The FBI defines transnational organized crime groups as self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate, wholly or in part, by illegal means and irrespective of geography. They constantly seek to obtain power, influence and monetary gains.
It also states that with few exceptions, TOC groups’ primary goal is economic gain and they will employ an array of lawful and illicit schemes to generate profit.
To combat these groups, the FBI uses the RICO Act to expand criminal accountability for a number of “predicate offenses,” and to expand a single offense across multiple members of a criminal enterprise. Unlike typical investigations, which target a single criminal act, this multi-pronged approach allows the FBI to disrupt or dismantle the entire enterprise.
When we hear “organized crime,” most people will think of the Italian mafia or drug cartels. Another group may finally be added to the list — the Catholic Church.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently released “the results of a two-year grand jury investigation into the widespread sexual abuse of children within six dioceses of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania and the systemic cover up by senior church officials in Pennsylvania and at the Vatican.”
The grand jury identified over 1,000 victims abused by 300 predator priests in six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses. Their belief is that the number of victims was in the thousands. The cover-up was massive. It involved the church leaders from top to bottom.
Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, writes, “The grand jury report about Catholic priest abuse in Pennsylvania shows the church is a criminal syndicate … What is clear from this report — as well as the previous grand jury reports from Philadelphia in 2005 and 2011 and Altoona-Johnston in 2016 — is that the Catholic church cannot be and never should have been trusted nor expected to root out pedophiles in their midst, let alone punish them appropriately. Mercy was not extended to victims, but to perpetrators. Rules, it seems, were for the Catholics who continued to sit in the pews, not the ones who stood at the altars.”
Often the worst predator priests would be sent off to a church-owned property to live out their lives at the expense of the church. As seen locally, they could even have a beautiful view of a lake and woods.
After the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, 15 state attorney generals have contacted Shapiro to gain insight in the workings of such a case. The Justice Department is looking at the sexual abuse of children and transporting them across state lines for illegal purposes, both RICO “predicate offenses.” Six more states have launched investigations. Illinois has identified 690 priests already. It’s time Minnesota joins the list.
The root cause of all of this is money. Had it become known early on that there were so many priests sexually abusing children, donations would have stopped. But as in many other businesses, money is power. Now the church can afford to hire high-priced attorneys and lobbyists to handle bankruptcy proceedings.
Since 2005, 19 dioceses have filed. There are church “leaders” who appear to specialize in taking dioceses into bankruptcy. Evidenced by Bishop Donald Kettler coming to the St. Cloud Diocese (which filed for bankruptcy in February 2018) after leading the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska through bankruptcy.
Many of us have heard the phrase “the insurance is paying.” Well, no insurance is free and think about what happened to your car insurance rates after you or your children had a couple of accidents. So yes, those of us sitting in the pews are paying.
It’s time that the state and federal government investigate the Catholic Church’s handling of the sexual abuse of children and determine whether the church truly fits the definition of a transnational organized crime group and hold it responsible.
This is the opinion of Rob Schwegel, resident of St. Joseph. He was born and raised in a Catholic household and attended Catholic grade school in St. Cloud with his brothers and sisters. His parents were founding members of St. Peter’s Catholic Church and school in St. Cloud and of St. Michael’s Church. He recently retired after 38.5 years in law enforcement.