Press Room

News Releases and News Clippings
Relating to Justice for Priests and Deacons

September 20, 2010

GREETINGS – hope all is well.

This week our office sent the Priests in prison a $50 money order. We try to do this several times a year and we are grateful for the help of donors. Diocesan priests never hear from their bishops. It is different for the religious communities – they visit their men. A priest wrote to his bishop and asked him if he would write to him. The bishop responded thru the Protestant Chaplain to tell him that it would be a MORTAL SIN if he wrote to him. We also send them a yearly subscription to the Magnificat publication which they enjoy. I have also asked three priests in the U.S to write letters to them on a regular basis which they do. They love getting mail.

I have visited many of these priests. Recently I visited two priests in prison. It was great and I brought $20 with me in quarters. We talked about many things and enjoyed that WONDERFUL food from the vending machines. The next day I visited two priests who live in the same city and are no longer in prison. I took them out for a meal and they are doing well. They never hear from their bishop or any diocesan officials. I am convinced that they were falsely accused and prosecuted because of an AGGRESSIVE District Attorney who wanted to be elected Attorney General. It never happened. I had many people pray to the Blessed Mother.

Here IS A CRUEL CASE. A priest was convicted. His family and friends put up the money for a lawyer. The conviction was overturned. He was released from prison and he needed money for HEART MEDICINE. He asked his bishop for money to help him until he got his BENEFITS back and the bishop refused. The priest contacted Justice for Priests and Deacons and we were able to arrange to get the medication for him through the local CVS Pharmacy. He is still alive and doing well. The bishop told priests and lay friends to have nothing to do with him but they ignored his request.

I was visiting a priest in prison about ten years ago. He told me that a priest would visit him every week and bring him Communion. The Vicar General of the Archdiocese found out about it and called his Provincial and asked him not to visit him or bring him Communion. I made a call to the Vicar General who was a former student of mine as I had taught him Canon Law and arranged a meeting with him. . It was a not a pleasant encounter and the pastoral visits were not resumed by the religious priest. The provincial thought the request was bizarre and the priest discontinued the visits because of his fear of reprisal from the Archdiocese.

The priest was released from prison and because he was not a U.S. citizen he was deported to London. I contacted a total of eight people – pastors and religious communities. I wanted someone to meet him at London airport and to offer him hospitality. They all refused. I finally found a group of lay people from the Church of England to help him. He is doing fine today. A religious community accepted him and he is doing great. He teaches English to foreigners for eleven months except August. He was abused by a priest when he was young. The Diocese is now helping him after his family intervened and made threats. We purchased him a ticket from the U.S. to London.

We are the only organization for priests that has a prison ministry program. They are so grateful for everything we do. I try to write them a chit-chat letter every month. I even tell them to call us collect which some do.

In conclusion, THERE IS A DOUBLE STANDARD. Almost thirty bishops have been accused, and to my knowledge they have enjoyed legal counsel paid by diocesan funds. The diocese of Phoenix paid over one million dollars to defend Bishop O’Brien for his hit and run accident and he killed a pedestrian. There were three lawyers hired by the Diocese of Phoenix and one lawyer was paid $600 a hour. You will find a listing of some of the bishops below. Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles and Bishop Todd Brown of Orange were also accused, as was Cardinal Bernardine of Chicago.

Accused of Sexual Misconduct

From Staff Reports
Dallas Morning News

Since 1990, at least 15 top U.S. Catholic leaders have been accused of personal sexual misconduct – eight of them this year. A ninth, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, was quickly cleared by police of allegations made in March by a mentally ill woman.

Lexington, Ky. – Bishop Kendrick Williams resigned Tuesday, several weeks after three men accused him of abuse in the 1980s. A lawsuit alleged that he molested a 12-year-old altar boy while serving as a priest in the nearby Louisville archdiocese in 1981; fondled a high school student; and made sexual comments to a third plaintiff during a counseling session. Bishop Williams, 65, denied the allegations and said he was stepping aside for the good of his diocese and the church.??????

