By the AUSCP Mutual Support Working Group
This is the second installment of “Why we want priests to understand their rights.” 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. This series of three short articles 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 the thwarting of due process by the bishops.
While victim reports of non-cooperating bishops have significantly lessened since the media exposure, the situation is quite different for priests. When an accusation is made against a priest, bishops and religious superiors are likely to instantly accept it as credible. The imposition of penalties even before fully investigating the claims is common. Accused priests often have their names published, they are sometimes removed from the rectory, and often further communication with the bishop is denied. They are left on their own. While this knee-jerk reaction can appease some people, it ignores the priest’s own rights and human dignity. In the absence of an investigation, the priest is still innocent until found guilty. It is only after an investigation, which determined the accusation credible, can the priest be censured according to canon law and civil law.
Not all priests accused are guilty. Although they are usually resolved within a reasonable length of time, some have dragged on for 5, 10, or 15 years. The Media Report (www.mediareport.com) reported in October 2021, that “the Archdiocese of Boston – arguably the most publicly transparent with regards to accused priests – has published the names of 61 priests who have been determined guilty of abuse by either canonical or civil proceedings. Yet it has also concluded that 38 priests have been falsely accused. In other words, nearly 40 percent (38.4%) of accused priests in Boston are determined innocent after a complete investigation.”
The manner in which innocent priests are treated throughout dioceses in the United States is rather uneven. These priests live in ‘limbo’ because bishops refuse to return them to ministry even though there is no credible allegation. The rights of these priests too are denied and justice ignored. It is reported that some priests go without pay or provided residence until the case is settled. Some bishops engage in foot-dragging tactics, stripping the accused of canonical rights, stating facts that are erroneous, or attempting to laicize a priest without any substantial proof of wrongdoing. Without due process, priests, who were charged with an accusation that has been found non-credible, could be restricted from ministry without just cause. When this behavior occurs, it reflects the bishops’ unfaithfulness to the due process that is fitting and proper.
So how does one protect against having due process rights denied? This will be explored in the next e-newsletter.
-jim musumeci IVDei