Every person deserves a chance to defend himself against claims of moral wrongdoing, a right that applies to a priest as well as to a layman.
This is a guest post by Matt Rowe. I don’t know Father James DeOreo but I respect Matt’s judgment. I was also pleased to print his essay here because few things infuriate me more than people being found guilty in the public media based on #MeToo-esque accusations and then, as is happening in this case, the accused is denied the opportunity to clear his name.
Our family has a friend who is a Catholic Priest, named James DeOreo. A misguided family has been led to believe that their son fell victim to an eating disorder due to a popular spiritual fasting program suggested by Father DeOreo. Seeking restitution of some form, the family approached the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana claiming that undue pressure from Father DeOreo led to the eating disorder asking for $383,000. The Diocese saw no merit in the claim and took no action.
Later, after seeing a therapist for the eating disorder, and after being declined entry into a Catholic seminary, the young man “concluded” that while in high school, he was being groomed by Father DeOreo toward a sexual encounter. Based upon this “conclusion,” the family approached the Diocese a second time with this even more severe claim. The Diocese, perhaps out of an over sensitivity to this type of claim, immediately removed Father DeOreo from any ministerial duties. He was also banned from living anywhere within Diocese property or near anywhere he served and had to find and pay for his own lodging.
Father DeOreo adamantly denies any such behavior and states that the allegation is baseless. The evidence cited by the family of the young man is so ambiguous as to border upon ridiculous. Details are in the Complaint for Declaratory Judgment (attached). These reckless accusations have been widely published in the state via multiple outlets. If the Diocese decides to “settle out of court”—a situation in which DeOreo has no say, the harm to his reputation would be irreparable. Without a chance to properly clear his name, Father DeOreo remains out of work in his chosen vocation and an out-of-court settlement would ruin him for life. The long-term impacts of such terrible accusations are difficult to estimate. Although Father DeOreo prays daily for the healing of this young man and his family, he must have his day in court to clear his name.
Lastly, this case has even greater consequences than those experienced by Father DeOreo. The ability to simply claim an injury cannot be sufficient to cause the type of harm he endures. Proof of wrongdoing or fault must be provided; otherwise, any spiritual or other leader can be permanently and irrevocably harmed by false or mistaken claims. We risk becoming a society that considers one guilty until proven innocent, which is a travesty of justice and puts everyone at great risk.
Since cases of this nature tend to drag out over a period of years, we hope to raise $300,000 to help cover current and future legal-related expenses. We have created a Give-Send-Go fundraising site to accept donations. Even though you may not know Father DeOreo you can still make a stand against such frivolous lawsuits seeking massive financial restitution. Please consider donating to the fund.