National Catholic Reporter Smears Arch. of Los Angeles in Bogus Abuse Story

Josh McElwee

Sinful journalism: Joshua J. McElwee

The left-wing National Catholic Reporter newspaper is suggesting that a newly discovered 27-year-old letter somehow may be evidence that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles knew that a priest it had welcomed from England had been accused of child abuse there.

In fact, even a cursory look at the 1985 letter reveals that such a claim is blatantly untrue!

The author of the feckless piece is Joshua J. McElwee, a "staff writer" at the discordant publication.

A simple case muddled by an anti-Church agenda

The case is not very complicated. In 1985, the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England, sent a letter to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on behalf of one of its priests who wanted to work in the United States.

The letter reportedly stated in part:

"[The cleric's] work as a priest has been highly regarded ever since his ordination fourteen years ago.

"He has shown considerable talent in recruiting groups of lay workers to assist in various capacities …

"Since his ordination he has regularly done summer vacation work in various American parishes and from time to time expressed a desire to join an American Diocese.

"The immediate reason for his being in the United States just now is that a few months ago he met a man with whom he had an unwholesome relationship about thirteen years ago.

"We have no reason to believe that there has been any recurrence of this problem, but [the priest] says that he would feel safer a long distance away and untraceable by this man."

One notices right away that the letter says absolutely nothing about any underage abuse or crime, and there is nothing in the letter that suggests the priest had had any problems with minors. It indicates a priest – likely gay – seeking to get as far away as possible from a source of disruption.

The Church takes immediate action

It turns out, however, that the priest had actually been suspected in England of abusing underage boys. Yet the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did not know this until some five years later, in 1993, when it received another letter from England.

This second letter stated that the priest had been accused of sexual abuse of children, and that he was being recalled home to the UK.

What did the Archdiocese of Los Angeles do? It immediately revoked his faculties and sent him packing back to England.

The archdiocese heard nothing of the guy until 2008, fifteen years after it expelled him, when it received an anonymous phone call saying that the former priest was managing a Southern California trailer park. At that point, even though the guy was a merely a former employee of the Church, it immediately notified the police.

Most notably, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has never received any allegation whatsoever of any sexual wrongdoing by the guy when he was employed in L.A.

Church-haters see an opportunity to bash the Church

But the Reporter's McElwee doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good hit piece on the Church. McElwee lines up the usual suspects of professional Church critics to argue that Los Angeles somehow should have known that the priest from England was a child molester.

McElwee turns to the perpetually angry Church-basher Patrick J. Wall, an employee of the notorious anti-Catholic Southern California contingency lawyer John C. Manly. Wall wildly describes the 1985 letter as a "bunker buster bomb" that could somehow indicate a crime by Cardinal Roger Mahony. Uh-huh. (Wall has passed himself off as a canon law expert even though he reportedly studied less than two months in the field. According to a source in a 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times, Wall was expelled from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome after forging a letter in an attempt to get a leave from the priesthood. Wall is a former Benedictine.) [UPDATE, 5/13/12: We have since learned that Wall no longer works for John Manly. He now works for ... (drum roll) ... the nation's leading Church-suing attorney Jeff Anderson, from Minnesota!]

McElwee also quotes a member from the predictably hysterical group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) who somehow concludes that "kids were hurt in Los Angeles" because "the archdiocese knew that [the former priest] was a predator," even though there has not been a shred of evidence of any of this.

Indeed, the media has doled out enough fair criticism of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for its past mishandlings of abuse cases. But the Reporter is now scraping the bottom of the barrel and finessing facts in a desperate attempt to wring a story out of some new marginal information.

The Reporter is building a reputation for biased reporting on the abuse narrative, and McElwee's piece comes across as a baseless and sordid swipe at the Catholic Church.


  1. BobD. says:

    It's nice to see a critique of the Fishwrap. There should be more of this. 

