Red Herrings and Applause Lines

Thursday, the Michigan Attorney General Danna Nessel (Democrat) held a press conference on a very important topic. Unfortunately it is a topic that has become applause lines for those against us and shame and determination to right the issue for those with us. That is, sexual abuse within the Church.

Myself, as well as the other members of EPIC Radio, fully believe that allegations of sexual abuse should be fully investigated and indeed be brought into the public light. However, it seems that Ms. Nessel, whom I genuinely believe wants to help the situation, instead chose to antagonize us Catholics, and that will not help at all. I should add at this point that I currently live in Grand Rapids, Michigan and am under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Grand Rapids and Bishop David Walkowiac.

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During her press conference, Ms. Nessel stated, “victims may believe they cannot or should not report abuse to us because the church is going to handle it. Simply put, that’s just not true. If you signed an NDA [Non-disclosure agreement], you still have a right and I would say a responsibility to speak to law enforcement authorities. … If an investigator comes to your door and asks to speak with you, please ask to see their badge, not their rosary.” She added, that the Attorney General’s office has heard “many stories” of victims being pressured to sign non-disclosure agreements.

In addition to these comments, she said that the Church must stop “self-policing” because it interferes with law enforcement investigations. She also touted out a Clergy Abuse hotline for victims or anyone with information to call and said that they have received more than 300 tips on this new line.

This investigation started last year when the Attorney General’s office, at that time under Bill Schuette (Republican), executed search warrants and raids in all seven diocese in Michigan. The raid reportedly seized hundreds of thousands of documents, which the Attorney General’s office is still processing.

Michigan’s investigation came after a grand jury in Pennsylvania found that 300 priests had covered up sexual abuse crimes over a period of seventy years. That investigation covered six of Pennsylvania’s eight diocese. And that report was released after then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned from his post as Archbishop of Washington over allegations that he covered sexual abuse claims and investigations. He was defrocked a little over a week ago.

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Many allegations, some of which true, have come up about how priests have sexually abused minors or vulnerable adults and how their bishops covered it up. It is a good thing that Ms. Nessel and other attorney generals across the country are willing to investigate these allegations.

However, Ms. Nessel struck a tone that seems all too familiar to me and that was one of a hatred and/or disgust of the entire Catholic Church. You can see her comments in the press conference below.

Click play to hear Ms. Nessel’s comments on her investigation into the Catholic Church.

She says that “many churches and diocese can appear to be self policing and encouraging parishioners to report abuse to them so they can can conduct their own internal investigation.” She added that many people who report to their parish or diocese believe the Church is going to handle it, and simply put, “that’s just not true.” And finally she compared the Catholic Church in Michigan to Michigan State University and their handling of the Larry Nassar scandal.

The Archdiocese of Detroit quickly responded in a statement saying, “since 2002, the Archdiocese of Detroit has not entered into any non-disclosure agreements, unless specifically requested by a survivor of abuse, as required by the Catholic Church in the United States” and that “the Archdiocese of Detroit does not self-police. We encourage all victims to report abuse directly to law enforcement. When we learn of an allegation of sexual abuse of minors, we immediately notify law enforcement authorities, in accordance with the agreements we have had in place with them since 2002, when we shared past case files involving clergy misconduct and committed to turning over all new allegations regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred.” They concluded by saying, “one sinful, criminal act, especially against God’s most vulnerable and trusting children, is unacceptable and one suffering soul too many.”

The dioceses of Lansing, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, Marquette, Gaylord, and Grand Rapids offered similar statements.

I would agree with Ms. Nessel on at least one thing. If one has information or if a victim comes forward, they should go directly to law enforcement. I volunteer in the faith formation office in a parish here in Grand Rapids and because I am around children when I am there, I was required to take part in the Virtus: Protecting God’s Children class. This program is used by many dioceses across the country as their training on how to spot and report abuse. I can verify that one of the first things said was, if someone is in danger, call the authorities. Only after one is to do this they are to report it to the diocese.

Now, Ms. Nessel said that this reporting to the diocese would hinder the investigation. I will not deny that there have been instances in the past when a diocese tried to cover something up. However, I have faith that the majority of bishops and priests in this country would drop what they are doing and work vigorously to make sure this investigation was followed through.

