Friday, November 09, 2007

A Peace that is ever at war...

Back in the mid 1990's I was living in Gardner, Massachusetts. At that time, a priest from the Diocese of Worcester was credibly accused of abusing a young girl from that town. Almost immediately, more than 100 priests from the Diocese signed a letter of support for the accused priest which was published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. I wrote a letter to the Editor of The Gardner News in support of the victim and her family. I was denounced at my parish. I was called "sick." One fellow parishioner even asked me why I was getting involved and if I knew the victim. I couldn't help but think of the reply which Cain gave to God when asked about the whereabouts of his brother Abel whom he had murdered: "I know not: am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9).

The answer to that question, of course, is yes.

The accused priest in question was sentenced to some 10 years in prison for the physical and emotional abuse which he had inflicted on his innocent victim, a small helpless child. And why do I relate this? Because, as Pope John XXIII taught us in his Encyclical Letter Ad Petri Cathedram: On Truth, Unity and Peace: "Anyone who consciously and wantonly attacks known truth, who arms himself with falsehood in his speech, his writings, or his conduct in order to attract and win over less learned men and to shape the inexperienced and impressionable minds of the young to his own way of thinking, takes advantage of the inexperience and innocence of others and engages in an altogether despicable business." (No. 11).

And what should our response to such a "despicable business" be? Our Beloved Holy Father Pope John XXIII again provides an answer:

" long as we are journeying in exile over this earth, our peace and happiness will be imperfect. For such peace is not completely untroubled and serene; it is active, not calm and motionless. In short, this is a peace that is ever at war. It wars with every sort of error, including that which falsely wears the face of truth; it struggles against the enticements of vice, against those enemies of the soul, of whatever description, who can weaken, blemish, or destroy our innocence or Catholic faith." (No. 93).

Last Sunday, the pastor of my parish gave a homily which I found to be very troubling. He spoke of the charges of abuse which have been levelled against certain priests within the Worcester Diocese and of the seriousness of making false accusations. He cited the Commandment: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). And I couldn't agree more. However, this priest seemed to imply in his homily that the majority of accusations made against priests have been false and at one point asserted that he and his brother priests live in constant fear of getting a call from the Bishop and of being told to hire an attorney to defend themselves.

Granted, there have been false accusations against priests in the past. And these should be roundly condemned. But to suggest that the majority of accusations made by victims have been false ones is simply not honest. It is not the Catholic attitude and it only serves to victimize honest victims all over again.

The proper response is to pray for the truth to be revealed in each and every case and to allow law enforcement officials and the courts to do their job. Every person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Every person has the right to due process. But to assume that an accusation is false without giving it a fair hearing is to deny the rights of the victim.

In all things, truth should be our primary goal. The more than 100 priests who signed a letter of support for the accused priest mentioned above were simply wrong. They made a judgment in favor of the accused and against the victim without sufficient facts to make such a judgment. And they were wrong. Sentence was imposed.

I love the Church. More than anything else in this life. Even my own life. For this reason, I simply refuse to dishonor the Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church by putting personal agendas before truth.

Relevant reading:

This article notes how the priest in question, Fr. Robert Kelley, admits to having abused more than 50 young girls in the past.


Frank said...

I agree with you Paul. We should avoid knee-jerk responses in these cases and wait for the TRUTH to come out. To automatically side with victim or accused is irresponsible. A patient search for the TRUTH should be our goal.

Margaret said... you've noted so many times in the past, the Church as Person is without sin but she is not without sinners. When errant priests abuse a minor, they are betraying the Church. But they are responsible for their own sins. A culture of silence existed for too long. People need to have the courage to tell the truth and to bring everything to the light. Good for you!

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