Thursday, May 9, 2013

Archbishop John Myers Responds to Investigation of Fugee Case by Hiring Criminal Lawyer: A Pastoral Response?!

And so Archbishop John Myers of Newark, NJ, is lawyering in response to the Fugee case: as Jeff Green reports for the Newark Record, Myers has now hired a "high-profile criminal defense lawyer," Michael Critchley, to represent the archdiocese as continued calls for accountability pour in after it has emerged that Myers allowed a known pedophile priest, Fugee, to maintain contact with minors and travel with them after the archdiocese had signed an agreement with a court to do precisely the opposite.

Green states that Critchley is "known for winning his clients light sentences or outright acquittals," and is, of course, "additional legal help" for the archdiocese--since all Catholic dioceses in the U.S. now have high-profile lawyers and/or legal teams to advise and assist them as a matter of course in this age of heightened concern about the cover-up of clerical abuse of minors. Green also notes that Critchley defended Monsignor Patrick Brown when he was found guilty and put into prison for embezzling funds from his parish and Father Bruno Ugliano who was accused of molesting a teenaged girl, and has represented Michael "Mad Dog" Taccetta in a case involving charges of gambling, money laundering, and extortion.

As Green points out, Myers has been mum about the investigation of the Fugee case by prosecutors. In a move that will inevitably remind many American Catholics of Cardinal Dolan hieing himself off to Ireland last summer when the media began asking pesky questions about his knowledge of pay-offs to pedophile priests in Milwaukee (or of Cardinal Law fleeing the country for Rome just before state troopers were to serve him with subpoenas about the Boston cover-up), Myers is now preparing to head off to Poland today on a trip to a shrine dedicated to John Paul II.

And that's the point that boggles my mind as a Catholic:

1. A bishop signs a court agreement to keep a known pedophile priest away from minors. 
2. It's discovered that the bishop has done the opposite of what he agreed to do. 
3. In response to the discovery, rather than address the situation through pastoral outreach and dialogue, the bishop hires a high-profile criminal lawyer to defend the diocese. 
4. As he does so, he remains mum, then heads off overseas on a pilgrimage.

What in this chain of sordid events shows any shred of pastoral concern on the part of Archbishop Myers or of Cardinal Dolan, who is said to be closely monitoring the case--for parents outraged that their children have been placed in harm's way, for Catholics astonished to find their church dragged through the mud all over again in the public eye? Hiring criminal lawyers as you keep your mouth shut and then heading overseas is not a pastoral response: it's the antithesis of a pastoral response.

I think Michael D'Antonio is absolutely correct when he writes at Huffington Post today, "Anyone who wonders why Catholic officials have had trouble putting to rest the clerical sex abuse scandal that began in 1985, need only consider this current case." And for my part, all the symbolic gestures in the direction of reform that the new pope has made thus far will remain sound signifying nothing until they are backed by real reform of the crime syndicate that the Catholic church has now become at the top levels of its leadership.

The graphic: a third-century depiction of Jesus as the good shepherd, from the ceiling of San Callisto in the catacombs by way of Wikimedia Commons.

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