The Record: Church insensitivity

By the Record

March 18, 2014

EVEN IN death, the Archdiocese of Newark puts the interests of its institutional self above the people it is charged to serve. Its new funeral policy for priests who were removed from ministry on sexual abuse accusations is designed to shield the families of these priests, as well as the Catholic Church, from unwanted publicity. The victims of sexual abuse do not matter. 

The policy approved by Archbishop John Myers is skewed toward the clergy. In a letter to priests, the vicar general for the archdiocese writes that the policy "allows for sensitivity to the family of the deceased priest as well as to avoid possible negative publicity or further embarrassment to the family and the Church."

To further ensure that there is little negative publicity, no publication of the date, time or location of the funeral will be made to the public. The deceased priest — assuming he has not been defrocked — can be buried in clerical vestments.

These now-deceased men were removed from ministry for a reason: credible sexual abuse allegations. The Newark Archdiocese has a terrible history in dealing with abusive priests. Given that, it is impossible to understand why its first concern still is to be sensitive to feelings of these deceased priests' families. These men are responsible for what they did. If they brought shame onto themselves, the church and their families, that is their own doing. Where is the sensitivity for the victims of their behaviors?

The men and women who die serving this country are buried with military honors. Yet many military funerals are marred by the presence of members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who use such funerals as a springboard to spew hate. As offensive as these protests are, courts allow them despite the pain experienced by military families.

If families of heroes cannot be shielded from the outside world, there should not be a different standard for priests who were removed from active ministry because of credible accusations of sexual abuse. Perhaps some funerals would become media circuses. But perhaps victims also would have a chance to find closure in seeing their former tormentors buried.

The Catholic Church has handled sexual abuse cases in secrecy for decades. The practice of putting the institution above everything else has cost the church millions of dollars and much of its moral authority. The Newark Archdiocese must acknowledge that these deceased men represent part of the church's hurtful past. They cannot be laid to rest as if nothing had happened during their lives. There is no rest in that — no rest for the victims and no rest for justice.

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