Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Abuse Docket, Canonical Desk

In only the second known ecclesiastical tribunal for a clergy sex-abuse case in the US, a three-judge panel dismissed an Oklahoma priest from the clerical state:
Ken Lewis, 49, is the only priest in the history of the Diocese of Tulsa to be "laicized," or dismissed from the clerical state. Lewis worked at St. Mary's Catholic Church and Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa and other churches around the state before he resigned in 2002.

The decision of the ecclesiastical trial, the first ever held by the diocese, to strip Lewis of his status as a cleric was not official until the pope affirmed it. The Rev. Michael Knipe, canon lawyer and spokesman for the diocese, said word was received from Rome on July 5.

Lewis faced allegations that he had improper physical contact with boys. Knipe said details of the trial and the case against Lewis will not be made public.

Lewis has never been charged with a crime related to sexual abuse of a minor but has faced accusations since the early 1990s....

Bishop Edward Slattery, in a statement to be made public in the diocesan publication, The Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, expressed his "profound regret" that any cleric in the diocese would abuse those entrusted to his care and offered his deepest apology to anyone who may have been harmed by a priest or deacon in the diocese.

"I deplore the grave evil of sexual abuse of children and young people, and I want to reiterate my concern and the Church's commitment to protect our children," he said.

Lewis, who was ordained a priest in 1991 at Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, faced accusations of inappropriate behavior with boys in 1993.

Those allegations involved physical contact with boys while he was associate pastor at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Tulsa. Slattery investigated at that time and removed Lewis from his position at St. Mary's.

Lewis was sent to a psychiatric treatment facility but returned to active ministry in Tulsa in 1995 under the condition that he not be alone with minors.
The first of the tribunals -- which can only proceed with permission from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- was held late last year; to date, its verdict has not been made public.

To ensure the fairness of the process and tamp down on local exposure, past and future canonical trials are more likely to sit away from their place of origin. Amid criticism that the US church's post-2002 protocols on abuse cases have jeopardized the canonical premiums on due process and the rights of the accused, the tribunal proceedings have generated a significant amount of interest among rank-and-file priests.

More are slated for the fall, including a priest v. bishop case from a Southern diocese which, reportedly, will be argued here in Philadelphia.