Zero Tolerance

Some folks who are hopping mad about the latest allegations against beloved priests have blamed me for not commenting on the bishops’ ‘zero tolerance’ position regarding accusations that are made against priests.

I’m sorry, but I have made myself a promise that this blog will not be used to negatively criticize any particular priest, bishop or the particular policies of our bishops. I’m just not going there. I prize my priestly obedience. I’m not speaking out against the bishops. Let the laity do that.

I do comment, however, on general trends or problems at times, and from time to time I realize I haven’t kept my promise to myself and maybe criticized the actions and attitudes of some bishops’ conferences. If I have, I’m sorry.

All I would say about the ‘zero tolerance’ policy is just driven by common sense, and the need for Christian charity and justice:

1. Every priest should be very careful to not only behave himself, but put every safety mechanism in place for his own protection. The instutional policies should encourage safe practice and extreme caution at all times. So, for example, if I have a private interview, I make sure that I am not alone in the building with that person. This applies to men and women, young and old. Also, wherever I meet the room always either has a glass door or the door remains open. I inform someone else in the building that I am meeting with the named person, and I have the appointment in an appointment book. As a result, I have a record of the time of my meeting and witnesses to the meeting. I try not to meet with anyone without these safety mechanisms in place. If I am in a social situation with other people it is never alone, except with a few trusted male friends.
2. As part of his protection, I think priests should have their own, third party, independent insurance policy and legal counsel. If an allegation comes up he should not trust the diocese to look after him. He should immediately seek his own legal counsel and contract a third party investigator who will make an objective report. This check and balance for the protection of the priest and his reputation should be put in place by the diocese or the parish.
3. The Dioceses should operate with professionalism and compassion for both the accused and the accusers. They should be aware that in our present climate an accusation in itself can ruin a man and his ministry. Without any attempt at a cover up, the Diocese should operate in privacy and with discretion. A public scandal can be avoided while still dealing firmly with wrong doing.
4. All people should be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty

This makes it sound like the priest is responsible for what happens to him. I guess that is my instinct because I don’t trust ‘city hall’ or for that matter ‘the chancery’. This is not because I think the bishops and their staff are all evil and corrupt, but because they have so many different people and concerns to consider in what are usually very complex and difficult situations. They should have a pastoral concern for the priest, and I think they usually do a good job, however, they also have to look after the good of all the faithful, the good of the whole diocese and the reputation of the whole church. Sometimes other pressures push them into decisions that they later regret in their actions against a priest who has been accused. This being the case, I think the individual priest should also be aware of the present climate and be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove.

There are some innocent priests who have been accused, but more often the case is complex and there is more to it all than meets the eye. The present climate of accusations from ‘victims’ is extraordinary. So, for example, there is great confusion about the definition of ‘abuse’. It used to mean that a woman or child was repeatedly raped, beaten, sodomized, humiliated and destroyed by some monster. Now, at school we hear of a child who complains of ‘abuse’, and when you probe a bit further you find that her mother shouted at her for not cleaning up her room. You hear a woman complain of twenty five years of ‘abuse’ within a marriage. You think her husband came home drunk every Friday night, kicked her down the stairs, raped their daughter, beat up her sons and was a serial womanizer. You find out that she means ‘emotional abuse’ because he watched football too much on TV, ignored her and once had an email correspondence with an old high school girlfriend.

Throw in a dash of sexual neurosis, a touch of paranoia, a pinch of persecution complex add the fury of a woman scorned, the imagination of a sick mind and the lure of a rich payout and the whole thing gets very very fuzzy indeed. So, for example, the accuser might say the priest ‘touched her inappropriately’. We think he put his hands on some erogenous zone. In fact, in passing, he patted her on the back or touched her forearm in a gesture. Some young man says the nun abused him at a Catholic school in the 1960s. It turns out he was a bad kid and she paddled him. But, paddling kids in schools was allowed back then. Everybody spanked kids.  I’m not excusing anything–just pointing out how complex the whole situation is, how times change, standards change and it all gets very very messy and difficult to sort out.

It gets worse: the legal profession are involved, and they not only like lawsuits, they like complicated lawsuits that take a lot of time to sort out. Remember, they bill by the hour. Remember, they like big payouts because they are working for a percentage. As a result, the legal system itself cannot be trusted to deliver a just verdict. I’m not damning all lawyers, but there are plenty out there who are corrupt and care more for the big bill than justice for the accused.

