Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Catholic priest risks being defrocked after multiple rape convictions

The Bishop of London, Ontario, Ronald Fabbro, is demanding the Vatican defrock the "Reverend" Charles Sylvestre after the priest pleaded guilty last week to sexually assaulting 47 women over four decades. An additional 14 charges remain pending. If the application is successful, it would be the first time in Ontario -- perhaps Canada -- a cleric has been so defrocked. Although officially Sylvestre is "retired" he still can perform the sacraments so being stripped of his collar would mean, among other things, his licence to perform religious and civil marriages would be stripped.

All I can say is, better late than never. And it's high time the Church, or at least some people within it, took this as seriously as it has.

It may help that the current Pope is Ratzinger and not Wojtyla. The former Pontiff just didn't get it, or at least did not understand just how serious the sex abuse scandal was in his church. He must have thought "one a priest, always a priest" and that even the worst pedophiles were potentially redeemable. The current administration appears to have taken a much harder line, ordering the founder of a major religious order to retire earlier this year although stopping just short of "laicization" -- demoting a priest down to the laity. The charges here are much more serious, however, and Benedict might feel compelled to push Sylvestre over the edge.

I hope the Pope does. The game of musical chairs is simply unacceptable. While the current Bishop in London may have had no part in it, the fact that Sylvestre was moved around (to Windsor, Chatham, Sarnia and Pain Court) in a deliberate effort to ensure he evaded prosecution is morally reprehensible; and if there were officials who were complicit in the obstruction of justice they too should be stripped of their official duties. In fact, I'd call for their outright excommunication.

The fact is, in high school I was spurned so often by my female classmates, too many times in fact that I seriously considered joining the priesthood. What put me off, however, was the emergence of the sex scandal here at around the same time -- first at an orphanage in Newfoundland, then which spread like wildfire across Canada as we learned of systemic and state-sponsored abuse of native children by the mainline churches here, with some cases going back decades. I was so disgusted that I decided it was simply not possible I was hearing the call, because if I was I would be joining a profession where I would be presumed guilty by association. Only the Devil would make me want to be a priest, so I said "Screw it."

Until I find Ms Right, I am quite content to live the single life -- a member of the Church, but not part of the section of a group that still has to come to terms with the rogue elements within the flock. I do not regret my decision in the slightest, because I refuse to be part of the "pray, pay and obey" crowd. Charges should be based on solid evidence, and the presumption of innocence should remain standard; but where there is a blatant disregard for the laity as was true in this case, no recourse should be offered -- it should be "One strike and you're out." Not forty-seven as was in Sylvestre's case.

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