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Why Was the U.S. Catholic Church Never Charged in a RICO Suit?

Like most people, I woke up this morning to find out the Pope would abdicate the See of Peter. As someone who grew up Catholic, I’ve been wondering this for more than a decade: why was the Catholic church in the U.S. never charged with a RICO suit?

Just going from the name of the legislation, it would appear that an organization that trafficked in pedophiles would be a prime candidate for such a lawsuit. Don’t get me wrong; I have no animosity towards the church, but this would appear to be a lead pipe cinch. I understand that any time you have an organization with a lot of people, there will be a criminal subelement. That’s why I didn’t hold it against the entire military for Abu Ghraib. But this was something more. Why didn’t it happen?

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About Robert Prather
Robert Prather formerly blogged at the now defunct Insults Unpunished and, unlike his co-blogger Dodd, can not kill a mime using only his thumb. Follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Technically there is no such entity as “the U.S. Catholic Church.” Each individual diocese, or archdiocese, is it’s own distinct entity under the authority of their respective Bishop, Archbishop, or Cardinal.

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  2. It’s also worth noting that several Catholic Diocese have been, or currently are being, sued for their role in covering up reports of abuse.

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  3. @Doug Mataconis: yeah, I get that they’re being sued. Even so, if I were inclined to be religious again I couldn’t do it as a Catholic because the organization seems messed up. It’s one thing for people to commit crimes, another thing entirely to cover it up.

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  4. PD Shaw says:

    A conspiracy case was brought against the Catholic Diocese in Philadelphia. As I recall not a single juror believed the conspiracy case, i.e. nobody believed that the Catholic church was engaged in a conspiracy to molest children.

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  5. legion says:

    @Doug Mataconis: True, but if there were some evidence of coordination or collusion between various nominally-independent Bishops, etc, would that rise to the level of RICO? I mean, it’s not like “The Chicago Mafia” or “La Cosa Nostra” were incorporated entities…

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  6. Liberal Capitalist says:

    If you want to go there with organized religion, then you stand to open the floodgates of logic.

    Never go full logic with ” FAITH “.
    .

    For instance, consider the term “Racketeering”

    Traditionally, the word racket is used to describe a business (or syndicate) that is based on the example of the protection racket and indicates a belief that it is engaged in the sale of a solution to a problem that the institution itself creates or perpetuates, with the specific intent to engender continual patronage. One example is computer spyware that pretends to be detecting infections and offers to download a cleaning utility for a fee, being itself distributed by the maker of the cleaning utility.

    In the example of a protection racket, the racketeer informs a store-owner that a substantial monthly fee will be required in exchange for protection. The concurrent “protection” provided takes the form of the absence of damage inflicted upon the store or its employees by the racket itself.

    Other types of rackets include bribery, sexual exploitation of children, and illegal gambling.

    So… An organization creates an afterlife.

    You can’t see it, taste it touch it, but the threat is looming.

    Then… The organization that purports that there is an afterlife, without proof, says it can PROTECT you from the negative effects of that afterlife… if you tithe on a regular basis and follow their rules, and bow to their leadership.

    How is this NOT racketeering?

    How is this NOT a punishable crime.

    Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act applies to the basic premise of organized religion.

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  7. swearyanthony says:

    @Doug Mataconis: even better, in many countries and dioceses the church is busy squirrelling away their assets so that they can declare bankruptcy while keeping all the shiny toys. “Us? No, the catholic church here has zero assets. Its just a couple of guys who live in a bus shelter”

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  8. Sandman says:

    @Robert Prather: @Liberal Capitalist: “How is this NOT racketeering?”

    “How is this NOT a punishable crime.”

    It’s called choice.

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act applies to the basic premise of organized religion.

    Hence, the 1st Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

    Ergo, no prosecution.

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  10. Tony W says:

    RICO? Heck they don’t even have to pay taxes. Religion is above the law (or in many cases “is” the law) in the United States – all the rights, none of the responsibilities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sandman:

    It’s called choice.

    Let me get this straight: You are saying the little boys who were raped by priests had a choice? Especially those who were raped on multiple occasions? That they must have wanted it because they came back for more?

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  12. Sandman says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: No, it’s because they had a pretty mouth, like you hillblly. Bad joke, but obviously the choice I refer to is whether or not to be in any certain religion, or not.

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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sandman:

    but obviously the choice I refer to is whether or not to be in any certain religion, or not.

    Ahhh, got it. The parents chose to send their children to the child rapists. It all becomes clear to me now.

