Yesterday the Vatican issued a statement of guidelines for dealing with cases of abuse against minors.
It is a terrible fact that in the past real victims of abuse where mostly ignored, priests moved around.
It is a horrific fact that this added to the immense pain of victims and perpetuated abuse.
It is a stark reality that the damage done will likely never be healed, or at least not for generations.
Now in these days there are mechanisms in place which, if we be truthful, while they may reduce such crime, will not eliminate it completely.
To think otherwise is naive; to claim otherwise is a lie.
What can be stated truthfully is that now, at least, victims are listened to, their accusations investigated, justice and due compensation of all forms is rendered to them.
This is a good.
What is not so good is that those with power in the Church from the Pope down to the local Bishop have swung the pendulum so far to the opposite side from failing victims to an obsession with tossing priests under the bus.
Since 1066, at least in most English speaking countries, there has been a constant struggle for justice, for civil rights, for due process.
What is happening within the Church, well not within the Mystical Body of Christ to be sure, but certainly within the Vatican is the persistent erosion of any adherence to fundamental human rights, to due process.
Rather than cases being dealt with by the normal tribunal process, it is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which handles all cases where there is an accusation of the crime and sin of abuse by a priest, religious or any lay person over whom the ‘church’ can exercise power.
A few points: 1] there is no appeal of a decision by the Roman Pontiff; 2] the appeal ‘judges’ in the CDF are the very same persons who hand down the initial judgement [unlike in most legal systems where appeal is made to a higher court composed of different judges]; 3] the CDF has its equivalent of a prosecutor but no one to defend priests; 4] cases are handled in written form – it is as if an American charged with a crime in Buffalo had his case handled by a court in Paris, in abstentia; 5] finally while bishops can draw whatever funds they want from the diocesan treasury to mount a case against a priest, canon lawyers in Rome charge thousands of dollars to defend a priest, a fee beyond the meagre resources of most priests.
While I will not deal with the Vatican Guidelines in total, there are few points I will raise which should give every priest, indeed anyone who believes in the rule of law, in unbiased justice, indeed in the Gospel of compassion, reconciliation, conversion, serious pause.
[The direct quotes are in capitals and the full document is available online.]
IF THE ACCUSATION IS CONSIDERED CREDIBLE……
Nowhere are there clarifications of what the terms are for an accusation to be considered credible.
This is a serious flaw and throws the doors wide open to immense damage being done to priests because it is an invitation to anyone to accuse and for any bishop to toss the case to Rome, even when church law does not compel him to do so.
Further down there is the assertion that: THE PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION, AS WELL AS THE ENTIRE PROCESS, OUGHT TO BE CARRIED OUT WITH DUE RESPECT FOR THE PRIVACY OF THE PERSONS INVOLVED AND DUE ATTENTION TO THEIR REPUTATIONS.
Whom are they kidding?
With the modern media in a feeding frenzy against the church and priests as it is, with various social media spreading unfiltered and unverified information willy-nilly, with various well-funded and very hostile groups on the watch for any whisper of an accusation and bishops who publicly pull priests from their parishes the above assertion is not only untenable but is cruel.
Further it states: THE PRUDENCE OF THE BISHOP WILL DETERMINE WHAT INFORMATION WILL BE COMMUNICATED TO THE ACCUSED IN THE COURSE OF THE PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION.
Since bishops tend also to be the primary prosecutor and judge we have truly now entered the realm of Star Chamber machinations.
Early on in the document the assertion is made that: THE ACCUSED CLERIC IS PRESUMED INNOCENT UNTIL THE CONTRARY IS PROVEN.
It does seem those with power in the Vatican have their heads in the sand when it comes to conviction by media, by being pulled from the parish.
Finally the last quote I will reference is this: THE BISHOP HAS THE DUTY TO TREAT ALL HIS PRIESTS AS FATHER AND BROTHER.
Really: priests are summarily removed from their parishes, in the main not given an alternate place to live, frequently have their salaries and benefits cut, rarely can afford defense attorneys or canonical advocates, bishops tend NOT to visit priests in prison, bishops tend even when the accusation is false to abandon priests, tossing them onto the public welfare rolls rather than care for them, indeed the church has to date done absolutely nothing for accused priests.
The Vatican cannot chastise governments or politicians who fail to ensure respect for human rights and due process when it continues down this dark and dangerous road, eroding more and more due process for priests.
You do not ensure the safety of a single child by holus-bolus tossing accused priests under the bus, dumping them onto secular welfare rolls, in essence hiding them under the radar.
You do not ensure your credibility in the face of victims of abuse when you dismiss priests from the clerical state and effectively lose any control over them.
You do not witness to the wider world the critical dignity of the human person, the foundational importance of natural law, due process, human rights when you turn the CDF into a Star Chamber.
In such a climate you do ensure that truly twisted and evil priests, not yet found out, will become more adept at hiding their crimes and disorder and you further ensure that all accused priests, in particular the falsely accused, will be prone to depression, loss of faith, suicide.
In the face of all this my prayer is very simple: Grant O Jesus to Your Church and those with power in Her the grace of compassion and courage, compassion for victims and sinners, courage to spare no expense in caring for victims, courage to ensure transparent due process for the accused and grant O Jesus most critical of all an end to all priestly crime and sin and our complete sanctification.