Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Contradictory Reports: The Case of Fr. Jeyapaul

Sources: Vatican covered up abuse in Minnesota, lawyers say - CNN.com,

The Associated Press: Priest accused of US abuse won't fight extradition,

Vatican lawyer's statement on Indian priest | National Catholic Reporter

I find it interesting to see how the newest reports of abuse come tailored to overcome the challenges to the previous story.  In face to the rejections of the Milwaukee story, we now see a case come forward which took place after the new rules came into effect, seeking to imply that the old practices are still in play.

The facts of the matter seem to be somewhat different.

What is Alleged

The allegations is that priest Fr. Jeyapaul abused two teenage girls during his time in Minnesota.  One of them was reported to the diocese just before he left for India, while the other seems to have come forward after the priest had left America.

The claim is that the CDF was notified of the abuse but did nothing.  CNN and ABC reports that Cardinal Levada did nothing.

What is not Mentioned

What the stories do not mention is that when the Vatican was notified, it contacted the diocese in India and recommended the priest be laicized.  Most of the stories do not mention the priest is not contesting extradition to the United States to stand trial.  Nor do they mention that it was the Vatican which reported to authorities where he was to be found. 

It seems the diocese in India did not laicize the priest but gave a lesser penalty.

The Vatican attorney in the US, Jeffery Lana made this statement:

The decision regarding the canonical penalties imposed upon Father Jeyapaul was made by the Bishop of Ootacamund, whose diocese is located in the Nilgiris district of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested in this matter that Father Jeyapaul agree to laicization, demonstrating that the Congregation believed that the accusations were serious enough to merit dismissal from the clerical state. However, as a matter of longstanding canon law, such decisions are made by the local bishop, who is deemed to be generally in the best position to adjudicate the case relating to the priest in question.

It is important to note that the canonical proceeding involving Father Jeyapaul was wholly separate from any pending civil or criminal proceeding. The Holy See has cooperated with the requests of law enforcement authorities seeking the extradition of Father Jeyapaul to the United States, and in fact provided his exact location in India to assist such efforts.

It is interesting that these facts were not reported in the Mainstream Media.

The Significance for the Media

The media is reporting something untrue [The Vatican was covering up] as if it were true, omitting facts which go against the attacks on the Pope and the Vatican.  This is entirely unethical of course.  Fair and accurate reporting requires giving all the facts, and not merely one slanted side of it to promote an agenda.

The fact that the reporting continues to "evolve" in the face of news stories being debunked indicates not a concern for victims of abuse, but a desire to attack the moral authority of the Catholic Church.

The fact that the media has not really reported the actions of the Church, but instead seek to employ an argument from silence fallacy [The Minnesota diocese did not know the events in India.  Therefore the Vatican did nothing] to claim inaction or coverup. 

These two charges are contradictory of course.  The first would be inaction.  The second would be action to conceal.  Meanwhile reports indicate the Vatican neither was inactive nor concealing.

The media could have been defenders of the truth if it had reported this story fairly.  In that case it would have done a good service in helping the Church be aware of further repairs to the system it needed to implement.  Instead it attempted to portray this whole incident as the fault of the Vatican.

This leaves us with this question: How much trust can we place in the media to fairly and accurately report abuse allegations?

If the media is supposed to be serving us by reporting these things, I believe we can validly ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who polices the police?)

Significance in Legal Terms

Also in terms of the accused priest, it is important to make sure justice is done.  We have reports of abuse.  It has not yet been established the abuse is true.  If it is true, of course justice requires the priest should face the legal consequences.  If it is not true, justice requires his name be cleared.  Trial by media should not be tolerated however.

Significance for the Church

What troubles me in this case is that there seems to be more room for reform of the current system.  That a bishop can choose to ignore what the CDF suggests in terms of laicization indicates that the Code of Canon Law can use reform to prevent this in the future.  If the priest was in fact guilty of what he was accused of, clearly the diocese in India erred in the position he was given.  However, the Vatican did not cover up, though it would need to strengthen its laws for the future.

It is good to see they did recommend laicization and to see they did cooperate with the authorities to bring the priest forward.  However, this case indicates that perhaps we need to institute a policy where the CDF can override the decision of the Bishop in such cases. 

Of course we need to be certain that such an action does not remove the rights of the accused for a fair hearing as well, and does not create a bottleneck which slows cases down so much that the delay enables injustice.


Contrary to media claims, this is not a failure on the part of the Church.  Rather it shows us how the system currently works, and gives us evidence of further reforms the system needs to make in terms of procedure and tightening up canon law.  The Church needs to investigate where weakness is in the current system and make sure future cases cannot exploit the same situation.

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