Posts Tagged “defrocked”

Archbishop Józef Wesolowski, papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic / Catholic News Agency / url: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-willing-to-hand-over-accused-nuncio-to-civil-authorities/This story has been brewing for almost a year. Last summer, the Vatican’s nuncio (aka ambassador) to the Dominican Republic, archbishop* Józef Wesołowski, resigned last summer while under investigation by DR authorities for child abuse and returned to the Vatican, where his conduct was also being investigated. At the time, I wasn’t sure the Church had actually been “investigating” him. But it turns out they had; as the Religion News Service reports, some sort of ecclesiastical trial just concluded, and as a result, Wesołowski was defrocked (WebCite cached article):

A former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, has been defrocked and is likely to face criminal prosecution at the Vatican after a church inquiry convicted him of child sexual abuse.…

The 65-year-old envoy is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for sex abuse. He was found guilty after an inquiry conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has jurisdiction over all sex abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church.

In a brief statement released Friday (June 27), the Vatican said the verdict was issued “in the past few days” and the former diplomat was facing arrest due to the “gravity of the case.”

This rather quick — by Vatican standards — defrocking (aka “laicization”) is fairly remarkable, and on its surface, it might seem harsh. (I suppose, maybe, those within the Vatican actually view it as such.) But it’s not clear what all of this really means for the former archbishop; and it certainly doesn’t appear that Wesołowski is truly being “punished” at all:

A bishop from the Dominican Republic was recently reported to say that he was shocked to see Wesolowski walking freely on the streets of central Rome. Prosecutors in the Caribbean nation have said they have convincing evidence that the prelate molested young men.

To add to this non-punishment of their former nuncio, they’re actively protecting him from secular prosecution; they spirited him out of the DR, and are protecting him from extradition to his native Poland as well:

Wesołowski has also been accused of abuse in his native Poland. The Vatican rejected an extradition request from the Warsaw prosecutor’s office on the grounds he was “a citizen of the Vatican” and holds diplomatic immunity.

In Wesołowski’s case, specifically, the Vatican has been able to use his position as nuncio (with its attendant “diplomatic immunity”) as well as his putative Vatican City citizenship to prevent him from being prosecuted by secular authorities. But note that this is more or less the same approach they’ve taken in a other cases that don’t involve Church diplomats. The hierarchs really and truly believe their clergy should not be subject to secular courts and that only their own Curia has jurisdiction over them.

Photo credit: Catholic News Agency.

* Wesołowski never actually headed an archdiocese. His was a fake office, that of “Archbishop of Sléibhte.” Yes, there once had been a diocese of Sléibhte (in Ireland) … but it disappeared by the middle of the 9th century (if memory serves). The office of Archbishop of Sléibhte was resurrected as a titular (aka “in name only”) position by Pope Paul VI … probably because he’d wanted to stick a feather in the cap of some Vatican functionary whom he didn’t want to put in charge of a real diocese. (Yes, folks, that’s how popes operate. They quite literally just make shit up as they go along.)

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The Rev. Michael Fugee, seen here after his arrest in May, has been expelled from the priesthood after admitting he violated a ban on ministry to children. (John O'Boyle / The Star-Ledger)One of the mantras repeated endlessly by the Catholic Church, whenever it’s asked why it didn’t deal more sternly with abusive clergy within its ranks, is that the process of throwing clergy out (which most of us call “defrocking,” but the Church calls “laicization”) is a long, arduous, and costly one. It can’t be rushed, you see, so often the better tactic is to leave abusers with their titles but just move them somewhere else and hope they won’t torment more kids (which, all too often, they ended up doing). Another point they make is that once a priest is defrocked — er, laicized — the Church no longer has any hold on them and they might go do something really, really bad.

Well, it turns out the former contention may not really be true. As the (Newark) Star-Ledger reports, it took only a few months to arrange the defrocking — er, laicization — of a child-abusing priest (WebCite cached article):

Acting with uncustomary speed, the Vatican has expelled a New Jersey man from the priesthood for repeatedly defying a lifetime ban on ministry to children.

Michael Fugee, 53, who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors despite signing a court-sanctioned decree forbidding such activities, has been returned to the lay state, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark.

“Very recently all the procedures were completed,” Goodness said Monday night. “He is no longer a priest of the archdiocese.”

The Vatican typically takes a year or longer to expel priests, a process known as laicization. In some cases, the procedure drags on for several years.

An astute reader might ask how the quick defrocking — er, laicization — of Fugee squares with the Church’s portrayal of that process as lengthy and gut-wrenching; well, so too did the SL:

Asked about the swift pace of Fugee’s removal, Goodness said the former priest’s petition for laicization was “given a good amount of attention when it was submitted.”

That’s the answer, then. It’s merely a matter of “attention.” If a diocese “gives a good amount of attention” to a defrocking — er, laicization — that’s pending, then it can move along quickly. So all the hand-wringing over the protracted defrocking — er, laicization — process turns out to be not as bad as they’ve claimed, after all.

What’s more, the idea that a diocese can control the actions of an abusive priest if they hold onto him, also turns out not to be true. As I’ve blogged previously, the case of the late Fr Stephen Foley here in Connecticut is evidence of that. He’d been removed from the active ministry — including losing his status as a state police chaplain — in the mid-90s after some abuse complaints, and moved onto the grounds of St Thomas Seminary, yet the archdiocese of Hartford was unaware that, over ten years later, he’d been driving around in a police cruiser, decked out with sirens, lights, etc. which he wasn’t legally entitled to drive — even had he still been chaplain, which he wasn’t (page 2, cached; page 3, cached; page 4, cached). Foley had used this illegitimate police cruiser as a lure to ensnare more child victims … right under the noses of his archdiocesan superiors (who, it appears, didn’t give a flying fuck what he was driving or what he was doing).

The number of lies the Catholic Church continues to tell about how it dealt with abusers in its midst continues to pile up, as do the excuses it propounds for why it refused to punish or eject them, or for why it has found itself engulfed in this worldwide scandal. Don’t be fooled by anything the hierarchs tell you about it; ultimately, they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. In their minds this scandal is entirely fictional, woven from whole cloth by any number of malefactors, ranging from the children themselves to the Devil to “masonic secularists” to Jews to … well, you name it.

Photo credit: John O’Boyle / The Star-Ledger.

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