Shattered faith: Nearly 100 sex abuse suits against Catholic priests rock island of Guam

Editor’s note: Some details in this report, while important to the understanding of the story, are graphic. Also, the USA TODAY Network does not identify alleged sexual abuse victims who do not wish to come forward.

HAGÅTÑA, Guam — It started off innocently: a 15-year-old boy helping out at San Miguel, a local church named for Archangel Michael, the leader of all angels.

There was yardwork and cleaning, followed by invitations to the rectory to eat and watch TV. Soon, there were offers to drink sacramental wine and watch X-rated movies. Then sexual assault.

More than 50 times over three years.

By the parish priest.

Those jarring allegations come from a recent lawsuit claiming assault from 1985 to 1988. It is one of nearly 100 lawsuits that describe rampant child sexual abuse by some of Guam’s most revered men: the Catholic clergy.

An investigation by the USA TODAY Network’s Pacific Daily News unearthed allegations of decades of assault, manipulation and intimidation of children reared on this remote, predominantly Catholic U.S. territory.  Among the accusations: a boy fondled on the way to his grandmother’s burial, and another molested for the first time on his seventh birthday, then raped or assaulted 100 more times.

The children’s steadfast faith in the island’s priests made them vulnerable, the lawsuits say.  Accuser William Payne’s parents “had raised him to honor and respect the priest, and told him that he had to do what the priest told him to do,” according to his lawsuit.  He had “been instilled with the belief that clergy are never wrong, and that the clergy were like Jesus.”

The lawsuits and other public statements collectively claim that priests preyed on children for nearly four decades, with allegations of wrongdoing reaching the highest levels of the Guam Catholic hierarchy.

Archbishop Anthony Apuron, 13 Guam priests and others, including a Catholic schoolteacher, a Catholic school janitor  and a Boy Scout leader, are alleged to be sexual predators. Guam’s Archdiocese of Agana is a defendant in 96 lawsuits. The complaints detail alleged attacks from 1955 through 1994 and claim some religious leaders knew of the exploitation and ignored it. One retired priest, who admitted in an affidavit that he sexually abused 20 or more boys, still receives a monthly stipend from the archdiocese. The accusations also ensnare the Boy Scouts of America, where that priest also served as a scoutmaster. The scouting group is named as a co-defendant in 52 lawsuits.

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While clergy abuse is well documented elsewhere in the U.S. and in cities around the world — even as the subject of the Academy Award-winning movie Spotlight — a similar pattern of allegations in Guam has gone largely unnoticed outside this tiny island. The accusations only recently caught the attention of the Vatican.

In June 2016, Pope Francis suspended Apuron, who has since been accused in four lawsuits of sexually abusing four altar boys in the 1970s. The Vatican is now trying him in a secret procedure that could lead to him being dismissed from the clergy, also known as being laicized. Apuron is among the highest-ranking church officials to be tried by the Vatican for sexual wrongdoings.

Apuron has denied the abuse charges via statements on video and through written statements issued by the archdiocese. His attorney has filed motions to dismiss lawsuits against him.

Apuron’s Vatican trial is “very, very rare, and the reason it’s rare is because the Vatican or the popes have protected the bishops,” says Dominican priest Tom Doyle, a specialist in canon, or church, law who advocates for abuse victims.  “They consider them to be the most important part of the church, so they protect them, no matter what they’ve done.”

Complaints against the Boy Scouts say the group ignored the priest abuse and enabled clergy to prey on young boys.  At times the church required Guam altar boys join the Boy Scouts, and Boy Scouts were encouraged to serve in the church, according to lawsuits.

The Guam lawsuits join a steady stream of accusations against Catholic clergy. In June, Pope Francis aide Cardinal George Pell was charged with “historical sexual offenses” by authorities in his native Australia. Pell denied the charges in a Vatican news conference.

The Boston scandal is one of the most high-profile examples of clergy abuse. In 2003, there was a $85 million settlement of 552 lawsuits against the Boston Archdiocese involving more than 150 priests.  Yet, Guam’s sexual abuse controversy appears to have seeped more deeply into its smaller community. There are more than 4.7 million people in the greater Boston area, while the population of Guam — an island about 3,800 miles west of Hawaii — is fewer than 163,000 people. Per capita, that’s 12 lawsuits per 100,000 in Boston, compared with 59 lawsuits per 100,000 in Guam.

Scandal runs deep

Indeed, the accusations touch the personal and professional lives of many here. All eight of Guam’s trial court judges, for instance, have recused themselves from at least some lawsuits, saying they have familial or business ties to either the plaintiffs or the defendants, court documents show.

The deluge of Guam abuse claims arrived after lawmakers passed a bill in September 2016 retroactivelyeliminating the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child sexual abuse. The criminal statute of limitations was lifted in 2011 but can’t be applied retroactively.

Attorneys for the archdiocese, Apuron and the Boy Scouts, as well as two accused clergy members —  retired Saipan Bishop Tomas Camacho and the Rev. David Anderson —  have filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing that the law lifting the statute of limitations for civil claims in child sexual abuse cases is unconstitutional. As of late July, some of the defendants had not been served with legal papers and had not filed responses, according to court records.

The archdiocese has said it takes all allegations “very seriously.”

“We care deeply about every person who steps forward and we look forward to a full resolution of all cases,” the archdiocese said in a July 28 news release.   The Vatican didn’t reply to requests for comment.

The Boy Scouts “deeply regrets that there have been times when scouts were abused” and has developed safeguards, such as not allowing a leader to be alone with a child, scout Aloha Council CEO Jeff Sulzbach said in a statement.

The lawsuits filed in the District Court of Guam and the Superior Court of Guam claim pervasive incidents of abuse dotted through everyday island life.  Some examples of the allegations:

  • In the 1970s, Apuron molested Roy Taitague Quintanilla, then 12, and raped Walter Denton, then 13, according to Quintanilla’s and Denton’s respective lawsuits. Both Quintanilla and Denton said they spoke, separately, with priest Jack Niland, about the alleged abuse. In a 2015 letter to the Vatican, Denton said that after he and another former altar boy told Niland that Apuron raped them, Niland told them, “Well, boys, priesthood is a very lonely life.” Niland, now deceased, was accused of child molestation in a separate lawsuit.
  • In 1988, then-priest Raymond Cepeda threw Timothy Ryan Shiroma, then around age 9, to a basilica office floor and got on top of him, according to Shiroma’s lawsuit. When Shiroma began to cry, Cepeda allegedly unzipped a backpack, pushed Shiroma’s head inside and sexually assaulted him.  A separate lawsuit filed by a man identified as B.B.J. says that in 1982, Cepeda officiated a funeral Mass for his grandmother, then fondled him during the car ride to the cemetery. Cepeda, who was defrocked in 2009 amid sexual abuse allegations, could not be reached for comment and has not filed a legal response.
  • Between 1985 and 1988, then-priest Andrew Mannetta is said to have sexually assaulted a victim, identified only as N.Q. in his lawsuit, in the rectory adjacent to San Miguel church.  Mannetta, who was removed from the clergy in 2002 amid abuse allegations, could not be reached for comment, and no response to the lawsuit has been filed.
  • Priest Ray Techaira allegedly molested a plaintiff,  identified only as J.A., on the day J.A. turned 7 in 1984. J.A. claims Techaira then gave him $20 and said what happened should be kept a secret. Techaira, who is now deceased, went on to rape or molest J.A. more than 100 times, according to the lawsuit. No response to the lawsuit has been filed.
  • Priest and scoutmaster Louis Brouillard is claimed to have raped and molested a victim identified only as A.N.D. during Boy Scout summer jamboree campouts in 1974 and 1975, starting the abuse when A.N.D was about 11.  A.N.D. also says in his lawsuit that two other scout leaders then took turns raping him after he told Brouillard he was going to report him.

Brouillard, a priest on Guam from 1948 to 1981, has been named as an abuser in 55 lawsuits. He admitted in an affidavit in October 2016 that he sexually abused 20 or more boys on the island. The affidavit, an exhibit in some of the lawsuits, was obtained by an investigator who went to Brouillard’s home in Minnesota. The investigator was hired by David Lujan, the attorney for 75 plaintiffs in the church lawsuits.

Brouillard said in that affidavit that fellow clergy, including then-Bishop Apollinaris Baumgartner, who is now dead, knew of his actions and told him to “try to do better” and to say prayers as penance.

Reached by the Pacific Daily News by phone after he was named as an abuser in a Guam Legislature hearing last summer, Brouillard said “it’s possible” he abused altar boys on the island.

Brouillard hasn’t filed a legal response and couldn’t be reached for additional comment.