Consequently, the priest, in my opinion, must be as professional and thorough as possible in protecting himself through proper boundaries, and his own checks and balances and security systems, but the investigating authorites must also be as professional as possible in assuming innocence rather than guilt and sorting through the complexities as fairly as possible to avoid injustice on the one hand and exercise compassion on the other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Like you, Father, I have no knowledge of Fr Corapi; and like you I try to be as careful as possible in my dealings with other people, especially individuals, even though folk on this side of the pond are not as litigious as some on your side seem to be. But anyone may recognise that situations arise where any such care gets brushed aside: I am asked to visit a young woman whose husband has just died, and when I arrive I find that she is alone in the house – but her need for me to stay is greater than my safety-first thought to walk away.All it would take is one letter to my bishop (from her, from her family, from her neighbour, from someone wo is malicious, from someone who is deranged) alleging sexual misconduct against me and I would immediately be suspended until my guilt or innocence had been established. Instead of a robust response – "Father X is presumed innocent unless proven to be otherwise and will continue in office with our full confidence" – I would be left open to all the "No smoke without fire" innuendoes that would effectively destroy my ministry here whatever the outcome of the investigation. I am well-known in my community; how much worse if I were well-known across the nation.If that is the basis of Fr Corapi's complaint, then I can only agree with him. I think that that attitude from officialdom is enough to make anyone rage against 'the system'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07215856728880521796 Baron Korf

    I'm sorry Father, I must disagree. Zero Tolerance policies are a product of laziness rather than common sense. It doesn't really matter what offense is being discussed, there is always a complex situation surrounding it. By having a zero tolerance policy, authorities are by-passing those and skipping to the next step.Even your long list of preventions would not protect you. Sure they may exonerate you afterwards, but it would not prevent the administrative leave and full investigation. At least that's my understanding of these directives.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03792937108732259684 priest’s wife

    it's sad that a priest must think 'safety first'- but all adults should use these precautions (to protect a marriage, etc)I remember my mother having a book called "hedges"- about boundaries with others to protect marriage- priests should remember to keep good boundaries

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08268991293847325315 Fr David Cloake

    I am with you, Father. Too many blogs have become platforms for the ill informed to talk on matters in which they have no knowledge, and often as not in the comments box.A bold, audacious – but I think right – choice. Pax

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04488655902681432534 BurgoFitzgerald

    I felt so sad and disheartened after reading your post, Father. I am so sorry that it has really come to this. What is even sadder is that I am sure that you would probably be criticized by others for the protocol you have put in place to protect yourself and others. And taking flyingvic's comments into account, it sounds as though you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. It must be so difficult for a shepherd to tend his flock when nowadays the flock wants to know what the shepherd's motivations are for seeing to that one sheep, where his hands were when he helped another out of a ditch, and would he be available for a sit-down with the flock's legal representation. I will pray for you, Father, flyingvic, and all people who have a difficult time doing good works because others (in any capacity) have made it so.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12451222687723847058 codum

    Father, your protocol is simple common sense. As for administrative leave has long a routine practice when investigating accusations against people like police, nurses, therapists and others accused of improper actions. It's not some plot by bishops to persecute priests. It doesn't mean the accused is guilty. It's entirely right for the chancery not to just act as the advocate for the accused. If it were to do that, it would just meant that real victims, (and don't forget, they do exist), would bypass the Church's procedures alltogether and go straight to the lawyer.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15230524215323916396 Joe @ Defend Us In Battle

    Father,I have always wondered whether laity should criticize Bishops. Obviously charity, prudence, and other virtues should be adhered to but is it EVER correct?I know in my ArchD we have what many consider a "weak" Bishop, and there are many many issues. I have taken various issues to my blog and suggested that he act differently. Do you think you could post on this matter? I would love to hear your thoughts. Especially in light of the popularity of certain video casts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14485768454161100884 Neophyte

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08753644726980431400 Daniel

    I think there is some confusion between "zero tolerance" and placing someone on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted. The latter is simply a prudent action that occurs in a number of professions. Zero tolerance seems to me to come more into effect where there may have been some type of incident that occurred years ago but nothing has happened in the years since. The clean record since does not make up for any type of indiscretion before and so a priest is removed.I think another problem has come out of the policy where a diocese decides to settle with victims in a class action. In such a case it becomes difficult for a priest to defend himself and clear the record, he is presumed guilty because a settlement was made.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    'Administrative leave' may well be a common practice or a prudent action in many professions – I'm simply not convinced that it is the appropriate action to take in the case of a priest. None of the other professions or vocations mentioned (indeed, none other that I can think of) seems to me to be comparable. A parish priest is named, well-known and recognised within a local community; has leadership of a particular part of that community in a deeply personal and spiritual way; and has contact in a named and personal way with many others in the community outside the church. Police officers and nurses are largely anonymous under their uniforms; doctors and teachers are rarely known outside their own practice or school. If any of these are placed on 'administrative leave', while it is extremely stressful for them, it has limited impact, I would suggest, beyond their immediate circle; and a stand-in is easily hired to keep the show going. Such is the profile of the clergy, and such the pedestal that people place us on, that 'administrative leave' can be both shattering for the person and destructive for the ministry – and both of these are avoidable bad news for the Church.Let the wrath of the Church be felt like a millstone round the neck of those found guilty; but let us in the most practical terms be presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18047225919036250163 Robert H

    All good points father. Any accusation creates a presumption that is extremely difficult to overcome. There are a number of cases out there where accusations alone have ruined people, and when that happens, as Clarence Thomas asked, where does one go to get their reputation back?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01306017321460701751 Paul Rodden

    It shows how much Christian personalism and secular humanism are worlds apart.http://tinyurl.com/6jjhzfuAdam was the first humanist. Thankfully, there was a second Adam who to the fight, and our rescue, came…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    'compassion for both the accused and the accusers'seeing much more by way of compassion for the victims of sexual abuse by all segments of society would be a great help to all concernedwhat has made the situation extremely volatile is the continued cover up of egregious sin and criminal behaviour by churchmen of various churchesit is most unfortunate that the people who pay are the good priests and people out in the dioceses- without whom the abusers would not be kept in their corrupt sinecuresUP WITH THE MAQUI

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17617227847364562989 NC Sue

    God bless you and all priest who have to put in place such safeguards in an atmosphere of suspicion in order to avoid being "tarred by the same brush" as the overall small percentage of priests tho have been abusive. Know that there are many of us out in the pews who appreciate the years of dedicated service we have received from our priests. Many of us are saddened that so many fine men are viewed with suspicious because of the actions of a few.God bless you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12451222687723847058 codum

    Just wondering, what do people think should have been done in this case if administrative leave during the course of an investigation isn't fair? When a superior (or a bishop) receives a complaint, examines it, and judges that it warrants further investigation, what should his next step be?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    At a wedding the question is asked of those attending whether anyone knows a legal reason why the wedding should not proceed. Unless someone objecting can produce documentary evidence to substantiate their claim, the wedding service goes ahead.If an unsubstantiated accusation is made against a priest of hitherto good character and that priest maintains his innocence – one person's word against another's – is any good purpose served by believing the accuser over the accused? Let the accuser bring their accusation and evidence into open court and sue for damages: if the accuser offers no evidence, what purpose is served by the church conducting 'further investigation', and for how long should 'administrative leave' continue? If the accusation is malicious, 'administrative leave' has already worked its devilment.If credible evidence of wrong-doing is produced along with the accusation, then the priest who is accused should be invited to offer credible counter-evidence ("I sincerely believe this accusation to be malicious because that person and I are at loggerheads over a particular personal/pastoral/parochial issue") or else tender his own resignation and submit to due process of law.'Adminisrative leave' is a weasel phrase that in utterance and effect only does the devil's work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04551226315327893877 Marilyn

    Fr. Corapi’s present predicament, whether the allegations are true or not, reminds me of the saga of Blessed Henry Suso, a German mystic born around 1300. During meditation upon his bed, he saw coming towards him a fair youth of manly bearing dressed in the apparel of a knight. The knight told him that he who would play a valiant part in the spiritual chivalry of God must endure more numerous and more dreadful combats than any which were encountered by the proud heroes of ancient days. The knight told Suso that he would see the ruin of his reputation and be an object of contempt to blinded men and would suffer more from this than from the wounds made by the points of thy cross and that he would be abandoned by God and man. That knight told him that even though one’s heart fails, one must never show that one is distressed. One must appear gay and happy; otherwise one is dishonored. Some time thereafter, a malicious woman accused him of being the father of her child which caused great scandal entirely destroying Suso’s reputation. And the scandal was all the greater because Suso’s sanctity had spread so far. Suso was “wounded to the depths of his heart.” Eventually, Suso did become God’s Knight, accepting as his own the child that had been denied by his father and wicked mother and considered it God’s providence that he be entrusted with being a father to this child. Suso’s dearest friends forsook him and he narrowly escaped being expelled from the religious life. Suso suffered greatly, but learned the lesson of “the school of true resignation”, or self surrender, and thanked God for his sufferings. Many times malicious acts of Satan and his minions are an opportunity to transform one’s self into the image of Christ.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01701790992756242324 Alice Seidel

