National Catholic Reporter: Clergy witch hunt? – Due process for accused priests is a sham, critics say
of the accusation.
“In multiple cases from around the country there are instances where the priest is asked to answer the question, ‘Are you guilty or innocent?’ and the priest doesn’t even know the charge” because diocesan officials fear violating the privacy rights of the accuser, said Father Sullivan. The review board then makes its recommendation to the bishop, who is free to accept it (which is substantially easier when the cleric acknowledges guilt), reject or modify the board’s advice. If the bishop finds the accusation credible, he typically removes the priest from public ministry – a fate nearly 1,000 priests have faced since 2002, according to studies conducted by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice.
Then the bishop, in a votem sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, urges a particular course of action, ranging from a recommendation that the priest enter a private life of “prayer and penance” at a diocesan-owned facility; that a canonical trial be held to determine guilt or innocence; or, in some cases, forced laicization.
The parties then await a response from Rome. This time of waiting, clergy advocates say, is particularly trying for the accused. The priest, despite a technical presumption of innocence, may be the subject of diocesan news releases and media reports of his “removal from public ministry,” and in some cases is left without a salary, housing or health insurance.
Typically, say experts who assist clergy in the process, the priest proclaiming his innocence and awaiting Rome’s judgment is removed from his current assignment and told to live off church-owned property or is offered housing at a remote location, such as a retreat center or retirement home for priests. He is forbidden to present himself publicly as a priest – to say Mass, hear confessions, and preside at funerals or weddings.
Some dioceses continue to pay priests a salary, others don’t.
“In theory they should be [compensated], but in practice they rarely are,” said Father Sullivan. If he is not offered or rejects an offer of church-sponsored housing, the priest could reside with family or friends, at a summer home, or in a private apartment. The diocese will not typically pay the cost of an apartment, said Father Sullivan, because that would result in an accused priest receiving compensation in the form of rent that is greater than he received prior to the accusation.
The ‘guilty’ priest
Then there are priests, like Rick Boyd, who acknowledge the accusations, but argue – if they are allowed to – that mitigating circumstances should have some impact on their punishment.
In 1984, Boyd, then an associate pastor in the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., was arrested and convicted of possessing child pornography received through the mail. He served no prison time, but instead received six months of treatment at a counseling center for priests. For nearly two decades following his release from the center, Boyd served as pastor of three parishes in Crookston, thinking, he told National Catholic Reporter, that the episode was behind him.
No additional charges were ever made against him, said Boyd. And the counseling helped him confront his behavior, he added, which he says resulted from the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. “I was a happy priest,” he said.
And he would remain so until 2003 when, near the height of the national clergy sexual abuse scandal, a group of parishioners familiar with Boyd’s 1984 conviction demanded that Bishop Victor Balke remove him from ministry.
Boyd, 57, then left the diocese and spent part of the next two years studying canon law at The Catholic University of America and receiving additional counseling. During that time, Boyd said, he was unaware that the diocesan review board was investigating his case. His advocate, canon lawyer Father Virgil Helmin, was kept in the dark about his case, said Boyd.
He was subsequently laicized.
He has appealed his dismissal.
“Procedurally, neither Rev. Helmin or I were informed of any of the precise allegations against me; I received no formal citation,” Boyd told a Vatican official in a July 2006 letter. “Neither Rev. Helmin or I were ever given an opportunity to give any canonical input or even a personal comment. Rev. Helmin was denied permission to view any documents. It appears that Rev. Helmin was advocate in name only, and he was never able to exercise his office.”
Concluded Boyd, “I was never given an opportunity for a right of defense and there was no actual due process given to me.”
In a statement provided to National Catholic Reporter, Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, Crookston Diocese vicar general, said: “In the mid-1980s Rick Boyd was arrested and convicted of possessing a large stash of child pornography and of receiving it in the mail. He pled guilty to the charges. ...
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Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the National Catholic Reporter (www.ncronline.org), a Catholic Online Preferred Publishing Partner.
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