How officials use language to distance themselves from abusers
Watch closely the language that Catholic officials use when they try to distance themselves from accused clerics.
Bishops recruit, educate, train, ordain, hire, supervise, and often transfer and protect predator priests. But once allegations surface, top church staff often pretend they’ve never even met the accused. In many church notices, he was “Fr. Smith” on Tuesday, but suddenly, on Wednesday, became “Smith” or “Mr. Smith” the minute child sex abuse allegations arose.
It almost always takes years for the Catholic hierarchy to defrock a priest. So when one goes from being Fr. Jones to Mr. Jones in a matter of hours, it’s just a public relations maneuver.
Independent statistics are hard to come by, but we’re pretty convinced that the overwhelming majority of pedophile priests – even many of those who are convicted and imprisoned – are never defrocked.
What brought this to my attention was this correction which ran in the Wichita Eagle last month, thanks to prodding by a brave Kansas victim who wanted people to know the truth about the state’s most prolific predator priest:
In 2001, Robert Larson pleaded guilty to abusing three altar boys and a 19-year-old man while he was pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newton. Larson spent five years in prison for the crimes. The Eagle recently reviewed its archives of articles about Larson after a reader questioned references to him in the headlines, captions, and articles as a “former” priest.
The Eagle has confirmed that the Catholic Church forbade Larson to work, live, or identify himself as a priest, but he technically remains one.
The Eagle incorrectly referred to Larson as a former priest, ex-priest, or defrocked priest. Aug 20, Nov 15, 16, and 25, 2000; Jan 26 Feb 7, March 22, 29, 30 and 31, April 17, July 26, Aug 2, Oct 5, and Dec 30, 2001; Feb 28, March 22, April 6, June 12 and 26, July 21 and 26, Aug 27, Oct 3, 2002; June 17 and Sept 2, 2003; July 28 and 30, Aug 5 and 7, 2004; March 24 and 30, April 4, and June 4, 2006.
We applaud this victim for pushing for accuracy and the Eagle for printing the correction. These kinds of situations would be less problematic, of course, if only Catholic officials would be honest about the real status of child molesting clerics: they’re usually still priests. They may be suspended, but they’re usually still priests and still on the church payroll.