Friday, June 06, 2008

On the "Other" Docket

(CORRECTED) Lest anyone missed it -- and, admittedly, I did until a perceptive pal phoned yesterday -- the first draft of the agenda for next week's June Meeting of the US bishops in Orlando included the little matter of "a recommended structure for dialogue between priests and bishops on the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations."

Some might see the move toward dialogue as another fruit of the papal visit, but a sit-down on the issue of allegations and their handling -- often the touchstone for the hit taken by priest-bishop relations in dioceses across the country since the Dallas "zero tolerance" norms -- has actually been in the works for some time.

In a change from the original plan, the "recommended structure" has already been worked out among the bishops and, instead of showing up on the floor, will see its first spin on the national level: the conversation's slated to kick-off during the plenary over dinner between bishops and priest-observers credentialed for the event.

Meanwhile, with hundreds of cases (and appeals) still piled up in Rome awaiting final word either affirming an ordinary's judgment or ordering an ecclesiastical tribunal, one key player -- Archbishop John Myers of Newark -- offered some possible remedies for past-statute cases after his recent appointment to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts:
One possibility for these older cases, Myers said, would be a canon law change that treats molestation and sexual abuse of minors more as an illness than as a violation requiring a penalty. This would allow a bishop to more easily deem these priests unfit for ministry, he said.

"We used to think of alcoholism as a moral failure, and now it's pretty much considered an illness," said Myers, 66. "I'm not saying that's what will happen, but it wouldn't be impossible for us to move in that direction."

"If we can find a way to work it so we don't have to apply in each instance, but we can make the judgment locally, that would be better," he said of bishops acting without making requests to the Vatican.
Of course, a Rome-delegated Stateside bureau to handle everything that'd normally go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has also been proposed... beginning in 2003.

Five years later, here we are.

Meanwhile, fresh on the heels of a tribunal's recent exoneration of a North Jersey priest on a two-decade old allegation, in New York -- where concerns over the handling of cases opened the floodgates to, um, everything else -- another once-accused cleric has gotten the all-clear from a church court:
The Rev. Christopher Pliauplis will receive a new assignment from the Archdiocese of New York to go into effect July 1, according to yesterday's "Catholic New York," the newspaper of the archdiocese.

Pliauplis was serving at St. Patrick's Church on Staten Island when a 17-year-old boy accused the priest of touching him inappropriately [in 2006].

A review board of the archdiocese recommended to Cardinal Edward Egan that Pliauplis be removed from ministry.

Since then, a church court of the archdiocese, made up of priests, found Pliauplis to be innocent of the allegation. The court also directed that Pliauplis be returned to ministry.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also reviewed the case and upheld the court's finding....

In 2006, Pliauplis proclaimed his innocence to the Staten Island Advance.

"I've been accused of something I did not do," he said.
...and now, vindicated.