Can't we just move on...?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 25, 2003

The Notre Dame Magazine features a story by an alumnus detailing his sexual abuse at the hands of Rockville Centre priest Fr. Robert Huneke:

He was young, smart, funny and sarcastic. He had us call him Father Bob and quickly became popular among my church and school friends. Father Bob spent most of his time with young people. He was the sponsor of our Folk Mass group and was instrumental in getting us all to sign up for "Christian Awakening," a weekend retreat program involving several Long Island parishes. He let us smoke cigarettes around him and criticized the other parish priests in front of us. He swore. He was like no other priest I had ever met.

It turns out that Father Bob's moral theology was, as its partisans say, "nuanced." He nuanced the author, orally and otherwise, over a seven year period. Finally the victim broke away and wrote a letter to then-bishop John McGann detailing the abuse:

Bishop McGann did not reply to my letter. So I sent another, this time registered mail. I got a call from his secretary, who set up a meeting between the bishop and myself. We met on Long Island in summer 1980. The bishop seemed sympathetic and supportive. I did notice that he was uncomfortable with our talk, but who wouldn't be? God knows I was. He promised to "take care of it."

That meeting began a nine-year battle to have Huneke removed from active ministry. During those nine years, the bishop moved the priest from parish to parish. He assigned him to an all-boys high school. We corresponded: I insisted that the church needed to remove Huneke, and the bishop insisted that there were no other victims and I should let it be. I knew there were other victims -- in fact, the bishop wrote me that Father Huneke told him that "this matter" had not been a problem for two years (since 1978). His abuse of me ended in 1976. By his own admission, there were other victims. The bishop didn't want to hear about it.

The plot is predictable. After years of the stonewall treatment, the victim leafletted Huneke's parish after mass, having first called in an NBC News camera crew for the occasion. Bingo. Brows were slapped, the Learning Curve kicked in, phone calls were made, and Huneke was yanked.

There, except for the usual "We are church" admonitions, the story ends. We're all supposed to "move on." But what about the other aspects of Father Bob's ministry? Do we pretend that his 20 years of homilies, confessions, counseling, marriage preparation and retreats were in conformity with Catholic teaching and helped the faithful cleave to the Church? Don't we have an obligation to do some catechetical accounting?

We could, of course, just "move on." But there's a price to pay. Look at it this way: suppose the chemistry teacher at my child's school claims to know authoritatively which compounds in the laboratory storeroom are safe and which are poisons, and labels the containers accordingly. Then I say to him, "You say such-and-such a compound is lethal, yet your colleague, Mr. X, has been mixing it in my child's lunchtime milk." If he replied, "Oh, Mr. X no longer teaches here; let bygones be bygones," we would conclude either that he doesn't at heart believe what he says about poisons, or that he doesn't really care about children. There isn't a third possibility.

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