Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Boycott the Basket for Lent and Easter


The Vatican Sex Abuse summit is over. One high-ranking cardinal has just been defrocked for, and another convicted in an Australian court, for raping children. A Catholic, still practicing, I expected little to come of the recent Vatican Sex Abuse summit, and in my judgment, I was correct. It was pro forma, a publicity stunt. What ame out of the summit was a plan of action over which a team of prelates, many of whom have publicly admitted to failing to report multiple child rapes, will preside. Catholic teaching, by design, keeps Catholics in the candle-lit dark. The seal of confession, vows/promises of obedience priests are required to take, help to maintain the problem opacity. How can any Catholic defend the institutional church after seeing so much depravity, misogyny and corruption on full display? Denial? Maybe so. The mix of the Catholic hierarchy’s sense that they are “above the (secular) law and lay Catholics’ erroneous belief that they lack power to bring change has proven to be a toxic one. But Catholics in the pews do have economic power. Fear of losing contributions often catalyzes reform in the Church. As I struggle to stay Catholic, I am often comforted by a decision I made 12 years ago to withhold contributions. Knowing I no longer help to finance an institution which shields men who rape children from justice, launders money through the Vatican Bank, and enacts misogyny on a daily basis is no longer a sin for which I repent every time I pray the Confiteor at mass.  My offertory dollars are no longer used to oppose same-sex marriage in federal courts, strip women of health care, or oppose Child Victims Act legislation—Because I boycott the basket.    

Many Catholics don’t know what happens to the money they contribute to the Church. They are unaware that often parishes kick back to dioceses: and dioceses, to the Vatican. They don’t know that in many (possibly most) cases, in the U.S. at least, dioceses own everything a parish has. Some don’t know that many of the same Catholics protesting the sex abuse crisis actually contributed financially to the hierarchy’s efforts to bock Child Victims Act legislation. Millions of women who identify as feminists donate cash every Sunday to a church that teaches girls it “catechizes,” starting at age 7, that they are unworthy of ordination.

I have never taken the decision to boycott the basket lightly, because I know from my own church work that the Catholic Church does a great deal of good on behalf of people in need.  Early on in my withholding I worried, as the basket on a stick sailed by, about being seen as a deadbeat—the sort who swipes a servers’ tip off a restaurant table. But here’s the thing: Catholics can increase their support for these organizations by cutting out the middlemen. I can give my bishop’s “take” to the Catholic Worker, for example.

Catholics often speak of contributing in terms of “time, talent and treasure.” With this in mind I give goods whenever possible, and “treasure” to organizations whose missions reflect my Catholic beliefs. Boycotting the basket has demanded that I be more mindful about giving. Over the course of two decades, while working as a teacher, writer and mother of three (one with special needs), I contributed time and talent in many ways. I worked in an overnight respite for unsheltered women. My whole family and I worked in a food pantry, with our parish’s monthly dinner for people living with HIV/AIDS and in LGBTQ and other ministries. (My favorite boast: For 15 years I cooked two 25-pound turkeys every Thanksgiving: one for my family, one for my HOPE dinner beloveds.) I visited the homebound, served on the altar, sang in a Gregorian chant schola, was a lector, helped decorate the church every Christmas, led writing groups, bought/wrapped gifts every December, worked with children whose parents were incarcerated, and clergy sex abuse survivors; served on Pastoral Council, co-founded an annual World AIDS Day service/memorial; played lawyer on a pro-bono legal team which helped poor people obtain medical insurance, food supplementation and tenants’ rights information.  

I asked three priests in three different orders the following question recently, and each was quick to answer in the emphatic affirmative. “If every Catholic who objects to the misogyny of the institutional church were to boycott the basket for one year as a protest against male-only priesthood, would the Vatican change course on ordaining women?” Answers varied slightly: “Of course!”, “Are you kidding?” and “Sure!” 

Our only hope for “cleansing” the Catholic “temple” may be economic. Lent begins this Wednesday. Catholic worship is free. We care called to contribute, but we are also taught to discern.  To Catholics who feel like bolting in disgust, might consider staying, and giving up the basket for Lent—and Easter.  



Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Fish Rots From the Head: The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report


The recently published Pennsylvania grand jury report chronicles more than 300 alleged sexual assaults on more than 1,000 victims (and likely many more) over a period of several decades. The first reasonable question to pose is: “Why didn’t bishops who knew about these sex crimes report them to law enforcement?” The two-fold follow-up question might be: “Who at the Vatican was in charge of investigating and addressing sexual abuse cases internally, and why did concern for the victims involved not prompt them to investigate more strenuously?” Yesterday the pope released a three-page letter to from the pope to “the faithful”. It was as if a lifeline were being tossed off into the deep by the Holy Father. He has a plan to meet with victims. Pope Francis to the rescue. This letter prompted some Catholics to rejoice. The problem here — the problem with the letter is that nothing the pope is saying about this wave of reports is new. What Pope Francis offered in yesterday’s letter is a more lyrical version of what his two predecessors and many other prelates along the way have said and done.

It is hard for me to suggest, here, that Pope Francis might be a part of the problem, because I am aware that some of the (in my opinion) most wrong-headed Catholics have been waiting for the day the “liberal” pope might be unseated. But Pope Francis is a part of the problem and must act.
Many of those currently targeting the pope are Catholics who want a pre-Vatican II church. They promulgate anti-LGBT prejudice, misogyny, and antisemitism. They attach a somewhat fundamentalist reading to the “rules and regs” of Roman Catholicism. However, the truth is that Jorge Bergoglio was a member of the College of Cardinals for seventeen years before being elevated. There are 224 cardinals. They speak to each other. Many have known each other for years. Some serve as each other’s confessors. Can Pope Francis get away with a “Is there gambling, here in Casablanca?” disposition on the matter of the Pennsylvania grand jury report? No.
This fish rots from the head.

Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day wrote these lines in 1968 at around the time Vatican II changes were taking hold, in a letter to Gordon Zahn, a professor, scholar, sociologist, pacifist, and author and co-founder of Pax Christi:
As a convert, I never expected much of the bishops. In all history popes and bishops and father abbots seem to have been blind and power-loving and greedy. I never expected leadership from them.
I’m no convert, but two days ago I added my signature to the petition currently circulating which calls for the resignation of all U.S. bishops. I had mixed feelings about signing it, but I went ahead and signed it, in part, because I knew it was pro forma and that nothing would come of it. The United States is not Chile. There is way too much money to be had in the United States and of there is one thing the U.S. Bishops like almost as much as God and Jesus, it’s money. Much of the Vatican sexual abuse scandal boils down to money and holding onto it.

I have never had much faith in the bishops, and now I have almost less than none, though I continue to have faith in the church of Dorothy Day.

The prelates will apologize for a while, then hit the mattresses, then ask for prayers, then remind us that the church and Jesus are all bit forgiveness, then emerge again, not out of ashes, but out of hiding, when the shooting stops, to ask for peace.

I know several survivors of clergy sexual abuse (We must call it “rape”) and I attended a few Voice of the Faithful meetings in 2000 at his request. This friend of mine, now in his eighties, was brave enough to report, as a child, that he was being abused by priests about sixty-five years ago. He was arrested by NYPD, as a child, and taken into custody. Even as a father, grandfather, and rather model citizen, he was regularly insulted, scorned, and ridiculed by Catholics and a few Roman Catholic clerics in and outside of his relatively speaking, welcoming parish. I was moved by the devotion and dignity of all who spoke out about this abuse at VOTF meetings, but I found the pattern of requesting support from bishops to be absurd — perhaps even masochistic. I see some of this same religious masochism among some women’s ordination advocates. (Why beg a hierarchy maddened by its own quasi-royal power to return to us what they formally took away in the fourth century?) Martin Luther King Jr.’s words from Letter from a Birmingham Jail do apply:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Why beg bishops to police themselves?
The authority of bishops derives from one of the most (if not the most) wealthy and powerful business operations in the world, the Vatican. The U.S. bishops, some of whom are also members of the College of Cardinals, are the last people to whom Catholics should run in search of relief and remedy in the matter of the Vatican clerical child rape scandal. They have been covering up these crimes for years. Is it fair to ask the U.S. bishops to resign without asking the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis I to resign? I’m not sure.

Pope Francis took five days to respond directly to the grand jury report. In a letter made public on August 20, he invited “the faithful” to engage in fasting and prayer. He accepts responsibility in the way every other bishop speaking out has, and namechecks Mary, calling her “the first disciple.” The day before the pope’s letter came out, I turned to my husband in the car and said, “Watch. They’ll all go ham on the Blessed Mother in their rhetoric, and then invite the women to come in and bat cleanup.”

Yesterday I had the not very satisfying opportunity to say, “I called it!” We now have many Catholic writers waxing prosaic on the “Francis to the rescue” bluntness, power, and beauty of the pontiff’s letter.

I stopped expecting anything much from Pope Francis the moment I read that he had described the women of the church as “strawberries on the cake.” No man who is not a misogynist says such things. If I were not a woman, perhaps the “five Church doctors and it takes a long time to turn a big bus” reasoning might strike me as sound. It is not sound. It is a defense of sexism and institutional misogyny. The popes and prelates like to haul out Mary when they sense a need to extol the merits of womanhood, pointing, generally, to their docility. I have my doubts that any bishop who promulgates misogyny (most do) can ever fully grasp the full significance of Mary; however, but Pope Francis deserves points for reminding the world, this week, that Mary was “the first disciple.”
Pope Francis also cites Pope Benedict XVI, the brilliant man on whose watch so much torture of children went unchecked: “I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: ‘How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]!’”

Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the aspect of the Vatican under whose jurisdiction tracking and addressing sexual abuse cases falls, between 1981 and 2005. Benedict VXI dropped the ball, but “Saint” John Paul II was the more culpable pope.

There are 224 men in the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis I has been a member for more than seventeen years. There are 456 active bishops in the United States. Some are members of both the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and the College of Cardinals. They speak to one another. They serve as each other’s confessors. Many have known each other for decades. Some have ordained each other and consecrated (made bishops of) each other.

