National Catholic Reporter: Clergy witch hunt? – Due process for accused priests is a sham, critics say
“He was then sent for treatment and fulfilled the requirements of his probation.
“He was placed back in ministry.
“After the bishops of the U.S. published their charter and norms in 2002, and when it became known to the bishop of Crookston that the possession of child pornography was equivalent to child abuse, his file had to be submitted to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for their disposition.
“They responded with a dismissal from the clerical state.”
Boyd currently lives with friends in Minnesota, still hoping to get a response from the Vatican.
A desire for secrecy
“I think the overwhelming majority of suspended priests are still priests and that is very advantageous to bishops,” said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “What many bishops fear most is a defrocked predator who sings, who discloses how much bishops knew and how little bishops did about abuse.”
He continued, “In a perverse kind of way, bishops treat abusive priests and abuse victims somewhat the same: paying money to both in the hopes of buying secrecy. Bishops want abusive priests to still be under their control so they’ll keep their mouths shut.
“I think bishops gravitate toward this kind of bare minimum mushy middle approach so when pressed by victims or prosecutors or journalists they can say, ‘I’ve done all I can do. I immediately and publicly removed him from ministry. The harshest penalty, defrocking, is up to the Vatican, but I’ve done all I can do.’ And then to the priest’s supporters and fellow priests, he can say, ‘I have no choice but to suspend him from ministry, these are not my rules.’”
Though the process is slow, said Ritty, a canon lawyer, “Rome will generally do what the bishop has asked for. If the bishop has asked for a trial, they will authorize a trial, if the bishop has asked for an administrative penal process they will follow that, and if the bishop has asked for an outright ex officio laicization – dismissal from the clerical state – they may go ahead and do that.”
A common outcome, said Ritty, is what amounts to a settlement. “I think there are a number of priests who have felt that things have come down to one person’s word against another’s, that they don’t have the emotional, psychological or spiritual energy to fight the charges that have been brought against them, and they [in agreement with their bishop] have opted for early retirement.”
And what of the accused priests who request a canonical trial – a full-fledged judicial process where three canon lawyers (typically priests) hear testimony from the accused and the accuser, where the diocesan promoter of justice serves as prosecutor and the accused has a right to counsel?
Ritty has participated in four such trials since the norms were approved in 2002 and anticipates that about a dozen more cases will go to trial. “The quality of the judging has been good,” said Ritty. “The priests who serve the role of judges have taken their roles seriously. They investigate and ask questions appropriately and try to weigh everything in making their judgments.”
What should happen?
Canon law is not the culprit here, said the priest advocates. “Had the bishops actually been following canon law ... they would have dealt with [sexual abuse by clergy] when it came up” in the 1980s and 1990s, said Father Sullivan. “Sexual relationships have always been seen as a violation of the sixth commandment and that should have been an impediment to functioning as a priest. So if they had done canonical processes years ago, and even currently, then the priest would have been removed.”
He continued, “I don’t think the norms were essential had they been doing canon law. But they had not been doing canon law for so many decades that [the norms] became, in the eyes of the bishops at least, necessary.”
A California civil attorney who has defended four priests charged with abuse, three of whom he said faced accusations that had little or no basis, said that for “these men who are wrongfully accused and where the claim itself is found to be without basis, there needs to be an expedited process. The diocese should pay for a quick review because these men do not have the financial resources to wait years and it is unfair to expect someone who lives on $1,000 a month to have a legal defense fund – and that’s basically what they are asking these priests to have.”
And what of the guilty, particularly those who cannot be prosecuted because the criminal statute of limitations has expired in their cases?
“These men should be living in independent remote treatment facilities run by professionals and the neighbors should be notified,” said SNAP’s Clohessy. “Bishops don’t particularly like this approach because they would much rather that abusive priests be watched over by forgiving, naive, loyal brother priests than by a serious professional who might, if they saw suspicious behavior by one of their charges, call 9-1-1 instead of the chancery.”
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Joe Feuerherd is National Catholic Reporter Washington correspondent.
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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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