Church On Trial: Part 3

Is the Church Engaged In Organized Crime?

Bishop Wilton Gregory, who will chair tomorrow's meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the Church should set a mandatory policy, requiring all American bishops to report priests accused of sex crimes to the police.

But there are powerful figures in the Church - both here and in the Vatican - who are already speaking out against Bishop Gregory's proposal. Those are the people he will have to win over. Ed Bradley recently spoke to Gregory about the issue.

"We bishops have failed. We have failed in too many cases to protect children, to address this issue forthrightly and to be on top of this whole entire matter," says Gregory.

"If a priest is accused of sexually abusing a minor, would that information go into a priests file?" Bradley asked him.

"I think that information has to go first of all to the civil authorities. Molestation of children is a crime. It's also a sin. But it's a crime first of all," says Gregory.

Gregory says that he believes that "absolutely without any question" that a bishop should report an alleged child molester to the police.

Why haven't bishops been doing so? "In my humble opinion, it was a grave misjudgement," says Gregory.

We now know that same grave misjudgment was made not just once, but over and over again, for decades. That history has led to new and potentially more serious lawsuits-suits that accuse the Catholic Church of a longstanding criminal conspiracy.

In Cleveland, where steel mills have closed and factories have laid off thousands of workers, the Catholic Church continues to be an institution that holds the community together. Churches there hold mass in 18 languages. Catholic services feed the homeless and the unemployed. About 20 % of children in Cleveland attend Catholic schools.

A few months ago, no one here would have imagined that today, the county prosecutor's office would be investigating the diocese for a possible coverup of sexual abuse. Or that one of the city's leading lawyers, Jay Milano, would be suing the Church under the RICO statute, which was created to fight the Mafia.

"If you take away the collars, the churches, the cathedrals, this is organized crime," says Milano. "It's an enormous organization. The people of that organization, the bosses the elites, find out that their employees are raping kids. So what do they do? When an allegation comes in, they pull evidence out of files, or they move the rapist from one place to another where there's where there's fresh kids. That's organized crime. That's racketeering. They're covering up crimes to protect themselves. People who do that ought to go to jail."

Milano argues that the church was engaged in what's called a pattern of corrupt activity. Milano isn't the only one saying that. Although some legal scholars say a RICO suit against the Church is a longshot, lawyers in five other states have also filed RICO suits against the Church.

Milano filed his lawsuit against the Cleveland Diocese on behalf of 27-year-old Joe Kotula. According to medical records, Kotula has suffered from severe depression and panic attacks since he attended St. Angela's Catholic Elementary School in Fairview Park, just outside Cleveland. There, he says, the principal regularly pulled him out of class and sexually abused him - for seven years.

"I was in first grade. I remember being in the classroom, and, uh, they said the principal wanted to see me, and took me to his office," says Kotula.

Kotula says the principal didn't really say anything to him: "It was you know, just kinda, he's telling me to do this. It was just a weird feeling I mean being six years old, I didn't know what to do or say but I just had to totally cooperate with him."

A year before he went to Milano, Joe told his story to Fairview Park police detective Mark Gleba, who immediately started an investigation.

"In my business it's hard to believe anything that people tell you, but looking at him, I knew something took place. He just couldn't respond. And when he tried to respond, he broke down. He cried. He shook. A man that is not making up stories," says Gleba.

Gleba says that Kotula's medical records showed evidence to back up his claims: "He had blood in his underwear, he had severe abdominal pain, and if you look at it he had signs of some sort of abuse."

Gleba says when he contacted the Diocese, they appeared to be holding back information about their former principal, Vincent Gillespie.

"I pulled his work records. For a man who supposedly worked there 15 years I had about 3, 4, years of documentation of his performance," says Gleba. Gleba doesn't think the file contained all the information the Church had.

It didn't. Over the years, parents, students, even a Cleveland police commander had complained to Church officials that Gillespie was molesting children, but none of that information was in the file the Diocese sent Gleba.

"If I keep that stuff from the police, that's obstruction of justice. If I move evidence, that's tampering with evidence. Those are the kind of crimes that make up a pattern of corrupt activity. The exact kind of crimes," says Milano.

According to Milano, there were earlier reports about Gillespie abusing other kids. He says the diocese knew about these reports.

"Gillespie was moved from one school to another. He was accused of abusing kids at St Leo's; he got moved to St Angela's and abused more kids," says Milano.

Then Milano learned a fact the Diocese had never turned over to the police investigating Joe Kotula's case: Vincent Gillespie had been found dead of a heart attack, with boxes of child pornography in his apartment.

"Pictures of kids, not just anonymous child pornography but actual pictures of children that he or his friends would have taken," says Milano.

Who were those children? No one knows. And police say that no one from the Cleveland Diocese has ever called them to find out.

We asked Cleveland's Bishop Anthony Pilla for an interview. He declined. Last month, Bishop Pilla was ordered by the county prosecutor there to turn over the names of all the priests in the Diocese who've ever been accused of molesting children. The Bishop turned over 24 names.

Around the country, at least 19 other dioceses are also being investigated for possible cover-ups of sex crimes. Since January, about 200 priests have resigned because of allegations that they sexually molested children.

Says Milano: "There's never been an institution that was so identified with good that did things that were so evil. Now certainly I understand that the church isn't wholly bad or wholly evil and of course we all know it was designed to do good but for all that good this in some ways is worse. You're talking about raping kids, covering it up. And there's nothing worse than that."

There are 195 Catholic Dioceses in America, and, in spite of recommendations made ten years ago by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the leaders of those dioceses have never agreed on a common policy for handling priests who sexually abuse children. Bishop Wilton Gregory, who in his own southern Illinois diocese has taken swift, stern action against such priests, hopes that will change tomorrow in Dallas.

"What we're looking for is a clear, forthright, obligatory procedure that every diocese must live with and abide by," says Gregory.

He wants a national regulation, "so that people in our nation understand A. that no child will be put in harm's way and B., these matters will be handled correctly. They have not always been handled correctly."

"I've met with a number of people who were abused by priests and by people under the jurisdiction of the church who say that even today I'm still a Catholic, I still believe in the church, but no one has reached out to me, no one has said, how are you doing, are you okay, can we help," Bradley said to Gregory.

"That is a great injustice," Gregory responded.

A great injustice - certainly, but not a new one. The hard fact is, nearly two decades have passed since the Catholic Church learned everything it needed to know about priests who molest children, and it has yet to come up with a way to stop them.

60II Section