The leader of a national priests’ association says the US bishops’ policy on abusive priests goes too far. Father Bob Silva of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, a well-known liberal organization, says that that guilty priests—guilty of sexual abuse of others including children—should not be removed from the priesthood. He also defends Cardinal Roger Mahony’s decision to withhold documents from prosecutors.
Silva’s idea is flawed. First, no one is saying that all guilty priests should be laicized. That should be reserved for the most notorious cases. But it is generally acknowledged that most cases of abuse involve priests who abused their office—their Roman collars—to gain the trust of the weak and innocent. And when a priest wears that collar he stands as an alter Christus, another Christ. To have someone like Paul Shanley or John Geoghan walking around wearing that collar is an affront to Jesus Christ and to the thousands of good priests who wear the collar with dignity and respect. And it could allow such men to continue their predations on trusting, gullible, at-risk potential victims.
A man guilty of the abuse of a minor is too dangerous to allow to act in any way as a priest. David Clohessy of the victims’ group SNAP, a man with whom I’ve disagreed in the past, gets it right here:
“A priest’s reputation, while important, absolutely pales in comparison with a child’s safety. It’s far easier for a priest to repair his reputation than a child to repair his or her emotional, psychological, and spiritual life.”