The optics of a diocese scandal. A public trial will hopefully clear the air since no one has taken much responsibility for over seven years.
by Tom Thorne
Seven years ago a priest was unceremoniously removed from his parish and placed on administrative leave. Administrative leave is a euphemism for priest problems. He is still on administrative leave today but remains on the list of priests for his diocese. After this long period of time alleged charges of sexual indiscretions and abuse have recently emerged in a civil suit with damages listed at $3.5 million. The case may be heard as early as March 2012.
My personal interest in this situation stems from the fact that I was brought into the Catholic Church as a convert by this priest. Later, I worked with him conducting a course for prospective Catholics for several years. I had no reason to believe that anything was wrong or out of place. It was a personal shock to me, and many others in the parish, when he was removed.
For the past seven years the diocese has kept this priest in a state of limbo. I was going to say a type of purgatory, but that would suggest a solution or change in his status was possible. Apparently not, there has been only diocese silence by two bishops during this time. We know nothing about his status and what he does each day since he remains on the diocese rolls. Now his future may be determined by a civil action in the courts. References to him on the diocese website no longer say he is on “administrative leave”. It simply provides his address.
The other interesting aspect of this story is the fact that the diocese in question has allegedly denied any responsibility for the civil action brought by the plaintiff. A question for the diocese is whether there has been any action over the past seven years in church Canon Law or in Civil law concerning this case until this time. Civil law trumps Canon Law when the plaintiff makes a claim of this kind.
The age of consent for sex (homosexual or heterosexual) in Canada was changed to 16 from 14 in 2008. In addition, with an age of consent now set at 16 when the alleged problems started. Under current law there is little possibility of a criminal charge for the priest unless the civil allegations can be proven.
In addition, another priest in the diocese allegedly withheld information from the diocese or other authorities in regard to the alleged charges. That priest for the moment is also on “administrative leave” according to the diocese website.
The only way this case can be won by the plaintiff is if there is a witness to the charges. Without a witness, (and the second priest could be a hostile witness), there may be proof of sexual misconduct and abuse as the plaintiff alleges. Without witnessed proof it is hard for the plaintiff to make a case. It boils down to the priest's word against the plaintiff's.
So, what is the point of asking for $3.5 in damages? Certainly, the priest cannot come close to providing such a sum. The diocese may have insurance to cover miscreant priests, but its real assets are fleeting. There will be more public silence if the parties arrive at a settlement before the court date.
In addition, the plaintiff’s father is a deacon of the diocese and for many years his mother was the housekeeper for the priest. This adds a dimension to the case that certainly deepens the accountabilities and the potential fallout. For some time the plaintiff allegedly had inclinations to become a priest himself.
On the surface this case has festered in silence for almost eight years. When this civil case was launched recently in 2012 the question is why has it taken so long to surface?
The closing of ranks and silence by the diocese is reprehensible. The reasons why the priest was pulled from the parish have been the subject of much misinformation, gossip and innuendo for too long. The silent seven years that have passed without any resolution means that justice has not been done or seen to be done.
Since the diocese seems quite ready to allow the civil authorities to do their work for them the outcome of this trial for the diocese can at best be an out of court settlement rather than a public airing in open court. After experiencing the sad silence of the past seven years I vote for a court room trial. The air needs to be cleared.
The Church has a very big public and media relations problem. This kind of story festering for seven years is really poor optics for the Church, diocese and parish. It makes the Body of Christ look like a bureaucracy without a soul. As a Catholic I find that outcome unacceptable and without any merit.
© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved