When zero tolerance doesn’t work

When zero tolerance doesn’t work

Is zero tolerance just? That question’s been bandied about ever since ZT was brought up before the Dallas bishops’ meeting last year. While I agree that if a credible accusation is made, the priest should be suspended until the case is resolved, how does one define credible? Consider this case as described in an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe:

    The Rev. Edward McDonagh was removed from St. Ann’s in West Bridgewater in May, two months after the archdiocese received a letter from a woman claiming her brother, a prostitute who died of AIDS, told her 20 years ago he’d been raped by McDonagh in the early 1960s. The family has not sued and McDonagh’s lawyer, David Sorrenti, said he hasn’t been told the identity of the accuser or his family. “It makes it difficult to defend,” he said. In a letter to the archdiocese, Sorrenti said the allegation was “an unsupported, unreliable, hearsay statement” that wasn’t worthy of belief.

How does one determine the credibility of a single statement by a dead man reported years after the fact and when no other accusaer has come forward? Can you ever prove that the sin and crime were committed? There’s no way this would ever stand up in secular court. Now perhaps the allegation is true and having Fr. McDonagh in ministry is dangerous for children—despite not a single other allegation in the past 40 years—but how can you be sure? Even the wisdom of Solomon would be insufficient for sorting this out.

But what I do know is that justice delayed is justiced denied. Leaving Fr. McDonagh, a presumably innocent man (he is granted the presumption of innocence until proven guilty), swaying in the wind is an injustice and the case should be resolved much quicker than this.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli