21 Philadelphia priests were recently stood down, even though most of them are clearly not abusers. What is going on?
A number of important questions need to be
addressed in regard to the allegations
of inappropriate sexual behaviours against minors by 21 priests from
the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who were placed on administrative leave on Ash
Wednesday. This would include the process of
further evaluation of priests previously evaluated and found to be
When minors accuse adults of inappropriate
sexual behaviours, the response must be immediate, compassionate, in-depth and
sincere and should be conducted by skilled criminal justice and mental health
professionals. If the charges are found to be credible, criminal charges are
filed against the individual and the charges made public.
To protect the good name of an individual,
accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviours are not made public until the
evaluation process is completed and accusations are deemed credible. This
policy is in place for accusations against employers, co-workers, parents,
teachers, coaches, physicians, attorneys and others.
The placement of 21 priests on leave
shortly after the Philadelphia Grand Jury’s report on the outrageous child
abuse by two priests has had a severely damaging effect upon the reputation,
good name and future priestly ministry of these priests. This is because the
majority of people in the Philadelphia area and around the country believe that
all 21 priests were guilty of the same heinous acts as the two priests
identified by the Grand Jury.
In fact, the majority of the 21 priests
identified for further evaluations of accusations made against them previously
went through such an intensive process in the past conducted by competent
professionals without any new charges being filed against them. The result of
the investigation was that the charges were not substantiated against many of
those 21 priests. Then, these priests were notified and there was no disruption
of their priestly ministry.
The failure of the Archdiocese to
communicate these facts to the public is difficult to understand. The public
falsely believes these priests are guilty.
Priests and Catholic laity who know these
priests were cleared earlier and deemed victims of false accusations are
justifiably incensed and believe this deserves further investigation.
It is important to understand that false
accusations occur regularly against employers, co-workers, spouses in divorce
cases, parents, educators, and members of the clergy. Such accusations have led
often to reputations and careers being ruined, family relationships destroyed,
and both professional and religious lives shattered.
False accusations are made for a number of
reasons, including a desire for financial gain, excessive and misdirected
anger, jealously, mental instability, prejudice, a sociopathic personality
disorder and, in regard to priests, a hatred of the Church.
In the Church false accusations have
related recently to confusion in regard to what is referred to as “boundary
issues” which are buzz words arising from the post-crisis programs in the
Church. Boundary violations are behaviours that are viewed as being suspicious,
but are not directly sexual. Priests are being increasingly accused of
so-called boundary issues and of grooming minors while engaging in completely
appropriate priestly ministry and behaviour toward youth in Catholic schools,
on playgrounds and in parish centres or rectories.
In our professional opinion the failure to
address clearly the basic causes of the crisis, described in 2005 by a member
of the first National Review Board, Dr Paul McHugh, former chair of psychiatry
at John Hopkins, as the homosexual predation of adolescent males, in the post-crisis
programs led instead to a focus on ambiguous boundary conflicts.
In our clinical experience many of the
priests accused of so-called boundary violations were strong in faith and in
loyalty while their accusers often harboured resentment toward them. While
accusations of specific sexual behaviours need to be immediately addressed,
caution needs to be exercised in regard to the evaluation of so-called boundary
violations. Certainly such priests should not be removed from ministry while an
accusation is assessed, nor do they necessarily need a mental health evaluation.
Veteran attorney David Steier played a
role in over 100 investigations of claims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests
in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
He stated in his deposition to the
Superior Court in November 2010 that, “One retired FBI agent who worked with me
to investigate many claims in the clergy cases told me, in his opinion, about
one-half of the claims made in the clergy cases were either entirely false or
so greatly exaggerated that the truth would not have supported prosecutable
claim for childhood sexual abuse.” Most Catholics in the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia do not know that thorough evaluations were done on the majority of
the 21 priests and that they were found innocent of the charges against them.
A number of important questions need to be
addressed. We need to know how it was determined that second evaluations
determined to be necessary on priests previously evaluated by competent
professionals and found innocent without further accusations being brought
forward and who made such decisions. One of these priests was evaluated by us
and by the leading forensic psychologist in Delaware County for “boundary
violations.” Our reports indicated that he had not engaged in any inappropriate
behaviours in his priestly ministry to students at the parish school.
Why did the Archdiocese not separate
priests who were accused of boundary violations from those accused of sexual
abuse? Why are priests treated differently than all other adults who do not
have to leave their jobs while accusations of sexual abuse or boundary
violations are investigated? Why are “repressed” memories of abuse from decades
ago against priests given credibility when those against parents have been
found to be false by mental health experts, including Dr Paul McHugh, former
chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, and Dr Elizabeth Loftus, who wrote “Creating
False Memories”, (Scientific American, September, 1997) and the Myth
of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse.
Most importantly, we deserve an
explanation as to why the second evaluations of priests were not done
confidentially while these priests continued their ministry, as occurs when
sexual accusations or “boundary violations” are made against teachers,
employers, lawyers, doctors, spouses and parents, so that their good names
could have been protected.
Richard Fitzgibbons is the director of
Comprehensive Counseling Services in West Conshohocken, PA. He has practiced
psychiatry for 34 years with a specialty in the treatment of excessive anger.
He co-authored Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving
Anger and Restoring Hope, 2000, for American Psychological Association
Books and has also written on conflicts in priestly life. He is a consultant to
the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican. Peter Kleponis, PhD, is the assistant
director of Comprehensive Counseling Services. He has given conferences in many
dioceses to priests on pornography addiction.