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Wag the Dog?

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Jun 11, 2003

Today's New York Times carries a very unsatisfactory article about Cardinal Egan's determination not to reveal the outcome of the archdiocese's internal investigations into priests accused of sexual abuse, priests whom the local prosecutors have decided not to indict.

The usual reactions pro-and-con are reported, but it's far from clear whether the silent treatment is to be given innocent priests, or guilty priests, or innocent and guilty indifferently. Retired Msgr. Harry Byrne is portrayed as critical of the Cardinal's decision and quoted as saying, "A priest has a right to have his good name re-established." But surely re-establishing a man's good name means different things in the case of an innocent man, the case of a man guilty of (but unindicted for) criminal sexual misconduct, and the case of a man guilty of sexual misconduct that is neither technically criminal nor formally subject to archdiocesan sanctions.

Attorney David Kendall declared President Clinton "vindicated" every time he escaped criminal conviction, irrespective of the squalid conduct that was incidentally verified by sundry court proceedings. Is Msgr. Byrne calling for this kind of declaration -- e.g., that an investigated priest whose sexual partner was adjudged to have reached the age of consent should have his "good name" publicly affirmed by the Church? Conversely, is Cardinal Egan's option for silence predicated on the case of a priest guilty of sins that are not prosecutable but that, if made public, would render his ministry impossible?

It's hard to know where and to what extent good will and ill will are operating in this business. Perhaps those calling for public vindication and those pleading for silence want to do the right thing. But it's hard to avoid the suspicion that here, as elsewhere in this scandal, momentum for reform is stalled to provide cover for bishops and priests who, while not felons, have misbehaved in ways that could not withstand public scrutiny.

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