Relationship with Archbishop Is Cooperative, Not Authoritative

By Maryangela Layman Roman
Catholic Herald
Downloaded August 6, 2004

ST. FRANCIS — Following the disclosure of names of diocesan priests who have been restricted from all priestly ministries because of at least one substantiated instance of sexual abuse of a child, much of the discussion centered around religious order priests.

In fact, Peter Isely, regional spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, criticized the list in the July 10 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as being incomplete since names of religious order priests who have offended were not part of the list.

On July 14, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an editorial entitled, “Some abusers still shielded.” It read, “But the archdiocese’s inability — or failure, in the eyes of some critics — to release the names of priests under the authority of religious orders shows that even with the best intentions, the church as a whole is doing only half the job necessary to achieve justice for victims.”

Who are religious order priests and why didn’t Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan include their names on the list released last month?

Religious orders are varied, but have some common characteristics, according to Zabrina Decker, vice chancellor for the Milwaukee Archdiocese whose specialty in canon law is religious law.

“The nature of consecrated life usually entails the profession of evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience),” she explained. “They involve some sort of communal life and the person who joins subjects himself or herself to authority of a superior.”

“Any sort of religious order that we speak of has a great sense of autonomy as it functions within a diocese,” she added.

According to the 2004 Wisconsin Pastoral Handbook, there are 345 religious order priests and 414 diocesan priests in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. The handbook lists 19 religious institutes of men in the archdiocese; among those are Jesuits, Xaverians, Redemptorists, Franciscans, Salvatorians and Capuchins.

According to canon law, the codified body of general laws governing the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, the bishop or archbishop of a diocese has authority over religious orders operating within his diocese in three areas, said Decker.

They are in:

• matters involving the care of souls

• matters involving public exercise of divine worship (Mass)

• the type of work a religious order will conduct in the diocese.

When asked whether care of souls could be interpreted to mean that releasing the names is in the best care of the souls of victims or potential victims, Decker responded, “Canonically, the archbishop is to have the care of souls and the good of the people of God as his foremost concern. If he believes the release of names contributes to this care, it is within his authority to do so for the archdiocese and to urge the same from clerical religious orders.”

Decker stressed the diocese seeks to maintain and foster a cooperative relationship with religious orders of men and women.

“The bishop wants to honor and acknowledge the positive influence the religious have had within the archdiocese for years,” she said. “His role is one of cooperation with the superiors of the religious institutes and not of governance over religious institutes. His role would not be to act as a landlord.”

When a priest wants to minister in the archdiocese, Decker noted a “Tri-Conference Letter” is required. The letter, from the superior of the clerical religious order states the priest is in good standing with no prior allegations of sexual abuse, addictions or financial improprieties that would prevent him from functioning as a priest.

In 2002, following the recommendation of the Eisenberg Commission, the archdiocese asked all religious superiors to provide the archdiocese with written documentation that no credible allegations exist against the individual seeking or exercising faculties or authorization to minister in the archdiocese.

Decker noted regarding the release of names of abusive diocesan priests while requesting clerical religious orders do the same, Archbishop Dolan walked “a fine line in respecting the religious orders’ autonomy of life, while fulfilling his role as leader of the archdiocese.”

It’s not, however an unwillingness to cooperate or an effort to shield their members, said Marist Fr. Ted Keating, executive director of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men based in Silver Spring, Md., but rather their approach to protecting children while protecting the rights of the accused.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, known as CMSM, is an umbrella group for 317 religious communities in the United States, and according to Fr. Keating, it has discussed the release of names often. Yet, they’ve come to the conclusion it’s not a good idea.

“The biggest difference between the bishops and major superiors in the summer of 2002 (the year the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was approved) was over whether to keep (offenders) or (discard) the men. The bishops by and large were going to (discard) the men,” he said, explaining religious orders preferred to keep the men within the community to prevent the possibility of their reoffending.

By keeping the offenders in community, they could ensure they were treated, thoroughly evaluated, and continually monitored, said Fr. Keating.

He stressed that offenders are not returned to ministry, but often are kept in situations he likened to house arrest.

“Depending upon the risk level they present ... they are kept under tight supervision, cannot travel unaccompanied,” he said, explaining they might function within the community by working in a business office or in the archives.

The Vatican-approved U.S. bishops’ policies contained in the 2002 Charter and the legally binding “Essential Norms” that accompany the charter apply to religious orders and societies. To help set up child protection programs, the CMSM contracted a private company, Praesidium.

They implemented “Instruments of Hope and Healing,” in August 2003 that includes safe-environment training programs for religious and employees, supervisory programs, including unannounced spot checks for sex offenders living in religious communities, and a system for accrediting religious and employees with nationally set safety standards.

Fr. Keating also said the CMSM reject the release of names of offenders because, “the experience of religious institutes is once names are released, picketing and harassment begins of the local community, making it impossible to do this supervised monitoring. The only alternative is dismissing the man back into society where no one will supervise him.”

In choosing not to release names, Fr. Keating said religious communities also want to protect the rights of the offenders.

Fr. Keating noted that even if a person has abused a child, he still has basic human rights.

“Demands to major superiors who have no formal role in civil government for revelation of a substantiated allegation of abuse have to be seen in the context of whether school systems, child care agencies or other helping agencies would be similarly able to make such revelations about private citizens who work or have worked for them,” he said. “If these agencies were requested to do this, it would become clearer that the privacy rights of a citizen of the U.S. cannot be so violated without due process of law.”

Child sexual abuse is a problem plaguing society, said Fr. Keating, adding that religious orders of men hope they can help society in general understand how best to deal with the problem and its aftermath.

Victims groups argue releasing names will protect children because people will know who the abusers are, said Fr. Keating. While the groups are under the impression the abusers are roaming free, possibly to endanger children, actually, the religious institutes except in exceptional circumstances where the men are dismissed from the religious life, are keeping their members in community under clearly and tightly defined supervision.

They are subject to unannounced visits from an accrediting agency and outside review boards will approve and monitor the supervision practices.

Fr. Keating noted he was unable to find a single instance anywhere in the country where an offender who was not returned to ministry but rather was monitored within a community reoffended.

While Fr. Keating said the CMSM “has great respect for Archbishop Dolan, this request is hopefully a misunderstanding.” Fr. Keating noted religious communities were surprised by the request.

Locally, Franciscan Capuchin Fr. Al Veik, director of the archdiocesan Office for Consecrated Life, works with religious orders of men in implementing the child protection program through Praesidium. He was also scheduled to meet with members of the local religious orders on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

The Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus does not plan to release names, according to Julie Landes, provincial assistant for communications.

In a written statement, Fr. James Grummer, provincial superior of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, called the abuse of children a great tragedy for victims, families, offenders and the church.

He noted the Jesuits participated in the John Jay Study released in February and since the establishment of the Wisconsin Province, 679 Jesuit priests have served in the Milwaukee Archdiocese. “There were three priests accused of sexual abuse of minors. Each case was reported many years after the alleged incident occurred. Because allegations regarding two of these men were substantiated, they are no longer in active, public ministry and have no access to minors. None of these incidents stem from allegations in Milwaukee,” reads the statement.

Attempts by the Catholic Herald to contact other religious communities in the archdiocese for comment were unsuccessful.


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