Sunday, July 31, 2005

Philly's Front Page

Buona domenica a tutti, snowflakes.

Our paper of record -- which has been hitting hard on the continuing drip of sex-abuse stories -- covers an angle usually forgotten in this morning's edition: what becomes of the laicized priest?

As the canonists among us know, this is a sticky area. Once a suspension is brought down, even though an accused priest is removed from active ministry, the law's obligation of providing for his welfare remains (within limits, of course). Yet when the dismissal from the clerical state is granted (whether forcibly or by request), all demands upon the local church or order into which he was incardinated cease.

This from Jim Remsen at the Inquirer:

The church had already suspended the clerics after finding the child-abuse allegations against them to be credible. Now, as it defrocks them, expelling them from the priesthood, the men are quietly reentering civilian life with only the barest notice to the public, and no ongoing oversight by the church.

Nor is law enforcement certain to be watching them.

In most instances, the statute of limitations in their cases expired years ago. This means they face no prospect of prosecution for past sex offenses.

"As a citizen, I would be concerned and would want to know if such an individual was living on my block," said Capt. John Darby, head of the Philadelphia police Special Victims Unit, which investigates sex crimes.

But only convicted sex offenders' names appear on "Megan's Law" public registries checkable by neighbors, Darby said - and few of the defrocked priests were ever charged or convicted.

And the public revelation of something known inside the walls for months:

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has set up a residence for suspended priests at the annex to Villa St. Joseph, its residence for retired priests, in Darby. They agree to live there instead of being defrocked, and undergo "a supervised life of prayer and penance," with their activities monitored, according to the archdiocese.

Ten other suspended priests, over 75 and infirm, live in the main Villa St. Joseph retirement building, where they, too, are watched and counseled, the archdiocese said.

When priests are defrocked and leave its oversight, the archdiocese said, it does not notify civil authorities or maintain contact with the men.

This is a thorny issue which requires cooperation between the canons and civil law, and it's one the bench of bishops hasn't touched in a substantive way. Here's hoping they get crackin' on it.



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