Michael Thomas

Procedural Justice for Priests, Diocesan & Religious
by Fr James Valladares
(iUniverse, 2012, 328pp, $22.95, ISBN 978-1-46207-241-5. Available from the author at www.jamesvalladares.com, or Unit 2, Aluan Court, 1 Ferguson Ave, Myrtle Park, SA 5064)

Fr James Valladares is a priest presently serving in the Archdiocese of Adelaide. He is well equipped to address the highly sensitive theme of clerical child abuse, having degrees in Psychology and Educational and Counselling Psychology and a Doctorate in Marriage Counselling. Prior to coming to Australia, Fr Valladares lectured for a decade in psychology at Saint Andrew's College in Mumbai, India, while completing extensive post-doctoral research in religion, healing, and parenting.

Hope Springs Eternal focuses on the American situation, but its analysis would apply in varying degrees in other countries where allegations of clerical child abuse going back several decades have come to light with a resultant fire-storm of media criticism of the Church and the priesthood.

Unjust accusations

In an attempt to improve a system that allowed a small minority of the clergy to violate children, and to address the gross negligence of some bishops who recycled these predators, the American bishops instituted a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. The Australian Bishops had earlier set up the Towards Healing protocol in 1996 while Melbourne under Archbishop Pell established its own system for dealing with clergy abuse allegations.

While these moves were needed in light of the number of serious cases emerging, the downside has been (at least in the US) that a number of innocent priests have been wrongly accused and endured immense suffering.

In Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast, Fr Valladares shows how justice and charity have been violated by some American bishops in dealing with accused priests. He examines the pertinent canons that guide the Church's judicial system and finds that these have been often ignored or wrongly applied and he documents cases that highlight the flawed application of the US process and the agony experienced by the unjustly accused.

Fr Valladares is hopeful that ultimately truth and justice will prevail and to that end he has set out the principles and procedures most likely to achieve this. The bottom line is that priests, as with everyone else, should be considered innocent until proven guilty, no matter what the allegations.

Most priests know nothing of procedural justice and it is all too easy for a priest to be falsely accused at any time for any reason or none. Fr Valladares cites the late Fr Richard Neuhaus' comments: "The niceties of Canon Law, due process, and elementary decency have in many instances taken a beating."

Lay people should ensure that their priests have copies of this timely book, even those least likely to be accused of anything. Sadly, these days, any priest can be a potential target of false accusation.

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