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A priest in a confessional booth, looking at the camera
Saunders and Walker
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Father Michel Mulloy, 66, was appointed by Pope Francis on June 19 to be bishop of Duluth, Minnesota and was due to be formally installed in a ceremony on October 1, 2020.  However, in the interim, a sexual abuse allegation was lodged against the priest from the 1980’s.

The diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota, where Mulloy had served as a priest, released a statement saying it had last month “received notification of an allegation against Father Mulloy of sexual abuse of a minor in the early 1980’s”.

The diocese said that when it received the allegation, police were informed and Mulloy was instructed to refrain from public ministry while a Church investigation determined if the allegation was credible.

A diocesan board made up of mostly lay members reviewed the investigation’s findings and concluded that the accusation “met the standard” for further investigation.

The abuse allegation against a priest is nothing new.  However, when it is lodged against a priest who has been chosen to be a bishop, it’s an entirely new matter.  This is unprecedented and demonstrates the real crisis that Catholic Church continues to face in its seemingly endless struggle with childhood sexual abuse.

Candidates for the episcopacy are highly and scrupulously vetted prior to any submission to the Pope for consideration.  The process begins with the Metropolitan, who is the Archbishop of the area, asks for names of potential episcopal candidates from the priests of the dioceses in the area.  Those names are then added to the names that bishops propose and those candidates are given to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope’s representative in the United States.  Normally, the Nuncio will provide the Pope with three names and his recommendation.  The Pope then makes his decision.

In the United States, there are usually a small group of bishops whose influence weighs heavily in such decisions.  In the past, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was known as a “bishop maker”.  Presently, Cardinals Tobin of Newark and Cupich of Chicago are considered to be highly influential in the naming of new bishops.  The fact that one had to withdraw his name from selection because of an abuse allegation is not in any way typical.

In fairness, it appears the Diocese reacted swiftly and appropriately in this case.  However, the fact that someone about to be ordained a bishop had to resign because of an allegation is another black mark for the Catholic Church and can only serve to undermine its credibility with parishioners and clergy alike.  For those who believe that the abuse scandal is limited to the specific time period of the 1950’s and 1960’s will have to recalibrate and reconsider the extent of the Church’s ongoing problem with sexual abuse of children.  At this point, action is more necessary than words.  Words won’t suffice.  The Catholic Church has to demonstrate by concrete action that it is prepared to tackle this problem if it has any  hope of restoring its former credibility and influence in contemporary culture.

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