For the past two years the Mutual Support Committee of the AUSCP (Association of United States Catholic Priests) has focused much effort to inform clerics of their canonical and civil rights when accused of misconduct. We wish to remind priests of this important initiative and provide a context to better understand our actions. Over the next three issues we will explore three themes to help contextualize our efforts: due process, the thwarting of that right, and the seeking of remedies when due process is denied. Today’s article will focus on due process.
Due process means that laws must be applied fairly and equally to all people. It is not to judge whether someone is guilty or not. That is the responsibility of the civic and canonical courts. All people of God should be aware of their rights, victims as well as those accused. Further, there are established legal, moral and philosophical injunctions, both within American jurisprudence and Canon Law, against punishing innocent people. Although this is applicable to a myriad of situations, our focus here is on sexual abuse. In this regard, the Church is compelled to address child abuse and also to free the innocent, prevent wrongful convictions, and create fair, compassionate, and equitable systems of justice for everyone.
For example, reports indicate more than 20,000 children have been abused. They are the innocents. For years their complaints were dismissed, ignored, or became part of the institutional church’s secrecy. Their rights of due process to be heard, access to justice and redress for the negative effects of the abuse in form of restitution and compensation were not fully realized.
Due process rights of all priests, innocent or guilty, is as well an issue of justice, not a lessening of compassion for victims of any kind. The priest, too, has a right to be heard, have access to justice, and, if innocent, have redress for the negative effects of a false accusation.
Regardless of the crime no person should ever be denied their right to a fair and just hearing of the evidence. No person found innocent should be denied justice or be falsely sentenced. This should not occur in our society nor in the church, yet a thwarting of due process has occurred and continues to occur in the church, regardless of canon law’s prohibition of such practice.
The history of the abuse scandal include parallel stories of victims encounter with a Bishop or other church official to reporting an abuse.
- ‘I witnessed a church acting in denial and deception at the peril of so many innocent, trusting children.’
- ‘The Bishops seem to be trying to figure out how to get the victim to remain silent and go away.’
- ‘They played a game of moving and transferring abusive priests from one parish to another.’
- ‘They didn’t seem to understand or care about children you had trusted and suffered.’
- ‘The chancery seemed to listen more to the advice of their lawyers than care for children who were harmed.’
- ‘The bishops tried to avoid scandal at all costs, and engaged in a cover-up that in effect created a scandal of their own making.’
These behaviors eroded trust and faith of victims in the Church. A betrayal compounded when the church considered them as liabilities, dishonesty, or just seeking money. An erosion of trust also results from stories which reflect some bishops’ unfaithfulness to a due process that was fitting and proper.
The bishops’ unfaithfulness to due process affected many victims in the sexual abuse scandal. This thwarting of due process has also affected priests and will be discussed in the next issue.
-jim musumeci IVDei