Bishop falsely accused! What priests and the Church should do in face of defamation

as CBS Pittsburgh reported on 7th. Oct.:

Bishop Zubik

Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik this week got out in front of a sexual abuse allegation that was made against him.

The district attorney who investigated said there was no validity to the allegation and that he is offended by the charge.

Bishop Zubik is vigorously defending his innocence.

“I felt it was critically important for the sake of truth to speak out,” he said.

Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik this week got out in front of a sexual abuse allegation that was made against him.

The district attorney who investigated said there was no validity to the allegation and that he is offended by the charge.

Bishop Zubik is vigorously defending his innocence.

“I felt it was critically important for the sake of truth to speak out,” he said.

[…]

“We’re there to help people who are truly victims, but we’re also not going to be an organization that anybody’s going to target, ‘This is an easy shot for money,’” Zubik said.

Earlier this week, a Beaver County man alleged the bishop molested him more than 30 years ago – allegations investigated by the district attorney.

“There’s no basis in law or fact to substantiate the allegation,” Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh said.

The Editorial Board of Our Sunday Visitor reflect upon this incident, and pointing out that the Church should also be more helpful to the common priests who are falsely accused:

(Source: OSV Editorial Board – OSV Newsweekly, 10/23/2011)

Since the explosion of the clerical sex abuse scandal in the United States there have been well more than 10,000 documented accusations of abuse. To this day, hundreds more accusations are made per year, though nearly all the new allegations concern decades-old incidents.

Here’s a difficult question: How many of those allegations are false?

There’s no real way of knowing, of course.

But it seems indisputable that there are some, motivated by spite or the prospect of financial gain. […]

Most false accusations against priests are not cleared up as neatly, quickly and completely as the one aimed at Bishop Zubik.

Bishop Zubik’s response appears to have been careful execution of the procedures put in place by the U.S. bishops in Dallas in 2003, and by dioceses since then.

And then, before the accusation reached the mainstream media, he held a press conference to inform the press about it and denounce it as “false, offensive and outrageous.”

Fortunately for Bishop Zubik, the civil authorities appear to agree. “I’ve never heard of a more convoluted series of stories in order to justify these allegations against the bishop,” said Anthony J. Berosh, the local district attorney.

[…]

But his relief at finally airing the accusation also seemed to embolden him to fighting its injustice. “I won’t let anyone make the priest’s collar a bull’s eye,” he told the National Catholic Register. “Somehow, because we are priests, they think we’ll sit back and let someone steamroll us.”

That sense that priests today have become targets of vendettas and treasure-seekers is widespread among clerics. In the frequently asked question section of the website of the U.S. bishops, the child protection office acknowledges, “Our innocent clergy seem to be taking the brunt of the crisis.”

Worse, most false accusations against priests are not cleared up as neatly, quickly and completely as the one aimed at Bishop Zubik. Too often falsely accused priests languish for years in juridical limbo, their reputations damaged irreparably, without the financial, legal and even moral support of the dioceses they serve. In some cases, dioceses prefer to settle abuse lawsuits, even when the evidence is thin, to avoid huge legal fees or the public relations nightmare of appearing to be heartless toward real abuse victims.

Are there any solutions? One option is for civil authorities to prosecute those who make patently false accusations of abuse. That might make some alleged victims think twice. But therein lies another problem; doing so might dissuade authentic victims from stepping forward, which is a risk many would argue is not worth taking.

Another, though, is for Church authorities to put themselves more often in their priests’ shoes. Clearly, clerics who do wrong must face the consequences. But for the sake especially of the falsely accused, Church procedures and investigations should be swift, professional, transparent and thorough, and guided by the presumption that the priest is innocent until proven guilty.

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13 Responses to Bishop falsely accused! What priests and the Church should do in face of defamation

  1. toadspittle says:

    .

    Difficult, to be sure.

    It’s also worth considering, while reviling the media (often quite rightly) that on occasion the media is not reporting that a priest has abused someone, but that someone has accused the priest of doing so.
    Not quite the same thing.
    But killing the messenger is generally a good idea.

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  2. teresa says:

    Toad, I don’t think the media are reviled in this report, instead, the Bishop learned to use the media, he called for a press conference, before the defamation was spread about. I do think the clerics and the Church should, while doing what is due to justice, also learn to protect themselves/herself.

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  3. toadspittle says:

    .
    Teresa, you are quite right, and Toad should have made that clear.
    His comment, in retrospect, might have been better put on the Fr. Kevin Reynolds story.
    Although RTE certainly seemed to be asking for everything they are going to get on that front.

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  4. kathleen says:

    When talking about Father John Corapi I know one has to be careful, as his case is still being studied by the tribunals. However it is worth pointing out that it was the sexual accusations against him, that he claims were absolutely baseless and false, and his protests about the apparent lack of support from his bishop and the hierarchy (that advised him just to keep quiet and await proceedings) that has led him to distance himself from the main body of the Church.