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  14. legion says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Actually, it’s not an unreasonable point, but it’s one that still seems to support the concept of criminal charges (IMHO, IANAL, etc). As the argument goes, the parents made a choice to a) raise their children in a certain religion and b) send their children to the care of representatives of that religion. One could argue that parents make that choice under the impression that it is a reasonably safe thing to do. If it could be demonstrated that the churches _knew_ that environment was unsafe but continued informing people otherwise, there might be a fair amount of culpability there…

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  15. Septimius says:

    why was the Catholic church in the U.S. never charged with a RICO suit?

    Because, contrary to what you may think, the Catholic Church’s purpose is not to facilitate sexual abuse. By your logic, The U.S. Department of Education should also be charged under the RICO statute since children are more likely to be abused by a public school teacher than a priest.

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  16. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @legion:

    … If it could be demonstrated that the churches _knew_ that environment was unsafe but continued informing people otherwise, there might be a fair amount of culpability there…

    Apparently, this IS the case, and has been prosecuted in some diocese as such.

    Catholic sex abuse cases

    In some jurisdictions, RICO suits have been filed against Catholic dioceses, using racketeering laws to prosecute the highers-up in the episcopacy for abuses committed by those under their authority.

    A Cleveland grand jury cleared two bishops of racketeering charges, finding that their mishandling of sex abuse claims did not amount to criminal racketeering. Certain lawyers and abuse advocates[who?] have openly wondered why a similar suit was not filed against archbishop Bernard Law prior to his getting reassigned to Vatican City.

    Surprisingly,

    Vatican Christmas Shocker! Pope says child rape isn’t that bad, was normal back in his day

    Belfast Telegraph
    Tue, 21 Dec 2010 02:08 CST

    Is the game up for the Catholic Church? Sadly not, as many of its brainwashed members will continue to support it in spite of its now overt symptoms of psychopathology.

    Victims of clerical sex abuse have reacted furiously to Pope Benedict’s claim yesterday that paedophilia wasn’t considered an “absolute evil” as recently as the 1970s.

    In his traditional Christmas address yesterday to cardinals and officials working in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI also claimed that child pornography was increasingly considered “normal” by society.

    “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said.

    “It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”

    The Pope said abuse revelations in 2010 reached “an unimaginable dimension” which brought “humiliation” on the Church.

    Asking how abuse exploded within the Church, the Pontiff called on senior clerics “to repair as much as possible the injustices that occurred” and to help victims heal through a better presentation of the Christian message.

    “We cannot remain silent about the context of these times in which these events have come to light,” he said, citing the growth of child pornography “that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society” he said.

    But outraged Dublin victim Andrew Madden last night insisted that child abuse was not considered normal in the company he kept.

    Mr Madden accused the Pope of not knowing that child pornography was the viewing of images of children being sexually abused, and should be named as such.

    He said: “That is not normal. I don’t know what company the Pope has been keeping for the past 50 years.”

    Pope Benedict also said sex tourism in the Third World was “threatening an entire generation”.

    Angry abuse victims in America last night said that while some Church officials have blamed the liberalism of the 1960s for the Church’s sex abuse scandals and cover-up catastrophes, Pope Benedict had come up with a new theory of blaming the 1970s.

    “Catholics should be embarrassed to hear their Pope talk again and again about abuse while doing little or nothing to stop it and to mischaracterise this heinous crisis,” said Barbara Blaine, the head of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,

    “It is fundamentally disturbing to watch a brilliant man so conveniently misdiagnose a horrific scandal,” she added.

    “The Pope insists on talking about a vague ‘broader context’ he can’t control, while ignoring the clear ‘broader context’ he can influence – the long-standing and unhealthy culture of a rigid, secretive, all-male Church hierarchy fixated on self-preservation at all costs. This is the ‘context’ that matters.”

    The latest controversy comes as the German magazine Der Spiegel continues to investigate the Pope’s role in allowing a known paedophile priest to work with children in the early 1980s.

    So… resignation… maybe NOT a shocker.

    If this is the case, then prosecute.

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  17. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … a litany of potential indictments:

    from http://www.salon.com/2013/02/11/pope_benedict_xvi_forks_over_the_keys_to_heaven/

    There are already, in these early moments after the announcement, the inevitable conspiracy theories floating about that there must be a scandal of epic proportions about to blow up. More than any other modern papacy, Benedict’s has been marked by a continuous onslaught of controversy.

