The Associated Press moved a story a few months back about a Catholic organization that helps disgraced priests rejoin society following removal from the priesthood because of sexual abuse of children. I thought then that, with appropriate safeguards, there is nothing innately improper about that, and it still seems to me to be worthwhile work. After all, priests don’t live in the real world, and it has to be hard to suddenly get booted out of the priesthood and put on the street; they need help, and society should provide that help as a matter of self-defense.
I wish, in fact, that more priests took advantage of the assistance.
As thousands of abuse victims across the U.S. continue to search for justice and closure decades after being molested by some of the most trusted people in their lives, these men have become the priest next door. They live near schools and playgrounds, close to families and children unaware of their backgrounds or the crimes they’ve been accused of. In some cases, they’ve taken on leadership roles in new communities, becoming professors, counselors, friends and mentors to children. Their movements are unchecked by both the government and the Catholic Church in part because laws in many states make it nearly impossible for victims to pursue criminal charges decades after alleged abuse.
So, basically, they’ve been booted-out of the church and … abandoned. Some, doubtless, continue to offend, and the church has blissfully washed its hands of them.
Clearly, there needs to be some sort of ongoing psychological counseling and continued monitoring, and it’s not at all clear that a volunteer organization, however compassionate and well-intended, can meet the need.