SNAP Connecticut


Priests Don't Flock to City Lawyer' s Union Proposal

By MEGGAN CLARK
Register Staff
Published on 12/11/2004

A New Haven lawyer's call for Catholic priests to form a union drew strong but scattered reac-tions Friday, with some area clergy refusing to talk about it and others saying the idea is pre-posterous.

Some priests responded to Hugh F. Keefe's call with doubt, citing their commitment to their vocation and potential conflict be-tween a union and a priest's oath of obedience to his bishop.

"It's totally against what a priest is," said the Rev. Ron Genua, pastor of Holy Rosary Church in Ansonia. "We know what we signed up for."

The Rev. Marek Sobczak, pas-tor of St. Joseph Church in Ansonia, said: "The priesthood is a vocation. We should be respon-sible for our actions and I believe the bishop would help us if we were falsely accused."

Keefe, a prominent defense lawyer in both criminal and civil cases, called for priests to unite to protect their due process rights after he had seen the rigors his clients have gone through when accused of sexual miscon-duct. One of his clients, the Rev.

Matthew Kappalumakkel, is on indefinite administrative leave at St. Gabriel's Church in Milford after an adult female parishioner at his former church in West Haven accused him of having a four-year affair with her four years ago.

Keefe says the Archdiocese of Hartford refuses to communicate with Kappalumakkel, and that many other priests have suffered drastic consequences after being hit with baseless sexual miscon-duct charges. He says many priests have expressed interest in a union to him privately, and he has been speaking with labor officials.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, criticized Keefe Friday for comments he made on behalf of accused priests.

"We do believe in due process for anyone who's accused of abuse. However, we also believe in due diligence," said Landa Mauriello-Vernon, director of SNAP-Connecticut. She said SNAP has no position on whether priests unionize, but objected to Keefe's comments.

"We have to weigh the rights of victims . as well as the peo-ple being accused," she said.

Brian Stiltner, director of the Center for Catholic Thought, Ethics and Culture at Sacred Heart University, said he could see how some priests could feel disenfranchised and deprived of rights under the church's hierar-chical structure and new rules and expectations the sexual abuse scandal spawned.

"I think they probably feel of-ten that they're in the middle and bottom rungs of a very strong institution," he said. "I can understand the desire for (a un-ion), I think."

Stiltner said he believes a la-bor union likely would not help preserve a priest's due process rights the due to conflict of church and state that would arise.

But he said an advocacy group for priests could help.

H. John Hoffman of Orange, who has been an ordained Catholic deacon for 12 years, a position in which he works closely with priests and can per-form some sacraments, said scan-dals of the past several years have been "difficult" for those who are ordained in the church, but "not impossible."

Hoffman said he does not see how the concept of priests and unions "could be compatible."

"Canon law limits priests to what we can and cannot do," said the Rev. Brian Jeffries, pastor of St. Augustine's Church in Seymour. "There are structures in place." Catholic clergy have challenged the church before, however. In 1979, a unionization attempt in the Diocese of Chicago was stopped by the Supreme Court, which ruled "the National Labor Relations Act was never intended to give the National Labor Relations Board jurisdiction over religious matters," said Catholic law expert Mary Angela Shaughnessy.

Shaugnessy, director of the Education Law Institute at Spaulding University in Lousville, Ky., also cites an attempt by New Hampshire nuns to sue church executives for breach of contract for misrepresenting terms of their teaching arrangements. The nuns prevailed, Shaugnessy said, because they do not have to make the pledge of obedience to the bishop.

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Meggan Clark can be reached at 876-6800 or mclark@nhregister.com. Milford Bureau Chief Brian McCready and Reporter Patricia Villers contributed to this story.

İNew Haven Register 2004



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