Vatican Pace on Abuse Worries O'Malley:
Archbishop Wants Cases Expedited
By Michael Paulson
June 30, 2004
VATICAN CITY -- In an unusual public display of unhappiness with his own church, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of Boston yesterday said he is frustrated at the slow pace with which the Vatican is resolving the cases of about two dozen local priests who have been in limbo for two years or more after being accused of sexual abuse of minors.
In the cases from Boston, like those from many dioceses around the country, American church officials are asking the Vatican whether they can permanently remove from ministry -- and in some cases defrock -- individual priests accused of abuse. The priests have been suspended, but cannot be permanently ousted without Vatican permission. In some cases, if the Vatican determines the allegations have no credibility, priests could be restored to ministry.
O'Malley, like other American bishops and priests, has become increasingly concerned that the Vatican's slow pace of processing the flood of allegations lodged over the last 2 years is unfair to the accused priests and to their alleged victims.
The archbishop said he will meet with Vatican officials this week to convey his concern and urge the Vatican to allow American church lawyers to come to Rome to assist Vatican lawyers in processing the backlog.
"I will be talking to them about the priests," O'Malley said. "The process has been very slow, and I'm very frustrated by that. The resources here are inadequate to be able to expedite the cases with the facility that we'd like to see."
O'Malley, who turned 60 yesterday, made his comments in a 30-minute interview with the Globe and the Boston Herald at the North American College, a residence for American seminarians in Rome. The Boston archbishop traveled to Rome for a Mass last night at which he received the pallium, a woolen vestment granted to metropolitan archbishops, from Pope John Paul II.
In the interview, O'Malley said he is disappointed that some alleged victims, or their lawyers, have not cooperated with the church's investigation into the abuse allegations, which he said is contributing to the slow pace of processing the cases.
"My frustration, too, is sometimes getting the cooperation that we need from the victims, from those who are accusing, to be able to testify in cases," he said. "That's something we're trying desperately to arrange."
Told of that comment, victims and their advocates reacted angrily. "Why would survivors want to participate?" said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It is a painful, convoluted, lengthy, stacked process in which victim's voices aren't heard."
Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer representing dozens of alleged victims, said that many of those who have cooperated with local church investigators "have been extremely disappointed by the investigators' questions, demeanor, and attitude. The victims' feel like they are on trial and in essence are being revictimized in the process. It is as if the investigators are trying to protect priests, and that's a shame."
In many instances, the cases involve allegations too old to be prosecuted by civil authorities, so the church must decide on its own whether the allegations are credible.
According to the church's rules for handling abuse allegations, a diocese that receives an allegation of abuse against a priest is supposed to investigate the allegation, and, if there appears to be sufficient evidence supporting the allegation, to notify the Vatican and temporarily suspend the priest from ministry.
The Vatican can decide the case itself or send it back to the diocese to be judged in a local church court, but lawyers and church officials say that in many cases the Vatican has not yet taken either step.
It is not clear how many abuse cases the Vatican has pending, but in January, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that about 700 priests and deacons had been temporarily removed from ministry over the previous two years a result of abuse allegations.
In Boston, several cases already have been resolved, in most instances because the evidence against the priests was either overwhelmingly strong or extraordinarily weak.
Since 2002, the archdiocese has removed from ministry approximately 30 priests accused of sexually abusing minors. The archdiocese has since restored to ministry three priests after determining the allegations were not credible, while this year the Vatican has defrocked three Boston priests facing multiple allegations.
The remaining cases have proven more complex. The Vatican has to decide whether the case should be judged in Rome or in Boston, and in many cases it has not yet made that decision.
Although 162 archdiocesan priests were accused of abusing minors from 1950 to 2003, according to the archdiocese, most of those priests had died, retired, or left the priesthood before 2002, when the abuse crisis exploded.
Also in the interview yesterday, O'Malley said he expects to continue to speak out on political issues, but not on particular candidates, as the presidential campaign unfolds. Thus far, he has been particularly outspoken in his opposition to same-sex marriage, which became legal in Massachusetts in May.
O'Malley expressed disappointment with both political parties, saying, "We're trying to teach clearly what the church's position is, and it's very difficult when the popular culture wants to frame the questions in an entirely different way.
"And, of course as Americans, it's always the individual's personal rights that seem to trump everything else, even other people's right to life or the rights of a community to safeguard an institution which is so primordial as marriage," he said. "And it's complicated, too, by the fact that neither political party really embodies the social doctrine of the Catholic church. . . . So that creates a certain tension."
The archbishop also said that, after an eventful first year as archbishop in which he settled 541 sexual-abuse claims for $85 million, agreed to sell the historic cardinal's residence and surrounding land to Boston College for $107 million, and announced plans to close 65 parishes, he is hoping for a quieter period for the archdiocese. But he said he is taking the long view: He hopes "we'll all be in a better place" by 2008, the 200th anniversary of the diocese.
O'Malley said he now wants to work to strengthen the consultative church bodies, the archdiocesan pastoral council and the presbyteral council, that are designed to involve laypeople and priests in the governance of the archdiocese.
"I'm very committed to trying to implement the church's plan for consultative bodies in the archdiocese and to do that as best we can, to have a vibrant diocesan pastoral council, vibrant priests' council, good parish councils, and maybe even to have regional pastoral councils, something that I would like to experiment with," he said. "Since the [Second Vatican] Council, the church has called on us to try and have people participate at least through these consultative bodies, and given, too, our American way of doing things, that will help people to have a greater sense of ownership in the church, but I hope at the same time that they will come to appreciate the theological issues."
O'Malley said he also hopes to intensify the emphasis on recruiting new seminarians to bolster the dwindling ranks of the priesthood.
Although O'Malley has been repeatedly reassigned by the Vatican to church trouble spots he said he expects to remain in Boston for the rest of his career. "I presume that I will be there until I retire at 75, if I live that long," he said. "It's very unusual for someone to be moved, particularly from a very large diocese. It takes so long to get to really know a diocese that, in fact, there's a tradition of not changing bishops at all."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.