The Catholic Church will never succeed in putting its clergy abuse scandals behind it as long as it insists on finding ways to avoid full responsibility. The latest example is the absence of The Rev. Richard J. Ahern on the Springfield Diocese's list of clergy who sexually abused young people even though he clearly belongs there.
The Rev. Ahern served churches all over the Diocese, including Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Fenn Street in Pittsfield, a church that was closed about a decade ago. Court records document his abuse of children in the diocese and a long list of allegations against him were unresolved when he died in 2001. In 1986, he was banned from the diocese in its entirety, as is documented in a letter from the Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers in May of 1986, according to a report by Larry Parnass in Sunday's Eagle.
According to Diocese spokesman Mark Dupont, an accused priest may not have made the diocese's list if he died before credible allegations were made against him. The Rev. Ahern died well after those allegations were made, as the letter banning him from the diocese because of his actions 15 years before he died attests. Another reason would be if the priest worked for a religious order rather than the diocese itself.
The Rev. Ahern was indeed a member of the Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers, but as a member of that order he served churches of the Springfield Diocese, including one in Pittsfield. Attempting to evade full responsibility for the behavior of priests through technicalities or semantics — what clergy abuse survivor and victim advocate Olan Horne of Chester called "the walnut game" in The Eagle — has been a Catholic Church strategy for decades and it has arguably done as much or more harm to the church than have the actions of pedophile priests.
It is clear from documents uncovered by Mr. Parnass that the Stigmatines followed a familiar Catholic Church pattern in its dealings with the Reverend Ahern. He was sent for therapy, shuttled from parish to parish and assigned duties that would limit his involvement with children. Nothing in the correspondence included in The Eagle story indicates any concern or compassion on the part of the Stigmatines for his young victims. He was eventually welcomed into retirement — in a message accompanied by the warning that he steer clear of the Springfield Diocese.
On Feb. 10 at 6 p.m., Diocesean head Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski will meet with parishioners at St. Joseph's in Pittsfield to hear their concerns about the sexual abuse scandal. The accusations of sexual abuse against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, a powerful American church leader, continue to roil the church because of the refusal or inability of Pope Francis to deal with them and with accusations made against other high-ranking church officials. These unfortunate examples should inspire bishops throughout the U.S. to instead adopt a policy of transparency before parishioners.
The absence of The Rev. Ahern from the Diocese's list of pedophile priests is likely to come up on Feb. 10 when Bishop Rozanski meets with the faithful in Pittsfield. He can head off that uncomfortable moment by assuring that Mr. Ahern is on that list when he arrives. This meeting also provides an opportunity for those in attendance to urge the bishops to send a message to American cardinals, including Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, to take with them to February's worldwide meeting of clergy. That message, which the bishops were apparently poised to deliver at a U.S. conference until the Vatican demanded its cancellation (Eagle editorial, Nov. 14, 2018)), is that Catholics want reform, which cannot happen unless the Church fully faces up to its ongoing role in the abuse scandal without equivocation or excuses.