New York establishes Shepherd Program for ‘credibly accused’ priests

.- The Archdiocese of New York has set up a new program for priests that have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors but who cannot be defrocked due either to age or illness.

The Shepherd Program requires that these priests spend the rest of their lives in closely supervised housing, receive regular therapy and spiritual counseling, and fill out a daily log of their comings and goings. They may not say Mass in public, dress as a priest, be alone with children or “inappropriately use computers,” the letter says.

Since June, Cardinal Edward Egan issued a letter to seven priests, offering this program to them.

“The continued safety of our children and young people, the protection of the reputation and patrimony of the archdiocese, and your own well-being dictate that you enter this program and residence,” the letter states.

Only two accepted; the other five chose to resign and leave the priesthood.

The priests who have agreed will live temporarily at a retreat house on Long Island Sound, where priests with troubles have long been sent. They will be transferred to permanent housing elsewhere in a few months, said diocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling.

“Our goal was to have them all participate in this program,” he told the New York Times.

Zwilling told the New York Times that the priests who received the letter fall into one of several categories. Some have been convicted in a canonical trial but determined to be too elderly or infirm to endure being defrocked and are instead sentenced to a life of prayer and penance, reported the newspaper.

Others have had the accusations against them referred to an archdiocesan advisory board consisting mostly of laypeople, including psychologists and lawyers. The board issues a recommendation to the cardinal on whether the priest should continue to minister. The board does not have to interview the priest nor does it give the priest the opportunity to defend himself.

The archdiocese notifies law enforcement authorities of all allegations that could result in criminal charges. But in many cases the statutes of limitations have run out.

Before the new program was put into effect, most accused priests lived on their own and were barred from functioning as priests. They were required to tell the archdiocese every few months where they lived, Zwilling told the Times.

The letter to the priests mandates psychotherapy, but it does not speak of eventually leaving the program. Past experience showed that priests who underwent therapy still relapsed into abusive behavior, said Zwilling. “With what we know today, I don’t think that can be an alternative,” he was quoted as saying.

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