The Status of Priests

The Journal News [New York]
September 22, 2003

The Archdiocese of New York's delay in clarifying the status of priests accused of sexually abusing minors is leaving those most keenly involved victims, parishioners and the priests themselves in a troubling limbo.

It is a continuation of secrecy that characterized church leaders' actions before the devastating scandal broke nationally almost two years ago.

To date, that scandal has involved hundreds of priests, thousands of victims, millions of dollars in investigations and settlements, and, among some of the faithful, lingering distrust of church leaders.

The official reticence of the archdiocese reinforces an aura of arrogance that church leaders have tried to combat over the last year: that they operate above, and outside of, civil law and public accountability. And it raises questions about whether those priests have been afforded due process both within, and outside, the Catholic Church.

In the New York Archdiocese, accusations have resulted in at least 14 priests being removed from their posts, including several parishes in the northern suburbs.

In a Journal News story by staff writer Gary Stern, published Sept. 14, friends, family members and others who know several of the accused priests confirmed that Cardinal Edward Egan has started to formally banish some of them.

An archdiocese spokesman would only repeat the cardinal's position of recent months, saying that any decisions to permanently remove priests will be announced in the archdiocese's monthly newspaper, Catholic New York. There was no announcement in this month's issue; the next one is scheduled for early October.

Yet the public, especially alleged victims and parishioners. is aware of the names of most of the accused priests, Most of the priests were removed last year. Many parishioners since have publicly spoken in support of them.

Under a new national church policy that emerged last year, accusations against a priest are to be shared with law enforcement and reviewed in private by a diocesan board with a majority of lay people. If that group finds credible evidence of abuse, the diocese notifies the Vatican, which can handle the case itself or refer it back to a private tribunal.

Egan was to make decisions on what to do with each priest and his ministerial status. Last spring, Egan referred about 30 past cases of alleged abuse to district attorneys across the archdiocese. The results of those investigations also were supposed to affect Egan's decisions.

Sources told Stern that Egan began meeting with the priests in August. Word that he had made his decisions offering severance packages to some had been spreading through the archdiocese since Labor Day weekend, Stern reported.

Meanwhile, most local parishioners who were awaiting word could only make conclusions about the priests' status when they were replaced. Family and friends of some of the priests have described to the press their devastation at the charges and their dismissals.

The Rev. George Kuhn, pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Yonkers, told Stern that Msgr. Charles M. Kavanagh, for years the archdiocese's top fund-raiser, was considering whether to appeal his dismissal from ministry to the Vatican.

"I know he's upset, and many of us are upset at the decision," Kuhn said. "If I were him, I'd get a canon lawyer and fight it."

The men's status remains unclear. Criminal and civil charges or exoneration have not been disclosed by church or law enforcement officials.

As for the church process, the public is left wondering if the priests have been afforded due process, including facing their accusers and defending themselves.

Closure for victims also appears unresolved. David Cerulli, co-director of the New York chapter of SNAP Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said he could not understand why the archdiocese would keep a single decision about the priests secret.

"There is a danger in kicking a priest out and not telling anybody," Cerulli told Stern. "It's like shuffling them to a new parish. They can start over as somebody else. Keeping things secret is the pattern of the past."

And it shouldn't continue.

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