Special judge to be appointed in the case of a recently charged Catholic priest in Indiana; SNAP commends the judiciary for this decision

Fr. David Huneck was recently charged with sexual abuse in a case involving two teen-aged girls. In the initial hearing held this week in Whitley County, Indiana, Judge Douglas Fahl, a member of St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church where Fr. Huneck had worked until his arrest, recused himself from any further court proceedings. The Judge noted that the normal procedure would be to have the circuit court judge take over. However, the circuit court judge was also a member of St. Paul's. For Fr. Huneck’s next court appearance in November, a special judge from another county will oversee the case.

We applaud Judge Fahl for making the appropriate decision to recuse himself and appoint a special judge. However, we cannot help but observe the reach and influence of the Catholic Church in Whitley County, when both the sitting judge and his usual replacement were members of the accused's congregation. We believe there would have been a time in the not-so-distant past where a special judge would not have been appointed, and the integrity of the judicial process would have been compromised. We are encouraged that Judge Fahl did the right thing in this case.

A different result occurred in 1964 in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fr. Ernest Paone was being investigated for child sexual abuse. The Beaver County District Attorney wrote to the Bishop and told him he was halting the investigation  "in order to prevent unfavorable publicity."

To be sure, it is a sad commentary on the breadth of the on-going Catholic sex abuse scandal that we are encouraged by what should be a common-sense action. The truth is that the Church has long held the upper hand in these cases, and survivors have often been revictimized. So, we are glad to see any progress and hope that we will continue to see this in the future.

We are in awe of the strength and courage of the two victims who have spoken up about a dangerous man in a position of authority. Clearly, the abuse crisis in the Catholic church is not just a thing of the past. Fr. Huneck is the 20th priest or Catholic staffer to be charged or tried this year for child sexual abuse.

If there are more victims of Fr. Huneck's, we urge you not to suffer alone and in silence. Please come forward to law enforcement: they have shown their commitment to doing the right thing. 

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