The Archdiocese of Agana still provides Brouillard, 96, with a monthly stipend of $550.

Do what the priests say

Catholicism has long been an integral part of life on this Western Pacific island.

“Since the 17th century, Catholic churches have been the center of village activities,” proclaims the Guam Visitors Bureau on a website describing the culture of its native Chamorro population.

About 85% of its residents are Catholic, populating 26 parishes on an island just 30 miles long.

Extreme reverence for church leadership, paired with Guam’s remote location, left abused children geographically trapped with few places to go for help, says Joelle Casteix, a volunteer regional director of the support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.

Priests used their clout to gain access to the boys, as well as to keep their victims quiet, according to many of the lawsuits. One accuser, described in his lawsuit only as S.A.F., said that in 1975 Brouillard told him, “If you tell anyone, no one will believe you because I am a priest.”

In some cases, they were told that sexual acts were “penance” or were needed to earn Boy Scout badges, according to lawsuits.

Some accusers say they were too terrified to tell their devout parents, while others told adults but weren’t believed, according to the lawsuits.

“I thought about it a million times, but I was scared to tell them, especially my mom,” a man identified only as R.B. in his lawsuit told the Pacific Daily News in a phone interview. “She’s a die-hard Catholic. If I tell her a priest did that to me, I don’t think she would believe me.”

In at least two lawsuits, accusers said the abuse was reported to local police decades ago. However, the Guam Police Department recently said it has no record of the reports, which would not have been retained because the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution passed long ago.

Even as adults, victims feared discussing what happened, says SNAP’s Casteix, who came to Guam in 2009 to follow up on a call she received from an accuser.

“I was told outright that victims were scared that they would be shunned from their families, kicked out of the church, lose their jobs, or that by speaking out against the church or Apuron, they would threaten the financial security of their loved ones,” she says.

Some were even concerned their phones might be tapped, she says.

“No one wanted to be seen with me, not even the tipster who initially called me,” she says. “I was told that the church was the most powerful entity on the island, outside of the military. Messing with Apuron was worse than messing with God.”

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Power beyond the pulpit

Apuron, 71, wielded much influence.

“He, as archbishop, had immense power,” says Guam Legislature Speaker Benjamin Cruz, a former judge and Guam Supreme Court justice.

Apuron, the second native Chamorro archbishop and once an altar boy himself, led the Catholic faithful here for three decades. He officiated thousands of masses, baptisms, weddings and funerals and positioned himself as a fierce defender of morality, local culture and tradition. When “Father Tony” was the pastor, families considered it a source of pride to have their sons serve as altar boys.

He readily used his stature as spiritual leader to help shape political decisions. In one instance, he threatened to excommunicate any Catholic lawmaker who voted against a measure that outlawed all abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother.

Yet, in recent years, Apuron faced detractors who criticized him for how he handled church real estate and finances. In December 2014, disgruntled civic leaders formed Concerned Catholics of Guam, a non-profit group that called for greater financial transparency from the archdiocese and for Apuron’s resignation.

In May 2016, Concerned Catholics ran a full-page ad in local newspapers including the Pacific Daily News urging sexual abuse victims to come forward. The ad listed specific dates and locations, each corresponding to Apuron’s service dates and parishes.

Concerned Catholics President David Sablan says the ads were placed at the request of local Catholic issues blogger Tim Rohr, who had encouraged clergy sex abuse victims to come forward via a post on his JungleWatch blog.

Rohr says he posted that blog item after he spoke with three of Apuron’s accusers:  Quintanilla, Denton and Roland Sondia. Like Quintanilla and Denton, Sondia — who is an employee of the Pacific Daily News — has filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against Apuron, the archdiocese and others.

Nine days after the Concerned Catholics ad came out, Quintanilla held a news conference to accuse Apuron of molesting him. Then Doris Concepcion, the mother of former altar boy Joseph “Sonny” Quinata, said in an interview with the Pacific Daily News that soon before Quinata died, he told her Apuron abused him. The estate of Quinata also has filed a lawsuit against Apuron, the archdiocese and others.

On June 6, 2016, Pope Francisstripped Apuron of his administrative authority and installed a temporary apostolic administrator in Guam. Apuron said the appointment was made at his request. “The holy father has understood the importance of establishing the truth and will allow an independent investigation of these false allegations to proceed,” he said on a video released by the archdiocese.

