The Man Next Door

Our new neighbor seems nice.

He appears to be of retirement age and, though he moved in about a year ago, he keeps pretty much to himself.  Somebody said he came here to the Midwest from one of the New England states, and that he had spent a number of years in the Navy.  He lives alone.

A large American flag flies over his front yard, and he is frequently seen in his garage working with his large collection of tools.  He doesn’t socialize much, but he has a couple of buddies with whom he goes golfing and boating.  It’s nice to see retired guys enjoying life.

He must be a religious sort, for there is a statue of Jesus on his front steps and a sticker on his car reading: “I’m Catholic and I Vote.”  He volunteers at a nearby convent where he drives ailing nuns to medical treatment, and he recently began working with a local community theater group offering programs for adults and young folks.

There are many kids here on our quiet cul-de-sac, and we parents keep a close eye on them.  Our own children are well-mannered … when they are playing outside, they wave at our neighbor and say: “Hello.”  He always waves back at them.

We don’t know much about this fellow, but it doesn’t seem like we should be concerned about him.

Should we?

This “new neighbor” is not an actual person.  Instead, he is a composite of details unearthed by the Associated Press (AP) in a recent search for 1,700 disgraced former Catholic clergy living clandestine lives in unsuspecting communities across the United States.

In their exhaustive October, 2019, report, the AP located fallen clerics employed as school teachers, sex assault counselors, nurses and volunteers working with at-risk children.  Some of these individuals lived near playgrounds and day care centers and, since leaving the church, many have been charged with crimes including sexual assault and possession of child pornography.

And, most distressing, these individuals … each of whom had been removed following credible allegations of sexual abuse … were living in unwary neighborhoods absent supervision by the Catholic Church or notification to any government entity.

When asked about this sad state of affairs, Church leaders maintain that once a priest is dismissed there is no way to keep track of him.  But this is simply not true.

In November, 2018, for example, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released the names of 57 clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors over the years in southeast Louisiana.  In revealing the names of the abusers, the Archbishop said surviving former clergy on the list were notified that their names were about to be made public; he went on to note that efforts were undertaken to notify family members of deceased former religious as well.

It should come as no surprise that other Dioceses and Archdioceses have that same ability.  Consider, for example, the many accused clergy who continue to receive pensions or health insurance from the church … it has been suggested that dioceses should devise a system making those benefits contingent upon defrocked priests self-reporting their current addresses and employment

No longer can we allow Catholic leaders to assert that fallen clergy removed from ministry are not their problem.  The failure to monitor predator priests and report their presence in our communities is inexcusable for, as American author Dean Koontz warns:

Evil is no faceless stranger, living in a distant neighborhood. 

Evil has a wholesome, hometown face, with merry eyes 

and an open smile. Evil walks among us, wearing

a mask which looks like all our faces.

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