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"Work for the Good of the Priesthood"
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Work for the Good of the Priesthood

Joe Maher
Touchstone Magazine
April Issue

It is said that once you have set out to do good and in particular to do good for God, expect the unexpected––or, even more poignant, as one friend quipped “prepare for the ride of your life!”  Ride is probably a good way to describe the emotional roller coaster of helping priests accused of sexual abuse especially when one has the rather dubious distinction of rallying support for even the most notorious of so-called predator priests.

After three agonizing years filled with gut-wrenching meetings, endless court dates, hurried meals, late night house-calls and sunrise conferences with men hopeless and desperate for some kind of help, not even sure of what they were asking for, because they weren’t even sure what was happening to them, I’ve committed pen to paper in an attempt to sort out an incredible saga about the “finest group of men this nation has to offer.”  The quotation being that of film critic Michael Medved regarding the Catholic priesthood at a benefit luncheon I attended hours before bailing our first priest out of jail on an accusation.  The next days, months and subsequent years following that momentous event became a whirlwind journey of unbelievable consequences and truly wild adventures.

How it all began was with one priest in an inner-city parish in Detroit where a visiting Father from Africa was accused of raping a woman in her late 40s.  My wife and I met this priest after moving back home from California and joining the parish two years before the accusation.  He spent some holidays at our home and frequent visits for dinner.  So, we were stunned and heartbroken when we first saw him on the five o’clock news in leg irons and shackles being escorted from the local district courthouse to a waiting correctional facility van.

It is impossible to truly express the shock and horror of it all now, but then it was a day and evening filled with bizarre emotions ranging from sadness to bitter anger for “What he may have done.”  Frankly, we just couldn’t believe it, and worst of all, we didn’t know what to believe, or what to do.

As we sometimes do after meals, we prayed the family Rosary.  I remember distinctly that it was Lent and we were on the fourth decade of the sorrowful mysteries which is Jesus carrying his cross.  One Hail Mary into the decade and I was a basket case.  My wife took over and we managed to finish it and put our daughter to sleep.  I was on my way to the basement when I literally collapsed in a fit of tears on the steps.  It would be fitting and not out of proportion to say that I was rather hysterical.

After a few sobs and mumblings and some gentle caresses from my wife, I opened my heart to her and said that I felt I should do something.  The rest as they say is history.  She declared, “Then Joseph, you should do something for him.”  Within 24 hours and a couple of anxious phone calls to close friends, we had Father out of jail and the beginnings of a defense team and support group.

What was also developing however was beyond any of our comprehension.  After just six weeks of helping the poor Father from Africa, media coverage was out of control and spanned the globe.  I remember receiving a check for $150 from a priest on the East Coast who saw me on the news and said, “Keep up the good work, we priests need you!”  I turned to a friend––and soon-to-be-treasurer of our fund––Pete Ferrara, and said, “Now what do we do with this?”  One week later Pete had established a fund to receive donations and we were on our way to forming the non-profit organization now called Opus Bono Sacerdotii (Latin for Work for the Good of the Priesthood).

Since those fateful days, we have had several hundred priests who have been accused and have contacted us for help.  Some were guilty of inappropriate behavior long ago, some of real crimes, and others with stainless records of service other than a nebulous accusation by someone they didn’t even know, or couldn’t remember years ago.  Father Eduard Perrone, our chaplain and co founder, put it quite bluntly during a recent lunch meeting with Paul Barron, Pete and myself:  “We shouldn’t be judging these priests; we should be helping them. In that way we can support them in their sublime call and in their desire to increase in holiness.”

We are so thankful for Father Bob Silva’s friendship and support since virtually the very beginning of the mission.  The National Federation of Priests’ Councils took an immediate interest in our work and our desire to help priests in trouble.  The NFPC’s encouragement of our efforts in providing for the many needs of accused priests including legal, morale support, and financial assistance for cost of living expenses, insurance, etc., has been a great source of inspiration for us to continue.  The NFPC’s own excellent efforts at helping accused priests, especially Father Silva’s public statements on priest’s rights both in the media and directly to brother priests and bishops have been life-giving to our efforts.  We look forward to our continued relationship with the NFPC in helping accused priests throughout the United States or wherever they may be. 


Joe Maher is president and co-founder of Opus Bono Sacerdotii and may be reached at joemaher@opusbono.org or by phone at (313) 937-6305.  Please visit them on the web at www.opusbono.org.



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