When is a priest not a priest? When he's molesting a child


Unbelievable. If the court accepts this sick argument, the church should owe some serious back taxes, seeing as they are operating with a lot of people not involved in a tax exempt religion a good portion of the time.


My initial response and comment to this news was a sweary bit of blasphemy; but that was wrong. I should have said Holy fucking two-faced clergy.

One almost expects this type of thing. There are STILL people in Catholic leadership who consider the worldly prosperity of the institution more essential than it’s responsibilities. Morals, ethics, and spirituality are very much on the minds of most American Catholics, but the hierarchy continues to circle the wagons and complain about being persecuted. This is a top-down monstrosity that cannot topple over soon enough.

I agree with IMB. If the church lawyers want it this way, let it be so. Assess taxes – retroactively – for the decades in which it applies. Tax law did the trick against Al Capone…


I’m not sure I understand why they’re making the argument.

They’re clearly not stating that the individual priest in question is innocent - just the opposite, in fact. So what are they doing? Trying to prove that the church itself had nothing to do with and no knowledge of the molestation? That’s the only thing that makes any sense to me.

Assuming the church didn’t know about the act and didn’t cover it up, I honestly don’t see why they should receive any blame, legally speaking. Assuming the priest acted privately, outside of church functions and without church knowledge, then the church is not to blame. The entire matter hinges on whether that’s actually true, however.

Naples claims that the church was aware of the matter and that they paid private settlements. If those claims can be substantiated, if it can be proven that the church knowingly hid the truth, clearly that’s collusion and conspiracy, no? But if the claims can’t be substantiated, if it cannot be proven, then Naples doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

And if the church actually didn’t know - unlikely as that may seem - then they really are innocent of wrongdoing. Moreover, until we can prove that they did know, we must presume they are innocent. In either case, the mere fact that the molestor was a priest shouldn’t have any legal ramifications for the church anymore than a police officer’s misdeeds not carried out in the line of duty should have legal ramifications for the local precinct.

Social ramifications, certainly - the scandal of course hurts the reputation and trustworthiness of the church. But not legal ones, unless it can be provably shown that the church helped to hide known crimes.


The social ramifications ( in terms of public perception, at least) of this defense seem far worse, don’t they? It’s a ridiculous argument that he’s not a part of the church while doing bad things. So does that that mean that any sinners are technically not part of the church too while committing sins and whatnot?


Well of course. I mean the Pope semi-apologized for all that inconvenient, “institutionalized child-raping” and now he’d like to tell us about the real threat to worldwide religious nirvana. Namely capitalism & the lack of social equality!

It’s refreshing to have a somewhat humble Pope warming the chair for a change, but if we’re talking about track record, i think throwing thousands(?) of children to morally posturing, sexual predators for decades isn’t so conveniently dismissed.

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If the off-duty cop is using his position as a police officer in order to commit off-duty ethical violations (or sexual assaults), then the department should be held responsible for not screening its employees properly. Same goes for the priest.

IF you can prove that the victim didn’t know the priest was a priest, and if if the victim didn’t encounter the priest because he was a priest, then the priest being a priest is irrelevant and the church would be off the hook. But if his position as a priest at all was associated with the opportunity for the priest to commit the assault, then the church should be held responsible for not screening their employees properly.

And that’s all before the question arises as to whether or not they tried to cover it up or settle it quietly.


I’m not familiar with Catholic beliefs at all, but, arguably, this could have been the church’s position all along. When someone sins they could be said to have “strayed” from the church. The process of confession and absolution brings them back.

I’m not saying it should be considered a legal argument, of course, and as a religious argument it would seem to me that it should only apply to the laity. If priests are able to depart from the church and return that raises some thorny theological questions.

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It looks to me like they’re trying to avoid [vicarious liability][1] by arguing that the priest was not acting within the scope of his employment. Seems like a pretty bad argument, too–if “He wasn’t working for us then because he was doing something wrong” worked, there’d be no need for a doctrine of vicarious liability in the first place.

(I’m a lawyer, but not yours, and this is not legal advice–just arguing on the internet.)
[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicarious_liability


Are you new to this world? The Catholic church is known to have been actively covering up these crimes for decades. It’s quite possible this priest had already been moved by the church at least once or twice for having been caught before. That’s the Catholic church’s M.O.

Part of the problem is you’re equating “the church” with “The Church”.

