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we're on a learning curve here

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 26, 2008

Back in January of 2005, Boston priest Jerome Gillespie, while drunk, accosted a woman and her 12-year-old daughter in a restaurant. Stiff charges were knocked down and eventually dismissed; the Archdiocese says: "Father Gillespie is currently assisting parishes on an interim basis. It is expected that he soon will receive a formal assignment within the Archdiocese of Boston." Here's an excerpt from the Globe's account:

In 2005, most of the charges were dismissed, but Gillespie admitted sufficient facts, which is not the same as pleading guilty, to a charge of annoying or accosting a person of the opposite sex. A judge continued the case, without a finding, for two years, and said the case would be dismissed if Gillespie completed a substance abuse evaluation, underwent a comprehensive mental health evaluation and a sex offender evaluation, and completed any treatment recommended as a result of those evaluations, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. ... The charge was dismissed in 2007, Wark said.

SNAP is denouncing Gillespie's return to ministry on the grounds that he represents a potential threat to children. Ironically, this plays into the Wilton Gregory maneuver, which succeeded brilliantly in keeping the wrong men in their jobs. By this ploy, the mantra "It's about the children" was used to divert public outrage into channels marked-out by the bishops' child protection programs, such that any attempt to uncover the "failures behind the failures" -- e.g., in the bishops' own appetites and conduct -- was dismissed as a distraction from the real issue.

Now in spite of SNAP's saber-rattling, most people won't believe Gillespie is a Geoghan. And that's where the Wilton Wobble kicks in. If Gillespie is not likely to commit any sexual felonies -- if it's NOT about the children -- is he therefore suitable for priestly ministry? Especially dismaying -- six years after the Boston Meltdown, and less than a week after Pope Benedict's stressing the moral and spiritual failures at the bottom of sexual abuse -- is the canned 1987-style justification by the Archdiocese for Gillespie's return to work. "The archdiocese noted," reports the Globe, "that not only were the charges dismissed, but that the priest submitted to court-ordered evaluations for alcohol, psychiatric, and sexual problems."

These are psychological evaluations. Gillespie could get satisfactory scores on them and his spiritual life might still be a shambles. Was there no penance exacted, no reparation offered? Perhaps Gillespie truly is ready to resume priestly work; but shouldn't the Archdiocese make it clear that the green light involves more than his therapist and his parole officer, that there was a failure in Christian life that needed to be remedied?

In its statement yesterday, the archdiocese cited alcohol in describing the incident as "inappropriate remarks he made while intoxicated."

Inappropriate? Had Gillespie been a welder with a noseful, his lawyer might describe his remarks as "inappropriate" (his wife wouldn't). But surely somewhere in the bureaucratic apparatus of the Archdiocese of Boston someone could be found -- if only a receptionist or a cleaning lady -- who recognizes that notwithstanding his intoxication Father Gillespie, a Catholic priest and pastor of souls, offended against more than standards of good taste by importuning a 12-year-old and her mother. The courts don't want to jail him for it, fair enough. But don't his parishioners need to hear that there were moral failings to confront, spiritual disorders to be put right, deeper debts to be paid?

The archdiocese responded by defending the cardinal's commitment to protecting children.

The learning curve is flat.

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