By Mary Ann Kreitzer

In the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal bishops have rushed to implement programs to protect children and comply with policies developed at their 2002 meeting in Dallas. Part of the strategy in many dioceses is mandatory fingerprinting of all employees and those volunteers who work with children. But fingerprinting the innocent is a bad idea for six good reasons. (1) It masks the real problems that caused the scandals – clergy homosexuality and dissent; (2) gives a false sense of security while ignoring legal abuse; (3) violates privacy and demeans the innocent by creating a suspect class of Catholics; (4) implies secular authority over the Church; (5) drives a wedge between the flock and their pastor, and (6) is the work of bureaucrats, not apostles. For all these reasons prudent members of the faithful should just say no to fingerprinting.

(1) Fingerprinting masks the real problems that caused the scandals

The bulk of abuse cases documented in the John Jay Report, 81 percent, involved homosexual priests molesting adolescent boys.1 But the bishops’ strategy redirects the problem to sex abuse in the culture at large. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has no plans to ban homosexuals from the priesthood or remove those engaged in gravely evil, but legal, sexual behavior. Instead, most bishops are requiring background checks and fingerprinting of thousands of innocent clergy, employees, and lay volunteers. In my own diocese (Arlington, Virginia) some 15,000 are affected.

Not only is clergy homosexuality not addressed, it is systematically downplayed. Rev. Edward J. Burns, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation of the USCCB, told the New Hampshire Union Leader in 2002 that homosexuality is not an automatic bar to ordination. “Some dioceses and seminaries have identified that a man with same-sex attraction is not likely to be a candidate for a particular diocese or seminary. Other[s]… will say they have to look at that on a case-by-case basis.”2 Fr. John Folda, rector of St. Gregory the Great Seminary in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska takes a less nuanced approach: “We don’t take homosexual candidates.”3

Lincoln’s ban on homosexuals is unfortunately rare. At the 2005 Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles, the largest such gathering in the United States, speakers endorsed homosexual priests. According to reporter Paula Doyle, Tom Beaudoin, assistant professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, told a packed workshop that “talking in a ‘more adult way’ about the blessings and challenges of gay priests similar to the way blessings and challenges of straight priests are discussed will allow Catholics to become ‘more human’ and ‘more holy with each other…so that at long last our church in this regard can finally begin to deal with reality.’”4 Another panelist, Fr. James Martin, S.J., associate editor of America magazine, proposed “public models of gay priests” to counter “the stereotype of the gay priest as child abuser.”5 Congress organizers also invited a partnered Episcopal lesbian “priest,” Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord, to address Catholic educators.

In Arlington former head of the Office of Child Protection, Jennifer Alvaro, told a meeting of parish Directors of Religious Education in 2004 that children are “safer with homosexuals than with heterosexuals.”6 Her statement shocked parents. The fact is homosexuals molest children and commit crimes at a much higher rate than heterosexuals, as shown by numerous studies including a 1996 survey of 12,283 non-institutionalized adults by the U.S. Center for Disease Control.7

Researchers Brian Clowes and David Sonnier, reviewing many studies and statements of homosexuals, found a “natural link between a homosexual orientation and child sexual abuse.”8 Despite overwhelming evidence, most bishops ignore the threat of homosexuality and redirect the focus to innocent laity. In April 2005 Fr. Terry Specht, Alvaro’s successor, told a meeting of concerned parents which I attended, he didn’t care if a person was “heterosexual, homosexual, or metrosexual.”9 This willful blindness to a major cause of the scandals undermines the laity’s confidence in their shepherds.

Meanwhile, bishops continue to reassign deviant priests. Bishop John Steinbock moved Rev. Jean-Michael Lastiri to another Fresno parish following treatment at a Maryland facility.10 Lastiri solicited on the internet for same-sex partners and embezzled $60,000 from his Merced, California parish. When sensible parishioners rebelled the bishop castigated them in the parish bulletin.11 In another California diocese Fr. James Mott, active in the notorious on-line site for homosexual priests, St. Sebastian’s Angels, was removed from his parish, but relocated to a rectory adjacent to a boys’ school. He frequently hears confessions and says Mass there. Fr. Mott was vocations director for his Augustinian province for twelve years and actively recruited homosexuals to the seminary.12 These are by no means isolated situations.

