Monday, March 15, 2010

Accused Priests vs. Accused Bishops: the Double Standard

I received an email today from Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a group that assists priests accused of sexual abuse, with a sad story from an accused priest. Here's a portion of what the priest wrote:
I had a surprise visit to my Parish office by two Officials from the Chancery, the Vicar for Priests and a Canon Lawyer (who happens to be a classmate of mine). They asked to see me privately and I was extremely nervous because of their attitude and demeanor. When the three of us were alone, they proceeded to tell me that a “credible allegation of sexual abuse” was made against me and that I had an hour to pack a bag and to come with them. Few details were given to me when I asked.

They mentioned a name which I never heard of before and that this “victim” was deceased. His widow and attorney came to the Diocese to bring this supposed abuse to their attention. This was to have occurred some thirty years ago.... I discovered later that the Diocese had already sent out a “Fax Blast” concerning my removal. After the press and media extensively exposed my ‘credible allegation of sexual abuse’ for two days, I found myself living in a hellish nightmare. After some two or three weeks later, the same two Officials called me to another meeting and informed me that another “victim” came forth after the public disclosure to make a second allegation against me. (And I had thought that life could not have possibly gotten any worse.)

As God as my witness, I swear as I swore on a Bible before the Diocesan Officials, these allegations are totally and completely untrue. My mind and my soul are bruised, beaten and trampled down. My parishioners are most supportive but I am not permitted to visit them and I cannot afford to call them by telephone.... I suffer panic attacks, acute anxiety and severe depression. Worst of all, there is nobody that can really understand or share this onerous burden that I bear.

I am in financial ruin ‘to put the icing on the cake’. I have exhausted my life savings trying to pay monthly expenses....

Even when the day for my exoneration and restoration does come, I have already seen the future. There is none. Two weeks ago a fellow priest of our Diocese was accused of sexual misconduct which allegedly occurred forty years prior, was exonerated and was officially assigned to serve ‘in restricted ministry’ at a convent motherhouse. When the media got hold of his new assignment, the public outcry that a ‘priest, accused of credible sexual abuse’ would be assigned to an area which had schools and day-care centers nearby, our bishop, bowing to “public pressure and shepherdly concern” reversed and revoked his Official assignment the very next day, not even twenty-four hours had elapsed.

Now I have abandoned all hope. I do not know where to turn for help, for someone who understands. I am ashamed. I am alone....
Consider the treatment of this priest, presumed guilty from a thirty year old allegation. And what exactly constitutes a "credible allegation?" If he's guilty where is the proof? Apparently the accusation constituted proof for this bishop. What recourse does the priest have?
Now consider the case of an accused bishop. This comes from a 2003 three webpage from SNAP:

San Diego – Bishop Robert Brom was accused of coercing a student into a sexual relationship at a seminary in Minnesota, where he once was rector and later headed the Diocese of Duluth. Church officials acknowledged multiple settlements to seminarians as a result of abuse allegations involving other members of the hierarchy and priests but deny the validity of the claims. Brom paid a confidential settlement (reported to be $85,000.00) to his accuser, who agreed to retract his claim against Brom. Brom has stated the pay out was "minimal insurance" to help his accuser of getting on with his life. The deal was reached in 1993 but didn't become public until this spring. Bishop Brom continues to deny wrongdoing and remains on the job.

SNAP isn't the only recorder of Brom's sexual abuse. In her book The Rite of Sodomy, researcher Randy Engel, quotes from a nuisance lawsuit the diocese of San Diego filed against investigative reporter Robert Kumpel of San Diego News Notes.

In his sworn statement of March 12, 2002, [Mark] Brooks [a seminarian dismissed for blowing the whistle on homosexuality at St. Francis Seminary in San Diego and Bishop Brom in particular] mentioned publicly for the first time that he had spoken by phone with a former seminarian from Immaculate Heart Seminary in Winona named Jeffrey Maras, who confirmed that while Bishop of Duluth, Brom had coerced him into a four-year sexual relationship. Maras told Brooks that he could identify Brom from the markings on his privates. Maras, desperately in need of money, agreed to enter into a confidential financial settlement with Brom in exchange for a fraudulent 'retraction letter' that he was forced to write as a condtion for receing financial compensation from the bishop. (Rite of Sodomy p. 857-58)

Engel reports another affirmation of Brom's sex abuse quoting Msgr. Michael Higgins, a former canon lawyer from the Diocese of San Diego who operates the group, Justice for Priests and Deacons. In an April 22, 1999 letter to Pope John Paul II, Msgr. Higgins wrote. "It is a matter of public record...that the Bishop of San Diego, Robert Brom, has himself been charged with grave sexual behavior and has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of diocesan funds in attorneys' fees and damages to escape the consequences of that miisconduct...and was given a promotion to the Diocese of San Diego when the full extent of his digsuting and immoral behavior was already known."

So let's get this straight. A priest is accused and is immediately suspended, everyone in the known world is notified of the allegation, and the priest is hung out to dry. He is presumed guilty and must prove his innocence, paying for his defense himself. On the other hand, a bishop is accused, keeps the accusation secret, pays out tens of thousands in hush money to his accuser from diocesan funds, not to mention countless bucks to lawyers and public relations folks, and continues on the job.


When the bishops developed their sex abuse policy in Dallas in 2002 they excused themselves from its coverage. No "one strike and you're out" policy for the bishops. How many innocent priests have been caught up in spurious accusations? Certainly there are plenty of guilty men, and most bishops covered up for them and moved them around from one diocese to another. But how many priests with one twenty or thirty-year-old allegation are victims of a witch hunt? How many have been presumed guilty with little evidence from a so-called "credible allegation" who, even when exonerated, are deep-sixed by their bishops because of public outcry?

The situation is beyond shameful and is one more scandal against the bishops of the United States, most of whom are experts illusionists with their smoke and mirrors. Perhaps the most shocking thing is the way they cover for one another and scapegoat the priests under them and even the laity through their sex abuse and safe-touch policies. It is all about protecting the bishops and the assets. As for their souls, they apparently don't come into the equation.

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