not guilty

By Diogenes (articles ) | Mar 22, 2004

Last May, Diocese of Winona priest Edward McGrath was arrested and charged with groping an undercover police officer in a public park. This was the Diocese's reaction at the time:

In a statement released Thursday, Bishop Bernard Harrington said he "is saddened by the news regarding the charges against Father Edward McGrath. "Father McGrath has been an excellent and much loved priest, serving the people of our diocese well in both administrative and pastoral capacities." If necessary, the diocese will see that he is provided professional counseling, the statement said. [Spokesman Ivan] Kubista said the charges against McGrath do not fall under the diocesan sexual misconduct policy.

"This involves his personal life," Kubista said, explaining that this is a civil matter, not involving McGrath's conduct while he was "engaged in the mission of the church."

Amy Welborn was unimpressed by the last paragraph:

Wow. Unpack that one for a while. I thought a priest's entire life was supposed to be a living symbol of the "mission of the church." So if a priest robs a convenience store on his day off, it "involves his personal life?" If he calls an African-American or a Latino a derogatory name after he leaves church grounds on his way to the golf course it's okay because it merely "involves his personal life?" Somehow ... I doubt it.

Well, last week McGrath was found not guilty of the charge. Here's part of the news story:

[The Rev. Edward McGrath] was found not guilty Thursday in Ramsey County District Court. ... McGrath was charged with fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, which involves nonconsensual sexual contact.

He waived his right to a jury trial, leaving it up to a judge to make the decision. On Thursday morning, Judge Joanne Smith filed her "not guilty" ruling. McGrath has maintained his innocence. He was put on a leave of absence from his duties as pastor of Pax Christi church in Rochester after being charged.

The Diocese of Winona was pleased with the outcome, said spokesman Ivan Kubista. Kubista said he did not know where McGrath is staying or what his plans are. "I suspect that's between the Bishop and him and I'm sure they'll be working out what kind of ministry he will be engaged in," Kubista said.

What are we -- and, more to the point, what are the Pax Christi parishioners -- supposed to make of this? The Diocese's remarks of last May seem to concede that something untoward had occurred with McGrath, and its present statement is hardly a rousing trumpet blast of vindication. If a man were truly blameless he'd be outraged both by the concessions of the first statement and the oddly unenthusiastic tone of the recent one.

We're committed to "transparency," right? That's a key feature of the USCCB's trust-rebuilding software. So let them tell us bluntly: what kind of man is the Diocese returning to ministry -- a chaste and virtuous priest, or one who's "exploring personal issues" but who managed to beat the felony rap? If transparency does not apply here, if the Diocese decides it won't trust the laity with the truth about McGrath, what does that say about the nature and depth of the relation the laity are meant to have with the great majority of priests about whom no public statement is made?

What it boils down to is this: the integrity of our pastors is none of our business -- because, in Kubista's phrase, it involves their personal life.

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  • Posted by: - Mar. 22, 2004 5:56 PM ET USA

    Being found not guilty of a crime does not equate to innocence, but I remain committed to the idea that allegations of misconduct must be pursued in court, and this is an anomaly that does not change that. We need not worry unduly about the result in this case -- others will follow, and justice will prevail.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 22, 2004 2:11 PM ET USA

    I wonder what Fr. McGrath would require as penance to a man who confessed to him that he had groped someone in the park. It would be an interesting experiment, no?

  • Posted by: - Mar. 22, 2004 12:45 PM ET USA

    This is sad. But it is also funny because the parties involved (except for the undercover police officer) are so patently dumb...dumb beyond sadness. A priest charged with "groping" someone in a public park! A bishop who responds with the offer of "professional" counseling for the priest, qualifying it by the additional phrase, "if necessary". And Ivan Kusbista who must have left Isvestia in 1991 to work in Winona, Mn. Maybe the Devil looks more like Mel Brooks!