Friday, February 8, 2019

Michael Iafrate on How Jurisdictional Mentality Protects Abusive Priests by Hiding Cross-Diocesan Connections in Lists of Abusive Priests

This is a follow-up/companion piece to what I posted two days ago about lists of priests credibly accused of abusing minors which are now being compiled and published by many Catholic dioceses* across the U.S. (and by some religious orders). As I noted in that posting, as more and more Catholic dioceses (and some religious communities) release names of priests credibly accused of abusing minors, it's important that we monitor those lists to spot "cross-pertinent" information that may be omitted from any given list. In many cases, priests named in one place have also had pastoral assignments in other places.

As I also stated, lists naming abusive priests in one diocese may miss connections those priests have to other dioceses — and may, as a result, discourage vicitms of abuse in other dioceses from reporting their abuse. We should be working towards a comprehensive list which provides cross-listings that show all the places a credibly accused priest served, and where he may have left victims. Bishop Accountability has long done yeoman's work to produce precisely such a list, and is an indispensable source for anyone monitoring the abuse situation in the Catholic church.

At the time I made my proposal about these matters, I was unaware that a theologian friend-colleague of mine, Michael J. Iafrate, had published an excellent article this past December making very similar points. In his "'Follow the Truth Wherever it Leads': Resisting the Jurisdictional Mentality that Protects Abusers in the Church," Michael zeroes in on the jurisdictional mentality used by Catholic authority figures to shield themselves from responsibility as abusive priests are moved from place to place, state to state, institution to insitution. This term, "jurisdictional mentality," and Michael's critical analysis of it, provide a very important frame for discussing cases like the ones I highlighted in my recent posting, in which names of Arkansas priests pop up in lists of abusive priests in dioceses outside Arkansas, while they do not appear in the list released in Arkansas. 

Michael Iafrate writes,

The case of this priest [i.e., a priest Michael has known in West Virginia whose name appears in the lists of abusive priests released in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia] suggests one reason why the PA report has hit close to home for a large number of Catholics over a large geographical area. In some ways, the report could be called a regional report, not only because of those dioceses' proximity to other dioceses (like West Virginia), but because of the ways dioceses interpenetrate each other. I have never lived in Pennsylvania, but I know at least three priests named in the PA report because each of them spent significant time in West Virginia. 
And yet, none of these three priests, under normal circumstances, would necessarily be considered the "responsibility" of my home diocese according to a jurisdictional mentality that remains strong in the Roman Catholic Church despite the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. This jurisdictional understanding of church emphasizes, at least in certain circumstances, the autonomy of and rigid boundaries between individual dioceses rather than the organic relationships between them. And with regard to the issue of clergy sexual abuse, this jurisdictional ecclesiology is the theological counterpart to the legal protectionism of diocesan lawyers and other church leaders. Theological and legal boundary-making can work together to enable the protection of abusers, leading to a juridical "sorting out" of which abusive priests are the responsibility of which diocese or other church body, such as a religious order. …. 
Recent revelations and reports painfully confirm that, yes, clergy sex abuse is everywhere. But the PA grand jury report and the latest round of scandals underscore the way abuse occurs in, and in between, particular places — places each with their own histories and connected to other places in previously unseen ways. Jurisdictional thinking is an outdated ecclesiological fiction that obscures these histories and connections, and ultimately protects abusers. If church authorities are serious about transparency and justice, wouldn't they use whatever resources they have to follow the tentacles of abuse and its cover-up across dioceses rather than hiding behind that fiction? In order to "follow the truth wherever it leads," wouldn't dioceses be eager to cooperate in order to produce more fluid — and therefore more honest — accounts of how this abuse of power and of persons works? And if not, why not? 
It’s time to connect the dots.

* As I noted two days ago, a notable exception is the diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina, which remains a notable outlier among Catholic dioceses across the U.S. The Charlotte diocese, long known to be "one of the least transparent" dioceses in the nation, has not released a list of priests credibly accused of abusing minors, though its sister North Carolina diocese in Raleigh did so last year. 

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