The recent petition of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington for Chapter 11 protection illustrates the real need for resolution in all of the cases throughout the Catholic Church of alleged sexual abuse by priests over the past decades. Remarkably most of the Catholic priests that have been suspended or removed from active ministry have never been charged with any criminal actions. What has seemingly happened is they have not only been denied their American constitutional rights of due process, they have also been denied any vehicle of explanation or defense of any of these alleged charges. Before anyone misunderstand this article, the author believes there are no circumstances that justify any form of sexual abuse on any level. However, the domino effect of these allegations has now caused our Catholic Dioceses to resort to litigation more in keeping with civil law, rather than principles that are inherent to the Gospel message.
Catholic faithful are quite exhausted with the prolonged banter of legalism that has preoccupied much of the past thirty years over this issue. The Catholic Church should propose to civil authorities that when a man is suspected of these sexual abuses, they should be charged by the civil authorities and allow the course of due process to take its course. While criminal charges against these clergy convey the real sense of gravity and urgency attached to this problematic issue of sexual abuse, they also indicate the transparency of the Catholic hierarchy to resolve the problem with the best appreciation of the American rule of law.
While, there is no suggestion there is a particular attempt to demonize only Catholic clergy with these abhorrent charges, the Church needs to work in conjunction with both canonical and civil law. The petition of the various dioceses in the United States of resorting to bankruptcy protection only exacerbates the divisive effects placed on both clergy and faithful Catholics. The secular holdings of the Catholic Church should not be used as the judicial pawn of bishops and barristers. These parishes, schools, hospitals et cetera are held in trust for the Catholic faithful and the development of the Catholic sacramental and evangelical mission to the world. When the Catholic hierarchy resorts to the extremism of bankruptcy protection, it suggests quite honestly that there is still a conspiracy of collusion that continues among the American Catholic hierarchy. It does not solve the issue, it doesnâ€™t promote reconciliation and it only perpetuates the allegations of an institutional cover-up by the Catholic Church.
Allegations against clergy should be investigated by both Church and Civil authorities to the fullest extent possible under our process of juris prudence. Catholic authorities need to ask very fundamental questions regarding the process of discernment used in regards to calling men to Holy Orders. More importantly, the American Catholic Church needs to take a strong view of the total lifestyle of priestly ministry and resolve to make drastic changes in the manner in which priestsâ€™ minister on all levels. These men have devoted their lives through many years of educational studies and preparations in order to lead the Catholic parish community in Word and Sacrament. The Catholic Church should at the very least provide a multilevel of balances to assure the priestâ€™s entrusted with sacramental ministry are well rounded, happy and challenged by their ministry.
The use of the assets of the Church to as settlement in lieu of criminal prosecution needs to end immediately. Since the issue of trustees has plagued the Catholic Church in America since the 19th century, the faithful need to proactively engage in dialogues that protect the Churchâ€™s assets and provide for the appropriate management of Church assets by the Catholic hierarchy. Bishops traditionally are both the civil and canonical heads of dioceses in the United States. It appears this role is no longer a viable mode of operations regarding the Catholic secular assets. It is time for those educated and proficient in parish plant management work with the clergy to guide and determine the everyday running of the Catholic complexes.
The petition of bankruptcy protection by any Catholic entity should always be the last resort for a Catholic bishop. It protects the tangible assets of the Catholic Church against potential seizure of Church property by one charging clergy with sexual abuse. The charges against Catholic clergy need to be substantiated with empirical proof that goes beyond just allegations. Seemingly the civil authorities need to present objective and clear criminal charges, which will either exonerate or convict the members of the clergy that have been charged with these heinous offenses against young people. The American precept of innocence until proven guilty needs to be extended to all of the Catholic clergy that have been accused of misconduct. Anything less undermines both civil and church laws designed to objectively extricate the entire sequence of events.
Of course always and everywhere the concept of truth needs to guide the entire process of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. When the Catholic hierarchy resolves to pursue the truth only then will the spirit of reconciliation prevail over this terrible period in American Catholic Church history. Catholics need to demand total transparency from our American Bishops along with an assurance of changes that will enhance the Catholic mission and preserve the integrity of the Catholic priesthood in theology and its clergy.
Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist writing on Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://nothing-left-unsaid.blogspot.com . Hugh writes about his Irish Catholic upbringing and educational experiences at http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com . He has contributed works to Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, The Irish Catholic, Dublin, the British Broadcasting Company, London and the Philadelphia Bulletin, Pewsitter.com, Blogger News Network & The Catholic Business Journal and Wilmington Examiner.