Last week I wrote about the accused and their accusers. But they were all living.
What happens when fresh accusations of sexual offenses are leveled against those who are deceased?
In East TN a young man recently accused a priest and a former bishop in the Diocese of Knoxville of sexual offenses which he says occurred in the 1990’s. (The lawsuit also contends that a Catholic School music teacher, still living, had also attempted to be inappropriate with the accuser. While this teacher remains employed by the school, the diocese reports that he has been suspended from his job and I quote “with respect to a presumption of his innocence, until allegations can be thoroughly and independently investigated.”) But that is a whole different story.
Briefly, the accuser’s lawsuit charges that his sexual abuse by the priests began in 1991 when the young man was an altar boy in the parish and continued for approximately two years. A local newspaper gives his account of having been sexually abused at least twice by the bishop and multiple times by the priest. He also reports that he was “offered up” to visiting priests for inappropriate sexual acts.
Oddly enough the only defendant named in the 20 page lawsuit is the Catholic Diocese, not the bishop nor the priest or the music teacher, yet it’s their names that are plastered across the front page of the local paper.
The bishop died in 2012 and the priest in 2017. The bishop was assigned to Knoxville in 1988, 10 years later he was relocated to Palm Beach Florida and resigned his post in 2002 after admitting to having had inappropriate conduct with minors, decades earlier in Missouri.
But that was then.
Now, years later the bishop’s name along with a priest and a music teacher are all having their names dragged through the mud on the front page of the newspaper (Knoxville News Sentinel 7/23/19) even though two of them are deceased and the one still living hasn’t yet been found guilty of anything. Add to this, none of them are actually named as defendants in the lawsuit.
It’s important to point out that currant bishop, Bishop Richard Sitka, had issued a letter in July regarding the lawsuit to priests, deacons, school leaders and others stating that he knew of the accusations and that an independent investigation had concluded there was no finding of credible evidence to support the allegations.
While the outcome of this lawsuit will be determined in a court of law, the names of three men, two who can no longer defend themselves or their reputations, are dragged through the muck and mire of the news.
What we know is that the bishop has a past. That, should be left in the past.
And what of the priest? He’s never been named on any of the lists of priests accused of abuse that have been released by the Catholic authorities or survivor support groups. But lately suspicion is cast upon a lot of clergy, especially in the Catholic Diocese when the topic of sexual offenses is at hand.
This lawsuit is filed after the clergy are deceased. The Diocese will defend itself as it is being sued for an unnamed amount of damages, but who will speak in defense of the dead, those whose names are sullied even after death when their own voices have long been silenced?
Will the accuser win his case based on the bishop’s past offenses in Missouri which occurred decades earlier and for which he had already professed guilt? Will a jury hear “once an offender always an offender” from prosecutors? Will the Catholic Church’s recent flurry of priests defrocked for sexual abuse prematurely condemn the priest in the minds of a jury?
The accuser’s lawyer reports that the accuser is “OK with his name being used in new reports”. I chose to omit his name in this blog.
Those accused, being deceased, are not given the same consideration, obviously they had no say in whether it was OK to print their names in news reports and so for this reason and out of respect to their families I have intentionally omitted their names as well.
Let the deceased rest in peace.