Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fake News from Breitbart: Bannon Wants a War and Yes, He Will Use Jesus to Get One


By now, intelligent consumers of news and opinion are accustomed to having a pathologically dishonest president. We are no longer shocked by Team Trump’s dishonest and intellectually indolent “news”/publicity outlets. The only shocking aspect of being caught in the skeevy web of neo-Nazi news psuedo-journalism when Breitbart piggy-backed on one of my opinion pieces to concoct a fake news story was the “why me?” factor. While I enjoyed being characterized as “the breathless Somerville,” I was surprised to find so many falsehoods in' Breitbart News's short critique of a blog opinion piece I wrote about Steven Bannon and ultra-conservative Roman Catholicism. 
Breitbart calls itself a news agency. Yet they got almost everything wrong. 
The headline reads: Fake News:” HuffPo Invents a Steve Bannon ‘War’ on Pope Francis.” 
My essay contains no mention of Pope Francis whatsoever, and I am not a Huffpo writer. I write for Indie Theology and Drumpfwatch and sometimes cross-post on Huffington Post and Medium. Big difference. 
The Breitbart staffer writes this: 
Huffington Post writer Michele Somerville goes still further, alleging that Bannon is aligning himself “with the ultra-conservative fringe of Roman Catholicism” in order to wage a war on Pope Francis.
Again, my essay contains no mention of Pope Francis whatsoever. 
“...Bannon has no connection whatsoever with the website or its theories about Catholic doctrine,” the Breitbart staffer wrote. That’s not true. Bannon has publicly announced that embraces aspects of the Church Militant movement. He therefore has a connection to at least some of the doctrine The Church Militant website promotes. The Church Militant website is both the most prominent media outlet for the movement at the present time and the voice of today’s Church Militant. 
Somerville bases her entire thesis on an outright error. She mistakes Steve Bannon’s 2014 reference to the “Church militant”—a common Catholic expression referring to Christians on earth as opposed to those who have already died—for a fringe traditionalist website by the same name. Although Bannon has no connection whatsoever with the website or its theories about Catholic doctrine, Somerville concocts a nefarious link between the two, attributing the website’s ideas to Bannon himself.
Actually, I base my “entire thesis” on everything I have read about Steven Bannon apart from his religious views, and about eight years of study of ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe groups and not on the 2014 reference alone. Furthermore, “Church militant” is not a common expression among Catholics. Indeed it is uncommon. Indeed, it is generally a phrase one hears only among folk who reject post Vatican II teaching. The second Vatican Council sought to retire this term from Catholic parlance. It is an extremely charged term in Catholic circles. 
Cleaning up after Steve Bannon must require great effort, and my heart goes out to any poor soul who should inherit so ethically compromising a task. But in her ignorance, the Breitbart staffer misleads in the extreme.
In the fake Breitbart story my opinion piece, the staffer claims that Steve Bannon didn’t know anything about the site. That is highly unlikely. Every Catholic who uses a computer and follows Catholic news at all knows about the website. A Catholic who is using the term “Church militant” and who knows a little something about media would know about this site. If Bannon does not know about Michael Voris and his Church Militant website, Bannon is as stupid as his boss. 
Finally, I did not “attribute the website’s ideas to Bannon.” 
I voiced an informed opinion, which is very different from alleging anything. 
One of the things artists, writers and critics learn early is that it is the low hanging-fruit of the lazy critic is to comment negatively about what’s not there. The Breitbart fake story (but real hissy fit) implied a failure on my part to inform readers that websites and the people who read them are not the same thing. Allow me to correct this now; groups of people gathered in shared belief are not equivalent to the websites that promulgate their beliefs. Got it? 
The Breitbart fake story also implied a lack of understanding what the term “Church Militant” means, a criticism most who know would find funny given my fascination with ecclesiastical particulars. (I study Catholic theology and history, translate Latin poetry and sing in a Gregorian Chant schola. Not only do I graspthe full meaning of “ecclesia militans”—I over-grasp it. I sing about it. In Latin. On a regular basis. ) 
Now that I have pointed out just a few of the several lies in the fake Breitbart flak-catching piece, I’d like to opine on what happened. 
Why would big bad Breitbart go after a blogger? Why did a Breitbart staffer “piggyback” on my opinion blog piece to build a fake news story? 
Because I hit a nerve. Because the ultra conservative Roman Catholic fringe has been hiding in plain sight in American politics for a long, long time, and with Bannon we are beginning to see how dangerous their ideologies may prove to be.
What is difficult for those who are not Catholicism nerds to see is that Steve Bannon appears to have ties to lots of ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe groups that share a conception of the Catholicism that dates back to the time of the Inquisitions. Bannon’s Public Relations team may prefer that we see him as associated only with the broader “Church Militant” movement and not website by the same name. That’s fine, but here’s the thing; I have been following “The Church Militant” website for years! It encapsulates—-not entirely, but for the most part—-what the contemporary ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe believes.
It is no secret that Bannon also has ties to white supremacists. He may prefer the term “Alt-Right” to “Neo-Nazi.” But we do the philosophical math. We notice that the names are different but the messages are the same. We know that a rotting rose by any name stinks. Bannon may wish to distance himself from the the creepy Church Militant guy—-and really who could blame him? But the truth is that people who talk about the Church Militant are alluding to the same messages the Church Militant website promulgates. These happen to be consistent with many of the same kinds of things Bannon says in his secular maniac speeches. 
I have found that Catholics on the ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe have the following in common: They have contempt for Jews. They tweak the social teaching of Jesus of Nazareth to justify greed and predatory financial practices. They deny climate change. They are misogynists.They are Islamophobic in the extreme. They favor war. They want to increase the Roman Catholic fold. Their beliefs, fly, in my opinion, in the face of almost everything the Jesus of Nazareth of the Old Testament taught. 
I inferred from a critique of my essay that appeared on a ultra-conservative Roman Catholic fringe website, that I wasn’t clear enough about explaining that sometimes words formed from the root “militare” refer to metaphorical soldiering (as in striving, questing) and not literal combat. We poets call that “metaphor.” 
But let’s look at the word “militant.” 
Due to the so-called president’s idiocy, Bannon now holds one of the most powerful positions in the Trump cabinet. 
This means that a political operative with zero national security or foreign policy experience will now have the same status as the heads of the Pentagon and State Department — and will in some ways outrank the nation’s top military officer and the head of the entire intelligence community. 
And what of this Bannon? (Watch the video) Bannon crazed, waxing prosaic and maniacal about rallying “the church militant” for the bloody battle to come. Does this not appear to be a man itching for a war? Bellicosity incarnate?
Outa my way, Jesus. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bannon Wants a War and He Will Use Jesus to Get One: President Bannon, Trump & the Ultra-Conservative Roman Catholic Fringe


