Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Scapegoating of Catholic Priests in Prison

by Charlene C. Duline

Through my ministry to Catholic priests in prison, I have learned the meaning of sadness, and the reality of what it's like to be abandoned by an institution these priests once served.

No, I haven’t written in awhile. I’ve been upset and torn by the vilification of Father John Corapi, Father Frank Pavone, Father David Deibel, Father Gordon MacRae, and of course, my priests in prison for whom my heart bleeds daily. Every morning during my meditation, each one is named in prayer.

I find it exceedingly difficult to pray for their bishops – our bishops – our shepherds who would lead us out of the forest into the jungle. I guess I will finally have to admit that the U.S. Conference of Bishops (USCBB) is an old boys group who are thumbing their noses at American Catholics as they continue to crucify any priest accused. Can’t they see beyond their noses that people are popping up like jumping jacks to say, “Father so-and-so touched me in 1945”? Or, “I just remembered that in 1960, a priest raped me”? As a victim of rape at the age of eleven, with a gun held to my head, I assure you it is impossible to forget being raped. I wish I could forget it. That rape affected the rest of my life. Money would not have helped me.

Yet the SNAP lawyers would have us believe that millions of dollars for every “accuser” is the cure for “touching” and for “rape.” Somehow they seem to have convinced many Americans that money, and only money, will soothe the ravaged souls of the “accusers.” The bottom line is money. We have been taught that money is the root of all evil. We know that to be true. Our bishops have not yet learned that.

The bishops in their wisdom hoped that by accepting an accuser’s word about being abused by a priest, they would give them the amount of money they wanted and that would make accusers go away. Instead, the prospect of obtaining money without showing any proof, has become the trademark of these miserable lawyers who are now millionaires. Unscrupulous lawyers advertise for people to come forth and make accusations. The vindictive members of SNAP seize every opportunity to shame the Catholic Church. And they call themselves “Catholic”? They hate the Church and are in cahoots with their hateful millionaire lawyers to bankrupt the Catholic Church. Have you noticed that people are not coming out of the woodwork to sue the public schools, or other religions? And why is that? It is because any person with an ounce of intelligence knows that it is only the Catholic Church that doles out money without asking any questions! How unfair to the accused priests and to parishioners. After all, it's our money!

A recent meeting of the USCCB would have been the perfect time to rethink the Dallas Charter. Unless and until that Charter is rescinded, no Catholic priest or parish can relax. I know there are some bishops who abhor the Dallas Charter, and some quietly work to serve priests in prison. There is little they can do except write to the men, and visit them in prison – as our Lord exhorted us to do. The horror is that no accused priest has access to a canon lawyer. According to Canon Law, an accused priest is to be given funds for a canon lawyer by his bishop. Most priests cannot afford a civil attorney and a canon law specialist at the same time. The bishops will not make a canon lawyer available to help an accused priest, and they rush about getting their own lawyers funded by their parishioners’ donations. What a mockery of parishioners and the Church.

Our bishops simply want to rid themselves of any priest who is accused. This is so unfair to men who have devoted their lives to the Church and its people. Among these are some priests who have died, who now have their memories tarnished and their names removed from schools, churches, and other places of honor. I’m told one bishop even had a priest’s body disinterred from holy ground. Can you feel the horror, the unfairness of it all? I can, maybe because I am in touch with many of our priests in prison. I received a letter from one such priest yesterday. I cried as I read the ending:

“Charlene, I enjoyed so much hearing from you and feeling your acceptance of who I am despite what I have done in the past – and it is past. My suffering is small compensation and penance. I know God is loving and forgiving and it is heartening to know that there are people like yourself who are as well. My prayers are daily offered with a remembrance of you and your good works. I beg a remembrance in your prayers. “

These priests have been so vilified that even when one died in prison a few years ago, his family wanted his death kept quiet for fear of the media and SNAP. Father died in a Western state and seven of us journeyed to his funeral concelebrated by four priests in a funeral home. We had been advised not to seek a Catholic Church because the bishop would not permit Father to have a Catholic funeral. Father had been buried, and after the Mass the seven of us went out to the cemetery to place flowers on his grave. We also knelt and sang at his final resting place. He will never be forgotten.

