The Catholic Church in Hawai’i now finds itself more directly involved in the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the church in the United States.
The Rev. Joseph Bukoski III was recently removed as pastor of Maria Lanakila Church in Lahaina because of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor more than 20 years ago.
The action was taken by Honolulu Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo following the unanimous recommendation of the Diocesan Standing Committee for Sexual Misconduct. The committee — three priests and five lay people with training in sexual abuse issues — unanimously recommended that Bukoski be removed and undergo professional evaluation and treatment. DiLorenzo said there has been no final determination of innocence or guilt, and Bukoski has denied the allegations.
Many have been aghast at the charges on the Mainland of cover-ups by church officials of past sexual abuse cases.
But it would seem, on the surface at least, that in Hawai’i that will not be the case. The committee acted swiftly in removing Bukoski, and the diocese and the religious order Bukoski belongs to were both refreshingly up-front about the allegations and subsequent action.
The Catholic Church, the largest religious denomination in Hawai’i, exerts a powerful moral influence that extends even beyond its membership. It has been responsible for much good in this state — in education, medical care, social services and in reaching out to those in need.
We hope that the Hawai’i diocese will continue to be open and forthcoming about this case and can be a model for other dioceses across the country. The obfuscation in some cases on the Mainland has done the church no good. We all expect the churches and clergy of all faiths to do no harm and act swiftly when harm is done.
Catholics must be able to have trust in the clergy of their church, in the hierarchy and in the mechanisms that root out abuse and wrongdoing.
The members of the Diocesan Standing Committee for Sexual Misconduct do not have an easy task. They deal with difficult issues. And they must hear grievous allegations and then make decisions that can harm a reputation if the charges are unfounded.
The diocese has kept secret the names of the lay members. We can understand that, if it is the only way to get people to serve on the committee. But at a minimum, the diocese owes it to all Hawai’i Catholics to be much more specific about the qualifications the committee members bring to their duties.
All Catholics, and particularly all the parishioners Bukoski ministered to, deserve to know more about those who made this important decision.