Priests Don't Flock to City Lawyer' s Union Proposal
By MEGGAN CLARK
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
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
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
"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.
Meggan Clark can be reached at 876-6800 or
email@example.com. Milford Bureau
Chief Brian McCready and Reporter Patricia Villers contributed to this story.
İNew Haven Register 2004