It is naive to imagine that what was chronicled in the 2002 Boston Globe investigation, in the 2004 John Jay report, the 2011 Cloyne report, or the many other investigations, surprised any prelate. Were any of them completely shocked by the Pennsylvania grand jury report? I think it is unlikely.
As a progressive Catholic I have, at various points, felt encouraged by the words of our current pope. On the other hand, my sense of him has always been inflected by his remarks on the role of women in the church, his refusal to even crack open the door to formal dialogue about ordaining women, and by the circumstances that attended his elevation. I have believed all along that Bergoglio was elected and selected to serve as a fresh face for a still-medieval brand. The Vatican has lost a lot of Catholics in Latin America to Pentecostal and other Protestant churches in recent years and is desperate to slow the exodus out of the church. The humble Bergoglio, is Latin American. Unlike his predecessor, lacked a regal countenance. Elevating a cardinal who refused to live, as his two predecessors had, two floors up from the Vatican bank (Just as Vatican Bank money laundering news was making headlines in the Financial Times); a prelate who took his name from the saint most associated with poverty and who jump-started his pontificate with a “greed is sin” message was a stroke of Public Relations genius. Pope Francis I rode the bus, washed prisoners’ feet, and publicly exhibited other impressive Christlike conduct. Even Bergoglio’s status as a Jesuit was part of the plan. Educated liberals love the Jesuits!

Sometimes I saw the elevation of Bergoglio to pope as encouraging. At other times I more saw it as shrewd, a move designed to keep “cafeteria Catholics” in the United States and Western Europe in the pews, tithing and spawning Catholics.

In 2012, secular newspapers and mainstream media reported on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s surveillance of women religious. The Vatican was looking for heretic women involved in the growing women’s ordination movement. At the time Bergoglio became Pope Francis, I fraud investigations involving the Vatican bank were under way. In June of 2013, three priests — one of them a bishop — were arrested for laundering money through the Vatican bank. Then came Habemus Papam. While not normally one to subscribe to conspiracy theories, I have often wondered how many of the cardinals who helped to elect Pope Francis saw Nanni Moretti’s charming film, Habemus Papam, which was released in 2012, a year before the emeritus pope resigned. The film depicts the journey of a reluctant, newly elevated pontiff, a charming, humble cardinal/priest who sees a therapist and rides a bus through Rome.

I do not mean to suggest that Moretti’s film served as a blueprint for the selection of the pope, but the film was directed by an Italian, features the church, was fairly reverential in tone, and was well- and widely reviewed. I imagine many of the cardinals may have seen it and perhaps been moved and inspired by its message. Setting aside way out notions with regard to Moretti’s film, I mean to suggest that when Benedict XVI resigned in quasi-disgrace, what was needed was a pope as telegenic as John Paul II, and less interested in John Paul II and Benedict XVI in publicly policing Catholic demeanor.
Once installed, Pope Francis kept Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose alleged sexual misconduct began to come to light as early as 1994, in place. Pope Francis did not just attend Bernard Law’s funeral in In 2017, he offered the (deeply solemn and significant) final prayer of commendation over the body of the pedophile-shuffling fugitive prelate. (Pope Francis’s predecessor helped Cardinal Law elude prosecution for his alleged crimes against children by fleeing to Vatican City, a sovereign nation.) Once safe in Vatican City, Law, a fugitive, received a church and a posting from Pope Benedict XVI. Law should have been tried for his crimes, but with papal support, he was permitted to live out his life without facing trial.

Pope Francis hastily made a saint out of Pope John Paul II, this as a means of sanitizing his legacy (It will not work.) As of today, August 21, 2018, Pope Francis has not removed Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the bishop in charge of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (from 1988 to 2006) who was implicated in the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Wuerl is heading up the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., today.
Wuerl is credibly accused (in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report) of running a child pornography ring, but only admits to having transferred priests he knew to be guilty of sexual misconduct to new parishes. While the wrongdoing to which Wuerl publicly admits seems more than enough to warrant his removal, he has not been removed from his position. It may be that the Vatican will leave him in place, because to admit to Wuerl’s alleged crimes is to admit to a Roman Catholic Church-based sex crime ring. Sex crime ring plus money-laundering, if such crimes can be proven, equals cause for prosecution under RICO.

People charged with crimes have a legal right to be seen as innocent under the law until they are proven guilty, and several accounts this week suggest the possibility that not all of the USCCB knew what their priests were raping children. The bottom line, ethics-wise, is that an adult man who knows that a child is endangered and fails to inform law enforcement is guilty of a serious crime. Any bishop who transferred a pedophile must be held accountable under the law. Secular law.
Any bishop who puts costs before justice in this regard is unfit to serve.

A society that claims to care for its children always errs on the side of (legally) protecting them. Should not guidelines for protecting children in religious organizations at least meet the standards secular criminal law, at least in theory, aims to uphold? Mandatory reporters of abuse — classroom teachers, doctors, nurses — lose their jobs for failing to report such abuse, yet today, it is likely that a few hundred bishops or more who are guilty of failing to report these crimes are still in place. Not only are they still in place; many are being called to police themselves. To allow a man who failed to report the rape of a child to continue to minister is deeply sinful. To allow such a man to address the sex abuse problem is to put the wolves in charge of the henhouse.

Each time there is a report of widespread clergy child rape and coverup, various bishops offer their own variations on the heartfelt commentary. tThe statement made by Timothy Dolan, the cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York, begins with a quasi-defense/clarification of details pertaining to Archdiocese of New York personnel named in the report, and ends with the pro forma remorseful lament. Dolan moved money in Milwaukee to hide it from plaintiffs. Dolan paid abusive priests to disappear. Dolan supported an accused priest in suing a plaintiff for slander. Once Timothy Dolan cleaned up the Milwaukee diocese’s fiscal troubles, he was dispatched to New York, where he took over for notorious pedophile-shuffler Edward Egan. (Egan’s Bridgeport diocese was one of the first to be exposed in 2001–2002.)

