Should issue overshadow good?

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2003

Many of us in Southeast remember Archbishop Frank Hurley. He was a breath of fresh air carrying to Alaska the spirit of Vatican II. Once I heard him tell the Juneau Rotary Club, "When Rome finds out what I am doing, I will already have done it." Now he is being rub-a-dubbed by the Anchorage News for doing something wrong in his handling of an Anchorage priest who tended in weaker or drunker moments to sexually exploit young males. Archbishop Hurley diagnosed the problem in classic terms. He had a whiskey priest on his hands, and he did something about it by sending him off to rehabilitation. Later when he realized that the priest had pedophiliac tendencies, the archbishop gave him the "blue ticket," the classic Alaska means of eliminating a criminal problem by buying the wrongdoer a one-way ticket to the states. Alaska police forces used this remedy well into the '50s.

It was not too long ago that Bishop Hurley's solution would have been the correct one. But it is not good enough nowadays in America where matters sexual trump everything else. Perhaps he should have thrown the priest to the dogs, despite the fact that the priest had contributed to Alaska society in many positive ways. Abandoning his people is not Frank Hurley's way. The archbishop has spent a lifetime of reaching out to people in need. By helping his priest to overcome his problems, he did not intend to slight the problems of the victims who had suffered abuse. He has since apologized for not doing more for them.

The last time I saw Archbishop Hurley, he was on the streets of Vladivostok attempting to contact Russian Catholics who had been isolated by 70 years of an oppressive system. I do not mean to make light of sexual exploitation in America, but when I saw the archbishop, he was trying to help people whose suppression and condition in life makes the American sexual abuse problem seem trivial. In Vladivostok the clergy was hunted down. Believers risked imprisonment if they assembled. Mass was forbidden. Sometimes it is difficult to balance and prioritize life's problems. Archbishop Hurley has done that better than most. For all that he has done here in Alaska and in the Russian Far East, Rome should have made him a cardinal.

William G. Ruddy


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