In October, the pope appointed Archbishop Michael Byrnes of Detroit to run the Guam archdiocese. He is designated as Apuron’s eventual successor.

The Vatican tribunal’s discovery phase of Apuron’s trial has ended, and a group of judges are deliberating on his fate.

Last week, a federal judge agreed to temporarily halt proceedings in most of the clergy sex abuse lawsuits so they can go through an out-of-court settlement process. The church’s financial arm has identified dozens of its island properties that could be sold to help finance the settlements. The church also has set up a “Hope and Healing Guam” initiative to provide counseling for victims.

Apuron still officially holds the title of archbishop.

Some still have faith

Some lawsuit plaintiffs say the alleged abuse damaged their spirituality, and at least one abandoned the Catholic Church.

Yet, many retained their religious beliefs. After the first group of former altar boys filed suit late last year, plaintiff’s attorney Lujan said the men “hope and pray that the church flourishes for another 2,000 years.”

On the island, resident Mae Reyes Ada, 74, says she sometimes feels embarrassed and guilty that she did not speak up when she first heard rumors of clergy abuse in the 1970s.  “The mentality at the time was you don’t say anything bad about the church and the priests,” she says, adding that she didn’t have proof.

“We should have, and we could have, done something a long time ago,” says Ada, who joined the peaceful protests to have Apuron permanently removed from the clergy.

Despite the scandal, she says, her religious conviction has only intensified.

“The church is going through purging and cleansing,” she says. “It takes somebody with a strong faith to fight this war.”

And one young island resident — born after the alleged abuse took place —  stands ready to make sure the church flourishes.

“I’m here to help these people in their fight against the evils that have infiltrated our church,” Jaden Comon, 14, said during a July protest to have Apuron removed.

Comon’s aspiration: to become a priest.

“As young people, we are the future of the church,” he says.  “It’s our responsibility, especially when we were baptized in the faith, to come and help.”

Contributing: Nichelle Smith, USA TODAY; Eric J. Lyman, USA TODAY

Victim resources

Here are resources for those who have been victims of abuse or know an abuse victim who may need help.

Source: USA TODAY Network research

What’s in a name? The stories behind your favorite stars’ stage names

It’s not uncommon for stars to create a snappier new moniker as they ascend to fame. As their careers progress, some opt to stay with their stage names while others return to their real ones. And some don’t get to pick their own persona at all–classic rock icon John Mellencamp, for example, had to use one selected by his manager and later fought to reclaim his given name.

We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite star-selected names and the stories behind them:

The Weeknd 

The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, recently told Harper’s Bazaar that he might shelve his stage name for a while or even abandon it entirely.

“Maybe I’ll retire from being The Weeknd, or maybe I’ll just give him a break,” he said.

He told fans why he doesn’t go by Abel Tesfaye on a Reddit Q&A.

“I hated my name at the time,” he said, adding that he just thought The Weeknd “sounded cool.”

And as for the spelling? He said he switched that up after noticing that a Canadian band already went by “the weekend.”

Lady Gaga 

Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Lady Gaga has been returning to her roots lately. She brought her middle name front and center last year when she named her current albumand tour Joanne after her late aunt.

The singer, whose stage name famously emerged from an autocorrect fail involving the Queen song Radio Gaga, also has plans to go by her real name in her first film role. She’ll be listed as Stefani Germanotta in the credits for the remake of A Star Is Born, which hits theaters next year.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson 

The Rock seems unsure about exactly what he wants to go by, since people call him both pretty interchangeably. And in his initial run with the WWE, he went by Rocky Maivia, which came from his father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather Peter Maivia, he told Los Angeles Times. He later shortened it to “The Rock.”

He has also referred to himself as “The People’s Champion” in honor of Muhammad Ali, who gave him permission to do so, he told SportsCenter and Numbers Never Lie.

Whichever name he uses, it hasn’t hurt his bottom line. Last summer, Forbes named him Hollywood’s highest-paid actor.

Calvin Harris 

This is one of the few celebrity stage names that actually sounds like a real name. His name is really Adam Wiles, which many fans discovered when his then-girlfriend Taylor Swift thanked him in her acceptance speech at the 2016 iHeart Radio Awards. So why not Wiles?

Harris wanted a more “racially ambiguous” name, he told Shortlist in 2009, according to Digital Spy.

“I thought people might not know if I was black or not,” he said, referencing his first single, which he called “a soul track.” Interesting.

