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paul at a young age

What are your thoughts on this very personal story of one man and his family's confrontation with the church that betrayed them?


Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched Hand of God and found it fascinating. I have read a lot about the priest sex abuse scandal but I have rarely, if ever, seen an actual victim tell his story.

There were a few things about Hand of God that I found confusing, however. After I watched it, I went to the PBS website hoping that the website would clear up the confusion, but it did not. Here are the points I find confusing. I'm sure that some other viewers wondered about these points, too.

1. Since Paul was sexually abused in 1964 or 1965, and since he realized in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s and 1980s that the sexual abuse of 1964 or 1965 had a detrimental effect on him, why was he entitled to collect money for it in the 1990s? Based on what Paul said (and what PBS's website says) about the statute of limitations, the statute of limitations expired in the late 1960s or perhaps in the 1970s. Why did the church, during the period 1995 to 2005, pay him and the other victims who claimed they were sexually abused in the 1960s and 1970s a large sum of money if the statute of limitations expired?

2. If, as Paul stated in Hand of God (and as PBS's website states), the Massachusetts statute of charitable immunity caps the damages for which a charitable institution like the archdiocese can be sued at $20,000, why did the church pay Paul $60,000 and pay even more than $60,000 (paying $10,000,000 to 86 victims is paying an average of $116,279.07 to each victim) to the other victims?

Is anyone else wondering about this? Perhaps someone can answer these questions.

New Haven, CT

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Under Massachusetts law, victims have 3 years from the later of the date of the abuse or 3 years from when the victim realized their abuse was detrimental. In Paul's case, the clock started ticking in the 1990s when he began telling friends and sought therapy.

And the state's cap on damages only applies to decisions handed down by a court, not settlements. Also, the if a plaintiff can prove the Church was negligent, as Paul attempted to do with his "Do you remember Fr. Birmingham?" ads, the cap does not apply.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I caught this documentary by chance last night and could not turn the channel. I am an Evangelical Christian, 38 yr. old mother of two, and I was so very moved by Pauls story. Although we had different upbringings, we believe in the same God, and I grieve for His children/my brothers and sisters who have suffered under those in Authority. I had heard about this abomination on the news, but Joe did a fantastic job of showing us on a more personal level, through Pauls eyes, how devestating this evil and the cover up has been for those innocent lambs. I know there are things we still do not know and will never know, but God has seen every single act, heard every single word, every minute of every day, AND THE DAY WILL COME......Blessings to all on your mission to help others heal.

Paige Smith
Alto, NM

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,Thank you for seeing the importance of the film by Joe Cultrera, and for having the courage to air it.My husband and I watched the film on Frontline....him for the 2nd time, and me for the 3rd, as we had also seen it at the local theater in Salem, MA. Each time I watch it I feel that I get some new perspective.I have the honor of knowing the Cutrera family, although Maria is the one I know the best. I am in awe at the way that Maria and her parents have been able to maintain their faith, and still attend church weekly, and I can understand and respect why Paul and Joe do not. This family needs to be applauded for sharing such a deeply personal story. I believe that the only way to keep this from happening again is by the education that people get by viewing films such as this one.Bravo to Paul and Joe, and Hooray to Frontline!

Cindy Meola
Salem, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,

Thank you for airing "The Hand of God" and many thanks to the Cultera family for their courage and honesty.

As a recovering Catholic, I often find myself wanting to "relapse" and disappear into the (dis)comforts of my religion of origin. I am very grateful that I saw this film, because it was a searing reminder of why it is important to continue to seek God outside of utterly corrupt, depraved and greedy human institutions like the Roman Catholic Church.

Whether I seek some conscious contact with God through other organized religions, a hike in the mountains on any given Sunday or my own faulty understanding, this documentary reinforced what my sister stated when the worst sex abuse scandals were revealed here in New Mexico: the Catholic Church and all its officials offer nothing more than a halfway house for pedophiles. The good priests and nuns I have known are so out numbered there is no hope that the Church will recover. The Church has written its own last will and testament through their actions...and inaction.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Amy DiBello
Albuquerque, New

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you, Frontline for broadcasting this in-depth documentary. I will admit the details were very disturbing (and it hit me hard), however I also feel it did something that the general press did not. Not only did it give the general public a deeper understanding of the victims & their families, but it also gave a clear presentation of the problem at hand. That is, so long as a power like this exists in which checks and balances are virtually non-existent, cases such as these will continue to repeat. I feel strong Catholics should not be insulted by Paul's analogy to sheep, but should realize there's a difference between faith in God, and faith in corruption. Educate yourself about child sexual abuse, and learn to recognize the signs so it doesn't happen to someone you love.