Conservative Christians displayed great readiness, in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, to dispense with Jesus for reasons of political expedience. Evangelicals backed the least Christian GOP candidate in the running. Their Trump, a twice-divorced candidate credibly accused of sexual assault and marital rape is a “Christian” with no religious practice, who was ― right up until campaign time ― a life-long proponent of abortion. The Tea Party, Christian Right, Moral Majority and conservative Catholics have a long history of name-checking Jesus at every opportunity. We see through that now. We now know the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t count. We now see that Jesus was a mascot. Steve Bannon, alt-right Catholic, is the embodiment of the ultra-conservative Catholic Church of no Jesus.

How does a thrice-married man manage that “practicing Catholic” thing? Doctrinal prohibitions against receiving Catholic sacraments while divorced and remarried do exist, but they are often negotiable, and wealthy men have always managed to obtain plenary indulgences and annulments. Newt Gingrich obtained a clean slate via Roman Catholic conversion and his extra-marital sex partner (now his third wife) who sings in the choir may wind up as U.S. Embassador to the Vatican. Roman Catholicism does redemption splendidly.

Furthermore, if the company he keeps is any indication, Bannon appears to run with Catholic extremists who wear their redemption with pride. Jason Horowitz’s feature in the February 7th New York Times (“Steve Bannon Carries Battles to Another Influential Hub: The Vatican”) offers a glimpse at Bannon’s special interest in The Church Militant. To get a good sense of what most contemporary Church Miltiant folk believe, one can read the words of the founder/leader of The Church Militant website, Michael Voris, who underwent what he calls a “reversion” to Roman Catholicism after more than decade of sexual sinning with men and women. God and the deaths of his mother and brother cured Michael Voris of his concupiscence, and he went on, post-redemption, to become the voice of The Church Militant. There’s no zealot like a “revert.”

