Fugee Case Isn't an Anomaly in the Catholic Church: Opinion
By David Clohessy
May 26, 2013
|Rev. Michael Fugee appears in court last week on charges of violating a court-sanctioned agreement that bars him from working with children. |
There are plenty of reasons to be upset about Newark Archbishop John J. Myers’ actions and inaction that kept an admitted pedophile priest around kids for years despite a legal agreement forbidding such contact.
I’m troubled about it, though, for a different reason than most. The Rev. Michael Fugee controversy is considered by many — and is depicted by Catholic officials — to be a disturbing anomaly. But it’s not.
Tragically, a number of U.S. bishops are, like Myers, letting proven, admitted or credibly accused child-molesting clerics stay on the job near children. Consider these recent examples:
• Earlier this month, a Wisconsin Benedictine monk, Thomas Chmura, was out of jail on bail, but was found back at an abbey working with children, so he was arrested again.
• In the Joliet, Ill., Diocese, Bishop Daniel Conlon lets the Rev. Carroll Howlin essentially live and work, as he has for 30 years, among poor families in eastern Kentucky, despite four clergy sex-abuse settlements involving Howlin as well as a Vatican order that he be kept away from children.
• In the Fresno, Calif., Diocese, Bishop John Steinbock lets the Rev. Eric Swearingen remain on the job as a pastor despite the fact that a jury found Swearingen guilty of molesting a boy.
• In the St. Louis Archdiocese, Archbishop Robert Carlson lets the Rev. Vincent Bryce work at a Catholic institute on the edge of a Catholic college despite Bryce’s admission that he molested at least one boy.
• In the Kansas City Diocese, Bishop Robert Finn kept the Rev. Michael Tierney on the job until June 2011 despite at least three child sex allegations against him.
• In the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Cardinal Roger Mahony kept the Rev. Martin P. O’Loghlen on the job in a parish in 2011 despite O’Loghlen’s writing to one of his child sex victims seeking forgiveness and admitting he was a sex addict.
• In the San Diego Diocese, Bishop Robert Brom kept the Rev. Jose Alexis Davila on the job last year despite his pleading guilty to — and being on probation for — battery for groping a 20-year-old woman at his home.
• In the Chicago Archdiocese, Cardinal Francis George let the Rev. Kenneth J. Martin live in the cardinal’s home and work among the cardinal’s flock despite Martin’s having pled guilty to charges of molesting a child for three years.
How can this be? Didn’t America’s bishops publicly pledge, more than a decade ago, to suspend child-molesting clerics when credible child sex-abuse allegations emerge and keep them out of ministry?
Yep, they did. But since that promise was made in 2002, the Catholic Church hierarchy in the United States has been quietly but relentlessly backtracking. Bishops have realized their flocks are growing, their priests are aging, and that in clergy sex-abuse cases, their lawyers, insurers and public relations professionals can essentially bail them out of any controversy with little or no consequences other than a few bad headlines.
And bishops, we must remember, are monarchs. They run their own dioceses with virtually no oversight. They basically answer to no one, especially regarding child sex abuse. So they’re free to make — and break — promises with impunity. It may sound cynical, but it’s true.
In 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston resigned because he transferred pedophile priests, deceived trusting predators, stonewalled local prosecutors and quietly paid settlements to victims while hiding the truth. But he’s the only bishop who has felt any real negative impact for concealing clergy sex crimes.
So in the intervening decades, hundreds of Catholic officials have learned a chilling lesson: No matter how many offenders you protect or secrets you cover up or children you endanger or payouts you make, you’ll never suffer. Besides Law, there’s not a single bishop who drives a smaller car, takes fewer vacations, does his own laundry or has been denied a promotion because of his actions in this crisis.
So, bishops backpedal. They revert to the tried-and-true patterns of the past, including the one that caused this scandal to begin with: the phenomenally callous and reckless tendency to keep known or suspected child-molesting clerics in parishes, until parishioner outrage or police action forces a change.
It’s right to be outraged by Myers’ handling of the Fugee case. But it’s also good to keep a sense of perspective. And a broader look at Myers’ colleagues shows that Newark’s archbishop isn’t the outlier that he’s being made out to be.