Wednesday, October 31, 2018

On Halloween, More Horror – NY Auxiliary "Credibly" Accused of Abuse

For just the second time in this latest cycle of scandal, a "credible, substantiated" allegation of abuse of a minor has been levied against a US bishop...

...yet what's even more striking is that both reports have come from the same place: American Catholicism's marquee diocese.

In a letter made public this Halloween morning, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York informed his priests and people that an abuse claim against Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik, 74 (above), had been deemed founded by the archdiocese's Lay Review Board.

While the Chancery's announcement didn't specify the nature of the allegation, Whispers has learned that Jenik was accused of abusing a 16 year-old boy; a subsequent report in the New York Times said the cited misconduct dates to the 1980s.

Under normal circumstances, Jenik would be permanently removed from ministry upon the lay panel's judgment. However, as the prelate immediately signaled his intent to appeal the finding to the Vatican, Dolan said that the auxiliary has "step[ped] aside" from his diocesan roles and his four-decade post as pastor of Our Lady of Refuge parish in the Bronx pending the outcome of the Roman process.

Having been given permission to send a letter of his own to his parishioners, the bishop said he "steadfastly den[ied] that I have abused anyone at any time."

On a key context note, as has become a prominent critique of the US church's 2002 abuse procedures over recent months, bishops are exempt from the protocols of the Dallas Charter and Norms, so the local investigation – only the second known instance of a diocesan investigation on an allegation against a prelate – would've required the permission of the Holy See before it could proceed. Accordingly, any binding judgment on Jenik's status would've rested with Rome regardless as bishops – even auxiliaries – are canonically answerable to the Pope alone.

In that light, despite today's move, Jenik remains an active auxiliary of New York unless and until Francis accepts his resignation from the post.

Long revered among the Gotham crowd as a heroic pastor amid the drug-and-crime-plagued "war zone" of the Bronx, Jenik was one of the three septuagenarian lifers in the trenches named as deputies to Dolan in mid-2015 by Pope Francis.

With some 2.6 million Catholics, New York is the US' second-largest diocese, but nonetheless its most prominent given the Big Apple's concentration of financial, media and geopolitical heft – a mix which has long seen the Vatican consider the city as the "Capital of the World."

Unlike last summer's watershed allegation against the long-retired Archbishop Theodore McCarrick – which resulted in the New York native's historic July resignation from the College of Cardinals – given Jenik's far more recent elevation, the accusation of an active prelate places the current appointment process for bishops under fresh scrutiny, especially as a more thorough vetting of candidates has long been seen as a concrete outcome of the 2002 tidal wave, which saw a half-dozen US prelates forced from office over decades-old, but freshly-unearthed abuse reports.

In addition, the development further roils an already scorched ecclesial landscape all of ten days out from a USCCB November plenary in Baltimore whose emotional charge is already running high, but whose substantive outcomes remain anyone's guess.

As with the accusation that felled McCarrick, the Jenik claim was brought to the New York church through the archdiocese's Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) – a Dolan-chartered initiative that's seen his First Avenue Chancery leverage at least $100 million of its sizable real-estate holdings in the hope of resolving potential abuse suits through out-of-court mediation.

In its first round last year, IRCP reached $40 million in settlements of some 200 cases; this year's figures on payments and numbers of allegations remain to be released.

Last month, New York was an early entry among what's become more than a dozen US jurisdictions whose top prosecutors have opened statewide investigations of abuse and its cover-up in the church since August's staggering Pennsylvania grand-jury report, the nation's first civil probe that stretched across multiple dioceses. Alongside the state inquest, the cardinal named a retired Federal judge as an internal "special counsel" to review the archdiocese's files and procedures for the handling of cases.