Friday, November 1, 2013

Sad Black Cat

I suppose it is time to share a brief update about our parish priest, whose dilemma I discussed in a post a while ago. Much has happened since that posting, some of it good, some of it frustrating, and some (most) of it hopeful.

At the time that I uploaded the post, all of us in our parish were in shock. A diocesan spokesperson had just told us at the end of Mass that our priest had been removed, accused of sexual abuse. None of us believed that the accusation was truthful. Not one person. However, the diocesan spokesperson had presented the situation as if it were fact.

Since then, we have developed a website for information purposes and have raised money to pay for our priest's legal expenses, a set of activities that attracted the attention and ire of SPAN, an organization that does not qualify for non-profit status, according to BBB and other information posted online, and that appears to be making its money from suing priests (or serving as the conduit for accusers to sue priests). Certainly, there are some accusations that are true, and none of us would want to see justice fail those victims. In California, however, about half of the allegations have turned out to be false. SPAN demanded that our bishop ask us to take down the website and support our priest only with words of encouragement -- no money and no public comments. Our bishop refused to ask us to do that, citing the First Amendment. In response to that, our humble website was mentioned anonymously in a post about civility in Internet discourse on These Stone Walls: Holy Hostility, Batman. (I would note that I have found this blog extremely informative about issues of false allegations; for anyone willing to look at the other side of the issue, i.e. the priest's position, there is much to be learned from the weekly postings at These Stone Walls.) The moderator encouraged us not to allow SNAP to bully us. Interestingly, about the same time, we received a piece of hate mail from someone self-identifying as a private citizen; however, when we googled him, we found that he was the director of a SNAP chapter on the East Coast.

In the case of our priest, the one and only allegation was from an accuser whose identity is not supposed to be known, but it is a small community, so we do know who it is. The accuser stalked our priest, following him from his previous parish to our parish, and has reasons for wanting revenge that have nothing to do with any wanton action on the part of our priest. In fact, the allegation is not of abuse but of a proposition only, an allegation that our priest denies and that would be very much out of keeping with his general deportment.

Since I uploaded the post, asking for advice about how to help our priest, our grassroots group has been encouraged by other priests in our diocese (they know our priest and know that the accusation is false) and in other dioceses. Fortunately, the police investigation and the diocese's investigation both determined the allegation to have no basis in fact. However, the lawyer for the accuser decided to file a civil lawsuit (which is why we have been raising money for our priest's defense). The lawyer appeared to hope that the diocese would cave in and cough up big money, frightened by the audacity of the accusation and wanting to avoid a public spectacle. Again, fortunately, our bishop decided to let the public spectacle happen. Our priest has been in this community 17 years. In the 11 months following the allegation, not one other person has stepped forward to substantiate that allegation or submit another allegation. Further, hundreds of letters of support have been sent to the bishop. Our priest has said that the community support has been very important to him as the months drag on, waiting for the case to make it onto the court's docket.

At Thanksgiving Mass, we were all sadly reminded of our priest's absence and dilemma. When he was removed from our parish, he was not allowed to take his devoted black cat with him. His cat used to attend Mass faithfully, sitting beside our priest quietly. At Christmas, he would often curl up in the creche. At the first Mass over which presided the priest who has temporarily replaced our priest, the cat walked down the aisle and jumped up into the priest's chair and would not get out. Everyone was moved by the cat's devotion, and the priest chose another chair. Since then, the cat has remained in the church gardens, and our parish continues to feed and care for him. On Thursday morning, for the first time in a long time, the cat once again entered the church. He walked up to the priest's chair: his father was not there. Then he began walking through one pew after another, as if searching for his owner. After exiting each pew, he would stand still for a moment and switch his tail back and forth in agitation. After walking through each pew, he walked back out of the church.

We were all spellbound by the cat, whose behavior expressed the feelings that all of us were feeling. Although we did have our annual parish-sponsored community Thanksgiving dinner, the real feelings of thanksgiving for us, including for the sad black cat, will be when our priest returns to us -- that is what we are all hoping for.

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