Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Please: prosecute abusers, but also false accusers

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 06, 2011

Pittsburgh’s Bishop David Zubik “no factual basis for the allegation.” But that’s not all.

The bishop’s accuser apparently has a long criminal record. He has made questionable accusations in the past, and the prosecutor reports that in the Zubik case, “I’ve never heard of a more convoluted series of stories.” But that's not all either.

The district attorney has already concluded that the accusation against Bishop Zubik is unfounded. That conclusion raises another question: Is it a deliberate false accusation? Because a false accusation is itself a crime.

Thousands of abuse allegations have been leveled against Catholic priests in the past decade. Surely some of them—we don’t know how many—are false. Unscrupulous individuals have an obvious incentive for filing charges. There should be at least some countervailing pressure: some deterrent against false accusations. The prospect of being prosecuted for filing a false claim would force opportunists to think twice.

Prosecutors are ordinarily reluctant to bring charges on false claims for two reasons. First, they do not want to discourage legitimate whistle-blowers. Second, it is difficult to prove a negative—that an alleged event never happened—and to confirm malicious intent. Still in some cases the facts seem clear.

The public statements by Anthony Berosh, the Pittsburgh district attorney, create the impression that this could be one such clear-cut case. The prosecutor may not be inclined to pursue Bishop Zubik’s accuser; he has described the man as “a tortured soul.” In this case, prosecution might only add to the miseries of the already unhappy life of a man who is no real danger to society.

But is that really the case? Because of what appears to be a baseless allegation, Bishop Zubik is also a tortured soul, too. The same man has accused other priests, and their lives have been made miserable as well. False accusations are a danger to society.

We do not know the specifics of this case. The facts may be more complicated than they appear; the compelling evidence may be hard to find. But sooner or later, a bold prosecutor must bring criminal charges against someone for a false accusation of sexual abuse. Otherwise Catholic priests will be at the mercy of a secular witch-hunt.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - May. 06, 2017 7:18 PM ET USA

    I'm skeptical that any option, Benedict's or any other, will succeed without reform in the hierarchy of the church. It's hard for lay people to reform their parishes when the bishops are the ones calling the shots. And so many of them are cowards at best, if not wolves in sheep's clothing. Whose fault was it that you couldn't find an orthodox parish in Boston? The buck stops with the bishop. The faithful need to feel that someone has their backs. They don't feel that now.

  • Posted by: pb54337711 - Apr. 29, 2017 1:53 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Phil. A persuasive challenge to Dreher's proposal. Haven't yet read his book, but have seen Cardinal Sarah/others defend the powerful evangelizing work of monastics, precisely in their concentration on liturgy and prayer. Yes, those staying in the world HAVE to be rooted in that same ground, but did you mean to leave the elephant in the room as to them? "Refus[ing] to accept the demise of our churches" unavoidably implicates our priests/bishops, who may or may not be on the same page.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Apr. 26, 2017 11:10 AM ET USA

    As you said, St.Benedict sought to help a limited number of men pursue holiness. Personal holiness must be our aim as well. Our Church heritage is a treasure but sometimes holiness is where you find it. I pray for the grace for all of us to keep looking.

  • Posted by: feedback - Apr. 25, 2017 9:54 AM ET USA

    The term "post-Christian society" gives undue legitimacy to the controlled gradual corruption of popular culture in the West. In devoutly Christian societies of the past, people built churches that were beautiful and created sacred art and sacred music that continue to be awe-inspiring for their beauty. They were able to do that because they prayed well. I wholeheartedly agree that a Liturgy celebrated with love, with faith, and with beauty could reverse this "post-Christian" cultural tide.

  • Posted by: danflaherty210701793 - Apr. 24, 2017 12:31 PM ET USA

    I wish I could write something more profound than "Wow", but that's all I've got. The excellence of this column speaks for itself.

  • Posted by: bill.mureiko5646 - Apr. 23, 2017 2:54 PM ET USA

    Phil, this is an excellent summary of Dreher's book and the issue in general. My sense is that most of the criticism of the book is the result of Dreher's daring to question two sacred cows of modern Christian life: education and political activity. We all want to change "the culture" instead of our families and parishes. And we all want our children to be Supreme Court justices. Dreher asks difficult questions. I agree completely with your assessment.

  • Posted by: jheiman3693 - Oct. 10, 2011 12:27 PM ET USA

    Amen and Amen! Someone should have brought false accusation charges a LONG time ago!

  • Posted by: - Oct. 07, 2011 5:31 PM ET USA

    That this is happening to Bishop Zubik and nothing may be done against his accuser is absolutely outrageous! Charges must be brought immediately against the tortured soul accuser! I'll be glad to sign the papers. Please, do you have the email address for the Bishop's office so I can write him? Thank you