Friday, March 18, 2016

The Process at St. Rose -- Conclusion?

One of the more disheartening bits of news we had in 2015 was that our parish pastor, Fr. Robert Fitzpatrick, had been accused of sexual misconduct and was being removed from ministry. The Archdiocese promised a thorough investigation of the matter. Now we know the result:
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has reinstated a priest who had been accused of sexually abusing a minor in the 1980s.

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.
A few thoughts:

  • 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.


Bike Bubba said...

Speaking as my church's Sunday School superintendent, I'm sorry to say that I don't get much comfort from the police saying that the statute of limitations was part of their decision. Hopefully the real story is much more emphatic, and I've got a hunch that if that priest returns to ministry, somebody in the congregation is going to force the investigation public.

I hope they're entirely right, and that there was nothing there but a false accusation--misguided or possibly (sigh) malicious--but the police statement alone simply doesn't convince me.

Mr. D said...

Speaking as my church's Sunday School superintendent, I'm sorry to say that I don't get much comfort from the police saying that the statute of limitations was part of their decision.

"Part" could be most of the decision, or 1% of the decision. Based on what I do know, it's closer to 1%.

Bike Bubba said...

Still bothers me--if the statute of limitations is at all an issue, that means there was some evidence, but it's too stale to work with. Would much rather here "yes, the statute of limitations had run out, but the real reason we're reinstating this person is simply because we have multiple witnesses saying the abuse could not have taken place in the way it was described."

Something of the difference between a defendant being acquitted, and charges being dismissed with prejudice, really.

Mr. D said...

I can't help you, Bubba. We know Fr. Fitzgerald and you are splitting hairs. As I said at the outset, there is no way the Archdiocese would have reinstated Fr. Fitzgerald if there was strong evidence against him. Or any evidence at all.

Bike Bubba said...

Well, then it's not 1% of the decision, but 0%. Reality is that the optics of how this is presented matter hugely, and a lot of this is because how people have relied in statutes of limitation to avoid culpability--there's a closet industry of "reading between the lines" as a result.

Splitting hairs? Nope. Just a sober look at the reality of the situation. I've been at churches where the very allegation of a criminal act against children gets a person sidelined. While I don't agree with this, I fully understand how boards decide that given a choice between looking through reams of exonerating evidence vs. finding a new worker/leader, they're going to do the latter. It's simply the landscape these days.

Mr. D said...

No, you're splitting hairs. And by the way, I can assure you that everyone at St. Rose wants Fr. Fitzgerald back. Your experience in churches you've attended doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what's happening in this instance.

As I said earlier, if there was any chance of Fr. Fitzgerald's name being back in the headlines via Jeff Anderson or one of the other attorneys on the trail, the Archdiocese would have pulled him for good. I can think of another priest who was charged with a crime and subsequently exonerated, but who is now essentially out of the priesthood because the Archdiocese doesn't want the trouble.