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not 100% reassuring

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 14, 2011

Responding to the report of a Pennsylvania grand jury, which had suggested that some abusive priests might still be in active ministry in the Philadelphia archdiocese, Cardinal Justin Regali offered this reassurance:

The report states that there remain in ministry archdiocesan priests who have credible allegations of abuse against them. I assure all the faithful that there are no archdiocesan priests in ministry today who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them.

While the faithful in Philadelphia may take some comfort in the fact that the archdiocese has instituted new policies to answer the harsh criticism from the grand jury, the cardinal's statement on this particular question is not quite waterproof. The grand jury suggested that priests who have faced credible allegations may still be in ministry. The cardinal-- presumably having digested that charge, and weighed his words-- replies that there are no active priests who have admitted or established charges. 

So what if there are priests in Philadelphia who have faced charges that are credible, but not established? Could they still be in active ministry? Judging by the cardinal's statement, the answer would appear to be Yes.

To keep things in proper perspective, that might not be a bad thing. It's quite easy to lodge a credible allegation against an innocent man, and quite difficult to establish the truth of the charge, even against someone who is guilty. The Dallas Charter puts accused priests in the very difficult position of being asked to prove their innocence, in cases that regularly involve no witnesses other than the accuser and the accused. One might argue persuasively that a "credible" charge is not enough to justify suspension from ministry-- that a priest should be disciplined only when the charge is "established." But wisely or not, the US bishops have tried to reassure the faithful by saying that priests are pulled out of ministry if there are credible charges. That reassurance will work only if the public is convinced that the practice "on the ground" matches the policy. In Philadelphia the grand jury wasn't convinced, and Cardinal Rigali's rebuttal isn't altogether convincing either.

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