    Excellent Father! We do live in such a sordid world, every gesture, every word may be miscontrued and those in charge oftentimes let it fly to their heads as well. Aside from seeing Fr. Corapi on EWTN, I do not know the man. It is a sad thing that a priest would need to procure his own legal counsel because higher-ups don't have his best interests at heart. With much prayer and leaving it all in Mary's hands, we can be assured of a rightful outcome; one out of our own hands, as it should be. God bless you!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    @flyingvicwith reference to the RC church have a peruse of THE MURPHY REPORTas for the CofE you know as well as I do that the uncivil law code of England and Wales is weighted entirely in favour of the 'professional' and to expect a child, or even abused adult, to have the financial, emotional and spiritual wherewithal to stand up on their own to 'the system' is asking rather too much.This is not to being unempathetic to the lot of CofE clergy who are expected to be second class social workers – which is why they should, as all the best ones I have ever known, go for disestablishment in England. This would cut the 'apron strings' so to speak.'The Truth surpressed grows'-Emile Zola

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12451222687723847058 codum

    Flyingvic, If a person is abused by a popular priest of good reputation, in the absence of witnesses, what recourse should that person have? You've correctly grasped one horn of this dilemma, but you're ignoring the second one. It's easy to make a false accusation of a sexual offense, but sexual crimes and offenses are also easy to get away with because there in almost never "documentation". This is why abusers can get away with their actions for years. Just imagine for a moment that this woman isn't lying. (And she might not be.) She's been denounced in the vilest terms all over the internet as an agent of the devil trying to bring down a holy priest. If convincing evidence should happen to be produced, those same people will be calling her a seductress and worse. Of course it's terrible to be falsely accused. It's also terrible to make a true accusation and not be believed. Bishops and superiors have an enormous burden trying to thread this needle. We should support them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Codum, I'm not ignoring half the problem and I'm well aware of the difficulty of providing convincing evidence. I'm saying that where there is the unsupported testimony of one, and that testimony is denied by the accused, the Bishop has no moral justification for taking ANY action that would reflect badly and possibly unfairly upon the priest concerned. Of course there is the possibility that the accuser may be absolutely correct; but unsupported testimony is exactly what it says – unsupported, and it should not be given spurious validity by an over-cautious PC-emasculated episcopate.I would expect the questioning by the Bishop to be long and vigorous; I would expect the vigilance of those in supervisory positions to be increased, believing that an abuser is unlikely to stop at one victim; and if another accusation surfaces from someone else, THEN I would expect 'administrative leave' to be strongly considered, and not before.By taking this public step BEFORE the facts are fully known, the authorities have only themselves to blame for opening the door to the verbal attacks you mention in the Press andon the net.Whether the accuser is lying or telling the truth we cannot tell at this remove. If the Bishop believes her, then he should say so. If the Bishop doesn't believe her, then he should say so. To say neither one thing nor the other – but still to take action! – is to damn the accused in the eyes of all those (and there are many) whose sole agenda is to blacken the Church and its Saviour on any and all occasions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    'Nothing can be clearer than the truth, just as nothing is weaker than than falsehood, though it be shrouded by ten thousand veils… Truth stands forth unveiled for all who will behold her beauty, she seeks no concealment, dreads no danger, trembles at no plots… is accountable to no mortal thing.'-St John ChrysostomTime tells all.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12451222687723847058 codum

