Accusations against Priests

The Need for More Justice and Psychological Science

The evaluation process of accusations against priests in regard to determining their suitability for priestly ministry would benefit from greater justice and knowledge of psychological science. There are presently severe weaknesses in this process that should be addressed.

Response to Accusations

The practice of immediately removing a priest from ministry after an accusation is made should be reevaluated unless it has significant credibility. When the accusation is questionable and involves supposed boundary violation, grooming behavior, or consensual sexual behavior with an adult, the removal from active ministry harms the good name of the accused priest. A more just approach is that given to most other professionals who continue in their work while accusations are being evaluated.

Also, many priests have complained that some diocesan officials have treated them in a manner that lacked any sense of justice or charity, as though they were already convicted of criminal behavior, based on an unproven allegation.

An inappropriate response of some diocesan investigators is to go to the accused priest’s parish and communicate to parishioners the (unproven) accusations against him. Then, parishioners are asked to report any information they may have of any inappropriate behavior by the accused priest. Such behavior could create false memories in parishioners1 and harm the accused priest.

The Accuser

Justice requires an in-depth knowledge of the accuser, given the prevalence of false accusations in the culture such as occurred in the false memory epidemic against fathers that was influenced by mental health professionals.2 This knowledge would include an identification the accuser’s emotional background with his/her father because unresolved anger with a father can be misdirected, perhaps even unconsciously, at another father figure, the priest. It is also vital to evaluate any major weaknesses in secure attachment relationship from childhood and adolescence with parents, siblings and peers, and any traumatic experiences in adult life.

At a 2012 Rome conference on the crisis, a priest-psychologist stated that 95 percent of accusations against priests are valid in his experience. Most mental health professionals with expertise in working with priests do not accept such a view and have extensive experience with false accusations against priests and others, particularly related to divorce and custody issues.

In order for priests to defend themselves when accused, it is essential that priests be allowed to read the accusations made against them, as occurred in the past, prior to the Dallas Charter. If an accuser insists on remaining anonymous, the accusation lacks credibility.

False Accusations

An understanding of false accusations is essential for all involved in the evaluation and discernment process. Participation in ongoing education in this area should be required with a proof of a thorough understanding of the research and writing of the leading expert in memory and false memory, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, University of California, Irvine.3

The personality and spiritual temptation of giving into making false accusations undoubtedly is one of the reasons for the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” In view of the commandment, encountering false accusations should not be surprising to anyone.

False accusations against authority figures, coworkers, members of the clergy, and even spouses have been increasing in our clinical experience. Those against priests have been caused most frequently by excessive and misdirected anger and by hope for financial gain.4

When gathering data concerning the accused person, it is important to discover any possible uncovered motives in the accuser. Actual case histories have revealed some of the following conflicts in the accuser:

  • significant anger against male authority figures, or other important males, which is misdirected at a priest
  • a compulsive need to control, with intense anger toward the priest, because of an inability to control him
  • intense jealousy of the priest
  • profound lack of confidence with a need to feel superior to the priest and to punish him
  • depression and mental instability
  • substance abuse
  • desire for publicity
  • hatred of the Catholic Church
  • sexual conflicts
  • prejudice
  • desire for financial gain
  • blind zeal for a cause
  • anger against the fullness of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality and the liturgy, and the faithfulness in the priest in these areas
  • narcissism
  • lack of faith
  • feminist agenda for the Church
  • homosexual agenda for the Church
  • sociopathic personality traits

Vicars for clergy who are informed by parishioners that their pastor has a problem with being pastorally insensitive and angry should first ask themselves if they are, in fact, listening to a false accusation. Today, many faithful priests who teach the fullness of the Church’s truth on sexual morality and the sacraments are victims of such false accusations. Unfortunately, some clergy offices and bishops accept these accusations as being truthful without exploring the background and possible motives of an accuser, and then request the priest go for an evaluation of his supposed insensitive treatment of parishioners and anger at a treatment center of the Church.

Also, when the evaluation by the district attorney finds the accusations not credible, priests should be returned promptly to their priestly ministry. Sadly, some priests wait years or have not had their faculties restored.

