Background checks for priests

Background checks for priests

Not sure how I feel about this. A priest is refusing to submit his name for a criminal background check by his diocese because he says it treats all priests as potential suspects without cause. He is appealing to the Vatican to say that it’s a violation of his canonical rights.

I think it is important for dioceses to know if any their priests have criminal records. However, is it fair to automatically assume guilty until proven innocent? Some priests object, saying that those in power know very well which priests are a risk and attention should be focused on them in the first place. They say that bishops don’t want to do the hard work of having to confront individual priests so they put blanket policies in place that put a cloud over their priests instead.

The Indiana priest says that a full background check is an invasion of his privacy and sullies his good name and that his 23 years in service to the diocese should have earned him the Church’s trust. Even federal law says an employer has to obtain an employee’s permission to conduct such a check.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
5 comments
  • It’s not just potential employees; it’s current employees as well.

    And asking why someone who has nothing to hide would object is precisely the point. Must I subject myself to an invasion of my personal life and privacy to prove my innocence of a crime I’m not accused of? Innocent until proven guilty, not vice versa, right?

    Perhaps there’s stuff in my past that I’m not proud of or don’t want to be general knowledge, that have nothing to with my ability to do my job well yet I don’t want my employer to know about, things like personal bankruptcies or civil lawsuits or the like.

    Like I said, I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I’m certainly wary of the Soviet-style “If you’ve got nothing to hide” mentality. The fact that I don’t have anything to hide doesn’t necessarily justify my loss of privacy.

  • I just filled out and signed off on the third request from the diocese for a criminal background check.  I filled one out in 1991, when I first studied for the diocese as a seminarian.  That background check was never carried out, so I was informed last Tuesday, although I distinctly remember signing off on it, along with other release forms.  I filled out and signed off on another criminal background check when I was ordained a deacon and before I was ordained a priest, in the winter of 1995, when I submitted my letter requesting ordination to the priesthood.  Again, amazingly, that background check was never carried out, and the paper work was lost, so I was recently informed.  This past Tuesday, I went up to the chancery in Kalamazoo and signed the criminal background check one more time, filling in the driver’s license number, date of birth, social security number, and all the places I’ve lived in since 1997 [they need to know where I’ve lived the last seven years—duh].  I was told by the chancery official, who wore a straight face the entire surreal conversation, that this check was necessary to comply with the Dallas policy.  In a small diocese such as ours [112,000 Catholics, 50 parishes, 10 missions, 60 priests], if they don’t know who I am and what the heck I’ve been doing for the past eight years, then why bother checking in at all? 

    I know:  I have nothing to hide, so why make a fuss.  But why should I share my personal information with such incompetents?  Some of these people couldn’t find their backsides in a hall of mirrors and both hands in their hip pockets.  I hope that other readers now understand in some small way why I have such distrust for chancery employees.  If Shakespeare’s Richard II had known the folks in our chancery, he wouldn’t have said “First, kill all the lawyers.”  Reminds me of the three great lies:  1]  I will love and respect you in the morning; 2] The check is in the mail;  and 3]  I from the chancery and I’m here to help.  My Aunt Fanny.

  • I received an email from a retired priest who had studied canon law on church-state relations before the Vatican Council regarding this thread:

    You do not want to have the state involved in any way saying who can or cannot be a priest or who can or cannot function as one. St Thomas Becket was martyred over this point. There is a separate church legal system which antedates king’s justice. Watch the movie “Beckett” with Peter O’Toole and Sir Richard Burton (before he was “Sir”). There is a theological thesis which states that a martyr’s witness (approved by the Church through canonization or other approval) participates in the church’s infallibility.

  • Every Catholic parent in this world deserves to KNOW that their priest does not have a criminal record – and/or a record of sexually molesting children.  Enough already.  I’m a Boy Scout committee member, and happily submitted to the required criminal background check, because that it what is right and good by the kids in that program and their parents.  And by the way, Boy Scouts does a much, much better job of protecting children from homosexual molestation than does the Catholic church.  Background check him, or remove him from sole contact with children.  It’s about time that this Church put the welfare of children first, instead of dead last.

  • And if this priest’s feelings be hurt, tough.  This is a church in which several thousand boys have been systematically raped, fondled and sodomized by priests, and in which many knew of this and did NOTHING.

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