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Photo Credit: Evan Wing

A behind the scenes look at US law enforcement investigating the Catholic Church

By Beverly Stevens, Regina Editor, Regina Magazine

She’s spent a career getting up close and personal with predators and their victims.

‘Cathy’* began her career as a Special Deputy to an agency investigating narcotic trafficking, which she did for ten years. An RN with a master’s in psychology, she now works as a consultant to US law enforcement agencies, interviewing subjects as well as victims. She also coaches law enforcement officers working on undercover assignments, especially those that involve human trafficking.

For Catholics wondering what is going on behind the scenes with dioceses responding to law enforcement investigating the Catholic Church in 15 US states and at the Federal level, Cathy’s insights are quite timely.

In this wide-ranging interview, REGINA interviews Cathy about what’s actually happening, how law enforcement views the recent maneuvers of bishops; what authorities are uncovering in the Church by mapping predators and tracking their travel; how victims are targeted and the lifelong suffering they endure; and the uses of gaslighting, priestly predator networks and how they operate.  Cathy also discusses how the Mc Carrick revelations tipped off law enforcement; the kinds of drugs connected with the trafficking suspected in Catholic rectories;  signs of abuse that Catholics should be looking for as well as what a Federal move will mean for Catholics and why and how we must report wrong-doing to authorities.

*Not her real name. REGINA’s interviewee asked to remain anonymous in order to protect law enforcement agents working in the field.

REGINA:  People tell us that there’s little or no talk in their diocese about this and assume this means there’s no ‘problem’. Is this a safe assumption to make?

CATHY: This is absolutely NOT a safe assumption. Predators depend on silence. With predators we have long known that the four things they depend on the most are silence, threats, rewards, and in the case of some victims a willingness or desire to protect others. I’m also very concerned about the lack of people’s understanding that their parish and diocesan property is at risk; even if nothing can be proven to have happened there, just because it’s part of the Church.

REGINA:  What is law enforcement finding with laity and clergy in Catholic dioceses?

CATHY: With Catholics, especially really good Catholics, we are finding that silence is often aided by their desire to not gossip and a fear of making false accusations against anyone, let alone someone they have been raised to respect and not question.

REGINA: US dioceses appear to be following a prescribed course of action in dealing with the public uproar about this. First, there’s the ‘listening sessions’. What purpose does this serve? Is it possible they are trying to identify possible troublemakers? 

CATHY: This might be their intent, however it is a very ineffective way to go about attempting to out abusers of any kind. It’s unlikely for the majority of the population to make any kind of public accusation against someone they are being or have been abused by.

REGINA: Why is that?

CATHY: Most victims, no matter the age at which they were abused, tend to feel responsible for their own abuse. Feeling that they either did something to ‘deserve’ being targeted or they are embarrassed that they ‘allowed’ the abuse to happen.

REGINA: What do ‘listening sessions’ accomplish – if anything?

CATHY: It might be more effective for dioceses to address publicly the things that victims go through and maybe then after some time send members of the diocesan staff out to various locations for people to report fears, concerns or actual crimes to the diocese.

Listening sessions work well for law enforcement however, in that they are public events and an officer/agent can be sent to them to listen into the feeling and activities of various parishes and the diocese itself.

REGINA: Wow, one has to wonder if this has occurred to the bishops. Next there’s the releasing of lists of the credibly accused, the lion’s share of which are deceased or laicized. Does this mean that there are no current cases? 

CATHY: This is probably one of the least effective things that any diocese does. From the law enforcement point of view, releasing information on an abuser who has been laicized and is living is good, in that it may encourage someone else abused by the same man to come forward and may result in more charges, or even first time charges being brought against this offender.

REGINA: So, a priest predator who has been laicized and is just living out there on their own is still a danger?

CATHY: Abusers rarely stop until they are prosecuted and imprisoned.

REGINA: And these ‘credibly accused’ priests were often accused decades ago.

CATHY: These names need to be released as soon as the investigation results in the determination that there’s a credible accusation. From the psychological stand point these lists are good in that they permit other abuse victims to see that they were not the only victim of this man. Frequently someone who was abused over an extended period of time is lead to believe they are the only one, which is why some victims believe that by being abused they are saving others from the same fate.

REGINA: But that’s not why the bishops are releasing these lists.

CATHY: No. For the most part they are an attempt for the bishops to try and make the laity believe they are listening to their concerns.

REGINA: Bishops are releasing the diocesan numbers trained to address sex abuse, the vast majority of which are lay people. Bishops are not required to be trained. What do you make of this?

CATHY: There’s a very simple and legal reason for this. Bishops are not required to be trained because it then puts them in a position, legally, to not be culpable for what is covered in the training.


CATHY: A prime example of this was when one bishop in a Missouri case said in a deposition that he “didn’t know if it is illegal for a priest to have sex with a minor.”

While it’s pretty much common sense that in most cases it’s illegal for any adult to have sex with a minor, since he wasn’t trained, most likely never went to law school, didn’t train as a law enforcement agent, even if he has that common sense, he gave the legally correct answer.

REGINA: Incredible.

CATHY: This is something that needs to change. It’s good that laity is trained, it’s important for everyone who in anyway functions as a representative of the Catholic Church to be trained to know what is abuse and what is not including bishops. For example, while most people believe it’s illegal for anyone 18 or older to have sexual contact with anyone under eighteen, almost every state has set their laws up with an approximation clause. These allow sex between minors and adults in situations where there is a limited number of years in the age difference. The most that I am aware of is five. So, unfortunately there are situations in which a 20 year old can legally be sexually active with a 15 year old.

What state and federal investigations are uncovering

REGINA: Fifteen states and the federal government are investigating the Catholic Church now. What kinds of crimes is law enforcement looking at in the USA?

CATHY: Currently I am aware of various law enforcement agencies looking for cases of sexual abuse. This includes a variety of crimes against minors, but also cases involving rape and prostitution of adults.

It’s much harder for men to admit to being victims of these crimes; it is extremely important that everyone understand that men can be and are raped and prostituted.

Other crimes that are being looked into included drug trafficking, money laundering, embezzlement, human trafficking and crimes committed by American citizens outside the US.

REGINA: What kinds of crimes committed outside the USA?

CATHY: Many people are unaware that it is illegal for any American to travel to any other country and abuse its citizens. While an American can travel outside the US and hire a prostitute where it is legal, it’s against US law for them to travel to another country and sexually assault any of its citizens, take part in any kind of trafficking or break many other American laws.

REGINA: We have heard of groups of priests vacationing in Mexican resorts which cater to sex tourism. Is law enforcement tracking this behavior?

CATHY: At this point the travel activities of anyone who is suspect are being tracked, not only their current travel activities, but those in the past and their future travel plans. This information can lead to vital information as to other locations that an offender is committing crimes. It can also give information on other kinds of crime that individual might be involved in.

REGINA: Some foreign priests have expressed fears that they will be targeted by unscrupulous bishops. Are they a flight risk? What about priests who are US citizens? Will their passports be revoked?

CATHY: Anyone with a passport and means is a flight risk. Foreign priest could definitely be at a risk of being targeted by not only unscrupulous bishops, but by any brother priest who is involved in criminal activity.

Generally there are few people who want to go to prison and they generally will do anything they can to avoid it. There are in fact passports that have already been revoked and in some situations interstate travel has been restricted. In some cases clergy are currently not permitted to be transferred to locations outside of their existing diocese.

REGINA: What should priests do if they fear being targeted by prelates who are themselves involved in unscrupulous behavior? 

CATHY: With priest who are aware of unscrupulous and/or illegal activity I would advise them to also contact law enforcement. There is however one issue in the event of a priest who is aware of these activities and the criminal is aware that a particular priest is aware of their activities. Not all, but many will make a confession to that priest, thereby putting him in the situation of breaking the confessional seal if he were to go to law enforcement.

Priestly predator networks and their uses

REGINA: Is it true that predators form networks? What do they use them for?

CATHY: It is very true that predators form networks; this allows them to exchange information on places they can safely find victims. It also allows them to trade victims; to know where they find prostitutes, what victim(s) might be okay with this, but not with that sort of sexual activity.

