Trust and Confidence
In a recent issue of America, Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis reviewed the accomplishments of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (10/18). While there is much to praise in his article, I would respectfully but emphatically disagree with two arguments he made.
Archbishop Flynn states: To keep children safe and to restore trust and confidence, it became necessary to remove all offenders. The charter’s one-size-fits-all approach makes no distinction between rape and a kiss or an inappropriate touching over the clothes. It makes no distinction between a serial predator and one-time offender. It makes no distinction between an offense committed yesterday and one committed 40 years ago. This makes no sense and is unjust. It panders to those who thirst for vengeance. The church cannot yield to vengeance. To do so is to betray the Gospel.
Also, the charter has an all-or-nothing approach to ministry. Given the concerns about returning offenders to parish ministry, why would it not be sufficient, in appropriate cases, to assign an accused priest to ministry that involves no contact with children?
The church teaches that ordination results in an ontological change. A person takes on a new identity. He is a priest forever, not merely an employee who can be fired. It seems that the credibility of the bishops has been so damaged by the poor judgments of some bishops that all are afraid to make any distinctions or to exercise any judgment.
Archbishop Flynn says that accused priests are afforded the protections of canon law. This is simply not true. In my experience with helping hundreds of priests, when a priest is accused he is guilty until proven guiltier.
Dioceses routinely engage in the practice of name and shame, whereby a priest against whom there is found to be a suspicion of misconduct with a minor is publicly named and removed from ministry. Once the bell of child abuser is rung, it can never be un-rung.
Often the diocese will announce that an accusation is credible or even substantiated. Such a finding is based mostly on the impressions of the initial interviewer of the accuser, with little investigation and no cross-examination. Such a process is contrary to canonical due process and fundamental fairness. It is small comfort to have a canonical trial after a public lynching.
Many canonical processes will turn out to be inconclusive. In the secular courts, that would result in the accused being freed. But an accused priest cannot return to ministry unless he can prove the allegation to be false. Once an allegation has been declared to be credible, the burden of proof shifts in effect to the priest to prove his innocence. Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany did this successfully through an independent investigator, but it cost his diocese over a million dollars. Evidently Bishop Hubbard saw that a canonical process would be inadequate to clear his name. An ordinary priest who is accused does not stand much of a chance. All priests are vulnerable. There is a double standard.
In the past two years, the bishops have accomplished a great deal in addressing the problem of sexual abuse of minors. However, when the bishops review the charter, they must correct these two injustices.
Finally, in sharp contrast to Cardinal Avery Dulles’ previous article in America entitled Rights of Accused Priests (6/21), Archbishop Flynn’s article illustrates the difference between Cardinal Dulles’s assertionthat making decisions must be based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the authentic teachings of the church, and in this case as found particularly in the Code of Canon Lawand continuing to base decisions on the inadequate charter.
Paying the Price
Archbishop Harry Flynn’s article is simply a retelling of the company line (10/18). To quote him, ...the proposal to make removal retroactive as well caused bishops to ask about the priests who had owned up to their misconduct, cooperated in treatment and had served faithfully since. Was a bishop to break faith with them? The answer is that they have broken faith with their priests and are now paying the price with all the priests. A priest with one incident many decades ago is basically told, we thought you were forgiven and rehabilitated but we’ve changed our minds. And why was this policy developed? Because it ...is essential to the restoration of the trust of the laity in the leadership of the church.... Did anyone ask the laity? My experience in an international urban parish is that the laity do not want this situation settled on the backs of repentant priests who have been willing participants in treatment programs. My experience is that the laity are wondering why bishops who knowingly transferred pedophiles and ephebophiles are not subject to the zero-tolerance policy themselves. When that question is answered with appropriate disciplinary action, it will then be possible to restore the trust of the laity and the priests as well.
(Rev.) Robert J. Robbins
New York, N.Y.
In his article Priestless Liturgies (10/11), Peter Kountz raises some important issues about the tremendous opportunities for shared ownership and responsibility that the clergy shortage offers the church in the United States and Canada. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest gifts of the Second Vatican Council was a recovery of the priesthood of all the baptized that undergirds all ministry in the church, as Kountz says so well. But there is a far more serious theological and ecclesiological issue the article fails to address: as the number of clergy continues to decline not only in North America but also in Western Europe, Oceania and many other parts of the world, we are increasingly becoming a non-eucharistic church.
Despite the fact that the celebration of the Eucharist is the heart of our life (what Vatican II called the source and summit of the Christian life), we are increasingly being denied our lifeblood and settling for a service of the Word at which Communion is distributed from the tabernaclehosts that were consecrated at an earlier Mass, celebrated perhaps within the previous week. Yet since the time of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58), the church has insisted that Communion distributed at a particular Eucharist should be consecrated at that same celebration, so that the integrity and unity of the one sacrifice of Christ be maintained. Pope Pius XII echoed the same in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei (No. 99).
Church documents describe the tabernacle as a place to reserve the sacrament for pastoral visits to the sick and homebound, viaticum for the dying and for eucharistic devotion, but not as a sacramental dispensary during liturgical celebrations. Thus, if our current clergy statistics are any indication, and if we simply accept or even delight in the various possibilities for creativity and lay collaboration offered by priestless liturgies without considering the wider picture, we run the risk of the exception becoming the church’s standard fare and an ever greater loss of the actual celebration of the Eucharist as normative for parochial liturgical life.
Back in 1987, the late Bishop William McManus of Fort Wayne-South Bend voted against the proposed ritual Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest at a plenary meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He did so not because he opposed greater inclusion of the laity in church ministry and leadership roles but rather, as he put it, because this new rite would be like putting a small Band Aid on a gaping wound, failing to address the more systemic problem mentioned above.
The clock is ticking and church leaders will need to face this issue squarelypreferably sooner rather than later. Indeed, our eucharistic future depends on it.
Keith F. Pecklers, S.J.
I am an American Redemptorist missionary who has worked in Brazil all my priestly life. I have a reflection on the article The Deep Mystery of God (10/18), by Michael McCauley. Yes, God is truly unfathomable, transcendent, undefinable. But more mysterious, impressive and unfathomable is the fact that the Creator of all things became a man on our tiny planet, suffered and died for lovethe fabulous mystery of the Incarnation. We are preparing to celebrate the birth of this nameless God as a true man, the birth of this I am who am. May he who is risen be truly alive in our hearts.
Gerard Oberle, C.SS.R.
Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil