dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Where does the buck stop in the Archdiocese of Newark?

An Archdiocese of Newark pastor will be stepping down at the end of the month, after parishioners at St. Joseph's Church complained that an accused priest had been living in the rectory, just across the street from the parish elementary school. The accused priest, Fr. Robert Chabak, was removed from ministry in 2004, after the archdiocese determined that he had been credibly accused of molesting a boy over a period of three years in the 1970s (he was never charged because the statute of limitation had run). After Superstorm Sandy damaged Chabak's home, Mark Mueller reports, "the archdiocese allowed him to take up residence at St. Joseph 'out of a sense of compassion,' said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers." Parishioners were not informed of Chabak's background. When several of them protested, Chabak, sixty-six, was moved to a retirement home. Why it was insufficiently compassionate to put him there first remains unclear. But what is clear is the frustration of Newark Catholic parents. Because when it comes to dealing with accused priests, their diocese is doing it wrong. 

Remember the disturbing case of Fr. Michael Fugee, the Newark priest who in 2001 admitted to molesting a minor before recanting the confession two years later (he just wanted to go home, he explained)? The judge found the confession "totally voluntary," and apparently the jury agreed, because Fugee was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual contact--only to have the conviction overturned on a technicality (the jury may have been prejudiced by Fugee's statements about his sexuality). Rather than face retrial, Fugee signed--as did the archdiocese--a legal agreement promising that he would undergo therapy for sex offenders and never "work in any position in which children are involved" (including "involvement with a youth group" and hearing "confessions of children").

Fugee was later found to have been working with youth groups and hearing the confessions of children--as recently as September 2012. He was also serving as a chaplain at St. Michael's Medical Center, an appointment Archbishop Myers made without informing hospital administration of Fugee's background.  In a February letter to his priests, Myers wrote that "the recommendations of the county prosecutor regarding Fr. Fugee's...future assignments in ministry carried great weight. We have followed those recommendations fully." 

After news broke about Fugee's work with children, Myers--through his spokesman--struggled to keep his story straight. First he claimed Fugee never violated the agreement. You see, the "memorandum of understanding" says Fugee can have no unsupervised contact with minors. Ignoring the part of the agreement that rules out hearing "confessions of children," Myers's spokesman explained that even while Fugee was hearing kids' confessions, supervisors were nearby. "He has done nothing wrong," Goodness told the Star-Ledger in late April. That makes it sound like the archdiocese approved of that behavior. But just a few days later, on May 2, the archdiocese did a 180: "[Fugee] engaged in activities that the archdiocese was not aware of and that were not approved by us, and we would never have approved them because they are all in conflict with the memorandum of understanding," according to Goodness. So the archdiocese was not aware of Fugee's work as confessor to minors, but it did know that when he heard kids' confessions he was being supervised? Then on May 22, after Fugee had been arraigned on seven counts of judicial contempt for violating the memorandum of understanding, the archdiocese issued another statement, this one sounding a different tone: 

When the Archdiocese learned of Father Fugee’s violation of certain of its protocols during his off-hours, he was informed there would be significant consequences. Nothing is more sacred than the welfare of our children.  We are in the process of taking steps to ensure that, as much as humanly possible, this type of thing cannot happen again.

So Archbishop Myers went from denying Fugee had done anything wrong to admitting that he "may have violated a lifetime ban on ministry to minors" over the course of about three weeks. 

Was Fugee informed of these serious consequences before or after Archbishop Myers's spokesman defended his hearing kids' confessions? And what is this type of thing, exactly? A priest confessing to the police that he molested a minor, then taking it back, then being convicted of the crime, then having it overturned, then entering into an agreement that sounds a lot like an admission of guilt? This isn't exactly what the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had in mind when it ratified its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002--a year before Fugee was convicted--which holds that a priest must be permanantly taken out of ministry for a even single act of sexual abuse of a minor that has been "admitted or established." (Myers helped draft it.) The bishops didn't foresee the Fugee maneuver. But is it really so difficult to comprehend the plain English of the memorandum of understanding? No work in any position in which children are involved. Fugee's assignment as a hospital chaplain was A-OK, according to Myers's spokesman, "because there are no pediatric services" at the facility. Has Archbishop Myers ever been to a hospital? Children have been known to visit sick relatives. 

Similarly skewed reasoning landed Myers in hot water again in the Chabak case. The archdiocese reportedly approved his move to a parish with an elementary school "out of a sense of compassion." But compassion for whom? The priest who had been removed from ministry in 2004 because the archbishop believed he had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor. Did no one think that it might be wiser to bypass the risk of scandal--and the risk to children--and put Chabak in a retirement home in the first place? 

The Chabak case bears another striking resemblance to Fugee's: Someone other than the archbishop took the blame. The pastor of the parish where Chabak had been residing will lose his post come August. Yes, he and Chabak are friends (voting records show they resided at Chabak's house). But the archdiocese reportedly knew about Chabak's new digs and didn't sack anyone until parishioners started making noise. Likewise, until the Star-Ledger began reporting on Fugee's kid-proximate ministrations, the archdiocese was content with his assignment as a hospital chaplain. (Although, again, the archdiocese did not think it necessary to let the hospital administration in on Fugee's past.) Once it became clear that the story wasn't going away, Archbishop Myers took action--by firing his vicar general, Msgr. John Doran. It was Doran, not Myers, who signed the memorandum of understanding as a representative of the Archdiocese of Newark. 

Doran's replacement, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, allegedly failed to act on a mother's complaint that a priest had sexually abused her twin sons. Spokesman Jim Goodness told the Jersey Journal that the archdiocese had "immediately" forwarded her allegations to prosecutors in Bergen and Essex Counties, yet the Essex prosecutor had no record of the complaint. "Maybe they lost them," Goodness said. "I will resend." That was last month. The mother says she came forward four years ago. "We have acted appropriately here in this matter, as we do consistently," Goodness told the Journal. The archdiocese has an agreement with the state attorney general to forward all allegations to county prosecutors. "Every one of the prosecutors with whom we deal...knows that the archdiocese reports accusations as soon as we receive them," Myers wrote in May. Apparently without verifying receipt.

In that February letter to priests, Myers complained that the media hadn't been presenting a full account of the facts related to Fugee and the way the archdiocese has handled abuse allegations. But without the work of the press, would Newark Catholics have any idea about Fugee's ministry to minors? Would they know that the archdiocese had allowed an accused priest who was removed from ministry nearly ten years ago to reside at a parish with an elementary school?

Would they have learned that in 2004, as reported by the Star-Ledger, the archdiocese wrote letters to six dioceses in Florida about a priest who had been accused of breaking into a woman's home and possibly "having physical contact with her"--without mentioning the accusation? Fr. Wladyslaw Gorak was on medical leave, the letters said, but "continues to enjoy the faculties of the Archdiocese of Newark"? (He later pleaded guilty to assault.)

Would parishioners have learned that Fr. Daniel Medina had admitted to "inappropriately plac[ing] a young boy on [his] lap"? The Archdiocese of Newark did not inform Medina's parishioners when he pleaded guilty in 2006. Nor did it alert parishioners the following year, when the review board decided that the accusation was credible (right on schedule). Nor did it warn parishioners in 2008, when the archdiocese lost track of Medina. Instead, the archbishop alerted his brother bishops that Medina was missing and was barred from ministry. The only reason Medina's former parishioners found out about him was that SNAP got hold of the alert Myers sent the bishops. The Star-Ledger reported that too.

Archbishop Myers wants his people to believe that "the archdiocese has an exemplary record of addressing allegations against our clergy." He "want[s] our procedures to be among the strictest in the entire Catholic Church." He tells Newark Catholics that "we also have strong policies and procedures in place to ensure that our very strict protocols are followed." But they aren't. If they had been, Fugee never would have been assigned to a hospital--with or without pediatric services. He never would have been in possession of a card he could produce for reporters--or parishes, or retreat centers--naming him a priest "in good standing." Fr. Chabak never would have been allowed to sleep at a parish across the street from its elementary school. The archdiocese wouldn't send vaguely supportive-sounding letters to another diocese about a priest they knew had been accused of breaking into a woman's home and possibly assaulting her. Nor would it keep a priest's guilty plea from his parishioners for years.

These may be lapses in policy. But more than that they are lapses in judgment, failures of culture. If your bishop is asked by an attorney whether he recalls that one of his priests admitted to groping a child, and his response is, "Unfortunately, without his lawyer present, he did," he probably needs to be reminded what happened to the church in 2002. (Of course, if that bishop was one of the drafters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' new and improved sexual-abuse policy, you may wonder whether there is a deeper problem.) 

But even if leaders of the Archdiocese of Newark struggle to see why Catholic parents are worried about their oversight of abusive priests, there is another compelling reason to straighten up: fiduciary responsibility. California is facing another bill that would relax the statute of limitations, and expose the Catholic Church to more lawsuits. That could revive a bill that would expand New Jersey's statute of limitations on sexual-abuse lawsuits, which stalled last year. I can't imagine the possibility doesn't weigh on the minds of New Jersey's bishops. 

"This is among the most sacred responsibilities that I share with the other honorable, dedicated clergy within our archdiocese," Archbishop Myers wrote in May. What does the archbishop believe taking responsibility means? Firing his vicar for clergy when the public learns a priest who shouldn't have been ministering to minors was freely doing so? It may be the case that Myers did not know how his underlings were handling or mishandling accused priests, but that too is a failure of leadership. And, ten years after Dallas, a cause for scandal.

(I'm grateful to Mark Silk for keeping track of the Fugee case. Archdiocese of Newark spokesman Jim Goodness did not reply to my request for comment.)

Topics: 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

It seems that the law and obligation is pretty clear in the Fugee case but I am not so sure about Chabak. Are authorities obligated to notify the public when anybody accused or even convicted of child sexual abuse moves to the neighbourhood? My understanding is that they are only obliged to notify the public when the accused is deemed to be a risk to safety (however that is clincally or legally measured). And that is usually done when somebody is being discharged from prison or a forensic facility.

The accused has a right to privacy unless he or she is deemed a dangerous offender. Obviously, in the case of Fugee, the archdiocese, as an "employer" had the legal duty to ensure that he did not have access to children. But in this case, I am not sure that they need to notify the community of Chabak's history. I suspect that the rumour mill was active but I am not sure what the legal obligation is in cases like this.

