Sunday, April 22, 2012

In the Murky Waters of Abuse Allegations

Well, the muddy water is even muddier the past few days with two abuse allegations -- one against Fr. Terry Specht, a pastor in Arlington, and the second against Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston coming up in testimony at the Philadelphia trial of Msgr. William Quinn and Fr. James Brennan. I'll treat these two situations separately.

First, Fr. Terry Specht:
I'm not a particular fan of Fr. Specht who was the bishop's hit man on mandatory fingerprinting and helped shift the abuse focus from homosexual priests (and the bishops' cover ups) to blaming parents and laity. In 2005 I attended a meeting in Front Royal with Fr. Specht where the DRE of the parish and an opponent of mandatory fingerprinting was verbally abused by the pastor. (Read about the meeting here and here.) I asked Father at that meeting whether parents could receive assurance from Bishop Loverde in the form of a statement printed in The Arlington Catholic Herald that the decision to opt their children out of the Safe Environment Program would never be used against them by diocesan lawyers. Father assured me that would be done. I followed up with a letter later to which I don't recall receiving a reply, but I'm still waiting for the bishop's statement lo these seven years later. Needless to say I was not surprised. Whether Fr. Specht knew that would be the outcome I can't say, but I felt at the time that his answer was a crowd control measure. As for parental concern about the diocese using the opt-out against parents that would be consistent with the actions of the past where parents were browbeaten and threatened by bishops and their lawyers. If a child whose parents opted their children out of the program were ever abused, diocesan lawyers could blame parents for not "empowering" their children through attendance at the safe touch programs. The fact that the programs themselves are often abusive is beside the point since they are really not about protecting the children, but protecting the diocese's assets.

Despite my differences with Fr. Specht, however, I am not a fan of open season on priests. How is anyone supposed to defend himself against a single 15-year-old allegation which is almost impossible to disprove (or prove) when it is simply one person's word against another. These unproven allegations have become the catalysts to remove priests from ministry forever even if they are never charged or convicted of wrongdoing. We'll see what the investigation of Fr. Specht brings. He is currently on administrative leave. But it's instructive to recall that Fr. Christopher Buckner who was accused (the diocese never said exactly what he was accused of although the story at the parish was that he shook a teen who disregarded his instructions at a funeral). While Fr. Buckner was never criminally charged, he has disappeared and never resurfaced. That is not an unusual outcome. Priests' reputations are destroyed and the bishops keep everything SECRET. Where is Fr. Buckner? Who knows?

I am cynical enough to believe that Fr. Specht, as a member of the bishop's inner circle, is likely to get fairer treatment than priests less popular with their bishops. Although most bishops seem perfectly willing to throw their priests under the bus to show how diligent they are in protecting the children. As for me, I just want to see the truth come out, bad or good. Please pray for Fr. Specht and his accuser.

Bishop Michael Bransfield:
Bishop Bransfield had a reputation when he was rector of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for throwing lavish parties. When he moved to Wheeling in 2004 his first order of business was a million dollar plus renovation of the bishop's house, a Victorian mansion, which included a number of luxury appointments, e.g., an expensive wine refrigeration unit and a large plasma television. In 2010 after the death of Robert Byrd, long-time liberal and pro-abortion senator from West Virginia, the bishop issued a near canonization of the man in eulogy which drew the ire of many pro-life groups. So from the git-go Bishop Bransfield has been a controversial figure.

With regard to the Philadelphia trial, Bransfield's name came up in the testimony of an abuse victim describing his relationship with Fr. Stanley Gana, a classmate and friend of Bransfield. The witness described Bransfield pulling up at the Gana family farm in a car full of "fair-haired boys" and Gana telling him that Bransfield was having sex with the boy in the front seat.

Bransfield issued a strong denial. But what I found particularly interesting about the bishop's denial was the statement that he didn't own a farm in Scranton:
I understand that I am a public figure and therefore subject to public criticism. The nature of these statements and the manner in which they were released however go way beyond any sense of fairness and propriety. This case has gone on for seven years or more and simple facts like whether I own, or owned, a farm in the Scranton area were easily determinable. Contrary to the statements, I do not own, and never owned a farm in the Scranton area, upstate New York, or anywhere else for that matter.
All the articles I read said the farm was owned by Fr. Gana's family, not by Bishop Bransfield. So why would the bishop say that? Can anyone doubt that the bishop's statement was examined under a microscope and double checked by diocesan lawyers? Frankly, I find this troubling because it seems like a deliberate attempt to blow smoke, proving false an accusation that was never made.