    Just days ago, 12,000 pages of court records emerged regarding sexual abuse by Catholic priests…

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/religion/jan-june13/diocese_02-07.html

    … and the calculated efforts of Church authorities to cover it up.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/01/22/another_catholic_sex_abuse_cover_up/

    Last month, bishops in Germany abruptly pulled an independent investigation into sex abuse there.

    http://www.salon.com/2013/01/10/catholic_bishops_yank_a_sex_abuse_investigation/

    In recent months, as sweeping reforms for LGBT men and women around the world have ushered in a new era of tolerance and civil rights, the Church has doubled down on its stance against “all forms of weakening” traditional man-lady relationships.

    http://www.salon.com/2012/11/12/vatican_gay_marriage_causes_polygamy/

    Did we mention the money-laundering scandals?

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2012/06/26/the-vatican-bank-the-most-secret-bank-in-the-world/

    And throughout it all, the one man at the top of the chain of command has yet to emerge as anything less than competent at best and downright duplicitous at worst.

    His career beginnings were inauspicious. The German-born leader of the Catholic Church grew up under the Third Reich, and like all boys of his era, was compelled to join the Hitler Youth as a teenager. (Though it’s still up to history to judge whether his predecessor Pope John Paul II’s record as a Church leader, the former Karol Wojtyla’s dramatic experience as a young Pole during a dozen years of Nazi occupation — including hiding from the Gestapo — were considerably different from Benedict’s.) As a priest, Church documents have revealed Ratzinger as a man more concerned that defrocking clerics accused of sexually abusing children “could provoke some scandal among the faithful” than advocating strongly for justice for victims. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/09/AR2010040903109.html )

    And just last year, a scandal involving leaked confidential Vatican documents portrayed the pope as a “lonely” man, plagued with trouble “keeping the shop together or getting information owing to all the filtering and intrigues surrounding him.” (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/vatileaks-scandal-exposes-pope-s-frail-leadership-a-836825.html )

    links for the implications at the Salon.com link

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  18. Liberal Capitalist says:

    A comment was put into moderation (likely for too many links)… until the full comment is approved, you may wish to consider some of the potential indictments and documented issues at …

    http://www.salon.com/2013/02/11/pope_benedict_xvi_forks_over_the_keys_to_heaven/

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  19. PD Shaw says:

    Here are a few key links to the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Blog:

    The first is the judge’s instruction to the jurty that a monsignor’s assignment of a priest accused of molesting a child had to have specifically been intended to endanger children. Link

    The second link following acquittal of conspiracy is self-explanatory: Jury Didn’t Buy Prosecution’s Grand Conspiracy Theory

    The prosecution’s conspiracy theory was basically that the monsignor got up every morning and said, hey, what can I do today to keep our bad boys in collars, so they can continue to rape, pillage and molest more innocent children.

    On Monday, the jury foreman in the case went on Fox 29 and said that nobody on the jury bought the prosecutors’ conspiracy theory that sounded far-fetched when the trial began back in March, and seems even more absurd now that the three-month trial is over, and no evidence was ever presented to back it up.

    It would be comical, except that the Commonwealth just spent a ton of money and eight weeks of trial time trying to convince the jury that Bill Lynn the quintessential company man was the alleged mastermind down at the archdiocese of a secret plot to sexually abuse children.

    The jury found Lynn not guilty of conspiring with Father Edward V. Avery, or anyone else, to endanger the welfare of children.

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  20. Andre Kenji says:

    There is a LA Cop that refused to protect a colleague that engaged in criminal behavior. They fired him, and he went rogue, entering a killing spree. It´s easy to self indulge yourself in blog comments, but dealing with coleagues that engage in criminal behavior is pretty tough, I know by personal experience.

    The Catholic Church is not the only organization with problems with pedophiles. I think that the problem of rape inside the Armed Forces is even worse. The number of women being raped in the Armed Force is much, much bigger and the cover-ups are much egregious.

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  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Please release me, let me go…..

    from moderation purgatory.

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  22. An Interested Party says:

    By your logic, The U.S. Department of Education should also be charged under the RICO statute since children are more likely to be abused by a public school teacher than a priest.

    That’s some interesting “logic” you’re using there…who knew that employees of the U.S. Department of Education participated in cover-ups to protect teachers who raped children…

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  23. matt bernius says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    There is a LA Cop that refused to protect a colleague that engaged in criminal behavior. They fired him, and he went rogue, entering a killing spree.

