Accused Priest Returned to Ministry in Joliet…But Should He Be Allowed to Return?
From the Herald News in Joliet, Ill. recently comes the news about Fr. F. Lee Ryan, who had a credible accusation against him regarding and affair he had with a minor.
The law calls for discipline up to removal from the priesthood for adultery with minors under the age of 16. But Ryan is being reinstated to what the diocese described this week as “very limited ministry” to homebound parishioners in the Watseka area.
Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, who heads the diocese and is also the chair of the Bishop’s Conference on the Committee on Child Protection, received the news from Rome that because of a loophole in Canon Law, Fr. Ryan can be reinstated. That loophole is that the child in question was not under the age of 16.
“The Congregation issued a decision that Fr. Ryan is not guilty of grave delict (“serious crime”) under the 1917 Code of Law which was in effect at the time of the alleged abuse. The letter from the Congregation simply cited one Canon (2359 p2) without further explanation.”
That Canon says: “If they have committed a crime against the sixth commandment with a minor under sixteen years of age, or have committed adultery, rape, bestiality, sodomy, pandering, or incest with any person related to them by consanguinity or affinity in the first degree, they shall be suspended, declared infamous, deprived of any office, benefice, dignity, or position which they may have, and in more serious cases, shall be deposed.”
The victim also claims that he was 14, but for some reason they are going with 16 in the official report.
There’s much to consider here and one needs to know a bit about Canon Law, the Watseka area, the priest in question and the Bishop’s response.
The first is that Vatican is merely considering Canon Law here and I’m not sure they realize that nobody in the United States really cares what Church law says in this instance because the church’s credibility in these cases is shot. If the priest did this, then he should be punished to the extent that the law allows and 16 is a ridiculous age and has since been updated, but at the time this was the law on the books that he would have violated. Regardless, it looks bad.
Fr. Ryan has been very cooperative with the case and is extremely sorrowful for his actions. That’s laudable, but I’m also wondering if he has received psychological treatment for this and if he has a clean record since? Even suspicions should come into play here. Is this a psychologically healthy individual? Who knows?
Lastly, the Bishop’s response is coming under fire. People are saying that he’s using the excuse of “following the orders from Rome.” Well, that’s not exactly right. Bishop Conlon could have reinstated Fr. Ryan to work in a parish or in youth ministry in the middle of a thriving city. But instead he took a more practical approach. He sent Fr. Ryan to Watseka. What’s in Watseka? Cornfields upon cornfields. There is literally nothing there. This priest might encounter 3 to 4 people in a year there. It’s the equivalent of being sent to Siberia. So in some way Bishop Conlon may have been forced to sent this priest back into ministry by ecclesiastical law, but he also took care to send him to the safest place possible. Perhaps he should have fought back a bit more and pleaded for more prudence (and perhaps he did!), but to say that he blindly followed orders is kind of silly.
The issue here is a lack of understanding of Ephebophilia in Rome and a strict adherence to Canon Law. Perhaps, someone should point out that to the folks in the CDF?