Priests' Secrets Are Safe, but Is Anyone Else?

By James Gill
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
October 10, 2004

Three unnamed New Orleans priests are to be put on secret trial, and the archdiocese says it is under no obligation to reveal the verdicts.

That should really boost public confidence in the Catholic hierarchy's contrition for conniving at child rape and molestation for so many years.

Archbishop Alfred Hughes will decide the fate of a fourth priest, Pat Sanders, who is not accused of diddling kids but only because the two boys on whom he allegedly forced his attentions were 16 years old at the time, which was just before the church raised the age of majority to 18.

The church must be playing this one for laughs. Instead of sitting in judgment, Hughes should be on trial for his derelictions as a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law, when notorious pedophile priests criss-crossed the Boston Archdiocese violating their young charges without let or hindrance.

The Vatican is prepared only to go after the small fish, although they could not have gotten away with their crimes without assistance from above. Many victims of the dirty priests say that complaining to bishops was just a waste of time.

We will not know what happens to the small fish slated for trial here unless the church should graciously decide to square with the public. "That would be decided on a case-by-case basis depending on the judgment of the archdiocese on the need to know," a spokesman explained.

This is not reassuring. It was the church's contempt for the public's right to know that enabled the crimes of the priesthood to continue for so long.

These trials will apparently not resemble any proceedings you might see in an American courtroom. A panel conversant with the mysterious and antique provisions of canon law presides and renders judgment, which may be appealed all the way to Rome. Only after all appeals are exhausted will the archdiocese consider whether the public should be informed.

It is likely that one of the priests ordered to stand trial is Michael Fraser, whose case exemplifies the hypocrisy and evasion of the church's response to the sex scandal. In 1991 a boy named Robert Johnson who had been a guest in Fraser's house told his parents, prominent members of the local church in Pearl River, that the hospitality came at a price. The parents got the bum's rush from church authorities, were ostracized by their former fellow parishioners and left the church.

Fraser, meanwhile, was something of a blue-eyed boy with the archdiocese, which transferred him to Marrero and made him head of the west bank deanery. The aggrieved parents decided in 1998 that they had no recourse but to file a lawsuit.

The archdiocese responded with a claim that the suit should be dismissed because the Johnsons had waited too long to sue, but last year an appeals court ruled that the case did not prescribe until 10 years after the alleged tort and the state Supreme Ccourt agreed.

Members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests wanted to see the case come to trial and remove the veil of secrecy that has thwarted their efforts to obtain redress. But the church was not so keen to wash its dirty vestments in public, especially when another former member of Fraser's flock came forward to claim he had been molested as a youngster in the 1980s.

The archdiocese removed Fraser from the ministry in January, and quietly settled the Johnsons' lawsuit out of court.

Now it appears that Fraser will get his day in court, and the public will just have to trust that justice will be done.

That, of course, is impossible. His alleged offenses are so old that he is immune from prosecution in the secular courts, and the worst that could happen to him would be permanent removal from the priesthood.

That would be a derisory price for the harm he is alleged to have done. The mumbo jumbo of a clandestine tribunal will be no consolation whatsoever for victims of depraved priests and their mitered protectors.


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