Unheard Perspective

Priests shed light on clerical misconduct


Infographic by Savannah Dupper and Cole Hume

The infographic displays information that leads to understanding of the issue, which Father Martin Latiff emphasized as essential in searching for solutions to eliminate clerical misconduct.

The recent unearthing of misconduct committed by clergy members, in particular priests in Pennsylvania, has led to hundreds of guilty sentences, sparking a polarizing dialogue involving the church, wounding the reputations of clergymen across the world, and making the Catholic Church the center of attention.

“My first reactions were that of sadness and grief as this is suffering for the whole church,” said Father Martin Latiff, who serves as one of the campus priests at Cathedral Catholic High School. “When there is a cancer, there is an opportunity to attempt to eradicate that cancer from that body. I look at it as God giving us an opportunity to eradicate that cancer [of misconduct] from the church.”

The damage of clerical reputations is a curious subject due to it attaching to innocent priests who actually strive for holiness.

“The damage done to the overall reputations of priests is unfair definitely to the innocent [who have not committed misconduct],” Father Latiff said. “Especially in these moments, these are the moments we can accompany Christ when he suffered unjustly.”

The clerical criminals committing the evils against minors ultimately are damaging both the lives of the victims and the reputations of innocent clergy members. Yet, in the Church’s current state, priests labeling any criticism unfair leads to further public condemnation of the clergy and of the hypocrisy of thinking what they deal with is unfair.

“The damage done is fair because people need to tell the church that we need to eradicate the misconduct,” CCHS campus priest Father Richard Castro said. “Holding the priests and bishops accountable who have committed misconduct in the past is necessary.”

Unfortunately, the horrific acts committed in forms of molestation of minors, sexual abuse, and sexual assault are not the sole misconduct the reports point toward. The hushing of crimes and the cover-ups exhibited by higher-ranking Church officials are receiving similar denunciations, redirecting a fraction of the attention to the Church’s hierarchy.

“The superiors obviously have a large responsibility,” CCHS campus priest Father Patrick Wainwright said. “In some cases, they are more evidently aware, and in others, they are not as much. I don’t know if it was always evil intended, but it was neglectful. It could have been people they knew and worried about the future of and didn’t want them to go to jail, but they are still gravely responsible and their acts are seriously condemnable.”

Each specific situation that was addressed internally displayed an inconsistent punishment. The extent of consequences for priest misconduct ranged from complete defrocking to simple transition to a separate parish. The church officials who avoided disciplinary actions and contacting authorities commonly continued to rise in religious rank, and they rarely ever suffered diminished reputations or professional statuses.

“I would compare for lay people that some relationships [between bishops and priests] can be like college roommates,” Father Castro said. “Because priests basically elect the bishops, there can be loyalty and situations where a priest may say, ‘Oh, my best friend is in trouble…I will not be as hard on him.’ ”

Second chances are a common theme in Catholicism; however, when second chances manifest into situations such as priests receiving further opportunities to preach after an incident, church members and the community at large begin to question the viability and morality of granting forgiveness.

“I think the church thought that pedophiles could be reformed with therapy, but they can’t,” Father Castro said.

Father Latiff also approached the topic of loyalty.

“I think if that loyalty exists it would be a false sense of loyalty because [priests’] first loyalty in the church is towards the faithful,” Father Latiff said. “The protection and safeguarding of the faith must be where [priests’] loyalty lies.”

An estimated 5.9 percent of U.S. priests sexually abused children between 1950 and 2002, according to NPR. However, priests are not necessarily more likely to molest than members of any other profession.

This statistic leads to questions regarding the concentration of attention to priests’ sexual misconduct in ratio to common sexual misconduct. Many lay people argue the hypocrisy of a preacher committing such horrid acts is what causes the attention. Other people point out the extraordinary lengths higher officials go to cover up the misconduct as leading to more attention to the cases once exposed.

“I don’t believe that the public’s feelings and perception of the [amount and magnitude] of clerical misconduct is necessarily right or wrong,” Mr. Kevin Eckery, the Vice Chancellor to Bishop Robert McElroy, said on behalf of the bishop. “The feelings of citizens are real. The wounds from 2002 scabbed over, but Pennsylvania ripped off that scab and made the wound fresh and raw.”

As the problems receive attention, the solutions to the issues become the question. The Catholic Church is not new to the topic of reform, and reform has manifested itself into both reinvention and reinforcement of past core values. Church officials are approached with a similar dilemma in addressing the currently displayed evils.

“Renewal should be a piece of reform, but more of reinforcement of the faith already in place,” Father Latiff said. “We have to look at the past and learn from what we may have done right or wrong, and then apply that to the present.”

Father Castro specified some methods of reform that could possibly eliminate future misconduct.

“Definitely increased vetting [of people attempting to become priests] and psychological evaluations, which would look for deep-rooted tendencies that could lead to the misconduct, would be good,” Father Castro said. “Obviously, it wouldn’t stop all situations from occurring, but proper vetting, I think, could stop something around two-thirds of cases from happening.”

