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A Different Priestly Scandal Print E-mail
By Michael Novak   
Sunday, 13 May 2012

Burning injustices rest on our consciences, and will continue to burn us until we correct them.

I had dinner the other night with a marvelous priest, who started out our dinner by having the little children who were with us recite together (partly in song) the blessing before meals. They loved doing it. Loved the sound of it. Loved the solemnity. Loved the fun.

I did not know until well along in the meal, almost at the very end, that this good priest – so well informed about so many matters of faith, so genial, and so patently good-hearted and faithful – had been falsely accused of sexual molestation eight years ago. He was forced to leave the ministry (an accusation these days is enough to do this – a horrible scandal in itself). His accuser died of a cocaine overdose in his mother’s house, but not before exonerating the priest by admitting the falsity of his accusation.

But all that notwithstanding, the bishop in his diocese has not moved – dared? – to reinstate this good man and return him to his proper standing in the priesthood, or even to give a public apology for his unjust treatment. Nor has the press that stirred up the atmosphere of high-tech lynchings revisited his case (and hundreds if not thousands of others) to clear them of this horrible wrong.

Very few raw accusations that have emerged since the priestly abuse crisis erupted were ever subject to due process and full discovery and an open trial.

In America, citizens have a right to their innocence until proven guilty. This good man was never given a hearing. He is still being punished – to the very the core of his being and in his very reason for existence – because of a false accusation and that alone. Further, it is an accusation that has been withdrawn by the accuser, and apologized for by his family: “Billy [name changed] would never have made the accusation if he had been sober.”

To have been treated as non-persons, as non-citizens, is an injustice that cries out to heaven for justice. Yet in addition to the truly evil predators that have been identified and weeded out, this is the fate of a considerable number of innocent Catholic priests in this country today.

I do not understand why the Catholic Church has not fought for a civil process that gives these good men, innocent until proven guilty, fair trials. I do not understand why the American courts do not do this. I do not understand why the American press is not fighting mad about that. I do not understand why the ACLU is not leading this charge – they have a reputation for defending the unpopular victims, the publicly vilified victims.

We all know, of course, that many accused priests have been proven guilty. No doubt, still more deserve to be given their due punishments. The years 1965-1985, give or take, were in clerical dereliction the worst in my memory (including historical memory, going back to the beginning of this Republic). They terribly shamed me and many millions of other Catholics.

But I also know that thousands of the accused have never been given due process. They have been discarded as non-persons. They can hardly comprehend the sudden injustice they have suffered in the Church they love and the country they love. Since birth they have thought themselves safe from that – the kinds of injustices usually thought of as only occurring elsewhere, not in our America. They have been horribly betrayed.

I beg those who have reached the same conclusions I have to act to change the present injustice, to rectify it, to erase it, and to restore to their full standing as human beings, citizens, and men committed to their faith, those who, after due process, are judged not guilty.

They loved that faith in part because of its traditional defense of individual persons from birth to natural death. They loved this country because of its protection of individual rights. They cannot understand how they have been stripped of those basic rights – suddenly, without an outcry on their behalf by the Church, the state, and the public defenders of basic human rights.

Look into it, America. Look into it, Catholic Church. Examine the facts. Punish the proven guilty. But give the innocent the honor that is due them.

They have suffered so much, for so many years. It is a marvel that some still maintain their morale and their hope. Even if we humans do not fulfill our duty to protect them from mendacious accusations, may God bless them and be faithful to them forever.

 
Michael Novak’s website is www.michaelnovak.net.
 