    Let me make sure I understand correctly. Are you saying that unless a second accusation is made, the only action is wait and watch? An investigation doesn't mean guilt. I don't know enough about Fr. Corapi's superior to say that he's overcautious, PC, emasculated, or otherwise corrupt. He says he finds enough to warrant an investigation. I take him at his word. That doesn't mean I think Fr. Corapi is guilty. It means a claim has been made that was judged worthy of being investigated by the man charged with making that decision. The only people I've seen presumed guilty in this mess are the superior and the accuser. (I'm not saying that's what you've done, but the garbage being said about them, especially her, is pretty unbelievable. Thank God there doesn't seem to be anything like that directed at Fr. Corapi. I hope it stays that way.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    -codumtake this from a FORMER Anglican, whose family in the USA goes back to the Church of England in Virginia (meaning was not easy to leave the Church of England or Anglican Communion)in England, actually all of the UK, the Vicar still, though now somewhat diminished, has a first class- remember they still cherish this class nonsense- statusthey just ignore all complaints till same go away through the attrition of timejust like they are now[what goes around comes around... ED]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    yo, innit Padre?go on… you are safe en Amerique nowwe'll get you in the Continental Army yetVon Steben was a Prussian- you can be the quartermaster in a collar[swiss and all... ricoooola... ED]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Codum, yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. (And in all of this I'm not referring specifically to Fr Corapi: I know neither him nor the details of his case. However, I've seen similar things happen in UK – and there but for the grace of God, etc.) If a Bishop has no prior reason to mistrust the word of one of his priests then he has no business, in my opinion, allowing the smoke of rumour to smear an unstained reputation by imposing the feeble but damning 'administrative leave'. A Bishop worthy of the name should back his clergy to the hilt unless there is good reason not to do so. Let me go further in the face of yet more egregious nonsense from ABD (this time about 'class'): any boss in any company who is worth his salt should back any of his people completely, not limply hang them out to dry, unless there is compelling reason why they should not receive his full support.Do Bishops have an immensely difficult task of discernment in such matters? Yes they do – that's why we pray at their consecration that they may be given particular gifts of the Spirit. We pray also, I might add, that they may use their gifts rather than duck out of making difficult decisions.To ABD: I grew up in a terraced house with an outside toilet, so I suffer very few illusions about my 'class'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    'backing to the hilt'like they backed Jeffrey Johns for the Bp of Reading?did you go to a Public School then?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    Sure, I went to public school – so public anyone could go to it…County Primary School then Grammar School via the old 11+.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02358228956928431100 coolkid96

    Wow, It just stumbled upon me after reading your blog that after 6 weeks after giving my Priest my address and phone number to bless our home as he said he would has not called to do this. My prayers are with Father Corapi for justice will prevail. Christine

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13655923988261833988 Richard’s ramblings

    Zero tolerance equals zero judgement. You have probably heard of the kid suspended from school because he brought a knife to school. Grandma put it in with the birthday cake so they could cut it at school. They cut the cake and suspended the kid. There a many stories like this. Once you put a zero tolerance program in place, no one has to use any judgment any more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    -flyingvicno doubt you are aware that in the USA within which domain you are primarily blogging 'public school' means state school'Public School' in Britain means to 'us' in USA very wealthy private school which produces the 'old boy' system which has allowed Britain to rival only the Ottoman Empire for 'sickman of Europe'*Britain has an official Monarchy and system of honours which keeps a moribund 'nobility' in place, so for you to label my remarks 'egregious nonsense' beggers belief.And, yes my ancestor Colonel Anthony New told 'the General' to his face he was abjuring the practice of freemasonry from the earliest stage because it was 'blasphemous'- read Arian.'where there is no vision the people perish' and Britain is a morally failed state. Could the CofE have any conceivable responsibility for this malaise?*[who would elect for yonks a PM from Fetters anyhow... Ed][who would elect a PM who went to Fetters anyhow...Ed]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    My dear ABD,What you wrote was, "in England, actually all of the UK, the Vicar still, though now somewhat diminished, has a first class- remember they still cherish this class nonsense- status"; and that I described, I think correctly, as egregious nonsense.I could go into the semantics of why in the UK "Public School" and "Private School" mean essentially the same thing, but I really can't be bothered.In terms of the way UK society operates, the "moribund nobility" is a supreme irrelevance. Having an hereditary monarchy delivers us from the horrors of electing a David Beckham (or a George Dubya) as a purely ceremonial head of state. Britain a morally failed state? Probably; but not the only one on the list. I'll leave you to fill in the gaps.The CofE may speak – as indeed may Rome, Methodism, Mecca, or other minorities – but no-one is obliged to listen. Not everyone chose to listen to Christ either. Doubtless it is a shared responsibility.And it is probably true that a people gets the leaders it deserves. If that is so, and without any particular criticism, what did America do to deserve Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    300,000 expected marchers tomorrow in London due to the bald faced lies of the Tory-Blue-Tory-Too 'coaliton' gov't would possibly indicate some disenchantment with the cozy cabals that run Britain, and their avowed atheism.you really should go to the States rather than make petulant comments about a place that has saved your country's bacon twice in the twentieth century- and, should my longstanding recommendation continue to be heeded will merely be what it is:'A glorious country and a fickle that everr toileth with strife, variance and envy.'-Richard II via the Bard[and unsinkable aircraft carrier Ed]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    "Saved our bacon"? Typical American ingratitude! Twice in the last century we kept a World War going long enough for you lot finally to decide that your own interests were best served by NOT sitting on the fence…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    no wonder you have a failed atheistic society and economy with suchdelusionprelest , we call itwhy we are no longer anglocons


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