The Church nationally has preferred to deal with the problem in secrecy. In 1985, when it became clear that pedophilia in the priesthood was a nationwide crisis, a confidential document detailing how to protect the Church from embarrassment and lawsuits was sent to all bishops. Father James McFadden, O'Brien's right-hand man at the time, says the bishop did receive it. (See related story on this page.) The 93-page document arrived after Father John Giandelone admitted his two-year affair with the youth, but probably before Father Joe Lessard was arrested. And it certainly arrived well before Father George was arrested.
The document emphasizes a strong public relations policy that includes distancing bishops from pedophile priests. It also suggests sending offending priests for treatment in states that don't have mandatory sex-offender reporting laws. Practically all of the document deals with pedophilia as an institutional and internal political problem and suggests ways of trying to avoid bad publicity. Very little of the document discusses the impact of pedophile priests on their victims.
Bishop O'Brien, like other church officials, also has been exposed to news stories detailing the Church's national pedophilia scandal. (See related story on page 28.) The National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper widely read by the Catholic clergy, began reporting the problem in 1985. The paper has called for bishops to be open about pedophilia cases and to take a "pastoral," rather than a self-protective, approach with the victims. "The response cannot be that of an institution, but of a church," the paper warned bishops in 1988.
In response to the scandal, Raymond Hunthausen, the liberal archbishop of Seattle, put together a team of cleric and lay professionals to treat victims. And he stressed public disclosure of facts, even if they were embarrassing to his priests.
By the time Father George Bredemann was arrested, Bishop O'Brien still had no such policy in place. The bishop, however, has publicly stated his distrust of the press. That may be why the diocese sent out a secret memo last month to its 250 priests. The September 19 memo warned priests that a New Times reporter was looking into the problem of pedophilia in the diocese. Although it didn't directly order priests not to talk, it said: "It has been wisely suggested that, if at all possible, the diocese should alert priests, in advance, to adverse publicity. Fortunately, in this case we are able to do so. . . . Obviously this type of publicity is hurtful to all priests and to the Church."
Experts acknowledge that screening for pedophiles is difficult. But what about teaching youngsters about pedophiles?
Unlike other institutions, like Scouting, the local diocese has not trained its youngsters with "yell and tell" videos that warn about molesters. Local parochial schools do use puppet shows to alert younger kids about molesters, says Marge Injasoulian, the diocese communications director.
Father Charles Kieffer, vocations director for the diocese, tells New Times that he knows his profession attracts child molesters because, like schoolteachers and doctors, priests have almost unlimited access to children. Kieffer says it's hard to screen for pedophiles because they may appear to be perfectly normal and are usually not honest in psychological testing about their sexual disorder. But he says that, since he came on board four years ago, the diocese has tightened up its screening for priesthood applicants by checking out resumes more thoroughly and requiring more psychological testing.
Former priest Perry Harper, who once held a high post in the diocese, says he left the priesthood because he was angered by what he saw as Bishop O'Brien's toleration of corruption, including homosexual acting-out by some priests. But Harper (not his real name) acknowledges that he was fired by O'Brien and is still annoyed at him. Harper is now a white-collar worker in a small town and consented to an interview only if his real name was not used.
Harper says he was "suspended" by O'Brien after an argument. "I told the bishop a couple of years ago that I was fed up with him and all the garbage that he was keeping quiet," says Harper. He claims that he told the bishop that he would also start telling the police about criminal behavior by priests. "I told him I could no longer carry out my vow of obedience to him," Harper says. "The bishop told me I'd lost my faith. Essentially he fired me. I had already decided to quit."