REGINA: They get very detailed, then.

CATHY: Oh yes. Networking gives predators a way to safely communicate with others about their crimes without being concerned about getting reported to law enforcement. It gives them a place to feel that they are not alone and while I hate saying this, to feel ‘normal’. A night out in a nearby city’s bar that attracts young males or females with three other predators can be very empowering.

REGINA: What else?

CATHY: These networks can also lead to information regarding resources for other criminal activity, such as making a predator aware of how they might be able to become a part of drug trafficking, and there by earn extra money for their own activities.

REGINA: So they can make money.

CATHY: Networks also can unfortunately — and this is a big one — help them to be aware of law enforcement activities. While a local parish priest might not be aware that the young man or woman he is looking at with interest is the child of a law enforcement agent, the one from the next town over might be fully aware of that and happy to share the information and save a friend.

Targeting and grooming victims, and the bleak aftermath

REGINA: Is there a typical victim profile that predator priests go after?

CATHY: We have found that in many cases victims come from situations in which there is little or no involvement of a parent or both parents in a child or young man’s life. (About 80% of these cases involve men.) The young men especially, generally are missing a strong father figure. These are/were the kids that always get dropped off for religious education and Mass, and then picked up afterwards.

They are the kids who might always come with another teammate or friend to the sports games. The parent or other family member never attends.  There are also kids and adults from backgrounds where they have been abused or neglected by family or friends of family.

We, as a society often hear how important it is for children to have both a mother and a father who have an active role in the child’s life; I can’t stress how truly important this is. If a child isn’t getting proper love, support, discipline, etc. within their family they will seek it outside of the family and might pay a horrible price for it.

REGINA: Often these crimes go unreported for decades.  Why is that?

CATHY: There are a few reasons this happens. Generally the biggest reason is the threats that are made by the perpetrator of the crime. In the majority of cases the perpetrator will make threats against the safety of the victim; they will do this in regard to the victim telling anyone and also to get the victim to allow the abuse to continue. Threats might include threats to harm the victim, their friends and/or their families.


CATHY: This ultimately leads the victim in many cases to view the continued abuse as something they have chosen to allow as well as making them believe that by allowing themselves to be the victim they are protecting others.

They have it ingrained to them that if they tell mom, dad, the neighbor. That person will be harmed or killed and their sibling or friend will then face the same horrible thing they are going through.

In the first instance I can’t stress how unlikely that is to happen, mostly because these men generally have high opinions of themselves and feel that their word will always be taken against an accuser.

Unfortunately, the second is generally already happening, as it’s rare for a predator to only have one victim at a time.

REGINA: So they have multiple victims at once?

CATHY: Yes. The third reason these crimes go unreported — and this is especially true with men — is embarrassment. Most everyone is embarrassed to be the victim of a crime. This is true of a young man who is molested as well as the elderly couple next door who just got scammed out of their life savings.

REGINA: Makes sense.

CATHY: The fourth reason — and this addresses those situations in which someone has tried to report the abuse —  generation after generation has been raised to believe that there are certain people who can do no wrong: priests, ministers, doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers, firefighters.


CATHY: So there we are first in a situation where the victim believes they did something, it’s their fault, and then once they have the courage to come forward and say something, they get told that they imagined the abuse. This is ‘gaslighting’.

Plus, if they are older, they ‘wanted it’. Why? Mom and everyone in the parish really liked priest X. It’s been practice and still is in some places that if a diocese provides any kind of care and support to a victim they have them sign a non- disclosure agreement and never admit the fault of the priest or the diocese.

 REGINA: What life issues do victims often face as a result of priestly predation? 

CATHY: Most commonly victims of priestly predation experience difficulty in forming relationships. They are likely to become withdrawn from family and friends. They generally develop psychological problems, such as depression, OCD, or oppositional defiance disorder.

It’s common for them to have drug and or alcohol addictions; these might have begun during the abuse because both are frequently used as both an aid to the abuse and as a reward.

A victim may continue to attend Mass, even when it is their choice, but the abuse often causes at minimum a reduced faith — often they completely lose faith.

