Monday, July 06, 2015

Priest defends priest, throws victim under the bus

(Boston Atheists Past President Zachary Bos, State Director of American Atheists, writes:)

So: I just found out that the priest who ran the parish my family was involved in when I was a teen, has been accused of the abuse of a male child at an archdiocese-run children's home. The abuse is alleged to have happened at just the time I was participating in teen programs at church: Bible study weekends, the Christmas passion play, youth group night, confirmation classes.*

Who is surprised? There have been many reports about child abuse in the Catholic church -- not to mention in Hare Krishna residential schools, and in the Orthodox Jewish community, and so on and so on. It's sad, and beyond sad it's maddening, that this kind of uncomfortable news comes as just more of the same.

Now: I have no personal knowledge of any abuse, and had no real rapport with the priest when I was involved in the church. The reason I thought to share this news item is not because of its (non-)connection with me, but because of what I found when I did a search for the church's response.

Here's an excerpt from yesterday's homily at the church I attended as a teen, and where the accused priest was stationed during the time is is alleged he abused a boy:
Father Jeremiah Murasso, Pastor of Saint Vincent Ferrer Church from 1989-2003 has been accused of the abuse of a minor male child at Saint Francis Home in New Haven, CT. The abuse allegedly took place while Father Murasso was pastor here and was at the same time on the staff of Saint Francis Home. The alleged abuse would therefore have taken place during the mid-to-late 1990’s. According to established procedures he has been removed from all his duties as a priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford. In short, right now he is in need of a friend. Former bookkeeper Barbara Mule has asked: If you were a parishioner of Saint Vincent Ferrer Parish during his years here and are in a position to attest to his good character, please take the time to write a letter to Archbishop Blair. The closer you were to Father Murasso the better. For instance, if you were in our parish during the late 1990’s and had a child who was in the CCD Program or was an Altar Server or was receiving the Sacraments, you are in an excellent position to comment on Father Murasso’s character. Please address your comments to: Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, 134 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, CT 06105.
That's the priest speaking to the congregation from the pulpit during Mass. Not with words of sympathy for the alleged victim and his family, or for all victims of childhood and sexual abuse; not with any commitment to transparency to see the process of investigation, stock-taking, and potential legal action through. Instead, he's focused only on helping the alleged abuser. Not a kind word for victims anywhere. Instead, he's asking for character endorsements for the accuser. Protect our own: that's his first priority. Is the child, potentially a victim of sexual abuse, not also a member of the community?

There's a real confusion of priorities here. But it doesn't stop there: the homily goes on cast doubt on the accuser's claims:
So what do I believe?  I believe this is about money.  Why?  Let me say this as nicely as I can.  People talk.  You are people; you talk.  In the past 12 years, many of you have spoken to me about this parish, its’ history and the priests who have served here.  You’ve told me what you’ve liked and what you haven’t liked.  . . . [But] in the 12 years I’ve served you, no one -- not one person -- has ever said anything bad about Fr. Murasso’s behavior around children.  No one -- not one person -- has ever said anything about having a suspicion about Fr. Murasso.  No one!  That’s why I believe this accusation is completely baseless and just about money.  This is what I will write to the Archbishop.  Let us pray that this one line from today’s Gospel spoken by Jesus enters Fr. Murasso’s ears and lands directly in his heart: "Do not be afraid; just have faith."
(Emphasis mine.) Lord knows that prayer is cheap -- but you couldn't spare even a little prayer for the boy? Even at the very end, after you'd prayed for your colleague, and asked your parishioners to write letters polishing his reputation? Shame on you, priest. You're supposed to do better than that: not because you are the special representation of a holy power, but because you're a congregational leader committed to the values of charity and community that define your role.

* * *
In the intellectual was one learns about such things, from the media and through second-hand sources, I was aware of how the Catholic Church closed ranks and defended its own when accused of misconduct. Now I have a more immediate connection to that detestable practice.

I sat through numerous homilies delivered by Murasso. My family's neighbors sat beside us. I am indignant, on their behalf, that the community leader tasked with ministering to their needs is defending his institution instead of his community. I hope that those community members don't stand for such hypocrisy. No community worth its salt would.

Some sources:

  1. "Priest who has served in New Haven, East Haven suspended over sex abuse claim at Waterbury school" (New Haven Register,  7/2/15)
  2. "Waterbury priest on leave after allegations of sex abuse" (, 7/2/15)
  3. "Priest accused of abuse" (Waterbury Republic-American, 7/2/15)

* Footnote: = Lest my atheist credentials be called into question, I'll share the unnecessary caveat that while I was eager for belonging and society during those years, at no point did I find myself experiencing anything corresponding to religious belief. It was only when I got to college that I encountered the word "atheist", and realized that I'd been harboring secret nonbelief! In the late 90s, though, there wasn't anything like the SSA for me to get involved with as a student, so I did the good Catholic thing, not knowing any better. I met a lot of good people there; and considered moral questions, and matters of myth, that were interesting, and which I wouldn't have had reason to grapple with otherwise; and there were opportunities for community service I couldn't find elsewhere. The theological education was worthless. Evidence: how else did I escape that training to become the ass-kicking atheist agitator I am today? Thanks for that, at least, Sister Susan, wherever you are.