As a former defense lawyer, I take a dim view of most lawsuits filed by plaintiff's lawyers. I once defended against a class action brought on behalf of ticket holders to an N 'Sync concert because they were stuck in a traffic jam and arrived late to the concert. They wanted their tickets refunded.
Sometimes plaintiffs' lawyers get it right. And occasionally they provide a public service — which is the case with the law firm that recently forced the Archdiocese of Chicago to disclose files relating to pedophile priests.
South Africa established a truth commission after Apartheid, not to punish those who had overseen that immoral system, but to flush out the truth. The Catholic Church has had no such instinct when it comes to priest sexual abuse.
I grew up attending Divine Infant Jesus School in Westchester. It was a middle-class parish founded to serve returning World War II veterans and their brides.
Fr. Kenneth Ruge was an associate pastor there in the '70s. He was a strange duck. Not very social. He was more comfortable wiring the church sound system than interacting with parishioners.
Based on documents the Archdiocese was recently forced to release, we know that he had a long history of grooming young male victims and sexually assaulting them, often on trips to a camper owned with another pedophile, Fr. Robert Becker, a canon lawyer.
Ruge would sometimes select his victims, who were as young as 9, by interviewing them during school. He would invite some, with the consent of trusting parents, to spend time at the camper, maybe snowmobiling. At night, Ruge and Becker would get drunk and sexually assault their victims.
Like many of the pedophile priests, he was shuttled to different parishes. Eventually, after continuing reports, he was "removed from ministry."
Actually he was given a job as a maintenance man in a Catholic Charities building. He had his own car and came and went as he pleased, which is not bad for someone who should have been serving time. Ruge died some years ago.
My first thoughts are for my classmates and victims at Divine Infant, whose young lives were turned by trusting this priest.
I also wonder who else knew. Did the pastor? The principal at the school?
And what about the collateral damage? What do you say to a grade school classmate who, reacting to Fr. Ruge's crimes, says he still prays every morning but will never again enter a church?
What about the woman whose son was baptized by Fr. Ruge? How does a young person, baptized by a pedophile priest, develop a warm feeling for the church?
And then there are those at the Archdiocese who covered up these evil acts. Most are dead, but some are still around. What penance is appropriate for them while they still live?
Finally, as much as I hate to, I have to thank plaintiffs' attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman. Thank you for forcing the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago to reveal the sordid truth.