The Responsibility to Prove the Accusation Is Not False

Mental health professionals who are called upon to evaluate priests should report fully on the background of the accuser and should document how they have determined that the specific accusation against the priest is not false. The need for such an evaluation process is clear, given the extent of the false accusations made in our culture today. The same responsibility applies to review boards.

Since the major unresolved anger that adults bring into their adult lives that is misdirected at others arises from hurts in the father relationship, a thorough history of the accuser’s relationship with her/his father is required.

Unfortunately, some dioceses have supported false accusations by accusers with criminal records, who even spent time in jail. One such accuser, who had no proof of her accusation, received a financial settlement, followed by an attempt to laicize the priest.

A veteran Los Angeles lawyer, Mr. Steier, who was involved in over 100 investigations into claims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, wrote in a declaration to the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2011, “One retired FBI agent who worked with me to investigate many claims in the clergy cases told me, in his opinion, about one-half of the claims made in the clergy cases were either entirely false, or so greatly exaggerated, that the truth would not have supported prosecutable claim for childhood sexual abuse.”

Other reports of false accusations against priests that were supported by district attorneys’ offices have been documented.5

The Evaluation of Grooming Accusations

Many priests have been accused of grooming youth without meeting the criteria for any of the stages of grooming behaviors. Many of these priests had integrated their sexuality into their total gift of themselves as other Christs, as spiritual fathers, and as spouses to the Church. Enthusiastic ministry to youth and teaching the fullness of the Church’s truth about sexual morality has been misinterpreted as being inappropriate and dangerous to youth.

Dr. Michael Welner, forensic psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, describes six stages of grooming that should be evaluated in those accused. These include:

Stage 1: Targeting the victim
Stage 2: Gaining the victim’s trust
Stage 3: Filling a need
Stage 4: Isolating the child
Stage 5: Sexualizing the relationship
Stage 6: Maintaining control

These behaviors are often never identified. Nonetheless, the priest is accused of grooming.

In response to one case of a priest identified as violating boundary violations and grooming, a highly respected forensic psychologist reviewed the case and concluded that the child protective office of the diocese did not know how to make an accurate diagnosis of boundary violations and grooming, and needed education in this vital area. This priest continues to be denied priestly ministry even though no family or child has ever filed a complaint against him for inappropriate sexual behavior.

The Evaluation of Boundary Violation Accusations

In our clinical experience, priests are being subjected increasingly to accusations of having boundary issues. These accusations of boundary violations are often made by members of the parish and rectory staff, as well as school teachers or principals. In our evaluation of such cases, the priests were often engaging in completely appropriate priestly ministry with youth.

No accusations of boundary violations should be given merit unless the criteria for grooming behaviors are met, especially targeting a victim and isolating a minor.

Priestly behaviors incorrectly labeled as boundary violations include playing sports with youth on the school playground, being present to children as they were getting onto buses after school in a parish in which only a small percentage of the children attend Mass on Sunday, and visiting with an adolescent female in an office with an open door in the parish center before the weekly youth meeting.

Those who accuse priests of boundary violations or grooming behaviors often have the same inner psychological and spiritual conflicts as those who make false sexual allegations.

We recommend that a task force be developed of American Catholic psychologists and psychiatrists, to review the process of evaluation of accusations against priests and the criteria used for claims of boundary violations and grooming behaviors.

The Appropriate Mental Health Evaluation and Review Boards

Presently, a major conflict exists, in that, for evaluations of allegations of grooming behaviors, boundary violations, allegations of troubled behaviors (according to parish staff or other priests or consensual adults), and other inappropriate behaviors, priests are required to go to inpatient treatment centers for priests and religious, rather than to mental health professionals who provide comprehensive evaluations in their offices.

A number of deviations from the accepted standards of care in the mental health field regularly occurs in the evaluations and recommendations at these inpatient centers, which include:

  • the recommendation for a six-month hospitalization, rather than a brief psychiatric hospitalization with a later focus on outpatient treatment;
  • the recommendation for hospitalization for a narcissistic personality disorder or traits which are not treated by hospitalization;
  • the regular diagnosis of a narcissistic personality disorder in priests treated by other mental health professionals who attest that neither the history, nor the testing support such a diagnosis;
  • giving vocational testing to hospitalized priests, and suggesting other vocations be considered in priests who love their priesthood and who have no allegations against them except supposed difficulties in working with parish staff;
  • failing to recommend return to active ministry in priests whose outpatient evaluations revealed no psychological conflicts that would interfere with priestly ministry;
  • violating patient confidentiality by not communicating to the priest the information provided to the treatment center by a diocese or religious community;
  • failing to recommend return to ministry in priests who have made a sexual mistake with one woman and who have worked to resolve the loneliness that made them vulnerable;
  • the requirement to return twice yearly to the hospital for week-long evaluations over a five-year period when the standards in the mental health field are that post-hospital care is managed solely by outpatient mental health professionals.

