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

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

February 28, 2011


Justice is the force that keeps a community running peacefully through the whole forum of human activity. Government is charged with providing the protection of individual and corporate rights and interests by the rule of law. Government through its courts insures that the laws will be just and that those laws will be administered and enforced in a just manner. Each form of government has a judiciary component to insure that justice prevails within its jurisdiction. There are courts for towns and villages, counties, and states. Where federal law relates to the entire nation, district courts,circuit appellate courts, and a single Supreme Court insure that justice is maintained in the federal jurisdiction.

The Church has its structure and function of government. It, too, must assure the rule of law; and that the law, itself, and its administration is justly carried out. Over the centuries, church laws have been formulated and, in the face of their multiplicity, codified, most recently, in 1919 and 1983. The Code of 1983 deals comprehensively with relationships in the Church towards others, property, and the sacraments. There is an entire section dealing with punishments and processes to insure respect for truth and for justice. However imperfect it is and, indeed, it has many imperfections in content and administration, it is, none the less, comprehensive in its agenda for Church life.

In the spring of 2002, the abuse crisis burst on the Church and on society. The US bishops hastily gathered in Dallas in June of 2002 to respond to the crisis. They fashioned, with only a couple of days discussion, the Dallas Charter, a set of policies and practices to insure the protection of children. These have been judged successful in achieving their goal. But a serious flaw lay in its failure to protect the rights of priests. Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ severely criticized the Charter for this. (AMERICA,6/21/2004) Without going into the details, which are available in the article, it must be noted that the Charter established the bishop as arresting officer, procurator, judge, and appellate bench.An absurdity as to jurisprudential thought and history! No practical avenue to appeal a bishop's decision is available.

It soon became apparent that some bishops, perhaps embarrassed by the role of many bishops causing the crisis by secret reassignment of miscreants, may have been too quick in removing a priest from ministry. An example: Father X, an extern, had been working effectively in a parish. A woman had been stalking him for years to destroy his ministry. Through another diocese, she tried to locate him. That diocese wrote to the Metuchen NJ diocese so Ms. Z could contact X. The Metuchen bishop misread that communication, thinking it a warning about X, and abruptly revoked X's faculties in a context that made X appear to be an alledged abuser. X was required to leave the rectory immediately and was paid per diem for days worked. The local pastor informed some parishioners that X could never work with children. Bishop Paul Bootkoski of Metuchen refused X and myself, his canonical advocate, a hearing for X's defense. I secured a letter from X's own bishop, who certified that Ms.Z did stalk X and was herself mentally unbalanced, and that X had been unjustly treated by a misapplication of the Dallas Charter. This was not accepted by Bootkoski, who insisted that he could revoke faculties without cause. He was not moved by the case I had prepared with sworn testimony that he had defamed X. Nor was he moved by another bishop I approached, who wrote Bootkoski to ask his reconsideration.

Bishops can only be judged by the pope. Thus, every bishop is immune from judgment by any other bishop or bishops. Hence, the letter of X's proper bishop, which confirmed my canonical case establishing the injustice and defamation of X by Bishop Bootkoski, was totally devoid of any canonical authority and thus could be, and was, peremtorily disregarded by Bishop Bootkoski. To have the pope alone available to sit in judgment over the bishops of the world's 5000 plus dioceses is wholly disproportionate. In civil society, a multiplicity of courts is available to respond to the needs of the people. In the Church there is need for a multiplicity of judges to respond to allegations of unjust decisions by bishops. To have only the pope as a source of justice over a bishop's unjust action, especially in the new Dallas Charter cases, would be like requiring automobile owners throughout the US to purchase gasoline at a single gas station in Kansas!

The Dallas Charter must be revisited and some appeal process established against unjust decisions made by bishops, as in the case of X. It is now nine years since the Charter was established; seven years since Cardinal Dulles pointed out that the Charter failed to acknowledge the rights of priests. I have written as a canonist to Cardinal George, President of the USCCB,and the appropriate committee chiefs in 2007,2008,and 2009. I stressed the urgency of the matter, since many priests are being unjustly removed from ministry. Replies assured me that revisiting the Charter was scheduled for 2010! The November 2010 USCCB meeting did not have it on its agenda. Nothing was done. It is outrageous that our bishops can allow their priests to be at risk over these many years as a result of their flawed Charter.

The first draft of the Charter for the June 2002 USCCB meeting contained exactly what is now needed: an appeal panel of five with a majority of lay persons. The proposal quickly disappeared. Obviously, the bishops or the pope would not allow judgment to be made on them by lay persons, even if their priests were put in harms way. What has happened to the Church and the pursuit of justice? The Dallas Charter must be amended so that it may no longer continue to be an instrument of injustice!