They become angry and abusive themselves. This abuse often may not take the form of predation; it’s more common for them to because physically or mentally abusive to those around them. Suicide is fairly common; men commit suicide about 50 times more often than women.

How the Mc Carrick case tipped off law enforcement

REGINA: What does US law enforcement think of the career of Mc Carrick and was that the tip-off to this series of investigations?

CATHY: The career of McCarrick is a clear signal to LE that this is a systemic problem. Far too many people had first-hand knowledge of what was happening and turned a blind eye to the situation.

REGINA: Scary.

CATHY: His is a clear case in which others were complicit in his abuse of others and could have possible aided him in that abuse. Not only by covering up for him, but by procuring victims for him, supplying locations for the crimes he committed to take place, funds for his various travels.

REGINA: Terrifying, and infuriating.

CATHY: It’s extremely difficult to not be angry at how Mc Carrick was in many ways rewarded for his behavior. There are many aspects of McCarrick’s career that indicate it’s probable that he and other members of the clergy likely did and still do take part in a variety of crimes — included but not limited to embezzlement, money laundering, and multiple forms of trafficking.

REGINA: What’s law enforcement’s view of all this?

CATHY: It is because of this and the fact that looking at the histories of other criminally active priests it became apparent that the Church didn’t hesitate to move priest from state to state or even country to country if they thought it was the best way to protect him and the Church’s assets.

Mc Carrick’s career was a big tipoff as to how much the Church as a whole is covering for these men, and along with the PA report were ultimately the determining factor on the need for a Federal investigation.

Unfortunately in many of these past cases where the diocese ‘handled’ everything, law enforcement was never notified about the person, even after it was determined that the man was creditably accused.

Down & dirty drug trafficking in our rectories

REGINA: We have heard that LE is ‘mapping’ networks of predators. What sort of connections are they looking for?

CATHY: LE is looking for connections between any known predator and others as well as groups already known to be involved in criminal activity. Such connections would be with organizations that traffic drugs, any type of human trafficking, prostitution rings, and organizations that launder monies.

REGINA: What sorts of drugs is law enforcement finding?

CATHY: The drugs most commonly found connected with predation, prostitution and human trafficking are Cocaine, Methamphetamine, opioids, Ecstasy, Flunitrazepam, Rohypnol, Temazepam and GHB.

The last four drugs are all classed as ‘date rape drugs’. They are very strong benzodiazapines and produce states that include memory lapses, and in some cases a coma that resolves somewhere between two and eight hours after the drug takes effect.

Something to note is that Meth is on a noticeable increase again recently after years of decline. It’s also being found laced with opioids, most commonly fentanyl.

Fentanyl can be fatal in even the smallest amounts. To give people an example of just how fatal Fentanyl is, if you put a little bit of table salt in your hand and pick out two grains — that is equal to the amount of Fentanyl that can kill an adult.

REGINA: What telltale physical signs should we look for in people using Cocaine, Methamphetamine, opioids, Ecstasy, Flunitrazepam, Rohypnol, Temazepam or GHB?

CATHY: Someone losing a good amount of weight in a short period of time, or changes in their demeanor. That is, someone who is always friendly and outgoing might become short with others and seem more withdrawn.

Also the development of acne in someone who has always had clear skin, and/or discolorations of teeth– either a severe yellowing or even a grayish brown. Appetite loss when there’s no known reason for this to happen.

Some people using just about any of these drugs might become easily agitated for absolutely no reason. You might see odd behaviors, such as a sudden obsession with something, such as insects, especially human parasites. Someone always touching their nose or mouth.

People on cocaine will generally develop cold-like symptoms. Some people on meth not only develop the sores that look like severe acne and dental problems, they frequently develop a nearly-insatiable thirst.

Opioid abusers can lose weight, become extremely unstable in attitude, frequently lashing out at others for no reason. They also can cycle from being very tired to being very energetic in short amounts of time.

REGINA: Any behaviors that should make us suspicious?

CATHY: I look for people who start having personality changes, such as mood swings, a kind of Jeckel and Hyde persona.

REGINA: And in a priest?

