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  Blowing the Whistle:
Troubling Information on Priest Could Have Made Me a Hypocrite

By Rod Dreher rdreher@dallasnews.com
The Dallas Morning News [Dallas TX]
July 1, 2004

Troublemaking whistleblower or peacekeeping hypocrite which would you rather be? I made my choice earlier this week when I helped reveal troubling information about Father Christopher Clay, an accused sexual abuser ministering in the Roman Catholic parish I was attending. Here's what happened.

A few weeks back, my friend Rachel Dillard told me she wanted to be received into the Catholic Church. I suggested that she ask Father Clay, a dynamic orthodox priest at the marvelous St. Mary the Virgin parish in Arlington, if he would instruct her in the faith.

Father Clay seemed like the kind of priest lots of Catholics wish for, but rarely find (which is why my family had been driving all the way from our Dallas home to Arlington for Mass). He was not officially on staff at St. Mary, but he told me he was helping out while on leave from the Diocese of Scranton, where he'd run afoul of liberal diocesan politics. When he agreed to catechize Rachel, I believed she was in good hands.

About a week ago, I asked her how her lessons were going. She raved about Father Clay and what a "treasure" he is. I agreed enthusiastically, and said, "Can you believe the liberals ran off such a good priest?"

"That's funny," she said. "He told me he came home to Dallas because the conservatives drove him away."

Rachel went home and ran Father Clay's name through an Internet search engine. She discovered he had been suspended by Scranton in 2002 after a sex-abuse allegation involving a male teen. Rachel e-mailed this information to me that night, saying, "Please don't let this be true."

I spent the next several days trying to find whatever information I could about Father Clay's situation. It was true: Father Clay had been banned from active ministry.

What to do with this information? I wasn't worried about Father Clay. I was worried about Father Allan Hawkins, the parish's very fine pastor, and the good people of the congregation.

I thought: Can't this be handled quietly, so Father Hawkins and the parish aren't embarrassed?

And then I thought: If I go that route, I am no better than the bishops and others I have criticized. They kept it in-house for the sake of the church and led us all off the cliff. Public exposure is the only sure way to handle Father Clay.

But he might be innocent! Yes, he might be. But Father Clay is on suspension. He surely knew that before he presented himself to Father Hawkins and offered to help. Why was it so important for him to get back into parish work?

Because of my inquiry, the Scranton diocese had already issued a press release about Father Clay. Why not let the Pennsylvania media break the story?

If I do that, I thought, what do I tell my editors when they want to know why I didn't tell reporters at my own newspaper? The answer would have been: Because I was protecting a parish and a pastor I didn't want to see hurt. That is, because I am a hypocrite.

I couldn't be a hypocrite. The protection of children must come first. I wrote down everything I'd learned and sent it to the religion desk. Susan Hogan/Albach worked the story and wrote the article in yesterday's paper.

Rachel and I feel absolutely horrible about all this. But I have no doubt that we did the right thing. Father Clay had to be stopped. Parishioners looked up to Father Clay, liked him, admired him, trusted him. How ironic that his downfall came out of a conversation in which Rachel and I gushed about what a wonderful priest he is.

Rachel, God bless her, still wants to become a Catholic. I am searching for a new parish for my family, though my wife and I are left wondering if we'll ever be able to trust the church with the safety of our two young boys.

I am left with two lessons: First, the church's child-protection rules are only as reliable as those people whose job it is to enforce them. Catholic parents cannot have faith in bureaucratic procedures.

Second, I have more empathy with those I have denounced. I have never been able to understand why bishops and parents of abused kids would try to handle things quietly. Well, I get it now. The only reason I anguished over any of this was not for the sake of Father Clay, but for trouble publicly exposing his deception would cause innocent people.

In the end, though, kids have to be shielded, and the church has to be liberated from this curse of secrets, lies and clerical privilege. I did what I had to do, and am not sorry for it.

 
 

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