catholic bishops and their intransigence. But no place in the U.S. is more in need of continuing investigation and exposure of the problem of clergy sexual abuse than California.
[Former] Gov. Frank Keating [of Oklahoma] (the Catholic bishops' choice to head their committee to review the sex abuse crisis) characterized the operation of the church in California as similar to the Cosa Nostra. As a person who has been an expert witness in over 250 cases of Catholic clergy sexual abuse of minors all over the United States, I can say that that judgment was correct. The "underbelly" of the church's operations in regard to clergy sexual misbehavior has not yet been exposed. The Catholic dioceses of California persist in a pattern of obstructionism and "business as usual" dependent on public relations and minimal efforts at reform propelled only by external pressure.
A newspaper has to have "guts" to take on an established power system as monumental as the Catholic Church and keep its readers not only informed, but at the same time interested. But that fight is a service not only to the public at large, but also to the church and us members who care urgently for its future.
Your paper and the investigative reports of Ron Russell are an important contribution, far beyond San Francisco, to the fight for integrity and the protection of children. A nation watches California.
Congratulations for your leadership, and keep up the good work.
Editor's note: Richard Sipe is a psychoanalyst, former Benedictine monk, and nationally recognized author of books and articles about the priesthood who has served as an expert witness in numerous clergy sex abuse cases.
Guilty until proven guilty: The lurid cover on your Jan. 4-10 issue and Ron Russell's distortion-filled article on the Salesian order are a deliberate attempt to smear the good name of this organization. The timing of this hit piece is not accidental given that there are current related court cases pending.
Mr. Russell highlights David Clohessy's statement: "Rarely if ever have there been so many accused priests clustered at the heart of a single religious order," but the article tells the opposite story. There are over 40,000 Salesians worldwide, more than 16,000 of them priests. Mr. Russell offers six cases from the western half of the United States, three of which have no merit. Where are the huge numbers substantiating Mr. Clohessy's bold claim?
In the three cases detailed by Mr. Russell where the allegations, some of which go back 30 or 40 years, were true, they were admitted and the priests were appropriately convicted, disciplined, or dismissed.
In the case of the three Salesians assigned to Saints Peter and Paul Parish, they have all been cleared by the Archdiocesan Review Board. The allegations against them were thoroughly researched by competent private investigators and upon subsequent examination by the Review Board dismissed as "not sustained." In his one-sided reportage, Mr. Russell casually dismisses these facts and implies that the province has been negligent in retaining these men, even in a limited capacity. "Accused" is virtually equated with "guilty," even if the accusations are unfounded. What happened to the right of these men to be assumed innocent until proven otherwise?
You are able to publish such a malicious article under the guise of "journalism" only because it is still open season on the Catholic Church and priest-bashing in particular has an avid audience. Will you run a similarly eye-catching cover and an equally lengthy story when the courts dismiss the allegations against these men?
In last week's Infiltrator column ["Dieter Gone Wild"], the award show attended by contributor Harmon Leon was misidentified. In the editing process, Leon said that the column was based upon his attendance at a previous AVN award show. I should have pointed this out to readers.
However, Leon's contention that he was reprising reporting from an earlier AVN affair is wrong. He was actually at the FOXE (Fans of X-rated Entertainment) Awards. He did not reveal this to SF Weekly until after we printed his work. Leon proved his attendance by faxing an article he had written about the FOXE Awards that was printed in a magazine several years ago. I was not informed that the column was a reprint during the editing process.
The column, and Leon's byline, will no longer be appearing in our pages.