  2. Mary De Voe says:

    Has anyone told Joshua J. McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter about the Second Commandment: Thou shall not have strange gods before me, and the Eighth Commandment: Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

  3. Healing says:

    I am ashamed of myself.  I am 50 and have repressed my memories of abuse in  1979 in a school rectory by a priest.  I am only now coming to grips with the damage it has done to me throughout my life to my relationships with other people and with God.  The hardest thing I have ever had to do was to "confess" this to my wife of 26 years. 
    To all those who support the church with statements like "The Priest did not do a thing", of course he didn't – TO YOU.  These things are done in secret and the poor children normally are to afraid to speak out against Gods Representative on Earth.  You have to remember that these children, of which I was one, have usually been raised in the church and have a belief that is simpler than more cynical adults.  We BELIEVED in God.  Some of us had abusive parents and looked to the church for sanctuary, love and acceptance.  We did not understand that what the priest was doing to us WAS abuse.  It was explained as something GOOD.
    What really hurts the most to me is that there were others in the church who KNEW/SUSPECTED that it was happening and yet turned a blind eye or worse yet covered it up.
    I was a 14 year old child from a broken home.  Yet no one interfered when I was "allowed" to stay overnight at the rectory when I missed my bus home.  The next year the offending priest was relocated to another location even though I did not say anything.  Possibly another boy at my school was as brave as the 13 year old in this story and spoke up.
    If that was the case then the response of the church was what they have been doing for years…move the problem and ignore the victim.
    I have only been dealing with this for a few weeks and am still fairly pissed off, both at the church and myself.  I am upset with myself for not coming to grips with this sooner. I have seen comments on other stories in the press about people like me who are coming forward after all these years.  Negative comments generally run along the line of "They are just after money."
    No. What I want is my innocence back. I want to redo the past 36 years.  I want my wife and children to have had the chance to have a mentally complete husband and father.
    Unfortunately, the church can't give that to me.  They can't even give me the healing of confronting my abuser.  He is dead. 
    If this actually makes it to your apparently one sided site I have a message for those who were abused who show up by mistake on this hatefull site.
    Remember that YOU DID NOTHING WRONG.

    • Kevin says:

      Help me out here, Healing.
      If you are 50 and this happened in 1979, then you were 17, not 14. And what kind of "bus home" did you miss and how far away from home were you, alone, that you needed to stay overnight?
      You might also explain how, after all these years of clergy abuse cases in the news, you only un-repressed your memories "a few weeks" ago, not to mention how you managed to repress them so thoroughly in the first place.
      I also had something quite traumatic happen to me when I was 10 years old. My problem is not that I don't remember, but that I can't forget.

  4. Healing says:

    Kevin, You are correct about my error.  It happened my freshman year in 1974-75.  1979 is the year I graduated.  Sorry for the confusion.  As far as the bus, it was a city bus and they stop running at night.  Distance is 36 miles.  As far as the remembering, I can't add much other than to say its true.  I don't know why it works this way but it happens a lot.  After I remembered I started researching and found lots of cases where this happened.  At first people don't believe you of course but in many cases after all the evidence is collected it is obviously true.  Even to the point where the abuser actually confesses.  I could give you links if you want but you could easily find them if you really care.  In one case, I found a friend who attended the same school as I did where this happened. Different priest. He confessed and apologized.
    I understand that this (abuse) happens in many different environments.  What is particularily irksome in my case is that the church was aware that my abuser was one.  They had been moving him almost every year since the 60's to keep "him" and "them" safe.  Forget about the children.
    The reason I am ashamed is that if I had spoken up back in the 70's he may not have continued abusing in the future, which he did which is documented.  In all likelyhood though they would have just moved him again anyway and either ignored me or paid my family some hush money and made us sign an agreement to keep silent.
    Are there people making up false claims?  I am sure there are.  That is why the new law in Hawaii that extends the statute of limitations includes a provision to make the accuser pay the costs of the defense if it is a false claim.
    I am sorry that you had a "traumatic" event when 10.  I hope that you have overcome the effects.  We each have to deal with these things in our own way.  Just remembering the event in my case has helped me in a way to piece together my life.  If I pursue legal options, it will be only to help force the church to come to terms with their hypocrisy.
    And finally I would like to thank the National Catholic Reporter for publishing my comments.  I really didn't think they would.  It is very important that we can have a true dialog about this subject.  I understand how difficult it can be for those who were not abused to believe that it is/was as prevelent as it was/is.
    If the church would actually fix the problem, I think some of us would shut up.

