The year is 2000 and the Archdiocese of San Antonio is under fire again and looking down the barrel of a multi-million dollar lawsuit. The allegations of wrong-doing are centered on the archdiocese's handling of an employee's complaint concerning a priest she said seduced her when she was a teenager.
The complainant, Jerrilynn Marie White, who hads worked for the archdiocese for 23 years, claims she the assistant pastor of her family's parish "initiated an intimate relationship" with her when she was a teenager – in the early 1970's.. According to documents filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the relationship began when she was 16. It reportedly ended when she was 22 and working in another parish.
Why did she keep silent for so long and what prompted her to go to archdiocesan authorities?
Memories that she had buried returned, she said, when she encountered the priest sometime last year. According to the report, she got psychological counseling and initiated action according to canon law. Her hope was that the archdiocese would handle matters confidentially.
White filed a grievance in a church court of canon law, but it was dismissed on a technicality. Apparently, the RCC statute of limitations on cases like White's is five years. Her case was referred to a crisis intervention committee, but White refuses to work with the committee, claiming it is not part of the Catholic canon law process.
The complaint she filed with the EEOC accuses:
According to White's attorney, filing a complaint with the EEOC is a necessary administrative requirement before filing a lawsuit. White is claiming $3 million in damages by the archdiocese, $500,000 by the priest and $100,000 by the priest's pastor, whom she claims knew what was going on but did nothing to stop it.
White, not surprisingly, says she really isn't interested in the money. She wants the problem corrected, reportedly by removing and punishing the allegedly philandering priest and his erstwhile pastor. Everyone who believes she will not take the money if she wins the case and the two are dealt with as she wants please raise your hands. Hmmm. I see one. No, wait. He's just scratching his ear.
What action, if any, has the archdiocese taken? The priest has been suspended and an investigation was initiated as soon as White made her allegations known. The Vicar General of the archdiocese informs that the priest is prohibited from his priestly functions until further notice.
I look back on my adolescent years and can recall no unpleasant memories involving sexual encounters or priests. I cannot speak to what may be going through Jerrilynn White's mind. I do have many unpleasant recollections of events that occurred during my three tours of duty in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. I do know that, for some years after I had to deal with memories that at times made life almost hellish. Even now, I have to work through the occasional flashback. Perhaps that is what White is experiencing. Perhaps it isn't.
I am not a lawyer, much less a canon lawyer, so I cannot speak to the legalities involved here. I can comment on my personal opinions in this matter. I do not find it at all difficult to believe that undue pressure could have been applied in the workplace with the veiled purpose of inducing her to quit. I do not find it at all difficult to believe that the archdiocese could be dragging its feet on these charges, as they so often appear to have done in the past. I do not believe that Jerrilynn White is not interested in the money, but I do believe that she also wants justice.
Ultimately, the courts will decide whether she gets any money. Ultimately, the archdiocese will decide what to do with the priests involved. Ultimately, all the parties involved will stand before the Lord Jesus, the Perfect Judge, and He will decide which are to stand with the sheep and which are to be numbered with the goats. I leave this judgment in His hands.
UPDATE: The local newspaper reported that the Archdiocese of San Antonio made an out-of-court settlement with Ms. White in 2003.
According to other reports, and the actions of the San Antonio Archdiocese, Ms. White was not the only woman to register a complaint against Rev. Michael Kenny.. In mid-2000, Julia Phelps filed a complaint alleging that Kenny had had a long term relationship with her.
The Archdiocese reported agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Phelps for $300,000. Interestingly, the settlement was reached on the second day of of court proceedings on the lawsuit--when Archbishop Patricio Flores was testifying.
Reportedly Rev. Michael Kenny has been defrocked. The last I heard about him was that he was living in Europe.
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