Boy at the window © Ramesh Amruth (epd)
According to a recent media investigation, the Salesians in California allegedly covered up sexual assaults and simply transferred priests – of all things, the order dedicated to child protection. Now a wave of lawsuits looms.
Joey Piscitelli has a bad suspicion. He was the smallest at the time, recalls the former student of the "Salesian High School" in Richmond in the US state of California.
Presumably, this must have particularly irritated Father Stephen Whelan. To this day, Piscitelli can hardly imagine why the deputy principal gave him "preferential treatment" in the very first days.
His ordeal began in the recreation room playing billiards with Fr. While trying to sink balls with a cue, Whelan sat in the chair and satisfied himself, Piscitelli said. Another time Whelan dragged him into a room and raped him. To cope with his trauma, the boy drew pictures depicting his suffering.
Transfer instead of prosecution
Just one fate of many unearthed by CNN in a yearlong investigation into sexual abuse of minors by Salesian priests in California. The results are as clear as they are shocking. Either the order prered victims to remain silent. Or the perpetrators were given short-term jobs at other Don Bosco schools.
Former priest Patrick Wall knows the "transfer rather than prosecute" pattern all too well from his practice as a consultant for the law firm Jeff Anderson and Associates, which represents about 200 abuse victims. "We are dealing with cases every day where priests have simply been transferred."Part of the pattern of cover-up for him is the systematic concealment of the acts from state authorities and the relevant dioceses.
The revelations about the Salesians are particularly shocking because the confraternity, which has existed since 1859, is dedicated to protecting poor and vulnerable children. With their pedagogical preventive work, they are considered pioneers of youth welfare in the 19th century. Century. Mind you, the perpetrators of such abuse are a fraction of the 15.000 members active in facilities in more than 130 countries.
They enjoy a high degree of autonomy within the hierarchy of the church and are considered secretive. Without a court order, victim counselor Wall says little in the way of information can be obtained from the order. The fact that the Salesians have more compassion for an accused priest than for his victim, on the other hand, is a "behavior common to all religious communities," the former chaplain says.
The sums of lawsuits rise to dizzying heights
The abuse cases could still cost the Salesian order dearly. After the release of Pennsylvania's grand jury report this summer, which found 300 priests guilty of abuse and more than 1.000 children documented as victims, the lawsuit sums soar to dizzying heights.
According to Associated Press research, compensation claims could be as high as six billion dollars. In the populous US states of New York and California alone, experts anticipate thousands of lawsuits.
The fact that these are only now being opened has to do with the fact that numerous federal states have opened the time window for lawsuits. In California, for example, potential plaintiffs have three years from 2020 to go to trial. As a consequence, many dioceses are left only with bankruptcy. 20 dioceses have already had to take this step; the next could be the Diocese of Buffalo.
Salesians won't be left out of the chalice either. Whether they can put away financial burden depends on number of lawsuits. The Salesians of Los Angeles received a foretaste in 2008, when they had to pay almost 20 million dollars to 17 victims of abuse.
Piscitelli had also gone to court. In 2006, he won a civil suit over 600.000 dollars in compensation for pain and suffering. But money alone is not enough for him. He won't let go of a picture of his church wedding. The photo shows another convicted alleged abusive priest who never had to answer for it. "One more nightmare," Piscitelli laments, "for which the Salesians are responsible."