The rule of law, not of bishops

There is a crisis of morale among many of America’s priests, in part,  because many fear that their bishop would throw them to the lions at the first hint of trouble.

I have for years been arguing that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church should have been — and in the future should be — adjudicated by Church tribunals according to the provisions of canon law, rather than “handled” ad hoc by bishops and mid-level clerics in various chancery positions. For a good analysis, I recommend reading Fr. John J. Coughlin’s 2003 article “The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis and the Spirit of Canon Law” or the chapter titled “Canon Law and the Sexual Abuse Crisis” in his book Canon Law: A Comparative Study with Anglo-American Legal Theory (Oxford University Press, 2010).

“Canonical action could have been taken against guilty priests,” says Fr. Coughlin, a specialist in canon law, “especially those who were serial child abusers.” But the reality is that, from Vatican II until the 2002 sexual abuse crisis, contentious penal processes, as specified in canon law, for priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor were “nonexistent” in the United States. “Until the church’s response to the 2002 scandal,” writes Fr. Coughlin, “I am not aware of any case in the United Sates in which a priest was dismissed from the clerical state as a result of the diocesan penal process stipulated in canon law.”

This lack of a serious threat of penal sanction had disastrous consequences, as we now know. As Fr. Coughlin points out, “The highest level of incidents in which priests abused minors commenced after Vatican II and abated shortly after the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.” To put this into perspective, “75 percent of all the alleged events [of abuse] occurred between 1960 and 1984.”

Two secular paradigms

What clearly seems to have happened in many dioceses in the 1960s and 70s is that a psychological paradigm replaced the Church’s traditional moral, ascetical, and canonical traditions. It was, to use a phrase from Philip Reiff’s famous book, “the triumph of the therapeutic.” After Vatican II, says Fr. Coughlin, “any hint at a coercive element in canon law was viewed as contrary to the spirit of renewal.”

So, why not simply turn things over to the secular court system, as has now been done, and as seems popular with so many, in the spirit of “let the secular courts clean the rot out of the church”? First, because the secular authorities will use that power to strangle the church, as is already happening. There are good reasons Thomas Beckett defended with his life the principle that clerics should be tried in ecclesiastical courts. People who love the great martyr forget why he was martyred. He understood—and it is something we too often forget—that secular authorities have their own agendas, and they too often use their power to crush, control, or merely silence those who oppose them. Does anyone imagine, in light of the debacle of Cardinal Pell’s trial in Australia or the repeated fleecing of the Catholic Church in America or given the increasing animus against Catholics, that the civil courts can be trusted to judge these matters fairly?

But there is another problem, more damaging to the Church’s internal character and functioning, why it is a bad idea to replace the misbegotten psychological paradigm experts convinced the bishops to use in the 1970s with the misbegotten legalistic paradigm experts have convinced the bishops to employ today. With the “zero-tolerance policy” that the bishops enunciated in Dallas in 2002, writes Fr. Coughlin, the bishops “elected to correct the decades-long absence of a canonical response to the problem with a rule of strict criminal liability.”

“Zero-tolerance” and “strict criminal liability” may sound like good things, but they are rarely as salutary or innocent in practice. What was missing from the Dallas policy, writes Fr. Coughlin, were a host of elements basic to any legal code that purports to express fundamental fairness and justice: notice of the precise nature of an allegation; a transparent and commonly-shared definition of the offense of sexual abuse and what is meant by a “credible allegation”; an opportunity to be heard and offer defense; and proportionality in penalties applied if guilt is established. A priest’s right to be heard and offer defense is also often compromised by his bishop’s demand he remain silent in obedience to his bishop. Fr. Coughlin writes:

In the months following Dallas, it was not uncommon for a priest with a single allegation against him, which was placed in his diocesan personnel file twenty or more years ago, to be summarily dismissed from an active and fruitful ministry. Following years of faithful service, the priest suddenly found himself deprived of his life’s work and with his reputation irreparably damaged. Placed on indefinite administrative leave without adequate notice or opportunity to be heard, he received the same penalty as a serial child abuser.

I am acquainted with the case of a priest who fits this description. Although the local attorney general found no evidence to prosecute him for any wrong-doing, his case was bundled with a large number of others in a civil suit that his archdiocese eventually settled for a large cash pay-out, making no distinction between serious cases of serial abuse and dubious cases in which prosecutors had determined no abuse could be proven. His accuser was thus able to proclaim “victory” even though she had never proven her case in any court.

As a result, this priest sits alone in a basement apartment, reading, praying, and hoping that some day his case might be adjudicated by some official tribunal rather than merely being pronounced guilty by the media lynch mob. Parishes go without priests, hospitals go without chaplains, the sick die without the comfort of the last rites, but this man cannot serve because he has become tainted with an accusation he can never rebut.

