The following letter was sent in by a reader in response to several articles on HPR, like “Sacrificing Priests on the Altar of Insurance” and “Accusations against Priests: The Need for More Justice and Psychological Science”. As with all letters, the letter-writer’s views are her own, and not necessarily those of HPR.
I write you today because I am tired. Tired of seeing priests destroyed by unsubstantiated accusations of a sexual nature. The Dallas Charter is a travesty that treats priests, religious and laity as disposable, making no distinction between proven and unproven allegation, strips the accused of their Canonical and civil rights and allows anyone who has a grudge to destroy a fellow human being.
Bishops, priests are supposedly your sons. Yet for years you’ve sacrificed your sons—and our Fathers—on the altar of public opinion and the wants of insurance companies, rather than caring about actual justice for both the accused and the accuser.
Yes, we have to make sure no one is abused; however, “no one” should also include our priests. There are many cases, as I am sure you are aware, of priests being removed without any due process—none at all. I personally know of one priest who was accused of something that does not even measure up to a misdemeanor charge (not even as serious as a parking ticket) but he was removed and has spent almost 4 years in limbo. He has endured slander and the loss of his ministry—with no way to defend himself! In fact, he has been told not to defend himself. Yet when even the police declined to charge him with anything, he was still not reinstated to any type of ministry and has been discarded like so much refuse. This, according Cannon Law, is in direct opposition to Canon 221.
This was a grave abuse of his rights both under civil law and more importantly his rights under Canon Law. Further reading of Canon law shows that a person is entitled to his good name under Canon 1717. This instant removal of priests, religious, and laity denies them this right; the orders not to defend themselves further deny them their right to a good name. There are many such cases; indeed there are books full of them, and an organization dedicated to helping priests deal with these difficulties.
Further, in the case of priests, they are denied not only their good name, but often decent housing, financial support, and often the emotional support of port of their so called “brother priests”. These priests are also stripped of the love and support of their parishes, which is damaging to both priest and parishioner.
I am a supporter of Opus Bono Sacerdotii. It breaks my heart to read the stories of the priests they support. Again, while some of the priests they represent are guilty (and should be punished after due process) many are not. Some are not even accused of anything more than breaking their vows with a consenting adult. But all of them, guilty or not, are put in the same file and forced out of service. Rarely are they returned to ministry. As a Catholic, I deplore this treatment of anyone, especially my priests; and to me, they are all “my” priests.
The Dallas Charter needs to be scrapped, and something new that protects the rights of all needs to be implemented; something that provides for the return to ministry as soon as possible for those who are accused (not: well, you can’t prove you didn’t do it, so you’re gone forever). If a Bishop is truly concerned that a priest, religious, or lay person is capable of doing something chargeable and they have substantial proof . . . remove them from ministry and put them in something else (i.e., work at the Chanceries, or Diocesan Archives, translating documents, etc.). If a priest is in a consensual relationship with an adult, counsel them and remove them to a new parish. If the issue is that they are accused of abusing a child, it does get harder, but surely these priests can be allowed to minster in another capacity, perhaps in a way that does not allow them to be alone with a child—perhaps in a nursing home or in another capacity. Perhaps they could be moved to having smaller Masses for specific groups—and, make no mistake, there are many groups that would benefit from a smaller, quieter, less overwhelming Mass. (Think folks with PTSD, who cannot be touched and get “spooked” at the passing of the peace, or people with certain disabilities who “overload” in large groups, and so forth. And, yes, I fall into one of those groups who would benefit from something like this.)
There is no reason for anyone to be tossed aside—and left without a ministry—unless they are in prison after being tried and convicted.
I cannot stress enough how much it hurts me as a Catholic to see my church treating her sons, daughters, and priests as if they were commodities to be used up and tossed aside as soon as there is any hint of a problem. Therefore, I am asking you to tell me what I can do to protect those who have not been accused, help those who have been and return those who are innocent to ministry. I also want you to know that I expect and demand that you do everything you can to accomplish the same goals.
Yours in Christ,
Carole Anne M. Andrzejewski