"Skewed reasoning". Apt description.

No one has the authority to depose the archbishop, who is ignoring people's protests and refusing to recognize any responsibility, and no one can request his resignation except pope Francis, who so far has not shown any interest in the mishandling of sex abuse cases. 

Maybe the Dallas charter should be declared void.

I am sorry to sound like a broken record on this.  But Fugee, Chabak, Medina, Gorak - given their histories, why should they still be in the priesthood?  Grant's excellent post is as good a brief as can be written for expedited laicization of offenders.  I just don't see the upside to the archdiocese, its people, the archbishop, archdiocesan officials  or anyone involved to maintaining formal ties or responsibility for these guys.  Drum them out of the priesthood, make sure they're on the sex offender list, turn their records over to the district attorneys, and be done with them.

I understand the Holy See must take action in order for a priest to be laicized.  If laicization has been requested by the archdiocese, but is being contested by the offender priests and/or is subject to Vatican dithering - well, that's yet another thing that the people of the archdiocese have a right to know.

 

Is it time for American Catholics to learn how to conduct demonstrations on a massive scale?  It seems obvious that the popes have not been fully informed of the behavior of certain bishops.  Could he ignore mass demmonstrations being sent out daily on the world's TV stations? 

 How about picketing the residence of he president of the USCCB?  If that doesn't work, how about St. Peter's Square?  Or can anybody think of anything else that could be done short of withdrawing money which supports the poor?

Ann - I think the place to picket is the residence of Archbishop Myers.  The President of the USCCB has no authority in this matter.  St. Peter's Square would also be an appropriate place.  But the remedy that you didn't cover in your comment is the one that is most direct: the archbishop could resign.

 

Drum them out of the priesthood, make sure they're on the sex offender list, turn their records over to the district attorneys, and be done with them.

That's not the way we Christians do things. We don't turn people out. We're never "done with them"!! We work on finding ways to live together, both youth who need protection and dubious priests who need supervision. It's not the easiest way, but it's what we must do somehow. Your reaction is natural and sounds pragmatic, but it's short-sighted. For Christians, it's not an acceptable solution.

But I, too, am sounding like a broken record. 

Although they have mouthed the words that their lawyers have written for them, most bishops seem not to regard with horror priests who have molested children and who have therefore committed both crimes and grave sacrilege. Bishops will do as little about these priests as they can, even though the Church in America has had to pay about three billion dollars in damages. The money doesn't come out of the bishops' pockets - their salaries and perks and career advancement are unaffected.

Most of the laity doesn't want to think about this situation; some blame the victims for coming forward instead of suffering in silence.

The money keeps coming into Church coffers; immigrants replace Catholics who have left. Rome is content to leave well enough alone - bishops and cardinals have closets full of skeletons that they would prefer not to have tumble out.

Stop the money to parish and hierarchs.

This episode is but a symptom of much larger institutional dysfunction in the Church of Rome.

Money talks.  The hierarchs know it.

Laity must make its absence talk louder.

(As for parishes helping the poor, it's been suggested setting up 501(c)(3) mechanisms to pay staff salaries, utilities, etc. and help folks in need - w/o thereby giving money to local hierarchs.)

Claire - drumming them out of the priesthood doesn't mean drumming them out of the church.  And I wouldn't want to give up on them as children of God.  Even these heinous offenders are children of God.   They can still take part in the Christian community - in whatever ways are prudent and appropriate.  We can visit them in prison.   They can partake of the sacraments in the same way that other members of the church (laity) do.  We can provide counseling to the extent that is helpful.  We can listen to them and do our best to tend to their spiritual needs. 

But not as priests.  In his post, Grant calls out at least three excellent reasons - the protection of our children; fiduciary responsibility; and stewardship of the church's reputation - to sever these men's priestly and employment connections to the church.  I am not recommending excommunication or similar penalties.  I am recommending that they be stripped of their status as priests.

 

Jim P. ==

My suggestion about demonstrations was for the purpose of getting the message to the Pope.  I think that the American bishops and arcbishops will not be a help -- they haven't gotten the message to the pope yet just how severe the problem remains, so why would we expect any change now?  But I think that Cardinal Dolan is savvy enough about public relations to know that if his USCCB offices were picketed massively that the American church would have a huge problem and he would see to it that the Pope got the message about how severe the problem remains in the U. S.  

I'm assuming, of course, that C. Dolan *could* get the message directly to the Pope.  However, given the awful receht news about Archbishop Ricca (I assume the dotCWLers have read about that:-(,  I'm not sure that the Pope does get such messages.  But let's not talk about Apb. Ricca.  Either the Pope didn't get the message about his misbehavior, or the message was indeed a lie, or the Pope is a very naive man (which, sadly, I think is possible --  nobody's all-wise).  The news is bad in any case.

I just know as a Southerner that massive demonstrations which shame the guilty and which appeal to consciences *do* eventually work, though they take a lot of effort and self-discipline. 

Just drumming the perps out of the priesthood and on to the streets would probably be worse than keeping them within the Church and under supervision within the Church. 