Regional circuit court canon law tribunals

I suggest the bishops, since they obviously don’t consider their own local tribunals qualified to deal with claims of abuse, should establish several regional tribunals or “circuit courts,” staffed by specially trained canonical judges to examine and adjudicate charges of sexual abuse in accord with the basic provisions of canon law. I have described them as “circuit courts” because they would occasionally be required, as early “circuit court” judges in the United States were, to travel to specific locations to adjudicate cases. It would be easier for a smaller group of judges to share common definitions of sexual abuse and what constitutes a “credible allegation” and to make these definitions clear to the public.

These tribunals should be independent of the influence of any individual bishop. But in forming such independent tribunals, the bishops would not merely be turning over judgment to the civil authorities, for these would be ecclesiastically-established tribunals operating according to the provisions of the Church’s canon law. Thus, when a bishop receives a complaint of abuse, trained members of the “circuit court” tribunal staff of his region would gather all the testimony and evidence necessary. Having done so within a timely manner, they would then turn this information and all accompanying evidence over to the tribunal judges for judgment.

Everything would then be a matter of public record. If after due consideration according to the principles of due process, a priest is found guilty or innocent, the public could have a much greater sense of confidence that this judgment had been reached after due consideration by an independent panel of canon law judges, not by ecclesiastical bureaucrats trying to avoid scandal either by burying a case or by throwing a cleric who has become a public liability under the bus. It would an application of the rule of law, not of bishops.

A rule of law, not of bishops

But this, I have been told repeatedly, will never happen. Bishops, I am told, will never give up that control over the process.

“Why not?” I ask. “It would get a terrible annoyance off their backs and help protect them and the diocese from civil liability.” “No,” those more-in-the know-than-I insist, “bishops will not give up the control this system gives them over their priests.”

“Canon law functions to set the conditions for a just ecclesial order,” writes Fr Coughlin, “protect individual rights while respecting the common good, facilitate the mission of the church in preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments, encourage acts of charity and promote peace and security in the here and now even as it points to the ultimate justice of the life hereafter and the consummation of time.” These objectives of the rule of law in the life of the church are diminished, however, he argues, by the all-too-common antinomian and authoritarian approaches taken by U.S. bishops throughout much of the nation’s history.

“Antinomianism undervalues the significance of canon law in the life of the church,” writes Fr. Coughlin, “and it is often accompanied by an authoritarian legalism on the part of hierarchical superiors. In the antinomian absence of the proper appreciation of canon law, superiors may feel free to use their lawful power in an authoritarian manner.” And too often, it seems, they do.

There is a crisis of morale among many of America’s priests, not only because they are unfairly labeled by the general culture and the media as pedophiles when it is still the case that the incidence of pedophilia among Catholic priests is lower than in the general population, but also because many fear that their bishop would throw them to the lions at the first hint of trouble. Many priests see themselves, therefore, as one complaint away from ignominy and disgrace, especially because often, priests are not allowed to speak on their own behalf, having been commanded to be silent by their bishops.

So too, there is unlikely to be a proper respect for due process that would allow them to defend themselves. Insisting that a priest keep silent in the hopes that things will eventually blow over or that the media will lose interest is not a satisfactory way for a man to defend his good name. And a man has nothing of value if he has lost his good name and reputation. To be constantly suspected of something one did not do is not justice. Enforced silence to avoid “scandal” is not justice; it does not clear the air of suspicion that Church authorities are hiding something. Because, in fact, they are.

It is a sad reality that the general cultural climate within which priests and laity interact has in many cases become toxic. As a consequence, nearly everything a priest does these days can be interpreted badly as possibly meaning something untoward and inappropriate. It would be a rare priest without some complaint against him in his file — not necessarily sexual or predatory, but a complaint about behavior that some aggrieved party finds “offensive.” What priests fear can happen is that they might have some complaint in their file, no matter how unsubstantiated, and in a crunch, the bishop will pull it out and hold it over their head as a threat.

Why not establish independent canon law tribunals to adjudicate complaints of abuse? Because, I am told, if bishops were forced to ship cases off to an independent tribunal, they could no longer hold this cudgel over the heads of their priests, and this is a power they are not willing to give up.

(Those who find this explanation less than convincing should read Kevin McKenna’s book Defending Rights in the Church or the section on “Antinomianism and Legalism during the Nineteenth Century” in Fr. Coughlin’s article, both of which document how various U.S. bishops steadfastly resisted their decisions about priests and parishes being governed by the rules of canon law. As it turns out, it is not only Catholic universities in the U.S. that have resisted “interference from Rome.” Perhaps one reason U.S. bishops have been so resistant to implementing the demands of Ex Corde Ecclesiae on American universities is that they so sympathize with the desire not to be “bothered” by the rules from Rome.)

The secular legalistic paradigm that has replaced the secular psychological paradigm has no greater respect for the Church’s history and traditions. It corrupts the Church’s internal dynamics, threatens the Church’s standing in society, and fails to address something secular courts can never address, which should be the Church’s ultimate concern: namely, the salvation of souls.

