Make the Dallas Charter Fair!


August 7, 2008

New York priests were shocked to find in today's papers that one of our distinguished priests had been removed from ministry for an allegation of an event twenty years ago! I called a lawyer friend who deals with police cases. What would happen", I asked, "to a police officer with an alcohol content over the legal limit who shot a knife-wielding man?" His reply: "He would be removed from duty, given a desk job, and under the union contract would have an administrative hearing within thirty days." I continued: "Suppose some one alleged that he had been assaulted by a cop twenty years ago and wanted the cop punished, what would happen?" My attorney friend laughed: "The cop would probably sue the accuser for libel!"

Police have a union, protective contracts, attorneys; teachers have a union, protective contracts, attorneys. They face different individuals with different functions - arresting officers, prosecutors, judges, and appeal levels. Priests have zero protection! Their fate is in the hands of one individual - the bishop, who is simultaneously arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, and appellent bench. No separation of powers! The so-called process is guided by the bishops' Dallas Charter, successful in its programs to protect children; a total failure as to treating the accused fairly. No statute of limitations, no provision for appeal, no proportionality - a pat on the ass treated equally with serial rape! Rejected by Cardinal Dulles and universally by canon lawyers! Who composed the Dallas Charter? A bishops' committee after consultation with other bishops, psychiatrists, victims of abuse, and representatives of the laity. Not one priest was invited to participate in the hearings!

According to today's media, the archdiocese reported our colleague's removal from ministry to the district attorney. Why this? New York's five year statute of limitations precludes any competence on the part of civil authorities! The DA rejected the submission!

Canon 1362, p.2 also sets a five year limit on prosecution of an allegation. The Dallas Charter abandoned this limit. Statutes of limitations are fundamental pillars in our civil and canonical jurisdictions. After the elapse of time, memory can be faulty, creative, or imaginary; witnesses not available. Motives can be suspect. A pastor discharges a choir director, a priest evicts a tenant with cause from a house he owns. Retaliation can come swiftly.

Our friend's name has been blackened. "He was removed from ministry..." Even my word processor flashes "no,no", like a misspelling, when I use this passive voice. Who removed him? Who unwarrantedly publicly reported him to the district attorney? My understanding is that his case has not yet gone before the Archdiocesan Advisory Board. Why not?

Essential Norm 8 of the Charter states that a single act of sexual abuse of a minor requires permanent removal of the abuser. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice was employed by the bishops to provide data on which the bishops could make further determinations. John Jay reported in March 2006 that its research had established that where there was a single allegation of abuse with a subsequent history of no further allegations, a process of self-correction had undoubtedly taken place with little danger of recidivism. We canonists are finding that where the alleged abuse occured two or three decades ago with no subsequent allegations, this self-corrective process has occurred. Yet Norm 8 calls for removal from ministry!

Priests need a union! The USCCB needs to revisit its Dallas Charter. The Charter must be made a respectable legal document. Canon 220 must be obeyed: "No one is permitted to damage unlawfully the good reputation which another person enjoys..."


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