Bishops Don't Always Share Details on Accused Priests
By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 18, 2006
In early April 2002, the archbishop of Philadelphia created a commission to review how his archdiocese handled allegations of priests sexually abusing minors.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua wrote that his archdiocese would be "committed to responding with promptness, sensitivity and compassion to the specific incidents of abuse of minors by clergy which are reported to us."
A couple of months later, the U.S. bishops put national regulations in place that backed up Bevilacqua's promises. Most famously, the bishops adopted a zero-tolerance policy for credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.
Yet more than three years later, in September 2005, parishioners at St. Raphael the Archangel in St. Louis learned for the first time that one of their priests, the Rev. Joseph R. Monahan, had been accused of sexually abusing a minor in Philadelphia six years before moving to St. Louis. Neither the St. Louis archdiocese nor the priest himself had been told of the allegation until it appeared that same month in a report by a Philadelphia grand jury.
Some U.S. bishops and other Roman Catholic leaders are still having trouble following their own directives as they tread the fine line between keeping dangerous men away from children and being fair to priests who may be unjustly accused.
The national policy adopted by the U.S. bishops - the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People - is explicit: When "even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor - whenever it occurred - which is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon is to be permanently removed from ministry and, if warranted, dismissed from the clerical state."
And the accused priest, according to the charter, "is to be accorded the presumption of innocence during the investigation of the allegation."
But, as Catholics in both Belleville and St. Louis have learned, sometimes the charter doesn't cover every situation, and a bishop can find himself on his own.
Is it a bishop's responsibility to know if an admitted abuser moves into his diocese, even if the priest is a member of a religious order and will not be celebrating Mass or working with children?
That's a question Belleville Catholics were asking after Bishop Edward K. Braxton recently released two letters relating to the movement into the diocese in 2002 of a priest who had admitted abuse.
According to The Associated Press, Rev. Real Bourque admitted to sexually abusing boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s while serving as a priest in Maine and Massachusetts. He was never charged with a crime.
Did former Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory (now of Atlanta) know the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate intended to bring Bourque into the diocese? Or did Bourque slip into Belleville because of sloppy paperwork?
The first letter, dated July 9, 2002, was from the local superior of the Oblates, the Rev. Allen Maes, to Gregory. Maes wrote that he was told by the Rev. James E. Margason, Belleville's vicar general at the time, that Gregory "would not oppose our moving an Oblate to St. Henry's Community for residency."
In an interview Margason said he remembered having a conversation with Maes about an Oblate priest moving to the diocese, and that there was "some issue around sexual misconduct."
But Margason also said it was unlikely he would have told Maes that Gregory "would not oppose" Bourque's transfer to Belleville. "That does not sound like something I said. It sounds more like something Father Maes may have interpreted from our conversation," said Margason.
In a separate interview, Gregory said he, too, remembers the first letter, but said he "asked all the right questions" of the Oblates - what kind of allegation was there against this priest? Was it an adult? A child?
The July 9 letter did not mention Bourque's name, but promised a follow-up letter from the Rev. David Kalert - then the national leader, or provincial, of the Oblates - with the answers to all of Gregory's questions.
But the second letter, dated July 19, 2002, and from Kalert, did not include that information. Gregory said that because the letter did not include any information about an allegation against Bourque, it did not raise warning flags with diocesan staff when it was opened. It looked like any other routine request from a religious order to move one of its priests into the diocese and as such was routinely filed without Gregory or Margason seeing it.
The Oblates did not return more than a dozen calls over two months, but in a recent statement - released by Braxton - the current Oblate provincial, Louis Lougen, said Bourque was brought to Belleville "in accordance with the Church's law regarding such transfers and the Diocese of Belleville was informed of his arrival."
When a priest moves into a diocese he must ask the bishop for faculties, or permission to minister, if he intends to do so. The Oblates never sought faculties for Bourque in Belleville.