So perhaps Pope Francis is right. Perhaps at the heart of the abuse scandal is “clericalism”: the claim of a right to power or privilege that comes simply from being a cleric — or in this case, a bishop — a right not constrained by those pesky church rules.

Courts can be imperfect vehicles for uncovering the truth. But I have more confidence in a duly-appointed and well-run judicial court to come to a wise discernment in such matters than I do in nearly any individual bishop and his chancery officials. A good and wise bishop would want to send his cases to an independent canon law court. Judicial courts, like democracy, seems like an unsuitable system, until you compare them with all the others.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Dr. Randall B. Smith 43 Articles
Dr. Randall B. Smith is a full professor of Theology at a Catholic, liberal arts university. His book Reading the Sermons of Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide is available from Emmaus Press. And his next book, Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture at Paris: Preaching, Prologues, and Biblical Commentary will be available from Cambridge University Press in the fall.

37 Comments

  1. The fact is that far too many bishops lack the moral courage to do what is right. They are far more interested in buying peace at any cost. All should take the motto at their ordinations: “Make No Waves.”

    The further truth is that too many bishops care little about: truth, justice, charity, and honor. Far too many have little trouble lying (often going by the name ‘obfuscation’). Far too many are motivated by fear, money, power and prestige.

    But the irony is that bishops now have less money than ever (Catholics have closed their wallets), their power is nil as it has been transferred to the State (because they had little interest in doing what was right) and any prestige they once enjoyed has now vanished with their great leader in the American Church having been laicized in disgrace. Their power wanes because those men who might have considered a vocation to the diocesan priesthood are fewer and fewer. Look what Fr. James Altman’s bishop did to him as a case in point. Men called to the priesthood will look at that and give that call a long second look.

    If I were a young man called to the priesthood, I’d sooner look at orthodox Benedictine communities where professed religious get to chose their own Abbot. Perhaps priests in each diocese ought to chose the bishop (but before that happens, the ranks of the priesthood must be culled of its culture of homosexuality).

    • We’ll need an orthodox Pope who supports Tradition before these are considered. Yes, it’s true that in medieval England, bishops were elected from the cathedral chapter. Another thing that should be considered is ordaining married men to priesthood. If it’s Apostolic for the Orthodox to do it, and is allowed in Eastern Rite Catholicism, it should be considered in the West. Historically, the subdiaconate required celibacy, and for the past 45 years, we’ve ordained married men to the permanent diaconate. The common objection might be a $$$ issue if the wife and kids have to be supported in the rectory, but at least a priest with a family cannot be easily moved. It seems common practice to move pastors a lot, whereas before Vatican II you remained pastor for life unless you were promoted. Neither the less, if a middle-aged married man and his wife have at least 4 children and he has advanced education, he should be considered to apply for priesthood.

      • Another thing that should be considered is ordaining married men to priesthood.

        Ordaining married men as the norm in the Latin Rite is not the panacea that many foolishly think it would be. The 23 Eastern Rite Churches sui juris, which ordain, as the norm, married men have not themselves been free from the attempted infiltration by homosexuals. Incidentally, all Bishops in the Eastern Rites are selected exclusively from the ranks of celibates.

        and for the past 45 years, we’ve ordained married men to the permanent diaconate.

        Who are dispensed from the discipline of continence but agree prior to ordination that if their spouse precedes them in death they will adopt the discipline of celibacy.

        The only solution is to enforce the historic ban – reaffirmed by Pope St. John XXIII in February of 1961 – on admitting homosexuals to the seminary let alone ordaining them. Purge the lavender mafia and vocations would slowly but eventually flourish.

  2. Interesting article Dr Smith, but as quoted from the article, “So perhaps Pope Francis is right. Perhaps at the heart of the abuse scandal is “clericalism”: the claim of a right to power or privilege that comes simply from being a cleric — or in this case, a bishop — a right not constrained by those pesky church rules.” is untrue and we all know it. The heart of the abuse scandal is homosexuality, plain and simple, though this sinful culture has conditioned us not or to be afraid to admit it. Those priest, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, anyone in the Hold See who believe that the practice of a homosexual lifestyle is acceptable and should be under Church doctrine should be weeded out and sent packing. Those poor souls who practice this sort of life should be helped to find their true humanity. Some of Fr. Coughlin’s ideas have their merit but the practicing Catholic would just say the the “court” is protecting its own. Solving the REAL problem begins where it starts with a) admitting what that real problem is, i.e. homosexuality and b) putting a stop to the admittance of candidates with homosexuality tendencies from the seminaries. This business of blaming something else as the cause will just end up with the Church going through this same thing 15 to 20 years from now. Can we afford to wait?

    • Agree completely with Dr. Smith that accused priests are entitled to due process. But also agree with you, Jeffrey, that the root cause of this crisis was the admittance to seminaries and later ordination of men who led active gay lifestyles, with Msgr Burrill being an unfortunate current example for whom we should pray.

      • Bella Dodd was directly responsible for finding and sending 1000s of homosexuals into the priesthood, I think it was the 40s and 50s. She hated the Catholic Church that much. Most of those men became priests and eventually became Bishops, Cardinals and Archbishops. Homosexual men who entered after the 50s and 60s knew they would be admitted, so that’s why we have so many homosexual clerics in the C.C. today. They were never vetted until recently and praise God now most men who become priests are not guy. I still don’t understand why the Bishops did nothing all those years ago to root out homosexual priests accused of sexual crimes. They knew they were guilty but chose to move them to another unsuspecting parish instead of throwing them out of the priesthood. Shame on most of those Bishops, who are just as guilty of sin as the guilty priests who ruined thousands of young boys lives.

    • Clericalism definitely plays a big role but so does the money the priests in some countries receive. This enables them to live their lavish lifestyles.
      Years ago, the priests survived on the bare minimum. One gets a good idea about this from Pope John XXIII’s letters to his not too well-off family. He sued to send them money whenever he could. When he was appointed Bishop to a Muslim dominated city, he found a rundown house for himself. It leaked a lot. Not like some palaces they have today.

  3. It should make heaven cry that decent men who have dedicated their lives to serving God should be treated so shabbily. One sort of grave injustice has been replaced with another, still for the same reason – “protecting the image of the Church”. I suspect God cares more for the truth and for fairness to individuals than He does for sanitized images.

  4. Fr Coughlin’s revelation that no priest apparently ever dismissed for sexual child abuse prior to 2002 is startling. Well researched article by Dr Randall Smith this fact a basis for canon law response rather than the weak kneed often complicit brushing aside when addressed within diocesan channels of the serious dilemma that his deeply wounded Catholicism. Sexual depravity so long practiced within clerical ranks from the lowest to the pinnacle of authority seems to this writer the heretical belief that men naturally struggle for a sexual outlet and turning to the vulnerable child [or adult] is understandable. Compassionate understanding of the clerical brother equivalent to approbation. I fully agree with Dr Smith’s, Why not establish independent canon law tribunals to adjudicate complaints of abuse? Presently we’re literally suffering with a Magisterium that inhibits real reform as is widely evident particularly in the moral oppression of then president USCCB Cardinal DiNardo who attempted real reform of hierarchy as well as presbyter and was under undercut, humiliated by Pope Francis, who replaced his authority [not the title of president of the conference] with his facsimile Cardinal Cupich. Bishops should proceed if necessary forcefully within their rights as Apostolic successors despite possible attempts at obstruction from Rome during the interim of a new pontiff. With the manipulation of the college of cardinals there’s no guarantee of positive change. Furthermore, there’s the issue of woeful priest training that a commentator challenged me on vocations. The present system is conducive to producing more of the same abusive personalities. Wherever there’s an all male club homosexuals gravitate towards it, especially where there are boys more vulnerable to the devious predator. The present system of training is locked into this vicious circle. The first priests, our Apostles chosen by Christ, were adults. Of course we’ve had saints who emerged from the hothouse system, but until the vicious circle is corrected we should, perhaps permanently, return to Christ’s example, selecting men already convicted of their good moral values having been tested in life’s experiences firmly dedicated to Christ.

  5. Dr Smith writes that the “secular legalistic paradigm” is hostile to the Church and ought not to be the forum for responding to the clerical abuse problem. No doubt this is correct. It is for the Church to solve its general problems, along the lines as suggested by Dr Smith and also to deal with the cases of individual priests facing allegations of abuse.
    But an incident of abuse, while it engages Church law and procedure, also engages the secular law of the country as it will amount to a breach of the criminal law and have civil law consequences. I am not assuming that Dr Smith is arguing that such cases should not be dealt with by the secular legal system. There is surely a moral duty -and in some jurisdictions it is a legal duty – to refer criminal acts to the authorities for investigation.
    I think this question should have been clarified in the article.

  6. During my working years I worked for a suburban rail network. Hundreds of us serving thousands of people every day. There were rumors going around about the sexual behaviors of some of the employees. A couple of them were transferred to other areas. One abuser sat just a few feet away from me. The big bosses knew about it but only informed us the day he was found guilty and sent to prison. There were others too but the department did not take any action besides transferring those suspected of doing wrong. I never heard politicians discussing this problem which, by the way, existed long before Vatican 2. Can we name many abusers who were charged and imprisoned before the 1060s?
    I see two mindsets at play. One is the State which sees abuse as a criminal activity that can attract fines or prison sentences. That is Caesar’s responsibility. The Church, on the other hand, sees it as a grievous sin that has serious consequences for a perpetrator’s soul – and the harm done to the victim. This harm done to the victims was not very well understood by society till the latter part of the twentieth century. And the Church still has to care for all the souls involved in this very ugly and harmful sin.
    Pope Francis has already put strict guidelines in place.

