Review of Father Harvey’s writings, Statement on Father Timone

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Father Harvey’s Writings

 

Dear Courage and EnCourage Family,

I last wrote to you in September to share information with you regarding priests who were associated with the Courage Apostolate who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors; Father Harvey’s work with priests who had been so accused; and other connections between the apostolate and the sexual abuse crisis. At that time, I promised that I would keep you updated about new information that I received.

I am writing today about two articles that have appeared in recent weeks, one about long-time Courage chaplain Father Donald Timone, and the other about Father Harvey.

I want to begin by acknowledging that, whenever the topic of sexual abuse by clergy comes up, it can be a particularly painful experience for people who have survived such abuse, and for their loved ones. Some have described it as feeling like one has to endure the original trauma of the abuse over again. It is also a source of distress for members of the apostolate and of the Catholic faithful in general, as each new revelation threatens the trust that they have placed in the clergy who are called to serve as spiritual fathers and models. I deeply regret the pain that this letter may cause for you, but I believe that honest discussion of these issues is the best way to achieve healing, for the individual and for the Church.

Handling of Allegations of Sexual Abuse Against Father Donald Timone

On December 20, the New York Times ran an article by Sharon Otterman, under the headline, “The Church Settled Sexual Abuse Cases Against This Priest. Why Is He Still Saying Mass?”  The article states that two allegations of sexual abuse were made against Father Donald Timone, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York, to the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) created by the Archdiocese of New York, in 2016, for which the IRCP authorized settlement payments.  The article goes on to describe the distressing details of the alleged abuse, which it says took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The article notes that the allegations were brought to the attention of the Archdiocese of New York (and in one of the cases, to law enforcement) in 2002 and 2003, at which time Father Timone was suspended from ministry and an investigation was conducted by the Archdiocesan Review Board.

According to the spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, quoted in the article, only one of those allegations was brought to the Review Board. As a result of its investigation, the Review Board determined that the allegation was not credible, and accordingly Father Timone was returned to ministry in 2003. He has continued to assist in a parish in the archdiocese to this day, even after his retirement from active ministry in 2009, when he reached the age of 75. The Archdiocese of New York recently began a new investigation of the allegations brought to the IRCP against Father Timone, which is ongoing. As of the time of my writing to you, the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has not suspended Father Timone from ministry while the investigation is pending.

Father Timone has been a friend and collaborator of the Courage Apostolate for many years.  He served as a Courage and EnCourage chaplain in the Archdiocese of New York from the late 1980s until his retirement in 2009, except during the time in 2002 and 2003 when the allegation against him was being investigated.  He has attended many of our annual conferences over the years, most recently at the 2017 annual conference in Mundelein, Illinois.  Although he has not served as an appointed chaplain since his retirement, many members of Courage and EnCourage, particularly in the Archdiocese of New York, consider him a friend and reach out to him on their own for spiritual counsel.  Throughout the times that Father Timone has interacted with Courage and EnCourage members he has been considered a priest in good standing by the Archdiocese of New York.

At this time I am not privy to any evidence that the allegations against Father Timone were mishandled by the Archdiocesan Review Board in 2003, and I am aware of no accusations having been made against him by members of Courage or EnCourage, or anyone else, while he has served the apostolate.  I hope for a just resolution of the new investigation being conducted by the Review Board based on the information provided by the IRCP, and I pray sincerely for healing and peace for all those who are involved.  I will update you as I become aware of new information.  As I mentioned in my letter to you in September, if you are aware of any misconduct on the part of any cleric connected to the Courage or EnCourage apostolates, I urge you to report it to civil authorities and to his diocese, and to bring it to my attention as well.

Father John Harvey’s Work with Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse of Minors

On October 8, the online Catholic news site Crux published an article by Christopher M. White, under the headline, “Courage founder pushed bishops to resist zero tolerance on abuse.”    The article discusses articles that Father Harvey published in 1992 and 2002, respectively, in which he stated his opinion that some priests who had committed sexual abuse against adolescent boys could, with the approval of psychologists and under specific conditions, be returned to some form of priestly ministry.

Before being contacted by Mr White to comment for the article, I had approached Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, PhD, to conduct a review of a number of talks and articles by Father Harvey, both published and unpublished, that were in the archives of Courage International.  The ten documents which were reviewed cover a wide span of time, from an undated article that appears to be from the 1970s, through the 2002 Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly article that Mr White references in his story.  I asked Father McTeigue to undertake this review both because of his academic credentials —as a student and professor of philosophy, he is skilled in making a close reading and analysis of texts, and as a moral theologian he has a firm grounding in the Church’s moral teaching — and because of his personal acquaintance with Father Harvey, whom he met when both resided at Ave Maria University during the 2004-05 academic year.

Father McTeigue’s full review is available on-line at the Courage website, and I encourage you to read it yourself.  It comprises three parts: an introductory letter explaining Father McTeigue’s approach and its inherent limitations; an executive summary of points that characterize Father Harvey’s position; and a selection of relevant quotations from each of the ten documents being reviewed.  Also available online are scans of the original documents themselves, which I also encourage you to review.  I would like to highlight just a few things that come up in Father McTeigue’s report, and make several observations of my own.