People can believe what they believe, but I believe the Church Militant’s politics interest Bannon as much as their religious perspectives do. “The only way to run a country,” Voris has said publically, “is by benevolent dictatorship, a Catholic monarch who protects religious life.” The Church Militant’s perspectives on Judaism might help to explain Bannon’s curious disposition toward Jews. He denounces what he calls “Rabbinic Judaism” as fake religion. Voris believes that the Jewish religion died after the destruction of the first temple and that Catholicism is the true continuation of “the covenant.” But Israel is the cradle of the one true faith, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The greater good of defeating Islam demands that anti-semitic Catholics collaborate and compromise with Jews.

Trump, who clearly has little interest in anything spiritual, may see, in Bannon’s ultra-Catholicism, the same kind of promise Putin sees in the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s no accident that the performance that landed Pussy Riot in the slammer took place in a Russian cathedral. The Russian Orthodox Church has been squarely on the side of Putin, and both have in mind the vision of purging the world of Islam. The Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches are closely linked, doctrinally and theologically, so Trump’s Putin love and Bannon’s alt-right Roman Catholicism may result in stronger political ties develop between the Church of Rome and the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church Militant today—like most ultra-conservative fringe Roman Catholic groups—strains to redefine Catholic social teaching by reaching back to arguments and theology that pre-date the Second Vatican Council. (The name for the group derives from “ecclesia militans,” a term that is not essentially militaristic, but which is used to characterize the earthly church.) Bannon may or may not be, may or may not want to be associated with Voris et al, but all of these ultra-conservative fringe groups, which have much in common (though among themselves they are quite fractious) tend to be antisemitic and islamophobic in the extreme.

And the Church Militant is not the only extremist Catholic group with which Steve Bannon has been associated. His friend Thomas Williams was described in a January 10th New York Times piece as the former “face of the conservative Legion of Christ religious order.” Bannon and Williams met while the latter was consulting on Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. (Gibson belongs to another ultra-conservative fringe group.)

Moral theologian Thomas Williams fathered a child in (about) 2005, kept it secret for several years and wound up leaving the priesthood eight years later. Prior to leaving the priesthood, Williams left the Legion of Christ when its founder and “general” Marcel Maciel Dellogado (a close friend of Pope John Paul II) was removed from ministry following a scandal. Pope Benedict XVI removed Maciel from ministry in 2006 when an investigation revealed Maciel’s secret women and children, sexual abuse of children and seminarians, drug use and fiscal impropriety, came to light. One of Maciel’s sons claimed, after Maciel’s death, that his father had sexually abused him. Bannon’s moral theologian friend currently serves as Rome Bureau Chief for Breitbart.

Roman Catholicism is complex and its changing intricacies are usually of little interest to people outside of the Church. The reaching back to pre-Vatican II teaching (much of it literally medieval) should worry us all. As a child preparing for my first Communion in 1964 or 5, for example, I was taught that unbaptized babies who died headed straight for Limbo. Formation has changed dramatically, and theology has evolved since then. But not for the Church Militant:

The goal of the Church Militant is to fight Satan in all his many disguises, which also include the sacred cows of the liberal leftists, many of whom are entrenched inside the Church. In this fight to the death, there is no retreat. We die fighting and achieve eternal life.

Many Western Christians are quick to dismiss such sentiments as fanatical madness when young Islamic men articulate them, but Bannon’s Church Militant embraces this “Christian soldier ” view of things. This claim to know God’s specific preferences lends itself to an “end justifies the means” approach to salvation. Fight fire with fire is the idea. Catholicism can defeat Islam is the battle cry. For these Catholics, it’s not just life in the material world that hangs in the balance, but also, eternal souls are on the line. And the Church Militant guy has a fantasy about an all-Catholic vote: “The only way to prevent a democracy from committing suicide is to limit the vote to faithful Catholics.”




