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The Long Good-Bye

By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. (articles ) | Apr 27, 2003

I disagree strongly with the recommendations made by clergy-abuse expert Dr. Bill Marshall in a recent interview, but his arguments are free of cant and deserve a reasoned response. Marshall was one of the experts who spoke at the Vatican's workshop earlier in the month. Among his points:

Marshall said a priest barred from the church will likely do one of two things -- kill himself or molest again. "When [the church] takes priests out of the church in the United States they lose their salary, their pension, their health benefits. They're starting life from scratch at 55 years old with no skills and no friends. The only friends they ever had were people in the church, and they just shut them out. He'll offend again, and when he does, the public is going to hold [the church] responsible. They're going to say, 'You knew this guy was an offender and all you did was kick him out of your church and then forget about him? You took no responsibility.'"

Marshall said kicking priests out of church is a "recipe for disaster."

This month, the Vatican was told that priests who abuse children should be kept at the church, supervised and given a job that doesnt involve children, like a secretarial or custodial position. "You can monitor their behaviour because you know what they did in the past. You can be very careful about what they're doing," Marshall told The Whig. "If you kick them out of the church, you have no control whatsoever."

Sed contra:

*If you defrock a molester, he'll likely offend again. If you retain him, he'll likely offend again. But in the first instance he can't trade on the Church to gain access to victims or to defend himself against their charges.

*Even a priest-secretary is a priest supported by the donations of the faithful. Is this just? Is it likely that the donors will be told candidly what their contributions are used for?

*James Porter managed to find children to abuse while undergoing in-patient therapy at a facility staffed 24/7 in Nowhere, New Mexico. The notion that offenders can be 'monitored' in a real-world living situation is moonshine. Ditto the idea that non-pastoral ministry makes a difference as to motive or opportunity.

*The 'recipe for disaster' language has lost its sting. Would the Church be worse off today if every abuser had been sent packing after his first offense? Would society in general?

NB: the article includes the welcome news that the papers given at the Vatican will be published this August. This will give us a chance to read Marshall's full-dress arguments and assess them more fairly.

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