The first point of the executive summary is perhaps the most important: “Father Harvey always endorsed the fullness of the perennial teaching of the Church regarding morality.”  His recommendations regarding the pastoral care of priests who had committed sexual abuse of minors or other forms of misconduct should not be read to suggest that Father Harvey approved of such abuse or misconduct.  He was working with priests who had already been confronted with their sinful and (in many cases) criminal behavior, and who had shown a willingness to repent of it and change their lives.  His concern for helping them to do so does not imply a lack of regard for the seriousness of their moral failings.

As Father McTeigue’s review points out (page 4), “Father Harvey’s writings about care for those who have abused seemed to emerge from several commitments. These include: due consideration for justice and mercy; the desire to work for a sinner’s repentance; [and] the concern that a contrite and reformed person who could conceivably minister safely (with restrictions) but was denied ministry (or laicized against his will) might despair and relapse.”  Again, we are dealing here with a specific question — how best to assist, in mercy, a repentant person so that he does not commit the sin again — and not a general denial of the gravity of sins of sexual abuse and misconduct.

 

I deeply regret that, in the comments that followed the article on Crux and other places on the internet, many people took Father Harvey’s apparent concern for assisting priests to mean that he had no concern or compassion for the victims of these priests, or for their loved ones. In my experience, nothing could be farther from the truth. For a start, some members of our own Courage and EnCourage family are themselves survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, and I have been privileged to hear from one of them how much love and concern he received from Father Harvey, and how important Father’s pastoral care was in his process of healing from the wounds of abuse. Moreover, pastoral care is not a “zero-sum game,” in which showing compassion to one person necessarily means showing disdain for another. Father Harvey, like any good priest, showed mercy to the person in front of him, whether sinner or victim, as every Christian is called to do.

Although the Crux article asserts that Father Harvey believed that “most [priest abusers] should be rehabilitated and returned to ministry,” this does not seem to be supported by Father Harvey’s own writings.  Rather, as Father McTeigue’s report points out, and as I explained to Mr White in response to the questions he sent me for his article, Father Harvey made distinctions among those priests who had abused minors.  Those who were attracted to pre-pubescent children should never be returned to ministry, he said.  Those whose attractions were to post-pubescent youth, but who had any other psychological disorders, he said, should not be returned to ministry either.  Only in the cases where the priest was judged to be both repentant and free from psychological impairments could he be returned to some form of ministry, and then only under specific conditions.  As Father McTeigue’s report summarizes, these include that:

  • “they have no unsupervised access to minors
  • “they continue in counseling and spiritual direction
  • “they are a member of a support group
  • “they commit to an intense life of prayer, supported by the sacraments
  • “they work a 12-step program analogous to AA
  • “they are under strict supervision of their bishop or superior
  • “the public and parish are informed of the circumstances of the return to ministry; [and that]
  • “these stipulations are meant only for those who have not received a prison sentence.”

Finally, I think it is important to point out that the last time Father Harvey is recorded to have written or spoken about his opinion on returning priest abusers to restricted ministry was in 2002, as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was preparing to adopt the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that outlines the procedures for investigating allegations of abuse by priests and deacons.  He stated his opinion on the so-called “zero tolerance” policy (an opinion which was shared by Cardinal Avery Dulles, among others) as part of the public discussion of those procedures, but once the procedures were adopted by the USCCB and approved by the Holy See, I can find no record of Father Harvey speaking against them, much less refusing to follow them.

In this regard, I regret that Mr White did not include in his article part of an answer I gave to his question, “What is Courage’s position today on priests who have abused minors in any form or fashion?”  In response, I wrote,

We share the conviction of the bishops that a priest who has abused a minor or a vulnerable adult cannot be returned to ministry. Whether this means a supervised life of prayer and penance, or dismissal from the clerical state, is a judgment that must be made by the bishop, following the advice and recommendations of the experts who review each case. Such restriction is necessary, both to create a safe environment, and to restore the trust of the faithful that the priests who are ministering to them are living chaste, virtuous lives. We fully support the idea of a supervised life of prayer and penance for those who are repentant. Such a program can provide the therapy, group support, spiritual direction and careful supervision that Father Harvey found to be essential, without posing risks or causing scandal to the faithful.

Based on my knowledge of Father Harvey’s opinions on pastoral care for priests, I believe that he would fully support a supervised life of prayer and penance as the appropriate way both to help repentant priests and to protect all the members of the Church.

Conclusion

It is never easy to discuss the painful topic of sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy, but it is perhaps more distressing than usual to have to send you this letter in the days leading up to the joyful celebration of Christmas.  In reality, though, it is precisely in our faith in the Incarnation, in the mystery of God-with-us, the Word Made Flesh, that we find our surest hope of understanding, facing and healing the mystery of sin.

In his great love for us, God the Son did not skip a single moment of human life, from conception to death, and not a single human experience, escapes his attention.  He took on a real human nature, a real human body and soul, loved with a real human heart, in real human relationships, in a real human family.  In his earthly life he sanctified human life itself, making every moment of our daily lives an opportunity to imitate him and to grow in his likeness.  In his public ministry, he healed every wound, soothed every pain and suffering, of those who put their faith in him.  In his Passion, death and Resurrection, he paid the price for those who fail to imitate him, and saved us from sin and death itself.

As we prepare to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, let us unite ourselves as a Courage and EnCourage family, to pray more fervently than ever for all survivors of abuse, for the repentance of those who abuse others, and for the purification, conversion and healing that will allow the Church to make Christ more visible in the world.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Father Philip G. Bochanski
Executive Director