Dolan’s substantive, up-close experience with so many suffering victims of clerical sexual abuse was not sufficiently moving to deter him from strenuously opposing the Child Victims Act, legislation designed to expand “the window” for “looking back” and the statute of limitation for reporting incidents of child sexual abuse. Should New York Catholics trust Timothy Dolan to support efforts to obtain justice and healing?

Nicholas DiMarzio, the allegedly Opus Dei bishop in charge of the Brooklyn diocese in which I have worshipped and worked in ministry for two decades, has also lobbied tirelessly against the Child Victims Act. He sent his representatives into my church to campaign, on the altar, for a candidate who won the bishop’s support by resolving to oppose this legislation. DiMarzio wrote about his concern that the Child Victims Act would bankrupt his diocese in his column in the diocese newspaper and made robocalls (for Vito Lopez and one of Lopez’s proteges) as his part of the agreement.
Is it not obvious now that every bishop in the United States, given the circumstances at hand, should have been militating vigorously to help a Child Victims Act pass into law?

In 2015, I sponsored my goddaughter/niece in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The bishop who leads the diocese of Wilmington, Delaware presided. After the mass, the niece and I shook his hand, and took a photo with him. Something about this bishop caused me to cringe, but I didn’t quite know what. Two years later I watched 2017 film The Keepers, and realized Bishop Francis Malooly, who denies the wrongdoing dramatized in the film, was the man in our Confirmation photo! The Keepers’ depicts Malooly as having taken part in a Baltimore Diocese coverup of both serial child rape and the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a nun engaged in investigating sex crimes committed against children by Baltimore priests known to her. The film has led the Baltimore police to investigate anew. Has the Vatican moved to further investigate Malooly? Does it matter?

The current archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, William E. Lori, also recently responded to the Pennsylvania grand jury report. He is one of the relatively “clean” bishops. (This may explain why he was sent to clean up Edward Egan’s dirty Bridgeport.) In Bishop Lori’s video address, he asks for forgiveness, but neglects to mention that in 2002, in Bridgeport, he sent three men credibly accused of sex crimes back into ministry; this he did in the wake of a vigorous effort mounted by his predecessor’s legal team to conceal their identities and shield their files (from being obtained by lawyers for plaintiffs).

One interesting aspect of the Vatican response to the various investigations is the way relatively “clean” prelates who have a knack for fiscal management (e.g. Lori, Dolan) are moved around the chess board like . . . bishops! Lori was sent to clean up Egan’s mess. Egan was sent to New York, as a reward, perhaps, for his silence and imperious defiance in the face of questioning, and Dolan was then sent to clean up the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He did such a good job saving Milwaukee money that the Vatican posted him in New York where there was a lot more money to move, hide, and protect from being seized as damages by victims of child rape.

The Vatican has never been interested in policing itself. The reasons are complex, and discussion of these reasons goes beyond the scope of this commentary. It is helpful to point out however, the enduring concern for protecting “the church” from scandal is often at the root of this secrecy. Catholic doctrine holds that the church is eternal, supernatural, and, in a sense, changeless. It is, therefore, the obligation of the those who lead the Roman Catholic Church to shield it from scandal. Heresy is still seen as a mortal sin, because it is thought to suggest a lack of perfection in the church.
Some of these lying bishops actually believe that in remaining silent about child rape they were choosing was the lesser of two evils. Christian theology accords the body special importance insofar as it is the word made flesh and the flesh Jesus is believed to have chosen to inhabit. The body is temporal. The flesh of a child is evanescent, but the church is eternal. The Roman Catholic Church militant — the church on earth — makes salvation possible, extends to human creatures, grace. Without the institution of the church, their reasoning might suggest, the body of the boy the “circle of secrecy” (whom clerics allegedly posed nude on a cross for pornographic photos) suffers in his life, without an institutional church, he loses eternal life.

Further complicating this analysis is the enshrinement in Catholic theology of suffering and martyrdom, and clericalism itself. The way leadership works in the priesthood is highly defective. When men are ordained, they make promises or take vows of obedience to either their diocesan bishops (in the case of diocesan priests) or (for many who join orders) or the superiors of their orders. If you are thinking that “superior” sounds faintly militaristic, you are not wrong. “Superior General” is the formal title, for example, of the superior of the Jesuit order. Almost any priest is forbidden to refuse his bishop or superior, and it is easy to see how this vow or promise to obey protects predators. If a bishop tells a priest under his charge not to report a crime, there is tremendous pressure on that priest to obey. He breaks a vow or promise if he bypasses that bishop in order to save other children from harm.