These days I intervene when an incarcerated priest is sick and cannot get medical attention. I rattle the cage of his bishop and parish to intercede, but whether they do or not, I demand medical care, and we usually get action. A committed soul who helps me is Dolores N. Crowley. She writes and cares for six inmates. I try to keep in touch with about 30. We send spiritual books to priests in prison, money for telephone calls, and a little money for commissary items to supplement their extremely poor prison diets. I always thought inmates had to be served balanced meals with meat, veggies and a starch. Not so! They serve them any food items that are recalled and deemed unfit for human consumption. Prisons grab such foods because they are cheap, and that is the bottom line. Many Departments of Corrections are turning over their prisons to private contractors and getting rid of state employees. Inmates say their meals will become worse because private prisons are in the business to show DOCs that they can save them money – even at the expense of the inmates’ health. The inmates are forced to buy additional food items from the commissary in order not to starve. The inmates who have no income or help from family and friends are forced to eat the muck that is served in the prison.

If my parish priest were sentenced to prison for sexual abuse, I would look beyond that, and write to him. I would send him cards on holidays, especially on his birthday. I would send articles from magazines and newspapers that I thought would interest him. I would encourage him to become involved in ministry in his prison. He is still a priest, even if he has been laicized. I am told that very few parishioners contact their priests in prison. I beg you to please contact your priest if he is incarcerated. Do not judge these men. Yes, some are sick men. Some are innocent. They are all human, and humans do make mistakes.

Last Sunday I smiled as the homilist spoke about Jesus’ admonition to visit the sick and the imprisoned – “As you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:31-46)

I will remember that…always.


  1. It is perfect. There can be some abuses. But we can see a conspiracy against the Cathoilc Church and priests through out the world. The devil wants to throw out God from the people's life and this is the easiest way.Our print and elecrtonic media are competing for it and woe to the lawyers who are making it as a business technic.

  2. You've taken on a heart-breaking, tragic ministry. God bless you for what you do.

  3. As a relatively new Catholic, my first spiritual director and pastor of my church was sent to prison for a year. I am not certain as to his guilt or not. I only know that my heart aches for those who have loved the Catholic church so much, loved the mass.... the Eucharist, the sacraments.... have been so obedient, but are sinners as we all are, and have ended up with such a heavy load of penance. I guess in some ways I think that those who are guilty of these crimes, should pay a heavy penalty.... and they probably already are convinced of that. I do think that they deserve humane and just treatment and love and encouragement from their Church. I do believe God's providence and care will be with these men... and He will not abandon them. I pray for undying faith for them! We must never stop praying. God is using everything for His purpsoses. Our sin and sorrow, He will somehow cause to work together for His Good. We must trust His Divine Providence. Peace to you and everyone seeking the will of God. May we find ourselves desiring His will more and more, without questioning all the circumstances and outcomes... just trusting. God knows all. He is all and can bring us to safety. The journey will be long and not without great sacrifice. But He who has called us will give us the grace to go forth and do His will.

  4. As someone who was sexually abused (not by a priest, but by my father) there is NO WAY I would write to my priest if he were incarcerated for this reason.

  5. To Anonymous: I am sorry that your heart is so hardened Let us pray that our Lord's graces will melt that block of ice. I too was sexually abused (not by a priest, but by my stepfather. Our Church teaches love, compassion and forgiveness. It has been extremely difficult to forgive the man who abused me - and honestly I am not sure that I have - but something has made me reach out to priests in prison, and I am the better person because of it. May our Lord shower His blessings upon you and give you peace.

  6. Excellent blog...and yes as someone who worked in DOC for many years, inmates do deserve humane treatment regardless of the offense.