Priests in Abuse Cases Avoid Defrocking
Vatican's Concerns Lie with Victims -- and Clergymen -- Says Church Spokesman
By Claudia Rowe firstname.lastname@example.org
August 24, 2004
Three priests accused of sexual abuse, among them one of the most infamous clerics in the Seattle Archdiocese, have been formally barred from ministry with an edict from Rome. But the Vatican stopped short of defrocking any of the men, leading some to wonder where the concerns of the church lie -- with victims, or with priests.
The answer, said archdiocese officials, is both.
Archbishop Alex J. Brunett is "not looking to punish the priest," said Greg Magnoni, a spokesman. "He's looking to do what's in the best interest of the victims and the public and the priest who's under his authority."
By keeping each man "within the clerical state," the archbishop can maintain control over where they live and how they comport themselves, Magnoni said. He also can ensure that they never advertise themselves as practicing prelates. Defrocking them, Magnoni said, would permanently sever that oversight.
But Scott Brady, a member of the victims advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, found the church's logic hard to fathom.
"He couldn't control them when they were in active ministry," said Brady. "What makes him think he can control them now?"
In Rome last month, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled on the case of James McGreal, 81, who served in 10 parishes between 1948 and 1988, and later admitted to molesting hundreds of victims. He was placed on administrative leave for sexual abuse allegations in 1988 and lives now in a locked facility for troubled clerics.
David Linehan, 74, a priest from 1956 until his retirement in 1995, was also barred from ministry. He served in seven parishes and has been the object of sexual abuse allegations from two people, neither of whom has pursued legal claims against the archdiocese, Magnoni said.
Desmond McMahon, 79, ministered from 1960 until a medical leave in 1990, and is the subject of five allegations -- from four women and one man, all of whom are in negotiations with the church.
Each of the disgraced priests is currently monitored by compliance officers hired by the church, Magnoni said.
"You are talking about three very elderly men who may not call themselves 'father,' wear priestly garb or present themselves as Roman Catholic priests in any way," he said. "After a lifetime as priests, that restriction is a considerable punishment for them, even though it may be difficult for someone outside to the church to appreciate."
McGreal, among the most notorious clerics in Seattle, lives at Servants of the Paraclete, a facility in St. Louis, his stay paid for by his pension and the church. If Rome had defrocked McGreal, he would no longer be eligible for that supervision.
"He'd be a civilian and he'd be on his own," Magnoni said. "The reality is that there's often no criminal recourse for victims and although they can seek civil remedies, really the processes and procedures of the church are the only way they can be sure that their charges are fully investigated and, when substantiated, the priests are removed from ministry."
Michael Pfau, an attorney representing five people who claim they were molested by McMahon, said he was perplexed at keeping accused pedophiles within the fold.
"It seems to me that some priests are defrocked, others are barred from the ministry and I'm not sure why there isn't a consistency," Pfau said. "But the most important thing is that abusive priests are kept away from children."
P-I reporter Claudia Rowe can be reached at 206-448-8320 or email@example.com
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