Bishops and superiors, in turn, must obey the Vatican — and the Vatican muscles everyone. We saw how this worked in in 2012 when Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois was defrocked for refusing to recant his support for ordaining women. Pope Benedict XVI moved decisively and quickly to laicize (defrock) Bourgeois despite the fact that many of his brother priests petitioned the Vatican in his defense. I suspect that Bourgeois’s Maryknoll superior did not want to defrock Bourgeois, but the Vatican, then led by Benedict XVI insisted. While the Vatican will judiciously wait decades to laicize a man who rapes a child, it acts immediately in the case of heretics because heresy poses a threat to the institutional church. Here’s how the reasoning goes: The sin against the child, though horrific, jeopardizes the existence of the child alone, while bringing scandal to the church jeopardizes the survival of the entire institutional church. Father Bourgeois was defrocked for attending a woman’s ordination and refusing to publicly recant on his public support of women’s ordination. That’s heresy.
Once a priest is ordained into the priesthood, his secrecy profile, so to speak, changes. We might compare it to security clearance. We all know about the extent to which priests are bound to maintain the seal of confession, but the secrecy involves more than what happens in confession. Seminarians enter a male-only club. They are strongly encouraged in their seminary formation to develop friendships with brother priests who understand the unique challenges and stresses of the life of a cleric, and a sense of fraternity, as one might expect, develops around this. Many priests live on call, and spend inordinate amounts of time around the sick, suffering, and dying. For those who do it right, it is not an easy job. All Catholic priests are required to be chaste. Most are not permitted to marry. (By the way, priests in orders take chastity vows. Priests who answer to a diocesan bishop do not. The promise of celibacy is a promise or vow not to marry. It is also useful to know that there have been married Roman Catholic priests since 1951. The current push to ordain more married men on a viri probati basis is a hedge against pressure to ordain women or allow women to become deacons.
Having grown up around NYPD cops, I find the secrecy of among “brother priests” to be somewhat reminiscent of the “blue code of silence.” The obedience and secrecy yield a toxic, warping mix. The refusal to ordain women and the handling of the clergy sex scandal are related. If the Vatican were to honor women’s call to ordination, women priests would have to be complicit with the secrecy or break the silence. Most priests I count as friends would welcome women priests, but the fear that women will blab, push back against the hierarchical structure, be soft, question the magisterium’s reproductive policies (on which the current hierarchy of the church literally banks) is, in my opinion, what the hierarchs really fear. Women can’t be trusted. Increasing the fold is everything. And we are, as Pope Francis says, “the strawberries on the cake.”

The current church hierarchy will not support any policy that inhibits what it calls “evangelization.” There’s no legitimate impediment to ordaining women. (See my Open Letter to Pope Francis.) Many people are unaware that the current pontiff’s is not only head of a church that refuses to ordain women; he has also reaffirmed his predecessor’s choice to prohibit formal discussion of ordaining women in Catholic educational settings.

Would women clergy have allowed the crimes described in the Pennsylvania grand jury document to remain veiled in secrecy? I do not believe so.

Some bishops and priests kept silent in an effort to keep lids on their own personal scandals. In 2002, shortly before the Milwaukee clergy sex scandal in that dioceses came to light, Timothy Dolan’s predecessor in Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, paid $450,000 of diocese money to silence a man who had been his (consensual, adult) lover. It is hard to know whether or to what extent the fear of exposure led this particular bishop to shrink from acting decisively when priests in his diocese sexually assaulted children, but this example demonstrates how the potential for blackmail and fear of bringing scandal to the church connect. Over and over again, we see this dynamic play out in secular politics.

When an adult engages in sexual behavior with a child it is an assault. It ought not to be called “sexual activity.” It should be called “rape.”

Some priests are chaste and many are not. Some priests engage in sexual activity with adults. Sexual activity among priests falls under two categories: consensual sex and harassment (“Me Too”). The magisterium views both forms as sinful, but it is the latter which may account for some bishops’ choices to conceal sexual abuse and rape from parishioners and law enforcement. Many a young seminarian has experienced the kind of treatment to which unctuous film and television executives subject young “actresses.” That is harassment.

Many priests are ambitious. The smart investigator of the bishops’ culpability in sexual abuse cases will pay close attention to who “consecrated” whom. It is likely that many of these clerics who kept silent when they should have called law enforcement agencies did so out of fear of exposure, or in exchange for favors/support.

A priest who promises to remain “celibate” does not promise to remain chaste; he resolves not to marry. According to current doctrine, any sexual relations conducted outside of heterosexual marriages consecrated by the church are sinful. Sexually active heterosexual couples married in the church are considered to be chaste. Married priests who have sex with their wives are considered to be chaste. Your parish priest is bound by Catholic doctrine to be chaste, but no more so than you and each of his parishioners.

This distinction is important for many reasons. A lapse in chastity, once it has been addressed, confessed, and absolved, is probably not, in the view of most Catholics, grounds for defrocking a priest. For gay priests, this is more complicated, as the Magisterium still views LGBTQ people as “disordered.” (Some Catholics still believe that prayer and conversion can turn a gay man into a straight one.) It is still dangerous for even a chaste gay priest to come out. I suspect this will improve as people as a whole begin to evolve and catch up with what scientists and psychologists teach us about sexual attraction and sexual identity. It is imperative that gay priests not become the sacrificial lambs in whatever purge is forthcoming.

Some Catholic groups are now blaming the Vatican clergy sex crisis on gay men, but a gay man is no more likely to abuse a child than straight a man is. Experts who study this matter empirically have achieved consensus on the conviction that gay men are no more likely to commit sex crimes against children than straight men are. Most pedophiles identify as heterosexual.

So, how will the Vatican respond to the new report?

I believe the Vatican will wait it out. Pope Francis will find it necessary to ask for a few resignations, pro forma. My guess is Wuerl will top the list, but beyond that, I believe the Vatican will do what it always does: look for a sacrificial lamb or two, and then silence.
Look for shiny objects. Ireland just made abortion legal. Many Catholics thought this a collective thumbing of the nose aimed at the Vatican. The pope will soon meet face-to-face with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. This is fantastic Public Relations move.
The Caligula party is over, the emperors crew will call the washerwomen in to scrub the blood, semen, wine and fattened calf dripping from the floor. Look for pro-woman lip service from the Vatican.

