The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has reinstated a priest who had been accused of sexually abusing a minor in the 1980s.A few thoughts:
The Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick had been pastor at Corpus Christi and St. Rose of Lima churches in Roseville before the allegation surfaced in August. Fitzpatrick denied the allegation and went on voluntary leave.
In a statement Thursday, Archbishop Bernard Hebda says police closed the case based on a lack of evidence and the statute of limitations. He says the archdiocese conducted its own investigation. A ministerial review board concluded the allegation was unsubstantiated and recommended that Fitzpatrick be returned to ministry.
- It was pretty close to a universal belief at St. Rose that Fr. Fitz had to be innocent of the charges. While I can't say I know Fr. Fitz well, the allegation never made sense to me, either.
- While I'm sure that everyone at St. Rose would love to have Fr. Fitz back right away, it's probably not going to be that simple. It's been six months and it's not as though priests are simply a widget one installs into a machine. While Fr. Fitz is a vibrant, energetic priest, running two parishes is complicated and he's also in his late 60s. I don't know what toll this ordeal has taken on him, but I'm certain it's been tough. If it were up to me, and it certainly isn't, I'd hope that the Archdiocese would return him to both St. Rose and Corpus Christi, but that it also would move a younger priest into position to learn from, and ultimately succeed, Fr. Fitz.
- We were fortunate to have a wonderful, gentle priest serve St. Rose during this period. Rev. Jim Devorak has been unfailingly supportive of our parish and was a comforting presence for a congregation that needed comforting.
- We aren't likely to learn much more about how the process unfolded, because the Archdiocese has needed to be exceptionally careful in how it handled this case. We know essentially nothing about the accuser and that's just as well. I've always suspected the timing of the accusation related to the deadline for victims of priests to come forward, which more or less coincided with the initial announcement. It's possible that, if the accuser had hired Jeff Anderson or one of the other attorneys who have been litigating these cases, we might hear more, but I suspect if the Archdiocese feels comfortable in reinstating Fr. Fitz, there's not much of a case available. Frankly, I'd rather not hear any more about it. I will pray for the accuser, whoever he (or she) is.
We'll learn more in the coming days. I am happy for Fr. Fitz and for my parish. While we don't know what will happen just yet, we do know that the uncertainty is over. There's comfort in that.