November 18, 2006
This is as close to a courtroom as Daniel Donohue can hope to get: a nondescript room in a church office building, where three priests on Friday carried out a legal procedure that dates to the 12th century.
The experience was at once ordinary and archaic. A tape recorder sat next to him, beeping occasionally. Behind him sat the “promoter of justice,” the New York Archdiocese’s equivalent of a district attorney. When Donohue walked in, he was asked to sign an oath not to discuss the case again.
Donohue, who five years ago accused a priest of sexual abuse, went into the trial with deep reservations. But when he emerged four hours later, he said he felt something important had taken place.
“It wasn’t short and it wasn’t sweet and it wasn’t sugarcoated. There were tears,” said Donohue, 42, who refused to sign the oath and was free to speak to reporters afterward. The accused man, Msgr. Charles Kavanagh, has refused to comment on the trial, citing the Vatican’s request for confidentiality.
… Five years after the church sex-abuse scandal erupted, millions of dollars have been paid out in settlements to victims, and hundreds of priests have been defrocked. But of more than 5,000 Catholic priests who have been accused, only 300 have been tried in civilian courts, said Terry McKiernan, a researcher at BishopAccountability.org.
That has left “literally thousands of these men in this awkward limbo,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests. But for victims, he said, a church trial promises little satisfaction.
“They’ve been hurt by a predatory priest and a series of cold-hearted church bureaucrats,” Clohessy said. “Why would they voluntarily submit to a secretive process run by a series of cold-hearted church bureaucrats?”
… Ladislas Orsy, a scholar of canon law at Georgetown University, said canonical trials take the tone of an investigation. They are dominated by a panel of three to five judges who “try to ferret out what happened exactly, and have great freedom to do so,” Orsy said. The accused is represented by a canon lawyer, who faces off with a prosecutor, known as the “promoter of justice.” Out of concern for the welfare of the accused, the trials are confidential.
Canonical trials “do not correspond to the modern perception of jurisprudence,” Orsy said. “In a way, we remain stuck in earlier ages.”
The results of the “trial” will be made public when the “judges” finish deliberating, which could take weeks or months. Given the Vatican’s record, Donohue is probably more likely to be found guilty than Kavanagh.
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