Lorde 

Lorde’s real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor. So where did Lorde come from?

“I wanted a name that was really strong and had this grandeur to it,” she told ABC News Radio. “I didn’t feel that my birth name was anything special.”

She did add, though, that she prefers Ella. Luckily, pals like Taylor Swift, who wished her a happy birthday using her real name last year, already know that.

There’s a special place in hell for scammers who target Grandma

The call came in the morning.

“Your grandson was in a car accident,” the caller said. “He wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He went to the hospital. He had to get stitches.

“He’d been at a wedding. And he had a couple of glasses of wine,” the caller continued. “He’s in jail.”

The caller said he was a lawyer, a public defender. He gave my mother his name and a phone number. And a document number regarding her grandson’s case.

The caller said her grandson’s phone had been broken in the accident. The caller let her talk to her grandson, who pleaded with her not to tell his mom what happened.

The lawyer asked that she wire him $3,800 — today — or her grandson would stay in jail for several days.

This is the story my desperate mother called and told me recently. Her grandson was hurt. He was in jail. She didn’t want to break her promise to her grandson by calling his mother, my sister. Could I help?

She has enough stress in her life. She’s almost 84. She has been fighting pancreatic cancer and is undergoing regular chemotherapy treatments. She helps care for my father. He is 85. He has dementia. They live in their own home. While they have home care aides around the clock, my mother has tried to maintain a degree of independence. And relative sanity. Even as her own physical and cognitive faculties begin to fail her.

But this threw her into a panic.

It was a scam. But to my mother, the story seemed so plausible. She was convinced what the “public defender” told her was true. She was sure she had talked to her 21-year-old “grandson.” And she believed that if she didn’t send money, her hurt “grandson” would stay in jail.

I am thankful she called me. I said scam. My mom didn’t believe me.

I called my husband, a lawyer and former public defender. He said scam. Public defenders don’t operate that way. They never ask for money upfront.

I called my sister — the one my mother promised not to call — also a lawyer who still does public defense work. She said it’s a common scam.

And senior citizens are usually the victims.

The National Council on Aging has a list of the “Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors.” It includes the “grandparent scam,” described this way: “The grandparent scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts.” It explains that the fake “grandchild” usually asks for money to solve an unexpected financial problem. At the same time, the scam artist will beg the grandparent, “Please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”

While my mother was not scammed out of $3,800, she nevertheless was a victim of emotional abuse.

But the story ended happily. My sister called her son, whose phone was not broken. And he was fine. He called his grandmother to reassure her that he was fine. And he called me to reassure me that he was fine.

If you have an elderly loved one, talk to them about phone and Internet scams. Let them know they should never wire money. And remind them that if they do have a concern, before taking any action they should talk to loved ones to help determine whether they are the target of a scam.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging has a special hotline for fraud victims or loved ones of fraud victims to call: 1-855-303-9470.

I hope there is a special ring in hell for people like the scammer who called my mother.

Loni Smith McKown is a journalism educator from Carmel, Ind. This column first appeared in The Indianapolis Star. 

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

Jobs report disputes Trump claim that immigration hurts U.S. workers and lowers wages

The government’s latest jobs report Friday undercut President Trump’s argument that legal immigration should be cut in half because low-skilled foreign workers are taking jobs from native-born Americans and driving down their wages.

The Labor Department said 209,000 new jobs were created in July, driving down the unemployment rate to 4.3%, matching a 16-year low set in May. The jobless rate for whites was 3.8%, so low that economists consider the number virtually full employment for that group.

The July report was the 82nd consecutive month of net job gains, a record at a time of increased legal immigration.

The average hourly earnings for U.S. workers also continued increasing, rising 2.5% for the year and outpacing inflation. Wage growth has been far higher in the past decades, but immigration experts and economists said numerous studies conclude that immigrants are not the cause of stagnant wages.

“The foundation of what they’re (the Trump administration) arguing does not work out in the real world,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an economist and immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Many studies blame corporate drives for profitability and competition from low-wage countries as the main culprits for stagnant wages for those at the bottom of the pay scale.

White House adviser Stephen Miller said Wednesday that Trump wants to cut the number of immigrants admitted into the United States from 1 million a year to 500,000 because low-skilled foreigners take jobs away from low-skilled Americans.

