Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

August 4, 2008


New York priests were shocked to find in today's papers that one of our distinguished priests had been removed from ministry for an allegation of an event twenty years ago! I called a lawyer friend who deals with police cases. What would happen", I asked, "to a police officer with an alcohol content over the legal limit who shot a knife-wielding man?" His reply: "He would be removed from duty, given a desk job, and under the union contract would have an administrative hearing within thirty days." I continued: "Suppose some one alleged that he had been assaulted by a cop twenty years ago and wanted the cop punished, what would happen?" My attorney friend laughed: "The cop would probably sue the accuser for libel!"

Police have a union, protective contracts, attorneys; teachers have a union, protective contracts, attorneys. They face different individuals with different functions - arresting officers, prosecutors, judges, and appeal levels. Priests have zero protection! Their fate is in the hands of one individual - the bishop, who is simultaneously arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, and appellent bench. No separation of powers! The so-called process is guided by the bishops' Dallas Charter, successful in its programs to protect children; a total failure as to treating the accused fairly. No statute of limitations, no provision for appeal, no proportionality - a pat on the ass treated equally with serial rape! Rejected by Cardinal Dulles and universally by canon lawyers! Who composed the Dallas Charter? A bishops' committee after consultation with other bishops, psychiatrists, victims of abuse, and representatives of the laity. Not one priest was invited to participate in the hearings!

According to today's media, the archdiocese reported our colleague's removal from ministry to the district attorney. Why this? New York's five year statute of limitations precludes any competence on the part of civil authorities! The DA rejected the submission!

Canon 1362, p.2 also sets a five year limit on prosecution of an allegation. The Dallas Charter abandoned this limit. Statutes of limitations are fundamental pillars in our civil and canonical jurisdictions. After the elapse of time, memory can be faulty, creative, or imaginary; witnesses not available. Motives can be suspect. A pastor discharges a choir director, a priest evicts a tenant with cause from a house he owns. Retaliation can come swiftly.

Our friend's name has been blackened. "He was removed from ministry..." Even my word processor flashes "no,no", like a misspelling, when I use this passive voice. Who removed him? Who unwarrantedly publicly reported him to the district attorney? My understanding is that his case has not yet gone before the Archdiocesan Advisory Board. Why not?

Essential Norm 8 of the Charter states that a single act of sexual abuse of a minor requires permanent removal of the abuser. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice was employed by the bishops to provide data on which the bishops could make further determinations. John Jay reported in March 2006 that its research had established that where there was a single allegation of abuse with a subsequent history of no further allegations, a process of self-correction had undoubtedly taken place with little danger of recidivism. We canonists are finding that where the alleged abuse occured two or three decades ago with no subsequent allegations, this self-corrective process has occurred. Yet Norm 8 calls for removal from ministry!

Priests need a union! The USCCB needs to revisit its Dallas Charter. The Charter must be made a respectable legal document. Canon 220 must be obeyed: "No one is permitted to damage unlawfully the good reputation which another person enjoys..."


Blogger Bob Nunz said...

Given the etraordinary interminable affair of Fr. Charles Kavanagh, given the protections provided to the hierachy, given the lack of transparency and speed in the current canons, Msgr. Byrne is right to call for a better proces for accused priests...but...
there may be danger in creating a "thin black line" like the "thin blure line of the police.
When one of one's own profession is accused of malfeasance, especially if it's someone important ( in this case a severe body blow to the Church in Harlem and in New york) the tempatation to turn inward and cose ranks is natural but not always helpful.
Both from experience in criminal justice and from study, it seems clear to me that a broad statute of limitations is needed in sex abuse matters involving minors. The power of individuals, be they parents, teachers, clergy, etc. over minors in matters that are, in fact, crimes, requires a lengthy period for that person often to come forward.
I commend to everyone's reading on this: Prof. Marci Hamilton's "Justice Denied."
While clergy may clearly need a better process, it is importatnt that that demand be concomitant with placing the safety of children before their own perceived need; otherwise, they may actually weaken their own efforts.

August 5, 2008 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Lee Podles said...

Canada and several states have no statute of limitations for felonies, which is why there have been criminal convictions of priests and religious in those jurisdictions.

I question whether a statute of limitations for serious crimes is just, or whether it is simply useful to courts to keep them from being bogged down in old and difficult to try cases. The accused does not have to prove his innocence, and the passage of time and the fading of memories makes it had to prove him guilty.

I question whether abusers can be trusted to “self-correct.” Their crimes are infamous, and would have gotten them executed in catholic countries before modern times.
A priest who abuses someone has betrayed his office, and like an officer who has committed treason and betrayed his comrades, he must suffer the penalty of his crime.

August 7, 2008 at 9:51 PM  
Blogger Ted said...

Give 'em hell, Harry! The bishops cover up their mediocre (and worse) leadership with a "no due process" blunt instrument. With six years of experience under their collective belt, the bishops sould revisit the charter. One change should include consequences for bishops who abuse (laisization vs. "emeritus" status and who are guilty of neglect in their interactions with vistims and reassignments of perps.

August 8, 2008 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger Greg Bullough said...

There is perhaps a time and a place to call for a more carefully thought-out process to adjudicate such accusations.

The occasion of the suspension of this priest from ministry following not one, but two, accusations of sexual abuse is not it.

I am somewhat astonished that anyone, particularly anyone from New York City, should find any virtue in the manner in which police officers have historically "covered" for one another and suggest that the clergy should do the same.

Then again, we now know that the Catholic clergy, to a large extent, has done just that.

I find it disingenuous to point to the statute of limitations and to suggest that law enforcement ought not to have been contacted. The proper civil authorities SHOULD investigate such matters. It is patently false that the DA rejected the claim--- if they had done so they wouldn't have found the second possible victim.

More possible victims are the reason, in and of itself, why these old incidents should be investigated. Although the statute of limitations may have expired on them, we know that many of these abusers continue their pattern for decades. Who is to say that the DA wouldn't have turned up a victim from four years ago?

The second alleged victim isn't likely to have been a random find; there must have been something in the public or personnel records to indicate some other irregularity.

The suggestion that we go back to the old "send 'em to treatment and return 'em to ministry" pattern for first offenders is absurd. This is what got us into this hole in the first place!

A sexual abuser has to find a profession where the position does not entrust him or her with children or vulnerable adults. His or her "professional ambitions" or any other entitlements cease to be a consideration at that point.

Yes, priests need a "union" but they also need a sense of self-discipline within their "profession."

As opposed to the sense of "self-indulgence" which we see all too often.

August 8, 2008 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger crispina said...

7th August, 2008

This gathering tonight is a declaration that the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle intends to act in a more compassionate and caring way towards victims of sexual abuse.

As bishop of this Diocese for over 13 years I admit to you that I have felt torn between loyalty to the Church, loyalty to Church personnel of whom I am one, and loyalty to the victims or survivors of sexual abuse.

That dilemma is now solved. From here on in my first concern is for the victims of what I consider to be a repulsive crime. In the words of Pope Benedict I unequivocally condemn those clergy who have betrayed the trust placed in them by both the Church and the people of God, especially children and young people. They must be brought to justice!


August 8, 2008 at 11:16 PM  

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