It’s no accident that Bannon and the “alt-right” are aligning themselves with the ultra-conservative fringe of Roman Catholicism. Bannon wants a war and he will use Jesus to get one. Bannon and Trump will stand in line with Israel, the lunatic Catholic fringe, dishonest moral theologians and Putin ― as well as with any other necessary “strange bedfellows” for the chance to throw Baby Jesus out with the Baptismal water, because when it comes to prejudice, greed and the making of war, Jesus just gets in the way.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Recent Essays on Politics and Religion

Recent Essays on Politics and Religion




"Presidential Campaign 2016: Clinton, Trump, "Catholic Spring," NYC's Al Smith Dinner & the Lady Macbeth Factor " 10/19/16

"Cardinal Dolan's Year of Mercy Plan to Address Clergy Sex Abuse Crimes in NY Archdiocese" 10/6/16


"How Great Thou Already Art: Campaigning Against Trump in Pennsylvania" 10/4/16


"Jesus Is A Loser: the Gospel Truth About Trump and the Catholic Vote" 9/25/16



All essays on Indie Theology are by Michele Madigan Somerville, except where noted. Somerville is a poet, fiction writer, essayist, teacher, practicing Roman Catholic and mother of three. She lives in NYC.

Follow her on twitter @nypoet and @indietheology



Thursday, October 20, 2016

Presidential Campaign 2016: Clinton, Trump, "Catholic Spring," NYC's Al Smith Dinner & the Lady Macbeth Factor


That the non-story focusing on the ‘Wikileaked’ email exchange conducted among Clinton campaign staffers fizzled a few days after it broke shouldn’t surprise anyone who pays attention to Catholic politics in this presidential campaign. Presidential race 2016 is the first in a few decades in which the Roman Catholic hierarchs can’t really favor either candidate. (They never endorse outright—that’s a violation of tax law—It’s always under the radar.) It may be the first campaign ever in which one of the candidates publicly insulted the pope. It is also the first campaign since Roe v. Wade in which no genuine “pro-life” candidate is running. Catholics who imagine Trump to be “pro-life” are deluded. Trump is paying lip service to anti-abortion Christians---that’s one of the reasons he chose ex-Catholic Mike Pence, a born again evolution denier, as his running mate.

As I pointed out in my essay  “Jesus Was a Loser: The Gospel Truth About Trump and the Catholic Vote,” Donald Trump is out of sync with the Roman Catholic hierarchy on sanctity of marriage, immigration, the treatment of the poor, and “pro-life” issues apart from abortion. Trump is pro-gun, pro-torture, pro-war and pro-death and he exhibits a hatred for the weak that is inconsistent with Catholic values. Catholics of all stripes recognize that Trump is a non-believer who has changed his position on abortion for one reason alone, political expedience. The U.S. bishops cannot explicitly support Trump because he is an alleged sexual assailant, an unapologetic adulterer and (again) a man who has had the temerity to publicly deride the Supreme Pontiff. They can’t support him outright but my hunch is that a few of the U.S. Bishops wish he’d win.

Like their counterparts in the laity, politically conservative bishops hate Clinton more than they dislike Trump. Indeed most Catholic fervor for Trump is likely due to hatred of Clinton. She is not the first presidential candidate to unequivocally support Planned Parenthood and Roe v. Wade, but she is the first woman doing it while poised to become President of the United States. Clinton is not just a candidate who supports a woman’s right to have a safe and legal abortion; she’s a woman supporting that right. I think of it as “Lady Macbeth factor.” Clinton is the first presidential candidate who could have torn a suckling child off of her breast and bashed its brains out. For ultra traditional Roman Catholic Hillary’s uppity aspiration to be the leader of the free world and “pro-choice” stance constitute a toxic witch’s brew.

While I am accustomed to being called a hell-bound apostate and such, some of the responses (from readers) to my “Jesus Was a Loser...”essay took me by surprise. Several were lurid descriptions of Clinton’s all-consuming drive to murder “babies.” Behold a sampling of the musings of the Catholic devout:
“So ... you will vote for Hillary Clinton ... who would eat the unborn for breakfast if Planned Parenthood was hosting the meal?”
  “This poor blind fellow (author) neglects to point out that the Left (Hillary & her evil minions) supports the Planned Parenthood killing factories and baby chop shops;”
  “In Hillary’s world, Jesus’s infant body would be biomedical waste and resold body parts.”  
“…while Trump is an anathema Clinton is a woman who sees no problem with plunging a knife into a baby’s skull and twisting it until the necessary puree is obtained…Trump views children with distaste, and that is disgraceful. Clinton views babies as human waste...”
Clinton is a doting, diaper-changing grandmother. She started her professional life advocating for children. She honored her marriage vows when the husband she loved would not and kept her family whole.  These are Christian values and Clinton is a Christian with a vital and enduring Methodist practice. Her opponent, on the other hand, is a thrice-married serial adulterer who has broken two families, has never held a job in government, allowed poor men to serve in the (draft) armed forces in his stead, has been credibly accused of numerous sexual assaults, was an absentee father, does little to support any charitable efforts and has no substantive religious affiliation.