An individual church is a single house of worship (of any Christian denomination). “The Church” is the official organization of all (specifically Catholic) churches. I was talking about “a church”, and said “the church” to denote which one specifically I was referencing.

There’s another problem though.

It’s possible that “the church” (the specific church this priest belongs to) knew about the situation. It’s also possible that “The Church” (the whole of Catholic authority and organization) knew about it. But until it can be proven, they are to be presumed innocent. Certain knowledge of past misdeeds does not alone constitute proof of present ones.

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That’s because you don’t understand who is making the argument. It’s not the Catholic Church - it’s their lawyers. It’s their job to think up the best defense they can, which, in this case, is a crappy one.

Every time a notorious criminal goes on trial, people start howling they don’t deserve a trial or a lawyer. They also accuse the lawyers of heresy and treason and cruelty to animals. But still, the Sixth Amendment sits there, mocking us.

For the local body, it’s clearer to use “the congregation,” which seems to fit most religions. (There’s also the Church as theological category which transcends space and time, but that doesn’t get much air time.)


If the priest gained access to the child due to his position as a priest, then the Church has an obligation, especially once the first instances of abuse came to light, to put in place measures to reduce or otherwise mitigate the risk that someone in their employ uses the powers & access gained from being employed by the Church, to abuse a child.

Well from the lawyers’ point of view, it is their job to have the church acquitted of wrongdoing.

I don’t believe that a priest stops being a priest when “off duty” any more than a police officer stops being a police officer. But by the same token I recognize that if a police officer goes home, gets drunk, and beats their spouse, you can’t charge the local precinct with any wrongdoing since the crime was not carried out as a function of the police’s law enforcement efforts and duties. They aren’t responsible for the actions of employees who aren’t “on the clock”.

Arguably the key is what you mean by saying a priest “stops being a priest” or a police officer “stops being a police officer”. Certainly in a general sense they don’t - they retain their profession, even while not actively engaged in it.

But in a more narrow sense, that of carrying out the functions and duties of an office, it can easily be said that a person “stops” being a cop as soon as they clock out. They are no longer acting withing the authority of their office when off duty - they are effectively an ordinary citizen until they officially return to work. They no longer possess the authority or status of their office during this time.

The same logically could apply to priests. They are filling an office, and while active in that office they are invested by an external authority with the powers and duties dictated by the office. When they cease operating in the capacities of that office, they are no longer priests - they return to “lay status”. Just as a police officer cannot arrest someone without being “on the clock”, a priest cannot marry someone or take confession except in the appropriate places and circumstances.

The only real difference is where the authority for these offices comes from. With police, they are empowered by the legislature and the government. With priests, they are empowered by The Church.

Who decides when a police officer has their powers, and when they don’t? The legislature and the government. Who decides when a priest has their powers, and when they don’t? The Church.

So legally speaking, the point of this argument seems to be that The Church is clarifying for the court when a priest is considered “on duty”, and when they are not. With police, there is a system in place where you have to “clock in” and anything that happens “on the clock” is something the precinct can be held accountable for. The Church doesn’t use such a system, and they don’t keep such records. Consequently there needs to be another determining factor.

Clearly a priest is on duty when they are performing their priestly duties - marrying people, delivering Mass, taking Confession, et cetera. But what about when they’re not at the physical location of the church? What if they are not taking part of a church function? Are they on duty in the middle of the night while they sleep? Or at the breakfast table? Or anywhere outside of the church and it’s functions?

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Only if you’re a Protestant. Catholic theology holds that the Rite of Ordination confers an “indelible character.” Those lawyers are heretics.


The problem is that Church Theology does not translate into legal fact.

The courts are presumably only interested in determining whether the priest can be said to have legally been active in the office of priesthood at the time of his crimes. Since they have no basis of their own for determining that, they necessarily have to turn to The Church for their say on the matter.

The Church might be hypocritically ignoring their own Theology and Doctrine in stating that he was not “on duty”, but the payoff if it works is they legally protect themselves. And that’s really all that matters here. Public opinion is an entirely different beast. Currently they’re faced with the courts - they’ll handle their reputation’s damage control afterwards and separately.

You’re absolutely right; I was just pointing out they need to hurry up and burn some lawyers at the stake for Lutheranism.

They could excommunicate the lawyers if they wanted to, I suppose - but only assuming the lawyers are even Catholic.