As San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada prepares to preside over a June 14 “ceremony of apology” for Catholics sexually abused by priests, some victims who were once among the event's biggest boosters say they may boycott it over their disenchantment with Levada's handling of abuse cases.
“It's a sham, a cheap way for the church to appear to show sympathy for survivors while doing very little to help,” says Patrick Wilkes, who was part of a group called No More Secrets that helped archdiocese officials plan the public apology at the San Francisco Film Center.
A member of the group who says she will participate in the ceremony is nonetheless blunt in her appraisal of the archbishop's role. “Levada hasn't earned the trust of the survivor community,” says Sonia Rubino Todd, 46, who says she was molested by a priest in her native El Salvador between the ages of 8 and 16. “He's got a lot of work to do to come clean with survivors.”
Billed as an effort to help heal those who suffered clerical sex abuse, the apology is the archdiocese's way of reaching out in the aftermath of the worst scandal to rock the Roman Catholic Church in more than a century. The event was among the first initiatives suggested by No More Secrets, a loose-knit group of victims, after it began meeting with archdiocese officials at Levada's invitation in May 2002.
More than a year later, the gulf between the archdiocese and victims is wider than ever, with some complaining that Levada has gone out of his way to keep allegations of sex abuse involving his priests shrouded in secrecy — even as he has assumed a leading role within the American church in preaching openness on the issue.
Advocates say the archbishop has ignored their demands to include an abuse victim as part of the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board he appointed in December 2001 to review molestation claims. He has also refused to provide a breakdown of the $5.2 million the archdiocese says it has spent in recent years as the result of sexual misconduct on the part of priests, they say. Victims want to know how much the church spent on legal fees, how much on psychotherapy for victims, and how much on individual settlements.
For months No More Secrets has pushed Levada to reveal the names of clerics who have been disciplined as a result of alleged misconduct, as a way of helping victims come forward. Advocates complain that they shouldn't have to rely on media reports to learn of such actions.
The latest case involves Father Gregory Ingels, a former vicar for clergy in the San Francisco Archdiocese and a nationally prominent canon lawyer. He was charged in May with orally copulating a teenage boy in Marin County in 1972. After the matter became public, a spokesman for Levada acknowledged that the archbishop had been aware of the allegations against Ingels since 1996.
Yet, it wasn't until last July — after San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan demanded that the archdiocese turn over records involving alleged misconduct going back as far as 75 years — that Levada quietly removed Ingels from his duties at St. Bartholomew Church in San Mateo. Even so, Ingels played a key role as one of a handful of church legal experts called upon to help draft the sex-abuse policy adopted by U.S. bishops and approved by Pope John Paul II in December.
Concluding that the conciliation talks with victims were useless, Terrie Light, Northern California director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called for a boycott of the meetings, held in a third-floor conference room at archdiocese headquarters. Since then, participation has dwindled steadily. Last month, only three victims attended, says Sharan Falotico, who claims an Ohio priest raped her in the early 1950s.
“All of the energy has gone out of the dialogue,” Falotico says. “It's a game for [archdiocese officials]. When we started meeting with them, I had hoped we would move to a higher standard of leadership on the issue. But instead they've offered less and less.” Paul Haugen stopped attending the meetings last fall. “I could see after about the third session that it wasn't going to be productive,” says Haugen, who reached a court settlement with the church over his charge that a Minnesota seminary instructor molested him as a teenager.
Participants say Auxiliary Bishop John Wester, the archbishop's point man on sex abuse, is polite and sympathetic, but as the facilitator of the meetings has been little more than Levada's water carrier. “He projects himself as a nice guy, but the drill is he comes back and says the archbishop says no to anything we pushed for,” says Patrick Wilkes.
Levada has attended only two of the 11 sessions so far, participants say. In March, he spent an uncomfortable hour and 15 minutes being grilled by a half dozen victims who heatedly accused him of stonewalling and of being more interested in appearances than in substance.
During the session Sonia Rubino Todd read aloud a draft apology that she proposed Levada deliver at the upcoming ceremony. “I am so sorry that out of fear I chose the position of arrogance and sheer unkindness instead of practicing what Jesus would have done,” she intoned, as the archbishop sat red-faced beneath a larger-than-life portrait of himself.
She urged Levada to apologize for brushing aside victims' requests to be represented on the review panel, for keeping information about the panel secret, and for using lawyers and archdiocesan staffers to keep critics at bay. “I am so sorry that my chosen position has been to protect the good name of the church, instead of protecting the people in the church,” she asked him to say.
Pressed about whether he would include the sentiments in his official remarks, Levada told her he would “consider it.”
Does she expect it to happen?
“I'm an optimist. But I'm not counting on it.”