An Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church

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.


 

Dear Bishops,

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

Comments

  1. Deacon Dave Norman says:

    Thank you, Carole, for a great letter. I too am distressed by the arbitrary punishment imposed by the Dallas Charter on those who have been accused…BY ANYONE, but, it seems mostly by those who have a history of accusations and settlements. The huge injustice that is wrought by the greedy accusers and their attendant lawyers is that when the charges are dropped, thrown out or otherwise disposed of, the priest is left out in the cold with no legal or canonical way to return to ministry absent a pastoral and humble prelate who is willing to reach out and return him to ministry. If the charges are proven, the perpetrator deserves punishment and the opportunity to rehabilitate; but if the accuser fails, or the courts disallow the case, or if the accused is found not guilty, his tribulation goes on.
    I second your demand of the Bishops 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.”
    Thank you again for your courage and character.
    Deacon Dave

  2. Deacon Dave says:

    Amen to Carole Anne’s letter

  3. Teresa Schneider says:

    Carole, you have some insights that I believe are inspired. The bishops simply did not know what they were doing when they defined “zero tolerance”. Too many priests unjustly suffered. At the very least, something needs to be done to take care of them while it is being determined if an accusation is credible. Where I disagree is with your assertion that priests who ARE guilty of abuse could be left in ministry. Abuse is not only a crime but is morally reprehensible. Abuse by a priest leaves a life of pain – deep, undescribable, agonizing pain that has caused people to take their life. These men should not be allowed the honor to preside at the altar of God. Period. Ours is a God of great mercy, but in whom much is entrusted much is required. Grave offenses require grave consequences. If an abusive priest were to continue to be entrusted with his faculties, and he abused again (as often they do), how horrible would that be? Another life ruined by a representative of the Church and God. In addition, if left in ministry he could easily leave a nursing home type position and befriend children elsewhere. Another point: if a priest has a “consentual” relationship, he has a predisposition to breaking his promise of celibacy. Perhaps HE is the one who should work in the nursing home. I love my priests, and I love my Church. The Church is so deeply wounded when a priest does not act like a priest. It is a high calling. When he abuses, he gravely violates that sacred call and there must be consequences.

    • Carole Anne M Andrzejewski says:

      Anyone- priest or otherwise, is innocent until proven guilty. Removing someone from ministry before they are proven guilty – is wrong. If they are kept in ministry there is much more chance for oversight than if they are simply released from service If you read my letter again I am speaking of those who have not been charged or convicted. ( And I say at least twice that those who are guilty must be punished) Just because a priest has been accused – does not mean he has actually done anything. It simply means that someone said they did something, or as I was reading today….that someone else did something.( In this instance http://www.themediareport.com/2015/03/16/cardinal-omalley-revere-school-hysteria/ someone reported that a child was uncomfortable seeing a janitor using a urinal in a student bathroom – so the priest, the principal and the second grade teacher ( the last two were female) were all fired There was not even an allegation of impropriety! )
      Anyone not in custody can befriend children, anywhere, at any time, putting someone in a position where they have less chance of being alone with a child but still have ample ways to serve, and have many people around is actually safer than having them not have jobs, and have no supervision. Especially for those merely accused and not charged/convicted.
      As far as a priest being predisposed to breaking his vows and therefore they should not be allowed in a parish again, I vehemently disagree. Time off, counseling and a good deal of discernment, but for those who are called to return to the priesthood, they can be very effective in another parish.
      I don’t think you realize that even those priests who are convicted can still say Mass, and do…they do it privately – not in a parish- but they cannot be denied that due to their ordination. They can even do it in prison, if they can get a “Mass kit.” That is not going to change- you can strip a teacher of a license to teach, striping a priest of the right to say Mass is something only the Pope can do. Sending a priest who has been accused to a nursing home or other post ensure the priest’s vocation is used, he is assured of a position until his guilt/innocence is determined and he is removed from his parish where he had the opportunity to befriend kids- as you put it.
      However, many priests who are accused are accused either with little to no proof or so many years after they cannot be charged- and therefore cannot clear their names ( or are told not to defend themselves), others are not even told what they are accused of!
      As far as recidivism goes- yes, among actual offenders there is a high instance of this- however in the case of the priest scandal – it is just as frequent that people make false accusations against priests to jump on the payout wagon. Sometimes the accusations are made by people who never even knew the priest they are accusing!
      Please read David F. Pierre Jr’s two books about this. They will be eye–opening as to what happens in many more cases than we want to admit.

  4. A great letter. I am a civil attorney but I have been friends with several priests over the years and have tried to help them with their cases–one of which was returned to ministry when the accused past activities and his past actions & the statement that “all I want out of this is a new pick up truck” was his undoing.
    This is one of several in which I have tried to help the accused priest over the years.. These 10-20 year old cases are hard to prove as to innocence.

    The real problem is the Church denies the accused priest basic due process given to an accused from any jurisdiction. For example, the basic right to know the date time & place of the offense, the right to confront & cross examine their accuser, discovery rights & the right to a fair trial ‘& a decision as to reasons why they are found not guilty-not to mention a fair appeal. In short, by any standard, the Church Court is a kangaroo court. Pete Dazzio

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