The Associated Press has discovered a secretive network within the Catholic Church, albeit with no formal affiliation, that helps people dealing with child sexual harassment. They offer money and legal assistance. They help people relocate. They say they want to do anything they can to help the victims.
But they’re not talking about the kids.
Instead, Opus Bono Sacerdotii helps the accused priests.
Martha Mendoza, Juliet Linderman, and Garance Burke learned about the network through multiple interviews with former employees, Freedom of Information requests, and hearing from priests themselves.
For nearly two decades, the group has operated out of a series of unmarked buildings in rural Michigan, providing money, shelter, transport, legal help and other support to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse across the country.
Opus Bono focuses on what it considers the neglected victims: priests, and the church itself.
“All of these people that have made allegations are very well taken care of,” Opus Bono co-founder Joe Maher said in a radio interview, contending that many abuse accusations lodged against priests are false. “The priests are not at all very well taken care of.”
Basically, the group takes priests in the middle of a scandal and relocates them to a location where they won’t be known or bothered. Sometimes they hire the priests in question. That may explain how the group was able to raise more than $8 million between 2002 and 2016. (One of the men who started the group, Rev. Eduard Perrone, was banned from the ministry just this month after an oversight board at his church said there was a “semblance of truth” to allegations that he molested a child decades ago.)
Opus Bono’s client list is confidential, but its promotional brochures say it has helped over 8,000 priests. The Michigan attorney general estimates the real number is closer to 1,000.
Whatever the number, it’s not small.
One of the reasons we now know about this group is because the 27-year-old daughter of one of the co-founders, Mary Rose Maher, wrote to Michigan’s attorney general in 2017 to let him know about the financial misconduct within the non-profit. The Assistant AG at the time, William Bloomfield, was a hard-core Catholic himself. He led the investigation and found plenty of problems, most notably how donations to the group were being pocketed by the founders. (Who could’ve guessed that the people bending over backwards to accommodate pedophile priests were corrupt…?)
That investigation led to a settlement that saw the ousting of the co-founders, the entire board of directors being replaced, and a $10,000 reimbursement for the cost to the state. But the group continued to function. It was essentially a slap on the wrist, at least when you consider what the group was created to do. (Bloomfield later went to work for a Catholic diocese but said he wasn’t conflicted because the group was a non-profit with no formal ties to the Church.)
While Joe Maher is no longer allowed to run the group, or any non-profit in Michigan, he has since created a virtually identical group in Indiana called Men of Melchizedek. Both groups have the same lawyer.
(Image via Shutterstock)