    • Kevin says:

      You rode a city bus 36 miles one way to high school? For four years? In a city that large with such an extensive bus system, wasn't there a Catholic high school closer than 36 miles? And if there weren't, didn't your parents think it might be a good idea to send you to public school near your home, and perhaps your parish school of religion, assuming there was also a Catholic parish within 36 miles?
      Excuse me, but aside from the fact that you got even the general year this allegedly happened confused with the year you graduated, your story just doesn't hold much water. It is always in the details, which are added in an attempt to lend credibility, where these fables fall apart.
      I do agree with you that we need true dialog on this subject. This, however, precludes discussion from those with Munchausen syndrome who always seem to pop up in Internet comment boxes.

  5. Healing says:

    Hey Kevin…Thanks! I feel so much better now. You are right… Never HAPPENED!….My Bad….. Must be my imagination…..Sorry I said anything…. Oh yea right I didn't catch the bus 36 miles one way from Waianae Hawaii to Damien Memorial High School for 4 years…..Oh yea and back again….. Didn't get up at 4:30 AM every day…Catch the 5:20 Bus down Waianae Valley, then the Honolulu bus, the the School Street bus to get to school by 7:00 then school then practice then back again…. Never happened!   Oh yea and all th other kids in Waianae that did the same thing to go to other private schools…Like Punahou, St, Louis, Sacred Hearts, etc… Sorry I must have imagined it…. I must have gone to Waianae High School… Oh Yea and Father Spellen….maybe he really was trying to help me sleep….
    Oh well I am glad to have my innocence back… Thanks Kevin….I appreciate you. Think of how much money in Therapy you just saved me….I have a SYNDROME….
    I should have listened to the old saying. "NEVER WRESTLE IN THE MUD WITH A PIG. THE PIG LIKES IT AND YOU JUST GET DIRTY."

    • Kevin says:

      I just think it is uncanny how your memory suddenly returned so soon after Hawaii temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on childhood sex abuse claims. It's almost as amazing as the thought that you commuted by bus three hours and twenty minutes per day, every day, to high school.

  6. Healing says:

    OK one more time into the pit, since I was stupid enough to comment in the first place.  Probably pointless but here goes. 
    I will address your second point first since it seems so "amazing" to you even though it is a Red Herring!
    36 years later, I catch the bus to work every day that I work. I work a twelve hour shift anywhere from 4 to 6 days a week and catch the bus both ways. On good traffic days it is about 1.5 hours each way from Waianae to Honolulu.  36 years later the bus now is available all night but back then the last one was at around 10:30 pm.  I know that might be a little difficult for some people, like you, to understand but there are MANY people on this island that do this.  It is really no different than many many other cities on the Mainland.  I once lived in Philladelphia and took the Amtrak and a bus to work in Wilmington DE everyday.  I have a cousin that lives in Rhode Island and works in Boston. 
    Regarding the WHY I went so far to school, maybe you could do a little "research" on the demographics and the quality of the public schools for the Waianae Coast.  I went for the same reason that children all over are sent to schools outside their neighborhood, a better education.  In my case, I quess I just got a little more extra personal instruction than the average student.
    To your first point.  You actually got that one  "backwards".  The one came before the other.  As a matter of fact, I look at it as Karma that the statute was extended after I remembered.   I came back to the island about a year and a half ago and trying to reconnect with my past is apparently what triggered my memory.
    BUT…even if I had "uncannily" had my memory returned after the statute change, it wouldn't change the fact of the abuse.
    It would be so much easier to claim that I had remembered all this time but had been afraid or ashamed  to report it back then and then after the Statute had expired had not seen the point in exposing my "secret".  But that would be a lie.
    Anyway, I've said all I will now in the "court of public opinion".  I do want to thank you, Kevin, for helping me to understand the level of "disbelief" I (and my family) will be exposed to in the coming months and years.  I will bear this in mind when I finally make my decision whether to go as a John Doe or in my name.  I am still leaning toward using my name to help me tell myself (and others) that I (we) should not be ashamed of what happened and that ALL the shame belongs to the abuser and his enablers.
    Aloha (in all the various meanings of the word) to you Kevin.


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