If the laity hoped the bishops would use their June 2005 meeting in Chicago to address homosexuality in the priesthood they were disappointed. Diogenes, the feisty columnist of Catholic World Report (CWR), commented on a Washington Times article stating the bishops would “sidestep” the issue of homosexuals in ministry. “Why…was [sidestepping the issue] a foregone conclusion? Because the question of whether gays should be ordained cannot be addressed without first addressing a considerably more explosive question: the number of bishop-disputants who are themselves gay and have a profound personal interest that there be no public examination of the connections between their sexual appetites, their convictions, and their conduct of office.”13 Diogenes named ten homosexual bishops “whose misbehavior has gotten them in trouble with the law – and that so deeply that their proclivities were objectively undeniable.”14

In Chicago the bishops stated they would follow the Vatican directive on homosexuals in the priesthood when it was released; but it’s hard to take most of them seriously, since they consistently fail to implement other Vatican directives. Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the document on Catholic higher education requiring adherence to Church teaching and a mandata for Catholic theologians, was a dead letter the minute the ink was dry. The Cardinal Newman Society regularly documents dissenters teaching and speaking at Catholic colleges and universities.15

One can make the case that bishops ignoring the 1961 directive banning ordination of homosexuals enabled the sex abuse crisis. They were no more ready to follow the 2002 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments stating that, “Ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood of homosexual men or men with homosexual tendencies is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent and, from the pastoral point of view, very risky. A homosexual person, or one with a homosexual tendency is not, therefore, fit to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.”16 Reaction to the latest Vatican document has been more of the same with many bishops indicating it would be business as usual.

2) Fingerprinting gives a false sense of security while ignoring legal abuse

Before an individual commits his first act of sexual abuse he has no criminal record, but there are behaviors that predict the likelihood of abuse. For example, those ensnared in pornography, a progressive addiction, are likely to act on it at some point. Studies show that the need for stimulus increases until action is virtually inevitable.17 But buying and viewing adult pornography is legal, so those who indulge in it won’t show up in background checks. Nonetheless, they are time bombs in the parish community and should be removed when exposed.

In the diocese of Arlington, Fr. James Haley reported to Bishop Paul Loverde several priests with extensive pornography collections, a fact he discovered when he lived with them in parish rectories. Instead of dealing with the problem, the bishop suspended Fr. Haley, put him under a precept of silence, and removed his faculties.18 He banished Fr. Haley from diocesan property but allowed the porn-addicted priests to continue living in parish rectories. Although there is no evidence these priests physically abused minors, they were a major risk to their parishioners.

The bishops have paid little if any attention to the serious problem of sexual immorality among consenting adults including priests who solicit sex from age-appropriate partners. Typically, only when a cleric’s evil behavior is publicly aired does action follow. In 1996 the activist group Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF) sought Bishop Daniel Ryan’s dismissal for soliciting gay prostitutes in the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. Prior to going public they tried to handle the matter quietly in-house. When that failed, they held a press conference. Finally, three years later, Ryan was forced to resign. Even then his successor, Bishop George Lucas, allowed him to perform confirmations, give priests’ retreats, and exercise other ministries around the diocese.19 Only in 2002, after allegations he abused a minor, was Ryan finally suspended.20 His case is not uncommon as Diogenes’ list of shameful bishops indicates.

Many Catholic college campuses are schools for scandal promoting the obscene play, The Vagina Monologues, gay pride events, condom give-aways, etc. These are all perfectly legal but scandalous. Bishops overlook immorality on college campuses apparently because the individuals being sinned against are over eighteen.

Which raises another question. A primary agenda of the homosexual community is to eliminate the age of consent.21 If that happens will the bishops revise their policies downward since consensual sex with these younger children will no longer be illegal? If past experience rules most bishops will take no action against legal activities unless they create a public scandal

Last year the review board for the Archdiocese of Seattle recommended that the bishops look at this problem more closely, saying, “[T]he vulnerability of persons to sexual exploitation does not end at age 18. We have seen instances where priests abused their authority and caused harm by engaging in sexual relationships with adults. Whether viewed from a violation of the vow of celibacy or as a matter of the abuse of authority, we believe the Church should address this issue more formally.”22

Those who engage in homosexual relations with adults while not themselves abusing children may be the channel for abuse by exposing children to sexual predators. Fr. Lastiri did not himself molest children. He did, however, provide an unpaid job and housing for one of his partners, Joe Banuelos, who sexually assaulted a six-year-old.23 Fingerprinting can’t prevent this type of abuse. Homosexual clergy will not require their partners to be fingerprinted. Parents may believe their children are safe on parish grounds and be less vigilant because of a false sense of security.

3) Fingerprinting violates privacy and demeans the innocent

Most Americans are desensitized to invasions of their privacy. From the misuse of social security numbers, to information sharing between government and private institutions, even grocery stores tracking our buying habits – we are accustomed to it. Privacy advocates warn that so many private companies and law enforcement agencies are exchanging fingerprint information that there is increasing risk of someone replicating and misusing it. “There are going to be data spills.”24 And there is no reason to believe things will end with fingerprinting. Why not DNA testing, voice identification, and retinal screening? Once one accepts the proposition that privacy can be violated, no logical reason remains (except prohibitive cost) to exclude other identification tools.

