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

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

May 5, 2010


In the spring of 2002, the "Boston Globe" uncovered the disastrous plague of sexual abuse of young people by clergy. Thousands of children, wounded; reputations of priests, impaired; trust and confidence in bishops, eroded. In response,US bishops gathered in Dallas, Texas in June 2002 and devised a Charter of policies and programs that have since proved effective in protecting young people. At the Dallas hearings, the bishops listened to other bishops, psychological, criminal, and law enforcement experts, and members of the lay faithful. But not one priest was invited to participate! In the Charter itself, a lack of protection for priests against false allegations was eventually noticed. Cardinal Avery Dulles in an article (AMERICA 6-14-2004) sharply criticized the Charter on this count and called for its revisiting. The National Review Board, a select group of prominent Catholic men and women appointed by the bishops to oversee implementation of the Charter, called in its February 2004 report for the Charter's periodic review. The Board asserted that, had the bishops enforced existing canon law against abusers, the crisis would never have happened. Neglect of enforcement,leaving priests without protection against false allegations, and other flaws led the NRB to declare that ".. the Charter was the bishops' attempt to deflect criticism from themselves onto individual priests". Other harsh criticisms of the bishops by the Board explains the hostility of some bishops to Board members. Four bishops tried, unsuccessfully, to block the USCCB from funding the mandaded audits of dioceses.

Instances of innocent priests being removed from ministry began to appear. Given the limited numbers of available canon lawyers, I and other retirees were asked to help. As a canonist, I represented an "extern" priest, Father X, who was removed from ministry by the bishop of Metuchen, NJ. Bishop Paul Bootkoski had received a communication from the San Francisco Chancery, seeking the whereabouts of Father X. A Ms.Z had stopped in there, seeking to locate Father X and seek retribution from him for an affair twenty years ago. But her charges were not canonically credible. She was referrd to a Chancery social worker, who wrote to Metuchen Diocese, where Father X worked at St. ABC Parish. The social worker's letter stated that Father X was being sought to provide funds for counseling and support. It contained Ms. Z's account of an affair with X.

Bishop Bootkoski, focussing on the affair, removed X from ministry, without any investigation of the complaint whatever and without advance notice to X so that he could defend himself. Both are canonical no no s. Father X was told to vacate the rectory in short order. St.ABC's pastor paid him on a per diem basis for the days he worked before he was removed. Father X was quickly turned from a respected parish priest into a pariah!

My informal efforts by e-mail and phone with Metuchen's Vicar General, who at first had seemed sympathetic, were not successful in clearing X. My request for a hearing of X and myself in Metuchen to present a studied defense was quickly rejected by Bishop Bootkoski. My investigations - Metuchen made none - disclosed that Ms. Z had been stalking X for many years. She was committed to punishing miscreant priests for reasons too lengthy for this piece but which I explained in full detail to Bootkoski. I pointed out that X's manner of immediate eviction from his residence and his final limited paycheck would not be acceptable in ordinary business practice. A Christian employer would not treat a dish-washer like that.It might even have been in violation of New Jersey labor law.Furthermore, the untrue allegation by St. ABC's pastor that X was barred from working with children, shows how quickly a dismissal in this context becomes distructive of one's good name, so carefully protected by Canon 220. Ms.Z's allegations as to the nature of their affair twenty years ago had no canonical significance. Both were adults, a consensual union, twenty years ago!

Bootkoski replied that his dismissal of X was based on a communication signed by an official of the San Francisco archdiocese. This is simply not true! I have the letter!It was signed by the social worker. Archbishop George Neiderauer of San Francisco has participated in this case. I have his letter stating that only the social worker was involved, only she signed the letter and that her sole interest was to help Ms. Z towards counseling and financial help. Neiderauer wrote that his office through the social worker's letter did not say, had no intention of saying, anything about X's fitness or lack thereof for ministry.

We reached overseas to the Philippines, to Bishop Camilo D. Gregorio, of the Prelature of Batanes. Gregorio sent a letter glowingly endorsing "very well loved and respected by both the clergy and the faithful he has worked with in all these past twenty-six years... and has been subjected to a very painful experience
through...a misapplication of the Dallas Charter..." Gregorio knew Ms. Z and provided candid characterizations of her mentality and her stalking of X. He discounted the affair of twenty years ago as long absolved and repented for and not a reason to dismiss him from ministry. He concludes with this plea to Bootkoski and other bishops:

"Father [X] has been a victim of canonical injustice here which, we bishops need to look into with humility and to which we have an obligation to correct as best we can."

Well, there we are! Good case? I thought so. Bishop Gregorio thought so. Guess again.
Bootkoski is a bishop! He is in charge. Many roles, however conflicting! He was Father X's arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, and appellate bench - an absurdity in any jurisprudential sense! But he dealt with Father X in each role . There was no appeal! There is no appeal! The bishop has spoken! Father X's life has been interrupted personally, spiritually, economically, and in his priestly ministry for a year and a half. "I, the bishop, have spoken!" And Bishop Bootkoski had completely misunderstood the letter from Archbishop Neiderauer's Chancery and misunderstood who signed and sent it!

Father X is still blackballed. He cannot work here any longer as a priest! Say a prayer for Father X, Ms. Z, Bishop Bootkoski and that the Church will be blessed by having more Bishop Gregorios! And that the USCCB will revisit and repair the Dallas Charter!