Innocent until Proven Guilty

The Enid News & Eagle [Enid OK]
Downloaded March 23, 2003

Abuse allegations are simply that; accused priests deserve due process.

The Catholic church has been rocked to its core in recent years by allegations of sexual abuse by priests and charges that members of the church's hierarchy turned a blind eye to the problem.

Many accusations were made. Some were proven, others were not.

The scandal struck home last summer when the Rev. James Mickus, pastor at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, was accused of sexual abuse some 20 years before in a former parish.

A "zero tolerance" policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops resulted in Mickus being immediately removed from ministry without any formal hearing. An investigation immediately began, but the damage was already done. Mickus' reputation was tarnished, and St. Francis was left without its beloved leader.

After a review by the independent Archdiocesan Review Board, no evidence was found to support the accusations made against Mickus, and he has been reinstated to resume his sacramental duties as a priest.

Mickus and his former congregation were both relieved at the news of his reinstatement. Mickus expressed no bitterness over his suspension, but offered a somewhat cautionary note about those who would paint the Catholic church with a broad brush in the wake of the sex abuse scandal.

In his answers to a series of questions directed to him through his attorney, Stephen Jones, Mickus wrote: "The number of Catholic priests accused, as a percentage of the total priest population in this country, is actually less than the percentage of adult men accused of sexual abuse of minors in the general population."

Mickus also said he believes revisions made in a United States Conference of Catholic Bishops charter that provides due process for priests accused of sexual abuse of minors "were important and positive changes, and in my opinion, changes which needed to be made."

Allegations of sexual abuse by persons in positions of authority are disturbing at any level, but when a religious leader is accused, it shakes us more deeply because of the level of trust placed in those who are God's ministers.

Mickus' case reminds us allegations are simply that, and the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" holds true, even in the absence of criminal charges.

We wish Mickus the best in whatever assignment Oklahoma City Archbishop Eusebius Beltran gives him, and hope St. Francis' future will be a bright one.


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