It is a sad day for those who have long respected men who wear the Roman Catholic collar, specifically because of what the collar symbolizes. Sad, because another expensive shoe has dropped in the Diocese of Bridgeport with the plea by Father Michael Moynihan to federal obstruction of justice. Father Moynihan was the proud pastor of St. Michael’s Church inGreenwichat the time of the revelations in Darien of Father Jude Michael Fay who pleaded guilty to the ‘interstate transport of embezzled funds,’ and was subsequently sentenced in Federal Court to several years in prison. Suffering from an aggressive case of prostate cancer, Fay died while serving his term. And the sadness extends to the majority of clergy who have observed their promises and serve their ministry faithfully 24/7.
The article brought some closure for me. I had wondered about “high and mighty” priests, secrecy of Church process, and no serious consequences for Church leaders around the world from poor decisions that created too many ignored victim/survivors of power and sexual abuse. Why was the million dollar personal use inDarientreated in one way, but theGreenwichfinancial abuse just seemed to go away? (Rumor suggested that Moynihan was in NY serving an Episcopal ministry.)
Now I understand that both issues were dealt with by the Feds. Perhaps the Diocesan legal team is more comfortable that way? Less news gets published then with State courts, it seems, and that limits scandal? There may be deeper pockets to investigate once on the scent of wrongdoing. And negotiating to a single charge with a guilty plea and a Federal sentence makes for a final public cleansing. In each case, news of long-term friendships that challenged priestly promises of chaste celibacy also circulated. Money from the people of God facilitated a life and lifestyle for these pastors that were in serious conflict with their ordination promises, as well as parishioner expectations.
Each priest was removed from his pastoral position promptly. However, that is a Diocesan administrative position connected to a specific geographic territory. What is curious to me is the path that is pursued by the Diocese in their evaluation of the continuation of a man’s ‘priesthood’? Will there be a voluntary or involuntary move to seek a reduction to the lay state of that man’s priestly ministry? We do not hear about this. Bishop Lori does not keep a scoreboard in the Fairfield County Catholic on his priestly force, as clergy available for service to the people of God in his Diocese. Retirements, leaves of absence, appointments to specific parish posts are formal news each month as are ordinations that produce new men for ministry each year, though not enough to fill the aging priestly ranks. But others seem to disappear from the radar screen. Where are they now? What is their status? Does the public have a right to know that needs to be balanced with a right to privacy of a priest removed from ministry?
The sexual abuse scandals in the Diocese removed the curtains from the Church laicization process only slightly. If a Bishop removed a priest from parish duties due to credible allegations of sexual abuse of youth, and if the accusations proved true enough to be subject to trial in criminal or civil court, the Diocese often pursued a path of settling confidentially. (Scandal was averted for the most part. And in recent years the priest was not moved to another parish, as was the case so often in the latter part of the twentieth century in Dioceses around the world.)
So, what is his current status? The Bishop to whom he owed obedience had removed his authority to practice ministry publicly. If the abuser chose to resign his priesthood, the Diocese could co-sponsor that resignation and present it toRomefor a decision that might take several years. If the abuser chose to stay a priest in the face of a Bishop wishing otherwise, it took longer or did not happen.Romehad the power. The people in the pews had no clue.
What is the status of that man/priest and how does the public recognize whether he is ‘frocked’, defrocked, or going through a process? The Bridgeport Diocese does have a Sexual Abuse Policy posted on its web site. Section 11.2 addresses “Publication of Diocesan Action: Where an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor has been verified, the Chancellor of the Diocese, with the assistance of the Director of Communications, will publish an appropriate announcement of the action taken in response to the abuse. The Diocese will maintain a public record, including a website that lists the name of priests and deacons who have been removed from ministry under this Policy.”
Where is this listing? I cannot find it. Perhaps there are no priests who fall in the category, even after more than $37 Million of settlements disclosed and others less public? But there is at least one former pastor I recognize who was removed for “Safe Environment” reasons, for whom a settlement was made and who was suspended from public ministry who appears publicly on occasion with collar and priest suit. How is that possible? And isn’t that confusing? Where is enforcement? Perhaps it is part of what is seen as consistently “high and mighty” behavior, that others term “clericalism” where men have forgotten that they are men, humbly attempting to serve fellow people of God, subject to internal and external challenges throughout life on the path they promised to follow?
And if religious men of any persuasion exhibit “high and mighty” behavior without institutional process and vigorous practice of open, accountable and transparent, then what are we to think of local elected officials who are so proud of their plumage and power that they ignore necessary institutional checks and balance mechanisms? Democratic government (and the RC Church declares it is not democratic, but many faithful feel it is truly participatory) is best described as democratic when the necessary citizen participation is present, and that is not merely at election time. It is healthy participation on a regular and continuing basis by keeping informed and knowledgeable about the activities of government and the use of public resources that makes for democratic government. As we watch Arab spring uprisings, or protests in Moscow, or financial challenges in Euro-land, etc. the impulse towards democracy is hopeful, but real continuing effort is demanded of a citizenry if it is to truly live up to the promise of democracy. The alternative is to decline into another “ocracy” without awareness of the slide. Time will tell.
John Marshall Lee December 10, 2011