Another troubling aspect of the case was the diocese's attempt to block Msgr. Kevin Quirk who was a judge in the canonical trial of of Fr. Brennan from testifying as a material witness in the Philly trial. However, a West Virginia judge signed a subpoena ordering the priest to appear as a material witness and Msgr. Quirk will testify. This is not over by a long shot.

Again, let us pray for the truth to come. Despite the posturing of many bishops since the sex abuse scandals, the fact remains that two thirds of them covered up for the priests committing the crimes, most of whom were homosexuals raping and molesting young boys. Since then, dioceses have used safe touch programs, some of which are downright evil, to deflect criticism from themselves and transfer it to parents, teachers, and other innocent laity who had nothing to do with the scandals.

9 comments:

  1. Father Specht has been thought of in many circles throughout the Diocese of Arlington as part of the homosexual inner circle of the diocese for some time. He is generally considered crass and vulgar. For my part, I wish all of those priests that choose to operate as reprobate and as a disgrace to the Kingdom of God, the Church and the priesthood good riddance and the sooner, the better. At that point confidence can again be justified in the courts of the church.

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  2. I hope you're wrong. Fr. Specht has a right to be given a fair investigation. I've never heard him be "crass or vulgar" and he was actually cool and calm at the meeting in Front Royal. As for his promise that the bishop would make a statement assuring parents that opting out of safe touch would never be used against them, maybe he overstepped the bounds and was overruled by the bishop. The cynic in me believes that Fr. Specht probably knew that would never happen and was just saying it for crowd control, but I try to keep that cynical beast under control and give people the benefit of the doubt -- at least until proved guilty.

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  3. Before he became a priest, Father Specht was married and served as a navy commander. He is not a girly priest.
    "The Diocese of Arlington (Virginia) is known as one of the more conservative dioceses in the country. So it is a good fit for Father Terry Specht, a highly visible priest who is not afraid to promote conservative and traditionalist views. But Father Specht is no Luddite. He maintains a popular Twitter account on which he posts and comments on important issues to his followers and the Catholic faith, most particularly the dangers of President Obama and need to oppose homosexual rights activists.

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  4. I knew Fr. Specht was in the Navy, but I didn't know he was married. And the diocese IS conservative because we have so many solid priests. I think they can take much credit for the moves to restore the liturgy and take it back from the progressives at ICEL. Credo started here. But a number of the orthodox priests have taken hits since Bishop Loverde took over. We need to pray for them. It's tempting to keep your head down when you are likely to get hit by "friendly" fire. And training priests to be silent is a tragedy. All Catholics, both clergy and laity, are meant to be warriors in the Church militant, not cowards laid out flat in the trenches.

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    1. He was a master sergeant on a nuclear submarine. He wasn't married. I knew him from the seminary as we were assigned to the same parish for our acolyte assignment. I knew him as a man of prayer, and always wore long sleeved clerical shirts because he had tattoos from Navy days and didn't wish to scandalize anyone.

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  5. I noticed that statement about the farm as well, and thought it strange that Bransfield was apparently trying to question the credibility of the accusation through misinformation on what it said. Another odd statement is that Bransfield describes Gana as a "former seminarian of mine" when actually they were classmates at the same seminary. Also, wasn't Bransfield mentioned in Fr. James Haley's deposition?

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  6. Al Henneberry,

    I asked a priest in the diocese if Fr. Specht was married prior to entering the priesthood. He said no. I have never heard anyone say that. The priest I spoke to was ordained around the same time. Perhaps you have Fr. Specht confused with Fr. Jack Fullen. He and his wife Sandy were very involved in Marriage Encounter before here sudden and unexpected death. A few years after Sandy's death he entered the seminary.

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  7. Are there any updates as to the status of the investigation into Father Specht? I was disheartened to hear about the allegations against him.

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  8. These things never seem to be resolved. The priests disappear and are never heard from again and there is rarely any closure. So much for openness, transparency, and the right to your good name.

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