New York – Bishop James F. McCarthy resigned his positions as a church pastor and auxiliary bishop after admitting he had several affairs with women, the archdiocese announced Tuesday. His admissions came after the archdiocese received a letter Saturday revealing the affairs.

Milwaukee – Archbishop Rembert Weakland resigned in May after admitting that he tried to buy the silence of a former theology student who accused him of sexual assault. Archbishop Weakland acknowledged an affair with the man but denied abuse. He initially said he had given the archdiocese more than enough money to cover the $450,000 secret settlement, then later acknowledged otherwise. Local and federal prosecutors have begun preliminary inquiries into the financial matter.

Palm Beach, Fla. – Bishop Anthony O’Connell resigned in March after admitting that as a Missouri seminary leader in the 1970s, he abused a student. More ex-students have since accused the bishop, including some who received secret payments from him. He quit shortly after joining other Florida bishops in a statement condemning sexual abuse as “criminal and sinful.” Bishop O’Connell’s predecessor also quit after admitting abuse.

St. Petersburg, Fla. – Bishop Robert Lynch disclosed in March that the diocese had paid his former spokesman $100,000 last year to settle allegations that the bishop sexually harassed him. Bishop Lynch is alleged to have made advances after Bill Urbanski joined the diocese in the late 1990s. The bishop said the matter was a misunderstanding and described the settlement as a severance package. A diocesan investigation declared the allegations unfounded. Mr. Urbanski said investigators didn’t interview him.

San Diego – Bishop Robert Brom has been accused of coercing a student into sex at a seminary in Minnesota, where he once headed the Diocese of Duluth. Church officials there have paid a confidential settlement to the accuser, who retracted his claims. The deal was reached in the 1990s but didn’t become public until this spring. Bishop Brom has denied wrongdoing and remains on the job.

Sioux Falls, S.D. – Bishop Paul Dudley, who retired in 1995, was accused this year of fondling an altar boy in the 1950s. He was a priest then in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, which said in May that it had hired a private detective to investigate. Archdiocesan officials said that in 1999, a woman accused Bishop Dudley of abusing her in the 1970s. There was insufficient evidence to support the allegation, the officials said. Bishop Dudley faces no civil or criminal charges. He has denied wrongdoing.

Cheyenne, Wyo. – Bishop Joseph Hart, who retired last year, was accused in 1989 and 1992 of molesting two junior high school boys while a Missouri priest in the early 1970s. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph paid for counseling of one accuser’s family and bought another accuser a pickup; the bishop was evaluated at a treatment center, got therapy for alcohol abuse and returned to duty. The diocese has said there was no indication that he was dangerous. Since the allegations became public in April, a third accuser has come forward and said he was abused as a boy in Wyoming. Police there are investigating. Bishop Hart has denied wrongdoing.


Santa Rosa, Calif. – Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann resigned in 1999 after admitting a sexual relationship with a priest he supervised. The priest said he was coerced into sex after the bishop learned he had stolen parish funds. Bishop Ziemann, who has returned to ministry in Arizona, said their relationship was consensual.

Springfield, Ill. – Bishop Daniel Ryan took early retirement in 1999 after being accused of hiring teenage boy prostitutes and having sex with priests. A lawsuit has alleged that this activity created an atmosphere of toleration for child molestation. Bishop Ryan, who remains in ministry in the Diocese of Springfield, had denied wrongdoing.

Palm Beach, Fla. – Bishop J. Keith Symons quit in 1998 after admitting that he abused five boys while a priest in various Florida parishes many years earlier. He has returned to ministry in Michigan.

Santa Fe, N.M. – Archbishop Robert Sanchez resigned in 1993 after admitting affairs with young women in the 1980s and 1970s. His archdiocese has settled more than 100 lawsuits alleging that he ignored complaints about pedophile priests during this time.


