Saturday, May 03, 2008

"I Am Vindicated"

Lest it was still a secret in any quarter, its cover was blown -- in a big way -- when the Pope told the US bishops that in the years since 2002, their priests have been "experiencing a closeness to Christ in his Passion as they struggle to come to terms with the consequences of the [sex-abuse] crisis."

On hearing that, some among the "long black line" just sat there and wept. From the highest "On High" there is, the father's love and affirmation not a few had longed to find from their own bishops, some of whom had long left their hopes in vain, had finally come.

Suffice it to say, it was just one of many needed statements from the Main Event -- to be sure, not for the vast majority of the bench, but the critical mass whose response in recent years has seen a good number of the rank-and-file become, in effect, the hidden victims of the scandals.

It's been an underreported backstory of the post-'02 period, but B16's comments -- including his pointed exhortation that, moving forward, "a vital part of [each bishop's] task is to strengthen relationships with [his] clergy" -- indicated with a jolting clarity the Holy See's great awareness and concern that, on a broad swath of the national level, the bonds between bishops and their presbyterates have become significantly strained, if not gravely damaged. As one veteran of a Northeastern archdiocese put it, even though the overwhelming majority of the guys were as genuinely shocked, revolted and grief-stricken as the layfolk by the revelations that turned the project upside-down, "We've been left to hang to dry."

It's an experience that's been echoed far too many times... one felt even more widely in the quiet of many souls.

In recent years, I've known too many innocent, good, hard-working, humble and truly holy priests who've either been spat on, cursed at, in some places frightened to wear clerics in public, in others unable to meet with their bishops without a lawyer present. In at least one instance, a much-loved pastor handling a disagreement found his spirit nearly crushed by a parishioner's threat that he could "bring [him] down with a phone call," and the specter of the falsely-placed "scarlet letter" or "knock at the door" has been merely the biggest blow to morale in a time of fewer laborers and greater challenges, in some places as more of the latter rain down even today on the brothers from above.

What's more, on top of all the accusations awaiting review at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it's less known -- but just as important -- that the Congregation for the Clergy has been deluged with no small number of "administrative recourses" from American priests who've sought appeal, citing violations of due process or an ordinary's overly broad interpretation of the canons and their intent. (Among other details, somewhere around 30 files on the Clero docket are reported to hail from just one Stateside diocese... among other details.....)

The backlog for decisions on these latter cases approaches, if not exceeds, three years, and amid an atmosphere oft gone litigious in the canonical realm as well as that of the civil courts, one exasperated priest watching from the sidelines summed up the feeling among the ranks when he said, "My God, we just want to see somebody win one."

And not soon enough, that day has arrived -- earlier this week, it came to light that an ecclesiastical tribunal has exonerated a North Jersey priest accused and suspended in '02:
Monsignor William McCarthy, formerly of St. Rose of Lima Church in East Hanover, was suspended from the ministry six years ago following claims that he abused two girls 23 years ago. But he now "is a priest in good standing and is free to exercise his priestly ministry as a retired priest," according to a statement released Wednesday to priests and deacons by [Paterson vicar-general] Monsignor James T. Mahoney.

"Six years ago, allegations were made against Monsignor William McCarthy. A Church Tribunal, composed of canon lawyers from outside the diocese, concluded that it was not proven that he was guilty of the charge alleged against him. The Holy See has determined that the case is closed," Mahoney states. "During this very difficult time in his life, Monsignor McCarthy has been totally cooperative, faithful to his priesthood, and shown a great love for the church."

McCarthy said yesterday, "I haven't touched ground yet. I am vindicated," and noted in a statement that he was devastated by the allegations. He said he was "un justly accused of abuse of two sis ters around 5 or 6 years of age in 1980." He said he had "never been accused of any other improper conduct" during his 40-year career as a priest.

McCarthy retired in March 2003, just before the allegation became public, and about three months be fore his planned retirement.

At the time he was suspended, McCarthy, in a written statement sent to his parish, said false rumors were being spread throughout the parish by an individual who was pursuing a vendetta against him....

The matter was reviewed by the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, which ultimately turned over a file to the diocese. The prosecutor's investigation found there were allegations of sexual misconduct between 1981 and 1983 involving the two girls, an attorney for the diocese said at the time.

According to a diocesan statement released at the time the matter surfaced, the statute of limitations had expired, preventing criminal prosecution, but a church review board set up for such cases would investigate the allegations.

A diocese panel heard the allegations, found them credible and sent the findings to the Vatican, which ordered the diocese to hold the trial.

In McCarthy's case, the trial was conducted last year and he was exonerated Nov. 21. Bishop Arthur Serratelli agreed with the findings and forwarded them to the Vatican, which accepted the findings Monday, according to his statement.

Donald Belsole, an attorney for the women, declined comment yesterday.

McCarthy, in his statement, said the allegations were pursued by an "overzealous" detective in the prosecutor's office and at the heart of the case was an upset mother who wanted her two daughters to attend the St. Rose of Lima School. He went to visit the mother to explain why they couldn't attend the school, but does not recall seeing the girls, according to his statement.

McCarthy said he is looking for ward to celebrating his 40th anniversary in the priesthood and his retirement plans.

Diane Miller, a former church co-worker, said McCarthy "deserves an apology from the people who accused him. This man went through hell. He is a wonderful man."
For what it's worth, the story (with video) also happens to be the most-viewed piece on the website of New York's WNBC.

On a final note, especially as the bulk of anniversaries approach, to the many heroic, selfless souls who've given their all in priesthood, especially those who've borne the heat of the day -- indeed, the Cross -- with a particular intensity over these years, no words could ever say "thank you" enough... and experience says many of you don't hear that as often as you deserve.

You might not always see or hear it, but know that this appreciation is well out there. Know how widely it's held and how deep it's felt. Today and forever, God love each of you for all that you give, all that you do, all that you are... and please, please, take care of yourselves and keep it up.