Another grave injustice is that the psychological evaluation of priests has been done by mental health professionals who work in close association with a district attorney’s office.6 For example, a psychologist gave a priest the Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest, which has no proven scientific validity.7 The diagnosis given to the priest was that he had a psychiatric disorder related to attraction to girls, which has never existed in the mental health field. Opinions from such mental health professionals should not be accepted by review boards and second opinions should be required.

There are competent mental health professionals in most parts of the country today with a proven sensitivity in the evaluation of accused priests, who could perform evaluations of accused priests without the pressure of needing to fill inpatient hospital beds.

Many priests are fully aware of the difficulties concerning treatment center evaluations and insist upon the right to choose mental health professionals with expertise in treating priests, with the diocese or religious community having the right to request a second opinion.

Procedures, Diagnoses, and Recommendations of Review Boards

The background for the work of the review boards is that the allegations of a charge of sexual abuse seem to be the one “crime” in our society in which the accused is considered guilty until proven innocent. This attitude in regard to accusations against priests, in particular, has led many priests to describe the present situation in the Church as a witch-hunt, comparable to that in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1600s.

A number of glaring deficiencies exist in the review board process and they include:

1. Lack of knowledge of the science related to memory and to false accusations. In our professional opinion, as stated earlier in this report, a lack of knowledge in regard to the current science surrounding accusations from the past is a serious problem for mental health professionals who evaluate accused priests and for the work of review boards. Review board members should be required to participate in ongoing education about the current science surrounding recall of traumatic sexual memories. Review board members, bishops, and religious superiors should have a thorough knowledge of the work of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus.

In order to properly evaluate accusations, knowledge of the psychological background of the accuser is essential, particularly since the major, unresolved anger that people bring into their adult lives arises from hurts in the father relationship. Such anger can be unconsciously misdirected at other father/authority figures.

2. Failure to interview the accused. In review boards for other professions, no major decision is made against the right of the individual to exercise his/her profession without giving the individual the ability to appear before the review board to defend himself/herself. Priests deserve a similar just process.

3. Lack of ability to read charges against the accused. In the past, a priest was permitted to review the charges against him with his canon lawyer present, But now, that fundamental right has been removed. Today, only the canon lawyer can read the charges and cannot take a copy of them to the priest to review. This action is clearly unjust and damages the priest’s ability to defend himself.

4. Lack of knowledge of the spiritual life and priestly ministry of the accused priest. Many accused priests have successfully integrated their sexuality into their total gift of themselves as spouses to the Church and as spiritual fathers. Priests, who have done so, usually cope well with sexual temptations and are unlikely to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviors. The priest’s spiritual life should be evaluated by a priest member of the review board or by a consultant to the review board. This report should be available for review by all involved and should be an important aspect of the discernment of the bishop.

5. Unscientific diagnoses used against an accused priest. Review boards have arrived at opinions against the suitability of priests for ministry that often have no basis in psychological science. For example, priests have been determined to be unfit for priestly ministry because they were determined to be immature, in the absence of sexual accusations against them. The claim is made that this diagnosis makes them potentially dangerous to youth. The determination of immaturity is rarely objectively described. Furthermore, growth in maturity is viewed as a regular part of normal personality development and can occur at every life stage.

No psychological science exists that supports a relationship between so-called immaturity and a risk of sexual acting-out with youth. In our evaluation of priests so accused, they demonstrated a zeal for ministry to youth in parish schools.

Bishops should require that opinions offered by review boards be based in psychological science and reason, and not upon intuitive feelings against a priest.

6. Lack of transparency. When the review board offers opinions, they should be in writing, and the priest should be able to review them at the time of his meeting with his bishop/superior.

