The Boston Globe today published two articles about the matter of unresolved cases of clergy sexual abuse. The articles were troubling for a number of reasons.
Sexual abuse of children by clergy, in and of itself, is very troubling. It simply should not happen–period. When credible accusations of abuse have come forward and have been verified, priests should be removed from ministry. It seems to BCI that if a priest sexually abuses a child and there is no question as to the veracity of the claim, regardless of the civil or criminal penalties, the priest should also be laicizied. Sexual abuse cases have cost the Catholic Church in the U.s. $3 billion, according to The Economist. Imagine those funds put to use on evangelization, programs to support great priests, saving and maintaining beautiful church buildings destined for the wrecking ball, adult catechesis and faith formation, vocations, seminaries, and building the kingdom of God instead!
But the articles in the Globe were troubling for more reasons beyond even these. It seems to BCI that the cost, time delays, and process for resolving sexual abuse claims are all problematic.
Cost: $22.5 million on salaries and benefits
In Priests, accusers press for resolution, the following was reported:
The Archdiocese of Boston has spent more than $22.5 million since 2000 on salaries and health benefits for clergy awaiting a resolution of their sexual abuse cases from the church’s internal legal system.
The majority of cases, which can determine whether a priest is restored to ministry or cast out for good, have been concluded. But some have sat unresolved for more than a decade. And the cost of supporting accused clergy continues to mount.
The archdiocese attributes the delays in part to the inherently slow penal process in the church’s justice system, known as canon law, and the deluge of cases after the church’s sexual abuse coverup was exposed.
But the long waits have delayed a resolution for both priests and victims, prolonging the crisis.
Fifteen Boston priests who were removed from ministry in 2004 or earlier still await the conclusion of their canonical cases, in the meantime earning as much as $40,000 a year, plus health benefits. One — the Rev. Paul F. Manning, who turns 72 this year — has not worked in the ministry since 1996.
In each of those cases, an archdiocesan investigator has made an initial finding that at least one abuse allegation against the priest appears credible, and the priest has been suspended from public ministry pending the outcome of his canonical proceeding.
BCI understands the provisions of Canon Law that require for the bishop to provide for all priests in the clerical state. We wholeheartedly support the need for the Boston Archdiocese to take better care of priests in good standing while they are in active ministry, when medically ill and when retired. Without a doubt, if a priest is wrongly accused, by all means they should have their living expenses paid by the diocese while they go through appeals and try to get their name and reputation cleared. But BCI does not understand why this has proven so costly. 15 priests @ say $60K/year for salary and benefits = $900K/year, for 13 years = $11.7 million. That is a very large number, but still only about half of the $22.5M figure cited in the Globe. How many other priests are waiting for cases to be resolved, to account for the other $11M?
Canon lawyer Msgr. Jason Gray describes the provisions of the Code of Canon Law regarding sustenance compensation for priests as follows:
Canon 384 obligates the diocesan bishop to see to the provision of sustenance and social assistance for his priests. A priest is entitled to receive sustentatio because he is a cleric by ordination. His diocesan bishop is obligated to see that sustentatio is provided because the priest is incardinated in his diocese. Thus, ordination and incardination form the basis for a priest’s right to sustentatio. Although canon 384 only mentions priests, a diocesan bishop should be concerned for his deacons as well.
Sustentatio is the support that is necessary to provide for the basic needs of a cleric, and is owed to a cleric who would otherwise be destitute. Social assistance is part of sustentatio and provides for a cleric’s needs in sickness, incapacity, old age, and retirement. Social assistance includes the duty to provide health insurance and social security. Sustentatio is a basic right of the cleric and cannot be withheld even in the case of a penalty.
A diocesan bishop is obligated to see to the provision of sustentatio, but he is not always obligated to provide this support directly. When a cleric is in need, the diocesan bishop can aid the cleric in a variety of ways. He can help the cleric enroll in a government program such as Social Security or Medicare.
