A Catholic priest who was found guilty of sexually abusing a child was sentenced to a lifetime of… prayer.
That’s the takeaway. The reality is much more complicated.
In 2012, Rev. James Gaudreau (below), a priest working for the St. Joseph Parish in Boston, was accused of sexual abuse that allegedly occurred in 2006. When those allegations were made, Church leaders informed local law enforcement and placed him on administrative leave. So far, so good, as far as the Church’s response is concerned.
Then things got weird. In 2013, the Essex County District Attorney decided not to press charges against Gaudreau. Why not? We have no idea. It could be a lack of solid evidence; it could be that the victim’s story contained inaccuracies. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t public.
Gaudreau took that as a mark of innocence. He said in a statement at the time, “My conscience was always clear. I knew that I was innocent of any wrongdoing. I was also confident that, in time, I would be thoroughly exonerated.”
He wasn’t “thoroughly exonerated.” The DA simply chose not to pursue this case. There’s a difference.
Meanwhile, the Church’s own investigation would continue. Gaudreau was still on leave, unable to perform public ministry.
And now the Church investigation has concluded. A Catholic judicial court found Gaudreau guilty of the child sexual abuse allegations. While they have no legal authority under the law, that doesn’t mean they can’t punish him within the bubble that is Roman Catholicism, and that’s precisely what they’ve done.
The Archdiocese of Boston explained in a statement:
… his sentence has been affirmed by the Vatican to live a life of Prayer and Penance. He is not permitted to exercise any public ministry, including not being allowed to celebrate public Mass. He may not provide spiritual direction, may not wear clerical attire and cannot function in any manner as a priest. He is to live in contemplation of his sins and pray for all of those affected by his conduct.
The Catholic Church had no ability to put Gaudreau behind bars, so they punished him the only way they knew how: banning him from being a priest and, like a mother scolding a child, demanding that he think about what he’s done for the rest of his life.
There’s obviously no way to enforce that. And a priest who molests a child clear doesn’t care what God is thinking, so it’s almost a laughably pointless punishment. It has all the emotional weight of threatening an atheist with Hell. Sure, you can do it, but will the person really care? Plus, if he’s religious, he’s supposed to be praying. Why would that be a punishment at all?
The Church’s justice system is broken.
There was no explanation for how the Catholic court arrived at a guilty verdict when the District Attorney passed on the case.
(Image via CBS Boston)