Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fr. Pavone is still "suspended"

I wouldn't have been aware of the recent "clarification" of Fr. Pavone's status were it not for my reading of Dr. Edward Peters' blog, In the Light of the Law. Dr. Peters does his usual excellent job of analyzing the situation.

Bishop Zurek's continued use of the term "suspended" is problematic for Dr. Peters, and it is for me as well. Dr. Peters takes up the canonical issue at stake, and notes that the bishop's use is probably idiosyncratic, and does not imply that punitive action is being taken against Fr. Pavone.

Even without training in canon law, I see the use of the term as somewhat provocative. For any lay person, I think the word "suspended" as applied here does imply that the person being suspended has done something wrong. When kids are "suspended" from school, it is not because they have done nothing wrong! So in my mind, when the bishop uses the word, the end result is that he casts aspersions on Fr. Pavone's good  name. Why, we might reasonably ask, is the priest suspended if he has done nothing wrong?

In a related vein, there has been a lot of talk, spurred by Fr. Corapi's situation in particular, about the horrendous ordeal that faces a priest accused of wrong-doing, especially if the accusation comes from a lay person and suggests sexual abuse of any kind. (I'm not commenting on Fr. Corapi's innocence or guilt here.) Much has been made of the injustice many priests experience - the "guilty until proven innocent" mentality prevails, and the accused priest is treated like a criminal from the inception of the case. The falsely accused priest himself may begin to feel that he has done something wrong.

The point I'm trying to make, I guess, is that words matter. Especially in a matter that is very public, the words used to describe the situation - by both sides in a dispute - should be weighed carefully. One word - "suspended", for example - can color a person's reputation in the eyes of a wide audience.

We can examine the words Fr. Pavone has used on some other day, but the same point applies to his own nuanced word choice as well.

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