Citing research conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for lower immigration, Miller said nearly 1 in 4 Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 are unemployed, a rate he said is even higher for Hispanics and African-Americans.

“If you look at the premise of bringing in low-skilled labor, it’s based on the idea that there’s a labor shortage for lower-skilled jobs. There’s not,” Miller said during a White House briefing. “At some point we’re accountable to reality.”

That claim is highly misleading, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, because Miller was including millions of people who are not looking for work, such as those who are in school, disabled, retired or in jail. Others have simply given up looking for jobs.

All told, the actual number of Americans who are out of work but actively seeking jobs is closer to 1.6 million, a tiny fraction of the U.S. population and near historic lows, Zandi said.

Nowrasteh said Miller’s claim also is disputed by recent history. When the Great Recession hit in 2007-09, the flow of undocumented immigrants entering the country plummeted. In fact, more Mexicans were returning to Mexico than coming to the U.S., according to data from the Pew Research Center.

Based on Miller’s argument, that should have led to a surge in Americans getting back to work. It did not.

“Decreasing the number of people in the United States by decreasing immigration decreases (consumer) demand,” which, in turn, reduces jobs, Nowrasteh said.

Trump’s other claim that low-skilled immigrants drive down the wages of native-born Americans is not borne out despite intense economic scrutiny.

The income of low-skilled workers in the U.S. has indeed dropped in recent decades. From 1979 to 2013, the average wage of workers in the bottom 10 percentile of incomes fell by 5%, after adjusting for inflation, while wages rose an average 6% for middle-income workers and 41% for high-income earners, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

Yet studies have not been able to pin the drop for low-wage workers on immigration.

Some have found very small negative impacts on native-born Americans’ wages, while others have found that immigrants actually boost wages slightly because they tend to buoy a region’s overall economy.

Workers who experienced any negative effects were most likely to be earlier immigrants or U.S.-born workers who haven’t completed high school since they’re the closest substitutes for immigrant workers, according to a landmark study on the economic impacts of immigration conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine last year.

The study concluded that “the impact of immigration on the wages of natives overall is very small.”

Trump cited that study during his first address to Congress in January, but he only chose one statistic from the study: that first-generation immigrants cost U.S. taxpayers $57.4 billion a year. Trump left out the next part of that study, which found that second-generation immigrants provided an economic boost of $30.5 billion and third-generation immigrants created a $223.8 billion gain.

The positive contribution of immigrants was underscored this year in a letter signed by 1,470 economists delivered to Trump and Republican leaders in Congress. The group acknowledged that in the short run, immigrants can prove harmful for some American businesses and American workers with lower levels of education.

“But the benefits that immigration brings to society far outweigh their costs, and smart immigration policy could better maximize the benefits of immigration while reducing the costs,” the economists concluded.

Contributing: Paul Davisdon.

No way to treat diplomats and security: Trump’s risky State Department moves

It’s a tough time to be an American diplomat. Expelled from Russia. Families sent home from Venezuela. Fear of bomb attacks in Afghanistan. Disparaged by political leaders in Washington. One of these should not be an accepted risk of service.

President Trump took office professing his support for military strength over diplomatic engagement, and has made budgetary and personnel decisions accordingly. His administration is seeking to restructure the State Department with a  proposed 30% budget cut and elimination of around 2,300 positions. Secretary Rex Tillerson has approached his job like a management consultant brought in to right size an organization, refraining (at least publicly) from defending the need for robust funding and staff. As a former State Department official, I recognize the need to streamline bureaucracy; former colleagues have described their wish lists for improvements, including modernizing technology. Yet many diplomats express little faith in the current review process run by external consultants unfamiliar with their work.

As numerous diplomats have resigned or retired, the dwindling ranks left in the trenches are struggling to maintain morale. Their first-hand knowledge is often ignored, as the secretary beefs up a policy planning staff with outside experts and has eliminated the authority of senior staff to make routine decisions. Twenty-two of 24 bureaus are headed by acting assistant secretaries, who are not empowered by Congress or the secretary to develop and implement policy priorities. Rumors fly about which offices and envoys will be axed.

A hiring freeze, which was imposed by Trump but lifted three months later across the federal government, remains in place at State pending the ongoing review. Until last week, State officials were barred from serving rotations in the National Security Council on financial grounds. Officials borrowed from agencies have long staffed the NSC, enabling departments to ensure their perspectives are incorporated into White House policy-making. Spouses of diplomats, who often give up rewarding careers to follow their partners overseas, are now prevented from filling positions at embassies. Civil servants, unlike their foreign service counterparts, are not currently eligible for promotion nor allowed to transfer to new jobs in different offices.