There’ll be talk of “deaconesses” and female deacons (not the same thing). The humility of Mary will be stressed. The hierarchs will downplay her discipleship and apostolic nature as they remind Catholics that women can do all of the work of the church, possibly better than men can, while remaining unfit for priesthood.

Look for more“greater role for women” palaver. Women will play along. Those who do will play an important role in masking the depravity.
Following the show of humility, the imperial Vatican will behave imperiously, as it always does in the wake of a scandal. Look for the “We are the Church of Rome” show of defiance. The show of defiant force sends a message. It enables the hierarchy to announce that these investigations don’t really matter.

Their organization is a multi-billion-dollar company housed in a sovereign state. They’re in charge.
I see story after story in news outlets today asking, “How could this happen?” I have been watching this crisis closely for more than fifteen years. I have been hearing from survivors for fifteen years. I was not surprised when Pope Francis took part in Bernard Law’s Mass of Christian Burial, because I know that asking the bishops to address the clergy child rape crisis is like asking the wolf to guard the chickens.

This is what would happen if the wolves were capable of bringing justice to the hens:
  • · Any prelate who reassigned a pedophile would be removed.
  • · Any prelate who concealed records from law enforcement would be removed.
  • · Any prelate who aimed to smear or sue plaintiffs for slander would be removed.
  • · Any prelate who actively campaigned against bills that would expand statues of limitations or windows for looking back on these alleged crimes, in order to report them, would be removed. :
  • · Any prelate who moved money to insulate it from seizure would be removed.
  • · Any prelate who used information gathered in counseling sessions or via confessions to be used against clerical sex abuse plaintiffs would be removed.
  • · Any prelate who subjected any child to avoidable harm would be removed.
None of this will happen.
Remaining prelates would turn over all records to the appropriate law enforcement agencies in their states. Once statutes of limitations have been expanded, dioceses would pay court/legal fees of plaintiffs who prevail in clergy sex abuse cases against clerics in their dioceses.
We should ignore prelates’ resolutions to self-purge or self-police, at the present time should be ignored. Catholics have been here before.
Meanwhile, Catholics! Dioceses tithe to the Vatican and all parishes to the dioceses in which they are located. Stop giving them your money!
Stop giving them your money until they give you a church with Christ at its center. You can continue to worship. You can give directly to organizations that help the needy without going through the church collections.
This commentary first appeared on Indie Theology on August 21, 2018

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Steve Bannon Might Be Right About The US Bishops And DACA

Charlie Rose interviews Steve Bannon on CBS's 60 Minutes

For people who spend time in the pews actually practicing Catholicism, Steve Bannon’s remarks about “the Catholic Church” and DACA , his contention that the bishops want unlimited immigration as a means for keeping the pews filled, is not wrong. Nor is it a newsflash. Is there any doubt that the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth demands that Catholics turn away from supporting DACA? No. Is the U.S. bishops’s support for DACA something new? No. Is it consistent with their longstanding way of regarding immigrants? No. Do progressive Roman Catholics, and those seriously engaged in social justice ministry embrace a “Christ without borders” vision? Generally speaking, they do. Does “the Catholic Church” as a whole support the continuance of DACA? Hell no. The Catholic Church is various and Catholics are not really all that obedient. As for the USBCC (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), though it is excruciating to say so—Steve Bannon is right.

My (non-Catholic) husband escorted me to mass recently. We heard a particularly brilliant homilist present his take on the day's Gospel. The DACA question pertained. The priest preached on sacrifice, suffering, the sin of xenophobia and the mandate to welcome the stranger. "Will he get in trouble for that sermon?" the husband asked. "Oh, no!" I answered. "The U.S. Bishops love immigrants." I gesticulated, cupped my upturned hand,  my thumb circulating against the four fingers to indicate: 'Show me the money.' "They have held that position for a long time. "It's the one thing they're progressive about. I believe they're on the right side for the wrong reason."

A priest once told me that one of his favorite aspects of the Catholic Church is how “messy’ the church is. Catholics are, contrary to popular opinion, not all that obedient. On the matter of immigration, there are factions and outliers. Even as they promulgate bigotry on other fronts, the U.S. Bishops have long been solidly pro-immigration.They need look no further than the Gospels for their reasons: the Beatitudes.

But if you pay attention to Roman Catholic outreach throughout the world, you will note that the hierarchy has long been pinning their hopes for "growth"---by which I mean both "increase the fold" growth and economic growth---on China, India and African nations. North America and that Western Europe are hemorrhaging Catholics.  

I was lucky enough to be traveling extensively in Western Europe in 2015 and 2016. While in Ireland I noticed that even during Holy Week in Dublin Catholic churches were half-empty. Catholics in Spain, and Romans in Rome, seemed to view church as a kind of museum designed for  baptisms, weddings and funerals. Over and over again while attending Sunday morning mass in Spain, I found that I, in my 50s, was one of the youngest people on the Communion line. Finding any mass in Spain that wasn’t lousy with Opus Dei Catholics was impossible. (Sorry, I am a staunch anti-Phalangist) and obtaining a seat up front for Easter’s Mass of the Resurrection in Seville’s Cathedral in 2015 was a cinch. This is one woman’s anecdotal sampling, but it confirms what I read and have been hear in twenty years of working in Catholic ministry. The church in Western Europe and North America is shrinking, and the hierarchs have been thinking globally for decades.

