“Father Jim” is a senior priest suspended under terms of the Dallas Charter, barred from ministry and from defending his good name due to a claim from 1972.
Editor’s Note: The following guest post by “Father Jim” was received as a comment on a recent post at These Stone Walls. Due to its length and subject matter, we are posting it as a guest post with Father Jim’s permission, but we have shielded his identity because his case is still pending at the Holy See.
Father Gordon MacRae recently wrote of a terrible tragedy in the post, “Jesus Wept: The Death of Father Kenneth Walker, FSSP” on his blog, These Stone Walls. In that post he asked a truly provocative question. Allow me to respond to it in light of priests falsely accused of sexual abuse, the exact situation that has confined Father Gordon to prison for almost twenty years. His question was:
“Has Catholic culture in America become so comfortable with the notion of the last two decades that its priests should be little more than expendable targets with no ability or right for self-defense?”
I believe most priests in the United States unfortunately know the answer to that question. No one talks about it openly, but it can be sensed in the low morale and anxiety among priests. It can be traced directly to a failure of leadership in the American Catholic episcopacy that places public relations and public respect as higher priorities than the truth and the innocence of many good and faithful priests by their bishops’ wholesale embrace of the Dallas Charter. In effect, our bishops have betrayed their pastoral role in loving and caring for their priests as a father loves and cares for his sons. They have allowed themselves to be intimidated by human opinion and political correctness, placing their trust more in lawyers than the Gospel of Jesus who calls us to lay down our very lives for the ones we love.
Can any bishop today promise a young man who becomes a priest that if he is falsely accused, he will be defended and protected as a son has the right to expect from his father? Or is the priest truly on his own? Have bishops traded their role as father for CEO status concerned only with cutting liabilities? Could this possibly be another reason for the decline in priestly vocations and the laity’s encouragement of their sons toward the priestly vocation? What father among you would knowingly place his son in such a situation?
I believe I am correct in asserting that ordination has not taken away one’s citizenship. If a priest is an American citizen then he should be afforded his legal rights under the United States Constitution that he is innocent until proven guilty. That is his right. Neither the Church nor its adversaries should have the power to deny him that right. This clearly is not the reality today.
If a priest is proven with sufficient evidence to be guilty in a court of law, he should go to jail. Prove it, don’t presume it! Sexual abuse is a terrible thing; but so are false accusations and extortion. When was the last time you have heard anything in the media (or from your diocese for that matter) concerning false accusations? When has a bishop been open with his people on how the Dallas Charter is being implemented and its impact upon priests and finances of the Diocese?
What is happening in the present situation is priests are presumed guilty in claims that are so old that they could never be proven. Priests are presumed guilty without the benefits of civil trials thus allowing lives to be destroyed and dioceses forced into bankruptcy, facilitating and allowing opportunists and greedy lawyers to walk away with millions. Can anyone deny this? What is going on cannot be justified either by the Gospel of the Lord or the Constitution of the United States. Shame on a hierarchy that has orchestrated it and a sometimes passive laity that has allowed it and failed in its love for many priests who have given and dedicated their lives to serve them. I believe that the late Avery Cardinal Dulles had it right when he intimated that the institutional American Church will one day be forced to face what it has done to its priests and come to regret it.
Cardinal Dulles further opined that even in those cases where true sex abuse has taken place and one has fully confessed and taken responsibility, a certain amount of hypocrisy still abounds when it comes to priests.
In November 2000 the US Bishops published Responsibility and Rehabilitation critiquing the American criminal justice system. They upheld the dignity of the accused, rejected slogans like “three strikes and you’re out,” and “one size fits all solutions.” They promoted efforts to ensure that the punishment fits the offense. The bishops did not support mandatory sentencing using rigid formulations and they preached that “we must welcome ex-offenders back into society to the extent possible.” Since 2002 “the US bishops have adopted the very principles they themselves condemned in their critique of the secular judicial system,” according to Cardinal Dulles (“The Rights of Accused Priests,” America, June 21, 2004, Avery Cardinal Dulles).
What is truly offensive is the mindless acceptance of the concept of “zero tolerance” to satisfy and assuage critics. How does one reconcile this policy with the teachings of Christ? Vengeance and retribution have been afforded a higher value than forgiveness, mercy following remorse, when it comes to priests accused of sex abuse. Doesn’t the Church have a greater obligation to mirror the mind of Christ than to succumb to the ways of the world, even when dealing with its own priests?
How does a priest who is falsely accused deal with the situation? His response must center, and center completely, on his relationship with Jesus Christ. Does the falsely accused priest believe that the story of Jesus is his own story? That what this priest is going through is nothing less than the passion, death and resurrection again of the Lord who dwells within him? He experiences the full impact of The Gospel of Matthew 27: 39-43:
“And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself….He trusts in God, let God deliver Him now…’“
Taunted and mocked just as Christ was, the falsely accused priest undergoes the same human feelings and emotions of humiliation, rejection, unjust condemnation and judgment. It is only his faith and hope empowered by the Holy Spirit that sustains him through this surreal ordeal. Without this empowerment one could only anticipate despair.
The Gospel of John 19:25 tells us that it was only His Mother and a few disciples who kept vigil with Christ in Our Savior’s loneliness and isolation. So it is with the victimized priest who can count on the Mother of God and just a few dear souls to faithfully remain.
The story of Jesus becomes the story of the betrayed, innocent priest.
The original question that generated this reflection centers on the “comfort level” that many have with the expendability of innocent priests. I suggest that the bishops and society expect a priest’s heart and soul to be so magnanimous that he is willing to die for the very ones who are killing him. Who has a right to such an expectation? The bishop who throws his priest-son beneath the bus? The laity who are often too stunned to do anything or speak out? May I suggest that such an expectation belongs to God alone who empowers the priest to love unconditionally without any assurance of human reciprocity – to love unconditionally even those who unjustly took His good name, even those who unjustly put Him behind bars based on a lie.
It is beyond human comprehension and a marvelous work of grace that a priest is capable of offering all his suffering and pain for the salvation of the very souls of those responsible for his very personal, very real tragedy and betrayal.
These innocent priests are the true living martyrs of the Church today.
Editors’s Note: a continued thanks to TSW readers for their generosity in responding to Ryan MacDonald’s appeal to help with the legal costs, at the Federal level. We haven’t reached our goal yet, so please share this link to Ryan’s news alert post!