 
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Comments (26)Add Comment
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written by Mack Hall, May 13, 2012
Indeed. Bishops (and this is a fuzzy generalization and so perhaps unfair, with wonderful exceptions, seem to be more interested in accessing the continuum of fashionable politics and wealthy associations, and excluding meaningful contact with and respect for priests and the laity.
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written by Dave, May 13, 2012
One can scarcely imagine, let alone believe, the war that is being waged against the Church -- and against good priests. That the culture does not move to exonerate innocent priests comes as no surprise: the culture wants to disassemble the Church lock, stock, and barrel, for she and she alone stands as a bulwark against the secularist war ravaging common decency. That the Church does not exonerate the innocent comes as something of a surprise, but only something, alas: bishops, too, know about sacrificial lambs, and about what may lie in store for them should they seek to exonerate the innocent. A new outpouring of the Holy Spirit is sorely needed to rise us all from torpor, to strengthen us for the days ahead, and to give us fortitude to demand of the bishops what is only right.
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written by John W (Jack) Carlson, May 13, 2012
Michael Novak's excellent piece comes at a poignant time for this writer and his fellow parishoners. Last month, our pastor was summarily taken from us on the basis of a charge of sexual abuse stemming from early 1970's, when the accuser was a high school student and our pastor was a newly ordained priest assigned to her parish. All who know this man today are stunned and incredulous, yet the archdiocesan review board determined that there was sufficient evidence for the case to go forward; and the Archbishop concurred. (For the case to go forward is for it to be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where it will be reviewed in its turn and either a decision will be reached or the case will be returned to our Archbishop with directions as to how to proceed.) It seems clear that we are in for a long siege. However, it should be added that the Archbishop met with parishoners within 48 hours of the event, and he assured us that nothing would make him happier than to see our pastor exonerated and to embrace him once again as a fellow priest in active ministry.
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written by Fr. Bramwell, May 13, 2012
Right on Michael. I have never heard of a priest's fellow priests rallying around a falsely accused man either. That would make the news!
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written by Mary S., May 13, 2012
Thank you for writing this column, Mr. Novak. I, too, know a good, holy priest who was falsely accused of sex abuse 10 years ago and who still has not been returned to ministry even though he was cleared by the Dept. of Children and Family Services, was cleared by the county grand jury, and even though the civil suit brought against him was withdrawn before it was dismissed with prejudice. This priest is now in his eighties and I believe that the bishop is just waiting for him to die rather than placing him back into ministry and being criticized by the press and SNAP for doing so.

And this is the reason that too many bishops are not returning innocent priests to ministry. They don't want to be accused of being "soft" on "perpetrators" or indifferent to victims. It's just easier to treat all accused priests as though they are guilty and keep them out of ministry whether or not they are guilty. This is truly shameful.

We need to pray that God will give the bishops the courage that they need to deal justly with priests who have been accused of sex abuse--to punish those who are proved to be guilty but to restore to ministry those who are innocent.
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written by Steve M, May 13, 2012
Every bishop or other leader who looked the other way or failed to act to protect the children first has created the worst of this problem. If it could be said that "back then we tried to treat these abusing priests because that was the state of the medicine then but now we know better" and that is what happened then this might pass less painfully. But as appears with Bishop Flynn they blink when it comes time to act they fail the victims, children and Christ's church. Today I read that Bishop Amos has reversed himself with a wheeze and will allow an organization that is pro-homosexuality to present a scholarship at a Catholic HS graduation as long as someone else reads their script. That is noise and is the same behavior that lead to this crisis. There are lines of right and wrong. Feelings may be hurt when someone is told no your behavior is not acceptable and stop it but hopefully their soul will be saved. Every falsely accused priest who suffers needs to look to the bishops who fail to do their job and ask why they must suffer?
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written by Tony Esolen, May 13, 2012
When the haters have done to the Church all the damage they can do, they will then "discover," as they were doing thirty years ago, that "intergenerational sex" is not so harmful a thing after all. You heard it here first, folks. Wait and see.
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written by Chris in Maryland, May 14, 2012
As to the Bishiops in the United States, they can only be accounted for one-at-a-time, by what they do and fail to do in their own jurisdictions. The USCCB should be dissolved - it serves no purpose for the Gospel and Christ's Church. To echo Mr. Esolen, the Supreme Court has a judge on it, Justice Ginsberg, who has openly asserted that the age of 'consent' to sexual relations ought to be age 12. That's right. Age 12. This is what lies behind the 'benign' mask of 'progressivism.' In Progressivism, what is now held as a crime by civilized people will be held as a civil right.
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written by JBeq, May 14, 2012
Why doesn't the priest appeal to Rome? That is his right.
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written by Therese Z, May 14, 2012
I too know a priest who was falsely accused, and it's all the more egregious because the "sexual touching" he allegedly committed he did in front of a group of parents. Almost a year later, the mother of the boy involved sued. EVERY PARENT present at the incident testified that the action was innocent, but the DA wasn't going to include their testimony into the planned trial until they threatened to go the press. Then all of a sudden everything was okay, but the priest had developed serious health troubles and depression and has never been the same.
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written by Joan, May 14, 2012
And we wonder why good young men are not becoming priests. No one accused of any sort of abuse or even plain harassment, a businessman, a Congressman, a mailman, a teacher, is subjected to the instantaneous and complete destruction of his vocation, reputation and ministry as a priest. One word from some disgruntled liar, and the priest's life is usually over. Who would become a priest with this atmosphere, and the complete lack of support from bishops?
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written by Dominic Pedulla, May 14, 2012
Be careful. Be very careful. WIthout knowing the facts it is very hard to say. I am told by good authority that it is rare -- much as we'd like to think otherwise -- for someone with an accusation deemed "credible" by the Ordinary to actually be innocent. Not impossible -- just rare.
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written by Liz, May 14, 2012
Bravo for writing this!! Is the tide finally turning? David F. Pierre, Jr. has two great books about this present scandal. Also Fr. Gordon MacRae has been suffering in prison for 18 years, falsely accused and wrongly convicted. His case is up for appeal. They have websites if you google their names.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, May 14, 2012
#1. There are some bishops whose actions against accused priests were primarily motivated by minimzing the financial liability of the diocese and were all too willing to throw any priest under the bus. Truth and justice as far as priests were concerned was trumped by monetary considerations.

#2. While there was a role for the Church in the priest homosexual scandal, all accusations should have been immediately referred to and investigated by civil law enforcement authorities whose business it is to determine whether a crime has been committed or not. Then, ecclesiatical actions, if warranted, would be implemented.

#3 I would always recommend that any priest wrongly accused bring a civil suit against their accuser for defamation.
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written by Mark, May 14, 2012
Just as it's wrong to condemn the innocent, it's equally wrong to condemn the wrongly accused. Sadly, this seems a trial we must all endure together as a community of believers, that will somehow, in God's mercy, result in true justice for all. Many were broken by the sins of a few, and it seems, some innocents, as was Christ, must also share in their brokenness. Let's pray as a community for healing for all.
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written by HHouser, May 15, 2012
Thank God someone is finally getting it! Due process for these priests! These 'men of God' are just protecting themselves, and their ego's are getting in the way. They make me sick of heart. I fear for these priests who have been put into Limbo. Take away ones passionate, spiritual purpose in life and what is there to live for? I applaud Michael Novak for his courage to stand up for what is right. Hopefully, the fire of passion in what he writes doesn't extinguish but becomes fueled so that it can spread to affect change in how the sheperds with the bigger staff lead this church.
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written by Papabile, May 15, 2012
I am not defending the process the Church uses here, though I think it was understandable after the way it was botched for generations.

I would note that this process is a result of personal sins, not social ones, but personal ones. They were personal sins by the Priests who actually abused children, personal sins by the Bishops who rather than setting up canonical trials just moved the Priests, personal sins by police and DA's who chose not to seek justice for those actually abused in an effort to avoid a distorted notion of "scandal", etc.

I am not a big fan of the way the heterodox usually talk about sin having social effects, but there are some social effects to personal sins. The current process is one of them, and good Priests are thrown under the bus as a result.

What will be thee social effect of the sin of throwing these good Priests under the bus?

