We pause from our discussions of archdiocesan finances, layoffs, and the Caritas Christi sale to respond to email requests that we discuss certain practices by the Archdiocese that seem unjust and inconsistent. These practices have to do with how priests are treated in various situations—ranging from what happens when an accusation of sexual abuse or wrongdoing comes forward, to how the archdiocese goes about reducing or eliminating medical or retirement benefits . We have received so many comments on the clergy retirement and employee pension funds that they will merit their own future post. We are not sure how exactly to tackle this topic and are trying to make sense of what we have gotten as input. Here goes…
As we all know, the sexual abuse crisis resulted in many legitimate claims against priests for inexcusable and deplorable acts which deserved to be punished both in civil law and canonically. Given the media visibility, large numbers of claimants who filed and negotiated as a group, and availability of cash settlements, one cannot help but believe that the huge majority of legitimate claims are behind us. To be fair, there may still be unreported claims, new cases, or repressed memories that suddenly become unrepressed. And if the situation of a Walpole priest recently arrested for allegedly making unwanted sexual advances on a 21-year-old in the woods at a known gay cruising spot in Canton turns out to be as reported, then we have further evidence of active homosexuality in the Boston presbyterate. The latter would be the topic for a future post (around the theme of “Crisis and Reform.”) None of this should be trivialized.
But, what happens to priests who face claims that are questionable or have never been proven? The worst nightmare some priests have faced was getting a phone call telling them there has been a claim. They had to move out of the rectory immediately and a press release was issued whose wording suggested a presumption of guilt that would forever damage their reputation. And what has happened to priests who did stumble or commit a sexual sin, but with an adult woman, not a child or a minor? Is the rule, “One strike and you’re out,” with no possibility for mercy and redemption, ever? And what about priests whose main failing is not a sexual sin at all, but rather is health-related? There is a sense by some priests that they can be cast-off too easily if they become a burden. Here are some examples:
- Fr. B, then 67-years-old, was accused in 2001 of molesting a youth 30 years earlier. The one allegation that was made against him could not be substantiated. At the time, Father B. was prevented from proclaiming his innocence to the public or his peers. Although the claim was dismissed after a 2-year investigation and he was returned to full ministry in 2003, according to his January 2010 obituary, Father Bolduc’s “reputation was shattered and his life was changed forever. Due to this ordeal his health suffered greatly and continued to decline as time went on.” Several bloggers reported earlier this year that he was one of six falsely accused priests, ages 71 to 88, thrown out of Regina Cleri who also had medical benefits cut off for no apparent reason.
- Fr. Gordon McRae, a 57-year-old priest of the Diocese of Manchester, has been imprisoned since 1994 for alleged crimes where there was never any evidence or corroboration whatsoever. The claims were accompanied by lawsuits settled for hundreds of thousands of dollars despite substantial evidence of fraud. On April 27 and 28, 2005, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The Wall Street Journal published an account of the travesty of justice by which Father Gordon MacRae was convicted, a story described in First Things magazine as one of “a Church and a justice system that seem indifferent to justice.” Current Bishop of Manchester, John McCormack, was formerly a senior aide to Cardinal Law in Boston, and has done little to help McRae’s cause. Fr. McRae blogs at “These Stone Walls: Musings from Prison of a Priest Falsely Accused.”
- Fr. M. of Boston, 82-years-old, was just placed on administrative leave for a claim of sexual abuse alleged to have occurred 50-years-ago, the only charge ever made against him. Shortly after that charge was made public, attorney Mitch Garabedian came forward with a client who alleges he was abused by the same priest between 1963-1968. Garabedian said his client began recovering repressed memories of the abuse last year, and recent media coverage of the Rev. M complaint led his client to tell his story.
- Fr. G, who drunkenly propositioned and made inappropriate sexual comments to a woman and her daughter on one occasion at a restaurant/lounge in 2005 admitted he was drunk at the time, underwent evaluation and treatment over more than a year, had all charges dismissed by the court in 2007, and was deemed fit to return to ministry. He is on the Emergency Response Team unassigned to a parish.
- Fr. T, who got rid of bingo and instead brought perpetual Eucharistic adoration to a parish in the western suburbs, had a consensual relationship with a woman in 1999, left the parish in 2001, underwent 14 months of counseling and treatment, and publicly admitted his sins to parishioners in 2003. He has been gone from the archdiocesan Catholic directory since then, is off the diocesan payroll and lives in a religious community outside of the archdiocese.
The circumstances around each of these situations and dozens of others are uniquely different. For some priests, indeed their sins (or crimes) are such that they cannot be assigned back to full-time ministry for any of a variety of reasons, while for some priests, the outcome seems to be unjust or extreme. At the same time priests who may not be a threat to anyone are removed from ministry, people see the following occurring:
- Fr. C, who advocated in favor of gay marriage to the Massachusetts legislature and to his parishioners and was later removed from his parish for financial irregularities is assigned as chaplain at a local college campus, where he educates young people and is free to share his values with them.
- Shortly after Fr. L resigned as pastor of a South Shore parish for stealing significant amounts of money from his parish, the Archdiocese sent in as a replacement, Fr. P, who himself was caught stealing significant amounts of money from his prior parish several years earlier.
- Fr. B blogged in April about how priests should not be celibate, how the priest who laid on the chausible at his first Mass after ordination had abused “countless altar boys” but Fr. B had said nothing about it even 19 years later, how the sexual abuse crisis in the Church was not “about being gay”, and how the crisis is about an unwillingness by the Church to deal honestly with the psycho-sexual health of Church leaders — both priests and bishops, gay and straight.” Apparently no one in the archdiocese read this, or if they did, no one reached out to Fr. B. 2 months later he was arrested for sexually assaulting a 21-year-old man in the woods.
- A different Fr. C, known for preaching against the teachings of the church on marriage and other moral issues, was reassigned from his South shore parish to the Emergency Response Team, but later made pastor at another South Shore parish where his recent parish bulletin invited parishioners to a book-signing by noted dissident Catholic James Carroll, sponsored by two affiliates of Voice of the Faithful. Carroll’s new book criticizes the Church’s teachings on abortion, gay marriage, papal infallibility, birth control, male-only priesthood, celibate clergy, and other issues.
Boston Catholic Insider readers see somewhat of an inconsistency here. The Archdiocese wants to protect children and ensure that any priests who could harm children are not in a position to do so—which is of course the right thing to do. At the same time, we are told that priests who may not pose any threat to children are put in limbo and/or cleared off the payroll, or for priests with health issues, their benefits are slashed when they become a financial burden in their old age–while those whose preaching and false teachings may lead hundreds of “children of God” to sin continue in active ministry in good standing. (“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42)
We know what we have written is likely to spur controversy. Is the Archdiocese putting millstones around the right necks or wrong necks? What do you think?