Please scroll down for updates
Been watching/re-watching on dvd the outstanding flick, SPOTLIGHT. Highly recommend it.
Mitchell Garabedian, Boston-based attorney who since 1979 has focused on representing victims of sexual abuse.
Real Life 'Spotlight' Lawyer Deluged With New Abuse Cases
March 02, 2016
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian has represented hundreds of survivors of clergy sexual abuse and was featured prominently in the film "Spotlight" - he was played by Stanley Tucci.
Garabedian tells Here & Now's Robin Young that since "Spotlight" came out, and particularly since it won the award for Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday night, the phones at his Boston law firm have been lighting up with calls from more abuse victims coming forward.
Note: Here & Now reached out to the Boston Archdiocese for comment on our interview with Mitchell Garabedian. Spokesman Terrence Donilon referred us to the below statement from October 2015, as well as to this document that offers a summary of the Boston Archdiocese's "efforts over more than a decade."
Interview Highlights: Mitchell Garabedian
On the news in Pennsylvania yesterday that a grand jury concluded 50 priests abused hundreds of children over 40 years, and two bishops led a cover-up
“Well, it’s not surprising at all unfortunately. The cover-up continues, the sexual abuse continues, and there needs to be transparency. There needs to be an independent investigation.”
The abuse is still going on now?
“Oh, I have no doubt that it’s going on. You have an entity which is the most powerful in the world, most influential, has trillions of dollars, they’ve operated through secrecy for centuries.”
After Spotlight won the Oscar for Best Picture on Sunday night, what happened in your office on Monday?
Stanley Tucci (left) plays lawyer Mitchell Garabedian in the film "Spotlight." He's pictured opposite Mark Ruffalo, who plays Boston Globe reporter Mike Rezendes. (Open Road Films)
“In my office, my phone was ringing off the hook. Victims were contacting me, survivors were contacting me and even church people were contacting me to let me know that I should continue to do my work.”
You’re talking about current abuse?
“Current abuse. I represent 147 children in Haiti who were sexually abused by Douglas Perlitz, who is not a priest, at his Society of Jesus, a Jesuits-run school, Order of Malta-run school, Fairfield University-run school.”
Is this just an allegation? Has it been tried?
“Well we have 50 cases filed in federal court and earlier I settled 24 of those cases for $12 million and those children were abused up until 2008.”
On the church’s response
“The church’s commission has not done anything. It’s just a PR stunt by the church. What has Cardinal O’Malley done to help victims? He made a statement. They’re not helping victims. How can you possibly trust an entity that has allowed sexual abuse to occur for decades and centuries to be a watchdog over themselves? My first credible case of sexual abuse involves a case when a man was sexually abused from approximately 1938 to 1940 within the Archdiocese of Boston. This case was found credible, he came forward to me last year when he was 89 years old, he told me he wanted to make peace in his life and once he was found credible he faded and passed away.”
You’re calling for an investigation outside of the church.
“There has to be a fully independent entity investigating the church’s activities. They state that they have these programs for the prevention and safety of children within the parish, for instance, but what they don’t tell you is those programs are voluntarily implemented.”
What was it like trying to tell the press about this, and they would not listen?
“There was a culture of secrecy in these cases. The perpetrator tells the victim – the priest tells the victim ‘you better keep this a secret or you’re gonna burn in hell.’ The victim believes that. When the mother goes to the church to report the abuse, they say “we’ll take care of it,’ but they don’t. Then canon law states sexual abuse matters, when looked into, shall be kept secret. So there was this thread of secrecy that perpetuated the sexual abuse, that allowed it to happen and kept the public from knowing it was happening. The movie picks me up three years into my work in obtaining documents. It took me three years of litigation to obtain the documents indicating Cardinal Bernard Law knew that Father Geoghan was sexually molesting children yet he did not want it public. So, there was just this silence written into it.”
What was it like being an outsider in a very religious town with deep ties to the church?
“Oh I was ready to go down with the ship. They were offering me millions of dollars for the Geoghan victims in settlements if my clients would sign confidentiality agreements. My clients would not sign confidentiality agreements, I advised against it. The church knew I was ready to go down with the ship.”
“This had to be exposed. They could destroy me, or try to destroy me if they wanted to, but this had to be exposed. Any human being would want to expose this.”
But you could not get anyone to listen.
“I would have thought of a way. I was just doing my work, I was building the evidence and eventually, as the movie showed, I could not be ignored.”
You were hounded by individuals defending the church and accused of being a ‘gold-digger,’ taking money from the church like an ATM machine. That must have been tough to hear.
“Well, not really because I knew I was doing the right thing. When you know you’re doing – you’re trying to help other human beings and you’re trying to prevent criminal activity and children being sexually abused, they can throw all the rocks at me they want, it really doesn’t matter.”
Does the success of the film and the attention it has brought help?
“Well, it helps many victims. I’ve gotten many calls from victims who have seen the movie and it has helped empower them, and it has helped other victims to come forward because they finally have the courage because they see that they’re not alone.”
Some have said that the fact the movie won the Oscar has empowered them, because otherwise it would have meant people didn’t think it was true.
“That’s so true, but I’ve also heard from victims say ‘I’m not ready to watch the movie yet, I can’t do it but I will watch it. I just can’t do it.’ Each victim has to proceed at their own pace.”
Have you gotten a better office than what was depicted in the film?
“No, the office they portrayed in the film, kind of, is a much neater than my office actually.”
Statement From The Boston Archdiocese
October 28, 2015 - Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley statement regarding release of Spotlight
The Spotlight film depicts a very painful time in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States and particularly here in the Archdiocese of Boston. It is very understandable that this time of the film's release can be especially painful for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.
The media's investigative reporting on the abuse crisis instigated a call for the Church to take responsibility for its failings and to reform itself — to deal with what was shameful and hidden — and to make the commitment to put the protection of children first, ahead of all other interests.
We have asked for and continue to ask for forgiveness from all those harmed by the crimes of the abuse of minors. As Archbishop of Boston I have personally met with hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse over the last twelve years, hearing the accounts of their sufferings and humbly seeking their pardon. I have been deeply impacted by their histories and compelled to continue working toward healing and reconciliation while upholding the commitment to do all that is possible to prevent harm to any child in the future.
The Archdiocese of Boston is fully and completely committed to zero tolerance concerning the abuse of minors. We follow a vigorous policy of reporting and disclosing information concerning allegations of abuse. Any suspected case of abuse should be reported to civil authorities and to the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach (866-244-9603 or 617-746-5985).
More information about the protocols and programs run by the Archdiocese to assure safe environments for children and to address the needs of survivors may be found at www.bostoncatholic.org
OCTOBER 19, 2016 UPDATE
- Mitchell Garabedian, Boston-based attorney who since 1979 has focused on representing victims of sexual abuse.
Read more here from the Boston Globe
ARTICLE ABOUT RICHARD SNIPE
‘Hippie ex-priest’ put ‘Spotlight’ on sexual abuse
Peter RoweContact Reporter
November 20, 2015
Richard Sipes, a former priest and monk, is an expert on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. (Nelvin C. Cepeda)
In the new movie “Spotlight,” a character describes Richard Sipe as a “hippie ex-priest shacking up with some nun.”
When the real Sipe heard this line, he laughed. The 82-year-old La Jollan is often called worse: Traitor.
Sipe never appears on screen in “Spotlight,” a dramatization of the Boston Globe’s 2001-02 investigation of the Catholic Church covering up the crimes of pedophile priests. Yet his insights, formed after decades of research on priests, permeate the film.
A psychotherapist who treated troubled clergy, Sipe drew on about 500 case files for his 1990 study of celibacy, “A Secret World.” Another 500 priests were also interviewed, plus an equal number of lay people who had been sex partners — as adults or children, willing or unwilling — of Catholic clergy.
“I’m excited… living my life.”
His conclusions: At any one time, no more than half of priests are practicing celibacy. Most of the others are engaged in sexual relationships with women or men, but Sipe found that 6 percent prey on minors. (After further research, he revised that figure to 6 percent to 9 percent.)
A scholarly work from a small publishing house — New York’s Brunner/Mazel — “Secret World” nonetheless rocked a 2,000-year-old global institution.
“This is very important and has to be published,” an abbot told Sipe after reading the manuscript. “But it’s a good thing the church no longer castrates or burns at the stake, or you would be in trouble.”
While he escaped execution, Sipe has been verbally flogged for 25 years. TheMediaReport.com, a website decrying “media bias in coverage of sex abuse in the Catholic Church,” calls Sipe “an angry ex-priest” who uses “the issue of clergy sex abuse as a means to advance his attack on the Catholic Church, especially its teachings regarding human sexuality.”
Victims of sexual abuse, though, praise the man and his work.
“He’s an absolute hero,” said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “He’s just a very wise and compassionate man who has made an enormous contribution to understanding and exposing this crisis.”
In his office at home, the walls are covered with reproductions of murals depicting the Last Judgment. A computer dominates one desk, a sculpted nude female torso another. In his lair, Sipe looks neither angelic nor demonic. He looks frail — a walker waits by his chair, thanks to old skiing injuries — yet joyful.
“I don’t have any regrets about what I went through,” he said. “I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without being a monk and a priest.”
‘What it’s about’
Sipe grew up in Minnesota, part of a large Catholic family. He remembers his parents as faithful, not fanatical. It was his idea, not theirs, for the naive ninth-grader to enter a Benedictine seminary.
“I was one of 10 kids,” he said. “You had to stand out in some way!”
He was allowed to date through high school, and 70 years later can still rattle off the names of girlfriends. His monastic preparations continued, though, through college. He became a Benedictine monk in 1953 and a priest in that order in 1959, vowing obedience, poverty and chastity.
That last vow didn’t worry him, Sipe said, thanks to his ignorance. “You don’t know what it’s about, what sex is about, what an adult sexual relationship is or what it’s like to fall in love.”
While studying psychiatry and religion in Rome, he grew fascinated by the question of why some priests — such as the Very Rev. Ulric Beste, a Vatican official and a mentor — remained celibate and others did not.
He continued his studies at St. John’s University Mental Health Institute in Minnesota and as a fellow at the Menninger Foundation. At Maryland’s Seton Psychiatric Institute, a hospital where struggling priests were sent for treatment, he collected data on the sexual lives of his patients.
In 1966, Margaret Mead toured Seton. The anthropologist encouraged the priest to study this matter in a dispassionate manner. To this day, Sipe doesn’t refer to errant priests as “pedophiles.”
“I say they are priests who have sex with minors,” he said.
Sipe’s tone, especially in “Secret World” and a 2003 sequel, “Celibacy in Crisis,” is free of outrage and judgment. Some victims are disturbed by this clinical approach, but not SNAP’s executive director.
“There’s just way too much blaming and shaming and anger by people from all sides in this crisis,” Clohessy said. “Richard does a superb job of focusing on behavior and not beliefs, on facts and not theories.”
He’s also more than a scholar. As a fellow priest, he understood his peers’ struggles.
“I was part of the culture,” he said. “And I was a data keeper.”
That data would help direct the Boston Globe’s investigation, which inspired similar probes. As the church’s sex scandal erupted around the world, it seemed that no diocese was free of predatory priests — including San Diego.
Persona non grata
In his 30s, Father Sipe fell into a severe depression. In therapy, he came to the conclusion that he could no longer serve as a priest. In 1970, he was granted dispensation from his priestly vows.
Soon after, he married Marianne Benkert, a former nun and psychiatrist who had worked at Baltimore’s Loyola University. He opened a private practice, taught, wrote and devoted himself to his new role as husband.
Soon, he was a father. Walter Sipe, the couple’s son, graduated from Harvard and enrolled in the UC San Diego School of Medicine. His parents bought a La Jolla home in 1996, where their son took up residence. Three years later, after he graduated, his parents moved in.
Sipe was in La Jolla when the Globe learned of his research. In October 2001, he and Marianne flew to Boston to meet with the journalists. After the Spotlight team’s first stories on sexual abuse by clergy appeared in 2002, Sipe was contacted by media from around the world.
He’s still sought as a source and an expert witness. To date, he’s testified in about 250 cases brought against Roman Catholic priests accused of rape and other sexual crimes. He’s also been invited to speak on college campuses, in public forums, in conferences addressing this crisis.
One place he hasn’t been invited: The offices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego.
“I’ve been blackballed,” Sipe said. “Bishop Robert Brom sent his chancellor here to say I was not welcome in the chancery. If I came, it would only be in the presence of a lawyer.”
In San Diego, so many victims came forward that the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 2007. Later that year, the church agreed to pay $198.1 million to 144 victims. The diocese’s bankruptcy petition would be terminated in January 2014.
The diocese, Robert McElroy said when he was named San Diego’s bishop this March, had to do a better job of preventing these crimes.
“We can never relax on that issue,” McElroy said then. “We can never think we have done enough to have put that in the past.”
This week, the diocese declined several Union-Tribune requests to outline steps it has taken to prevent a recurrence.
In the long run
These crimes are not committed only by Catholic clergy, a truth that was underscored last week by two news stories. Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle was sentenced to prison for possessing child pornography and having intercourse with two minors; and the Associated Press reported that military prisons contain more sexual abusers of children than any other type of offender.
Next year, Sipe himself will testify in child sex abuse cases involving two non-Catholic religious leaders.
Yet he is convinced that the crisis in the Catholic Church is unique, and rooted in that institution’s attitudes toward sex and gender. While he welcomes the new tone set by Pope Francis, he doesn’t expect any rapid changes.
“I think there is something starting,” he said. “But the real change will not come until the church allows optional celibacy and the ordination of women.
“And these changes will cause more problems, and then more changes. This is an evolutionary process.”
Change is constant, even in an institution that seems to move at a glacial pace. Those images of the Last Judgment on the walls of Sipe’s study? One is a reproduction of an 11th-century work, showing a welcoming Christ in a vast paradise. Hell is almost an afterthought, shunted to a small corner of the canvas.
“Now look at Michelangelo,” Sipe said, gesturing to the framed poster of the 16th-century painting on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. Half of this masterwork is devoted to souls being hurled into damnation.
Sipe laughed. “That says it all.”
Years ago, Sipe stopped attending weekly Mass. He’s not a member of any parish and doesn’t regularly partake of the sacraments. But ask if he’s given up on the faith of his childhood, and he smiles.
“My view of being a Catholic is that I am a Catholic in the long run of things,” said the former priest and ex-monk. “I am a part of the change.”
Copyright © 2016, The San Diego Union-Tribune
OCTOBER 20, 2016 UPDATE
Link to SNAP
(Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)