The Record: A bishop's response
May 28, 2014
IN THE wake of the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church, there have been too few cases of diocesan bishops acting in the full spirit of the U.S. bishops' self-adopted policy to combat future cases of abuse. That makes Paterson Bishop Arthur Serratelli's recent actions truly worthy of note.
Early last week, Serratelli received a letter complaining that a former priest of the Newark Archdiocese, John Capparelli, had attended an annual Family Festival at Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Wayne. Capparelli had been accused of sexually abusing children, suspended from the priesthood in 1992 and defrocked by the Vatican in March. He should have no contact with children on any parish site.
Yet at the May 12 festival, he was seen talking with Monsignor Chris Di Lella, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley. Capparelli appeared to be at the event with consent of the pastor and did not immediately leave, staying about 30 minutes. On learning of this, Serratelli acted quickly; by week's end, Di Lella was put on administrative leave and his priestly faculties were suspended. This prevents Di Lella from wearing clerical garb or actively engaging in any ministerial work, such as publicly celebrating Mass.
The punishment may sound harsh — there is no evidence Capparelli had any inappropriate contact with children at the festival — but it is exactly such harsh punishments that are needed to make clear that the men who have been accused of sexually abusing children cannot be given special treatment because they are or once were priests.
Capparelli and Di Lella have been friends since their days in the seminary decades ago. Perhaps personal friendships were once allowed to blur the line of right and wrong, but that cannot be tolerated going forward in a church struggling to regain its moral authority. Certainly, Di Lella has a right to due process within the church hierarchy. He claims Capparelli arrived uninvited. That may be, but Capparelli should have been escorted off church grounds immediately. And it appears that he was not.
Di Lella is a much-liked figure at his former parish, and parishioners are surprised and shocked by his removal. If there is more to this story than meets the eye, Di Lella will have an opportunity to make his case. But children abused by priests have no opportunity to regain their innocence. What was taken from them cannot be returned, and in most cases there was little or no effort made by the institutional church to accept responsibility for the abhorrent actions of abusive clergy.
Bishops protected the institution and the reputations of priests while ignoring the pain and scarring of society's most vulnerable: its children. Serratelli is sending a strong statement to those now-adult victims that he will not allow priests under his watch to enable predators or minimize what those predators did in the past.
Accountability is what the U.S. bishops promised when they met in 2002 in Dallas and adopted a charter to deal with the abuse of minors by clergy. And last week, Serratelli made good on that pledge.