Opinions of review boards, that state that those priests engaged in boundary violations and grooming behaviors, need to be defended with objective criteria that are agreed upon by competent mental health professionals. Each review board should include at least one competent mental health professional who is familiar with the psychological dynamics related to false accusations.

7. The history of priestly ministry of the accused. In addition to the spiritual evaluation of the accused priest, the history of the exercise of his priestly ministry should be documented. This history is vital in the discernment process for each priest.

8. Proof that the accusation is not false. The review board should be required to state its specific reasons as to why it has determined that the accusations against a priest for boundary violations or inappropriate sexual behaviors are not false accusations. They should describe the family background of the accused and the life adjustment at the time of the accusation. The causes of false accusations should be listed and identified as not applicable to the accuser.

The Final Decision by the Bishop

Bishops and religious superiors should be aware of the present weaknesses in the evaluation process. Justice requires that the bishop should insist that the review board present to him a thorough analysis of the adult accuser(s) of priests. The bishop should review with the priest how the review board has determined that the accusations are not false.

Bishops and religious superiors need to exercise caution and prudence in evaluating the review board’s decisions specifically in support of boundary violations, grooming behaviors, and psychological conflicts that the board has determined indicate the need to remove priestly ministry.

Some bishops attempt to laicize priests after one sexual mistake with a woman while reassigning priests who act out homosexually. Other bishops have refused to even open second mental health opinions on priests who attest to their psychological health and fitness for ministry.

St. John Paul II has written that, “The priest should mold his human personality in such a way that he becomes a bridge, and not an obstacle, for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of Humanity.”8 Many priests with healthy personalities have been the victims of the injustice of having their priestly faculties removed, due to a flawed evaluation process by child protective services, mental health professionals, and review boards.

Recommendations

Justice requires that many priest cases be reviewed in light of the psychological science related to anger, the nature of false accusations, and memory recall, particularly, those evaluated by mental health professionals working in association with a district attorney’s office or for a treatment center. These priests should have the right to pursue second opinions. Review board decisions based on these reports should be reevaluated.

We recommend a task force be developed of American Catholic psychologists and psychiatrists to review the mental health evaluations of accused priests and the activities of the review boards, in order to develop more scientifically rigorous criteria to protect priests and the Church.

  1. Dr. Elizabeth Loftus (1997). “Creating False Memories.” Scientific American, September; 71-75.
  2. Mark Pendergrast (1996, 2nd edition). Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives. Upper Access.
  3. Elizabeth Loftus (2013). Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse. St. Martin’s Griffin.
  4. John L. Allen (2011). “A New Symbol of False Sex Abuse Allegations.” National Catholic Reporter, December 2011.
  5. Ralph Cipriano (2013). “Star Witness’ Story in Philadelphia Sex Abuse Trials Doesn’t Add Up.” National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2013.
  6. Richard Fitzgibbons & Peter Kleponis, (2011). mercatornet.com/articles/view/abuse_allegations_true_false_and_truthy/.
  7. Robert Enright’s report on the Abel at www.priestlyhealing.com.
  8. Pope John Paul II (1992). I Will Give You Shepherds. St. Paul Books and Media.
Dr. Richard P. Fitzgibbons, MD About Dr. Richard P. Fitzgibbons, MD

BS from St. Joseph's University; MD from Temple University School of Medicine, Dept. of Psychiatry, Hospital of the University of Medicine, and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center.

Richard Fitzgibbons, MD, is the director of the Institute for Marital Healing, located outside Philadelphia, and has worked with hundreds of Catholic marriages and families over the past 40 years.

Over the past 38 years, Dr. Fitzgibbons has consulted with priests from many dioceses and religious communities. He has authored articles in The Priest on identifying and resolving emotional conflicts in priestly life and has given conferences on these topics in many dioceses. He coedited an issue of the Catholic Medical Association's Linacre Quarterly (August, 2011) on the crisis in the Church, and has served as a consultant to the Congregation for the Clergy. He coauthored Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, 2015, American Psychological Association Books. His website is www.PriestlyHealing.com.