CATHY: Things I would be looking for if I was concerned my priest was involved in abuse is the same person or type of person being around the parish far more frequently that they should be.

It might be the same teenage boy who isn’t a member of the parish and who isn’t involved in a parish sponsored activity, or working in some way for the parish. This would also be applicable to a young man who is a parish member.

Many abusers have a specific type of person they seek out, this might not just be an age range. There’s probably a problem if someone notices a lot of young men who are blue eyed with blonde hair, or young men who are six foot tall or taller, really muscular, with brown hair.

REGINA: Wow, didn’t know that.

CATHY: Another thing that should be watched for is unidentified persons showing up in large numbers, appearing one at a time and staying only for a few minutes.

Often, too, people may find that they are unable to get in touch with their priest when they would normally expect to, such as emergencies in evenings, overnight etc.

Of special interest to Church employees:  Frozen pay and reporting wrong-doing

REGINA: If and when law enforcement succeeds in establishing a credible pattern of criminality within the US Church, is it possible that all Church assets would be frozen?

CATHY: It’s not only possible, it is probable that much if not all of the Church’s financial assets within at least the US would be frozen. It’s also possible that the Church’s physical assets could be seized.

REGINA: What would this mean for Church employees?

CATHY: Unfortunately for the employees of the Church having the Church’s assets frozen would mean that they would not be able to be paid, their benefits would not be able to be paid for. For the average Catholic this would also mean that their parish’s bills could not be paid.

REGINA: If employees of dioceses or other Catholic organizations suspect or know of wrongdoing, what should they do?

CATHY: If an employee is aware of or suspects that any member of the clergy or any other employee is involved in criminal activity that information should be given to the FBI as soon as possible.

REGINA: Really? Isn’t that a bit extreme?

CATHY: It’s important that everyone understand that the Catholic Church is now being investigated as a criminal organization on the federal level. This includes all entities within the Catholic Church, not just the dioceses. It’s the goal of law enforcement to bring an end to all of the criminal activity within the Church on every level.

REGINA: What if what they see is not criminal per se? 

CATHY: It’s important for suspicious activity to be reported to law enforcement because most offenders are pretty good at concealing their activities.

It’s impossible for the majority of people to know what information law enforcement already has and even if law enforcement isn’t already aware of there being suspicious activity at a given location the information that one person has just might be the piece of information needed to completely connect a large part of this activity and allow the government to bring RICO charges, and be able to effect the end of a lot of the illegal activity within the Church.

REGINA: So you’re saying that people should leave the decision as to what is or is not illegal to the FBI professionals?

CATHY: Exactly. It’s also important that individuals not try to confront someone who is involved in criminal activities, because this can be very dangerous. Individuals need to be safe — turn over information they have and allow law enforcement to determine if there is or isn’t anything criminal going on and not try to make that determination on their own.

REGINA: Is it true that if they do not report wrongdoing, employees can be charged as accessories to crimes?

CATHY: If an employee is aware of a crime being committed, then yes, even if they are not a part of the crime, there is a possibility of their being charged as an accessory. If they have taken part in a crime, even if they aren’t truly aware that the activity is or leads to a crime, they could possibly be charged.

REGINA: Very scary for employees.

CATHY: That said, law enforcement in much more interested in finding and charging those who are active criminals. This is another reason why it is vital for anyone out there who knows anything related to these crimes contact the FBI office that is closest to them.

REGINA: How can people report wrong-doing?

CATHY: There is an FBI tip line, though the primary drawback to contacting this tip line is that the information you call with might that weeks to reach the correct investigator or might never reach them at all. An example of this is that the Parkland School shooter was reported to this line several times prior to the shooting in February. (Editor’s Note: The FBI also has field offices in major cities, which can be found HERE)

REGINA: If people know of priests accused of sexual abuse being re-assigned to parishes, what should they do? How about if they are re-assigned outside the USA?

CATHY: If anyone has information on a priest who is an abuser being re-assigned to another parish, different diocese or outside of the US it is extremely important that they report this information immediately.

Abusers simply don’t stop abusing once they start until they are either physically unable to abuse any longer and this generally means that they are arrested and imprisoned.