Another commonly discussed method of reform is the education of priests and clergymen and the addressing of misconduct in seminaries.

“Yes, [misconduct] is brought up,” Father Castro said. “There’s training in every diocese that you must do every few years that discusses what’s proper and what’s improper and much of it is common sense.

“Obviously, some people just don’t have common sense.”

The cases punished in Pennsylvania range in time of incident with some stretching back to 1947, producing questions of whether or not priest misconduct has declined during the past decades. There are limited numbers providing the answer to this inquiry. According to statistics released by the Vatican, 848 priests have been defrocked for rape and 2,572 priests have been punished with lesser penalties for crimes committed between 1947-2014. The punishments were levied between 2004 and 2014. These statistics cannot prove whether or not there was a decline in misconduct during the past decades, but does show more distinguished punishments being issued recently rather than ignoring credible accusations.

“Many of the cases that are currently being published are many years old,” Father Wainwright said. “Yet, we think they are happening yesterday. I perceive that since 2002 there has been further awareness and control among bishops to prevent cases.”

In many cases, the Catholic Church remains the only entity that can provide justice for victims. As time passes since original misconduct, the victims’ legal powers become limited due to the expiration placed on prosecuting old cases. This bleak truth leads to the only sources of justice coming from public shaming of clerical criminals and the heads of the church hierarchy passing down penalties.

“If I heard about a situation with a credible accusation, then I would go immediately to authorities,” Father Castro said. “The policy is clear. The only thing we don’t bring up to the bishop or authorities is what is in confession. So, if a child came in confession and said, ‘Fire so and so,’ we can only highly advise them to make a report. However, if we hear it not in confession and don’t report it, we are on trial as well.”

As a way to prevent future incidents and to handle situations properly, the clergy instituted a hotline victims can access anonymously that will then address the accusations correctly.

“I think the hotline is very important,” Mr. Eckery said on behalf of Bishop McElroy. “We shouldn’t have to be waiting and decide if we want to make a judgement ourselves. Credible accusations must be reported.”

Ultimately, Father Latiff believes the keys to eliminating future incidents include “transparency and accountability.” He also expressed how those two keys must be identifiable in all church officials from parish staffer to the bishop.

A statistic that strikes confusion and debate in many lay members is 4 out of 5 victims are boys, according to the John Jay Report, a 2004 survey commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to determine the extent of priest misconduct in U.S. dioceses. Some Catholics identify the issue of pedophilia by priests as a homosexual problem. However, U.C. Davis Psychology Department reports homosexual males are not more likely to be pedophiles than straight males.

“Inevitably some people talk about [misconduct] like it’s a gay problem,” Mr. Eckery said on behalf of Bishop McElroy. “Factually speaking though a gay man is not any more likely to commit molestation than a straight man. So the [misconduct] is just not a gay problem, and it is more an issue of accessibility. No profession should be unsupervised constantly with children and that goes for priests too. Many incidents happened in the 20th century, meaning more male involvement as altar servers and such.

“It was a different time in terms of kids involvement and the awareness of misconduct was lower.”

Priests obviously do not possess divine qualities and past occurrences should lead someone to believe priests should be exposed equally to supervision as an average company employee.

“Priests cannot be isolated in their teaching cause even the most virtuous person can fall,” Father Wainwright said. “If you have a priest in a community of priests, they can help an individual priest stay disciplined and be accountable. Whether it’s a single missed prayer time or more, a separate priest who is nearby who can encourage the individual priest to continue to strive for holiness is essential.”

Modern democracies and societies exhibit the importance of recognizing an issue if wanting to solve it. All three CCHS priests echoed this sentiment.

“The truth shall set us free and the truth must be known,” Father Latiff said. “Whether it’s good or bad, the truth must shine so what has been covered up is shed light upon, and we can then recognize the problem to ultimately fix it.”

Although second chances for accused priests commonly lead to further wrongdoings, the Catholic Church has instituted measures to limit the future ministry of accused sex offenders.

“If a priest goes anywhere in the U.S., they have to present a document signed by his superior that says he has never committed any misconduct,” Father Wainwright said. “If the superior says on the document that [the moving priest] has done one [act of misconduct], then [the moving priest] can hardly preach anywhere. So, now any priest that preaches anywhere has a detailed background check connected with them.”

Ultimately, this issue displays a severe complexity along with unique elements that common misconduct does not necessarily present. However, the evils of molestation and culpable ignorance of the crimes are black and white, and they should be universally condemned.

“It is going to take a lot of time,” Father Castro said. “The damage is severe, but not unfixable. We have had serious issues in the past and have recovered. So, [the situation] definitely is not hopeless, but it will definitely be tough. It will take a long time for people to regain their trust in us, and I think they are right to have waivering trust in us right now.

“I believe the church is committed to regain that trust and fulfill the amazing mission of Christ.”