|How the Fox Got into the Henhouse
June 15, 2010
The Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, is still recovering from the embarrassment of learning that a counselor in a program endorsed by the diocese was a former priest who faced “credible” sex-abuse charges. “We dropped the ball,” said diocesan spokesman Mark Dupont. Right. The ex-priest is no longer with the counseling program. Now what can we learn from the mistake?
Point #1. Programs and policies don’t matter, if you don’t have the right people enforcing them. The Dallas Charter stipulates that a priest credibly accused of abusing a child should be removed from active ministry. Al Blanchard was removed from ministry. The Springfield diocesan policy stipulates that no one with an abuse rap should be involved in any diocesan ministry. The Always Our Children program was not officially a diocesan ministry, but it did hold sessions in a parish hall. There’s no way Blanchard should have been involved; the right policies were in place to prevent it. Yet there he was.
Then again, the right policies were in place in the 1960s and 1970s. Canon law gave bishops the authority to discipline abusive priests. The atrocities that were exposed in 2002 showed how many American bishops chose not to exercise their authority.
The Blanchard case in Springfield was, by all indications, a matter of inefficiency on the part of the diocese rather than a choice. Call it negligence rather than deliberate malfeasance. If that’s a step in the right direction, it’s an awfully small step. In any case it’s a reminder that when the gatekeepers aren’t doing their job-- whether it’s because of distraction or laziness or incompetence or negligence or cowardice or malice—it doesn’t matter how high the standards are set. To restore trust, Church leaders must restore public confidence in themselves, not in their policies.
Point #2: Priests who are removed from ministry are not removed from society. Al Blanchard is no longer functioning as a Catholic priest. Nevertheless his credentials as a social worker were enough to land him a counseling job. He still had a means of gaining access to young people, as a counselor working with troubled families. The media critics of the Catholic Church concentrate on the urge to laicize (or, as they put it, “defrock”) an abusive priest. Laicization means that he is no longer under the control of Church superiors. But unless he is actually behind bars, the “defrocked” priest may remain a danger to children. If your goal is really to protect children, laicization can’t be your final goal.
Point #3: Among the priests accused of sexual abuse, Blanchard is in the minority; his accuser was a teenage girl at the time of the reported abuse. So it’s interesting to note what sort of counseling program he was engaged in before the uproar that led to his departure.
Would you believe that the Always Our Children program worked with the parents of youthful burn victims? You shouldn’t, because it didn’t. The Always Our Children program provides counseling for the parents of gay, lesbian, and bisexual children. Surprised?
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