In a way it was inevitable: After years of media hysteria over the issue of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, Church officials have now decided on a policy of "shoot first, ask questions later" when it comes to even the scantest allegations of impropriety.
In January of this year, in an astonishing act of injustice, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley forced the resignations of three individuals from a Catholic school in Revere, despite the fact that no one broke any law or did anything wrong.
If it were not clear already, it should be clear now: "Zero tolerance" has now fully morphed into paranoia and cruelty.
Man uses bathroom, and hysteria ensues at the archdioceseLike many urban Catholic schools, Immaculate Conception School in Revere (on the working-class outskirts of Boston) lacks adequate space, so it had been a "common practice for a number of years" in the school for adults to use the student restroom so long as there was not a student already in there.
Well, at some point at the end of last year, a mother called the school to report that her kindergarten-aged son felt "uncomfortable" walking into the restroom and seeing the school's 64-year-old custodian using a urinal. (The restroom was just steps away opposite the janitor's office.) [Addendum, 3/18/15: The Revere Advocate reported in late January that the janitor used the bathroom in question "for upwards of 17 years without incident."]
At no time did anyone ever report or even suggest that anyone had committed any behavior in the least bit sexual or criminal. Never.
In other words, the boy walked into the restroom and saw what anyone would see if he walked into any public men's restroom – such as at the theater or Boston's Fenway Park.
The school was at a loss at how to respond to the mother's phone call, but at some point, someone came up with the idea that the concern should somehow be reported to law enforcement. Big mistake.
Overreacting, Cardinal O'Malley and the Archdiocese of Boston immediately forced the resignations of three employees of the parish and its school: Father George Szal, the popular parish priest; Alison Kelly, the school's principal; and an unnamed second-grade teacher.
The Cardinal's reason for forcibly removing the trio was that the group had somehow failed to report the issue to law enforcement and the archdiocese "in a timely manner." Shockingly, the archdiocese reportedly gave the three "an ultimatum – resign or be fired."
Yet even after both local police and the local district attorney investigated the case and discovered that nothing even remotely criminal had occurred, Cardinal O'Malley still would not reverse his impetuous decision. The lives of four innocent people (the trio plus the custodian) would remain tarnished.
"A misunderstanding that got crazy"
TheMediaReport.com spoke to Revere Police's Sgt. Steven Pisano, a highly respected, 36-year veteran officer who worked on the investigation. Child welfare advocates have lauded Pisano in the past for his tireless work on behalf of child abuse victims, including victims of clergy abuse.
Pisano not only confirmed to us that "nothing criminal" occurred at the school, he stated that the entire episode was a "non-issue," a "misunderstanding that got crazy," and something that "took on a life of its own it shouldn't have."
In addition, even the parent of the "uncomfortable" child at the center of the episode has "indicated that she had never intended to unlock such a maelstrom on the school" with her concern.
We also learned that the second-grade teacher who was
fired forced to resign was a young teacher who traveled a great distance and under great sacrifice to work at the school. And despite being paid a low salary – as opposed to the astronomical salaries at the Cardinal's headquarters – she often spent much of her own money on school supplies for her students. A parent whose child was in the teacher's class told the Revere Journal:
"My daughter's teacher is the last one who should have gotten fired … There was a story going around that she was crying when she was cleaning out her room. She told everyone that she wasn't crying because she lost her job, but because she wasn't allowed to say good-bye to the kids. That woman would have taken a bullet for my kids and you don't find that all the time. For her to lose her job over this is tragic."
Asking for logic and justice
Parents at Immaculate Conception School are naturally up in arms over the way Cardinal O'Malley and the Archdiocese of Boston have handled this incident, and they created a petition with 927 signatures demanding a meeting with O'Malley to address the matter.
Parent Jeffrey Turco, who has three children in the school, has probably summed up this entire episode the best:
"[Archdiocese of Boston officials are] so panicked about how criminally they handled [the priest sex abuse cases] years ago that now they don't care who they hurt – whether the kids, the parents or three good people, four if you count the custodian.
"The Cardinal and his people ought to stand up and say, 'Sorry, we've made a mistake here in our zeal to protect children.' However, they're so arrogant and so stuck in their office complexes in Braintree that I don't know if they have the fortitude to admit they made a mistake … It's so un-Christian the way they handled this."
In typical bureaucratic fashion, over a month later, there has been no response at all from Cardinal O'Malley to the parents' petition. No letter, no phone call, no email. Nothing.
Appealing to Pope Francis' 'Year of Mercy'
Is this the kind of Church Cardinal O'Malley wishes to lead? A Church where paranoia, personal reputation, and "ultimatums" trump justice, Christian charity, and common sense?
Just last Friday, Pope Francis announced jubilee year dedicated to Divine Mercy. "It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy," said the pope. "We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord's words: 'Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful' (cf. Lk 6:36)."
Is there a reason that Cardinal O'Malley cannot extend mercy to these completely innocent men and women in Revere?
In the spirit of this Lenten season, TheMediaReport.com calls upon Cardinal O'Malley to immediately reinstate Rev. Szal, Principal Kelly, the second-grade teacher, and the custodian to their jobs.
Justice and decency demand it.
**Respectfully contact Cardinal O'Malley at ArchbishopSean@RCAB.org or at 617-782-2544.**
[NOTE: Before publication of this story, Archdiocese of Boston spokesperson Terrence Donilon ($208,293 total compensation in 2012) did not return calls from TheMediaReport.com to answer questions about this story. Mercy.]