February 9, 2006

Cardinal Frances George Was Right

The New York Times is reporting that Cardinal Francis George of the Catholic Arch-Diocese of Chicago, is being heavily criticized after a local priest, Daniel McCormack, was arrested on charges of sexually abusing young boys. The allegations were brought to Cardinal George's attention last August, but no action was taken by the diocese at that time. In 2002, the Catholic Church instituted a policy that a priest should be removed immediately if "there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred." Cardinal George, it is alleged, failed to follow this guideline.

While I don't know the specifics of the situation or the history of Cardinal George or Father McCormack, I want to advance the controversial thesis that in this case, Cardinal George was right. The church's guidelines say that a priest should be removed when there is "sufficient evidence," and this with good reason! Anyone can accuse someone of sexual abuse, and pastors are often particularly embroiled in political struggles. If one unsubstantiated allegation of sexual abuse could remove someone from the ministry, then any controversial pastor would likely be accused. Because the allegation didn't have to be substantiated or come with any evidence, people could threaten allegations against priests as a sort of blackmail. In short, it would create an utterly ridiculous situation. Instead, very sensibly, the Catholic Church has decided that a priest should be removed only when the allegations are actually credible.

In this particular case, the family of the victim went to the civil authorities. The civil authorities were prohibited from giving any information to the church, and they determined that the evidence was not sufficient to press charges. The church had no way of pursuing its own investigation, as it didn't even know who the accuser was, and it had it on the authority of the police that there was not enough evidence to prove Father McCormack's guilt. So the church did the right thing: nothing. The family of the victim was given contact information for the ecclesiastic authorities, and should have contacted them, so that the church could determine the credibility of the allegations, but they did not.

Clearly, a terrible thing has happened here, and, if he is proven guilty, Father McCormack should be disordained, perhaps excommunicated, and certainly put in jail. However, even if the charge that an additional instance of abuse occurred after the arch-diocese was notified of the early allegations is true, I do not believe that Cardinal George can be held responsible for what has happened here. We simply can't destroy the life/career/ministry/etc. of every individual who is accused of this sort of thing. We must investigate the charges and find out whether they are true. Certainly, if the charges are even remotely credible the individual should be removed from contact with minors until the investigation is concluded, but in this case, the church had no way of judging whether the charges were remotely credible. The information was simply not released to them.

Posted by Kenny at February 9, 2006 1:15 PM
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