January 5, 2003 San Diego, CA

Feast of the Epiphany

Dear Bishop Gregory:

I am concerned. In fact, I am really worried by what seems to be happening in several of the U.S. dioceses at the present time and could spread to other diocese as well. Due Process is again being undermined. Rights are being violated. Settlements are being mediated to avoid trials. There is no search for facts but rather an immediacy to pay settlements. The right of the priest to defend himself is taken away and yet his name is given out publicly. My concerns fall into three categories:

1) “Mediated” settlements with little or no search for the facts or in other words for the truth of an allegation: An article in the Manchester Union Leader states the following quoting a defense attorney who was involved with settling 62 cases for $5 million and who will not divulge how much he as attorney will make from the settlement:

“He praised the Manchester Diocese for its cooperation and said it has taken a leadership role in dealing with sexual abuse complaints. During settlement negotiations, diocesan officials did not press for details such as dates and allegations for every claim, he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hutchins said. “

The same article in the Union Leader also discusses another settlement: “Last month, Concord lawyer Charles Douglas III engineered a $950,000 settlement for 16 men.”

Another article in the Union Leader states: “He (Hutchins, the attorney) said he believes diocesan officials discussed the allegation with the accused cleric to determine if he admitted or denied it.

“My understanding was that the direct order was that, if there was a dispute between what the priest said and what the victim said, that they (diocesan officials) were to believe what the victim said, ” he(Hutchins the attorney) added.

This is what has already happened in New Hampshire.

A January 2, 2003 article in the LA Times states that: “Attorneys for alleged victims in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Diocese of Orange agreed Tuesday to negotiate more than 100 claims rather than file lawsuits immediately.”…..and….”Drivon, who said he is in mediation with church officials in Sacramento on other cases, said he is confident that mediation will be used in Southern California as well.”

Why are these cases being settled so quickly without a process for attempting to determine the facts or to allow the accused due process rights for his defense? It is wrong to just assume guilt and defame the name of an accused. Where is the justice in handling matters in this manner? Why are these bishops so eager to settle now? What might they be trying to hide?

2) Retrospective legislation or in other words suspension or deletion of the statute of limitations in our civil laws:

Beginning January 1, 2003 and continuing for the rest of the year, the State of California has suspended the statute of limitations so that civil cases can be filed for cases which happened at any time in the past. This could result in hundreds of cases being filed this year for allegations which are 20, 30 or 40 years old. How does a man defend against such allegations? Statutes of limitations are written into laws so that the accuracy of the facts can be determined while people can remember them. It makes no sense to delete such limitations if one is truly seeking justice.

3) Disclosure of all personnel files to defense attorneys and, therefore, to the media of all priests ever accused of misconduct. What ever happened to canon 220: the right to privacy and the right to a good reputation?

If an allegation is made and a suit filed against a priest, the record must under law be made available to the courts and attorneys as needed. It must also be made available to the accused and his attorney.

To release all files en masse with no notification to many of the accused is to set men up for defamation and to allow the courts and the media to conduct a witch hunt. It gives the accused no opportunity for a defense.

Yes, I am concerned. I am worried. If justice is to be served, facts must be ascertained. The accused must be able to present his defense.

Payments should be made only when guilt has been determined within the parameters of law. This is true under civil as well as canon law statutes. Justice can only be served for all if efforts are made to determine the truth of the facts and allow for a defense by those accused. Is this Due Process Under Law?

One of the major reasons that the morale of priests is so low is that many bishops are not following the provisions of canon 384: “He is to have a special concern for the priests, to whom he is to listen as his helpers and counsellors. He is to defend their rights and ensure that they fulfil the obligations proper to their state. He is to see that they have the means and the institutions needed for the development of their spiritual and intellectual life. He is to ensure that they are provided with adequate means of livelihood and social welfare, in accordance with the law.” The Holy See has said that DUE PROCESS must be followed and it is been ignored my many bishops.