But whose responsibility are they?  I say the state (yes, the gubment, you conservatives, and that means US) has to play a role for the sake of the CHILDREN, but also, as Claire points out, the perps.

Further, though the Catholic Church's reaction to the scandal still leaves much to be desired, I think that individual bishops of good will have done more to protect the children under their care than have the schools or the boy scouts or the other religious groups.  We need to support scientific research into the causes and possible control of such behavior, and we need to require the training of everyone who is responsible for the care of children -- not just responsible Catholics -- in ways to protect the kids.  In other words, the larger problem has yet to be addressed.  

 

Jim:  In Fr Chabak's case, as it is laid out in the Star Ledger, I don't think laicization would have made any difference.

You seem to say: priests have to be better than laity. The priesthood must remain pure. There are minimal expectations which they have to meet, which lay people do not have to meet. 

But I don't believe priests should be put above the laity. They are neither more nor less sinful, neither more nor less trustworthy than the rest of us. If they have committed sex abuse, they can stay priests but be given no assignment with decision power, everything can be transparent and all can be informed, for added protection. The church's reputation should come from the way of life of the whole community, not necessarily from the priests. As to the fiduciary responsibility, when a man becomes a priest, I think that the lifelong commitment goes both ways between the man and the church. 

Why do you have different standards for a priest and for a lay person? For me the standards go with the job (say, of pastor of a parish - a man who has committed sex abuse must not be a parish pastor), not with the person's state (of priest or of layman).

In the end I suppose our differences boil down to the question: what is a priest? 

 

"No one has the authority to depose the archbishop, who is ignoring people's protests and refusing to recognize any responsibility ..."

To echo Joe J:  remember the 11th commandment:  thou shalt NOT fund fiends and fools.  Until and unless the funding of archdiocesan projects, etc. dries up, Meyers and his ilk have no reason to listen to complaints.

Parishes should refuse to pay any annual archdiocesan demands for contributions, offering taxes ... whatever.

Yes, there will be some near-term hardship for archdiocesan-wide programs, but, as has been send more than once:  no pain, no gain.

Claire - if Fr. Chabak were laicized, the archdiocese would not be responsible for his housing.  In that sense, it makes a difference that he had not already been laicized.  Suppose that Chabak had been promptly laicized after his sexual offenses came to light, and then his friend the pastor allowed him to come to live in the rectory (as a de jure layperson) in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, without telling his parishioners or informing the archdiocese.  The pastor rightly would be castigated for allowing a sex offender to live so near a school.  Perhaps the punishment being given the pastor would strike all of us as appropriate. But the archdiocese would not have figured in the incident, except to punish the pastor for his poor decision.  The archdiocese would be on higher moral ground on two of the dimensions I mentioned in my previous comment: fiduciary responsibility, and stewardship of reputation.

I don't know that priests should be 'better' than laypersons.  The stakes may be higher for priests because they are public figures - they are public ministers of the church.  But all of us have a public identity, and Christians of all different states of life should strive to live virtuous lives according to that state of life.  But a church - a diocese - has different and greater obligations to its priests than it does to its lay members.  Those obligations on the part of the diocese to its priests are part of a sort of social contract: for a priest's lifetime of virtuous service, the diocese will provide a lifetime of care: salary, housing, retirement benefits, etc.  I am suggesting that, by committing serious acts of sexual abuse, a priest is forfeiting his entitlement to partake in that social contract.

Civil law seems to recognize this social contract, because it holds dioceses responsible for the conduct of its priests in a way that it doesn't for the conduct of laypersons (at least those laypersons who are not church employees).  This is true even for priests who have been removed from active ministry.

I know I've said this a number of times before: I don't believe the church is competent or credible at tracking priest offenders and ensuring that they are not violating the Charter for the Protection of Young People.  This is why I don't accept the argument that the church needs to keep offender priests under a watchful eye in order to protect its children.  The church isn't able to protect children in this way.  How much more evidence do we need from Newark to see that this is so?  Therefore, the church shouldn't keep offender priests around.  But legally, the church is responsible for its priests, whether they are around or not.  Therefore, the way - the only way I've been able to think of - to no longer keep offender priests around, is to have them laicized as expeditiously as possible, and turn responsibility for the protection of society's children over to society.

 

 I am suggesting that, by committing serious acts of sexual abuse, a priest is forfeiting his entitlement to partake in that social contract.

I am suggesting that the priesthood is more than a social contract, that it is not quid pro and that quo, and that one side not fulfilling its obligations does not relieve the other side of its own obligations. It's more like a family.

 

To follow up on previous posts above by Joe Jaglowicz and Jim McCrea:

Hierarchs like Myers view themselves mainly as corporate officers and politicians in their hopelessly feudal oligarchy.  Of course, they adopt the ideological rhetoric of the clergy that is usually expressed in the most unctuous, even smarmy, tones.  But, [as Gertrude Stein wrote] "A rose is a rose is a rose."

The hierarchs are not influenced by petitions or protests:  So, it would be better if Catholics just forgot that avenue of redress.  Save your breath.

