In a new book, Catholic media expert David F. Pierre Jr. has presented compelling evidence of widespread fraud by way of false priest-abuse claims, particularly in the litigious United States, where, in at least a number of dioceses, the extent should outrage every Catholic.
Don’t get us wrong: A real scandal — an atrocious, historic scandal — engulfed Catholicism in the second half of the twentieth century. That’s not in dispute. But the growing question is whether the “scandal” has now gone on for suspiciously too long, with the number of abusers higher — of late, far higher — than is dictated by reality.
“In a nutshell, while the vast majority of the claims from those who first came forward decades ago in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s were tragically true [a major study indicated that between 1950 and 2002, allegations had been made against 4,392 priests in the United States], the pendulum has swung completely in the other direction to the point that most claims nowadays are bogus,” Pierre told Spirit Daily.
His book, The Greatest Fraud Never Told, is a shocking one.
“Whereas the Church’s riches were once offered as a form of restitution to those who were so wounded by clergy, this same money has now become an opportunity for fraudsters, flimflammers, and troubled individuals to score a monetary settlement,” Pierre writes in scorching fashion, adding that schemers and psychologically-compromised individuals — in some cases, outright criminals — “are scoring big cash settlements for themselves by making false claims of past abuse. And the sad reality is that the more the Church pays out on these bogus claims, the more claims it gets. It all makes sense. Why not file suit? There is nothing to lose.”
Pierre, creator of a website called TheMediaReport.com, notes that in 2019, a man came forward to accuse Diocese of Charleston Bishop Robert Guglielmone of sexually abusing him ‘between twenty and thirty times from 1978 to 1979.'” Later, the accuser “openly admitted to a family member that he made the whole thing up to score some money. ‘It’s worth a try,’ he had said.'”
And so it has been in a surprising number of instances — case after appalling case, allowed to proceed unchallenged, and in some cases promoted, by both secular and Catholic media. Pierre cites cases wherein accused priests weren’t even priests when the supposed transgressions took place.
And in a shocking number of cases, priests have been imprisoned as a result of these fraudulent claims — aimed at bilking gun-shy dioceses that can’t afford the expense of a drawn-out trial and the concomitant publicity.
Certainly, Pierre may at times defend the Church and bishops when they do not quite deserve it. But there is no question he marshals a side of the scandals the public — and Catholic faithful — never hear but urgently should.
One case involved Father Charles Engelhardt, who despite easily passing a polygraph test was thrown behind bars at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, Pennsylvania in 2014 at the age of 67, where the cleric, protesting his innocence to deaf ears, soon died.
As it turns out, according to Pierre, Father Engelhardt’s accuser, a young man named Daniel Gallagher from northeast Philadelphia, who said he was abused as a ten-year-old altar boy, had a criminal record that included six arrests (one of them for fifty-six bags of heroin) and had been in and out of twenty-three rehabs. According to Pierre, Gallagher admitted in a 2014 deposition that none of the abuse occurred — saying he was “high on drugs” when he told his phony tales. He had never even been an altar boy.
But money — big money — was and remains out there for the taking. As a lawyer said, priests are “guilty until proven guiltier” — including by dioceses and even the Vatican, which Pierre says famously publicized one “victim” who turned out to be just such an imposter.
“In 2011, lawyer Donald H. Steier submitted a declaration to the Los Angeles County Superior Court asserting that a former FBI investigator examining abuse claims against priests in Los Angeles had determined that ‘ONE HALF of the claims were either entirely false or so greatly exaggerated that the truth would not have supported a prosecutable claim,'” writes the activist, adding that another report indicated a mere “fifteen percent” of all accusations against Catholic priests — including those against dead priests going back decades — were deemed ‘substantiated’ by the very lenient standards of diocesan review boards.”
The incredible situation has met with little resistance despite the enormous damage false claims have done to priests personally and the Church at large — historic, almost apocalyptic harm. In the abuse “hotbed” of Boston, nearly forty percent of accused priests were found innocent after complete investigation — four in ten.
Clearly, abuses occurred. But also clearly, a wolf was at the door.
Most egregious, Pierre shows, were the hyped-up claims by the Pennsylvania attorney general in 2018.
One priest accused in the Pennsylvania report was born in 1869 — a decade before Edison invented the light bulb. Other travesties of justice, he claims, have occurred from Ireland to Australia (where Cardinal George Pell was imprisoned).
Pierre asserts that one Catholic blogsite “histrionically” announced a blockbuster report on Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, reporting that the Vatican was about to spirit him out of America before he could be arrested for paying cover-up “hush’ money and that the cardinal had canceled all public appearances.
The reality, says Pierre, was the opposite.
Ironically, shows the author, the cardinal, though he had certainly made mistakes, had a history of scrupulously tracking down abusers and was not being spirited anywhere. In fact, less than seventy-two hours after the “blockbuster” report, Wuerl celebrated Sunday Mass that was not only public but televised! There was no fleeing to Rome or anywhere. (The blogsite quietly withdrew its report but did not issue a retraction).
In another case, a Methodist-turned-Catholic-turned Orthodox blogger accused Wuerl of shuffling an abuse priest off to Nevada. “In truth,” documents Pierre, “when [then] Bishop Wuerl approved [the priest’s transfer], he was completely unaware of any accusations against him.” (No retraction was issued by that blogger either.)
There is no question that the Church allowed evil to enter seminaries — and in certain cases, may still be doing so, inadequately vetting homosexuality, which indisputably caused a crisis starting in the 1950s and stretching especially through the 1970s and 1980, from Father John Geoghan of Boston to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington. There also is no question that once they surfaced, many bishops handled abuse cases in a tragic, inexcusable way, far too often putting the reputation of the Church and priestly brotherhood above the well-being of young victims and their families. The bishops are hardly eligible for complete exoneration.
But neither has their side, nor that of the many falsely accused priests — good, holy men — been properly aired. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the standard treatment for child-sex abusers was psychological therapy, not jail time, notes the author. Bishops were simply following the standard of the time. “On countless occasions, psychologists gave bishops terrible advice about abusive priests — and, of course, this bad advice led to terrible consequences for victims and the broader Church,” noted a U.S. District Court Judge, Patrick J. Schiltz. “Yet psychologists have gotten off scot-free in the media.”
The situation has since spiraled out of control.
Case after case. And they march on. Recently in Buffalo, eighteen priests were publicly named as under special monitoring even though there have been no substantiated charges against most of them. The same is true elsewhere — discouraging would-be seminarians, dissuading many from attending Mass, turning off the young, and draining hundreds of millions in Church funds at a time of dwindling donations.
Only the devil is this clever: first introducing sinners into the priesthood — causing unspeakable harm to youngsters, including many legitimate altar boys who perhaps would have entered the priesthood — and then following up, once real abuse waned, with false accusations.
Only the devil…
[Today’s Gospel reading: “Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”]