The Archdiocese of New York is yet to show any proof to back accusations against 84-year-old Irish-born Monsignor Charles Coen.
We are all painfully aware of the horrific misdeeds inflicted upon innocent children by some criminal members of the clergy not only in this country but worldwide, including, of course, Ireland.
The Catholic Church has been rocked to the core by the appalling cases of abuse which in some cases officials not only knew about but actively covered up. It’s been going on for decades. There’s no more room under the carpet to sweep the victims.
So it’s more than high time that the criminals were named, shamed and penalized. It’s too bad that in the majority of cases, hard time in a jail cell isn’t part of the punishment.
But…what if a priest is unjustly accused? What if the evidence presented by an accuser is questionable, but a conviction is a done deal because if you’re a priest and you’ve been charged with abuse these days, you’ve got to be guilty?
The Catholic Church is going to great lengths to mitigate the massive damage done by some of its members, but throwing potentially innocent clerics under the bus in the name of healing isn’t a solution.
We firmly believe a priest, Monsignor Charles Coen, has been charged and wrongly convicted of a serious crime by the Archdiocese of New York. Last week’s Irish Voice published an exclusive interview with Father Charlie, as he’s known in the New York Irish community, in which he proclaimed his innocence against a single incident of abuse that allegedly happened in a Staten Island parish 40 years ago.
Father Charlie, a native of Co. Galway, is well known in local Irish circles. Most of us see him with concertina or flute in hand, playing away at Irish dances and concerts, a friendly and welcome presence in our midst.
This isn’t an instance of trying to exonerate a priest just because he is one of our own. Father Charlie’s Archdiocese-appointed attorney, a renowned expert on canon law, also strongly stated that he believes his client has been unjustly convicted based on the testimony of a single accuser whose story is suspect.
Attorney J. Michael Ritty wrote in a July letter to the Holy See that the case against Father Charlie “clearly lacks a semblance of truth…there is no preponderance of evidence,” and there is “strong evidence to point to collusion between the accuser, his wife, and his family.”
That kind of conclusion coming from an appointee of the Archdiocese should send chills down all of our spines. How can we allow an 85-year-old sickly, elderly priest with an unblemished record to be discarded by the church he’s served for practically all of his life without knowing every single fact?
Again, there are scores of clerics who have been accused and justly convicted of sexual abuse, but in many of those cases, we the people have eventually been privy to the overwhelming evidence demonstrating guilt.
If the Archdiocese is so sure of its findings against Father Charlie – the powers that be say the charge is “credible and substantiated” -- then there should be no problem whatsoever in offering up the details of the sole accuser’s claim. We need to know exactly how the Archdiocese’s investigators arrived at such a conclusion – with a final penalty from the Holy See yet to come.
It would also be good to know how much money the alleged victim received from the Archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program which deals with abuse claims.
It’s ridiculously unjust not only to Father Charlie, but also to the scores of people he’s ministered to, to end his career via a terse notice last month in the Staten Island and upstate Red Hook parish bulletins where he ministered that said, “It is certain that Monsignor Coen will never serve as a priest again.”
We live in America, a nation where openness and transparency still count, especially when it comes to the law. The Catholic Church has been anything but open and transparent in the past when dealing with abusive priests. It seems that could also be true when it comes to convicting a priest without a fair and proper hearing.
We, Father Charlie’s believers, need to see how and why the Archdiocese decided to strip him of his vocation. Right now we consider the verdict insupportable and a travesty against a good man who has given his life to the church.
We're waiting for the Archdiocese to prove us, and all of Father Charlie's supporters, wrong. Until then we’ll firmly stand by one of our country’s guiding principles: innocent until proven guilty.