The only thing that motivates the vast majority of these hierarchs is money and power - its all they live for.  After all, they are politicians before pastors.  [If that is too crass for your sensibilities, I'm sorry, but it is time to wake up and smell the coffee.]  

If you want to change the hearts and minds of these corporate denizens, then you need to affect their corporate bottom line: the gold standard by which they are measured back at Vatican Corp. headquarters.

By pointing-out the hierarchs' corporate reality, I in no way want to suggest that we sheeple should be left off the hooks.  From my time on the SF review board, I know that all the priestly abuse of children, all the complicity of hierarchs, all the underwriting of pernicious legal counsel, all the courtroom attacks on survivors, are all funded by the unattributed and unaccountable [mostly cash] charity donations of Catholics.

Think of it as a direct money pipeline from the offetory baskets to all the best legal defense and public relations teams that money can buy for the hierarchs.  [Case in point:  This is why Kansas City bishop Robert Finn is still at the chancellory; no resignation, no jail time despite his acts of omission and comission of child endangerment.]

We Catholics have funded and supported out of our pockets every act of sexual abuse on a child by priests and bishops, and every act of complicity in those attacks.

My sainted sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Adelaide, taught us that our confession was incomplete until we made amends, and resolved to put a stop to the evil.

I clicked on the link in the first line of this post and read the letter from the pastor who is "stepping down" after harboring a molester in the parish rectory, across the street from the school.

He's looking forward to being reassigned in the fall.  If it had not been for "some individuals", he would not have been . . . whatever.  

 

Like others who prey on children, predator priests depended on the trust and naivety of their victims and their victims' parents. Adults who would never have sent their boy off on a weekend camping trip with some other man they knew little about were happy to let him go with good ol' Father SoAndSo, whose collar vouched for his uprightness. That innocence has been severely shaken now and will probably never recover, which is both a good thing and a sad thing.

I don't believe that laicizing such priests is the right course. Why should the laity be a dumping ground for clerical failures and another way for bishops to wash their hands? Let Church leaders finally take responsibility for these men by maintaining them in minimum decency well away from children, closely supervised, and with no ministerial duties. And praying for them and with them.

But Claire, yes it's true that we don't "turn people out", but the spiritual and physical safety of children always comes first in these kinds of situations.  The priest is an adult and needs to be held accountable; he has psychological resources that children don't have,  If he is compelled to live in homeless shelters, let him man up.  But I appreciate your kindness of spirit.

Why should the laity be a dumping ground for clerical failures and another way for bishops to wash their hands? Let Church leaders finally take responsibility for these men by maintaining them in minimum decency well away from children, closely supervised, and with no ministerial duties. And praying for them and with them.

Why should the laity be a dumping ground for school teacher failures?  Or daycare worker or  plumber or house painter failures?  Or dad failures?  "The laity" is nothing more than human society for purposes of this discussion  - and that is where all sexual offenders who aren't in jail are "dumped" - unless the offender happens to be a Catholic priest.  Why should the Catholic church be held to a different standard of responsibility than every single other institution, from public schools to private corporations to families, that have abusers in their midst?

"Let church leaders finally take responsibility"?   How do you propose to do that?  The evidence is overwhelming that the church is not able to do what you propose.  

I believe that Grant's post indicates that the Newark Archdiocese has now placed Chabak in a retirement home.  Unless there are bars on the windows and guards at the doors, I have no particular reason to suppose that Chabak doesn't leave to hang around a schoolyard if the mood strikes him - nor that grandnieces and -nephews of the other retired priests don't come to visit the retirement residence.

We pray for and with laypersons all day every day.  If Chabak joins the ranks of the laity, he's still entitled to that treatment.

 

Gerelyn, the second link takes you to a Star Ledger article that paints a more complex picture:

 

In a brief interview outside the Oradell rectory, Iwanowski said he didn’t see the harm in Chabak’s stay at the church.

"He lived in the rectory and went to Mass every day. He didn’t do anything else," Iwanowski said. "I don’t see the problem with that." [...]

Under pressure from those parishioners, the archdiocese removed Chabak from St. Joseph in February, transferring him to a retirement home for priests in Rutherford.

But even then, parishioners said, Chabak repeatedly came back to St. Joseph to spend the night.

I can just imagine the neighbors spying on the late evening comings and goings from the rectory... But I suppose that in a way the community there was doing, in a sense, what I am advocating: taking matters into their own hands and using their own sense of what is  or isn't safe, instead of relying on their pastor and bishop.

Between episcopal cluelessness and small-town hysterics, where is the right way? Maybe if the statute of limitations was lifted everywhere. After all, the secular justice system is the closest thing we have to balanced, unbiased justice.

Why should the Catholic church be held to a different standard of responsibility than every single other institution, from public schools to private corporations to families, that have abusers in their midst?

Jim P.,

It would be harder to answer that question if the Church was not always telling us that it is different; that it is the holy Bride of Christ, speaking to the world with the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit: that its leaders are due special reverence as the successors of the Apostles and vicars of Christ; that it deserves to be exempt from laws and regulations that mere citizens must follow, and that it should pay no taxes, because of the marvelous work it is doing in the lives of the faithful and the great benefits it is bringing to society.

