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

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

October 10, 2009


A BRIGHT LIGHT: Father Don Johnson, a retiree with us here in Riverdale, has been a Chaplain at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for many years. Each year, a heart surgery team drawn from hospitals around the country travel to San Salvador for a week to perform heart surgery on children. Most of the team do not speak Spanish. Don, in addition to his priestly work, serves as a translator for team members and the parents of the children. The Church at work!

SHADOWS: Our US bishops responded to the great sex abuse crisis, one of the greatest dark spots in our Church's history, by assembling in Dallas, TX in April 2002 to put together a series of programs on reporting abuses, vetting and training staff, and developing programs of awareness, education, and oversight for the protection of children and young people.

Their Dallas Charter has been judged successful in achieving these goals. But the Charter is seen as seriously flawed in its failure to protect the rights of priests. (Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ in AMERICA, June 14, 2004.)
The bishop is constituted as arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, and appellent bench. There is no practical source of appeal from the decisions of this one individual in any of his contradictory roles. As a purported judicial instrument, the Charter is an embarrassment! Dulles criticizes the Charter in its "zero tolerance", lack of a legal definition of sexual abuse, its neglect of the presumption of innocence, abandonment of statutes of limitation, and settlements of cases.

Each week, I shall consider one of these targeted criticisms. Today - Settlements: A bishop may prefer to settle an allegation to avoid the expense or publicity of going to trial. But a settlement makes no judgment about the truth of the allegation. The alledged abuser may well be perceived as guilty and thus loses his good name. Secondly, if little or no investigation is made, the settlement payment may well have been uncalled for and thus an unfair expenditure of the diocese's money and of the contributions of the faithful. Does this happen?

In November 2002, the Diocese of Manchester, NH made a settlement of $5 million to pay 62 alleged victims of abuse. The Nashua Telegraph of November 27, 2002 reported that Peter Hutchins, the attorney for the plaintiffs, declared that, "He did not encounter resistance from the Diocese of Manchester...either through lengthy legal procedures or a refusal to accept victims claims...Some victims made claims in the last month...and gained closure in just a matter of days". Hutchins thanked Bishop John McCormack for handling negotiations so quickly.
Just a moment, please. No investigation? Was any priest's name put in jeopardy by quick settlement? Were contributions of the faithful too easily given away by quick settlement? These questions go far to explain the lack of confidence in the system and its administration. The Charter must be revisited!