Monday, July 11, 2011

Justice For Priests: A Flawed Dallas Charter


by Reverend James Dallen, STD

June, 2011 Newsletter

Two years after the panicked U.S. bishops wrote the Dallas Charter, Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote a perceptive and prescient critique in America (21 June 2004; available on the Justice for Priests and Deacons web- site). While he pointed out many flaws, his primary focus was the failure of the Dallas Charter and the bishops to protect the rights of priests. Seven years later it is even clearer that, where once bishops ignored the rights of accusers, they now ignore the rights of the accused.

Writers, lawyers, bloggers, and even bishops have pointed out the Charter’s flaws. Most criticisms center on the following points, some of which are discussed in more detail in this Justice for Priests and Deacons Newsletter and in past issues.

“Zero tolerance” has become a slogan, maybe even a mantra. One violation— whenever, wherever, whatever the circumstances—means permanent removal from ministry and/or laicization. Though the bishops have criticized the criminal justice system for a “one size fits all” attitude on punishment, their own Charter shows no sense of proportionality. The clerical equivalent of capital punishment has been invoked whether or not there was any sub- sequent or present danger, whether a child was violated or a boundary crossed.

All that is needed is a “credible allegation.”

What that means has never been clear. Practice, in many cases, regards it as meaning no more than “it could have happened,” even if there is no evidence beyond the accuser’s claim. Following that determination, priests are so pressured to undergo a psychological evaluation that it’s doubtful that their consent is freely given, and issues that are uncovered may have nothing to do with the original allegation.

The review board then makes its recommendation. But, unlike review boards in other professions, few priests serve on diocesan review boards, nor are priests treated like other professionals. In many instances, the bishop has already acted to remove the priest from ministry, so an allegation in some sense credible is effectively determination of guilt.

Removal from ministry after a credible allegation does carry with it the assumption of guilt, whatever may be said to the contrary. The possibility of restoring the priest’s reputation is almost nil, no matter what might be said subsequently...

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