Everything the bishops have been led you to believe about the independent power of lay review boards is deliberately misleading.
Citing a sex-offening priest’s “right to privacy,” a newly released Vatican document shows that priests are able to shield potentially damning evidence from review boards who are charged with determining whether abuse allegations against a priest have merit.
The 2006 document, sent from a Vatican office that oversees religious orders, says that canon law states that no priest’s files may be turned over to a third party, including internal and external review boards, without the priest’s permission and signature.
You can read the documents here. Start at page 94 (stamped on the actual page as 00526). The findings of the Vatican office—saying that McDonald’s privacy was violated and that review boards may not access a personnel file without the priest’s signature is on page 100 (stamped 00532)
The review boards were set up by bishops nationally as a part of sweeping 2002 reforms instituted as a result of the Boston Archdiocese sex abuse scandal. They are a part of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” While religious orders like the Benedictine’s were not a part of the agreement, the Canon Law cited in the Vatican’s response applies to all priests, whether they belong to a diocese or a religious order.
In fact, a simple google search using the words “priest cleared by review board” yields 74,000 results – with page after page after page of stories about how reviews boards didn’t have enough evidence to kick a priest out of ministry.
How many of those boards didn’t see the priest’s secret file? I’m guessing all of them.
Experts say that without the priests personnel file, review boards miss “99% percent” of the church’s own evidence against an offending priest, including written admissions of guilt, letters from victims, witness accounts, treatment records, and internal investigation reports. As a result, hundreds of offending priests nationwide—whose cases went before similar review boards nationwide—may still be working in parishes and with children.
The document was released as a part of the file of Benedictine priest and monk Finian McDonald, who worked and lived at St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, MN. McDonald, who church officials called “a serial predator of our students,” (see doc 655) had been accused of molesting numerous college-age students at the Catholic college.
McDonald’s case was brought before the Benedictine’s review board, who was charged with determining whether allegations against McDonald had merit and whether he should remain a priest. When the review board was given McDonald’s file, which included a psychiatric report that called McDonald a serious “moral, legal and financial risk” (see doc 293), McDonald petitioned the Vatican, citing common knowledge and canon law.
And now we have the proof.