    I realize that when we’re talking about the LA PD, it’s presumed guilty, but given that this “whistle blower” eventually decided to start a killing spree that targeted family members of people whom he felt wronged him, I’m a little hesitant to accept his version of events as Gospel.

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  24. Andre Kenji says:

    @matt bernius: I´m not accepting his version. But his story resounded with me because that´s a story that I know and everyone knows that the LAPD is rotten regardless of his version of events.

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  25. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: Interesting quote from Benedict there you cited:

    “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said.

    “It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”

    Just what is incorrect about it?

    Back in the 1960′s and 1970′s, there was this thing called “the sexual revolution.” And it was about a hell of a lot more than abortion and birth control. A whole lot of sexual practices that had been defined as abnormal, deviant, abhorrent, wrong, unacceptable, and just plain evil were pushed as no big deal. Homosexuality, promiscuity, group sex, fetishes, S/M, B/D, and yes, pedophilia all had their champions.

    The arguments in favor of pedophilia — mainly pushed by NAMBLA — was that it was a matter of age discrimination to deny children the right to explore their own sexuality. And that sounded an awful lot like the arguments used in those other cases.

    At the same time, there was a major push in the Catholic Church to move away from theological matters and get more worldly. “Liberation Theology” was all the rage, where individual sins were pretty much ignored in the quest for Social Justice. That one didn’t get officially stomped down until the 1980′s.

    Another idea I haven’t investigated too much is that during the 1960′s a lot of troubled gay men sought to escape their torment by joining the priesthood, hoping that a structured life of celibacy would “cure” them of their unnatural, sinful, evil desires. And that worked out about as well as you’d expect, knowing what we know now about human nature.

    Cherry-picking Benedict’s statement is good for rabble-rousing, but is fundamentally dishonest.

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  26. Tony W says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    moderation purgatory

    I see what you did there, the problem is you have not tithed to OTB this month. You also need to do 7 hail-Mary’s and to purchase this trinket.

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  27. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Andre Kenji: That cop’s “whistle-blowing” as dismissed as retaliation for a poor review from the officer he “blew the whistle” on — after an investigation found zero evidence backing up his claim, and a lot of witnesses who said it never happened.

    What you won’t hear about that ex-cop is that he’s a big Obama fan, a proponent of gun control, and has a hefty fan base at the Huffington Post. Since that contradicts the notion that only right-wingers are dangerous, it’s being quietly ignored.

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  28. Barry says:

    @Septimius: “By your logic, The U.S. Department of Education should also be charged under the RICO statute since children are more likely to be abused by a public school teacher than a priest. ”

    By no logic whatsoever, you mean, unless evidence of an actual conspiracy to cover up and facilitate abuse is demonstrated.

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  29. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Cherry-picking Benedict’s statement is good for rabble-rousing, but is fundamentally dishonest.

    And stating a position of NAMBLA as a mainstream thought representing a specific time is… ?

    I find your defending the church in that light to be… distasteful, at best.

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  30. Barry says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Back in the 1960′s and 1970′s, there was this thing called “the sexual revolution.” And it was about a hell of a lot more than abortion and birth control. A whole lot of sexual practices that had been defined as abnormal, deviant, abhorrent, wrong, unacceptable, and just plain evil were pushed as no big deal. Homosexuality, promiscuity, group sex, fetishes, S/M, B/D, and yes, pedophilia all had their champions. ”

    So that’s why the problem started long, long before this – the Evul 60′s had such power that it went back in time!

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  31. Liberal Capitalist says:

    New news today…

    Looks like stealing from the dead is a way that the Roman Catholic Church pays for the Pedophilia lawsuits… for the tune of $115 million.

    Surprisingly, because of laws managed for the benefit of religious organizations… not illegal.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/02/11/1186310/-Los-Angeles-archdiocese-quietly-appropriated-115-million-from-dead-people

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  32. SAM FIELDS says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Just like the Giganti, Luccasi, Bonnano, Columbo families

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  33. grumpy realist says:

    Speaking as a law student, I imagine that the “intent” and “knowledge” aspect of RICO would be hard to prove. You can’t shake your finger at them and say what they did was bad according to present-day knowledge. It’s whether it was known as bad back then. This is the “fumbling naive idiot” defense. (Note that this doesn’t work very well in most criminal cases because it’s a “known or should have known” standard. You don’t get to stick a knife in someone and then claim as your defense:”gee, I didn’t know he was going to die!”)

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  34. josh says:

    i’m pretty sure there have been rico cases brought against the church.

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  35. josh says: