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Thursday, June 18, 2020
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I grew up in a fairly devout Roman Catholic family, and we went to church regularly. But I was never an altar boy. However, my younger brother did don the cassock and surplice (and today, he still occasionally serves as an adult acolyte at his local parish — he hopes to get back to that once services return to normal following the COVID pandemic).

My brother did the altar boy thing into his high school years, and he got to know a lot of other kids who wished to be involved in the Catholic mass ceremony (albeit at a rather subservient level). He became friends with several of his fellow servers. One fellow was about his own age, and came up the ranks with him — but unlike my brother, this fellow went all the way up the ecclesiastical stairway. Following high school, he joined a seminary and became a priest after college study in Europe. My brother himself actually had the priest dream, but the circumstances of his life led him away from it.

My brother stayed in touch with his former altar boy now priest friend over the years — let’s call this fellow “Jay” although that’s not his real name. Jay and my brother would go a few years without talking, then come across one another and have a catch-up. About 15 years ago, it became known that Father Jay had been “put on inactive status” while being investigated by the diocese for allegations of sexual contact with a minor. His case was reviewed by the Vatican, which in effect gave him a NOT GUILTY verdict. Despite that, he never served as a parish priest again; he sort-of became a “floater” who said mass here and there as needed. But he was still an active priest in the diocese.

Then about 2 years ago, a local paper ran an article about a man who grew up in a parish where Jay had been serving, and who claimed that Jay gave him some rather inappropriate attention when he was young. He claimed that Jay had regularly visited his parents. One summer day he was with Jay in the family swimming pool, when Jay kissed him and lifted him above the water, doing some sort of mock-baptism. In the article, the man claimed that Jay had become “sexually aroused” during this incident, but he didn’t make any further allegations.

Well, my brother’s reaction, along with those of some others who had known Jay for many years, was that this accuser could have been embellishing a memory from long ago. The accuser was now talking to the press some 20+ years later, long after the wave of allegations of child abuse by priests began in the 1990s. It seemed possible that he was looking for a cash settlement from the Diocese (a common resolution of priestly abuse claims). My brother had talked with Jay not long after the newspaper article, and Jay told him that it was not true and that he did nothing wrong or inappropriate.

Obviously my brother and I wanted to give Jay the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he had just been affectionate with children in a way that many good and decent priests had been for hundreds of years, and someone was now trying to “pile on” Jay because of the past allegation and investigation against him (from which he had been exonerated).

But . . . my brother also knew a woman involved at his local parish who worked as an administrator in a Catholic grammar school belonging to an urban parish. Jay happened to have resided with other priests at that parish over the past few years. He wasn’t regularly assigned there as a parish priest, and supposedly had nothing to do with the school. And it was not unusual for a parish to temporarily host a “floater” priest in their rectory living quarters.

However, my brother’s parish friend told him that her school had received multiple complaints in recent months about Jay from parents of students. One or two alleged suspicious behavior by Jay around their own children. Other parents did not claim that Jay was doing anything wrong at present, but said that they knew of past incidents involving sexually motivated contact with minors on the part of Jay. She said that Jay was finally asked to leave, given that his presence was upsetting many parents. And so he did.

My brother didn’t know what to make of this report. But about a week ago, another article about Jay appeared in the local paper. This time, the reporter did a detailed investigation on Jay, and came up with at least 6 allegations filed with the diocese or with law enforcement, allegations that Jay had engaged in groping or other sexually inspired acts with children in the parishes where Jay had served. These took place over over more than a decade, although most incidents were pre-2000. This article mostly confirmed and fleshed out what the parish school administrator had said about Jay.

Well, it’s not up to us to decide what should be done about these allegations. But taken together as a whole, they seem to tip the weight of evidence in our own minds against Jay. We had given him the benefit of the doubt, but sadly, we now admit that Jay was probably just another of the many Catholic priests who took advantage of children to satisfy their own dysfunctional sexual and psychological needs.

Actually, I was rather incredulous that all of these allegations regarding Jay appear to be unresolved, given that most of them allegedly occurred many years ago. Was no one in the Church ever told about these, hadn’t any suspicions been raised? If an investigative reporter could dig them up, couldn’t the priests and diocese officials who were involved with Jay have also found out, and much earlier? With all of the Catholic clerical child abuse incidents going back to the 1990s (recall the 2001 “Spotlight” investigation by the Boston Globe), why are the accusations about Jay only now “breaking the surface”?

The news about Jay came out only a week before the terrible George Floyd police killing in Minneapolis. My first reaction on learning about the Floyd killing was, ANOTHER ONE? HAVEN’T THE POLICE DEPARTMENTS FIGURED OUT YET HOW TO KEEP THEIR COPS IN CHECK? How long now have there been notorious police killings of unarmed African Americans during a law enforcement procedure, incidents that were documented on video? Of course, the Minneapolis incident was especially egregious. Every incident where a cop uses excess force in an inappropriate situation and a citizen winds up dead is terrible; and far too many of these incidents involve white cops and black victims.

However, the matter of Minnesota Office Derick Chauvin slowly choking George Floyd to death as he and his three assisting officers watched . . . that was beyond anything that had come before (at least so far as I know). The 2015 Eric Garner incident in Staten Island, New York had come close, but Garner did not die before the eyes of the cops. It was just as terrible in the end, but it wasn’t quite as grisly in the process.

I was even more incredulous that a modern police force would currently employ and assign an officer who would act in a way that was so aggressive, unprofessional, violent, and yes, probably racist, How many of these incidents have we been through by now? There was the police beating of Rodney King way back in 1991 and all of the civil unrest that followed when the cops involved were acquitted. How many disturbances have we been through since then, how many stores have been burned and looted, how many blacks have died when police went bad on them?

(In fairness to the police, I will admit that not every publicized white cop-black victim incident over the past 20 years was entirely unjustifiable; right now I am withholding judgement on the the shooting and killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta Police, although I respect those who have decided that it was criminally unjustified.)

Priestly child abuse and unjustified fatal police actions especially against black victims — why haven’t the big organizations and bureaucracies involved in these tragedies adequately responded yet? It’s been more than 20 years. Our world can be rather depressing sometimes. But my respect to those who have been fighting hard to do something (in a constructive fashion). It’s good to know that you are out there.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:31 pm      

  1. Interesting analogy of Catholic sex abuse scandals and police racial bias. One thing in common between the two is that both priests and police are in professions that make them hard to get fired.

    I work in an industry in which employment is at the will of the employer. In most cases, the employer can easily discharge employees, usually without having to provide justification, But shouldn’t employers that have workers who work closely with children or use guns at their employment ESPECIALLY have the right to fire their employees easily? I am not convinced that the officer who killed Rayshard Brooks be charged with murder, but there should be no question whatsoever that he should be removed from the police department. If you are going to fire a gun in a parking lot during daylight, you had better have a great reason. Too often, bad police and bad priests have been protected by their employers.

    In my industry, there is relatively little stigma in getting laid off. Most people that I work with have been laid off during their careers. Police and priests should also be laid off for other reasons unrelated to ethics, such as delivering uninspiring sermons. No one should be protected because of their occupation. If the occupation struggles to attract employees, then increase the pay, or allow married people to apply, or find some other solution. But bad police and bad priests MUST go, and that that means that the threshold for firings be less than “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    From an economic perspective, an employer will be more likely to hire workers if they know they can fire them without cause. That is one of the reasons that the US economy historically has a lowers unemployment rate than most our European counterparts.

    Comment by Zreebs — June 19, 2020 @ 2:29 am

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