Thursday, April 1, 2010

NPR Reports that U.S. Bishops Are Quitely Putting Pedophile Priests Back into Parishes


     Yesterday Cardinal Levada, formerly archbishop of San Francisco and a top dog at the Vatican, issued a statement attacking the New York Times for its articles connecting the pope to the mishandling of priest-pedophiles. In his statement, Levada claimed that, since the 2002 Dallas Charter (new guidelines for how to deal with sexual abuse allegations in the United States), the Catholic bishops have not been putting pedophile-priests back in the parish.

     He lied. Or he's ignorant. Or both.

     Today, National Public Radio reports that over the past few years, as U.S. media attention surrounding the church's handling of sexual abuse has died down, some bishops have been quietly reinstating accused (and even convicted priests) back into ministry.

     One such case involves Bishop John Steinbock of Fresno, who sneaked the Rev. Eric Swearingen back into a youth ministry position.  NPR reports:
     In 2006, the jury found 9 to 3 that Swearingen had abused Rocha [who was twelve when the abuse occurred]. But it could not decide whether the diocese knew about it. Rather than go through a new trial, the two sides settled. At the time, Steinbock said he thought the jury got it wrong, and that while the Catholic Church should protect children, "doing this cannot be done in such a manner as to punish innocent priests."
     "Bishop Steinbock continues Swearingen in ministry to this day, choosing to believe the priest is innocent, choosing to protect the priest, and choosing to disregard entirely the judicial finding by a jury that found he had committed the crime of sexual abuse against Juan," says Rocha's attorney, Jeffrey Anderson. Today, Swearingen serves as priest at Holy Spirit parish in Fresno, where he also oversees the youth ministry.
     So, in his twisted mind, Steinbock believes that he isn't violating the Dallas Charter by sticking a priest who was found guilty of sexual abuse back into youth ministry. 

     Wrong!  He's still violating the charter.  The NPR report continues: 
     "If there's a credible allegation, they're out of public ministry. Period," says Theresa Kettlekamp, who oversees the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She says there are no exceptions to this policy. "There's not a caveat that says, 'You're out of public ministry but you can volunteer at Goodwill. You're out of public ministry but you can be a priest over at Feed the Children,' " she says. "No, it's very clear. They're out of public ministry."
     The key is the word "credible."  Steinbock didn't think that a guilty verdict of 9-3 was credible.  The majority vote was wrong.  (Sounds like he should join the Tea Party.)  So, the abusive priest is returned to ministry.  The church cocktail of power, arrogance, and denial is quite intoxicating for the princes(ses) of the church.

     The church may have adopted strict policies of how to deal with predators and allegations, but as always with church documents, how those policies are interpreted is open to interpretation.  Remember--each bishop is prince of his own diocese.  The pope is merely a first among equals.  Which means the pope gets to have his "I don't have any responsibility for any of it" cake and eats his "you bishops will do what I say concerning gay rights, women's rights, etc. etc." cake, too.

     Another case reported by NPR:
     In 2003, a criminal-trial jury convicted the Rev. Michael Fugee, a priest in Newark, N.J., of molesting a teenage boy. Later, an appellate court overturned the verdict because of the judge's instruction. Rather than undergo a new trial, the prosecutors and the Archdiocese of New Jersey agreed to keep Fugee away from children. When officials at a local hospital where Fugee was serving as a volunteer chaplain — saying Mass and ministering to families — learned of the criminal trial in his past, they were horrified.  Archbishop John Myers declined to speak on the record, but his spokesman says that Fugee's assignment was only temporary and did not involve regular ministry to children.
     So, it's okay for a priest-pedophile to return to ministry in Newark, if he doesn't have "regular ministry to children."  Archbishop Myers doesn't get it.  It only take one irregularity--one child alone in a hospital bed, in a bathroom, or behind a curtain--for a pedophile to act. 

     In closing, NPR reports:
     Anne Barrett Doyle, who works with the watchdog group BishopAccountability.org. She says that recently, bishops have started quietly returning to ministry priests who previously have been accused of abuse. "I think they feel that the crisis has died down in the public mind," she says. "Therefore, they have some confidence that if they go ahead and reinstate these priests, that they'll get very little backlash." Doyle and others have identified about a dozen clergy who have been accused, arrested or sued for abuse and returned to ministry. She says the process for investigating priests is secret, and often the diocese says nothing about the charges against a priest when it returns him to ministry.

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