The Scandal and the US bishops’ reaction to it are leading us to very interesting places when it comes to how we deal with problems as an institution. Here’s an example. Decades ago, some bishops overlooked the sexual abuse of minors by certain priests. In order to make up for that laxity, the bishops have pledged a one-strike policy for misconduct with a minor by any church employee or volunteer. So now, an organist in Waterville, Maine, has been fired because of a claim that she had sex with a minor 35 years ago. Toni Breton was not a church employee at the time and in fact was a volunteer organist. Her family claims that she was dismissed without being allowed to review the evidence against her or even being allowed to participate in the hearing about her. They said, with some justification, that she is being treated like a criminal, even though she has not been convicted of any crime.
(The prosecutor said she cannot be charged because, although the statute of limitations was repealed in 1991, it only applied to charges stemming from alleged abuse occurring six years before the law went into effect, i.e. September 1985.)
So someone can come forward and claim to have been abused by someone 35 years ago and get the person removed from any formal role within the Church based solely on that claim? What kind of evidence could they have had? Was there any physical evidence? Letters, photos, anything? Don’t get me wrong, there may indeed be justification for this removal, but absent any public clarification what kind of message does this send to the average Catholic in the pew?
If I’m a lector or organist or parish council member, must I wait in fear for the day a baseless accusation is made against me? Of course, it’s doubly worse for most priests who are even more vulnerable. A layman could lose his volunteer ministry, but a priest could be suspended from living his vocation.
I know it’s important to “protect the children,” but is that we’re doing here with this kind of zero-tolerance policy? Is this what the Church is about?
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