New CTO Appointment
Economics of Going Green
State of Caribbean Media
Passport to Paradise
Death Sentence in 2 Years
Priest Thinks Twice
Charges & CounterCharges
Communication in Tourism
Moves to Oust Savarin
WIBC Settles with Gregory
UWP Leadership Question
Threat to State College?
Why Marpin Was Rejected
Sanford Now In Barbados
Hotels Threaten Shutdown
Urban Baron to Cross Floor
Lestrade & Stabilisation
Urban Baron Did Not Cross
PM Charles Tightens Grip
Search for New President
Tension at N.D.C.
New Independent Party?
AT & T in Dominica
Curtis Matthiew - DFP?
Sonia Williams - Indep...
SARS in Toronto, Canada
Bobby - Independent?
Casino Gambling Begins
Formal Opening of DSC
End of Douglas Dynasty?
Wage Bill Cut
DLP Want Theodore Fired
DFP Virtually Dead
PM's Fiscal Adjustment
Dr Etienne to PAHO
Relations with China?
Sam Raphael Resigns
Tour de Dominica Politics
PJ on Independence
Politics 25 Years Later
Cure For Aids Mooted
DSS Stymied by IMF
New Development at CTO
The Silent Killer
Grenada & Hurricane Ivan
Regional Tourism Security
Making Millions on Haitians
UWP Falling Apart
© Johnson JohnRose
Priest Thinks Twice Being Alone With Children
July 01/2002 - Father Franklyn Cuffy thinks twice about being alone with children. Recently, he was traveling from a particular parish when he saw a young boy standing alone at the roadside, waiting for a lift. The Roman Catholic priest of 18 years did not stop, although he felt bad about it. That's because he is worried that he can be accused of sexual abuse.
"I am still myself but one has to be cautious," Cuffy told the Sun, adding: "Kids come to the retreat house and you treat them as normal, but again…" the sentence remained unfinished.
As the sex scandal that hit the Catholic Church in the United States filters down to the Caribbean, many priests have become scared of children. Many, who prefer not to go public with their concerns, do not want to be left alone with children, and God forbid if a child, particularly a boy, might want a hug. Caribbean priests are terrified of being accused of sexual abuse!
Across the US, over 60 priests have been suspended in sexual abuse cases in nearly 20 dioceses since January, and at least one has committed suicide after being accused of molesting a young boy. The problem is nowhere near as serious in Dominica and the Caribbean. It is true that for years there have been whispers of Catholic priests molesting boys and fingers have been pointed at others, who have been accused of infidelity. However, up to now, no one here has come forward publicly either admitting to a relationship or making an accusation.
But in Trinidad, where former Bishop of Roseau, Edward Gilbert heads the Church, stories are beginning to emerge. One priest, Father Felix Harricharan, resigned over his relationship with an 18-year-old altar server with whom he lives, although both have denied having a homosexual relationship.
"The Lord and my fellow Catholics must know that I may have gone about it the wrong way. I have acted improperly. I have acted inappropriately and have brought shame and scandal to the church and for this I apologise," Harricharan said after he announced his resignation. "I was caught in a trap out of which the only solution was resignation."
Archbishop Gilbert has also confirmed at least three reports of sexual molestation at a Catholic school, Presentation College, and has threatened to kick out any priest found guilty in molesting children in Trinidad and Tobago. "I will not spend one dime on the sexual life of any priest, religious or layperson. Not a dime in terms of hush money," Gilbert told journalists at a news conference. "Any priest found guilty of sexually molesting young boys and teenagers in Trinidad and Tobago will be asked to resign immediately."
As new allegations emerge and worries increase among the clergy here that unscrupulous people will use the opportunity to make "false and outrageous" allegations against them, the debate begins to focus on whether or not the Roman Catholic Church should end compulsory priestly celibacy. Former priests in several Caribbean states, who preferred to speak "off the record," have said that they would not have left the clergy had they been allowed to get married.
"People feel they should have the option to get married. If I had that option, I would have stayed," one former priest told the Sun, adding that he was hopeful that it would not be long before that option is granted.
"After all, we are trained as priests and we remain committed to the ministry," added one former priest who is now married and is raising a family, and who argued that the option to wed is supported by scripture. But Cuffy, one of the few priests willing to openly discuss the issue in detail, argues that the sex scandal has nothing to do with celibacy.
"If priests are allowed to be married, it won't make a difference," Cuffy argued. "The issue is not ordination. You have married people who commit these crimes as well. There are people who are not priest who do the same.
"The whole problem is not the abuse by priests, but the abuse of their power. The whole thing is about control," added the Dominica-born priest. "I see the scandal, the incidents as the abuse of power (by the perpetrators). Molestation and raping of children is a matter of power (by) people who are not prepared to give an account of their action."
His sentiments are strongly supported by Barbadian priest Father Harcourt Blackett, who has visited and preached in Dominica many times, and who considers here his second home.
Blackett, who is church administrator at the St. Patrick's Cathedral in Bridgetown - the equivalent of dean of the Cathedral here - is not about to support the notion that ending the 900-year-old compulsory priestly celibacy rule will end or curtail paedophilia among priests.
"That is a theory that has not been tested," said Blackett, who has been a priest for 25 years. "How would you be able to do that when you have an established celibate clergy?"
Like Cuffy, he stresses that the problem of paedophilia is "not just a catholic problem," nor just a religious problem.
"You get people who are not involved in religion at all doing a similar thing," the Barbadian priest emphasised, adding that he did not think the problem was widespread among Caribbean clergy.
"I have never heard of priests in the Caribbean molesting children. I cannot speak for the entire Caribbean, but whereas one might hear of infidelity on the part of a priest, certainly not paedophilia.
"I cannot say it (infidelity) is widespread. I wouldn't say that there haven't been cases of infidelity but how widespread, how perverse it would be I wouldn't know."
But both Cuffy and Blackett speak of "gifts" that married clergy can bring to the ministry, with Cuffy stating that married priests will be good for the church, while Blackett looks at the issue of loneliness among priests.
"Loneliness could be a major problem in the life of a celibate," Blackett said, with some hesitation, and careful to choose his words. "They would find fulfillment in family life."
In any event, Cuffy adds, even if the church gives priests the option to get married, he will remain celibate. And Blackett says he has never given any thought to getting married because it is not an option.
In an attempt to get a completely different perspective on the issue, the Sun located a Catholic priest in Barbados, Father Leonard Alphonso. Alphonso, a Trinidadian, was married before he became a priest. His marriage was annulled, allowing him to join the priesthood.
In an angry reaction to our request for an interview, Alphonso screamed that he did not trust reporters, and hung up the phone. A second call two minutes later produced no better results, as an irate Alphonso shouted that I was wasting his time, and again slammed down the telephone receiver.
It's not clear what so angered the Catholic cleric since he is not the only married priest. According to Church rules, if a married Anglican priest is converted to Catholicism, he is allowed to practice and keep his wife.
It's a practice that has spurred resentment among some priests who were born Catholic.
"The Anglican issue shows the hypocrisy of Rome," one former priest told the Sun.
Neither Blackett, a convert from Anglicanism before he joined the priesthood, nor Cuffy believes Rome is practicing double standards on this issue. But both say the church has to do a better job at screening candidates for the priesthood, and both believe more has to be done to help candidates for the priesthood deal with their sexuality.
"You are human beings and you do have your sexual feelings," Blackett said. "Ordination doesn't say that you are not going to have sexual feelings."