But if it turns out to be just another stumblebum outfit patting itself on the back for its successes and discharging its failures like toxic waste into a river, who needs it?

"Let church leaders finally take responsibility"?   How do you propose to do that?  The evidence is overwhelming that the church is not able to do what you propose.

If that is true—and the actual evidence seems to be that the Church has not tried either hard or honestly—then maybe its leaders should consider laicizing themselves.

It seems to me that at this point unless the pepetrators are locked up in San Quentin there is no way to protect the children absolutely.  But we don't really know the best way to handle them.   Not very much is known, apparently, about the causes and control and, possibly, cure of this behavior.  Shouldn't we be supporting research into the subject?  Maybe the only answer really is that these men should be locked up as criminally insane.  But since we don't really know that.  it's time to find some answers.

it is not only a question of what to do with offending priests.  The problem is much, much broader than the priesthood.  If we really care abou the children, we'll do the research and take the necessary measures to protect the children and change the offenders, if possible.

Then there is the problem that those "offending priests" have never had a trial. Some opaque process led some bishop to declare that some accusation was credible. The bishops most often seem to be guided by the loudness of the complaints of the media, not by the truth: they are content to leave potential offenders in place as long as no there are no public complaints, and eager to get rid of them as soon as there are loud public complaints. We cannot "lock perpetrators up in San Quentin" without due justice any more than we can let the US army decide that so-and-so must stay in Guantanamo  without trial for the sake of public safety.

As Ann says, the problem goes beyond the priestfood - how to render justice in cases of sex abuse, when facts come to light many years later - but that is a problem that is of the realm of secular justice, not of bishops. They try to keep the control of everything, but it's a mistake. A credible accusation is not dealt with because of the statute of limitations? Instead of bishops stepping in to fill the void and declare that they will somehow fix it and do the just thing (in spite of conflicts of interest, in spite of bias, in spite of lack of proper competence!), they should join the public voice to demand that this legal gap be fixed.

John P - of *course* the church is a stumblebum outfit.  It's a hospital for sinners.  And it's run by this enormous bureaucracy that is subject to all of the issues and problems that come with enormous bureaucracies, only on steroids and stilts.  Yes, the church is also the Bride of Christ.   Hosea had a bride, too, remember? To the extent that all of the exalted things the church teaches about itself are true, we may be sure that it's because of the Triune God's blessings and graces and constant, perpetual forgiveness, and because of the prayers of holy people and the intercession of saints.  

You say, "try harder".  I'm still waiting for some specific suggestions for what it could do to try harder to monitor offenders and keep them separated from children.  I'd like to see church officials like Archbishop Myers try harder to protect the children for whose safety and well-being they are responsible, and my recommendation is directed to that goal.

 

 

I'm still waiting for some specific suggestions for what it could do to try harder to monitor offenders and keep them separated from children.

1. Maintain a searchable public list of all credibly accused priests, at the national level . Concerned parents can chekc for themselves whether the name of their children's priest appears on the list. Monitoring will then naturally be done by parents.

2. Relay all accusations to the police without first evaluating them. Let the police do the filtering. Instruct people to go to the police directly.

 

I don't see what's so hard about that. Then they don't have to decide what's safe or not. They just let the information out, and things will take care of themselves.

Then there is the problem that those "offending priests" have never had a trial. Some opaque process led some bishop to declare that some accusation was credible. 

My understanding of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is that it is supposed to be the task of the independent review boards, not the bishop, to determine whether or not an accusation is credible, and to make a recommendation to the bishop.  I don't think the Charter provides many specifics on how each diocese's Independent Review Board operates; I believe it is up to each diocese to work out its own procedures.  How transparent or opaque a review board's investigations and deliberations are or should be, I am not certain.  Victims may wish for confidentiality, and that wish should be respected, in my opinion.  Whether an accused cleric should have some rights to confidentiality, at least while his case is being investigated, I am not sure.

The bishop is supposed to take the Review Board's recommendation and act on it.  If the bishop determines (because of the board's recommendation, or using his own judgment) that the priest should no longer be in ministry, his remedies are somewhat limited, because the Holy See has decided that it has the jurisdiction to punish the offending priest.   The most severe thing a bishop can do under is own authority is to suspend the priest from ministry, pending the Holy See's permanent disposition of the case.  

I think this is what we're seeing with all these cases in Newark (and elsewhere): these priests are suspeded from ministry, because that is the extent of what the diocesan bishop is able to do on his own.  But when priests are suspended but not laicized, they're sort of in this limbo status, where they're not doing any useful ministry, but they're still priests and the diocese is still responsible for them.  This limbo status is, in my opinion, what the dioceses are really bad at managing.

Once the Holy See's jurisdiction kciks in, the accused priest does have rights under canon law, including to request a formal canonical trial.  We've learned in some of the Milwaukee Archdiocese incidents that accused priests have used this right to hamstring the laicization process (and extend the limbo status) for years.  

I know there are folks here more knowledgeable than me on these processes, so if any of the above isn't correct, I hope corrections will be forthcoming.

 

Claire - I think both of those ideas are really sensible.  In fact, i believe #2 (reporting to public authorities) is already required under the Charter.  (Of course, there is no enforcement mechanism in the Charter.)  

