Sunday, November 24, 2013

Priestly Update

A while back, I shared the shock of learning that our priest had been accused (falsely) of child molestation by an adult who had a bone to pick with him. This adult had been recently released from prison where he apparently had learned about a law firm in Los Angeles that has made quite a handsome income from suing priests successfully although about 50% of those lawsuits, according to research undertaken on behalf of the diocese of Los Angeles are false.

Our parish pulled together to help our priest, Fr. E. Fr E was also removed even though the diocese had already determined that the accusation was false. Subsequently, so has the police department. However, the case is pending in civil court because the accuser (recently released from prison) would like some money, as would the crusading lawyers he brought up from Los Angeles (to our small community). The community has rallied behind both priests.

Fr E is in pretty good shape. The bishop is paying his salary and has given him a safe house until the court case finishes. The diocese will not give him a lawyer, though, other than a canon lawyer, so he had to get his own criminal and civil lawyers. He has not had a need for the criminal lawyer except for a couple of statements to the press in nearby cities, which quickly became bored with the case since no one else stepped up to add to the accusation and no one in the community believes a word of it. (The local paper is supportive of Fr. E.) However, he has had to use the services of the civil lawyer. As a community, we have raised $15K so far for Fr. E's trial, and we have a number of planned community events to raise whatever more will be needed. The law firm is local (the only law firm here), and I am pretty sure that they will let us pay bit by bit as we can.

As it turns out (happily), the difficulty that prompted me to write to you has passed. One of our priests, Fr. M, had been removed because the bishop was angry that he had not reported a confession in which an adult stated that he was suing our pastor, Fr E, for child abuse when he was an acolyte.
The situation with Fr. M was more desperate and not understandable to us. Fr. M celebrated the Latin and Spanish Masses; he came here from Washington state because his parents, old and ill, are local. He was helping them out. The bishop not only did not continue his salary, he also did not provide him any housing (fortunately, he could stay with his parents) and required him to accept no help from any of his parishioners and to avoid any interactions with them. When I wrote to you a month ago, we had learned that he was hungry! To bridge the gap, I bought a $500 gift card for our local grocery store, and we mailed it to him anonymously. We were hoping that your organization could serve as a conduit to him so that he and we would not be in open violation of the bishop's order.

Right after I wrote to you, however, the bishop relented. (There has been considerable pressure put on the bishop by our community, including showing our displeasure by not contributing to the annual bishop's appeal, donating less than 1/3 the parish assessment when we normally contribute double; actually, we had a campaign to contribute the money to Fr E's defense fund, instead.) The bishop now has allowed Fr M to return to ministry; however, he would not let him celebrate Mass in our community but rather in another community within easy commuting distance. We hope that this is a sign that once the court case is over, we will get Fr. E back. Fr E says he will fight to come back to our mission, not be assigned somewhere else, and we are committed to not allowing the bishop to get away with assigning Fr E elsewhere.

God bless you for the help you are providing to priests. It is such a strange and crippling policy whereby priests are considered guilty until proven innocent and can actually fall into double jeopardy from situations that were resolved many years ago. It is as if American law does not apply to them, nor do American values. At a community meeting with the diocese's canon lawyers (arranged because the bishop had been so overwhelmed with angry letters), one perso said that if this is the way the Catholic Church behaves in the USA, it needs to find another country.


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