    Everyone of us who admired Fr Corapi’s courage, his great powerful voice, his clear straight-forward orthodox teaching, and his ardent love of the Holy Catholic Church, hope and pray that his ordeal will one day come to a satisfactory conclusion.

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  5. martin says:

    My question is this, what are we going to do now, now that three more victims have come forward? What can we do about the first victim that we all discredited? Hmmmm

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  6. kathleen says:

    I don’t think the first ‘victim’ was discredited by the Church authorities Martin. Fr John Corapi was removed from ministry whilst the matter was investigated. I do agree with you that the evidence against him is mounting though. Many people have been very disappointed and upset by this whole affair of the supposed double life led by a priest who was upheld as such a strong apologist of authentic Catholic teaching. But fame and adulation can go to one’s head.

    Stephen K Ray, who hosts “Defenders of the Catholic Faith”, says: “The Catholic Church has never promoted superstars or personality cults. Partly because such fame exposes one to tremendous temptations and a fall is so much more damaging. Protestantism is often energized and promoted through the cult of personality. The Catholic Church is very wise in such matters.”

    Perhaps we should just remember that not one of us who struggles along the pilgrimage of life is above temptation, and this case could be a warning to us all. Let us pray for all priests who are the souls most attacked by the devil.

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  7. JabbaPapa says:

    One general problem throughout the West is that in many countries there simply were no laws making it a criminal offense not to denounce child abuse to the Police.

    France is an exception here, and it is a serious crime in itself not to denounce such a crime to the authorities.

    One consequence of this is that France has one of the lowest rates of clerical child abuse in Western Europe.

    Statistically though — in France, around 2/3rds of accusations made against clergy are found to be false ones. And in Ireland, where no such criminalisation of non-denunciation existed, the statistics concerning false accusations were similar — though because of some corruption among both the senior clergy and the police themselves, who both neglected to act upon complaints, the statistical data concerning Ireland is more questionable.

    The issue in the US, of course, is that there is a legal notion of complicity after the fact, which can theoretically make clerical superiors guilty by association of crimes committed by their subordinates. This was a major cause of the cover ups in the US.

    IMO, the French example is one to be followed ; because it creates a legal requirement to complain to the Police, but does not create any form of guilt by association. And because it is demonstrably more successful than elsewhere as a preventative system.

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  8. Toadspittle says:

    .
    “Stephen K Ray, who hosts “Defenders of the Catholic Faith”, says: “The Catholic Church has never promoted superstars or personality cults.”

    Well, Toad strongly suspects that the gushing adulation, (including often on CP&S) lavished on the last two Popes falls smack into the Superstar/Cult of Personality bracket.

    Others will no doubt disagree. And as for the torrents of fan mail sent to, say, Padre Pio, Torquemada, the Sacred Monkeys in the Vatican and Mother Teresa…Well again, words fail him. (Not!)

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  9. JabbaPapa says:

    Well, Toad strongly suspects that the gushing adulation, (including often on CP&S) lavished on the last two Popes falls smack into the Superstar/Cult of Personality bracket.

    I agree.

    This is nevertheless more likely, IMO, to be a failure of our species or culture, as we seem to expect this sort of overt leadership, rather than a failure of the Church only.

    Then again, this paradox does sort of suggest a kind of abstract theological failure in this respect…

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  10. Gertrude says:

    I hope that we are not too lavish on adulation for the last two Popes. This is not the place for my personal opinion on the two gentlemen, but suffice it to say that we ‘are with Peter’. It is what our Church asks, and is what we willingly do. We do not always get the leadership we would wish, but this is usually a failure of the personality and not, thanks be to God, a failure of the Church.

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  11. Toadspittle says:

    .

    Such adulation, given the meteoric rise of mass communication, is inevitable.
    Nobody knew what Pius X had for breakfast. Whether they would have cared or not is another thing.
    Gertrude and Jabba are right, thinks Toad – but such ‘stardom’ is now an inescapable fact of life and must be attended to.
    (And he, at least, does see signs of the Church actively promoting this phemenon.)

    Anyway, a little it of adulation is not necessarily all that bad a thing. Is it?
    Didn’t do Elvis, or John Lennon much harm, did it?

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  12. JabbaPapa says:

    I think it did both Elvis and John Lennon a great deal of harm, but then I suspect that toad already knew this… 🙂

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  13. martin says:

    I dont think anything is cleared up here. But hey, why cant we push for a grand jury investigation yeah a group of people not elected, to investigate fairly and impartially. Or is it that the people dont want the truth. This one particular case screams cover up.

    [Sorry, Martin, we’ve had to edit this submission]

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