    • Francis enables and protects homosexual predators as much as he can. He released McCarrick from the (inadequate) sanctions Benedict had placed upon him so he could use him to negotiate the betrayal of Chinese Catholics. He also intervened to prevent the USCCB from investigating McCarrick’s rise. He slandered victims of abuse in Chile and stood by the guilty bishops until it became impossible for him to continue. He also has sheltered the notorious Zanchetta. Will these examples suffice for you or do you need more? Francis is not the solution; he is a big part of the problem.

      • You begin by saying that our Pope released McCarrick from Pope Benedict’s sanctions. Vigano, who hates this Pope made a statement about that which does not ring true. And just because he saw McCarrick leaving for China, he assumed that the Cardinal was involved in the discussions with China. It appears he was not.
        Child abuse or any abuse, for that matter, has very harmful effects. I was surprised and hurt when someone very dear to me told me that that a stranger had abused him when he was a child. A long time ago as student I prevented a homosexual guy from taking advantage of me sexually. It is disgusting just to think about it. However, there have been times when I found it hard to believe claims made by people that a couple of acquaintances were abusers because they had come across to me as decent people. The pope might have initially had a good impression about those Bishops, but when the truth of sorts was made known to him, he did take action. He condemned their culture of coverup.
        Tony, our Church is a billion plus strong and spread over 200 countries. This makes it very difficult to be on top of all the problems everywhere. This is why he prefers the synodal system. He wants every Bishop to be responsible/accountable for the affairs of his diocese. He is not a perfect person but he is definitely not the evil disciple of our Lord – as some portray him to be.

        • You simply assert and expect everyone to accept what you say at face value. Vigano’s claims about McCarrick being restricted by Benedict were verified independently. Later, under Francis, McCarrick reemerged and became Francis’ special emissary to China. Shortly thereafter, the disgraceful deal was struck with Beijng. I don’t accuse Francis of not being on top of every problem in the Church. On the contrary, he is intimately involved in most of the biggest and his influence is overwhelming negative.

        • Mal, Why target Vigano? He’s not the one who did wrong. It was Francis who did and does wrong. The other day Francis called on us not to take the Commandments seriously, what kind of Pope is that? I ask, do you obey everything Francis says? Since you constantly praise Francis. Where were you during the reigns of St. John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict XVl? Were you out defending everything they said? What are you’re favorite off-the-cuff remarks by Francis? What are the acts of his great mercy? And so on and so on. You call on us to obey Francis, St. Paul called on us to be ever ready to give a reason for our faith. You demand that of everyone else. Now it’s your turn to answer for your faith.

          • The other day the Pope did not call on to water down the Commandments. He just said that they bare not absolute – which is correct. Thou shall not murder is a commandment but we know that there are times when taking a life is not a sinful act. Our Lord was heavily criticized because he broke the Sabbath law. “If one of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out?”
            I am surprised that you ask for evidence of our Pope’s acts of mercy. Do you not know that he roamed the slums in his part of Argentina to meet the poor and disadvantaged? Do you not know that Pope Francis had been sneaking out of the Vatican at night to give money to the poor on the streets of Rome? Or, that he converted a beautiful building next to St Peter’s Square into a home for homeless people?

  7. “By their fruits you shall know them.” The fruits of the last five decades lead me to the opinion that the Roman Catholic Church, despite her magnificent credentials, took at least one wrong turning during the past 1800 years, then doubled down a little over a century ago. In regard to the matter at hand, Jeffrey has pointed out the major issue, with both the Church and society at large frozen in denial. We’re told repeatedly, and expected to believe, that homosexuals don’t proselytize, which is a blatant lie. Believing doesn’t make it so, though there seem to be legions who think it does. It may be true that many don’t proselytize, but those who do make up for them by an order of magnitude.

    I have the dubious distinction of having met one of the lost sheep we’re discussing here. I can sum up my opinion of him by saying I think he was ambushed by his own sexuality, despite his all too obvious sincerity. And how could he be any different, having passed the filter that favors those men who can easily give up women, over those who can do so only with great suffering? At best, he misunderstood or underestimated his drives; at worst, he carelessly projected them upon others, with dreadful results.

    Our knowledge of human psychology is still in its infancy, having been led down the garden path for 100 years by Freud, Freudians, and Freudianism. Even today, we spend huge amounts on latter-day phrenology, researching hot spots in the cranium and imagining that their loci impart dependable truths about the brain. (If that were totally true, replication of these studies would be a lot more prevalent than it is.) We need a much better understanding of the brain, its semi-sentient, autonomous regions, and the Unconscious, in order to address the complete problem. Church politics are a side-issue.

    • Mal, That the commandments do not bear absolute truth is a heresy blasted by St. John Paul ll. It died down for a while but now Francis revives the heresy. You point out the killing of another to save one’s own life or the life of others. That is not murder, it is not a sin at all, but is commanded by God in the Natural Law. Murder is when one man unjustly takes the life of another. But Francis was not speaking of that, he called on us not to take the 10 commandments seriously. that’s heresy. What have you to say about the Franciscans of the Immaculate. 800 priests and Brothers, 400 Nuns and they were growing at a fast pace. So Francis destroys them. After so many years Francis still has Fr. Manelli the founder of this Order under house arrest. Prohibited from speaking to any member of the Order he founded. WHY!!! What have you to say of the Bishop of Paraguay who was thrown out into the street with only the clothes on his back. This Bishop was running his seminary using Summorum Pontificum, that’s probably why Francis the merciful had him thrown into the streets without any provisions, an Orthodox Bishop took him in, What the Orthodox Bishop did is what true mercy really is. Francis is called an anti-Catholic, or not Catholic at all. Why for 8 years has he been ripping the Church apart? He says to us Traditionalists that we must accept all of Vatican ll, Traditionalists have shot back and pointed out how he does everything contrary to Vatican ll. Francis is by practice the most anti-Vatican ll Catholic I have ever known. He rejects what the Council says that not even the most hard-line Traditionalist does not reject. They are calling it “Hypocrisy”. Your Pope is a disgrace to the Holy Roman Catholic Church. He is supposed to be the defender of Scripture and Tradition but he is its worst enemy. Jesus told St. Peter the first Pope to “Confirm the brethren”, and yet your Pope has so gravely defied Christ in this, by creating his own religion even introducing idolatry into the Church beginning at St. Peters Basilica.

  8. Or, instead of only the image and good name of the Church, and with tight diocesan budgets, maybe it was often judged that the costs of litigating (in secular courts) the not-quite “credible allegations” were much greater than simply negotiating bundled payouts—which are covered 80% by insurance?

    An ugly situation. Some priests then suffer unjust damage to their own good name.

    The same spastic situation applies to capital punishment. Life imprisonments are said to be actually less expensive than decades of court appeals over (prudentially “inadmissible”) death sentences. But in the case of child sexual abuse, the outcome can be the same. On August 23, 2003 (right after the 2002 Boston Globe exposure), while in protective custody at a maximum security center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, the notorious child-molester priest, John Geoghan, was strangled and stomped to death in his cell.

    An ugly situation. Sharing space with child molesters damages the good name of other inmates.

    • Peter is correct; Mister Geoghan was killed in his cell after another inmate, allegedly depressed by deterioration of the neighborhood, jammed a Holy Bible into Monster Geoghan’s cell door mechanism, preventing it from latching. He later entered to brutally beat the ex-priest to death. Inmates like to feel superior to someone, and they can usually accomplish that only by comparing themselves to molesters, and then killing them, thus assuaging their own feelings of inferiority.

  9. The Church is wrong in throwing our accused Shepards to the wolves by casting all responsibility to civil courts. And themselves? Avoiding their own responsibility in the presence of God. There is a story of St. Anthony of Padua that the Church leaders should hear and heed.

    There was a man who was murdered. Another man was accused of the murder and sentenced to death. The people called on St. Anthony to intervene. St. Anthony led everyone to the grave of the dead man. He called upon the dead man to rise, then St. Anthony asked him, is this the man who murdered you? The dead man answered no, he is not the one. St. Anthony ordered him back to his grave. Thus an innocent man was spared. Civil Authorities called on St. Anthony to call the dead man back so that he could tell who the real murderer was. St. Anthony sternly told them, as a priest, I have done my duty. Finding the murderer is your duty!

    I don’t know who’s injustice is greater, The Church’s, or our broken justice system? Church matters should remain Church matters. As for the Civil Courts, they should do their job and let the Church do its job. Civil law has enslaved the Roman Catholic Church while our Leaders do nothing!!!

  10. I had a friend who was an active priest for over 20 years. Then in the late 1990s had a single accusation of sexual abuse via a hotline. His diocese suspended his active ministry and implied that he must be guilty. They showed no support whatsoever. After 2 1/2 years, he was laicized. I don’t know if the diocese paid money to the plaintiff or not. (Ironically, this is the same diocese that today supports homosexual priests who have credible claims against them and persecutes traditionalists.)

    He now works outside the Church. Has never gone to court. But is “guilty.”

    From everything I know, pedefiles don’t ever have a single case against them, if they have been active for over 20 years. Five,ten, or more is the norm. Can I guarantee that he isn’t guilty? No. But his case still bothers me, because “the facts” are ambiguous at best. And after having his name come up in the local papers and news media for 2 1/2 years, a second accuser never came forward.

    • I know a priest who happens to be my Mentor. He worked to full capacity for the salvation of souls. He was “bruised, derided, cursed, defiled” by the Modernist heretics. Two brothers accused this holy priest of molestation. Their story made no sense. It was thrown out of Federal Court twice. By the third attempt by the brothers who demanded 20 million dollars, this priest had suffered a major heart attack, and then a year later suffered a massive stroke. One year after that, he had a second massive stroke. He no longer had all his faculties. The brothers and their lawyers, who were aware of his medical condition, called the priest by phone and tricked him into believing he actually molested two boys. In the phone conversation recording, the priest was mortified, and he asked for forgiveness for what he was tricked into believing. He wrote a letter to another priest who told me about a letter he received from the accused priest. It stated, “I have fallen into discouragement by the way the Diocese has handled this false accusation”. Cardinal Mahoney was called to testify. He made it clear that there were never any cases of sexual molestation against the accused priest. The only problem the Diocese had was that the priest did not accept Vatican ll, which was the only problem with him. The Diocese did not help protect his innocence but only did all they could to destroy a Traditionalist priest who obeyed all he was ordered to obey except for changing the Truth taught by Jesus Christ and his Church. For the Diocese, this was a major problem. The court decided the priest was guilty and that the Diocese owed NO money to the brothers. The Diocese seemed it only wanted a guilty verdict to avenge themselves from a Holy priest who disclosed their evil plots against the Church. I pray my Mentor did not fall into despair but that he sought God as he sought God in everything in his life. The Diocese did not treat this as a Church matter but threw our priests to civil Courts.

  11. Dr. Smith’s idea makes a lot of sense. It is not the American idea of trial by one’s peers (a priest’s peers would be other priests), but an even better, arguably more Catholic idea of trial by the people one is supposed to serve. It would be an echo of older, more wide-open times in the Church, when bishops and saints would be nominated by popular opinion. We need more settled mechanisms today, and regional Church tribunals of lay people, who “ride a circuit” gives the laity a proper forum. It is the lay faithful who have a strong interest in making sure their children are safe at the parish. The people on these tribunals could be male and female, but married, in stable marriages with children, who can manage their households in good order.

    In the short term, and out of desperation, some have resorted to secular courts, but we should not give power entirely over to secular courts. It’s a great grief that it seems the only way to get immediate justice for some cases, but there are many cases (harassment of seminarians, say), that are not illegal in civil law. We also have no guarantee that pedophilia won’t be incrementally legalized in this country. Finally, civil authorities will find ways to abuse their power over time.

    If the bishops won’t create the lay-led Church tribunals suggested here, there may be a mechanism for getting them created anyway. If a large cohort of priests request that the Pope consider a new rule-making, it can be considered by the Pope and other bishops at certain times when they convene. (I don’t know the ecclesial terms for any of the things I’m trying to describe, sorry).

    As I understand it, this mechanism was used in 1972 to implement the current system of rotating pastors from parish to parish. In 1972, a group of young priests from Chicago requested the Pope consider giving pastors “term limits” of sorts. The way I hear it, some young buck priests from Chicago couldn’t wait for the older pastors to retire, so they could implement their new ideas, so they petitioned the Pope using some mechanism in place. Their request was discussed by the Pope and other bishops on some occasion where they all convened. In this case, the bishops were more than happy to vote for the new practice, since it actually gave them more power over pastors. In the past pastors were installed for life, unless the bishop could find some gross misconduct. But since this 1972 change, pastors (diocesan priests) in the US are generally given 6-year assignments with a 6-year option (sorry, lots of non-ecclesial terms here). Bishops can now threaten to move a pastor over much smaller disagreements. This change also had the effect of diminishing a pastor’s influence over the people of his parish. As a lay person, I can tell you that many parish pastors are now treated as “just visiting” by the cadre of lay people who feel entitled to define what Catholicism means in their locality. This has made it hard for pastors to exhort and reform in the parishes where they are assigned. It seems our diocesan priests are pressured from both sides. Parishioners who would like their pastors to be true shepherds wonder if the bishop really has the priest’s back, when “spirit of Vatican II” parishioners complain about Catholic orthodoxy.

    Back to the matter at hand. This mechanism (priests requesting that a new practice or discipline be considered) has been used before, but the bishops voted for the priests’ request in 1972 because it actually gave the bishops more power. I wonder if conditions favor using this mechanism to propose Dr. Smith’s reform. More thought on that, please.

  12. You say the secular authorities were now strangling the church. I thought the church, under Mr Bergoglio, was doing a rather good job of strangling itself.

        • Mal, The St. Gallen Mafia are a group of Cardinals who campaigned for the other Cardinals to elect Bergoglio Pope. Bergoglio was well aware of this and the new Canon Law on this matter didn’t bother him in the least. Canon Law states that for a Conclave if one Cardinal campaigns for another Cardinal to be elected Pope, They incur Excommunication Latae Sententia. Bergoglio and the St. Gallen Mafia by Canon law were excommunicated Latae Sententiae before entering the Conclave. Can an excommunicated man be raised to the Pontificate? Bergoglio paid no heed to Canon Law and has called on us not to pay attention to Church doctrines and Dogmas. Tell me does this qualify him for “The Pope loves the Church”. He has attempted to crush every Church teaching as if it seems he himself and only himself is the Church. Minus Jesus Christ and all Traditional Faithfull. Francis is accused of being a heretic, schismatic, and a Modernist, with the past 8 years can we deny that? You say God called Francis to be the Pope, well Francis has betrayed God 100%.

