Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The right to one's good name, revisited

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 10, 2004

Remember the reason Syracuse Bishop James Moynihan gives for not disclosing the names of priests accused or found guilty of child abuse?

Moynihan cited the Eighth Commandment -- "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor" -- to explain his refusal to reveal names. The moral code that commonly refers to lying also forbids revealing a person's hidden faults or making a false statement that hurts a person's reputation, he said.

Personally I think concern for the reputation of a priest known to get his sexual kicks from children, invoked under the rubric of an offense against truth, betrays scruples that border on lunacy, but let's take the bishop at his own word -- i.e., as a man keen to defend the good name of all persons.

Suppose Layman A accuses Priest X of abuse. There are two reputations at stake. Priest X denies the charge; therefore X is calling A a liar, is defaming A, is publicly damaging A's reputation. Should X be proven guilty of abusing A, by that fact X is also deemed guilty of slander, of bearing false witness against his neighbor.

BUT -- if the reputation of a wrongdoer is to be defended, isn't that of his victim -- of an innocent and slandered man -- all the more to be vindicated?

Syracuse Monsignor Francis Furfaro has been accused by five youths of sexual abuse. He admitted one incident, in response to which the diocese, in 1999, paid out a $75,000 settlement and sent him to St. Luke's for the customary pinochle and psychodrama. Furfaro denies the other alleged incidents, all of which, fortuitously, fall outside the statute of limitations.

Not to worry. Though legal remedies are no longer available though the civil courts, the diocesan engines of justice are working ceaselessly to restore the good name of the doubly victimized innocents, right? Right?

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