Judging Priests in a More Just Way

Boston Globe [Boston MA]
January 9, 2003

T'S TIME for the Globe and the rest of the media to consider their role in creating the public milieu that may have contributed to the recent suicide of the Rev. Richard Lower (Page A1, Dec. 31). Lower evidently killed himself - the third priest to do so - after learning that he had been recently accused of molesting a minor in 1973 and that he would be publicly removed from his parish in New Hampshire. It's most unfortunate that the tragedy of Lower's death is muted by the loathing many of us have toward those stigmatized as ''rogue priests'' who should get ''what's coming to them.''

When people who were sexually violated by priests began coming forward, the opportunity existed for a thoughtful public discussion on matters that routinely elude reason. Instead the media decided that the priests crisis would be viewed within the framework of an inquisition. The cause of such problems is thought to come from demons, and the call goes out to look under every bed to remove these ''monsters'' in our midst, thereby saving ''decent society'' and its children. Priests who most of us experienced as ''good'' are demonized on the basis of allegations, and a policy of zero tolerance is instituted to remove these ''pedophile priests'' once and for all from our midst.

To paraphrase the past president of the Brooklyn Sisters of Mercy (Camille D'Arienzo), is it really just to judge another human being by the worst thing he has done in his life, as if it were the only thing he has done? How would any of us fare were someone to broadcast the worst thing we have done - as if it were the solitary expression of our life on earth? Isn't what's required for healing repentance, a sincere apology, appropriate restitution and rebirth - not demonization?

I do not know whether Lower hurt someone terribly 30 years ago, slightly, or whether the allegation against him has any truth to it whatsoever. But my guess is that he was a loving human being who did a lot of good in his life.

My hope is that some time soon we will come to our senses and a more just appraisal of the whole life of such accused priests will become possible.

Paul Shannon



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