Michael Ryan has written, directed and produced films, television, and theater, published several books of humor and satire, and worked as a Washington and foreign correspondent and editor for major magazines.
I've mentioned before the rule, first posited by I.F. Stone, that you never know where in a newspaper you'll find a front page story. Now I'd like to add a corollary of my own: You never know where in the world you'll find a newspaper that has a real front page story that nobody in the major American media has noticed.
This week, I came across an incident that neatly unites the two most outrageous news stories of the year in one tidy package: the moral bankruptcy of Arthur Andersen, and the corruption of the Catholic Church. If I hadn't been in St. John's Newfoundland -- at the easternmost edge of North America -- I never would have found the story; it isn't getting blanket coverage in the American press.
The credit goes to a first-rate local paper in St. John's, The Telegram, and a writer named Terry Roberts. Roberts recounts a story that was lightly reported in the United States a few years ago: how the order of religious known as the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada had systematically used their orphanages and schools across that country to molest, abuse, and physically torture children in their care.
The case was so egregious that, in 1996, a court in Ontario directed the order to wind up its operations throughout Canada and sell off every scrap of property it owned to pay compensation to the victims of these heinous acts. Concerned for the welfare of the victims, and determined that they receive every penny they could, the court turned south of the border, to a Chicago-based firm, to find an honest broker who would liquidate the property and get the money to those who deserved it.
Unfortunately, the firm was Arthur Andersen.
You can guess what happened next; combine the names "Christian" and "Andersen" and you're practically begging for a horror story filled with ogres and fiends. According to The Telegram, Andersen has run through all $7 million (Canadian) of assets it has recovered, spending some it on its own fees and much of the rest on fees to lawyers the firm hired. Right on the edge of the Grand Banks, the perfect financial -- and ethical -- storm shaped up. Scoundrels who disserved God collided with cads who served Mammon all too well. A gale-force fleecing of the lambs ensued.
"They only seem to be interested in lining their own pockets," Bob Buckingham, a St. John's attorney who represents 10 of the orphanage alumni, told the paper. Eighty former students in Newfoundland alone are owed compensation; throughout Canada, more than $70 million (Canadian) in payments have been ordered. But there's no money in the till. Two Christian Brothers schools -- which may be worth as much as $43 million -- remain to be sold, but Arthur Andersen is in arrears on its legal bills, and some of that money will disappear into lawyers' pockets, too. The molestation victims will get the leavings.
After Enron, after WorldCom, now this. It makes you want to ask Arthur Andersen the question that Joseph Welch put to Joe McCarthy: "Have you no shame? At long last, have you no shame?"
This is Michael Ryan for TomPaine.com
To read "Christian Brothers liquidator spends $7 million" from The Telegram, go to their news page, scroll to the bottom, and select it from the list of "Other Articles" (it was published July 7, 2002).
Published: Jul 10 2002