          • It is common to have pre-Conclave meetings at which the Cardinal’s present discus their views. Pope Francis was sometimes present and heard what was being said. When he became Pope Francis, – a job he never wanted – he took on board some of the points for improvement that were made during those meetings. He never owed anyone anything and never made a promise to anyone, and so your claim that his election somehow contravened Canon Law is false. False also is your claim that Pope Francis called on us not to pay heed to Church doctrines and Dogmas.
            https://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2015/09/10/why-are-some-suggesting-that-francis-election-was-invalid/
            Absolutely False also is your ridiculous claim that “has attempted to crush every Church teaching as if it seems he himself and only himself is the Church”. Francis has been, as you write. “accused of being a heretic, schismatic, and a Modernist.” But, like your other statements, this accusation one too is false.
            What is not false is that the Pope is a practicing Catholic who prays a lot and feeds the hungry, gives shelter to the homeless and has at times chosen the stench filling the slums to the smell of incense that pleases some.
            I will also add that there are some on your side – not you personally – that have acted as other protestants and called our Pope Fake, False, Satan and other such terms and our Lord’s Church as APE and Parallel. All just as False.
            Our Lord will judge the Pope and also those who slander him, that is, bear false witness. The Ninth Commandment comes to mind and the serious consequences associated with it.

          • Mal, The Ninth Commandment? Are you disobeying the Pope? He has made it clear for us not to take the commandments seriously. That there are pre-conclave meetings is correct. These meetings are not for campaigning but for discussing the problems in the Church, that would guide them on who to elect. If there is any type of campaigning for a certain Cardinal to be elected to the Papacy, that Cardinal is Excommunicated and if the one who is being campaigned for agrees wholeheartedly then he too is excommunicated. The St. Gallen Mafia secretly campaigned for Bergoglio before the death of St. John Paul the Great. In the Conclave of 2005 they expected Bergoglio to come out on the Loggia as Pope, Bergoglio looked forward to the moment. When Pope Benedict resigned, Bergoglio got telephone calls from all over the world congratulating him. One Journalist who observed this asked Bergoglio why he was so happy with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVl and Bergoglio broke out excitingly crying out, “Don’t you know what this means? Don’t you know what this means?”. When giving to the poor Francis doesn’t have to stand at a street corner blowing a horn. He could confide in someone else to go out and give to the poor for him, and why at night? The poor are there night and day. Francis is known for his theatrics of humility and mercy. He makes a show of it so as to gain praise. This is not a false accusation it’s a fact. That it was a job he never wanted? He craved the Papacy. When he was elected some top guy from Argentina stated, “Bergoglio is not humble, he is a power-hungry man and when he gets the power he will never let go of it.” That Francis has not crushed every Church teaching? Why does he have all the faithful confused, why does he seem confused himself? I’m sorry Mal but you have been missing the news for 8 years.

        • The Ninth Commandment comes to mind and the serious consequences associated with it.(sic)

          What does coveting thy neighbor’s wife have to do with the current Pontiff? Is he a proponent of that as well?

  13. Excellent comment! This is exactly what I believe myself after having followed the issue NOT of ” paedophilia “in the Church but rampant HOMOSEXUALITY in the seminaries and among a large number of priests and Bishops, according to many experts on this. Some good and faithful Bishops and Cardinals, as well as priests, have expressed that the root of this truly demonic homosexual abuse of teenage boys and seminarians is to be found in a rampant gay subculture among many seminarians of whom several later become powerful homosexual Bishops and Cardinals. Forming a global gay club. Promoting and protecting one another.
    The Catholic priesthood has for many years now been known as a homosexual profession.
    Terrible but sad truth.
    Our Russian friends ask is ” why so many priests in the Catholic Church are homosexual ” and also that in Russia the Orthodox often name our Church ” the Catholic Homosexual Church “.
    And how can one blame them for this?! Of course its not charitable if it is said with glee. Needles to day, the Orthodox Church has it’s own problems. But homosexuality is not their problem since most Orthodox priests are married.
    Even Pope Benedict said in the very beginning of his pontificate that it cannot be that the Catholic Church gets a rumour of being a Church for homosexual priests. ( I do not recall his exact words).
    Praying for good and holy priests and Bishops.

  14. Excerpts:
    “But the reality is that, from Vatican II until the 2002 sexual abuse crisis, contentious penal processes, as specified in canon law, for priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor were “nonexistent” in the United States. “Until the church’s response to the 2002 scandal,” writes Fr. Coughlin” How can Father say “nonexistent” when the Church has always hidden child abuse issues.

    “sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church should have been — and in the future should be — adjudicated by Church tribunals according to the provisions of canon law, rather than “handled” ad hoc by bishops and mid-level clerics in various chancery positions.” When does the “crime” go to civil court for adjudication? It seems that cannon law is only a vetting process.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Thomas Beckett Defended With His Life a Principle | Alternative Postscript
  2. THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit
  3. Rule of law, not of Bishops - JP2 Catholic Radio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*