Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tie online comments to registered accounts

The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass. has implemented a policy to discourage obnoxious commenting on its online discussion threads: charge a one-time fee of 99 cents through a valid credit card and attach the user's name as it appears on that card to all comments the user makes, along with the user's community.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Abuse by priests causes lasting harm

I was standing in the recording studio at Cornerstone Media, Inc., preparing to voice a radio spot, when Father Don Kimball's hands abruptly began wrenching my shoulders from behind. The shooting pain in my neck and shoulders made me cry out in agony.

As abruptly as it had started, Kimball's "massage" immediately ceased. "It wouldn't hurt if you had regular massages," he said angrily.

His anger was so unexpected and sudden and the reason was unclear to me. I had not asked him for a massage and he had not asked if he could give me a massage before roughly grabbing and handling me. He acted as if the pain I was in was somehow entirely my fault.

Thank God Father Don Kimball never touched me like that again.

My association with Cornerstone took place in the late 1980s to early '90s. I was part of a group of young people who scripted and and voiced radio "codebreakers" that were set to popular music and dealt with issues faced by our peers. During those times when Kimball was in town, he worked with us to produce our spots.

The confusion provoked by Kimball's behavior that day was difficult enough for me. Only later, through reports in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, did I learn what further dangers I had unknowingly been spared.

Kimball was suspended from clerical duties in 1990 after admitting to sexual misconduct with six underage girls.

The Roman Catholic Church reached a $1.6 million settlement in April 2000, in a civil lawsuit in which four plaintiffs said Kimball had molested them in the 1970s and '80s. Kimball was convicted in a criminal trial of molesting a 13-year-old girl, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction because the accusations were decades old.

Five additional lawsuits involving Kimball were filed against the Santa Rosa diocese when a law took effect in California allowing victims of crimes that had aged beyond the statute of limitations to sue for damages. One of those cases was settled by the diocese for $3.3 million.

Out of nearly $20 million in settlements paid by the Santa Rosa diocese, one-fourth of that went to settle claims alleging abuse by Kimball.

When the news first broke, I didn't want to believe that Kimball had done such heinous things. I wanted to be able to look up to someone who had been an early mentor to me -- but my own disturbing encounter with Kimball made the victims' accounts believable.

Particularly disturbing were details that emerged about Kimball's relationships with his victims, including his use of massage. Thanks to my chronic pain that flared under Kimball's rough handling, I believe I dodged a bullet.

To its credit, the Roman Catholic Church appeared to take rare responsibility when it defrocked Kimball in 2003. Many other cases allege that the church quietly transferred its priests to remote communities where they preyed upon new victims.

There are cases all over America and Europe and the allegations of cover-up extend as high as his Holiness himself, Pope Benedict XVI.

NPR recently publicized demands by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests: that the pope immediately order all Vatican officials, cardinals and archbishops to turn over all criminal evidence and abuse files to law enforcement, that Benedict give a full account of his actions in sex abuse cases while he was archbishop in Munich and later when he was the enforcer of church doctrine and that the canonization process for Pope John Paul II be halted until there is a full independent investigation of whether the late pope was involved in cover-ups of Catholic clergy.

Kimball died in 2006 and while I consider it a shame that his radio ministry for young people was overshadowed by scandal, the truth is, he brought it on himself. He was an adult in power, he misused that power and he caused lasting harm as a result.

For the sake of all victims of abuse committed by Catholic priests and for the misplaced trust of people who believed in and looked up to them, the Catholic Church must cooperate with investigations of cover-up into abuses by priests.

Published July 6, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee