Must Church Keep Tabs on Its Ousted Priests?

By John Chadwick
February 1, 2006

An official with the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference said Tuesday the church has no obligation to monitor defrocked priests, such as James Hanley of Paterson, who has admitted molesting 15 boys.

"I don't know what that obligation would be," said Teresa Kettelkamp, the executive director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. "The ties have been severed, and they are private citizens."

Nevertheless, at least one New Jersey diocese said it keeps a close watch on ousted priests and will withhold their support payment checks if they fail to attend counseling.

"There is leverage," said Andy Walton, a spokesman for the Diocese of Camden. "If the penalty calls for laicization, that doesn't have to mean there is no further contact. The diocese still has to look out for the well-being of the community and the priest."

The Paterson Diocese came under criticism this week by victims of Hanley, a 69-year-old defrocked priest and admitted child molester living without church supervision in Paterson.

Church officials, arguing that Hanley is now a private citizen, initially said they lack legal standing to keep tabs on him or to notify neighbors. They also said church law requires them to provide Hanley with basic support, which in his case is about $2,100 per month.

But after criticism from the victims, the diocese agreed it has a moral responsibility and promised to review the matter.

"This is a brand-new situation for us," said the Rev. James Mahoney, the vicar general of the diocese.

Kettelkamp said the issue had rarely come up and isn't addressed in the child abuse policy, or charter, approved by the bishops amid a molestation scandal in 2002.

"This is the first phone call I have had on this," she said in an interview Tuesday evening. "And there's nothing in the charter that addresses this."

Nevertheless, the Camden Diocese said it requires two men removed from the priesthood for sexual abuse of children to attend counseling sessions and to keep the church informed of their whereabouts.

Walton said that the men comply with the requirement, but that the church could withhold their support payments if they didn't.

"You can say, 'These are the conditions by which you will receive this stipend,' " he said. "You have to receive counseling, and we need to see you are attending that counseling."

The Newark Archdiocese said it hasn't defrocked any priests, opting instead to remove them from public ministry and bar them from presenting themselves as clergy.

Those priests are sent questionnaires four times a year that ask them to confirm their address and living situation, spokesman Jim Goodness said. He said the diocese has been willing to delay paying their support if they fail to comply.

"Everyone understands we are serious," Goodness said. "If you do not comply with the reporting, you are not going to get your check."

Hanley, the Paterson priest, admitted in a sworn statement that he molested at least 15 boys from 1968 to 1982. He said he hasn't molested anyone since 1982, and there are no known cases pending against him.

The national director of a prominent victims group said the church can do more to monitor defrocked priests and shouldn't hide behind the charter.

"The bishops have more power than they care to admit," said David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.



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