Monday, November 20, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI excommunication style rubs off



By JEANE MacINTOSH in Erie, Pa., and DAN MANGAN in N.Y.

FOR SHAME: Barbara Blaine ripped a church threat to excommunicate witnesses if they talk about the trial of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh, who was relieved by Edward Cardinal Egan

November 17, 2006 -- Catholic officials are threatening to excommunicate witnesses at a top New York priests sexual misconduct trial if they dare discuss their testimony outside the church court, The Post has learned.

That extremely unusual threat is being wielded even as the priest's accuser, former Catholic high school student Daniel Donohue, and victim advocates have requested Msgr. Charles Kavanagh’s church trial in Erie, Pa., be made open to the public.

As the Catholic Church's stiffest sanction, excommunication normally is reserved for the most serious offenses such as heresy and getting an abortion and bars its targets from receiving Communion and other sacraments.

"Obviously, it shows that the value of these church leaders is secrecy, its not protecting children," said Barbara Blaine, president of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "What an irony, isn’t it, if the punishment is more severe for telling about being abused than for actually committing the actual abuse?"

The excommunication threat is laid out in a confidentiality agreement that witnesses at Kavanagh’s trial have been asked to sign before they testify to the three priests who are acting as judges.

The Post has reviewed a copy of the document. But an official with the Diocese of Erie, Pa., where the trial is being held to minimize publicity, denied there is any excommunication threat.

"I am quite sure that no one was threatened with any penalty during the process here," said Msgr. Tom McSweeney, a spokesman for the diocese. "At most, they would have been advised of the seriousness of maintaining confidentiality. But in no way was anyone threatened, and certainly not with excommunication."

McSweeney labeled absolutely false any claims the excommunication threat is spelled out in any document.

"An excommunication threat in such a case would be highly unusual," said the Rev. Thomas Green, a Catholic University professor and expert in canon law, which is the basis for the ongoing trial.

"That’s pretty heavy duty, and significant and serious," said Green adding that he has never heard of an excommunication threat being made against a lay witness at a church trial.

Kavanagh, 69, is accused of having an inappropriate, sexually tinged relationship with Donohue 30 years ago, when the Peekskill teen studied at a Manhattan school the priest ran.

In one instance, Kavanagh allegedly climbed into bed with him during a trip. After Donohue, now 42, came forward with his claims in 2002, New York Archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan suspended Kavanagh, who was the archdioceses top fund-raiser and pastor of St. Raymonds parish in The Bronx.
Kavanagh, who denies wrongdoing, then lobbied to clear his name and have his priestly powers restored by getting a Vatican-authorized trial, which is being held in Erie to minimize publicity.

If convicted, Kavanagh faces possible defrocking. Both Kavanagh and Donovan are expected to testify today in Erie.


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