bad day at black rock

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 14, 2004

Now this is worrisome.

Massachusetts's Supreme Judicial Court, the folks who gave you the green light on gay marriage, has now decided by the same 4-3 margin that the New England Jesuits must turn over confidential records concerning a priest accused of sexual abuse of high school students.

Fourteen victims of Fr. James Talbot, S.J., the man in question, were awarded $5.2 million last year as a settlement in civil suits brought against him; the case before the SJC concerned evidence in a separate criminal action. Victims testified that Talbot "lured them into one-on-one [wrestling] sessions, where he pinned them to mats and molested them." Talbot is the last man in defense of whom the Catholic Church should draw a line in the sand. Yet by rallying 'round their chickenhawk brother, the Jesuits put a lot more at risk than personnel files. And lost it.

"The theory advanced by Talbot and the Jesuits would obliterate the important distinction between the absolute freedom of religious belief and the somewhat qualified free exercise of religion," wrote Sosman, who was supported by Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall and justices John M. Greaney and Roderick L. Ireland. She added that forcing the religious order to hand over the records does not hinder "the Jesuits or Talbot in their performance of any religious rituals or ceremonies of worship."

Now re-read how Sosman qualifies the "somewhat qualified" free exercise of religion: by implication, if an activity does not involve "performance of religious rituals or ceremonies of worship," it can be infringed. Remember that the next time your parish hall is used to plan a pro-life demonstration. Remember that when your local Catholic school attempts to transmit controversial aspects of Catholic teaching on marriage.

Sosman also wrote that if prosecutors turn up a confession in the order's documents, that may persuade Talbot to plead guilty and the alleged victims might be spared the ordeal of testifying at trial. The Commonwealth has a compelling interest in helping victims avoid the trauma of a trial, she said.

Got that? The Commonwealth has a compelling interest in helping victims avoid the trauma of a trial. To a layman, this seems to say that the presumed guilt of a defendant is reason enough for the State to fish among confidential records for a possible statement of self-incrimination, so that a trial would not be necessary. The point is not that the seal of the confessional might be violated -- the seal itself prohibits any record of sacramental matter -- the point is that an increasingly anti-Christian civil apparat will have enormously expanded access to the innermost workings of all churches, churches whose purposes and activities it will find ever more hostile to its own.

One would think that, not the State, but the Jesuits -- indeed Talbot himself -- had a compelling interest in helping abuse victims avoid the trauma of a trial, and that out of an elementary sense of justice. They've already forked out lots of their benefactors' benefactions to pay for Talbot's sexual recreations, why can't they face their moral responsibilities honestly, outside of a courtroom?

The boys-boys-boys platoon has all but bankrupted the Archdiocese, and now has opened the Catholic Church -- indeed all churches -- to a huge defeat: a reduction of "free exercise" to religious ritual, and a much wider incursion of State monitoring of the organs of belief. The last Jesuit with his last breath will likely gasp, "there is no connection between homosexuality and sex abuse..." -- but what a price to pay!

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  • Posted by: - May. 17, 2004 7:28 AM ET USA

    The entire matter is beyond with language and phrase and wording used only to confuse and more agendize the issue for whomever is using it to change whatever they want to inside and outside of the Chruch. The Catechism, the Bible, and prayer to God seem the only solutions to even attending Mass anymore to discern God's will and guide our own individual conduct, prayer, and spiritually. Otherwise it is the way of the world. Who else is above suspiscion? It seems noone. Only Jesus.

  • Posted by: - May. 14, 2004 12:12 PM ET USA

    Diogenes is right. The words of the opinion and the implications are ominous. But the matter begs professional analysis. Can CWN arrange for an orthodox, qualified Catholic legal scholar to review and comment on the decision and its implications, including prospects for appeal?