Defrocked, 30 Years Later
It Took the Catholic Church That Long to Get Rid of Francis Stinner, a Priest Who Molested Young Boys

Times Herald-Record [New York]
July 20, 2005

On Sunday, Record staffer Steve Israel brought one of the area's more appalling stories to a close. His column detailed the anguish and courage of a local man who, at age 11, had been sexually abused by his parish priest and who had decided, 20 years later, that he could no longer be a partner to the Catholic Church's coverup of his and dozens of other cases of abuse by its priests. The man called Israel in 1996 and, with the promise of confidentiality, told him his story.

Israel's column Sunday emphasized the importance of that pledge of anonymity in allowing this newspaper to bring the tale of sexual abuse and coverup to the public's attention. There is no underestimating the significance of that pledge, for this newspaper and others that published similar stories of abuse of boys by priests in their areas. When social institutions that are supposed to protect and defend the innocent not only fail in that responsibility but also enlist the innocents, through cash and coercion, in a conspiracy of denial, there must be a place of trust for the victims to go to unburden themselves. Newspapers can be that place.

But reading Israel's column also brought back feelings of anger and resentment at the church for its hypocrisy in dealing with the issue and the lengths to which it went to deny or delay dealing with the abusers.

The column was prompted by the fact that the Archdiocese of New York had just released a list of priests it had defrocked. Among them was Francis Stinner, who had served as a parish priest at St. Mary's Church in Port Jervis and taught at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen. Stinner was the man Israel's caller said had sexually abused him and at least a dozen other boys while serving as their priest.

So Francis Stinner is no longer Father Stinner. This is good news. But really, this is an old story and the sad truth is it took the church nearly 30 years from the first time he abused Israel's caller to take Stinner's collar of invincibility away from him. For much of those 30 years, Stinner was free to molest other boys as the church merely moved him to other unsuspecting parishes and paid his accusers to keep quiet.

This was the church's policy for years. Cash, cars, college tuition, counseling, there was no limit to its generosity when it came to protecting priests accused of sexual abuse. Even a promise that Stinner would no longer be stationed where he would come into contact with children was not kept.

The sexual abuse scandal that exploded in the Boston Archdiocese three years ago brought all the years of denial and deception to a halt. With victims around the country coming forward and filing lawsuits against the church, its leaders could no longer play the hide-the-priest shell game. Victims and their families were demanding not only changes in church procedures on complaints of abuse, but also criminal action against abusive priests.

The Catholic Church has responded positively to much of the criticism, but in many cases those responsible for keeping the abuse secret and protecting the guilty priests church bishops have been given a free pass. This is expecting an unhuman amount of forgiveness from parishioners. When it takes the church nearly 30 years to rid itself of a pedophile, it still has a long way to go to regain the trust of not only his victims, but also millions of others who pray daily that their loved ones are not hiding some awful secret.


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