Rhode Island taxpayers have contributed an enormous sum to wage a war that most of us know nothing about. The systems our state established to protect children have instead subjected many to danger and trauma that will profoundly shape the rest of their lives. Who will help to build public awareness and political consensus to protect children from those who prey on them or who profit from their abuse? How should government respond in ways that are transparent and accountable?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Similarities between the Roman Catholic Church and Family Court

Father Lawrence Murphy, a predator priest, groomed children for sex at a Roman Catholic school for the deaf in Milwaukee. After five of those boys came to grips with this in adulthood, they started a movement that forced the church to release documents that showed how top Vatican officials had covered up for priests who targeted children. Some monsignors minimized sexual aggression as normal behavior in all-male enclaves.

The Church upheld omertà, a code of silence. Ironically, pedophile priests groomed and assaulted deaf children around the world precisely because their victims could not speak. And yet, the eloquence of these five men telling their stories in vivid sign language launched a resounding battle that helped force Pope Benedict to resign this year, the first Pope to do so in 600 years.

I watched the powerful HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God while I was writing “Gift of the Mommies, A True Story” that shows the generational fallout from a pedophile priest. Suddenly the connection between the two provided another insight to what is happening to children abused in family court.

For more than two decades, I have followed custody cases in Rhode Island, the most Roman Catholic state in the nation. I’ve wondered what kind of culture could have given rise to obvious abuses of power. Why did judges, like clergy, often fail to accept the simple truth spoken by children protesting abuse?

I saw how the judiciary resembles the Church, with its all-powerful, black-robed judges, using inscrutable Latin words and assuming divine authority, “So help you God!” while people sit silently in pews awaiting judgments that seal their fate and their children’s.

The case of “Molly and Sara” described in this blog had a different twist. The girls’ father and his brothers had grown up in a sexually aggressive culture. The boys’ own father abused them with impunity and later went to prison for molesting two mentally disabled children who were his psychotherapy patients.

Molly and Sara’s father hated the Church and said it was “dumb” – an ironic term when contemplating “silence in the House of God.” Molly had pleaded with him to let their mother take her and Sara to church on Christmas Eve.

After Molly disclosed sexual abuse, police removed their father from the house while the state investigated and lodged a finding against him. Once he was out of the house, the children and their mother eagerly went to church, where they met a remarkable group of townsfolk who supported them for years afterward: writing letters, holding meetings, raising money for a lawyer, pacing the marble corridor outside the courtroom as they prayed the rosary, while the father fought and won sole custody of the girls. The court-appointed guardian ad litem, Lise Iwon, who was close friends with the father’s defense attorney, had orchestrated the children’s removal from their mother. Iwon also hated the Church.

The family’s church friends contacted the Parenting Project and asked us to investigate this case. One of the important lessons we learned is that we cannot judge others on their creeds or their credentials, but only on the integrity of their character.

You can see:
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God  

“Gift of the Mommies, A True Story”

Lise Iwon’s role in Molly and Sara’s case:


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About the Author & Purpose

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service provided since 1996 by Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. The coordinator, Anne Grant, is a retired United Methodist minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter and service agency for battered women and their children. We research and write about official actions that endanger children and the parents who are trying to protect them. Our goal is to reform this area of government and to establish an effective, transparent and accountable child protective system.

We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/

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Comments and corrections may be sent in an email with no attachments to parenting project @ verizon.net

About "Parental Alienation"

If you are not familiar with Richard Gardner's theory of "parental alienation" and how it is being used in custody courts, scroll down to the earliest posting, "Junk Science in Custody Courts." For more scholarly research, visit  http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/1.html

For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: