Thursday, August 11, 2011
The plea on the website is simple, direct and even a little bit biblically poetic. “A thief,” the website states, “has entered our home and kidnapped a favorite relative in the middle of the night. We are praying for your return home.”
It sounds serious and scary, as if the writer is referring to a child or an elderly loved one spirited away by someone with evil intent. There’s a frantic quality to it, a sense of confusion and fear. And to most of the congregants of Old Mission San Juan Bautista, it’s probably all of those things and more. These folks are confused and scared, and probably quite sad too.
Their priest, Fr. Edward Fitz-Henry, in February was removed from his duties at the Old Mission church amidst allegations that while he was a priest at Madonna del Sasso Church in Salinas in 2005, he tried to force a teenage boy to fellate him in the sacristy restroom. The Diocese of Monterey conducted its own ham-handed internal investigation; they declared while the kid’s allegation wasn’t provably credible, an incident from 20 years ago was indeed credible – it’s one involving another teenage boy that resulted in Fitz-Henry, then at the Carmel Mission, being sent to counseling at a retreat center in New Mexico for sexually troubled priests. It’s something the parents of that boy insisted upon.
After his time at the center, Servant of the Paracletes, Fitz-Henry was returned to his duties.
Fitz-Henry is now living in limbo, the Salinas police are still apparently investigating the 2005 allegations, and the alleged victim in that case hired a pair of attorneys who, because the Catholic Church can’t seem to keep sexual predators from ascending its ranks, have gotten quite rich off of filing civil suits against priests, local diocese and bishops.
So a few of the congregants of Old Mission got together and, for probably less than $75, registered a domain name at Godaddy.com (consider the irony) and put together the website www.in-support-of-fr-ed.com. Their intro line, the bit about “the thief in the night,” even quotes the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4), although the chapter’s author, believed to be the apostle Paul, was referring to Jesus’ return and not the criminal justice system.
The website was a fine idea. Asking for prayer for Fitz-Henry is a fine idea. The site also asks for prayer for Fr. Nicholas Milich, a visiting priest who was removed from performing any duties because when the alleged victim told Milich his story, Milich failed to execute his duties as a mandated reporter and instead sat on the information. It also asks for prayer for Bishop Richard Garcia, named in the lawsuit filed by alleged victim John RJ Doe.
And then the website goes completely off the rails.
It refers to Fitz-Henry’s “stellar reputation” falling victim to revenge, greed or both. “In California, false accusations are ‘rampant,’” it states. “In many cases where the media, organizations like SNAP [Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests] and private individuals rush to judgement and declare guilt, the accusation has been false.” It references the Salem Witch Trials, grudge-holder’s pockets being lined with settlement money and SNAP’s cash-cow agenda. The only prayer it asks for Doe is that he and his attorneys will see “the error of their ways.”
And it references various ways – from spaghetti dinners to yard sales to cookbook sales to post-church service doughnut sales – so congregants can help pay for Fitz-Henry’s legal defense as part of an official fund started by The Faith Mission San Juan Bautista Fr. Ed Support Committee.
In her eight years of working with SNAP, Joelle Casteix, the group’s Western Regional Director, says she’s never seen anything quite like this website.
“It’s extraordinarily insensitive and enormously hurtful,” Casteix says. “It’s dangerous because it’s created a situation where predators can go to that parish and know nobody will turn them in, and the Bishop is allowing it to happen and he’s not intervening.”
SNAP sent Garcia the link to a brochure “What to do if your priest is accused of abuse,” that the group says educates Catholics about “safe, helpful and compassionate ways to act when a priest is accused of molesting a child.”
The authors of the site, which was registered anonymously, aren’t interested in debate. “We are unabashedly and uncompromisingly on the side of Fr. Ed and are prepared to stand together with him throughout a period of tribulation caused by what we consider an egregiously false accusation.”
The site doesn’t accept comments. But the authors will happily accept information (about what isn’t clear) or respond to requests for prayer cards emailed to email@example.com.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org