It’s at this point in the Scandal in Boston that real injustice could happen. Over a year after this whole thing exploded we still have people filing new complaints against priests and how do we know that some of them aren’t just con-artists looking for a quick settlement?
I won’t judge any of the recent accusations made against priests because I don’t have the data, but let me tell you a story that I was told recently. There was a priest who was approached last summer by a young man, the son of a couple he knew many years ago. Now this young man demands a payment of $60,000 from the priest. Why? Because, he says, the priest used to come over to his house all the time and drink with his mother and they drank too much and that affected his upbringing. The priest consults a lawyer who says the accuser is all wet and has no case. Fast forward six months. The young man now has a sleazy lawyer who’s face is all over the news and who represents dozens of victims of sex abuse. This man is suing the priest for “abuse” although the details of the case are shadowed and unclear. The priest’s name is splashed all over the papers and TV. What does the priest do? What does the archdiocese do? What do we do?
Perhaps the priest had a drinking problem at one time. Perhaps his relationship with the woman was inappropriate because of the drinking, even if nothing more than that happened. That’s all wrong, but what cause does this guy have to sue the priest?
The problem remains that in the current climate sorting out credible accusations versus non-credible ones is becoming increasingly difficult. And if the accusation is deemed non-credible, yet the lawsuit goes forward, what does that mean for the priest’s ministry? And with the names of the accused plastered everywhere as soon as the suits are filed, how can they ever reclaim their good reputation if they are innocent?
Another thing disturbs me about the recent rash of lawsuits. A lot of them are against priests who are now dead. Eight of the 12 priests named in Garabedian lawsuits yesterday are dead. How can these cases be proven? Do they have witnesses? Physical evidence? Or are they just going to hope that the Church knuckles under and settles everything to make it go away? I hope not. In cases where there is obvious wrongdoing, i.e. where the pervert admits his sins, I think settlements should be made. But where a difficult-to-prove accusation is made against a dead man, I think the Church should demand the highest burden of proof.