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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Opinion piece the LA Times should have run, as they cover church’s “loss” of Sisters of Bethany convent more than priest sex crimes that caused loss:

By Kay Ebeling
Has the Times covered sex crimes in the Catholic Church in the last three years? Which is more important, sex crimes of priests over a 50-year period or the closing of a Santa Barbara convent? Which story deserve ongoing coverage?
Think we get balanced coverage in the Times? Here is an editorial by veteran plaintiff attorney Timothy Hale that LA Times editors chose not to run. This one opinion piece delivers more facts than you've read in the last three years in the Times about sex crimes in the Catholic Church. Tim Hale’s op-ed piece that should have been in the LA Times is published below, followed by the original Times editorial, plus the type of articles they're choosing to run on the subject instead:

Regarding your September 11 Opinion "The Costs of Church Scandal," there's a bit more to the story regarding the sale of the Sisters of Bethany convent in Santa Barbara.

The convent at issue is next door to Our Lady of Guadalupe parish.

Our Lady was home to Father Matthew Kelly from approximately 1943-52, and from 1956-1971. Father Kelly was one of the most prolific abusers of children in the history of the clergy abuse scandal in Santa Barbara. This is no small feat given that St. Anthony's Seminary and the Old Mission Santa Barbara have been the residences of at least 23 priest-perpetrators since 1960. However, with 10 confirmed victims, and undoubtedly many more who will never come forward, Father Kelly is exceeded in Santa Barbara only by the Franciscans' Father Robert Van Handel (17 confirmed victims) and Father Mario Cimmarrusti (22 confirmed victims).

My law firm, along with attorney R. Thomas Griffith, represented 6 of the 7 victims of Father Kelly who are part of the recent global settlement with the Archdiocese. During the litigation of the Father Kelly cases the Archbishop's attorneys deposed the 86 year-old mother of one of my clients. Kelly sexually abused her son from 1958 to 1960. She testified during her deposition that in the late 1950s she told two Sisters of Bethany who lived in the convent that Father Kelly would call and ask for her son, and that Father Kelly was taking boys to his cabin (the location where Kelly abused many of his victims). She also told them she was concerned about Father Kelly taking her son to the cabin, that she was worried about Kelly's level of interest in her son, and that she did not understand why Kelly was so focused on her son. She also testified they told her not to worry because Kelly was a priest. Finally, she testified that after her son admitted to her that Kelly had abused him, she stopped attending mass at Our Lady, prompting the sisters to tell her she should forgive Father Kelly.

One of these two Sisters of Bethany is still alive. I took her deposition shortly after the deposition of my client's mother. That Sister acknowledged knowing my client's mother, but denied ever discussing Father Kelly with her. In fact, I asked the Sister about every fact to which my client's mother testified above. The Sister denied outright each and every allegation testified to by my client's mother.

It is also worth noting that based on the assignment history provided in your article for Sister Angela Escalera, she began her assignment in the convent in 1964, before or during Father Kelly's abuse of 4 of our 6 clients. Needless to say Sister Angela would have been a critical witness in these lawsuits, and we would have deposed her immediately had we known of her assignment history. However, the Sister of Bethany I did depose denied any knowledge of the existence of any still living Sister of Bethany who was assigned to the convent before 1973.

Had these matters gone to trial, the testimony of the deposed Sister and of my client's mother likely would have been the subject of a she-said/she-said discussion by the jury. Having questioned and observed both women testify, I strongly believe my client's 86 year-old mother would have been the far more credible witness. Your readers might be interested to know this when considering whether the Sisters should be considered part of the "collateral damage" you reference as a result of the civil lawsuits.

Timothy C. Hale, Esq.
Nye, Peabody, Stirling & Hale, LLP ,
Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Here is the original September 11th LA Times editorial:

Opinion : Editorials

The Catholic Church's divestiture to pay for abuse settlements means good works will go undone.
September 11, 2007

Obviously, the principal victims of abuse by the Catholic clergy are the members of the faithful, many of them children, who were betrayed by wolves in shepherds' clothing. But the civil lawsuits that have provided those victims with a measure of compensation also create collateral damage, even when steps are taken to protect core church activities.

Insurance policies provide the church with only some of the resources it needs to settle these claims. The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, which on Friday agreed to pay nearly $200 million to victims of sexually abusive priests and church workers, said it will defray much of the rest of the costs through loans and the sale of assets. A diocesan official said there were no plans to close parishes or schools, but Bishop Robert Brom conceded that there will be "some damaging consequences for the mission of the church in this diocese."

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which has agreed to pay $764 million to victims of abuse, has engaged in similar damage control, saying it will sell off non-parish property, including its administrative headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. But an affecting article last week by Times staff writer Rebecca Trounson demonstrated that sales of "assets" can have human consequences.

As part of its divestiture to pay for abuse settlements, the archdiocese is selling a property in Santa Barbara that has served as a convent for the Sisters of Bethany since it was built in 1952. The decision means the displacement of three nuns who have been living rent-free in the house while ministering to local immigrants. One of the nuns, Sister Angela Escalera, has lived at the convent for 43 years.

The nuns in Santa Barbara and the people they serve won't be the only human beings affected by these financial constraints. The ripple effect inevitably includes those who would have benefited from different uses of the church's holdings -- or from the generosity of parishioners who have withheld contributions (or stopped coming to church) because of the scandal.

The impoverishment of the church compounds the tragedy defined by damaged lives, disillusioned believers and blameless priests who now must minister under a cloud of suspicion created by their faithless colleagues. But the blame for this state of affairs belongs not to the victims or their lawyers but to an ecclesiastical culture that embraced the false gospel of "least said, soonest mended."

Meanwhile what's being reported from Santa Barbara in the LA Times today?

(from bishopaccountability.org)

Save the Eastside's Sisters of Bethany
Campaign Launched to Save Nuns' Home; Plus, Meeting Harry Potter, Finding Al Steinman, and Defending Wendy

By Barney Brantingham
Santa Barbara Independent
September 11, 2007


Nuns' S.O.S.: A small group of Santa Barbarans are planning to huddle this week and ponder how to save the Sisters of Bethany from being evicted from their Eastside convent.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese has the small convent on its list to be sold to help cover costs of settling sexual abuse suits against priests. The three nuns just learned that they've been ordered to vacate the small building next to Our Lady of Guadalupe by December 31.

Just where they will go remains unclear. But a group that includes businessman Anthony Dal Bello plans to meet Wednesday to discuss an attempt to either buy the property or rent other space.

Sister Angela of the Sisters of Bethany.
Photo by Sue De Lapa

I broke the story Thursday in The Independent and the L.A. Times featured the story on the front page of their California section on Friday. Sister Angela, 69, who suffers from diabetes and needs a walker to get around, has also been interviewed on L.A. radio and, when I visited Monday, was being interviewed by Spanish language TV.

The plight of the Sisters of Bethany, a small order with three convents in Southern California and others in Latin America, has won the sympathy of the non-Catholic public as well. The Santa Barbara Sisters of Bethany have lived among the Eastside poor for more than a half-century and worked with the needy. "The support from all over has been overwhelming," Sister Superior Angela told me Monday. Eviction to pay for the sins of the priests is "wrong, it's immoral, and it's unholy," said a prominent Santa Barbaran who asked that his name not be used. He's dubbed the impromptu committee: "SOS," Save Our Sisters.

(Coincidentally, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the same church where Father Matthew Kelly was a priest. Kelly, as was reported as The Independent's cover story last week, allegedly molested many boys while simultaneously being a hero of the Eastside. See Nick Welsh's story on Kelley here.)

Rosemary Escalera Gutierrez, real-life sister of Sister Angela, has fired off blistering e-mails. One email explained: Archdiocese spokesperson Tod Tamberg says that he too is paying the price for the pedophile priest scandal, that the Catholic faithful have to share in the price for the sins of the few. His price was not getting a raise. Gee, how does that compare to losing your house and job? Tamberg also says that the Bethany order is sure to "step in" and help the transition. That is simply sugar coating. The fact is that the archdiocese is doing nothing for the sisters. As far as they are concerned, the evicted nuns are on their own. If the church engaged in relocating the accused pedophile priests, some of whom used the transfer to continue their evil acts on new victims, why can't it relocate these nuns to continue their good work? Finally, as a spokesperson, will Tamberg explain why the eviction letter is dated June 28, but not delivered until August 28? As Sr. Angela says, the worst thing is the cold detachment from the hierarchy. If they give a damn about the Sisters it's a well kept secret, for they have heard not one word of compassion from the archdiocesan personnel nor from the local "prince of the church," Bishop Curry of Santa Barbara.

"Thanks for writing the article on the Sisters of Bethany," e-mailed Dal Bello to me. "I have had the honor of knowing the Sisters since they first came to Santa Barbara in1951.This committee will study the pros and cons of purchasing the convent where the Sisters presently reside or finding alternative housing in Santa Barbara. After all the work the Sisters have done for this community in the past 55 years it is time for the community to come to their assistance." If you'd like to help, you can reach Dal Bello at 565-3730.

You tell me. Has the Times even begun to cover the story of sex crimes in the Catholic Church in the last three years? Considering how many people are affected by the two issues, sex crimes of priests and the closing of Sisters of Bethany convent, which story deserves ongoing coverage?

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