In the two dioceses that serve New York City where I live, undocumented folks often rely heavily upon the social justice outreach of the church. Newcomers to our nation find help with housing, education and medical care through the church. Many of the Roman Catholic Churches in New York where built by immigrants and the poorest of them often made enormous financial sacrifices to support their churches. The tabernacle in the New York City church I attend is ornamented with the engagement ring diamonds of pious Irish immigrants. As was the case with my own Irish-born grandparents, immigrants in the church frequently wind up devout and fervently determination to 'pay it forward,' so to speak. In a religion in which non-compliance with doctrine has become something of norm, Catholics who obey, who are, perhaps, afraid not to comply, are the best bet for keeping parishes flush and pews populated. Immigrants often make parish life the center for their lives, and rear their children in the church. Tithing churches are still rare in New York City, but the tithing parishes have Spanish language mass. Undocumented Catholics certainly do not make churches rich, but their allegiance probably does prove profitable in the short, long term, and even the poorest of them often tithe exuberantly.

While traveling in the United States, I often wind up worshipping at masses celebrated in Spanish. I have noticed at these masses, that Latin-American, Spanish-speaking adults (women mores than men) often join the queue for Communion but decline to receive the Eucharist. They approach the altar with their arms crossed upon their chest. This signals their intention to opt out of the sacrament, but receive a blessing. Why don't they receive Communion? They have broken some church law. Maybe they live with a common law spouse and have not been married in the Church, or use contraception. Perhaps they have had abortions. Although there are pastoral resources in the church which assist Catholics with these situations, fear and language barriers often keep the undocumented among them isolated from life in the sacraments. Sometimes such fear promotes such obedience. Whatever its causes, the obedience does not go unnoticed. Bishops and pastors know it can be exploited to useful affect. 

Furthermore, as a consequence of the priest shortage, many priests are immigrants. They arrive with help from the Vatican and obtain proper documentation, but they too have helped to shape the bishops’ disposition toward immigrants.

Progressive Catholics in the post Vatican II Church have always adopted a “Christ without borders” ethos. To their great credit, Roman Catholic diocesan schools in New York City and other U.S. cities have a long history of scrupulously and expertly educating the children of immigrants. They tend to adopt a “What Would Jesus Do?” approach. They, for the most part, are likely opposed to eradicating of DACA---and for the right reasons. Despite that, their hierarchy (the bishops) exploits them.

On the other hand, white, politically conservative and moderate Catholics have tended to focus their politicizing in other directions, the anti-abortion effort, for example. The ultra-conservative fringe---the Traditionalists, the Legionaries, the Church Militant movement---they want “the wall” and a strong leader. Many Roman Catholics aren’t worried about getting through the camel’s eye. They want low taxes and crime-free neighborhoods, and see a crackdown on illegal immigration as one way of obtaining it. Theirs is the "render to Caesar" perspective. 

I believe that the “Christ without borders” is at the heart of Catholic teaching. I do not doubt that some of the U.S. bishops also believe this. But when Charlie Rose and Steve Bannon talk about Cardinal Timothy Dolan, they talk about a man who has hidden money to keep it from being seized for damages/ awards in cases (clergy) sexual assault cases. survivors. They about a prelate who threatened to defund Catholic Charities in the course of a DOMA-related tantrum. (Catholic Charities helps the poor---many of them immigrants, documented and not, to obtain food, clothing, shelter and basic services ). They speak of a cardinal who knew who who alleged sexual assailant and racist Donald Trump was, chuckled at all his jokes and allowed his brother priests to electioneer for the neo-Nazi from their parish pulpits.

Dolan is a big defender of capitalism. Maybe Dolan and his ilk do care about immigrants, but he also cares about the bottom line, and like his brother bishop on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge, New York's Opus Dei bishop, (of Brooklyn and Queens) Nicholas DiMarzio, he’s focused on “the New Evangelization.” If one studies the pattern of closing schools and parishes, one quickly sees a tendency on he part of these bishops to obtain as many eggs as possible before killing the golden geese. DiMarzio merged poor churches filled with immigrants and other poor folk so as to build himself a second cathedral, who collaborated closely with politicians who spearheaded real estate development agencies (some of) which displaced hundreds of poor and immigrant residents living near his two cathedrals in downtown Brooklyn. DiMarzio is fond of waxing prosaic on "the new evangelization," and immigrants are part of the plan. Does Brooklyn's bishop care about immigrants? Maybe. But not so much as he cares about his piece of the action. They speak of a man who has always spoken out of two sides of his mouth on the matter of LGBTQ Catholics. Indeed the disposition Cardinal Dolan has adopted toward LGBTQ Catholics reveals much about the way economics plays into some of the U.S. Bishops’ social justice perspectives. Why is there currently so robust a push to keep LGBTQ Catholics in he pews even when they are still technically viewed as “disordered,” unable to marry and discouraged /prohibited from receiving the sacraments if they are sexually active? Their lifestyles are bad, but their money is good? It is one thing to speak on behalf of the stranger, the marginalized, the subjugated; and quite another to make the "word" (s) flesh.

