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hey, not my problem!

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 24, 2005

Here's a heart-warming story from the LA Times about Fr. Arturo Uribe, a Redemptorist priest who, while a 33-year-old seminarian, fathered a child. The boy is now 12 and has health problems. His mother took Uribe to court to boost child support payments and get her child added to his father's health insurance plan. Uribe responded that his health plan didn't provide for dependents and that, due to his vow of poverty, he was unable to increase his $323 per month contribution (paid by the Redemptorists). Other points of edification:

  • Uribe was ordained after the Redemptorists concluded a financial support agreement with his child's mother.
  • Uribe has never seen his son, and never tried to make contact with him, even after the boy tried to interview his father for a school project and sent him a photo album with pictures of himself.
  • Uribe's parishioners were never informed that Father was a father.
  • In response to the mother's pleas, based on the child's medical needs, the Redemptorist provincial, "after a great deal of reflection," sent her a one-time payment of $3,876 along with his hopes that "this generous amount" would permit her to make good decisions for her son's well being. She returned the check.

It sometimes happens that the Church gets blindsided by the unsuspected iniquities of her ministers, but that's not the case here. The Redemptorists understood they had responsibilities for a child after its mother made them known, and in ordaining Uribe they were saying yes to continued responsibility. At minimum, they have to know that $323 does not meet "Uribe's half" of the cost of raising a child. They ought to realize, moreover, that a child needs much more from his father than financial support, and awkward though it is to provide in the circumstances, Uribe cannot simply walk away from these duties. There's an immortal soul there, for God's sake.

The boy's mother also sued the Archdiocese of Portland, claiming it had failed its fiduciary duty in employing Uribe. This was a stretch, as Uribe belonged to a religious order only indirectly under the Archdiocese's authority. The true responsibility belonged to the Redemptorists, and the Archdiocese was probably right to file for dismissal, but the wording of its motion was abysmal:

The archdiocese said it had never directly employed Uribe. It further argued that "no one other than the parents are responsible for support of a minor child" and that the case had statute of limitations problems.

Finally, the archdiocese said the "birth of the plaintiff's child and the resultant expenses are the result of the plaintiff's own negligence," specifically because she engaged in "unprotected intercourse."

Got that? The plaintiff was "negligent" in not using contraceptive birth control. Thanks for the admonishment, your reverences, you certainly nailed the wench on that score! And the LA Times does not neglect to mention that, at the time the motion was filed, the Archdiocese of Portland was "headed by then-Archbishop of Portland William Joseph Levada, now a cardinal in the Vatican and advisor to Pope Benedict XVI." Just what we needed to hear.

My hunch -- only a hunch -- is that the "unprotected intercourse" language is standard legal boilerplate for this kind of maneuver and that the attorneys were just covering the usual bases. But this sort of contradiction is hardly rare; a similar boner occurred in the Shanley molestation case, when the response filed by the Archdiocese of Boston's attorneys included the argument that the negligence of the victim's parents contributed to Father Shanley's ability to abuse their son. Great lawyering, maybe, but rotten theology.

Is there a whiff of pharisaism in the public shellacking dealt the Church in the news story? Could be. But most of the faithful are scandalized less by sins committed in hot blood than those committed in cold blood. It's the calculated injustices that are disturbing, the deliberate detachment from spiritual concerns that break one's heart. Here's a man who preaches about leaving ninety-nine sheep to seek out the one sheep at risk, with a boy's photo album gathering dust in his office. What kind of faith life is that lad likely to bring to his problems when he turns 21, and his father's court-ordered duties end?

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  • Posted by: - Jul. 26, 2005 3:50 PM ET USA

    As for the defense, are they suggesting the mother should have procured an abortion? Is there any precedent for the laity to petition Rome to take action regarding this type of madness?! Diogenes is correct. This is morally putrid. Does Rome not have some ability to address this sort of situation in the American Church, if for no other reason than as a witness to a watching world that the Church is not really complacent and complicit in this sort of thing. Lord, have mercy on us!

  • Posted by: Eusebuis1 - Jul. 24, 2005 5:25 PM ET USA

    I just wonder whether any of Pope Benedict's (.i.e, Cardinal Ratzinger's) old, true friends or any of his aids will tell him about the heavy bagage Archbishop Lavada is bringing with him to the Vatican. I know it's sometimes very difficult to tell a friend he has a bad breath. Assume someone else will do it.

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