The freeze is also hindering the cultivation of new diplomats to fill the shoes of their departing predecessors. In May, I argued here that graduates who dreamed of public service should not be dissuaded from foreign policy careers despite disagreement with the current administration. I still believe the strength of our institutions requires a stream of smart and energetic officials. However, the administration has closed many pipelines — including competitive, fast-track fellowships — for entry into the foreignand civil service. (State recently announced a small intake of new foreign service officers following congressional outrage at its decision to rescind job offers to students holding fellowships aimed at diversifying the diplomatic corps.) Graduates are being advised to apply in the hopes that hiring will resume someday.

Of particular concern is the branding of career diplomats as “holdovers.” In truth, they are nonpartisan professionals who have loyally served administrations from both parties and bring years of valuable experience. All political appointees from the Obama administration resigned per standard practice before Trump’s inauguration; those who remain in government were specifically asked to stay. It is understandable that a new administration wants to assemble its own team. But it is unacceptable for diplomats to be sidelined in policy discussions, tainted by past service in their pursuit of new positions, and most disturbingly subject to character assassination on social media.

It’s easy when criticizing a bureaucracy to forget its human face. Frontline civilians who have come under fire, left their families at home to spend a year in a warzone, and watched colleagues return in caskets. Parents who helped their kids adjust to yet another new school or sent them home to live with grandparents after terrorist attacks. Officers who worked overnight shifts in the operations center to monitor global events and in embassies to help fellow citizens who lost passports, got sick, or were arrested. Patriotic Americans who chose to serve their country as diplomats.

The most critical problem is the diminution of diplomacy as a fundamental component of national security. In today’s interdependent world, diplomacy affects Americans’ education, travel, health and jobs. Diplomacy promotes American interests and values abroad. It builds bridges between peoples. And it keeps America safe by using influence and dialogue rather than boots and bombs to resolve conflicts. Our military leaders recognize its importance, with Defense Secretary James Mattis pledging his strong support: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

More: Try diplomacy first on North Korea, even though it probably won’t work

The incredible shrinking Rex Tillerson: Can the secretary of State reclaim his job?

POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media

Bureaucratic restructuring should not destroy morale nor hollow out our diplomatic corps. Seeking the deconstruction of the administrative state,” as White House strategist Steve Bannon put it, will harm our nation in the long run. The administration should use the State Department’s human resources to understand this complicated world and seek advice on navigating America’s role in its murky waters. We must take care of those working hard to represent and defend our great nation abroad. The safety and vitality of our country depend on it.

Amanda Sloat, a fellow in the Ash Center at Harvard ‘s Kennedy School, served for five years in the Obama administration at the State Department and National Security Council. Follow her on Twitter: @A_Sloat

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

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Fox News’ Eric Bolling accused of sending lewd photos to female colleagues, report says

Fox News host Eric Bolling is accused of sending an unsolicited photo of male genitalia to at least three female co-workers years ago via text message, according to a report published Friday.

Citing 14 sources, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, The Huffington Post reported that two female colleagues at Fox Business and one at Fox News received the lewd message from Bolling. The women who received the photos concluded they were delivered by Bolling because they recognized his phone number from previous correspondence, The Huffington Post reported.

According to The Huffington Post, one recipient of the message replied to Bolling via text and instructed him to stop sending her such photos. The Specialists co-host and ex-commodities trader did not respond to her message, The Huffington Post added.

“We were just informed of this late Friday afternoon via a Huffington Post inquiry and plan to investigate the matter,” a Fox News spokesperson told USA TODAY about the report.

The allegations against Bolling are the latest in a wave of sexual harassment charges at Fox following the highly publicized departures of former news host Bill O’Reilly and ex-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

In July, Fox Business host Charles Payne was suspended while the company investigated allegations of sexual harassment after a woman said she was asked to make fewer appearances on Fox after ending an extramarital affair with Payne.

Contributing: Jessica Guynn and Mike Snider

No way to treat diplomats and security: Trump’s risky State Department moves

It’s a tough time to be an American diplomat. Expelled from Russia. Families sent home from Venezuela. Fear of bomb attacks in Afghanistan. Disparaged by political leaders in Washington. One of these should not be an accepted risk of service.

