Today we learned that Bishop Daniel Conlon of Joliet plans to reinstate a priest to ministry who was removed in 2010 because of allegations of sexual misconduct. This is a shocking and dangerous move by Bishop Conlon. He is the man in charge of children’s safety for all of America’s bishops as head of the bishops committee on sexual abuse.
We are being told that Conlon is being forced to reinstate Fr. Lee Ryan by the Vatican. The victim was told that according to the code of Canon law at the time of the sexual assault the code did not have an age of consent. The victim was fourteen years old when the priest first abused him and it continued for two years.
We don’t know if Bishop Conlon is telling the truth and won’t know until he produces copies of his alleged correspondence with Vatican officials. Even if he is telling the truth, he has many options.
First, he could stand up for kids and against recklessness, telling Vatican officials he refuses to put Ryan back on the job. Second, he could have, at any point over the past few months, gone to every place Ryan worked and begged victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers to come forward - to secular authorities or church officials. Third, he could assign Ryan to prison ministry.
And throughout this process, he could have kept Ryan’s victim informed instead of in the dark.
Once again, Catholic officials conveniently find a legal loophole to enable them to do what they want even though kids will be put in harm's way.
Conlon may try to claim that one of his staff made a "mistake." If he does this, he'll be lying. The head of his so-called "Office of Youth Protection" spoke on Monday with the victim and never once said "Gee, I goofed. Conlon is NOT retuning Ryan to ministry." The same church official repeatedly left messages with the victim yesterday and never once claimed "Sorry for the confusion. I was wrong. Conlon is NOT returning Ryan to ministry."
So we have a diocesan headquarters staffer
-- saying verbally that Ryan is being put back
-- saying in writing that Ryan is being put back and
-- providing a copy of the actual announcement Conlon may or was to distribute today
This is obviously no "miscommunication" or "snafu."
Because their plan has now been publicly disclosed, Joliet Catholic officials may hold off on restoring Ryan to ministry. But even if they do, it'll almost certainly be temporary. And the chances will increase that some months down the road, they'll quietly put Ryan back on the job.
Does Conlon really think that none of these parishioners will have kids around - their own kids, their grandkids or their neighbors' kids - when Fr. Ryan comes into their homes? And does Conlon really think that none of these parishioners will ever go to the bathroom or into the kitchen or on to the back porch, leaving Fr. Ryan alone with a child? Does Conlon not realize that it takes only seconds for child molester to shove his hands in a boy's pants or his tongue in a girl's mouth?
What part of "one strike and you're out" do Catholic officials not understand?
This is part of a growing and disturbing pattern of bishops putting proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics back on the job. It's as though bishops know they can survive any scandal or public relations firestorm, no matter how many children get hurt, so they're willing to take more and more inexcusable risks with the safety of kids.