While invasion of privacy is a major concern, the attitude of chancery officials that those who oppose fingerprinting “have something to hide” is downright insulting. It creates unjustly a Catholic suspect class of non-fingerprinted individuals damaging relationships among parishioners and between parishioners and the pastor, not to mention the bishop. But remember, bishops knew the priests who committed sexual abuse. They shielded them from disclosure and moved them from parish to parish or between dioceses. Often bishops and diocesan lawyers cajoled or threatened parents not to press criminal charges. Fingerprinting would not have exposed abusers because bishops hid their crimes.

Instead of focusing on the innocent, the bishops should ban homosexuals from the priesthood and hold themselves accountable for their dereliction of duty. Resignation, contrition, amendment of life, and atonement are appropriate responses to the crisis, not fingerprinting the innocent.

After the bishops’ meeting in Dallas in 2002, which set the ball rolling for fingerprinting, the local chapter of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) held a panel discussion to review results. Participants included Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln and Phillip Lawler, editor of CWR. Lawler pointed out that while the sex abuse scandals involved four percent of Catholic priests who molested children (mostly adolescent boys), 66 percent of the bishops engaged in the cover-up. Had the bishops acted responsibly, the abusers’ careers would have been cut short after one incident.

Bishop Bruskewitz, in reflecting on the Dallas meeting, described his brethren as “this hapless bench of bishops.” Not a single one supported his motion to analyze the relationship between the scandal and the issues of homosexuality and theological dissent. Rod Dreher of National Review described the CUF meeting saying, “When an audience member asked Bruskewitz why Pope John Paul II has given the church in the U.S. so many lousy bishops, [he] said he had no idea. Then he cited a letter that the medieval St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to a pope of his day, warning the pontiff that if he (the pope) was going to be sent to hell, it would be because he failed to get rid of bad bishops. ‘I did pass that letter on to [the current pope],’.... He went on to praise the Holy Father for coming up with beautiful words and noble sentiments, but to fault him for failing to implement them through responsible governing of the Church.”[25]

Fr. John Perricone, founder of Christifideles, described the Dallas meeting as “carefully constructed to quell the media howling and adroitly move the scandal off center stage.”26 Subsequent actions appear to be a further “adroit move” to shift blame to the laity and distract public attention from the bishops’ own culpability. After thousands of children victimized in the abuse scandals, the bishops’ strategy, which makes the innocent suspect, adds insult to injury.

4) Fingerprinting implies secular authority over the Church

From the point of Church/State relations, there are two compelling reasons to oppose mandatory fingerprinting. First, it implies that the Church herself is a danger to her members and cannot protect them without oversight from secular authorities. This turns reality on its head. It is the Church over the centuries that converted barbaric nations and protected citizens from abuse by the state, not the reverse. Pope Leo XIII addressed this in many encyclicals in which he described the proper relations between Church and State.

[The Church] is a society chartered as of right divine, perfect in its nature and in its title, to possess in itself and by itself, through the will and loving kindness of its Founder, all needful provisions for its maintenance and action. And just as the end at which the Church aims is by far the noblest of ends, so is its authority the most exalted of all authority, nor can it be looked upon as inferior to the civil power, or in any manner dependent upon it….To wish the Church to be subject to the civil power in the exercise of her duty is a great folly and a sheer injustice.27 (emphasis added)

Second, by turning over responsibility for oversight to secular authorities, the Church implies dependence on the State and willingness to relinquish her authority. While the current relationship is voluntary, it sets a precedent for the government at some future date to claim the right to control the Church and her members. This is a very real danger in view of the Justice Department’s keeping illegal files on pro-lifers. Former Attorney General Janet Reno developed an extensive secret database called VAAPCON, the Violence Against Abortion Providers Conspiracy, which entailed massive record keeping on pro-life leaders, even those who had never engaged in activism. VAAPCON collected information on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now USCCB), among others.28

In Arlington, diocesan authorities tell the laity that fingerprints and background files are not maintained in a database.29 As they are well aware, their assertion is untrue.30 The Code of the Commonwealth of Virginia 52-46 establishes a database of all fingerprints submitted for background checks. They are archived and cross-checked when a criminal is apprehended and processed. Chris Manion reported in the June 16 issue of The Wanderer that, “Elvira Johnson, a supervisor at the Virginia State Police Crime Lab, confirms that… ‘the digital images [of the submitted fingerprints] are kept on archive’ on the state police computer system.’”31 In the Archdiocese of Washington “prints are sent to Maryland’s Criminal Justice Information System, run against state criminal records and then forwarded to the FBI.”32