I'd think the national database would be, for lawyers like Jeff Anderson, a barrel to shoot fish in, and so diocesan lawyers would strenuously oppose the establishment of such a list - but there is already at least one independent list on the web, so I'm not sure whether an official USCCB list would extend the liability very far.

But neither of those things would prevent someone like Chabak or Fugee from doing what they've done.  Preventing that sort of rogue behavior is what the dioceses don't do well.

My understanding is that the "independent" review board is chosen by the bishop, examines the cases that are chosen by the bishop, has access to information as determined by the bishop, follows procedures defined by the bishop, then makes a recommendation to the bishop, who is free to follow it or not in his final decision. Because the bishop thus insists on keeping control from beginning to end, he bears full responsibility. If only he could admit that he has a conflict of interest (how is he supposed to be father/brother to the priests of the diocese at the same time?) and relinquished control of those matters, he'd be in much better shape.

Claire:

I think that both of those are doable. Currently, in Canada the public can review this website

http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/police_serv/sor/howtheregistrywor...

Interestingly they have a prayer for both perpetrators and victims on the website. For perpetrators the prayer is:

Our Father in Heaven

we pray for those who sexually abuse children. We pray you would work in the hearts of the perpetrators and convict them of their sin, and awaken their conscience to the devastating harm their actions are causing in children’s lives. We pray, Father that you would expose their deeds, and that they would be prevented from causing further harm.

Jesus said “woe to him through whom offences come. It would better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” LK 17:1-2.

But Jesus is also the great Liberator and Healer for all who repent and cry out to Him for the power to change. He promised, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).

For perpetrators who suffered abuse as children, we pray for healing and restoration. Father we pray you would free them from their anger, shame and bondage, and show them your path to wholeness.

In Jesus name, we pray

 

Other registries can only be accessed by police. 

Canada currently has this:http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/cor/tls/soir-eng.aspx and for the province this: http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/police_serv/sor/howtheregistrywor...

 

 

 

Sorry the public website is here:

 

http://stoppedophiles.ca/default.html

 

"Gerelyn, the second link takes you to a Star Ledger article that paints a more complex picture:"

Really?  If the bit you quote is an example, it's LESS complex.   

 

"I can just imagine the neighbors spying on the late evening comings and goings from the rectory..."

Really?  Spying?  How easily the apologists for molesters and their enablers/protectors denigrate those who notice and object to the harboring of a child molester.

 

 

"Between episcopal cluelessness and small-town hysterics, where is the right way?"

The bishops are not clueless.  Using a euphemism like that to minimize their behavior is insulting.  

And Newark is not a small town, and objecting to a pastor's harboring a molester is hardly hysterical.  

 

For some numbers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Archdiocese_of_Newark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newark,_New_Jersey

 

But neither of those things would prevent someone like Chabak or Fugee from doing what they've done.  Preventing that sort of rogue behavior

Wait. If parishioners, teachers, children had known that Chabak is on the list of credibly accused priests, then what would have happened that was so "rogue"? Chabak was just going to Mass, not doing any ministry. It's not like this guy is some kind of dangerous, violent, gun-owning monster. It's not like he's got some kind of cooties and merely being in his vicinity gets one infected. Instead, if the people in the community know that he cannot be trusted with kids, then they will be careful, and that'll be enough to protect the kids. 

 As to Fr. Fugee, the justice got involved with that case, so it's even easier: scrupulously  follow the agreement without aiming for creative interpretation. If in doubt, call the country prosecutor's office for clarification (that's what we do at work when we're not sure whether we're supposed to do this or that: call the relevant office to check.) It's just common sense. But the archbishop failed. One hopes that the county prosecutor will get back at him for that.

Claire - according to the information given in the original post, Chabak moved into the rectory across the street from a school because his private home was destroyed by a storm.  Apparently, he did it with the archdiocese's knowledge and permission - so I was wrong in characterizing it as a rogue incident.  (By "rogue", I mean, clerics moving about and exercising poor judgment, or worse, without the diocese's knowledge - cf Fugee).  That the archdiocese approved Chabak's move into the rectory, arguably makes it even worse than had Chabak and his pastor friend cooked up the arrangement on their own.

I agree with what I take to be one of your points, which is that parents, teachers et al have a responsibility to be aware of sex offenders in the area (to the extent that parents and teachers can reasonably exercise this sort of precaution), and I agree that an online database of sex offenders is a tremendous help in this respect.  But if the archdiocese is responsible for the priest's assignments or status and his his living arrangements, then it also bears a responsibility, above and beyond the vigilance of parents and teachers, to not put a credibly accused offender across the street from a school(!).  You'd think that years and decades of lawsuits and payouts would have made someone in the chancery think about such things when Chabak asked to move into the rectory.  

If my recommendation were to be followed and offenders were swiftly laicized, then parents and teachers would still need to be vigilant, as we must be already for sex offenders in general.  Many states have online sex offender registries for this purpose.  New Jersey's is here.   But at least diocesan incompetence wouldn't make it even more likely that a clerical offender can end up living on church property, across from a school.

 

If a molester is not "swiftly laicized," the bishop can withdraw incardination and faculties and inform the priest that there will never be an excardination granted.