My concerns over these matter is so great that I strongly suggest that you appoint an interdisciplinary committee to look at these matters and to assure that the rights of priests as well as those of the alleged victims are protected under civil and canon law. Looking forward in having a response from you.

Peace and Joy,


Msgr. Michael Higgins, M. A., S.T. D., J.C.D.
Phone: (760) 346-2848


San Diego, California, Friday October 18

≠’Justice for Priests and Deacons’ applauds Vatican rejection of Dallas norms.

Dr. Michael Higgins, Executive Director of Justice for Priests and Deacons, said he was gratified that the Holy See did not grant recognitio (approval) to the Charter and Norms of the U.S. bishops. Justice for Priests and Deacons is a group of canon lawyers that assists clergy in defending their rights in the Catholic Church.

Dr. Higgins commented, “I have always said that the Vatican would never approve the Dallas document becaue it was contrary to canon law and moral theology. So we were right on. Justice for Priests and Deacons celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. Our organization has advocated due process and that canon law be followed. If this is done, then everyone receives justice and this includes the victims.”

Justice for Priests and Deacons was formed in 1996 because of the growing need for clergy to have capable canonical advocacy when their bishops took action to impose suspension or other penalty. Oftentimes, the canon lawyers in a priest’s own diocese were unwilling to assist because they didn’t want to be in opposition to their bishops.

The organization recently conducted two events while the Canon Law Society of America was meeting in Cincinnati. The first was a Monday evening panel discussion about advocacy for clergy and religious. The second was a lunch on Tuesday to which those interested in working with Justice for Priests and Deacons were invited. Dr. Higgins gave a brief explanation of how he receives requests and refers them to canonist members. There are currently ninety canonists, clerical, lay and religious, who are members. You may call Phone: (760) 346-2848 for further information or visit our web


Justice For Priests and Deacons

September 2, 2002

Press Release

Bishops may be violating church law when they make public the names of priests suspected of sexual misconduct or other allegations of wrong doing,” says the leader of an organization founded to defend the rights of Roman Catholic clergy.

“Too many times bishops only consult secular lawyers who don’t understand the canonical aspects of a situation,” Monsignor Michael Higgins of San Diego maintains.

Higgins heads an organization of canon lawyers founded in 1997 called Justice for Priests and Deacons. It was founded as a referral service for members of the clergy who believe they are victims of injustice in the church and need representation in church legal matters.

“Priests have rights which are guaranteed both under the civil law of the United States and canon law of the Roman Catholic Church. Bishops often have good intentions but don’t know the rights of the clergy or the proper canonical procedures to be followed, whether it is in imposing penalties, removing pastors or other matters,” Higgins stated.

“Often the bishops don’t realize they should have canonical consultation before acting or don’t get good advice when they seek it,” he said.

Higgins continued: “Situations in which a priest’s rights are violated include cases of allegations of sexual misconduct where a priest facing such accusations is given a temporary leave of absence because of pressure on a diocese to take action in the wake of a allegation. Canonical process is often not followed and the accused priest is not presented with the evidence against him. He is not given the right to have his own defense, a right that is guaranteed him under canon law as it is under civil law. Priests also have the right to their good reputation under canon law and civil statutes, a right often forgotten many times in the light of certain accusations.”

“Penalties, such as the removal of priestly faculties, have been inflicted in some cases with no reason for the penalty given. Canon law states that there must be a grave reason for inflicting this penalty and a particular process used before a penalty of this nature can be inflicted. Priests have been forced into psychological evaluations without even being told anything of the nature of the accusations against them. When these priests have refused, they are told that they no longer have an assignment in the diocese or any financial support or salary,” said Monsignor Higgins.

Those familiar with such situations say it is often difficult for priests or deacons to get a canon lawyer locally to represent them because most canon lawyers are priests working in the tribunals ( church ecclesiastical courts) or chanceries of their own dioceses. These canon lawyers are often reluctant to get involved in a dispute between their bishops (their employer) and a priest or deacon of their own diocese.

“Referrals to Justice for Priests and Deacons should not be seen as an attack on dioceses or bishops. Rather it should be seen as a service. It is important for priests and deacons to be aware of their rights and that certain procedures and processes must be followed under canon law when accusations are made. All too often priests are not provided this information and, as a result, they may not be justly treated,” said Monsignor Higgins.

Justice for Priests and Deacons can be contacted at the website,,
by email: ten.n1511514825ozire1511514825v@sts1511514825eirpr1511514825ofeci1511514825tsuj1511514825, or by phone: (760) 346-2848.


Catholic News Service/U.S. Catholic Conference

12/21/2000 4:19 PM ET

Victims of injustice in the church and need a canon lawyer.

Among matters discussed at the group’s fall meeting were ways of educating deacons, priests and bishops about the rights of the clergy and the proper canonical procedures that are to be followed in various situations and how the referral system should be handled.

Msgr. Michael Higgins, founder and current chairman of Justice for Priests and Deacons, said at the meeting that requests by priests for canonical assistance, usually in controversies with their bishops, continue to increase. He said the need for the group is real and will continue to exist in the foreseeable future.

Msgr. Higgins said that in most cases, the priests’ rights have been violated by their bishops. “Bishops often have good intentions,” Msgr. Higgins said, “but don’t know well the rights of clergy or the proper canonical procedures to be followed, whether it is in imposing penalties, removing pastors or other matters.

`Often the bishops don’t realize they should have canonical consultation before acting or don’t get good advice when they seek it,” he added. “Too many times bishops only consult secular lawyers who don’t understand the canonical aspects of a situation.”

He cited several examples of situations where he said priests’ rights often are violated, including cases of allegations of sexual misconduct, where a priest facing such accusations is suspended because of pressure on a diocese to take action in the wake of an allegation. Canonical process is usually not followed, he said, and the accused priest is not presented with the evidence against him and is not given the right to have his own defense.

Msgr. Higgins said that in cases where a priest’s faculties have been taken away, there usually is no reason given, even though, he noted, canon law states there must be a “grave cause” to take away faculties. He also said that he knew of cases where a priest was forced to undergo a psychological evaluation. If the priest refused, he said, the bishop told him that he would no longer have an assignment in his diocese or financial support.

Those familiar with such situations say it is difficult for priests or deacons to get a canon lawyer locally to represent them because most canon lawyers are priests working in the tribunals or chanceries of their dioceses. Canon lawyers are often reluctant to get involved in a dispute between their bishops and a priest or deacon of their own dioceses.

Msgr. Higgins said that referrals by Justice for Priests and Deacons should not be seen as an attack on dioceses or bishops. Rather, “we see it as a service,” he said. “It’s important for priests and deacons to be aware of their rights and that certain procedures and processes must be followed under canon law when accusations are made. All too often they are not provided this information and, as a result, they may not be justly treated.’


For further information you may contact the office of Justice for Priests and Deacons in San Diego, California by phone at (760) 346-2848, or by email at ten.n1511514825ozire1511514825v@sts1511514825eirpr1511514825ofeci1511514825tsuj1511514825


12/21/2000 4:19 PM ET
Copyright © 2000 Catholic News Service/U.S. Catholic Conference




Thursday, September 30, 2000

On Monday, March 5, we mailed a letter to all active and associate members of the Canon Law Society of America – 1647 letters, including 145 oversees and 85 to Canada. There are 447 associate members who would not qualify as advocates because they do not have a canon law degree. Active members have a canon law degree and would qualify as advocates.

The purpose of the letter was to let the members know about the organization “Justice For Priests and Deacons” and to ask those interested to be a canonical advocate. We had a very good response, many favorable comments and much encouragement.

Since our first press release in October 1998, we have taken on almost 200 cases. This is why we need more canon lawyers. Clergy of other denominations have also called and we have helped. We started with 14 canon lawyers and we now have 72. All our canonists have degrees in canon law and some have civil law degrees as well. I should also mention that all our canonists have full time assignments. We do not give ANY canonist more than one or two cases. Our success has been very good.

A board of trustees has been established and we have nonprofit status. We hope to do some fund raising in November as I would like to hire a canon lawyer to help us.

We have been featured on Irish radio twice, both were talk shows. One of these talk shows has an audience of over 2 million people. The Catholic Times in England carried a story on our organization on their front page and we have also written an article for an Irish Journal.

Our existence is now well known. There have been calls for many other countries looking for our help such as England, Bosnia, France, Italy, Guam, Saipan, Ireland, Australia, Africa, Philippines, Mexico, Scotland, Venezuela as well as India and others. Depending on the nature of the case, one of our canonists acts as an advocate or we try to find a canonist in the particular country. All depends on the case and the situation. We are fortunate that members of our group speak a variety of languages.

On September 30, 2000, I flew to Washington, DC to attend the annual meeting of the Canon Law Society Convention. During the meeting, our group had a meeting to discuss future plans. Many of us met face to face for the first time. Our group has grown from 20 to 72 since our meeting in Minneapolis last year. Students who are studying canon law have expressed interest in the group and joined us at our meeting during the convention.

Ordinarily we have not handled cases for women religious and lay people. However, because of the nature of some of the cases, we have handled some cases for women religious and lay people. We try to listen to everyone, give them direction and get them help.

There is much work to be done. There are so many priests and deacons that need our help. Things could be different if Canon Law was OBSERVED. So, please pray for all of us.

Our organization always tries to show KINDNESS AND COMPASSION.

“Yet even now, says the Lord,

return to me with your whole heart,

with fasting, and weeping and mourning;

Rend your hearts and not your garments,

and return to the Lord, your God.

For gracious and merciful is he,

slow to anger, rich in kindness,

and relenting in punishment.”

Joel 2:12-13




Independent canon law group founded

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

Priests and deacons who fear they cannot be adequately represented by diocesan canon lawyers can now turn to a canon lawyer referral program called Justice for Priests and Deacons.

According to Fr. Michael Higgins, a San Diego canon lawyer, most diocesan canon lawyers work in the marriage tribunals of local dioceses and are employees of the diocese themselves. Therefore, they are often reluctant to take on cases which will put them at odds with their own employer, he said.

Higgins decided to create the new referral program to advise priests and deacons about their rights under canon law and to process and appeal cases. Higgins said he has 14 canon lawyers available through the Justice for Priests and Deacons Program.

While experts had differing assessments of the need for an independent referral program, they agreed that most priests and deacons are inadequately informed about their rights under canon law.

Deacon Tom Welch, head of the National Association of Diaconate Directors, told NCR in a phone interview that he has received no reports of deacons complaining that they had been treated unjustly by a local bishop. “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen; I just haven’t heard about it,” Welch said

Fr. Don Wolf, director of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, hailed the availability of an independent referral program. Most priests, he said, are not aware of their own rights under canon law. “We are concerned, particularly where sexual wrongdoing is alleged, that there can be a rush to judgment,” Wolf said. “There’s some sense that you’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Wolf, whose office represents about 20,000 priests in 113 dioceses, noted that canon lawyers employed by a diocese may face repercussions if they decide to represent or even advise a priest or deacon who has been accused of wrongdoing by the bishop.

Fr. Patrick Cogan, executive coordinator for the Canon Law Society of America, agreed that diocesan canon lawyers can face a potential conflict of interest. “It would be better to locate a consultant who is not involved in the local diocese,” he said.

Cogan also agreed that priests and deacons could benefit from more information about their rights under canon law.

Higgins said the new program should not be construed as an attack on dioceses. “We see it as a service,” he said. “It’s important for priests and deacons to be aware of their rights and that certain procedures and processes must be followed under canon law when accusations are made. All too often, they are not provided this information, and, as a result, they may not be justly treated.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 9, 1998