ARLENE VIOLET – Too little too late for church

ARLENE VIOLET – Too little too late for church

Despite being prepared for the release of the list of clergy members who had been “credibly accused “of sexually abusing children I still felt sick reading about it. After all, as attorney general in 1985-86 I prosecuted four of those priests and indicted another who ultimately made the Hall of Shame list on perjury charges. Rhode Island was only the second jurisdiction in the United States to prosecute child sex abuse cases where the perpetrator was a priest.

It is difficult to remember that time of innocence when people were actually shocked by such a revelation. Now it is commonplace. Good priests have been victimized by their confreres. Virtually everyone today in a Roman collar is viewed with skepticism.

As bad as the transfer of “guilt by association” is from the guilty priests, the Catholic Church has shot itself in the foot and other parts of its body politic over and over. One of the priests in a rectory who reported the criminal activity of a clergyman was treated as a pariah with then-Bishop Louis Gelineau transferring him out of the Diocese because he was also a priest who belonged to a religious order. The message was loud and clear to other priests namely: shut up or lose your ministry. It was only when the provincial of the religious order agreed to send the reporting priest back to testify that the perpetrator professed guilt pre-trial. Yet, the damage was done since some priests mummed up when they should have had the courage to come forward.

Meanwhile Bishop Gelineau and his confreres continued the victimization of those harmed by these priests. It took over a decade to complete litigation brought on behalf of victims. (For disclosure: I was part of the litigating team and settlement since I represented a woman who as a 13-year-old girl had been repeatedly raped). I never was so proud of my colleagues like attorneys Tim Conlon and Carl Deluca. All were sole practitioners who were buried with motions to dismiss and paperwork and appeals by the Diocese. These lawyers drove around in jalopies for 10 years and resisted the temptation proffered by the Diocese to pay their legal fees while selling out their clients for a nominal amount. They were Catholics who exhibited more Christian concern and justice then the diocesan hierarchy.

The bumbling by cardinals nationally and in Rome has also exacerbated the poor image of the church. Archbishop Bernard Law (or Lawless as I called him on the radio) was the poster child for obstruction. The church promoted him to a treasured post in Rome, notwithstanding the Boston Globe’s expose of the cover-up he led in the Boston Archdiocese. The College of Cardinals recently came moaning to the table in setting some parameters finally for handling allegations.

Will Bishop Tobin’s release of names and the church’s belated action promote reconciliation? Most feel it is too little too late. The church has lost its moral authority by countenancing such immoral behavior for far too long.

I suppose that’s what I am really sad about. In this day and age there is so much anti-gospel behavior being countenanced, including by so-called evangelical churches. The treatment of immigrants at the border is immoral and Christian churches stand mute. Sad, indeed.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.