Then, the priest can get a job.  

If he's unable or unwilling to work, he can retire to a diocesan farm where the inmates are fed and sheltered but not allowed to leave.

If the diocese is unable to buy an old farm, use a wing at the seminary to house the molesters.

Many folks here have proposed practical ideas about what to do to remedy the problem of child-abusing recidivist priests and bishops.

After-care of predator priests and bishops - once they have been identified - is a real problem since there are no facile answers which will fit all circumstances.  

Forget canon law:  It is totally inadequate to the job.  Canon law has proven that it is little more than a protections racket for clerics.  "Laicizing" priests only cover-ups the problem and shifts the prepetrator back into the general population where they are even more free to further abuse.

[I have always thought that complicit bishops and prepetrator priests should all be housed at a very remote, but now empty, seminaries or monestaries where they could spend the rest of their days looking after each other, doing penance and participating in professional research thereby contributing to our understanding of child sexual abuse and exploitation.] 

The paramount consideration remains the safety of children and vulnerable adults in our communities.  For this we need to rely on the albeit imperfect criminal justice system.  If you want to keep children safe, report predator priests immediately to the police and prosecutors.  The ready prospect of prosecution and jail time has a very sobering effect on most criminals.  

[Priests who are serial criminal sociopaths will always have to be incarcerated and segregated from the general population since there is no know effective treatment at this time for serial child rapists and sodomists.]

I believe the more pro-active, preventative course for Catholic communities is to place the hiring and firing of pastors and bishops in the hands of the people closest to, most affected by the ministry of each individual priest/bishop.  Let the people of the parish or diocese take responsibility for those who are their priest or bishop minister.  LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

If the priest/bishop fails to live up to their expectations or betrays their office, congregations can terminate their service and find someone else.  Until priests and bishops understand and know that their future welfare is dependent on how well they serve their congregations - especially the "lest among us" and not higher-ups on the clerical ladder, the abetment of abuse will continue.

Of course, since Catholic parish and diocesan communities are human, they will make mistakes in their choice of pastors and bishops.  But the difference from the present entrenched system of feudal oligarchical clericalism will be that it is possible then for the people to CORRECT their own mistakes.

The best thing [some would say the only thing] about democracy is that it has the potential to be self-correcting.  That sounds a lot closer to traditional Catholic understandings of true contrition and the will to make amends.

I'm always disturbed by the disparity between the treatment of someone who has abused children and someone who has publicly disagreed with a controversial doctrine. A priest who abuses a school full of deaf boys will be allowed to remain a priest as an act of charity while a priest who expresses support for the ordaination of women will be kicked out with the greatest alarcity.

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is readily available on the USCCB website, though it is followed by a Copyright notice saying that it must not be copied without  permission of the Bishops.

Ryan R.,

That is an observation that deserves a full discussion, and with data, since speculation alone is easy and not very profitable. But it might require the decision makers to defend their priorities, so it is not likely to happen.

We have had reason to be grateful to the Boston Globe, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, for their coverage of the abuse problem in their communities. Now we can certainly add the Newark Star-Ledger  to that list.

 

Msgr Chabak: http://www.bishopaccountability.org/assign/Chabak_Robert_M.htm

Fr Fugee: http://www.bishopaccountability.org/assign/Fugee_Michael_Charles.htm

Fr Daniel Medina: http://bishop-accountability.org/priestdb/PriestDBbylastName-M.html

Fr Wladyslaw Gorak/Walter Fisher: not in the database (although there are articles about him elsewhere on that website)

 

I see three scenarios facing the local hierarch:

a.  Father XYZ is accused of sexual abuse.  What to do?

b.  Father XYZ is sentenced and incarcerated.  What to do?

c.  Father XYZ is released from incarceration.  What to do?

The State is ultimately responsible for assuring children's safety.  A cleric is legally an adult and accountable to the State for misconduct. 

Each scenario will call for a specific response from the hierarch regardless of the cleric's ecclesial status under canon law.  Certainly a hierarch will not want to be seen as enabling sexual abuse of children by one of his current or former clerics; it would also be foolish for a hierarch to ignore/disregard legal obligations, and it would be unwise for a hierarch to do/say anything that might place him in a bad light before the public.

What to do?

And what should the laity do?

Joseph J - if the process instituted by the Dallas Charter works as it is supposed to (a big if, to be sure), then the Charter process should run more or less in parallel to the criminal process you've outlined.  In other words, independently of the grinding of the wheels of secular justice, Father XYZ's case should be coming before the independent review board, which should find the accusation credible, or not, and forward its recommendation to the bishop, who should then act appropriately based on the review board's recommendation.

If secular justice was indeed just in Father XYZ's case, then presumably he was convicted and punished because he really was guilty of the crime, and it seems a reasonable supposition that whatever meets the secular court's standards for guilt would also meet the review board's standard of credibly accused.  But they are independent of one another.  So, for example, a statute of limitations may prevent the state from prosecuting, but the independent review boards shouldn't be hamstrung by statutes of limitations.  To take a pertinent example, Fr. Fugee's conviction (based on his admitting guilt) was overturned on a jury-instruction technicality that should have no bearing on a review board's deliberations.