Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Process at St. Rose -- The Archbishop Visits

We had another meeting at our home parish, St. Rose of Lima, last evening, this time to discuss the potential return of our pastor, Fr. Robert Fitzpatrick, following his being cleared of the abuse charges against him. Our new Archbishop, Rev. Bernard Hebda, was there, along with our auxiliary bishop, Andrew Cozzens, and Tim O'Malley, who is in charge of the archdiocese's child safety standards, came to ask my fellow parishioners whether we want Fr. Fitz back, and to answer our questions. We also received more news about the investigation itself. A few brief notes:
  • If anyone doubted that Fr. Fitz is a beloved figure at St. Rose, those doubts were utterly dispelled last night. By my count, about 25-30 people spoke at the meeting and not one raised an objection. I would imagine Fr. Fitz will be back soon.
  • We learned a little bit more about the accusation. Apparently the accuser was at a parish where Fr. Fitzpatrick served in 1983, so it was possible that the accusation was true. Mr. O'Malley relayed an example of an accusation that wasn't deemed credible, in which a woman accused a dozen different priests of sexually assaulting her, all during a homily. The hangup for a lot of people, I think, was the term the archdiocese used in describing the accusation against Fr. Fitz, which was to call the accusation "credible." Credible has a specific legal meaning, but the connotation for most people is that credible suggests an element of truth to the accusation. When the archdiocese first learned of the accusation, they immediately contacted the St. Paul police to have the matter investigated, and the police didn't find any evidence of wrongdoing. The archdiocese then investigated the matter further and came to the same conclusion. In the end, "credible" isn't the right word to use. Plausible might be better.
  • One of the reasons the matter was made public was that it would give other accusers a chance to come forward, since it's generally been the case that abusive priests have had multiple victims. No one else has leveled an accusation. That's an important consideration, I think.
  • I asked Archbishop Hebda and the others about a potential succession plan for Fr. Fitz. While I concur with my fellow parishioners that Fr. Fitz ought to come back, he is now in his late sixties and is approaching retirement age. The pastor assignment he's had involves both St. Rose and our neighboring parish to the west, Corpus Christi. A lot of priests have to double up these days and while Fr. Fitz is still a pretty lively fellow, it's a lot of work running two parishes. I suggested that the archdiocese ought to look at appointing a parochial vicar to help Fr. Fitz now and potentially succeed him down the line. Bishop Cozzens said that the archdiocese "wasn't there yet," but that they will be looking at what happens with both parishes as part of the normal deliberations involved in moving priests from assignment to assignment within the archdiocese. You can't just pluck a priest off the tree, of course, but it will be another factor in the overall disposition of the case. My guess -- Fr. Fitz will be back, but he will be getting some help going forward beyond the rotation of retired priests who have assisted in the past.
The takeaway, at least for me, is that the Archdiocese is engaged in the issue in ways it wasn't under Hebda's predecessor, John Nienstedt. Administering to the needs of the individual parishes is an incredibly difficult balancing act, but I suspect we're in better hands now. That gives me hope for the future, not only at St. Rose but elsewhere.


W.B. Picklesworth said...

This whole situation is pretty scary for pastors these days. In my synod we've been told flat out, "If an accusation is leveled, we will support the accuser." So it's up to me to never be caught in a situation. Of course that's impossible.

And so when I need to meet with someone one on one I never do so in my office, I bring us into the sanctuary where there is some privacy, but absolutely anyone could walk in from any of 5 doors. Now that I'm writing about that, it occurs to me that I should inform the Church Council of my policy and the reason for it.

I feel badly for Father Fritz to have to go through this.

Bike Bubba said...

Glad to hear that there's nothing to this. Agreed that it's an ugly reality, and in "my" circles, pastors often refuse to meet alone with a woman or child--usually the pastor's wife is often the second person there as a witness. (won't work on the other side of the Tiber for obvious reasons) We're also moving to put a lot of windows in Sunday School doors, and new buildings are built with very open plans for nurseries and childrens' ministry rooms.

I would guess that in the future, many will, if they haven't already, move to record counseling sessions, and I'm guessing a lot of older churches will need to either do extensive renovations or outright retire older buildings with the rabbit warren of Sunday School rooms. (and that's hard because a lot of those walls bear loads!)