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Helping Priests & Religious in trouble

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For years, thanks to your generous support, the NCCL apostolate has assisted clerics who have been in trouble, most often running afoul of their superiors for reasons explained in the following letter. Not a few of them landing even in jail. NCCL helps by providing not only respect & friendship in Christ, but sometmes collaborates with other groups even to find the clergy material assistance in their dire straights.

But mostly this humble apostolate helps to provide civil and canonical – legal – help: concrete advice & support, often to defend the cleric against unjust attempts to dismiss them from the clerical or religious state.

Because of the need to respect whatever remains of their good name and to avoid ‘politicizing’ their sometimes desperate circumstances, NCCL’s Directors cannot always publish their stories indiscriminately. And often we can share details of the efforts to help them only with those who ‘need to know”, in order to help.

We ‘break the silence’ (as it were) by posting this essay for three reasons:

1. First to beg the charity of your prayers for these poor Priests and Religious, and for the bishops & other superiors who too often cynically abandon or betray their sons & daughters, even sometimes callously persecuting them. Please pray that God send the grace of repentance and conversion to all.

2. Also, to inform you of this unique apostolic effort, so that you might call on NCCL if you think our expertise might be of help.

3. Finally, to beg the charity of your alms for the effort. NCCL does not ‘fund raise’. Instead we reply on the charity of supporters to give from the heart, knowing that NCCL’s unique and necessary, no-compromise work cannot endure without your generous benefactions.

Please be generous. You can give online at NCCL’s home page, or send a donation by mail to NCCL – 621 Jordan Circle, Whitehall PA 18052-7119.

Here follows a sample letter, this one from a prelate, explaining the kind of work of NCCL is engaged in on behalf of clerics in trouble. It was written in 2001 — which is worthy of mention in order to give some perspective on the perseverance in this project and its importance.

Mr. Charles M. Wilson
St. Joseph Foundation
11107 Wurzbach #601-B
San Antonio, TX 78230-2553

Preliminary Case Note

It may be remembered that some time ago in a rather lengthy memorandum I urged canon lawyers to familiarise themselves — more — with an increasing phenomenon. While I abhor labels, I use them here for the sake of brevity. In general there is an increasing, wide circle of religious and clerics who are – to put it mildly – ill at ease with the ‘liberal stance’. Seen by some bishops and religious superiors as a thorn or an embarrassment, some religious or clerics are placed or forced — gradually, barely perceptibly (even to the parties involved) — into situations which can tend to incriminate the religious or cleric. From there, a case is built against the religious or cleric. Thus his/her ‘unsuitability’ becomes public domain, and the ‘need’ to proceed to canonical dismissal/and reduction to the lay state becomes apparent.

That this is not mere speculation is proved by a commentary of the Belgian Jesuit Jean Beyer. A former dean of the faculty of law of the Gregorian University, Rome, Père Beyer explained his rôle in revising the procedure – for the 1983 Code – for the dismissal of religious. Note that Beyer was a consultor for numerous dicasteries of the Holy See, and was often used by Rome for apostolic visitations of Institutes of Consecrated Life.

He stated what was a well known fact. When a superior finds that a cleric/religious is ‘difficult’, he or she can be placed or allowed to find him/herself – increasingly – in situations which highlight an increasing unacceptable behaviour or force to the fore negative characteristics in that person. Gradually the cleric or religious acquires – among his/her confrères – such notoriety as will form a consensus favouring the superior’s desire to censure the cleric/religious. Thus when third parties (e.g., Holy See) seek to verify the superior’s decision (e.g., recourse of appeal), they discover that a common negative opinion has formed regarding the cleric or religious.

That is why Père Beyer sought (to some degree successfully) to reinforce – in the proposed Code – the checks and balances which safeguard the religious’ rights when faced/threatened with canonical dismissal. Upon verification or appeal of a decree of dismissal, the Holy See (or the diocesan Bishop, in the case of an Institute of Consecrated Life of diocesan right) is not always able to discern the real dynamics which may have lead to a decision of dismissal. This is especially true when, for example, the Procurator General of an institute present the file of the person to be dismissed to the ecclesiastical Authorities. The Procurator General is either elected by the body which elected the superior or is appointed by the superior (who seeks to dismiss). Therefore, a totally objective presentation of the case is not guaranteed.

Those of us canonists who, clerics, have lived religious life for years and who have held positions of governance know well that it is not uncommon for a cleric or religious to have actually committed acts which are objectively innocent or ambiguous. However, a case can be built around those acts – especially when repeated – which construe negative intentions. It is equally true that a cleric or religious can be purposefully forced into or left in situations which the superior knows will lead [leave?] the cleric or religious ‘unprotected’. For example, if a superior knows that a cleric or religious might have a sweet tooth, he can appoint the cleric or religious as chaplain in a factory of chocolate candy! (I use an absurd example for reasons of modesty…). The reasonable superior, however, should do everything possible to protect his subjects – based on what he/she knows of each one – from situations which he/she knows might precipitate or detonate antisocial behaviour in a cleric or religious. Note well, I am not speaking here of the superior who shuttles a cleric or religious from place to place — once he/she is already guilty of misdeeds — merely in order to escape punishment or to avoid scandal. I refer to the superior who, prior to any misdeeds on the part of a subject, deliberately places or leaves a cleric or religious in situations which the superior knows might provoke anti social behaviour on the part of the cleric or religious.

The situation can be further complicated when a cleric or religious collapses morally – or is made to think that he/she has fallen. Isolated, humiliated, he or she may begin to throw him/herself on the mercy of ‘the Church’ by, for example, writing letters of apology to his/her superior. Demoralised, the cleric or religious is pressured into accepting the procedure of dismissal/reduction to the lay state.

The Traditional Catholic World

What I have said is compounded in some so-called traditional Catholic Institutes of Consecrated Life or Societies of Apostolic Life. The pressure on many of those Institutes and Societies to present a moderate ecclesial image is enormous. Institutes or Societies which are still of diocesan right may make frantic attempts to win the decree of pontifical approval (i.e., pontifical right). Thus they may seek to ‘suffocate’ or eliminate members who are considered to be ‘uncompromising’. The same is true of those Institutes or Societies which, traditional, are under some special measures of vigilance by the ecclesiastical Authority. An apostolic visitation, a forced or threatened (by the higher superior) change of superior can lead to a state of hysteria within the Institute or Society. There will proceed, therefore, an attempt of general purging of those members who, ‘too conservative’, risk bruising the image of the Institute or Society. At this point, almost anything can be expected in attempts to rid the Institute or Society of the ‘more conservative’ members.

* * *

I have written this because I am convinced that these dynamics play an enormous rôle in the cases which I refer to your Association. I refer the cases to you after discreet consultations with Count Neri Capponi and Father Fiore in Wisconsin. They encouraged me to refer the cases to the President of the Association.

Though this paper is for your eyes alone, you may share/show it to Count Capponi and to Father Fiore. I have seen countless clerics and religious abandoned, abused, discarded with no one who dared (or cared) to assist them. Unfortunately the current wave of scandals almost incriminates a priori those who are legitimate/authentic victims of unscrupulous superiors, etc.

In fide,

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