The New York Times’ Sloppy Attack on the Dominicans

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Last week, The New York Times published a blistering attack on the Dominicans of the Saint Joseph’s Province for their supposed laxity in investigating abuse charges against one of their priests. (Full Disclosure: I served for a time on the Dominican Foundation Board of Directors.) The Dominicans have cried foul. And, indeed, there are several questions about the report from Catholic feminist Jenn Morson.

Timothy Schlenz alleges that a Dominican priest sexually abused him 30 years ago at an Upper East Side Manhattan parish. Now 39, Schlenz charges that Father Carlton P. Jones molested him when he was eight years old under the guise of checking for cancer. Schlenz says he remembered the abuse only years later.

Morson reports, “By the time he was married and starting a family, Mr. Schlenz no longer understood the abstract flashbacks that still haunted him. It wasn’t until 2013, when his little brother asked if he remembered studying with Father Jones in Manhattan, that it all started to click.” Schlenz then went into years of “intense therapy sessions” during which he remembered abuse by another priest. Morson’s reporting is unclear, but one presumes this is where Schlenz recovered memories of abuse by Father Jones. It is also unclear what Morson means when she writes Schlenz “no longer understood the abstract flashbacks.” Does this mean he used to understand them when he was younger? (Note: Neither Jenn Morson nor her editor at The New York Times responded to my questions about this report.) 

In 2018, Schlenz reported his memories to another Dominican priest “who reported the complaint to the order. Father Jones was placed on administrative leave, and an internal investigation was initiated, concluding in June 2019 in the form of a letter from Father Letoile [Prior Provincial] exonerating Father Jones.” Note how rapidly Morson skips over the Dominican investigative process, which turns out to be fairly detailed. She also skips over an important fact about local prosecutors.  

And this is where The New York Times reporting becomes questionable and deeply concerning. Morson says, “orders have their own ways, often private and murky, of doing things.” In fact, the Dominicans are quite open and transparent about how they handle abuse charges, including the charges against Father Jones. The process is on their website and is identical to the process used by dioceses around the country. 

Among the steps in the process is that any charges, credible or not, are immediately reported to civil authorities. Morson does not report that this is precisely what the Dominicans did. She also does not note that local authorities—that is, police and prosecutors—“declined to investigate the matter.” If the case was so strong, why did local authorities take a pass? Morson does not even report that they took a pass. 

Morson refers to an “internal investigation” but does not describe anything about it. Far from being private and murky, it is quite transparent and rigorous. Morson did not report that the investigation was carried out by an independent investigator whose findings were presented to the province’s lay Review Board. Morson does not report that the lay Review Board of the Saint Joseph’s Province includes an attorney, a retired FBI agent, a psychologist and social worker that work with victims, a victim of child sexual abuse, and a parishioner who is a parent.

I served for many years on the diocesan review board at the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, and can attest that if there is a bias on these bodies, it is for the accusers and not the accused. The Dominican lay Review Board concluded, “the allegation was deemed not to have a semblance of truth.” But, worse than all this, rather than explaining the whole process, Morson refers to the Prior Provincial as “the same man who cleared Father Jones of any wrongdoing…” The implication being that the internal investigation was a one-man show.

Except to respond to the Morson report in the New York Times, the Dominicans have gone silent on the Father Jones matter because Schlenz has initiated a civil action against them.

As I explore in my forthcoming book Under Siege: No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic (Crisis Publications, March 2021), lawsuits, like Schlenz’s, that are beyond the statute of limitation were made possible by New York’s 2019 Child Victims Act that opened a one-year window, now extended, for old suits to be brought. When the Act was passed in the summer of 2019, 400 cases were filed on the first day alone. The docket has now grown to more than 1,000 cases. Dioceses around the country have established slush funds to pay out to victims. The Archdiocese of New York alone has shelled out $67 million to 338 claimants with an average payment of $200,000 each.

In December 2019, the Associated Press reported on a New York lawyer named Adam Slater, who is beating the hedgerows looking for new clients. The AP published a photo of Slater looking down from his office to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral below. He says, “I wonder how much that’s worth?” According to the AP, lawyers are “fighting for clients with TV ads and billboards asking, ‘Were you abused by the Church?’”

No one disagrees that both victims and victimizers should get justice. Homosexual predators have been the scourge of the Church in recent years, costing the Church hundreds of millions of dollars and losing the faith and perhaps even the souls of victims. It’s reasonable, however, to wonder if the Schlenz case is one of them, though. After all, not even local prosecutors were interested in the case. What’s more, it seems to hinge on recovered memories, something debunked a few decades ago by Wall Street Journal reporter Dorothy Rabinowitz and Dr. Paul McHugh, then head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University.

One also wonders about the reporting of Jenn Morson. She either did not know or deliberately withheld critical pieces of information about the process of the Dominicans. She also did not know or withheld the fact that local prosecutors gave Schlenz’s accusation a pass.

That’s unfortunately a pattern with Morson for Church institutions she seems to perceive as too orthodox. I reported here in 2018 about Morson’s charges that Franciscan University of Steubenville had allowed a sexual assault culture to develop. In the heterodox National Catholic Reporter, Morson also attacked Anne Hendershott and Stephen Krason, two well-respected and orthodox Franciscan professors. Franciscan University is one of the bright lights of orthodoxy in the Catholic Church in America. Similarly, the Saint Joseph Province of the Dominicans has become a powerhouse of orthodoxy, its seminary in Washington D.C. pumping out smart young priests and providing solid education for Catholic laymen, too. Houses of Catholic orthodoxy seem to be too much for some on the dissident left—especially certain feminist writers like Morson.

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

Austin Ruse

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Austin Ruse is a contributing editor to Crisis Magazine. His next book, Under Siege: No Finer Time to be a Faithful Catholic, is out from Crisis Publications in April. You can follow him on Twitter @austinruse.

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