Mike Mayors
Hauppauge, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

I would like to see a follow up story to this documentary. I want to think that the Catholic Church will make some progress in not just an desire to save their own interest but to show some dignity. I would mean alot to the faith and millions of Catholics around the world.

berner pastran
los angeles, california

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,I want to acknowledge this very fine production. I cannot express the depth of my sadness to Paul and all the other victims who have suffered at the "supposed" hand of God... parish priests. I am from a family of 10 children who all attended Catholic schools. Though it has never been discussed or acknowledged in our family...I know one or several of my 5 brothers have been abused by clergy who pathologically endeared themselves into our devout Catholic family in the 1960's and 70's. Paul's descriptions of how priests insidiously worm their way into children's lives with invitations into the rectory, then the dinners, ski trips, etc. was a blueprint of how my brothers were lured into the trap and how these deviant priests operate. Only the courage of people like Paul, his brother Joe and their family to tell their stories can help expose the tactics of deviants we are raised to trust and respect. Catholics who criticize airing this calm, evenhanded production are confusing Paul's courage to speak out, which ultimately protects us all, with the need for criticism of the criminal complicity perpetrated at the highest levels of our Catholic church which led to the abuse of hundreds of children in the New England dioceses alone. My relationship with God does not need facilitating by deviant sexual predators. Until the Catholic Church wakes up and cleans house of all predator priests and their equally guilty protectors, it deserves all the exposure and criticism we can muster.

Upstate, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a clergy abuse "survivor" I could relate to Paul's perspective in Hand of God as if he was speaking my conscious and even unconscious thoughts. Since coming forward in 1993 I have spoken or emailed with multiple hundreds of other clergy abuse victims throughout the country who I also feel would concur that this documentary is very accurate. I have viewed Hand of God twice and feel this documentary authentically explains the experience of what it's like to be abused by a priest and the domino effect that results not just for the victim but the victim's family as well. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church could have saved the Catholic faithful multiple millions of dollars in legal expenses and settlements if the bishops had handled abuse claims in a more Christian manner but instead they declared war on the victims, lied and hired the best "pit bull" attorneys money could buy to defend their reputations or the reputations of their bishop buddies. A few years ago it was determined by a credible source that about 2/3 of the American bishops were responsible for shuffling perpetrator priests from parish to parish, state to state, country to county. My litigation lasted for 8 years and you would be shocked at the torturous discrediting practices untilized by the Church's attorneys not just for me but other victims as well. In the earlier days of this scandal many of us received hate mail and death threats from the Faithful when our cases were made public by local newspapers. Maybe the Catholic faithful needs to stop acting like perpetual lost sheep looking for direction and validation from their priests, get their heads out of the clouds and lay off the Kool Aid and realize that 15,000 known victims here in this country is just the tip of the iceberg. Though it would have been easier for me to be a Kool Aid drinking Catholic, on another level I feel like I am fortunate to be one of the lucky ones that got away and have been forced to seek my own spiritual path without smoke,mirrors and lies. If God is infinite then there is enough for me to explore outside the influence of the Catholic Church.

Dave Lewcon
Uxbridge, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Such an incredible moving and brave film. So many elements rang true for me. I, too, grew up in a strongly Catholic environment. Seeing Paul's father confront the bishop in the church almost broke my heart. For a man his age to do this speaks volumes of how much suffering the Church caused his family. The look in his eyes when he puzzled later about why he went and apologized afterwards moved me greatly. I knew his answer before he said a word. He and his generation had it pounded in them to respect and revere priests. For him to dare be rude to one even after his son had been sexually abused still went against his pysche. Such was the power the Catholic Church once held over people. Thank God this power is now reduced. My parents are both alive, in their 80s and they are much embittered by what they have seen the Church do. As my mother says "I have not left the Church, the Church has left me". To hear my mother voice such strong sentiments against the Catholic Church would have been unthinkable to me 20 years ago. If the Catholic Church, by its actions, can cause my whole family to give up in disgust on this institution it says a lot. Not only its record on sexual abuse but its narrow-mindedness on homosexuality, abortion, etc etc..in short its small-minded, intolerant views on so many things....has left me personally with a feeling of hate towards this religion. I am not a person inclined to hate but the feelings that arise in me about the Catholic Church surprise even me at times. My brother whom I am very close to is a very happy, successful gay man. As a boy he was an altar boy...my parents were so proud of him. We often talk now about what a miracle that he escaped any kind of abuse from Catholic priests. He was soooo vunerable...young, confused about his sexuality..we tremble just thinking about it. My parents say they worried about us all as children and young adults but the one time they didn't worry was when my brother was at church carrying out his duties as an altar boy. Now they say that was probably the most dangerous place they could have placed their son. My parents accept and love their gay son as much as they do the rest of their children. They are fed up and deeply hurt by the truth of what the Church has done to so many people. We were the "quintesential" Catholic family. Now six people want nothing to do with it and one of them admits, with no pride in the fact, that she actually loathes this institution. How sad is that.My hearfelt sympathies to this family ...I am sooo sorry for their sufferings and all the sufferings that so many innocents endured and endure because of the Catholic Church. What a sad, sad story...what an enormous betrayal....God himself must weep to see what has been done in his name.

