Any time a priest is a defendant in a criminal case involving sexual abuse of a minor, he won’t be wearing clerical garb.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a reminder on the topic recently. It pointed out that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection last year issued a report asking bishops to be sure that no priest be permitted to wear clerical garb when appearing as a defendant in a criminal case involving sexual abuse of a minor.
The bishops’ norms previously had not barred that practice.
The topic was an issue during the trial of Father Bryan M. Kuchar, who was sentenced in 2003 to three years in the St. Louis County Jail following his conviction by a jury of three counts of statutory sodomy.
During the trial he wore clerical garb, including the Roman collar. He had been removed from ministry but was allowed to wear his Roman collar after he recanted a confession and pled not guilty to the charges.
The bishops’ report means that in a similar case today, a priest-defendant would not be allowed to wear the clerical garb.
The committee that considers clergy abuse claims does not review cases in which a priest is arrested and charged, said Msgr. Vernon Gardin, vicar general of the archdiocese.
"Those cases bypass the committee and go to the courts," Msgr. Gardin said.
In other sexual abuse claims involving clergy, the committee investigates and makes recommendations to the archbishop.
Msgr. Gardin added his endorsement of the bishops’ policy and pointed out that it is not a statement of presumed guilt. "If they’re accused of a sexual crime, it’s better if they’re not wearing a collar in court," Msgr. Gardin said.
The archdiocese has asked the Vatican to laicize Father Kuchar.