As I hope I've made clear on this blog, I'm totally sickened by the abuse cases that have come to light, the inaction, the coverups. The switching from parish to parish, diocese to diocese. The hear no evil, see no evil attitude of some bishops. The utter lack of transparency in handling these cases.
There has been and continues to be a massive failure in the Church.
But at the same time, I think we also should find disturbing the handling of some of these cases from the point of view of the cleric concerned and the importance of allowing good clerics to exercise their calling. We should be concerned about the good priests who sit around in limbo seemingly for years, for example, while 'investigations' that never seem to end take place. The clerics hounded by malicious accusations that the accusers have not actually been prepared to have tested in the courts, whether secular or ecclesiastical.
We should be outraged when guilty clerics are moved sideways.
But what about those who claim to be innocent, and where no case can be established aginst them?
In the secular world, we claim to believe in an ethos of innocent until proven guilty.
The Church does, of course, have to err on the side of safety, even if that ends up being unfair to the cleric concerned. It sometimes needs to take the time to be sure.
But it is in my view totally unacceptable for complaints that have long since been dealt with, or have not tested at all through proper processes because of the unwillingness of victims/witnesses to make a formal complaint, to be regurgitated publicly unless there is a very strong reason for doing so.
The bottom line is that investigations should be as fast as possible, and where a priest (or deacon) is temporarily removed from ministry, the outcome should be made known: whether it's that there is a serious case to answer, and further action is being/has been pursued; that the evidence is not clearcut, but in the interests of prudence, because it is a case of one person word against another or some similar problem, the suspension is being continued indefinitely; or that the claims are without foundation. And that should be the end of it unless new cases come to light.
Because we should all know that while it is impossible to judge on the basis of what we know about a person one way or another, not every claim of abuse is true or even credible.
So just because we happen to like someone doesn't mean they are likely to be innocent. Just because we dislike them doesn't mean they are guilty.
Still, there are some clues that we can take due note of.
People who hold orthodox views are far less likely to be abusers than those who have been sucked into the liberal vortex: how we pray does affect our practices. But its worth noting that perversely, many dioceses and their bishops (Melbourne amongst them) have been infamous for their shall we say less than sympathetic treatment of seminarians with an attachment to traditionalism in the past.
Secondly, people who have an excessively charming, charismatic veneer, particularly to those they deem 'important', but are rude and nasty to those they see as subordinate to them, or who show signs of narcassistic behaviour (such as an excessive attachment to good living) may well be hiding something nasty underneath. Too many of this type have been ordained.
And we can sometimes make some inferences about people by seeing who their friends and enemies are (and those who have stood up for the good will inevitably accumulate enemies).
Finally, if there is a real basis for a claim of misbehaviour, it is hard to understand why the alleged victim would be unwilling to go to the police or be a witness in an ecclesiastical process, but instead are prepared (or others are prepared on their behalf) to air their vague accusations in the media long after the event. In my view this is totally unacceptable if the cleric himself claims to be innocent.
There is such case aired in the media today, concerning Rev. Dr ("Scott" - the articles indications to the contrary, he has, I believe changed his name in order to retain the monastic name under which he has published extensively on liturgical matters) Alcuin Reid. One can't help suspecting that there are agendas at work, other jealousies at play.
The claimed justification for the piece is the presence of Cardinal Pell at a conference (in Ireland) with Dr Reid, and association of the Pope with him by virtue of writing an introduction to one of his books. This is one of those cases where the media seems to be stretching the guilt by association line well beyond the point of credulity. Where the justification for publishing the claims looks non-existent. And where the enemy within the Church is at work.
The article fails to mention, for example, that Dr Reid was subsequently allowed to test a possible monastic vocation, and there is no suggestion that the monastery concerned was unaware of the claims that had been made. Similarly, he has subsequently been incardinated in another diocese which no doubt was made aware of all of the history and reached its own judgment. He has not, as the article implies, long been suspended, but in fact has (legitimately) played an active role in many public traditional Masses over the years (you can see photos all over the web).
In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that I have met the Rev. Dr Reid several times and corresponded with him (though not in relation to any of these matters), and have always found him extremely helpful and proper in his dealings. He is totally orthodox in his views, and committed to Benedictine spirituality. I have a great deal of respect for the enormous amount of excellent work he has done for the Church liturgically - but note that this work has accumulated for him some enemies both in Australia and abroad.
That is not to make a judgment one way or another about these particular (and any other) claims. But I am saying that unless the complainants are prepared to stand up and have their claims properly tested, it all looks like the stuff of witch-hunts and we are entitled to disregard them.
This kind of sliming by media is counter-productive to cleaning up the Churches act.
** Postscript: I note that Fr Z has put up a helpful post on this subject.