Thursday, September 22, 2005

Philly jury finds Diocese covered up but they can't be charged

After 3 years of deliberation, the grand jury empaneled to decide on whether to charge the Philadelphia Archdiocese with crimes related to 40 years' worth of covering up sexual abuse committed by priests of the Catholic faith has found that the Diocese did, in fact, cover those incident up but charges cannot be legally leveled. The crux of the situation is a point of Pennsylvania law: the Diocese isn't a corporation, it's an "unincorporated association." I'm sure there are legal minds out there more capable of detailing how that's critical but the bottom line is that PA law doesn't allow such associations to be charged as a separate legal entity. I'm sure someone's going to be looking at that law closely, but it cannot and will not apply to this case.

Ok, let's get this disclaimer out of the way: I'm Catholic. While I'm not a member of a church within the Philly diocese, I am a member of the Church. I am, therefore, fully qualified to comment.

I am, frankly, unconcerned that charges for these past cover ups will not be brought in a secular court. Those charges would be leveled, effectively, at the current membership of both the priesthood and the congregation and those 2 groups were not responsible for the actions of the priests who made the abuses. The priests in question, however are a completely different matter. Not only should they be subject to whatever punishments are called for within the Church, they also committed a secular crime and should feel the full fury of the American legal system. I am absolutely, unapologetically unmovable from that stance. Now that the grand jury has ruled that the Church cannot be held as liable as the offending priest, there is no reason whatsoever for the Catholic Church - and the Philly ArchDiocese in specific - to withhold the names of the offending priests. They should be given up to law enforcement without delay and any assistance the police require in building their case should be rendered eagerly. That they should be publicly defrocked should go without saying. I will leave it to the clergy to decide if excommunication is called for on a case-by-case basis but the starting position in such deliberations should be leaning toward "yes."

Now, about those cover ups... What those priests did in committing the sexual abuses against the members of their congregation cannot be defended in any way as a matter of church law. Catholic dogma recognizes no mitigating factors in a priest sexually abusing a parishioner. Our clergy all know this and should also know that telling a lie - even a lie of omission - to allow someone to get away with such an action is also wrong and indefensible. That the Church cannot be charged legally with a crime should be of no matter to us as Catholics or to our clergy. It is matter of right and wrong, honor and cowardice, grace and sin. The scales must be set aright again. The secular law cannot do so and should never have been asked to try. Any priest, bishop, cardinal, or whatever that had a hand in these cover ups should not now be in any position to ever do so again. The Church should - must, if it intends to ever engender trust in itself again - come out in no uncertain terms that such covering up will not be tolerated from this day forth. Any member of the clergy that handles an accusation of sexual abuse by a priest by simply transferring that priest to another parrish should be removed from his position. If further abuse occurs as a result of this cover up, then not only should the abusing priest be defrocked, so too should the one covering it up.

Our clergy are the defenders of our faith. They are the shepherds they like to claim they are. They hold a responsibility to protect the members of their faith and that means not planting a seed of evil in their communities. They should be loud and public about this committment not to make themselves look good to the atheists and agnostics in our society nor to the membership of other faiths, but to the members of the Catholic faith who are depending on them to do what's right and honorable.