In addition, these internal reviews are, in fact, helpful. They help the diocese to determine whether or not a priest should be partaking in ministry. If an allegation occurs, the diocese has a right to know about it and conduct their own internal review.

The comment that struck me most, however, was her remark about who to talk to. She said you should “ask to see their badge, not their rosary.” This comment was entirely unnecessary in her press conference. For the most part she gave decent, somewhat well-informed information. But this statement is an attack against the faith. Tony Zammit, in a opinion piece for the Detroit News, said “as a Catholic, I find this statement extremely troubling. The rosary is a very sacred devotion to Catholics, and to turn it into the butt of a joke to score headlines is highly inappropriate.”

Mr. Zammit is exactly right. I highly doubt that Ms. Nessel would ever make a similar jab towards any other religion. But unfortunately, it is similar to many other of the backhanded slaps made towards Catholics and the Church. These types of remarks, in logic, are fallacies and are known as “red herrings.”

A red herring is a statement made in an argument that is intended to misleading or distracting. Ms. Nessel’s rosary comment is just that and it is so similar to the comments we have seen from Senators Feinstein and Hirono, and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. They frequently use attacks on the Catholic Church as applause lines for their donors and base.

There has long been anti-Catholic sentiment in this country. It is part of the reason New York City is has a very distinct Irish Catholic and a (separate) Italian Catholic communities. They were not welcome around the puritanical Calvinists or other Protestants.

I, frankly, find the rise of anti-Catholic sentiment in this country alarming. As someone who is almost a libertarian, I firmly believe that everyone has the right to worship God as they see fit. I vehemently disagree with 99.9% of the way that it is done by non-Catholics, however, people have that right to do so.

I would like to conclude this article with some facts. What I am about to say is going to sound bad and uncomfortable but it is true. Sexual abuse is no more likely in the Catholic Church than in other organizations. The following is from a Washington Post article from 2010. It says, “about 4 percent of priests committed an act of sexual abuse on a minor between 1950 and 2002, according to a study being conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. That is roughly consistent with data on many similar professions.” It happens in schools, the Boy Scouts of America, and other organizations.

“We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else,” Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told the Washington Post. The only difference is that the Catholic Church keeps meticulous records. And it reports to the authorities.

Catholic Priests are no more likely to commit sexual abuse crimes than other men and their vows of celibacy do not make them more likely to commit these crimes. Although there have been no formal studies on whether or not there is a different rate between Protestant and Catholic clergy, a 2010 article in the Denver Post said this, “insurers have been assessing the risks [of child abuse] since they began offering riders [in cars] on liability policies in the 1980s. Two of the largest insurers report no higher risks in covering Catholic churches than Protestant denominations.”

It is unfortunate that these opinions are out there. But we must fight back hard with the facts. We must ignore red herrings from politicians who seek to undermine what we stand for. 300 hundred priests in Pennsylvania were accused of crimes over a span of seventy years, many of whom are dead now. There are currently over 2400 priests in all of Pennsylvania, according to

And remember, there is an ultimate Judge. Lest we forget what our Lord says in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “but he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh” (Matthew 16:6-7).

And Pope Francis said this earlier this month, “I am reminded of the cruel religious practice, once widespread in certain cultures, of sacrificing human beings – frequently children – in pagan rites. … The consecrated person, chosen by God to guide souls to salvation, lets himself be subjugated by his own human frailty, or by his own illness, thus becoming a tool of Satan. In the abuses, we see the hand of evil that does not spare even the innocence of children.”

These things are hard to hear. It is clear that sexual abuse isn’t a Catholic problem. I applaud Ms. Nessel for her wanting to help victims of sexual abuse, but she ought to check her attitude towards the entire organization at the door. It will only cause her to lean one way in an investigation.

I ask that you pray for the investigators, that they may have an open mind. I ask that you pray for the victims, that they may find healing. And I ask that you pray for the abusers, that they may find it in their hearts to turn themselves in and face up to the pain that they have caused people.

May the dogma of the Church always live loudly from within you,

Since you’re here, EPIC Radio 103.5FM will be a new radio station in Wake Forest and we need your help!  Your donation of just $10 a month or more will help keep Catholic radio in our community.  Click here for more info.


Published by Matthew Handley

Matthew Handley is the Executive Director of EPIC Radio and is the general manager of its radio station in Wake Forest. He invites you to comment on his posts and to follow him on Twitter (@realHandlez).

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