Padre Oprah and A Playboy President
The well-known Miami priest Rev. Alberto Cutié, known as Padre Oprah, was recently forced to resign from his parish because of compromising photos of him with a woman on a beach. In a television interview he admitted to being involved with the woman for several years. He explained that he has been given time to come to a decision about remaining a priest. He believes celibacy is good, but that "maybe it should be optional.” He also does not want to be forced into the role of poster boy for opposition to mandatory celibacy.
A few weeks ago, the president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, admitted that he became the father of a child while serving as bishop of San Pedro. Several other women also claim that he fathered their children. Because Lugo was a Catholic bishop when he ran for office, he was thought by those who voted for him to be upright and trustworthy.
Church history includes similar scandals even at the level of the papacy. On the other hand, history also records faithfully married popes, like Pope Hormisdas (d. 523) and Pope Silverius (d. 537), who were father and son--and also saints. The Catholic Church has had married and unmarried popes, bishops and priests who all struggled by the grace of God to be faithful to their promises of celibacy or their marriage vows.
Instances of marital infidelity raise questions about the challenges and difficulties married people face, but they do not destroy the perennial value of the sacrament. Likewise, the abuses by Father Cutié and former Bishop Lugo reveal the fallen nature of human beings but are not an indictment of priestly celibacy.
He Would Not Go Gently
Last week former Chicago Alderman Leon Despres died at age 101. If you are not from Chicago, you may never have heard of him. Many of the resolutions he sponsored from 1955 to 1975 on the Chicago City Council were ignored, if not condemned, and his fellow aldermen largely dismissed him.
But during that time, when the Chicago Democratic machine rolled over all opposition with what The New York Times once called its "militia of patronage workers,” Despres was often the lone voice speaking up for the needs of those ignored by the city, particularly African-Americans. In the 1960s, when the city proposed the widespread high-rise tenements that would become a blight on the African-American community in Chicago, Despres was the only one to speak out against the plan, calling instead for low-rise, scattered-site housing (the very idea now being enacted 40 years later in the city).
Though he was a white man, Despres was called "the lone Negro on the City Council,” because the six black aldermen regularly stood with Mayor Richard A. Daley Sr., even on issues regarding race. At times his black colleagues attacked him for claiming to know the needs of their people.
The columnist Mike Royko wrote in 1972, "Despres has been told to shut up--in one form or another--more than any grown man in Chicago.” And yet, in the face of the overwhelming strength and bullying of the Daley political machine, he never did. It took decades for the city of Chicago as a whole to recognize his wisdom, but today the city and the country are better for his courageous example.
The Markey Bill
Expressions of the need for justice in cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy focus on the church's responsibility to the victims. Legislation currently before the New York State Assembly steering committee, however, raises a different issue: justice for those accused of abuse. Bill A.2596, the "Markey Bill,” will eliminate for one year the seven-year statute of limitations on claims of sexual abuse, allowing allegations about decades-old incidents to be brought forward. Understanding for victims can make creating such a "window” seem to be the proper thing to do, but it can also open a window for injustice, when the passage of time has made it impossible to gather proof of innocence.
Statutes of limitations exist in both civil and criminal law to provide defendants some measure of justice, and are an application of the theory that before the law every person is innocent until proven guilty. In most jurisdictions there are statutes of limitation for almost every unlawful act except murder. Their purpose is to protect individuals from being charged when evidence proving their innocence no longer exists or when memories have become unreliable over time. (In New York State, for example, a student alleging sexual abuse by a school employee is allowed only 90 days after turning 18 to file a claim. This is 1/20th the length of time allowed for other crimes.)
The Markey bill would eliminate that protection for members of religious or volunteer organizations, harming not only individuals who are falsely accused (who are now regularly presumed to be guilty if the allegation is sexual in nature), but also the nonprofit institutions for which they work.