Wrong to Protect Priest

The Star-Ledger [Newark NJ]
July 27, 2005

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops agreed three years ago that the church must be transparent about sex abuse by its clergy, and yet the Newark Archdiocese continues to protect the identities of priests who have been credibly accused of sexually assaulting minors.

The Newark Archdiocese is the only Roman Catholic diocese in New Jersey that does not identify such men unless the priest is a pastor or a reporter asks about a specific priest.

The failure of this approach was underscored recently when the Rev. Gerald Ruane, who is not a pastor but who had been ordered not to present himself as a priest, was found concelebrating Mass in Morris County. Ruane, the archdiocese determined, had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. He agreed to retire and not to wear priestly vestments or to present himself as a priest in public.

But clerics at St. Joseph's Shrine in Stirling, where Ruane said Mass on Holy Thursday, knew nothing of the order, nor had they any way of knowing about it. Dressed as a priest, Ruane also gave a television interview while in Rome following the death of Pope John Paul II, and until recently, he sold books and tapes through a Catholic publisher.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said its privacy policy was predicated on a desire to protect the reputations of accused priests. Ruane was never criminally charged. The statute of limitations had long expired, but the archdiocese, after an investigation, concluded it didn't want him representing himself in public as a priest.

The archdiocese did the right thing undertaking a thorough investigation when the accusation was leveled, and was correct to get Ruane out of the public arena when it was determined that the charge was credible. But why now protect the reputation of such a priest?

There's a difference between protecting someone who is accused but not proved guilty and protecting someone whom the church believes is guilty. If no steps are taken at least to inform other priests of the situation, a reprimand is meaningless.

It may be that the reputation the archdiocese is trying to protect is not that of the credibly accused priest but of the archdiocese.