Monday, 5 April 2010

Arizona: How Canon Law Protected Convicted Abusers

A report from Arizona tells how the late Tucson Bishop manual D Moreno struggled to get authorization from then Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF to defrock a convicted abusive priest. 
The late Bishop Manuel D. Moreno pleaded with the future pope for help.

In one case, Moreno pleaded with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, for help in removing the Rev. Michael Teta, who was convicted by the church in 1997 of five crimes including sexual solicitation in the confessional.
"I make this plea to you to assist me in every way you can to expedite this case, because the accused was a priest in whom I had great confidence at one time, but who, unfortunately, worked among our former seminarians, and, terrible to say, evidently corrupted many of them," Moreno wrote in an April 1997 letter to Ratzinger.

The report as published presents yet another case where Pope Benedict, as head of the CDF, was clearly involved in dealing with a clear case of abuse by a convicted priest, but did no intervene to remove him from presenting a continuing danger to children, in spite of pleading and warnings of future abuse from the local ordinary.
There will certainly many more such cases that will still come to light - the nature of Vatican procedures guaranteed that many of these cases, those like this one which occurred in the confessional, were to be handled by Cardinal Ratzinger.
However, what I find illuminating in this story is not the role of Pope Benedict personally, but the impact of canon law. It seems that notwithstanding the fact that the offender had already been convicted, he and others in a similar position, were able to delay any penalties for years in endless appeals in canon law.Now, it is important that legal procedures of any kind should provide safeguards and protections for the accused against any miscarriage of of justice, but in the secular world there are other considerations as well.

In employment law, it is a well established principle that in serious cases, an employee may face  suspension or even summary dismissal well in advance of formal conviction in law. IT is inconceivable that a bank, for instance, which suspected an employee of fraud, would wait until the offender had been convicted and exhausted all avenues for appeal before removing him from their employ. No, their first concern would be to protect their assets from future harm.  Why doesn't canon law apply the same principle?

The answer is simple:  canon law is developed by priests, and has in in-built bias in favour of the protection of priests against all others. In the 2001 instructions from the CDF on the procedures to be followed in investigating allegations of sexual abuse, as well as the much earlier document from the 1960's which preceded it, it is specified that all participants in these inquiries, other than the complainant, should be priests.   The earlier version required legal representation for the defendant - but not for the complainant).  Unless it has already been revised to remove this bias, there is an obvious and urgent need for such revision, most especially in matters of abuse, sexual or other, of minors or of adults.

This extract is form the Arizona Star.

Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said delays in cases here were not due to any Vatican office, including Ratzinger's.
"The frustration that you can sense in (Moreno's) letter, when put in the context of the delays experienced in our diocese, clearly refers to the challenges of getting the case resolved locally and did not refer to a frustration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," Kicanas wrote in an e-mail response to Star questions.
The church's canonical court in 1997 found "there is almost a satanic quality in (Teta's) mode of acting toward young men and boys." The court found that Teta's "insidious 'rape' of so many young men in his capacity as a priest" warranted his immediate removal from the priesthood.
"What is wrong with this system in which it takes another seven years to defrock a priest that has been found guilty of 'satanic abuse?' " Tucson lawyer Lynne Cadigan said.
Kicanas said that from 1997 to 2003, a process of review and appeals by Teta's canonical lawyer took place. "Unavoidably, criminal cases in our civil system of justice and canonical trials in the church, because of the need to respect the right to due process, can take a long time," Kicanas wrote.
"While clearly I would wish these processes could have progressed more rapidly, especially because people had been harmed and rightly wanted closure, nevertheless justice requires care and attention to the rights of all involved."

(Read the full report)

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing to me how closely you have to read these various statements. Kicanas says: "Unavoidably, criminal cases in our civil system of justice and canonical trials in the church, becasue of the need to respect the right to due proecess, can take a long time."

    There's just one little problem with the comparison between criminal and canonical procedures. In criminal appeals the plaintiff is either in jail or under some sort of mandatory supervision. These two priests in Arizona were out on the streets totally unsupervised.

    Defrocking can be compared to a death sentence. It's the ultimate execution of priestly status. Death row inmantes on appeal are in prison. You would think priests appealing defrocking for sexual abuse should at least be under house arrest in a monastery or something. Then these long drawn out procedures wouldn't appear to be so much of a cover up.