The technology used to transfer inked prints to digital files allows fast search, retrieval and comparison; but it is not foolproof. Prominent fingerprint expert David Grieve says, “There’s a risk that not only would they exclude someone incorrectly – we have the potential to identify someone incorrectly.”33 That happened in 2004 when the FBI misidentified Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield as a terrorist suspect in the Madrid train bombing. They incorrectly matched his prints to one found at the scene. Fingerprint examiner Pat Wertheim expressed concern. “The fingerprint community is really anxious…to understand what happened…. Obviously, the larger the database, the greater the possibility of two fingers having roughly similar sets of coordinates (emphasis added). It’s an issue that has troubled some of us in the business.”34 Troubling indeed! It should trouble the innocent jeopardized by their bishops as hundreds of thousands of fingerprints are added to the national database.

In view of the growing hostility to Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, a program to identify all the priests in the country and many of the most active Catholic laity is foolhardy. Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, coming from countries controlled by Nazi and Communist tyrants would certainly understand the dangers inherent in a national registration program for Catholics. Mandatory fingerprinting allows the State to collect information easily without the political fallout of mandatory state registration. Only those with no sense of history can fail to see the potential for abuse of such a program.

5) Fingerprinting drives a wedge between the flock and their pastor

In a number of places laity are establishing programs for youth outside the parish. Fr. Terry Specht informed parishioners at St. John the Baptist in Front Royal, Virginia that if a CCD program could not recruit sufficient teachers willing to submit to fingerprinting, the parish will suspend its CCD program.35 This deplorable attitude may force parents to develop their own religion programs with no oversight by pastors and great loss of talent to the parish community.

As long as this policy toward “catechesis” continues, the problem of physical and spiritual abuse of the faithful, including minors, will not end.

6) Mandatory fingerprinting is the work of bureaucrats, not apostles

Apostles save souls. They teach the truths of the faith, discipline those in error, and pursue and foster personal holiness. They address sin and scandal often at great personal cost, even their lives. The blood of martyrs is the seedbed of the faith. Apostles took Christ's message from Jerusalem to the entire world and it was their zeal for the Gospel and their self-sacrifice that transformed western civilization.

Bureaucrats, on the other hand, develop rules, procedures, and action plans which may have little to do with the problem being addressed. They tend to build empires where those at the "bottom" must go thru multiple decision levels to get action from the "top." Often when things go wrong bureaucrats transfer responsibility and blame to protect themselves and their organizations. Fr. Jerry Poskorsky was on target when he wrote in Catholic World Report, “If Martin Luther taught ‘salvation by faith alone,’ it might be said that the bishops’ approach is ‘salvation by policies, procedures, and protocols alone’…. [M]any of our bishops do not really believe in the need for penance and reparation.”36 He went on to say, “We are dealing with a failure in truth and courage, not a breakdown of policy and procedure…. It is a moral imperative to break the vicious culture of silence…which has so damaged the Church in our time.”37

When bishops act like bureaucrats, the Body of Christ suffers because the organization and the reputation of its leaders become more important than the people they serve. Unfortunately, with a few holy exceptions, our bishops act more like bureaucrats than apostles, one of the principle reasons for our current crisis in the Church.


Mandatory fingerprinting and background checks cannot solve a problem that is fundamentally rooted in a crisis of faith and a failure to govern. Dissent is so pandemic across the country that well-known Jesuit Fr. John Hardon, S.J. who died in 2000 warned for years that many dioceses in America would completely disappear. His words echo those of eminent theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand who in 1973 lamented one of the “most horrifying and widespread diseases” in the Church, “the lethargy of the guardians of the Faith… [who] fear men more than God. The words of St. John Bosco apply to them: ‘The power of evil men lives on the cowardice of the good.’”38 Today most bishops act more from fear of the lawsuit than fear of the Lord. Instead of embracing their God-given mission to teach, govern, and sanctify they filter their actions through lawyers and wordly advisors. That must end. The answer to the crisis in the Church is not to be found by imitating the secular world. The answer is to restore the true faith founded by Jesus Christ on the rock of Peter. As Fr. Pokorsky advocates, “The Church’s authentic moral teaching must be our compass, with canon law our practical guide.”39 This is “the way” of the apostle. Fingerprinting and background checks are the way of the worldly bureaucrat.

1 John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States,” published by the USCCB and available at

2 Shawne K. Wickham, “‘Celibate chastity’ will get new focus as church looks to prevent abuse,” New Hampshire Union Leader, November 18, 2002.

3 John Burger, “What is Going On in the U.S.,” National Catholic Register, April 21-27, 2002.

4 Paula Doyle, “Panel Speakers ‘Open up the Conversation’ on Gay Priests,” The Tidings, March 18, 2005.

5 Ibid.

6 Witnesses from diocesan meeting for Directors of Religious Education held in Arlington, VA on April 21, 2004 to discuss implementation of Good Touch Bad Touch which was later abandoned due to lay opposition.

7 Dr. Kirk Cameron, Editor, “A Look at Criminality,” Family Research Report, Vol. 19 No. 8, December 2004.

8 Brian W. Clowes and David L. Sonnier, “Child Molestation by Homosexuals and Heterosexuals,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May 2005, pp. 44-54.

9 Chris Manion, “Diocese Denies Homosexual Problem, Fingerprints Parents Instead,” The Wanderer, June 2, 2005.

10 Adam Ashton, “Lastiri assigned to parish in Bakersfield,” Merced Sun Times, June 7, 2005.

11 Mary Ann Kreitzer, “Mandatory Fingerprinting – a Solution? Or Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing,” The Truth, Vol. 10 No. 2, p. 7.

12 Stanford Espedal, “Kid in a Candy Shop: Disgraced Homosexual Priest Living at Saint Augustine High School, Hearing Students’ Confession,” San Diego News Notes, March 2005.

13 Diogenes, “Trust Us to Fix It,” Off the Record, June 15, 2005,

14 Ibid.

15 Erin R. bucher and Patrick J. Reilly, “The Culture of Death on Catholic Campuses: a Five-Year Review,” Cardinal Newman Society, April 2004.

16 Jorge A. Cardinal Medina Estevez, Prefect, Congregation for Divine Worship, Prot. N. 886/02/0, May 16, 2002.

17 Dr. Judith Reisman, “The Science Behind Pornography Addicition,” Testimony before U.S. Senate committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, November 18, 2004.

18 Julia Duin, “Arlington Priest Faces Judges,” The Washington Times, February 17, 2005.

19 Roman Catholic Faithful, “A Disgrace to the Catholic Church,” Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Winter 2001/2002, p. 19.

20 Dave Bakke, “Sins of the Father: The Springfield Diocese Tries to Restore Faith and Trust Following Years of Priestly Misconduct, The State Journal Register, March 13, 2005.

21 “1972 Gay Rights Platform,” National Coalition of Gay Organizations Convention, Chicago, Illinois, 1972.

22 Archdiocesan Case Review Board Report, Archdiocese of Seattle, June 2004, p. 12.

23 Superior Court Files 29692 for Tulare County, California Dept #6 before Hon. David L. Allen in criminal case against Joe Herrera Banuelos, May 13, 1991.

24 Gary Fields, “Apply, Interview, Fingerprint,” The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2005.

25 Rod Dreher, “Done in Dallas: The Problems that Persist,” National Review Online, June 17, 2002.

26 Fr. John Perricone, “(Bad) Business as Usual,” Homily of August 2002 posted as Guest Commentary on website of Tridentine Latin Mass Congregation of San Diego,

27 Pope Leo XIII, Episcopal Letter, Immortale Dei, November 1, 1885.

28 Pete Winn, “VAAPCON-troversy,” Focus on the Family Citizen Link, July 17, 2000.

29 Office of Child Protection, “Frequently Asked Questions,” Diocese of Arlington website, downloaded September 6, 2005..

30 Kreitzer, “Mandatory Fingerprinting,” p. 7.

31 Chris Manion, “In Arlington Diocese Controversy Over Fingerprinting Continues,” The Wanderer, June 16, 2005, p. 1.

32 Gary Fields, “Ten-Digit Truth Check,” The Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2005, p. B6.

33 Flynn McRoberts and Steve Mills, “Digitilized Prints Can Point Finger at the Innocent,” Chicago Tribune, January 3, 2005.

34 Andrew Kramer, “Fingerprint Science Not Exact, Experts Say,” Associated Press, May 21, 2004.

35 Chris Manion, “Diocese Denies Homosexual Problem, Fingerprints Parents Instead,” The Wanderer, June 2, 2005.

36 Fr. Jerry Pokorsky, “The Damaging Culture of Silence,” Catholic World Report, August/September 2005, p. 51.

37 Ibid, p.55.

38 Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Devastated Vineyard, (New York: Roman Catholic Books, paperback edition, 1985), p. 3.

39 Pokorsky, p. 55.

© Copyright 2006

Touch Index