I’m no fan of Steve Bannon’s, but even a broken clock…


Michele Somerville 9/7/17 Cambridge, MA

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump and the Pope: Both Talk About Justice for Women, But---

So the pope and the man who is, for the moment, the president, met. There's been no lack of post-meet analysis and color commentary, but O, the desire to pile on!

The supreme pontiff has already spoken plainly about Trump. Trump may be a man made in God's image, and the pope may say he doesn't judge anyone, but the pope, who studied Engineering and has a good understanding of Scientific method, has very strong feelings about climate change and the moral obligation humanity has to care for the earth. 

Pope Francis views greed as a sin. Trump is greed incarnate. 

The pope views marriage as sacred. Trump is a sexual predator. Trump seduces married women, admits to grabbing women's genitals without their consent, cheats on his wives, and has been credibly accused of being a sexual assailant. 

Trump sees the poor as losers. The pontiff sees them as children of God and the messages of Hillel, Jesus and the Beatitudes inform his to his view of them. Pope Francis views caring for the poor as a moral imperative. Trump thinks the poor are losers. 

The pontiff appears to be have a truly robust commitment to humility---to what Christians and Buddhists sometimes think of as the spiritually beneficial pouring out of "self." Donald Trump has publically informed that he, like Pope Francis I, is humble. The pope is actually humble. 

Although I tend to object to fat-shaming and view a bit of meat on bones (or voluptas as I used to think of it back when I was a young painter) I was grateful for the pontiffs choice to forcefully imply, before the world, that Trump is a fatty. 

Who knows whether the Supreme Pontiff had a chance to read the New York Magazine piece via which the world learned that at Trumps dinner parties the host receives two scoops of ice cream on his chocolate cream pie while his guests are treated to only one. It is unlikely that Pope Francis cares what kind of physical condition Trump or any human being is in---or how much ice cream anyone has at parties. 

But the pontiff does care about people who are starving, and he knows that Trump is enacting policy that will rob the poor to give to the rich. 

The pope gave Trump a copy of Laudato Si as a gift. Think: nesting dolls of irony. On one hand Trump must know that a signed Papal encyclical will fetch a nice price one day.  On the other, although the English translation is short, straightforward and interesting enough, Trump does not read well enough to get through it. 

If Trump were to enlist help in reading it, he would come away disappointed and possibly enraged.  Laudato Si is, in great part, an argument for adopting radical awareness of the sins to which greed and unconscionable capitalism have led. It's also a book that affirms the perils of climate change. 

Laudato Si is an indictment of all Trump is and for which he stands. If Trump were literate, this gift would have been a colossal insult. Funny/not funny. 

And thats not all the Pope did that might be construed as impolite. He gave the Trump ladies Rosary beads. Presenting a Jewish woman married to an Orthodox Jew with Rosary beads would probably be an insult to any Jew with deep religious feeling. On second thought, they don't care. 

Money is the great God of the Kushners. Not the G-d of many names. Jerusalem and theVatican were backdrops. Think: Kardashians, making memories. 

And what about the head coverings?

As the wife of an Orthodox Jew, Ivanka should be wearing a blonde wig over her bleached hair any time she leaves the house! so I always find it a bit amusing to see this Jewish mama swinging her Keratin and peroxide treated hair all over the world. 

Trump criticized the Michelle Obama for not covering her head. Obama declined because she is a highly intelligent, principled bad-ass thinker who probably respects the religion of Islam and women who elect to cover their heads, but Obama is an actual feminist who has some ideas of her own on the subject of subjugation of women. 

Ivanka and Melanie stand accused of being idiotic Barbie dolls. For them following the lead of Michelle Obama was a way of projecting the "We're feminists" optics. 

Why then did they not carry this feminist message to La Citta Vaticana? 

The reason the Trump women (and Michelle Obama for that matter) wore the Morticia Adams swag to their papal audience is that the Vatican is very strict about what women wear at the Vatican. The Vatican would have objected strenuously, and might not have permitted the women to even enter the pope's quarters.  

Sidebar: I was lucky enough to spend a week and a half in Rome with my eldest daughter, Maria, about six years ago. We spent two full days (of our ultra, extra churches and museum tour) in the Vatican. June in Rome is infernal. We dressed appropriatelyskirts, tank tops---but carried lots of light wraps and  shawls in our bags. 

Maria was 16, stunningly beautiful. With a biting wit. Shed stop at the entrance, glare at the twenty-something Vatican employees whose jobs it was to look the pretty ragazzi up and down to make sure they were covered enough. These diligent men were charged with making sure no bare cleavage, shoulders or thighs made it into the Apostolic Palace. 

“Oh, wait," Maria would say loud enough to be heard, as she wrapped shawls around her waist shoulders and neck. "Let me put on my dignity!” 

For women and girls who didn’t travel with seven veils in their backpacks, the guards had translucent sheets of plastic that females could wrap about their legs arms, bodices and shoulders. These looked liked something the Tom Cruise character would buy in that sex shop scene in the Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut.” 

Maria and I joked about how “pervy” it was to see the dignity guards supervising the plastic shrink-wrapping of college girls seeking to gain entrance the Vatican museums so as to view---walls and ceilings full of NUDES!


The Trump women wore black veils because it's the rule. The Vatican is very good about women in their places. This is one of the few things the Pope and Donald Trump have in common. 

Both speak about justice for women. One is a misogynist predator, but both fall short. Talk is cheap.


Follow Michele Somerville at @nypoet on Twitter.