The Catholic church has been castigated in recent months for moving slowly to remove abusers from the priesthood. Pope Benedict XVI himself, while he was a cardinal in charge of a Vatican office that handled abusive clergy, stalled for years before moving to defrock serial child molesters in the U.S., according to documents recently made public.(...)
But the Vatican moves just as slowly, if not slower, to return innocent clergy to ministry, according to priests and canon lawyers. Meanwhile, priests like Selvaraj live for years in a state of limbo, evicted from parishes and rectories, prohibited from presenting himself as a priest or administering sacraments, and branded all but guilty in the public eye.
As many as 300 American priests claim innocence and are waiting for the Vatican to restore them to duty, according to Fr. Michael Sullivan, a Minnesota priest and member of Justice for Priests and Deacons, an independent group of canon lawyers who defend Catholic clergy.
But some priests say the get-tough rules approved by U.S. bishops in 2002 swing the pendulum too far in the other direction, trampling their rights to due process and good reputations. Where once abuse victims were silenced and sacrificed for the sake of the church, they say, now innocent priests are overlooked casualties of the crisis.
False accusations are rare, according to a 2004 study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Just 1.5 percent of 5,681 sex abuse allegations lodged against Catholic priests from 1950-2002 were deemed false after investigations. Clergy advocates say bogus accusations ballooned after 2002, especially after secular courts began awarding huge settlements to victims.