Two sides

Two sides

The problem with how people react to the Scandal is that we can go overboard in two directions: either overreacting against the Church, in general, and priests, in particular, or blinding ourselves to certain realities and becoming too defensive.

One situation in New Jersey illustrates the problem. A popular priest was removed from his parish last April after accusations of abuse 20 years ago. Some people in his parish are convinced he could never have done what he is accused of. Meanwhile, the diocese wants to settle abuse lawsuits and do right by the victims. So what has happened? The diocese has settled the case with accusers of 10 priests, including the popular one, and now his former parishioners are hopping mad.

I think the wisdom of the Church shows in this situation. There’s a reason priests are generally moved from assignment to assignment, and it’s to prevent over-identification by the people with any one man. It’s fine to become friends with your pastor. I’ve done so. But there can grow an unhealthy pastoral attachment to one man so that when a conflict arises within you between defending your pastor and obedience to the Church, you could place your loyalties in the wrong place. Hence we have parishioners planning marches on the chancery and even an admission that the whole crisis has split the parish between the priest’s defenders and those not sure of his innocence.

On the other hand, we have what may seem a rush by the diocese to settle the allegations without concern to how it affects the individual. Of course, the diocese wants to put the Scandal behind it and the settlement in this case specifically says it admits no wrongdoing, but the appearance of it could continue to lead to more doubt about the priest when nothing else has been said about his case. For his sake and that of his parishioners, the diocese should strive to resolve the review of the case, determine whether it’s credible, work with law enforcement to determine whether charges will be filed, and then announce his final disposition. To drag it out any longer damages a potentially innocent man, damages the faith and hopes of the laypeople, and does not good for the Church.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli