Amidst a widening sexual abuse scandal, a former seminarian in Hannibal, Missouri is suing the entire US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), originally intended to be used in cases involving organized crime rings. A 1980s student at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary is suing former West Palm Beach, FL Bishop Anthony O’Connor, who was a rector at St. Thomas, and the UCCB for participating in an organized conspiracy to keep abuse claims secret, mainly through hushed financial settlements with victims. O’Connell already admitted in his March 8 resignation letter to sexually abusing Christopher Dixon, another former St. Thomas seminarian in the late 1970s. RICO has been unsuccessfully used in two other cases against the Catholic church, one of which eventually led to a $30 million settlement outside the courts.
The growing sex abuse scandal has prompted mixed responses from Catholic officials. Several seminaries are developing new training manuals to weed out potential pedophiles and sexual abusers. They have already begun to offer new courses on formerly taboo topics like sexuality, addiction and the struggle to remain celibate. The new methods include targeting “homosexual behavior” as grounds for immediate dismissal from seminary. Psychologists note that the new tactics, particularly the attempt to weed out self-identified “practicing homosexuals,” will not identify potential pedophiles or sexual abusers.
Some church members and many in the psychological community, including Rev. Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist and sex abuse consultant to the USCCB, are cautioning the church against an anti-gay “witch hunt,” particularly after the Pope’s spokesperson responded to the current sex scandal by saying that the church needed to prevent gays from becoming priests. According to researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, no evidence suggests that gay people are more likely than straight people to molest children.