Comments

  1. Michael Baker says:

    This report is important but also quite disturbing if priests are being targeted in this way the Church authority must put in place safeguards for those priest who are innocent of guilt

  2. Thank you for a very much needed response concerning accusations against priests. A concern of mine has always been the lack of ministry offered to accused priests by their diocese, religious superiors and us laity. While my heart aches for victims of priestly abuse as well as its affect on their spiritual life, there seems to be a lack of concern for the spiritual needs of accused priests and their eternal salvation. They too need to experience the mercy Jesus offers sinners. Do Bishops, other priests, religious or laity visit them when in prison? Pray for their souls and offer them ministry? Where can they attend Holy Mass and receive the Saraments without fear of being recognized and driven further away? I have witnessed an accused priest come to our parish for Sunday Mass and heard the “not so whisperd” comments as the pew emptied out. Are parishes to be places for sinners only among the laity? Are we not all sinners seeking a place where acceptance offers courage to change? It is the experience of God’s mercy that keeps me coming back, but for the very “recognizable” sinner, belief in a merciful Savior that offers healing and hope is not always apparent within our parish communities. Has Christ’s love been incarnated in my heart to love as He has loved me? The broken and sick of every vocation need fellowship lest they seek it in the wrong places as I have in the past? Is the Church not still a Mother who embraces sinner and saint alike? Do we speak ill or gossip about any priest? In a confessional line, I made a negative statement about a priest and I received a scoulding from a teenager, “Never say anything bad about a priest or anyone else. Pray for them instead”. (Talk about an appropriate humiliation and reminder!)
    Thanks for letting me ramble… All this just to thank you!

  3. It seems like a fine line when considering the victims background. I say this because abuse victims usually go on to be abuse victims; cycle continues. I realize you said unresolved anger at fathers but they can have both, anger at fathers and be an abuse victim. I say this because I know first hand of the victim being told that if X had not happened when they were younger they would have accepted (many advances of priest) as loving.
    I also do not agree about confronting the abuser as, if the above happens, that person and their family can be targeted by other priests in the diocese (targeted in that they are excluded from things, etc).
    I guess from personal experience I would have to humbly disagree on those points.

  4. Jon Consulta says:

    People who are familiar with the internal politics of many RC dioceses know that false accusations (the type that would not even merit any police attention) are maliciously perpetrated by powerful men in the organization itself as a weapon to justify immediate removal of priests they perceive as threats to their hegemony. Unfortunately, many priests who have been harassed this way do not have the desire or the capacity to wage protracted battles and just give up. Many church officials think that they are above the law — and the servile silence of the priest-victims guarantee them absolute control. Only by sending bishops and high diocesan officials to jail for their criminal actions would these power abusers know that they too, are answerable to the law of the land.

  5. Sine nomine says:

    A chilling reminder that no priest is safe.

    • Patricia Delgado says:

      A chilling reminder is that no priest is safe, is indeed a true statement. I thought this witchhunt was over for the most part, but, obviously, I was wrong. Several years ago, in Reno Nevada, a monsignor was accused by two senior woman, allegedly they were “abused” some forty years ago, in Kentucky. After 30 plus years, they came forward and said this retired cleric had abused them. Since I don’t live in Nevada, I wasn’t able to follow this case to it’s conclusion. So since silence reigned, I have to come to the conclusion, the Monsignor was found guilty. And, these two senior citizens were paid off, ( what they were after, to begin with) Here it is, many years later, and I venture to say, these women went on to spend their ill-gotten gains, at the expense of an innocent man. I do pray, I am wrong, in this assumption. But, since the archdiocese of Los Angeles, was almost bankrupted by all these accusations, false, or some, maybe true, the Church is too guick to pay off these money grubbing so called Catholics, who have dollar signs in their hearts, and eyes. Living in the Washington D.C., area, the liberal Washington Post, whenever accusations were made, against our priests, they, (the Post) saw to it, it was on the first page. There was a Baptist minister, during this witch hunt, accused of the same relationship with members of that congregation. That article was buried on page 18, or 19. I have no love for the Washington Post, but, this time, it stooped to it’s ;lowest level, of a “supermarket scandal, straight dope, nothing but the truth, so-called magazine.”. what is it, in the Roman Catholic Church, is it automatically guilty until maybe you will get a chance to defend yourself. I, for one, am sick of .the garbage. that is being thrown at my Church.

