Jose Morales got out of prison yesterday, 13 years after he and another manwere convicted of murder.
Morales was liberated by the testimony of Father Joseph Towle, who toldthe court that shortly after the murder, a young man named Jesus Fornesadmitted to him that he committed the crime in this park in the Bronx.
Fornes has since died, but the priest says he is doing exactly what Forneswould have expected him to do.
FATHER JOSEPH TOWLE:
And I truly believe that at this moment, 13 years later, I have done whathe wanted me to do. And I have fulfilled the purpose that he had 13 yearsago.
Under Catholic law, priests are--under no circumstances--allowed to breakwhat's called "the sacred seal of confession."
For example, Robert Hanssen confessed his early espionage to his priest, whokept the secret despite the fact that enormous national security damagemight have been averted.
Father Towle, however, insists his conversation 13 years ago with JesusFornes was not a confession--merely counseling.
Catholic law scholar John Beal:
FATHER JOHN BEAL, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY:
If it was not a sacramental confession, then there is no reason why hecannot and at this point should not come forward to exonerate two innocentyoung men who have been in prison for 12 years.
No matter what Catholic law says, the district attorney says Father Towleis breaking state law. Prosecutors argue a conversation between a priest anda parishioner is privileged--similar to the way in which doctor-patient andattorney-client conversations are privileged. They want Jose Morales back inprison.
Many legal scholars disagree.
MICHAEL MARTIN, FORDHAM LEGAL SCHOLAR:
The priest did not break the confidentiality code because the man who wentto the priest went in order to figure out how they could let other peopleknow that he was the man who committed the crime.
The priest says he has only one judge: God.
Gentlemen, I have never been at more peace in my life, if that matters toanybody.