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Supporting Accused Priests = Supporting Guilty Priests?

By Tim Graham


November 21, 2011

Tim Graham's picture

The Catholic League found “corruption” in a November 16 article in the Kansas City Star by Judy Thomas and Glenn Rice on how a psychiatrist evaluating a Catholic priest accused of possession of child pornography is disqualified by associating with a group defending accused priests called Opus Bono Sacerdotii (or Work for the Good of the Priesthood). The headline announces “concerns voiced about neutrality of psychiatrist who examined him.”

The accused priest, Father Shawn Ratigan, is facing child pornography charges in Clay County, Missouri, and in federal court after disturbing pictures were found on his laptop. The Star reported the psychiatrist who evaluated him, Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons, told the bishop that Ratigan was not a pedophile, but was struggling with loneliness and depression, according to a report issued by a former U.S. Attorney whose firm was hired by the diocese to investigate.

Even if Ratigan is guilty as charged and Fitzgibbons tried to deny the disturbing implications of the scandalous contents of the computer, the Star report casts aspersions on the mission of OBS. The same liberal reporters who impute nobility and heroism to defense lawyers for the civil liberties of accused Islamic radicals can’t manage any imagination that any accused priest might be innocent, or that faithful Catholics might want to protect priests who are innocent of the charges thrown at them.

The OBS website declared their motto: “Finding solutions to the problems confronting priests in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Church, the Holy Father and his predecessors.” The teaching of the Church does not encourage sexual abuse by the clergy, but strict celibacy.

The Star reporters don’t play this game with lawyer Rebecca Randles, who’s filed civil lawsuits against Father Ratigan. Randles is a graduate and a trustee of Southwest Baptist University. Is a practicing Southern Baptist “neutral” in pursuing the Catholic Church with repeated lawsuits? Possibly. But in the Star’s eyes, she gets to be the accuser and never the accused, “stunned” at the OBS association of Dr. Fitzgibbons.

Fitzgibbons and OBS declined to comment to the Star, “But an ethics expert said a common-sense approach would have been for Fitzgibbons to recuse himself.”

“I’m sure he does excellent work and I’m sure there are falsely accused priests, but when you’ve got kind of a dicey situation and he is on the advocacy side of things, it seems like he ought to pull himself out on even just the perception of a conflict of interest,” said Clancy Martin, philosophy department chairman at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Martin’s an interesting choice of expert, since his expertise seems to be in studying and translating philosophers like Nietzche and Kierkegaard. In one article for Vice.com, Martin argued it might be unfair to attribute to humans any more moral responsibility than would be expected of lower animals:

But suppose we are animals, as most of us believe. Does it make sense to suggest that animals—nonhuman animals, that is—have a distinct purpose? In the Old Testament they do, of course—their purpose is to feed and work for humans. But most of us don’t buy that view these days. Do we really think that all good dogs go to heaven? Good marlins, too? How about good tree slugs? Well-behaved bacteria? Moral mice? Ethical ear mites? We don’t expect moral progress from nonhuman animals—it would be silly to say that your pet dog is engaged in the ongoing project of becoming a better dog, and how much more silly to say the same of, for example, the clever octopus—so why on earth should human beings get the special exception, which in fact looks like a special burden?

Christians aspire to a higher moral standard for man. So do the courts in Clay County.

But the media insistence on “neutrality” in sex-abuse investigations isn’t truly neutral. When victims’ rights groups accuse entire dioceses of the Catholic Church in America of gross negligence, reporters rarely suggest that perhaps those lawyers aren’t “neutral” or face any appearance of selfish motives in profiting from contingency fees in multi-million dollar settlements.

The Star story lays out in detail charges against Father Ratigan from an anonymous family represented by Randles, which might explain where a group like OBS comes in. As one priest’s attorney pointed out, “In cases of being falsely accused, the priest’s reputation is effectively destroyed while the accuser, on the other hand, enjoys anonymity and suffers no loss of reputation or negative material consequences.”

About the Author

Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.


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