In an interview setting, Church-suing attorney Jeff Anderson is especially frustrating and problematic. When espousing on “canon law” or “Church teaching,” Anderson’s sober demeanor and tone lead people to believe that he is being truthful and actually knowledgeable of what he’s talking about. Usually the interviewer is completely unschooled in Catholic teaching, and the journalist just takes what Anderson says at face value. But the bottom line is that all too often Anderson either flat-out lies to his interviewer or is completely erroneous.
Here is an example of a typical Anderson interview. In April of 2010, Anderson appeared on the left-wing political program Democracy Now, hosted by socialist Amy Goodman. When addressing the issue of how the Church handles abusive priests, Anderson said the following:
… [Priests] are required to by their superiors, from the bishop to the Vatican, to keep [abuse] secret. And that’s under protocols and laws developed by the Pontiff, by the Vatican that says “We are required to avoid scandal, to protect the reputation of the church” and in so doing, are embedded with an ethos, a norm that says, we move the priest, avoid scandal, do not report it to anybody outside the clerical culture, and continue to move and protect the priest without regard to the well-being of the children … [N]othing has really fundamentally changed in the clerical culture. And that the decision of the Pontiff and at the Vatican, they’re fundamentally still operating under the same protocols of secrecy and self-protection that they did 100 years ago.
It cannot be overstated how false Anderson’s words are. His claims could not be further from the truth. If Anderson were making his assertions in the year 1960, he might actually have a leg to stand on. But, again, he said this in April of 2010.
The fact is that is the well-established policy in the United States for Church officials to immediately report credible child abuse accusations to civil authorities. Anderson should already know this.
Here is Article Four of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Based on principles and policies from years earlier, the charter was originally written and approved in June of 2002.
ARTICLE 4. Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities. Dioceses/ eparchies are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.
Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor.
Then there’s Article Five:
ARTICLE 5. We affirm the words of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, in his Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.”
Sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is a crime in the universal law of the Church (CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1). Because of the seriousness of this matter, jurisdiction has been reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, AAS 93, 2001).
Sexual abuse of a minor is also a crime in all civil jurisdictions in the United States. Diocesan/eparchial policy is to provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor —whenever it occurred—which is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon is to be permanently removed from ministry and, if warranted, dismissed from the clerical state.
In other words, the policies of United States bishops are the exact opposite of what Anderson claims they are. The Charter outlines policy for all of the Catholic Church in the United States.
There’s no other reasonable conclusion to reach except that Anderson flat-out lied in the interview. The 2002 charter was a well-publicized and transformative measure by the Church to combat child sexual abuse and address the problem of abusive priests. Many heralded its “zero tolerance” policy to child abuse. Anderson surely heard about all of this.
Conclusion: Honesty is not a quality to find in Jeff Anderson.
(By the way, many of the measures of the 2002 Charter were already in practice a decade earlier. In 1992, U.S. bishops publicly endorsed its “five principles” in responding to abuse claims. These principles were articulated five years earlier, in 1987. They included immediately removing an accused priest from ministry and complying with civil laws in promptly reporting abuse to authorities.)