Even under the new Charter, some questionable decisions are being made. For example, in the Diocese of Paterson, NJ, a suspended priest was returned to ministry after the review board advised the bishop that the priest’s behavior was “inappropriate” but “did not meet the definition of sex abuse.” According to the alleged victim, the priest touched his genitals in bed at the priest’s private home in the 1970’s. The accuser’s lawyer said “Granted, my client had his underwear on at the time … but it’s incredible to me that they decided it was merely ‘inappropriate.’” Since the review board won’t discuss the reasons for its findings, we don’t know whether it didn’t believe the victim, that the touching was inadvertent, or that there was some other mitigating circumstance.
So much for independent review boards being the end-all and be-all. The board of five laymen and three priests voted unanimously with one priest abstaining to recommend reinstatement. If it were just laymen, it would have been the same result. And if it had sole authority and not just advisory, it would have been the same result. So where does that leave us? It means that bishops have to be trustworthy. If a bishop says there is no reason to suspend the priest, yet wants to keep the details private, it would be nice if they didn’t have a track record of deception and bad decisions. Then we could just say, “If the bishop thinks it’s OK, then it’s OK.”
But now we’re left with more questions and an uneasy feeling. Don’t you feel better now that we have a Charter?