Should Catholics Turn over Personnel Records to Prosecutors?
Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded March 5, 2004
A recently released Archdiocese of Los Angeles report showed there were 656 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests over the past 73 years in the archdiocese. In the report, the archdiocese reveals the names of 211 priests accused of wrongdoing. While Cardinal Roger M. Mahony said he hopes the report will encourage other victims to come forward, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley renewed calls for the church to produce personnel records of suspected priests. Church leaders argue the records are protected by the state's constitutional right to privacy and the 1st Amendment's freedom of religion clause. But Cooley counters there is a "more compelling state interest. That interest is the prosecution of those who would molest children, regardless of their status." Should the church release the personnel records of accused priests?
The news reports, including those in the Los Angeles Times, consistently fail to tell the whole story. As a Catholic priest, one of the 96% that has not had any accusation of sexual impropriety alleged against him, I do not believe that The Times has documented fairly and completely the archdiocese's response regarding the district attorney's public accusations of withholding documents.
The full text of the report by the Archdiocese, issued three weeks ago, makes it clear that nothing has been withheld from the grand jury or the district attorney except that which has, by constitutional law and the California Evidence Code, been regarded as privileged confidential documents. By order of the Superior Court judge presiding over the grand jury, these documents have been handed over to a judge acting as referee, who has not yet issued a decision regarding the documents.
The archdiocese, and even accused priests, certainly have a right, as does every American citizen and institution, to the constitutional guarantees of privacy and freedom of religion that have been traditionally upheld by our legal system. If there is to be a change in the traditional interpretation or application of constitutional or statutory laws in these cases, it is up to the courts, not the district attorney or public opinion incited by media coverage, to determine. Once the courts have finally ruled on what is legally protected under constitutional rights and what is not, the archdiocese will comply.
I would urge anyone who cares to probe beyond the media reports to read the entire report yourself, and draw your own conclusions. It's readily available on the Web at http://www.la-archdiocese.org .
There is also need for some perspective in viewing the numbers. The 211 accused priests are out of a total of more than 5,000 priests who have served in the archdiocese during that time, and almost half are priests from religious orders or other dioceses, not directly under the archbishop's jurisdiction. The majority of alleged incidents occurred during the 1960s to the early 1980s, that is, 20 to 40 years ago. Some date back to the 1930s and 1940s. There have been seven allegations of incidents occurring within the past 10 years.
Of course, even one is one too many - and an unmitigated tragedy. Whether the archdiocese has done enough to seek justice and healing for victims, and to deal adequately with past cases of abusive priests, I will leave to you to decide after reading the report. As a Catholic pastor, however, I can testify that mandatory reporting laws and procedures for child protection in our parishes and schools, as well as the awareness of both clergy and lay staff, ensure that the conditions under which past abuse may have been protected and covered up no longer exist.
Many of us see this as a time of purification within the church, and pray that we may come through it with greater ability and dedication to helping those suffering from the many forms of abuse in our communities today.
THE REV. THOMAS WELBERS
Our Lady of the Assumption
The barrier between church and state is often described as a wall. The Catholic Church, and many other religious organi- zations, would like a door in that wall. But a door that only swings one way. The Pope has called on American Catholics to vote against politicians who favor abortion, gay rights and other positions the church is in favor of. Though within his rights, this is also an intrusion of a religious entity into our democracy.
But when that same democracy wants records from the church that may implicate many of the worst of crimes, the church cries for the door in the wall between church and state to be shut and bolted. In a case this extreme, where evidence of abuse is so clear, the state should physically take possession of these records. Then, we should consider removing the generous tax breaks that our democracy grants to all religions. Doing this would make for a much sturdier wall.
I don't understand why priests should be any more protected than anyone else when suspected of breaking the law. Other people who are suspected of crimes are not protected because of their beliefs or status. We see that every day on the news. Cardinal Mahony is turning his attention to this problem, but it is my understanding he is only going halfway in disclosing the names and personnel files of all of the accused as any other citizen would be required to do.
We want our communities of faith to be safe places for everyone regardless of age or gender. It is time for the cardinal to take the next necessary steps.
THE REV. ELLEN D. LIVINGSTON
Monte Vista Unitarian,
I'm not sure why the Catholic Church is withholding information that could be useful in removing potential child abusers. The church should release the personnel records of accused priests.
If the church is concerned about innocent priests being accused of wrongdoing, once the personnel records are made available and appropriate follow-up by the authorities takes place, those who have nothing to worry about will have nothing to worry about.
The Catholic Church seems to set itself apart when it comes to these types of legal issues. Other denominations and individual churches are required by law to report any type of sexual abuse that may occur under its auspices. Unfortunately, would-be child molesters often hide in the local church where it's "safe" to operate.
Many churches (mine included) screen those desirous of working with children or youth within the church's programs and must pass background checks through the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Justice and the local police department.
Those who attend church with an agenda other than to worship God and know Him better need to be decisively dealt with.
WAYNE T. ROBBINS
Executive Pastor, San Antonio
Heights Community Church
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