Thursday, October 10, 2013
Thoughts on Recent Scandals
I write this with a heavy heart, having in mind the scandals going on in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis and the Diocese of Duluth. As a young priest, I would like to some thoughts I have been having recently.
First—this sucks. In the last year and a half I have already gone through many difficult pastoral situations—counseling men and women at death’s door, receiving a call to visit a family whose middle-age daughter died unexpectedly, funeral for an infant, etc. This situation has caused me the greatest pain and it is all overwhelming.
The events in the Archdiocese, with the possibility of mishandling procedures, is especially challenging. Fr. Peter Laird, the former Vicar General for the Archdiocese, is a role model in my life and he served as my formation director for a year and a half while I attended St. Paul Seminary. He also taught one of my favorite courses in my academic formation. Jennifer Haselberger, the former Chancellor for the Archdiocese who made the story public, is a woman I also respect. In her visits to the St. Paul Seminary to teach us Canonical and procedural issues I was inspired by her desire for holiness, intelligence and straightforwardness. While I do not know all the facts, it seems that something went amiss in the Archdiocese in the reporting of sexual misconduct and that grieves me.
The case in Duluth with Fr. Con Kelleher is sad as well. This is a beloved priest who spent over forty years serving our Diocese and local church well. He is a man revered and held in high esteem by the presbyterate. Again, I do not have all the facts, and do not know exactly what happened, when it happened, where it happened or how it happened. But from talking to priests in our Diocese it seems Fr. Con’s “credible accusation”—if it occurred at all, is much different. He was a man of deep prayer who guided his parishioners into spiritual depth and holiness. He prayed the breviary. He was in a priest support group. The signs as I read them point not to a predator who preyed on the innocent but an alleged single act of less grave wrongdoing.
The Diocese of Duluth has “signed on” with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2002 Dallas Charter and thus adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards clergy misdeeds. One credible accusation leads to a dismissal from active ministry—no clerics, no being addressed as “Father”, no administering the Sacraments publicly. This is an obvious step dealing with a predator of the innocent, but causes concern for many priests. All misdeeds are treated the same—a priest who sexually harasses someone (which is obviously horrible) is treated the same as someone who repeatedly acted in the most egregious ways.
Personally, I think the trauma of priest abuse and the way many situations were mishandled in the past has forced us to adopt such a zero-tolerance policy. At the same time it is odd that a priest, who has given his life to be a bridge to God’s mercy and forgiveness, may not be afforded the same mercy or second chance in his job. I am no way saying a predator should get a second chance or that a priest’s rights trump childrens’. What I do wonder is how to best respond to a priest who may have crossed a boundary decades ago and has since lived an exemplary life in the priesthood. Our judicial system says, “Innocent until proven guilty.” When it comes to priests, though, it seems like the reverse is true.
I do not have all the answers here. Responding to allegations is a complex situation in which the wishes of the victim, rights of a priest priest, Canon Law and Dallas Charter must all be taken into account. I do not envy our Church leaders for the decisions they have to make, especially in non-predatorial situations.
I can say this—Bishop Paul Sirba is one of the holiest men I have ever met. I can affirm that if mistakes have been made in the Diocese of Duluth regarding Fr. Kelleher’s case it was not due to a coverup or impure motives. Bishop is grieved by this whole thing as well and wants to do the right thing for the glory of God.
And I do know, that despite confusion and hurt we must pray. We must pray for innocent victims who have been hurt by criminals. We must pray for our Church leaders, that they may respond to allegations swiftly, prudently and transparently. And I would personally ask for your prayers for priests. In many ways we are sitting ducks and each of us is one false accusation away from life taking a quick turn for the worse.
Finally, I want to thank the men and women in our law enforcement and judicial system who have worked with the Church to ensure our civil laws focus on the good of society. If you or a loved one has ever been hurt or abused by a priest or anyone else, please have the courage to call them immediately. Christ is our light, and it is my prayer that we bring even the darkest of human sins into this light that he may radiate his love and mercy.