Palm Beach Post staff writer Eliot Kleinberg reports. Excerpt:
Priests in the Diocese of Palm Beach should have to swear in writing that they never engaged in sexual misconduct, and be offered lie detector tests should there be any doubt, a top church critic says.
In fact, Ed Ricci says, he’ll pay for the polygraphs.
Ricci, a prominent lawyer who’s threatened to withhold six-digit contributions over the church’s handling of the sex abuse scandal, issued the call in a letter last week to Riviera Beach Councilman and retired Judge Edward Rodgers. Rodgers is special counsel to a church and lay panel investigating the controversy.
“I do not think it will be enough for the commission to simply come up with procedures to investigate future complaints, new applicants for the priesthood and transferees from other dioceses,” Ricci wrote Rodgers on Thursday.
Rodgers said Monday he plans to share the letter with the panel, but did not want to comment. Former state Senate President Phil Lewis, who chairs the panel, said Monday he hadn’t seen the note. Diocesan spokesman Deacon Sam Barbaro said Monday that the Rev. James Murtagh, the interim diocesan leader, also had not yet seen it and could not respond.
Ricci’s challenge follows the diocese’s establishment in recent years of significant background checks and other procedural safeguards to try to weed out priests with sordid pasts. But even that safety net has holes in it.
A priest who wants to transfer into the Diocese of Palm Beach must go through the same criminal background checks as police officer candidates. They must submit to medical and psychological evaluations and have a note from their current boss saying they have a clean record. Other standards have been in place for years.
Despite that, all three of the bishops in the diocese’s 18-year history and a half-dozen current or former priests have been swept up in the church’s worldwide sex abuse scandal.
“It’s not just us,” Chancellor Lorraine Sabatella said last week. “That’s what we’re hoping is being addressed right now.”
As additional safeguards, Ricci’s letter suggests all priests and staffers swear an affidavit that they have never been guilty of sexual exploitation in their church careers. He said any who balk should be investigated. If one could show he had a problem in the past but brought it under control, he should be allowed to continue under strong restrictions. Otherwise the person should be dismissed.
And Ricci said priests or workers should be offered a voluntary polygraph test. Ricci said his personal charitable foundation would pay for testing at the Wackenhut headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens. Anyone who failed a polygraph would be investigated by a committee who would decide whether they could stay.
As a lawyer, Edward M. Ricci, Esq. should know better than to believe in polygraphs.