Fr. Tim Moyle: Catholic Voices Silenced by Unfair Abuse Accusations

By Tim Moyle
National Post
February 9, 2012

Angelo Dundee was a man you wanted in your corner.

I noted with sadness the other day obituaries published in the wake of the death of Angelo Dundee, the man who trained Muhammad Ali to become heavyweight boxing champion of the world more than once. From the ‘float like a butterfly’ days of his early victories over Sonny Liston and Joe Frasier, to the ‘rope-a-dope’ tactics that felled the Goliath George Foreman, all the way to the spanking of Leon Spinks, Dundee guided Ali to victory after victory. Those epic contests of brawn and will captured the attention and admiration of the world like no other sporting event, lifting Ali to a status unmatched as a global icon. And he couldn’t have done it without Dundee.

Given the body shots that the Roman Catholic Church has been absorbing through the ‘Long Lent’ of the sex abuse scandals, Angelo would be a welcome voice at the current Vatican conference designed to share best practices and protocols throughout the Church. Seeming to reel after being pummeled by the multiple revelations of clergy malfeasance, the faithful in Canada can ill afford to receive any below the belt shots as she has suffered at the hands of some who are trying to knock them out of the fight altogether.

Such is the case recently on a Canadian blog dedicated to exposing these scandals and the indolent manner in which they have been handled by bishops in times past. Springing out of the Cornwall Abuses allegations and Inquiry in the 1990’s, its author Sylvia MacEachern has successfully held Canadian bishops feet to the fire to ensure they put into practice the justice they promise to bring to wounded victims. She’s been an effective ‘cut-man’ in the Church’s corner. However, she may have crossed a line recently with recent allegations she has published involving a Maritime bishop and a local accused priest.

Bishop Robert Harris of St. John, New Brunswick is accused on the blog of placing the city’s children at risk by not directly talking to the priest’s parish to indicate that he was being removed due to allegations of child abuse. Instead, he fulfilled both the letter and spirit of Church protocol for removing any accused cleric from office and public ministry. Bishop Harris chose to do so without inflicting a body blow to the priest’s reputation that comes with the taint of scandal until a complete police investigation was conducted. He permitted the priest to step aside on leave for ‘personal reasons’ which preserved the priest’s reputation and the safety of the congregation’s children. Any priest in such a situation is denied the right to publicly minister or celebrate the sacraments effectively removing him from coming into contact with children throughout the Diocese.

I hasten to add at this point that Bishop Harris is reported in the blog article attacking him as ensuring that the matter was quickly and completed reported and investigated by the police. It states that the police forces of both Fredericton and St. John conducted independent investigations of the allegations and have declined to bring charges against the accused priest.

Anyone hit with such an unjustified allegation of having deliberately placed children in danger to protect the reputation of another would yell ‘Foul’ at being subjected to such a low blow. If the Bishop fully and immediately took the appropriate steps to ensure both the imperatives of security and investigation, especially if after a thorough two-year long investigation by two police forces failed to find evidence to justify laying charges, it is difficult to understand why their records should both bear the marks with such a vile public false accusation on the Internet as having endangered or assaulting children.

Bishop Harris is to be commended for the manner in which he has conducted this whole affair. His actions ensured that children were kept protected and safe in the hands of his clergy without inciting a firestorm of community gossip centering out any children who had been in the accused company, questioning whether they were now ‘damaged goods’, splattering more blood on innocent ring-side spectators. If every bishop demonstrated such a steady hand and keen pastoral sense of the needs of their flock from the beginning of all these trials as Harris has done, voices smearing their character would have no audience or resonance at all. Sadly too many failed to meet the same standard and all Catholic clergy have suffered jabs and blows to our prestige and reputations ever since.

As a priest who took seriously Pope Benedict’s command for Catholics to take up the instruments of social media to promote and protect the faith, I have been subjected to similar allegations and innuendo. The state of the Church in the public square is so low today that any defense or explanation offered by priests results in a steady stream of punches, jabs and low-blows aimed at impugning their intentions, integrity and character. It has been my experience that fists start flying in every direction beating to the mat anyone representing the Church who dares raise his face from the mat to present a defence. It has not been a pleasant experience being so maligned.

It has beaten most priests into quiet service and submission, limiting their voice and influence to only those who attend weekly services. Many clergy believe it is not safe for them to stand out in the public square. Their voice is being silenced or shouted down, denying them the capacity to minister, to speak out to the greater community. Their audience now turns a deaf ear, refusing to hear the Church’s voice as it tries to address the liberal advocates who are driving our culture into the ground with its fixation on personal choice and autonomy. The costs of this debacle are measured in a growing mound of dead pre-born children and defenseless seniors. Defenseless and mute participants, unable to survive even a single round in the bloody contest for their life, they have been quickly dispatched and generating little interest within the media or the greater community because voices, crying out on their behalf, have fallen silent in the public square. That is a cause worthy of taking to the ramparts to shout our cried of alarm, even if it means that joining the fray will result in some bites and bruises for the team. Thus the damage to the Church and State is multiplied many times over by one single person delivering a rabbit shot to the kidney of those tasked with representing the propositions of belief.

Indeed, first and foremost, the best care and support possible must be afforded those who have already been KO’d by the foul assaults of predator priests. Every person attending the Vatican conference would breathe as one on this point. But, from the uninvolved children who would have been subjected to suspicious gossip, to the priest, community and Bishop who have all suffered the blows of being falsely and publicly accused, many more are needlessly suffering the bruises of an unmerited beating by a bully.

A corner man as brilliant as Dundee would find no shortage of wounded warriors in the Catholic Church today. They seem to have been bloodied and battered by those trying to knock them out of the game and in need of help to keep fighting on towards the final world championship they are trying to win for believers. I pray he can pass along a few tips to the Bishop today who represents another pugnacious fellow named Peter who first settled on that little hill in Rome. We can all use the help learning how to defend ourselves when opponents insist on hitting us with the occasional low blow and come out with our arms outstretched in victory!








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