The last three posts I’ve had on this blog have been dark: showing how bad things get when dioceses, priests, and any Catholics lose sight of what’s important and pursue things of this world: approval of the world (particularly the media), unfettered sexual pleasure, and so forth. But I wanted to highlight two instances where bishops acted in an excellent fashion.
I. Where the Priest’s Guilt is an Open Question
In the first case, there was a serious question about whether the priest was guilty or not. He was, in Bishop Chaput’s words, “a popular and effective priest.” As a 74 year-old priest, he had no prior accusations to speak of. But Archbishop Chaput was well aware that this wasn’t the sort of situation to take any chances on. So in a painful letter to parishioners, he wrote:
April 9, 2010
To the parish community of Christ the King
Dear friends in Christ,
I need to inform you of difficult news. On April 8, I relieved Father Mel Thompson, who has served St. Thomas More Parish as parochial vicar for the last nine years, of his duties. I have removed his priestly faculties and withdrawn him from active ministry. Please note that Father Thompson previously served at Christ the King Parish in 1969.
This action comes after receiving an April 7 complaint against Father Thompson for past sexual misconduct with a minor that reportedly occurred in the early 1970s. In accord with our policies in this matter, we have reported the allegation to civil authorities for investigation. We are also alerting other parishes where Father Thompson has previously served.
It is important to note that Father Thompson maintains his innocence of the allegation, and to respect his privacy as this matter proceeds.
Anyone who has concerns about the conduct of Father Thompson during his time of service at Christ the King Parish—or any other clergy member, parish or school employee, or Church volunteer in the archdiocese who deals with minors—should contact Mr. Chris Pond, director of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Child and Youth Protection Office, at 303-715-3226.
Please keep your parish and the larger Church community in your prayers during this painful time.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Denver
You can read the Archbishop’s blog post explaining the letter, and with more information about the case here.
II. Where the Priest Admits to the Abuse
A much easier case is where the priest, when confronted, admits to the abuse. Then, the appropriate course of action is clear. Bishop Richard Stika was faced with just such a case, and had this to say at yesterday’s press conference:
I want to thank you all for being here this morning.
Last week when I spoke to the media about the topic of clergy sexual abuse, I was not aware of a credible allegation against any priest in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Knowing how difficult it is for a victim of sexual abuse to come forward, I want to personally thank Mr. Warren Tucker for his courage in bringing this allegation to our attention [on April 14]. I know that SNAP has been working with Mr. Tucker and I appreciate their assistance.
Yesterday morning Mr. Tucker spoke with our Chancellor, Deacon Sean Smith, and a member of our Diocesan Review Board. Mr. Tucker has accused Father Bill Casey, a retired priest of the Diocese of Knoxville, of sexually abusing him while Father Casey was pastor of St. Dominic Church in Kingsport between 1975 and 1980. At that time St. Dominic Church was a part of the Diocese of Nashville.
Following Deacon Smith’s meeting with Mr. Tucker, we immediately adhered to the process outlined in our Policy and Procedure Relating to Sexual Misconduct. This policy is available on our website. I have also spoken with Bishop David Choby in the Diocese of Nashville since this occurred when East Tennessee was part of the Diocese of Nashville.
Last night I met with Father Bill Casey, and he admitted that there is credibility to Mr. Tucker’s statement. Father Casey is ashamed of his actions and truly saddened by the harm he has caused Mr. Tucker, his family, the Church, and its faithful.
Prior to Deacon Smith’s meeting with Mr. Tucker yesterday morning, we had no knowledge of Mr. Tucker’s experiences, and Mr. Tucker can verify that fact. At this time we have still not been notified by McDowell County, N.C., authorities that an investigation has been initiated.
As Bishop of the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, I want to apologize to Mr. Tucker, his family and to anyone else who may have been harmed by Father Casey.
I am sending a letter to all of our parishes to inform the parishioners of these allegations. I will ask that the letters be read aloud at Mass this weekend and inviting any others who may have been harmed to come forward.
Our first concern is for Mr. Tucker, his family, and anyone else who may have been harmed by Father Casey. We want to help him in his healing process in any way we can.
I want to assure you that Father Casey has been removed from ministry and will never again function as a priest in the Catholic Church.
Thank you to both Bishop Stika and Archbishop Chaput for brave action in defense of the Church!
Would that we had a few hundred more bishops with such strong backbone! Did you notice: in both cases, the bishops removed the accused priest from ministry by the next day after a single accusation? That’s a breath of fresh air, indeed! Bear that in mind while we dig through tough cases like the failure of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to act for forty years on a serial abuser.