A Case Study in Shame

Times of Trenton
December 7, 2009

NEW JERSEY--The number of unanswered questions implicit in the article about the Diocese of Trenton ("Diocese pays $325,000 in sex abuse case," Nov. 24) is enough to make one's head spin. The first, of course, is: Where were the parents in this entire sordid story? The next thing I find incomprehensible is the statement by the diocese that this was "clearly a family problem having nothing to do with Father Becker's priestly ministry."

Although the Rev. Becker was indeed Jenni Franz's uncle, the abuse is said to have occurred on church grounds on more than 100 occasions from 1982 to 1988, while Jenni was between the ages of 5 and 11. During that period, she was in training for First Communion and Confirmation, a process that inculcates respect and regard for the authority of priests.

Further, the Rev. Becker was the officiating cleric in these important religious ceremonies, wearing his priestly garb and fully representing the church. So the diocese says that this tragedy has nothing to do with the church? That breathtaking statement sounds more like crass political and corporate legalese to me.

The diocesan spokesperson, Rayanne Bennett, has stated that prior to 1989, the diocese had received other, separate "credible accusations of misconduct" against the Rev. Becker and had "resolved" them through cash settlements. Therefore, by the diocese's own admission, they were handing out money to settle the Rev. Becker's sexual abuse cases and allowing him to continue to function as a parish priest in good standing during the precise period that this little girl was being abused by him.

Even after 1989, it remains a complete mystery why the Rev. Becker was not arrested and tried in a court of law. Instead, the Diocese of Trenton tries to justify itself by saying that the Rev. Becker was sent to a medical facility and then released to continue working as a priest at the diocesan headquarters. Can you imagine the matter of an abusing school teacher or principal being handled in a similar way?

Another stunning claim by the diocese is that it is doing everything it can to bring healing to this unfortunate woman. If that were true, why, as has been publicly reported, did the diocese require Ms. Franz to sign a pledge that she would not sue before it agreed to offer her counseling assistance? While the diocese claims it is doing all it can to foster healing, it continues to maintain that this financial settlement is not an admission of guilt on its part -- it was just a "family problem."

It appears that the Diocese of Trenton has learned little from the tsunami of sexual abuse perpetrated against children all across the United States and abroad. Recalling the words of George Santayana, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." As a lifelong Roman Catholic, I submit that, relative to this sad case, the appropriate reaction by the bishop, the diocesan spokeswoman and anyone else of authority in the Diocese of Trenton should be one of deep and profound shame.

Peter Wise lives and writes in Cranbury. He can be reached at E-mail:


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