President Trump took office professing his support for military strength over diplomatic engagement, and has made budgetary and personnel decisions accordingly. His administration is seeking to restructure the State Department with a  proposed 30% budget cut and elimination of around 2,300 positions. Secretary Rex Tillerson has approached his job like a management consultant brought in to right size an organization, refraining (at least publicly) from defending the need for robust funding and staff. As a former State Department official, I recognize the need to streamline bureaucracy; former colleagues have described their wish lists for improvements, including modernizing technology. Yet many diplomats express little faith in the current review process run by external consultants unfamiliar with their work.

Don’t shun foreign service because of Trump: Column

As numerous diplomats have resigned or retired, the dwindling ranks left in the trenches are struggling to maintain morale. Their first-hand knowledge is often ignored, as the secretary beefs up a policy planning staff with outside experts and has eliminated the authority of senior staff to make routine decisions. Twenty-two of 24 bureaus are headed by acting assistant secretaries, who are not empowered by Congress or the secretary to develop and implement policy priorities. Rumors fly about which offices and envoys will be axed.

A hiring freeze, which was imposed by Trump but lifted three months later across the federal government, remains in place at State pending the ongoing review. Until last week, State officials were barred from serving rotations in the National Security Council on financial grounds. Officials borrowed from agencies have long staffed the NSC, enabling departments to ensure their perspectives are incorporated into White House policy-making. Spouses of diplomats, who often give up rewarding careers to follow their partners overseas, are now prevented from filling positions at embassies. Civil servants, unlike their foreign service counterparts, are not currently eligible for promotion nor allowed to transfer to new jobs in different offices.

The freeze is also hindering the cultivation of new diplomats to fill the shoes of their departing predecessors. In May, I argued here that graduates who dreamed of public service should not be dissuaded from foreign policy careers despite disagreement with the current administration. I still believe the strength of our institutions requires a stream of smart and energetic officials. However, the administration has closed many pipelines — including competitive, fast-track fellowships — for entry into the foreignand civil service. (State recently announced a small intake of new foreign service officers following congressional outrage at its decision to rescind job offers to students holding fellowships aimed at diversifying the diplomatic corps.) Graduates are being advised to apply in the hopes that hiring will resume someday.

Of particular concern is the branding of career diplomats as “holdovers.” In truth, they are nonpartisan professionals who have loyally served administrations from both parties and bring years of valuable experience. All political appointees from the Obama administration resigned per standard practice before Trump’s inauguration; those who remain in government were specifically asked to stay. It is understandable that a new administration wants to assemble its own team. But it is unacceptable for diplomats to be sidelined in policy discussions, tainted by past service in their pursuit of new positions, and most disturbingly subject to character assassination on social media.

It’s easy when criticizing a bureaucracy to forget its human face. Frontline civilians who have come under fire, left their families at home to spend a year in a warzone, and watched colleagues return in caskets. Parents who helped their kids adjust to yet another new school or sent them home to live with grandparents after terrorist attacks. Officers who worked overnight shifts in the operations center to monitor global events and in embassies to help fellow citizens who lost passports, got sick, or were arrested. Patriotic Americans who chose to serve their country as diplomats.

The most critical problem is the diminution of diplomacy as a fundamental component of national security. In today’s interdependent world, diplomacy affects Americans’ education, travel, health and jobs. Diplomacy promotes American interests and values abroad. It builds bridges between peoples. And it keeps America safe by using influence and dialogue rather than boots and bombs to resolve conflicts. Our military leaders recognize its importance, with Defense Secretary James Mattis pledging his strong support: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

More: Try diplomacy first on North Korea, even though it probably won’t work

The incredible shrinking Rex Tillerson: Can the secretary of State reclaim his job?

POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media

Bureaucratic restructuring should not destroy morale nor hollow out our diplomatic corps. Seeking the deconstruction of the administrative state,” as White House strategist Steve Bannon put it, will harm our nation in the long run. The administration should use the State Department’s human resources to understand this complicated world and seek advice on navigating America’s role in its murky waters. We must take care of those working hard to represent and defend our great nation abroad. The safety and vitality of our country depend on it.

Amanda Sloat, a fellow in the Ash Center at Harvard ‘s Kennedy School, served for five years in the Obama administration at the State Department and National Security Council. Follow her on Twitter: @A_Sloat

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.