Priest's case not covered by church abuse policy
Admits mistreating teen in '70s--before he was ordained being ordained

By Cathleen Falsani
Chicago Sun-Times
March 2, 2003

Did a Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a teenage boy before he was ordained slip through a loophole in the Vatican's new clergy sex abuse policy for the U.S. church?

A policy created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and made official church law for the United States by the Vatican in December does not apply to men who commit acts of sexual misconduct with children before they are ordained.

Such is the case with the Rev. Kenneth J. Martin, a priest from the Wilmington (Del.) Diocese who, for the last 10 months, has been doing liturgical consulting work for a publishing house owned by the Chicago Archdiocese. In December 2001, Martin, 57, pleaded guilty in a Maryland courtroom to charges that he sexually abused a teenage boy for three years in the late 1970s.

At the time, Martin, ordained in 1989, was a lay Catholic teacher at a Jesuit high school in suburban Baltimore. Technically, according to a spokesman for the Wilmington Diocese, Martin is still a "priest in good standing," although he has been told not to be involved in "public ministry."

Still, Martin is not subjected to the same penalties as priests who engaged in sexual misconduct with children after joining the priesthood. Those priests are ordered not to present themselves as priests, not to wear the collar or call themselves "father," at least until the outcome of a church trial.

Martin has been limited to working with "texts, not people" in his work in Chicago, said Cardinal Francis George, who invited the priest to work for him last spring, and at whose Gold Coast mansion the priest resides when he's in town.

"Is someone saying he can't earn his livelihood?" George said last week, defending his decision to hire Martin. "Are we saying the people with any kind of question about their past are no longer employable?

"Unless we want to say these people are simply permanent pariahs, is it appropriate to put his life under scrutiny in that way?"

Many advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse would argue that it is.

"The spirit of the [new church policy on abuse] means there are no abusers in ministry," said Susan Archibald, president of Linkup: Survivors of Clergy Abuse, who is scheduled to meet with George on Tuesday.

The cardinal has said he hired Martin after the Wilmington bishop said the priest was in good standing and had not been convicted of child abuse.

"That's the ingrained culture, that's the pattern that we're fighting to change, the 'Hey, is this guy OK? Yes? Good enough for me,' " said Michael Emerton, national spokesman for the Catholic group Voice of the Faithful.

Barbara Blaine, founder of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said Martin simply should not be a priest, no matter when the abuse took place in his past.

"How many other priests are out there squeaking by on a technicality, claiming the policy doesn't apply to them?" Blaine said.

Martin returned to his New Jersey home Saturday, said George's spokesman, Jim Dwyer. The cardinal hasn't made any decisions about Martin's continued employment, but "he's certainly considering everything he's heard in the last several days," Dwyer said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.