  6. An important new resource for everyone associated with the evaluation of accusations against priests is the chapter cited below by leading scholars who have done extensive research and writing in the area of memory recall and the development of false memories which is, as they cite, often influenced by questionable techniques used mental health professionals.

    Lynn, S. J., Krackow, E., Loftus, E. F., Lock, T. G., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2015). Constructing the past: Problematic memory recovery techniques in psychotherapy. In S. O. Lilienfeld, S. J. Lynn & J. M. Lohr (Eds.), Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology. Second Edition. New York: Guilford Press.

  7. The involvement of psychological and psychiatric sciences is key to addressing the issue of sexual abuse amongst clerics. Although this kind of abuse is heinous and deplorable, the actual statistical data regarding this issue proves that Catholic clergy are no more likely to be sexual predators than the general population.

    It is of great importance that the investigating officials for the Church do not allow their zeal for the truth to metastasize into a form of hysteria; a medieval witch hunt.

    There are considerable data pointing to actual physiological dysfunction in the brain of sexual predator as a causative agent.

    Hate the sin, not the sinner.

    • Will,

      The data in the John Jay reports strongly suggests that homosexual abuse of adolescent males is at the heart of the crisis. The psychological causes of homosexual attraction in men to adolescent males are presented in our article, Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Clergy, in the Catholic Medical Association’s Linacre Quarterly.

      DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/002436311803888276

      A number of well-designed studies have found that men with SSA (Same Sex Attractions)are more likely to have psychiatric and substance abuse disorders and STDs than heterosexual males, and are more likely to have a positive attitude to sexual relations between adult and adolescent males.

      Priests and seminarians with deep-seated homosexual tendencies have a serious responsibility to pursue self-knowledge, appropriate treatment and spiritual direction in order to protect adolescent males, in particular, and the Church from further damage.

  8. Don Breier says:

    This article shows the shortcomings and injustice of the Dallas Accord. Our Bishops, and laity, would be the first to scream foul if in civil law the same punishment would be meted out to one who stole a candy bar and one who committed murder. The Dallas Accord does just that. The Bishops, cornered by the media and public opinion, we’re ready to treat every accused one as “guilty” until by some miracle they could prove themselves innocent. We have priests in prison because of that mentality. There are so many flaws in the Accord that justice demands that they be revised to protect both priest and victim. Keeping the present solution and ignoring justice will make the Bishops answerable to the ultimate judge, God Himself. May He have more mercy on their souls than they are willing to extend to their brothers. Perhaps this mentality is part of the problem of the dearth of vocations. Who wants to serve under those who hold you so dispensable?

    • Sine nomine says:

      I think Mr. Brier hits the nail on the head with his observation concerning a dearth in vocations. Who indeed wants to serve in an institution which treats you as so dispensable?

  9. As a lay person with experience in the area of government complaint and grievance processes, I am greatly disturbed by the number of cases in which the diocese simply rolled over and settled, even when there was clearly reason to believe complaints were specious. These actions had a multiplier effect and brought forth even more unsubstantiated complaints. I would hope that not only have the complaint procedures been corrected but that previous injustices have been reviewed and remediated.

    • Michael Skiendzielewski says:

      Are you referring to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia regarding settling cases when there was reason to believe the complaints were specious? You refer to the “number of cases”……..how many are there? Where did you obtain this information regarding “settled cases”?

  10. Gary Westgeest says:

    Had no idea that a priest could not see the accusations against him. That is absolutely ridiculous. Who would possibly be crazy enough to get into a profession with that kind of basic unjust bias? And you’re wondering why there’s a shortage of priests?
    Also, I’m aware that the great majority of victims of priestly sexual abuse has been teenaged boys. You wouldn’t know that if you only listened to the media. But the Church has to be clear headed that, in fact, it is in her paramount interest to restrict the priesthood to males with a healthy heterosexual personality.
    But, please, let’s clear up this unjust treatment of priests. We don’t need more victims. Especially of malice or the imagination.

  11. Michael Skiendzielewski says:

    “…..task force be developed of American Catholic psychologists and psychiatrists to review the mental health evaluations of accused priests and the activities of the review boards….”

    Why just “American Catholic” professionals in the field of psychology and/or mental health? Also, what professional qualifications do such possess that enable them to review “the activities of the review boards”?

