The Sins of the Fathers
January 22, 2016
On January 15, the Seattle Archdiocese released the names of 77 clergy who have, in the words of Archbishop Peter J. Sartain, “admitted, established or determined to be credible,” claims of sexual abuse of a minor made against them. Will the public acknowledgement of these members of the clergy serving in Puget Sound churches and schools from the 1920s-2008, along with the Archbishop’s letter of apology, bring validation or even healing to those whose lives have been forever scarred and altered? Perhaps.
In reading through the list, I found myself with many more questions than answers. Of the 77 offenders on the list, 40 of whom are deceased, apparently only 1 priest deserved the status of permanently barred from ministry. Of the 36 remaining clergy whose status is known, most received some sort of demotion which denies them the opportunity to practice as a priest or clergy member. Does the punishment fit the crime? From my perspective, most definitely not.
Reading and re-reading through this disturbing document, my attention keeps returning to the list of assignments over the years for each name on the list. This is perhaps both the most helpful and the most disturbing aspect of all this. In listing the names of the parishes and schools where each offender served, survivors still struggling to put the pieces of the painful puzzle together may find validation and even some measure of closure. This is the least of what they deserve.
What I find extremely disturbing is the fact that for each new assignment, often every 2-3 years, many more children were put at risk. Each community of parishioners that happily welcomed a new priest was unknowingly opening their doors to a predator. Each altar boy, eager to serve the new priest, became a possible victim.
Such was the case for Jeff Alfieri who, with his family, attended Holy Family Church in Kirkland, WA. Jeff, a highly respected attorney, ended his life at the age of 43 in his car early on a chilly Tuesday morning in February of 2003 in the parking lot of Holy Family Church. Those who knew and worked with Jeff had no idea of the deep pain he held inside from his days as an altar boy for Rev. Gerald Moffat. Jeff’s stunned co-workers knew him as an intelligent and witty colleague and friend. As one his co-workers remembered him, “He had a huge heart and tremendous compassion for the little guy. He would pay people’s rent if they were down and out, or just give them money. Now we learn that he had been carrying around this tremendous pain.”
While Moffat never admitted his crime, the archdiocese settled with Alfieri’s family for $600,000, which is most certainly an admission of guilt, but small compensation for the pain and loss to this family who has suffered so much because of the actions of one man who used the office of his priesthood to allow him access to innocent children.
According to the published list, Moffat was assigned to 5 churches and 2 schools prior to his assignment at Holy Family and went on to serve at 4 additional churches. How much damage did this one man inflict in his hopscotch career from parish to parish, no doubt orchestrated by the Archbishop’s office in the church headquarters in downtown Seattle in an attempt to keep one step ahead of his accusers?
Moffat’s current status is listed as, permanent prayer and penance. I find this description of his punishment to be woefully inadequate and downright disrespectful. In their own explanation, the archdiocese acknowledges that these priests, although not allowed to function as a priest, continue to receive financial support as well as health and retirement benefits. I have to wonder how this story might be different if the decision-makers in the church cared for the safety of their parishioners in the measure it cares for its disgraced priests.
Perhaps Archbishop’s letter of apology for the actions of the priests and other clergy on the list is a start, but it’s not nearly enough. The office of the archbishop cannot distance itself from the abusive acts of its clergy because it repeatedly turned a blind eye to the suspicions and allegations of abuse brought again and again to light, not only ignoring, but, in fact, providing these men who claimed to speak for God more access to children. Until the leaders of the Catholic Church sincerely apologize for the decisions that enabled priests to continue to violate children in ways that create a lifetime of suffering, the apology offered by Archbishop Sartain rings hollow.
I have to wonder how this story might be different if the decision-makers in the church cared for the safety of their parishioners in the measure it cares for its disgraced priests.