I would argue a deepening cynicism among those who actually adhere to the faith in an orthodox and orthopraxitic way.
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written by Magnolia, May 15, 2012
Just came across this. May I suggest that one of the best ways to take action is to invite people to support the extraordinary work of Opus Bono Sacerdotii - just two dedicated laymen helping accused priests who get too little support.
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written by Graham, May 15, 2012
At the heart of Anglo-American law is the determination of each case, one at a time, based on the facts. The genius of English Common Law is that guiding principles develop from these cases over time. The shame of our law schools --certainly of mine -- is dismissal of this inconvenient heritage in favor of "being creative." Creativity is legal philosophy today. You can hardly call it scholarship or thought. In my case and that of the high school I attended, it was obvious that students, teachers, and administrators knew -- they pretended they didn't. I don't know how these investigations are carried out, but surely some kind confirmation should be part of it. And not merely gossip. Slander is an ugly thing -- and far more common that we want to admit. The priest in my personal situation would not be held accountable until 2002. He now lives out his retirement in diocesan hospitality. There was in the sixties and seventies a subculture in the Church -- I saw it in high school and one other Catholic institution. That subculture will never be held to account. That's the other scandal.
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written by Kate M., May 15, 2012
"I do not understand why the Catholic Church has not fought for a civil process that gives these good men, innocent until proven guilty, fair trials." Simple answer: because Church authorities didn't allow for civil process, they preferred a cover-up. It's only logical that the innocent would be thrown under the bus with the guilty when we're not allowed to tell them apart. Shame on us.

It is not the media's fault, nor our culture's fault that some priests have been falsely accused, it's the Church's. It's therefore not our nation's or even the ACLU's job to rectify this mess, it's ours - we created it with an astounding disregard for truth and for our youth. There is no justice without truth.

It makes me ashamed as a Catholic to hear Novak or anyone else playing the persecution card and blaming the miscarriage of justice on elements outside the Church when we aren't willing to require basic accountability and truth from our prelates.
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written by Manfred , May 15, 2012
Do you want to read about a different priestly scandal? Google Fr. John Minkler and read Paul Likoudis' comments. While you are at it, Google Archbishop McCarrick Syndrome.
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written by lpmulligan, May 16, 2012
Kate M.

You speak the truth. Why Mr. Novak chooses to conflate the canonical (chruch) and the criminal (civil) justice systems must say something about his motives in writing this piece, as well as about his credibility.
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written by Don Schenk, May 16, 2012
Our local paper--the Allentown Morning Call--ran a three-inch headline claiming that our former bishop lied when he said that he didn't remember a list of accused priests.
Do the heads of Protestant denominations and public school districts get this treatment? Of course not.
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written by Robert Lavretta, May 16, 2012
In his best-seller, Pope John Paul states that origional sin is, ABOVE ALL, an attempt to abolish fatherhood. The father-of-lies is unrelenting. This is true for both ministerial fathers and lay fathers. Both are called, in their seperate vocations, to be the spiritual heads of their "families".

I commend Mr. Novak for his accurate portrayal of the plight of accused ministerial fathers. I pray that he, or someone else with his insight, will research the corresponding plight of lay fathers in this country.

Our bishops support for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is currently being reauthorized by Congress, is nothing less than scandalous. The VAWA was, by invitation of then Senator Biden, in large part drafted, supported and implemented by the National Organization for Women or their appointed surrogates.

According to Department of Justice annual Reports for Congress and a seperate GAO Report for Congress, over 30,000,000 men have been prosecuted for domestic violence in American criminal or civil courts since the VAWA was enacted in 1994. Please don't forget that ever batterer has a victim, and many batterers and victims have children! The scope of this issue is staggering. Its impact on lay fatherhood has been devastating!

Fact check: Why did Cardinal Wuerl chastize Georgetown University in April of 2009? Please google: "Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit - Confusion at Georgetown - D.C. Archbishop Nips Gerogetown for Biden Event." This article describes an event at Georgetown University at which Legal Momentum, formally known as the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, honored V.P. Biden with their "Hero Award" as " part of an all-day event marking the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act..."

In reaction, "Wuerl wrote the school...'expressing concern that it [the event] happened and noting the confusion that happens by having an event by entities that are at odds with Catholic teaching.'"

Cardinal Wuerl chastized Georgetown for inviting the messenger (NOW) but completely disregarded the most important point --- their message --- the VAWA! Millions of innocent men are being unjustly prosecuted every year under this abomination.

Ask yourself a simple question. Does the Catholic Church find Truth in the spawn of NOW?

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