Burning injustices rest on our consciences, and will continue to burn us until we correct them.
I had dinner the other night with a marvelous priest, who started out our dinner by having the little children who were with us recite together (partly in song) the blessing before meals. They loved doing it. Loved the sound of it. Loved the solemnity. Loved the fun.
I did not know until well along in the meal, almost at the very end, that this good priest – so well informed about so many matters of faith, so genial, and so patently good-hearted and faithful – had been falsely accused of sexual molestation eight years ago. He was forced to leave the ministry (an accusation these days is enough to do this – a horrible scandal in itself). His accuser died of a cocaine overdose in his mother’s house, but not before exonerating the priest by admitting the falsity of his accusation.
But all that notwithstanding, the bishop in his diocese has not moved – dared? – to reinstate this good man and return him to his proper standing in the priesthood, or even to give a public apology for his unjust treatment. Nor has the press that stirred up the atmosphere of high-tech lynchings revisited his case (and hundreds if not thousands of others) to clear them of this horrible wrong.
Very few raw accusations that have emerged since the priestly abuse crisis erupted were ever subject to due process and full discovery and an open trial.
In America, citizens have a right to their innocence until proven guilty. This good man was never given a hearing. He is still being punished – to the very the core of his being and in his very reason for existence – because of a false accusation and that alone. Further, it is an accusation that has been withdrawn by the accuser, and apologized for by his family: “Billy [name changed] would never have made the accusation if he had been sober.”
To have been treated as non-persons, as non-citizens, is an injustice that cries out to heaven for justice. Yet in addition to the truly evil predators that have been identified and weeded out, this is the fate of a considerable number of innocent Catholic priests in this country today.
Michael Novak’s website is www.michaelnovak.net.