Oral Testimony Submitted to the Official Record by:
MARY PITCHER, A Coalition for Truth (www.acoalitionfortruth.com)
DEBBY BODKIN, www.catholics4justice.com
Written Testimony Submitted to the Official Record:
My name is Debby Bodkin. Thank you to the National Association to Protect Children, PROTECT and Governor Schwarzenegger's Sex Offender Task Force for today's hearing and opportunity to be heard. After reading the Mission Statement posted on the PROTECT website, I have a renewed faith and hope that the non-politically connected in our society can make a difference in the protections of all children from dangers. For this reason, I would like to share concerns based on personal experience specifically, since the clergy sex abuse crisis erupted in 2002.
No matter how hard I try, there is no way to rationalize why attorneys representing religious institutions continually used "loopholes" in the laws that were meant to protect children, using claims relating to freedom of religion. I am not an attorney but there is no way that freedom of religion privileges have or ever will allow for sex abuse crimes.
As a non-politically connected wife and mother, I have raised 4 children who attended Catholic schools in Orange County. When the clergy sex abuse crisis began, I was led to the Survivors of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and founded a website, www.catholics4justice.com. My life's passion is now writing letters to editors, submitting articles to various publications and supporting justice that has been denied to sex abuse victims, mandated reporters and their families. The clergy sex abuse crisis has haunted me to no end and what continues to be unexplainable, is the way the politically-connected discourage and chill the public's participation in matters relating to the protections of children. I speak from personal experiences. My husband and children have taken hard hits for my public support of victims of crime and it still breaks my heart.
However, I know that they love me, maybe they don't like my letters and articles --there are days they ask me not to write one more letter until they go back to college in the fall but slowly, they are starting to understand the seriousness of our society's failures to protect children and correct the wrongs that have been revealed during the past few years.
Our country has been hit with tragic events during the past few years. A violent crime took the life of Samantha Runion here in our own Orange County and my family, along with many others nationwide, prayed for her safe return. The gift Erin is giving to the world is one from her heart -- so other parents will never have to experience the pain she has been forced to endure. Many other children have been victims of violent crimes, abducted from the safety of their homes, sexually abused and tragically killed at school. If the victims and their families had remained silent, children would not be as safe as they are today. Morally, victims and their families could no longer stay silent. They knew that silence would never protect others. As parents, many of us have never experienced the loss of a child to a violent crime or sex abuse and for this, we have been blessed. However, we can all feel the pain and loss when other parents are forced to face tragedy and if we could, we would do anything to return a child back to safety. God bless you for reaching out and sharing your personal stories so others will be protected and as a society, we can work together to protect children in the future.
The concerns described today are opinions that have been developed over the years, after wearing many different hats. After raising 4 children who attended Catholic schools in Orange County, I am finally aware that my children were placed in the trusting care of sexual predators, employed by the Diocese of Orange, without my knowledge and without my informed consent. My children were never victims of crimes but I have heard personal stories of sex abuses committed against Mary Grant, Joelle Casteix and hundreds of others survivors of clergy sex abuse crimes. I have personally witnessed what pain it has brought to the victims and their families. The Diocese of Orange settled approximately 87 sex abuse lawsuits for $100 million in December 2004; this settlement was only one step forward toward justice, healing and protections of children.
Both Mary and Joelle's perpetrators were never criminally charged for the sex abuse crimes committed against them and other children. Mary's perpetrator was transferred to St. Edward's Catholic Church and School in Dana Point, California, as pastor, AFTER he sexually abused Mary. My children attended St. Edward's Church and School for many years and our family was present at the first Mass celebrated by Mary's perpetrator. He stated from the pulpit that there had been rumors about him and a teenage girl having sexual relations and, the rumors had been resolved. Years later I met Mary and began connecting the dots. What rumors -- there were none the Diocese of Orange transferred a sexual predator intentionally, with total disregard for the safety of others.
In 2001, after I married my husband, Michael Bodkin, an 8 year teacher and coach at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, I started to connect more dots. Mike was my oldest daughter's science teacher during her senior year and coincidentally, Mike and I had also graduated from high school together in 1973. Unfortunately, Mike's employment at Santa Margarita Catholic High School ended in June 2002, soon after he reported the high school principal's son had a gun on the school campus. Mike learned from our son that he had held the gun and also knew where the principal's son hid the gun. As any mandated reporter or parent would do, Mike feared another Columbine HS tragedy and preventing a tragedy was all he thought about. Mike, just like many other mandated reporters who have reported sex abuse crimes or other dangers, was punished for protecting 1850 children from school zone violence through adverse employment decisions.
Felony gun charges were filed against the principal's son 2 days after the report was made to law enforcement. We later learned that school administrators knew about the gun 2 months before my husband and failed to report the gun possession to law enforcement, as mandated by law. In fact, the administrator who failed to protect Joelle from sex abuses at Mater Dei High School also failed to report the illegal gun possession of the principal's son at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. It is obvious that the business and employment practices that allowed innocent children to be sexually abused by employees of religious institutions are alive and well. The administrators who failed to protect children from sex abuse or potential school zone violence, maintained their employment with the Diocese of Orange today.