The Child Protection Policy of the Belleville diocese says the superior of any order priest who wants to move into the diocese "for ministry or residence in parishes, schools, agencies and/or other Diocesan institutions, as well as those simply requesting parochial faculties within the Diocese," must state in writing that "there is no history which would render the individual unsuitable to work with children."
Since Bourque was not to minister or be around children, Belleville's policy to protect children didn't apply.
Gregory conceded that he would have had no power to stop a private citizen from moving into a private residence in Belleville, even an admitted pedophile priest. "But I did want to know," he said.
If a bishop knows of an allegation against a priest in his diocese, and that priest moves to another diocese, is he responsible for telling the new bishop about the allegation?
The St. Louis archdiocese has said the Rev. Joseph R. Monahan first came to St. Louis to get treatment for alcohol dependency in 1975, and the following year became a priest-in-residence at St. John the Baptist parish. Four years later he was made an official priest of the archdiocese, and went on to work in five St. Louis parishes between 1982 and September 2002.
In 2002 Monahan was assigned to St. Raphael the Archangel parish in south St. Louis as senior associate pastor by then-Archbishop Justin Rigali, who is now the cardinal-archbishop of Philadelphia. That same year, a man told the Philadelphia archdiocese that he had been sexually abused by Monahan in 1969 when he was an eighth-grader.
For three years after his accuser came forward, Monahan worked at St. Raphael performing a host of duties - including instructing altar servers - according to the parish's current pastor, the Rev. James P. Grady.
Days before the September 21 release of the Philadelphia grand jury report that detailed decades of abuse by dozens of Philadelphia priests, the St. Louis archdiocese received a letter from the Philadelphia archdiocese. It notified officials about the allegation against Monahan, according to archdiocesan spokesman Tony Huenneke.
The archdiocese issued a statement coinciding with the release of the grand jury report, which said the allegation against Monahan was the only one in his 43 years as a priest. Monahan was put on administrative leave by the archdiocese and moved to a "monitored environment suitable for his health care needs," according to the statement.
The interpretation of the charter to protect children can change depending on the diocese. The St. Louis archdiocese's own policy says if there is "reasonable cause" to think children are at risk, "a recommendation will be made" to the archbishop by a review board "that the accused be immediately placed on a temporary administrative leave. ... Every effort will be made to protect the good name of the accused."
Earlier this month Huenneke said an investigation into the allegation against Monahan in Philadelphia was still pending because of the priest's frail health. "He's still recuperating," he said. The archdiocese has not said where Monahan is or what he is recuperating from.
Donna Farrell, director of the Philadelphia archdiocese's office of communications, said that Monahan's alleged victim approached the archdiocese through a third party in 2002, and was told that Monahan had become a priest in St. Louis. The archdiocese asked that the victim call or visit Philadelphia church officials on his own, said Farrell. She said the archdiocese never heard from the accuser again, and never launched an investigation into the allegation.
Farrell said she "could not elaborate" as to why Philadelphia church leaders failed to tell their counterparts in St. Louis about Monahan, or why Monahan himself was never told of the allegations.
In November the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victim support organization, sent a letter to the head of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board, which was set up in 2002 to study the "causes and context" of the abuse crisis. SNAP asked the review board to investigate why Monahan was able to serve in a St. Louis parish for three years after his accuser came forward in Philadelphia.
Teresa M. Kettelkamp, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, points out that the allegation against Monahan was made a couple of months before the charter to protect children was adopted.
She said there was nothing in the charter that mandated communication between dioceses in cases like Monahan's.
Leon Panetta, a former Clinton chief of staff and a former member of the National Review Board, said in a recent interview that common sense and ethics should have dictated the Philadelphia archdiocese's course of action.
"Morally and socially, I think, in terms of what was right, (the Philadelphia archdiocese) had an obligation to inform (the St. Louis archdiocese) of the allegation and let them know about the case," he said. "They did not treat these issues with the degree of seriousness they should have," he said.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the man who people most associate - for good or ill - with the U.S. bishops' zero-tolerance policy for abusive priests, said he and his brother bishops have at least begun to change course. "We've made good progress, but we're still learning," he said. "We're still trying to connect all the dots."
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