You sure you want to do that?

You sure you want to do that?

A Catholic archbishop has come down hard on a wayward priest for violating the policy. Unfortunately, the wayward priest wasn’t an abuser, but the guy who reported the abuser to police and the policy wasn’t the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, but the unwritten policy of “protecting” the institution by hiding criminal wrongdoing.

Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco settled a lawsuit a year ago with Fr. John Conley who said that Levada had removed him from ministry for reporting Fr. James Aylward for sexual misconduct. Even so, Levada said under oath at a deposition, that even knowing what Conley saw, he would not have reported the incident to police.

What did Conley see? He said he saw Aylward engaging in what he suspected was “inappropriate contact” with a 15-year-old boy (why is always a 15-year-old boy?) inside the darkened church where the two men were assigned. Conley reported it to the archdiocese, including Levada. Levada responded by telling Conley that he wasn’t to call Aylward a pedophile, or speak about the matter to the nuns at the parish. Aylward was subsequently quietly transferred.

Did Conley overreacte? Apparently not, since Aylward later admitted to “sexual misconduct” in several parishes. Did the archdiocese underreacte to the abuser and overreacte to the whistleblower? What did Conley report happened”

According to his testimony, Conley arrived back at the church about 8 p.m. after teaching a class and heard a suspicious noise in a darkened hallway. He pushed open a door and, he says, spotted the altar boy, one of several youths Aylward had recruited as volunteers to answer phones and greet people upon entering the church. In his deposition, Conley said the boy was kneeling in the dark and was “panting” and out of breath.

“I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on? What’s happening? Are you wrestling?’” Conley testified.

“Yeah, yeah, wrestling,” the boy replied, according to Conley.

“I said, ‘Who is that in there with you?’”

After hesitating, the boy answered, “Father Aylward.” Conley says he then saw a hand reach from the floor and turn a doorknob on the other side of the hallway and that Aylward crawled away.

While Aylward got a change of scenery for his troubles, Conley was stripped of his faculties and banished to a rural retreat center. Conley, a former prosecutor in Michigan before being ordained, then sued the archdiocese, which settled. At first the archdiocese accused Conley of conducting a witch hunt, but then settled after Aylward’s admission.

This is just more evidence of the mindset that gripped chanceries throughout the country. A priest reports abuse and says he’s going to the police, and the auxiliary bishop asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Would Talking about Touching have helped here? Suppose a child went to his priest and said another priest touched him? What could we have expected to have happened? In San Francisco, at least until very recently, the priest would have to wonder if he would be persecuted for reporting it.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli

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