Jennifer Mac Kinnon

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched Hand of God on-line and found it to be a good story. It is not news; as was said elsewhere, if you have been paying attention, this is all old news. There are some posts here complaining of bias and insult but I think that is one of the great things about this film; the anger and hurt of these brothers, this family, show through in this movie. These emotions need to be felt more generally is more is to be done in reparation for these sins. Besides, I did not see this film advertised as an unbiased examination of the abuse scandal.

I am a Catholic who has lived in the Philadelphia Archdiocese where the scandal has also hit the church very hard. I knew two of the priests listed on the archdiocese's website of abusive priests, (link: http://archdiocese-phl.org/protection/Updates/update_main.htm.) A statement from Cardinal Rigali at a press conference damaged my faith in local church leadership in September of 2005 where he stated:

"The Church has always viewed sexual abuse of a young person as a grave moral evil. In order to evaluate these situations we relied upon the medical expertise of that time. Today, science better understands abusive behavior."

(Link: http://www.cardinalrating.com/cardinal_87__article_2021.htm)

Again, "In order to evaluate these situations we relied upon the medical expertise of that time."

Not only did this strike me as another excuse by the church hierarchy for their horrible failure to handle these cases properly but also, it spoke clearly to me of how deeply lost the church leadership has become. When our church leaders need to rely upon medical expert(s) and science to evaluate right and wrong, we are clearly in trouble. Surely, Rigali could not have meant this; some lawyer inserted this nonsense right?

These cases should have been handled out in the open. These priests should have been turned over to the civil authorities for their crimes. They should have been tried in open court if investigation found indictments were the proper course. Instead, in what could only have been an effort to protect money and reputation of the church, the abuse was covered-up; the abusers moved around like money cards in a three-card Monte game.

I do not know where this will all end but I know enough has not been done in the way of admission of guilt and cleaning of house. Too many of the enablers are in positions of power in the church and instead of doing what they know to be right, they are continuing to behave, inexplicably, as if nothing is wrong, like they will still be obeyed. As long as the congregations obey, this scandal will fester. New leadership is needed; ideas like adding women and married people to the priesthood in an expanded fashion need to be re-evaluated.

Thank you Paul for your courage and Joe for making this film.

Michael Taddei
Ridley Park, Pennsylvania

Dear FRONTLINE,

Frontline,

Thanks for airing this powerful film. To Paul and the many other victims I want to say I am very sorry for what my church has done to you. I work for the Catholic Church and I am painfully aware of its hierarchy's failings. The Church certainly needs to do more about being proactive about helping victims and reaching out to them.

The manner of the Archdiocese's handling the priest-pedophiles was certainly wrong and Paul, you, and the many other victims certainly deserve an apology, counseling and some restorative justice/money for what happened. HOpefully this has already happened and continues to happen for all of you.

I do have some criticisms of your film though. First, most priests are fine men who have lived out good and holy lives. Ironically, your film does portray any priests this way. SOmething you may not have considered is that this film will most likely have the deepest impact on those faithful priests who will care enough to watch it (the good and holy ones).

Second, your film attempts to discredit Catholicism and Christianity by calling the sacraments "magic" and the believers as being misguided and ignorant. I felt personally offended by this portrayal. The sacraments are not magic. The fact I believe in God and the Catholic Church is not misguided ignorance. I can't prove they aren't magic, but I also can't prove that my daughter loves me. I just know both are true. The simple fact is your experience has been extreme and it has lead you to feel this way about religion/Catholicism.

I can certainly understand why you have lost your faith, but please don't send other people down that path. You may think I am simply a kool-aid drinker, but I experience the sacraments as some of the few moments in this world where I get to truly feel God's presence in a tangible way. I also find it most amazing (not impossible) that God is able to transform ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ even though some priests are in such a horrible state of sin (like Fr. Birmingham).

Next, you indicate that Fr. Birmingham did you a favor by showing you how the Church was made up of hypocrites. Don't take this wrong, but I feel you are being manipulated by Fr. Birmingham on this one because it is a half-truth. It is true since all human beings are hypocritical (we are all sinners) and the hierarchy certainly has its share of hypocrites/sinners (as evidenced by the film). However, he is dead-wrong since most working in the Church are good and viritous people. I bet even the Bishops in your film have acted like good Christians most of the time.

Last, I simply want to point out that the U.S. Catholic CHurch has educated more people about child sexual abuse and worked to prevent and detect child sexual abuse in the past five years than is done in any other organization. In other words, don't bite the hand that is addressing your concern (protecting children). In other words, I know the Catholic Church has done more to address this very real problem than simply give lipservice.

Again, I liked the film but it needed some more balance.

Peace.

Fargo, North Dakota

Dear FRONTLINE,

Any institution with the level of reverence bestowed upon it as the Catholic Church is going to use that political capital to abuse people. It's simple a matter of accountability - the more faith accorded an institution the more it is able to get away with abusive conduct, i.e., is not sufficently accountable. The beauty of The Hand of God is that it exposes the abuse, and properly puts the good standing of the Church in doubt. We shouldn't revere people, regardless of their throne. The Catholic heirarchy doesn't represent the supreme being any more than Puff Dog represents musicians. The Hand of God, in addition to superb substantive reportage, is a beautifully and artfully crafted documentary - Joe Cultrera is anything but a small mind, as Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon said of him as he was attempting to film one Catholic property. In my 57 years, I really have never seen a documentary as beautiful as Hand of God. Well done, and Kudos, Joe!!

Tom Williams
Chicago, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE,

I agree with the post that there are wonderful priests who have truly embraced their calling in the Church and reflect the image of Christ to the world. Those good priests, my personal beliefs, along with Christ's promise that he would be with His Church until the end of time are what has kept me in the Catholic Church. But unfortunately very few of these priests are in positions of authority. I was appalled with the statement and conduct of that Bishop calling him "a sad little man." The arrogance of that man. If anyone is "a sad little man", it is that Bishop. I saw no sign of compassion or humility whatsoever. The Church will never be trusted or respected in the eyes of the faithful until those responsible, including those who protected the perpetrators and those who turned a blind eye are held accountable. It will be the ordinary, dedicated, faith-filled parish priest that will keep what is left of the Catholic Church together. Not the Bishops and Cardinals. They have become paper pushers, administrators and PR patsies. The Shephards have abandoned the flock and are protecting the wolves. My fear is that they are going from protecting the perpetrators to protecting each other. May God have mercy on their souls. They are going to need it.

Shelly Johnson
Ackley, Iowa

Dear FRONTLINE,

I found your program very moving. It put into words very similar feeling that my family has about the Catholic church. My brother was molested at about the same time as Paul by paul shanley in Stoneham. My brother has since passed away from AIDS. His story was one of the first stories that the Globe Spotlight Team reported.This pass spring my mother and I protested outside of St. Pats in Stoneham when Sean O'Malley came to "beg for forgiveness". I went insdide before the mass to ask him to come out and speak to my mother, she will not enter St. Pats (crime scene). He said he would come out to speak to her and he never did. He sent a women out and gave my mother O'Malley's telephone number to contact him. He lied.

Marjorie Mahoney
Stoneham, Ma

Dear FRONTLINE,

I enjoyed reading all the previous comments, but I feel I need to correct a few misconceptions:-Females have been abused by Catholic priests quite often too. Some comments incorrectly imply that this is solely a homosexual problem in the Catholic Church.-Some comments say that there was at some time, a better, purer Catholic Church, when Catholic holy men and women didn't abuse any of their followers. I certainly doubt that, and realistic histories about the corrupt popes of centuries-past certainly confirm my doubts.

Reginald Naomi
S.F., CA

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posted jan. 16, 2007

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