Guest column: Catholic Church should be investigated as an organized crime group

Mike KnaakColumn, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

by Rob Schwegel, St Joseph

The FBI defines Transnational Organized Crime as groups that are self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate, wholly or in part, by illegal means and irrespective of geography. They constantly seek to obtain power, influence and monetary gains. TOC groups’ primary goal is economic gain and they will employ an array of lawful and illicit schemes to generate profit. To combat these groups, the bureau uses the RICO Act to expand criminal accountability for a number of “predicate offenses,” and to expand a single offense across multiple members of a criminal enterprise. Unlike typical investigations, which target a single criminal act, this multi-pronged approach allows the FBI to disrupt or dismantle the entire enterprise.

 When we hear “organized crime” most people will think of the Mafia or drug cartels. Another group may finally be added to the list: the Catholic Church. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro just released the results of a two-year grand jury investigation into the widespread sexual abuse of children within six dioceses of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania and the systemic cover-up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and the Vatican.

The grand jury identified more than 1,000 victims abused by 300 priests in six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses. Their belief is the number of victims was in the thousands. The cover-up was massive. It involved the church leaders from top to bottom. Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, writes “The  grand jury report about Catholic priest abuse in Pennsylvania shows the church is a criminal syndicate. What is clear from this report – as well as the previous grand jury reports from Philadelphia in 2005 and 2011 and Altoona-Johnston in 2016 – is that the Catholic Church cannot be and never should have been trusted nor expected to root out pedophiles in their midst, let alone punish them appropriately. Mercy was not extended to victims, but to perpetrators. Rules, it seems, were for the Catholics who continued to sit in the pews, not the ones who stood at the altars.”

Often the worst predator priests would be sent off to a church-owned property to live out their lives at the expense of the church. As seen locally, they could even have a beautiful view of a lake and woods.

After the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, 15 state attorneys general have contacted  Shapiro to gain insight in the workings of such a case. The Justice Department is looking at the sexual abuse of children and transporting them across state lines for illegal purposes, both RICO offenses. Six more states have launched investigations. Illinois has identified 690 priests already. It’s time Minnesota joins the list.

The root cause of all of this is money. Had it become known early on that there were so many priests sexually abusing children, donations would have stopped. But as in many other businesses, money is power. Now the church can afford to hire high-priced attorneys, lobbyists and move their assets around to hide them from bankruptcy proceedings. Since 2005, 19 dioceses have filed. There are church “leaders” who appear to specialize in taking dioceses into bankruptcy. Bishop Kettler came to the St Cloud Diocese (which filed for bankruptcy in February) after leading the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, through bankruptcy. Many of us have heard the phrase “the insurance is paying.” No insurance is free and think about what happened to your car insurance rates after you  or your children had a couple of accidents. So, yes, those sitting in the pews are paying. 

It’s time the state and federal government investigate the Catholic Church’s handling of the sexual abuse of children and prove the church truly fits the definition of a Transnational Organized Crime group and hold it responsible.

Schwegel was born and raised in a Catholic household. He and his brothers and sisters attended Catholic grade school in St Cloud. His parents were founding members of St Peter’s Catholic Church and school in St Cloud and also of St Michael’s Church. Schwegel recently retired after 38½ years in law enforcement. He is a St. Joseph resident.

Author: Mike Knaak

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