  12. Joe Keliher says:

    This is a very important article that deserves to be discussed in the lay press, not limited to a homiletics journal. I believe the article would have greater impact by decreasing its emphasis on the motives or psychological state of the accuser and increasing emphasis on the interpretation and process used to apply the Standards by the Church.

    The article gives one very important example of vague (or lack of) interpretation, i.e. what constitutes “Grooming Behavior”. There are other poorly defined standards that likewise need clarification.

    Mind of the accuser and the interpretation of Standards for Ministerial Behavior intersect in one critical sentence of the standards: Standard 3 Conduct with Children says: “Church Personnel … must also be vigilant to avoid the type of contact with children that could raise questions about the appropriateness of the contact, or which may lead to negative comments about the contact by reasonable people.“

    This standard allows the church to remove a priest from ministry if negative comments are made (or even “may” be made), regardless of whether the actions of the priest constitute any actual abuse or harm to child or adult.

    The mind of the accuser is difficult to know, impossible to “prove”, and it is not under the control of the Church. However, the Church does control the clarity of the Standards, their interpretation and application. The church could document the interpretation of the standards so that good priest are not banished due to persons with psychological conflicts who raise questions or make negative comments.

    To reflect this change of emphasis in the article, a better title would be something like “Application of Standards for Priests”. That is a less catchy than the current title, but more practical. The existing subtitle and opening paragraph are equally valid and appropriate for such a revised article. “Psychological science” needs to be applied to the value and methods that priests use to connect with children. Examples cited in your article are: “playing sports with youth on the school playground, being present to children as they were getting onto buses after school”. I believe those actions should be encouraged, but at present they are effectively discouraged because someone might make negative comments.

    I believe it is much easier to build public support behind improving the church’s interpretation and application of standards than it is to garner support for expanding the psychological investigation of persons who report priests for what they think is questionable behavior, i.e. make accusations.

  13. Also, Cardinal Avery Dulles’ important article on the rights of accused priests described 15 principles that would seem to be pertinent for a re-valuation of the Dallas charter.

    Cardinal Avery Dulles. (2004). Rights of Accused Priests: Toward a revision of the Dallas charter and the ‘Essential Norms’. America. June: 21-28.

  14. Thank you for this article! In as much as the revelations of 2002 were horrific and incomprehensible, the practices coming out of the Dallas Charter coupled with the demands of insurance agencies as regards the accused priest, the vetting of Church employees, and the instruction of children as purveyed in “safe environment” training are horrific and incomprehensible as well. The entire situation which should have resulted in a restoration of accountability and trust seems to have proposed a solution which simply proposes to make two classes of untouchables within the Church – her priests and the children. As regards current boundaries and the classification of “boundary violations”, I often wonder how holy priests such as St. Don Bosco and the Venerable Father Flanagan could have possibly ministered to male youth under the current charter.

  15. Joe,

    Thank you for your insights and recommendations.

    However, I believe that a just evaluation of priest is not possible when an anonymous accusation is made unless he knows who his accuser is.

    Anonymous accusations are not given credibility or accepted by state professional licensing boards and in the past they were not accepted by bishops or religious superiors. However, today an inexplicable change has occurred and they are accepted and even deemed credible. This injustice occurs even though it is not possible to evaluate the background of the accuser. Priests have the right to know who their accuser is and cannot adequately defend themselves without such knowledge.

    We have seen highly respected priests removed from ministry based on anonymous accusations and have their good names severely harmed by the public release of the actions of the diocese.

    Also, diocesan officials who refuse to examine the psychological science in regard to memory and false memories and who support anonymous accusations against priests should be removed from working in this area.

    In addition, Bishops and Religious superiors need a greater knowledge of the psychological science in regard to memory and false memory. The scholars who have done extensive research and writing in this area should be invited to address meetings of the USCCB and to give conferences in dioceses.

  16. Rose Lahrman says:

    Thank you Dr. Fitzgibbon! May your words reach the ears of the USCCB & the bishops of the diocese in the U.S. Your words are so clear and express what SO BADLY needs expressing. May God richly bless you for your work & your words! PS Thank you for your contribution you have made in your book as well.

  17. Very fine article , long over due. The Dallas Accord needs to be re done. Thanks

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