The Globe article reports how a man who first formally accused the Rev. James J. Foley Jr. of molesting him in 1999 had to wait 12 years–until 2011–to testify in a tribunal. This article on the same situation describes how the complianant was notified in 2008 by the Boston archdiocese that a canonical trial would be held. “We waited and waited for the call to come and have that trial,” said the complainant’s mother. “It went on and on, and nothing happened.” It was not until June 2011 when the complainant and his family were called to testify to the archdiocese. The Globe reports:
Nicholas P. Cafardi, a prominent canon lawyer and professor at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, said that trials conducted by the Catholic Church should not take more than three or four years.
“There is no reason for a canonical process, even with appeals, to take from 2004 to 2012,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Boston archdiocesan officials acknowledge the delays are excessive.
“We get it,” said Monsignor Robert P. Deeley, vicar general of the archdiocese, who is also a distinguished canon lawyer.
BCI does not understand why the Boston Archdiocese cannot make a greater effort to expedite investigation and resolution of these cases in Boston. Why not lower the salaries of the ten highest paid lay employees by $100K each or more–to a generous amount of $150K/year, save $1 million a year (which they should be doing anyway), use the $1M to hire ten more canon lawyers in Boston and/or in the Vatican to work through the backlog for a year, and get these done–for the benefit of everyone involved?
This article, Twice implicated, priest fights for a decision, highlights the state of limbo for twice-accused priest, Fr. James J. Foley, who is currently a lawyer in private practice, while also collecting a $40K/year salary plus benefits from the RCAB. BCI feels for the priest if he is innocent of the charges, but we fail to understand two things.
First. regardless of his guilt or innocence, if the priest is able to sustain himself financially as a lawyer in private practice while his case is pending, is the bishop still obliged to provide sustenance benefits?
Secondly, an aspect of the settlement process documented in this article has bothered BCI for a considerable amount of time–namely, the practice of the Boston Archdiocese settling cases without allowing the priest to even dispute the charges. The article says:
testimony in Foley’s canonical trial began only last year. Shortly thereafter, another former parishioner told the archdiocese that he, too, had been abused by Foley, from the time he was a 12- or 13-year-old altar boy until just after he graduated from Harvard.
The archdiocese paid that man a settlement and reported the allegations to Suffolk County prosecutors and the attorney general’s office. Foley continues to practice law and get his church paycheck.
The archdiocese would not comment on Foley, citing an active law enforcement investigation. It remains unclear because of the time elapsed since the alleged abuse whether he could be charged even if investigators found evidence.
Foley, reached at his law office in Lowell, referred calls to his attorney, Joseph S. Provanzano of Peabody, who in two brief phone interviews said his client was unaware of the second complaint and called the very idea of a law enforcement investigation “absurd.” He ridiculed the notion that the sexual abuse of a minor could extend into a victim’s early 20s, or that it could have taken someone so highly educated so long to report abuse.
Last summer, the man decided to call Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who has represented hundreds of abuse victims, and initiated a complaint about Foley with the archdiocese. He received a settlement with little resistance last May.
Admittedly, if you read this complaint letter from the first victim about abuse he alleges occurred in 1983 or 1984, and then this article that describes the stories of both the first and second victims, the testimonies are persuasive. In some situations, it may be easier and more cost effective to settle a simple case rather than go to court. Still, BCI does not understand why the Boston Archdiocese settled the second case, and has settled many others, without informing the priest and giving him a chance to defend himself and refute the accusation. Is the archdiocese so convinced that every priest is guilty as accused that they do not even give them a chance to prove themselves innocent? Something is wrong here–it seems like it does an injustice to the priest accused, and it further sends a message that the archdiocese is ready to roll over and just settle with every person who comes forward with a complaint and a lawyer. Again, BCI is not saying if the claims are valid or not–we are just saying the approach does not appear to provide due process for either the accused priest or the accuser.
This is what BCI thinks. What do you think?