22 April 2010

The State Journal-Register ran a story yesterday about comments the Most Reverend Thomas J. Paprocki made about sexual abuse lawsuits in 2007 (with my emphases and comments):

The newly appointed bishop of the Springfield Diocese, Archdiocese of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Cicero, has a good reputation among some in Chicago.

But a comment he made in 2007, equating lawsuits filed by victims of clergy sexual abuse with the devil’s work, continues to sting victims’ advocates [note well that the commment was directed to lawsuits, not to victims].

“First of all, he’s known as a very smart man, with a sharp mind,” said Robert Herguth, editor of ChicagoCatholicNews.com, an independent online publication covering the Catholic Church in the Chicago region. “He’s a civil lawyer as well as a canon lawyer. But he’s also somebody who’s been in the trenches, in terms of helping the poor.”

Although Herguth doesn’t know Paprocki personally, those who do have told him, “He’s a pretty nice guy.”

“He’s also an unusual priest — in terms of his legal background and in terms of his hobbies,” Herguth said.

Paprocki is president of the Chicago Legal Clinic, which provides legal services to “underserved and disadvantaged” residents in the Chicago area, according to the clinic’s website. He also is a marathon runner and hockey fan [while interesting, this has nothing to do with the story].

“He’s also relatively young,” Herguth said. “What this tells me is that he’s somebody who might be a mover and shaker in the hierarchy who might move up in the future.”

During an analysis of primary election records among leaders in the Chicago Archdiocese last December, Herguth found that Paprocki took Republican ballots in the 2006 and 2008 primaries [this has nothing to do with the story].

Herguth said he knows of nothing that connects Paprocki with any sex abuse scandal.

But the most controversial incident involving Paprocki is a comment he made during a homily at a Mass for judges and attorneys in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2007. According to a Chicago Tribune article about the event, Paprocki said, “the principal force behind (sex-abuse lawsuits) is none other than the devil.”

Paprocki clarified his remark by saying such lawsuits unfairly burden whole congregations and charitable organizations [and he's right, especially considering how much the lawyers themselves take home; typically, it's at least 50%]. But advocates of sex-abuse victims remain critical of the comment.

“In our experience, most often, the boys and girls who are molested (by clergy) come from extraordinarily devout homes,” said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “To essentially equate victims speaking up and exposing predators and seeking justice with the devil [that's not what he said; true justice does not require massive payouts] has a very chilling effect and would discourage victims and witnesses and whistle blowers from coming forward,”

“This isn’t a casual, off-the-cuff, inappropriate comment,” Clohessy said. “It’s a carefully orchestrated, deliberate comment by a very smart man who must know what the impact will be.”

Clohessy said he’s also not aware of any specific incident of sex abuse involving Paprocki directly or indirectly. But Clohessy said Paprocki shouldn’t be let off the hook.

“There certainly have been auxiliary bishops who have shown leadership on this issue, who have openly criticized their supervisors. It has not happened often,” Clohessy said [and no evidence is given that Bishop Paprocki did not speak out. Remember, too, that he was not ordained a Bishop until 2003, well after the overwhelming majority of cases of abuse took place].

“In Chicago, where there are hundreds of hundreds of cases, it’s inconceivable he was out of the loop on every single case or not once did the rest of the Chicago (Archdiocese) hierarchy make a decision that he disagreed with.”

As for Paprocki’s legal work, he and his clinic have a good reputation [this also has nothing to do with the story].

“They do fantastic work. They consist of very motivated, idealistic, passionate attorneys who come in at critical times of people’s lives — evictions, foreclosures,” said Robert Acton, attorney and executive director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid, a sister agency to Paprocki’s Chicago Legal Center.

“The bishop’s reputation is great. He is well regarded.” Acton said. “He’s certainly demonstrated a life of social impact and compassion.”

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