It would seem that for ultra-traditional and politically conservative Roman Catholic conservatives protecting the unborn trumps protecting the born. If Sarah Palin were (Heaven forbid) about to be elected president, many of the same politically conservative and religiously traditional Catholics who despise Clinton would forgive her ambition. If Catholic Joe Biden were running for office, many of these same Catholics might overlook his pro-choice stance while noticing that Trump’s authentic views on abortion are not genuine. But given the choice between a soul-less, faux “pro-life” lecher with zero experience in government and an immensely experienced pro-choice Christian woman, many ultra-traditional and politically conservative Catholics will indeed vote for the man.

Because no man is Lady Macbeth.

The capacity of women to control their fertility is threat to the Vatican coffers. The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has depended upon, and benefitted mightily from, a cultural norm that encourages Catholics to have large families and raise them in the church. Furthermore, the Vatican is engaged in a strenuous (ultimately losing, I believe) battle to preserve its all-male priesthood.

Then there is the complication of Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, an actual Catholic. I think of Kaine as the patron saint of the “Catholic Spring” traditional and politically conservative Catholics outraged by the Wikileaks emails fear Democratic party staffers had in mind when they wrote those personal notes. Catholics with penchants for policing fellow Catholics (in an effort to feel super-Catholic) have taken to social media to furiously characterize Kaine as “not Catholic,” “self-excommunicated,” and a “Cafeteria Catholic.”

It’s all sticks, stones and fringy zealous hysteria. There’s no theological there there.

Tim Kaine was baptized, is faithful to worship, has a life in the sacraments and works in ministry. He understands what “primacy of conscience” means, and thus he discerns. Catholic politicians, priests and super-Catholics---even those who claim expert knowledge of God’s will, have no standing when it comes to Tim Kaine’s degree of Roman Catholicity. They can whinge and but they can’t unbaptize him. The delightful irony in this is that Tim Kaine is most United States Catholics. Most Catholics support a compassionate immigration policy. Most Catholics frown upon Trump’s xenophobia. The pope himself has enlightened views on climate and has boldly spoken out against the sin of greed. Most Catholics use/support the use of “artificial” birth control (Natural birth control is canonically permissible.) and most Catholics will, come November 8th, cast votes for the candidate who has promised to protect and uphold Roe v. Wade.

The Catholic Wikileaks story came and fizzled---such that mention of it didn’t even find its way into the third debate. It was dud from the start for several reasons: The conversation the Catholic staffers were having is a conversation that Catholics have been having in public view for 50 years. Our church has been engaged in a “Catholic Spring” since the Second Vatican Council. Another reason is that the majority of Roman Catholics are already too disgusted with Trump to eschew voting for Clinton. The U.S. bishops are keeping quiet because they are wise enough to recognize know that Trump will never make good on his promise to appoint a “pro-life” justice to be Supreme Court.

I remember watching a tape of the 2008 Al Smith Dinner shortly before Election Day of that year, and being surprised to see Archbishop Edward Egan chuckling at jokes cracked by presidential hopeful Barack Obama. He views Obama as being a supporter of infanticide? I remember thinking, but chuckles over schtick?’ How can that be?


The answer is that many of these virulent anti-abortion folk do not really believe abortion is infanticide. They just say it. Especially those who make allowances for girls and women who conceived as a result of a rape or incest.” If they believed it, there would be more discussion of jail time, more concern for the right of a the child born of rape to be born and more ejecting of pro-choice pols from parishes and Communion lines. It’s rhetoric. That’s why the cardinal can laugh at a pro-choice candidate’s speech. A cardinal who believed abortion was murder could never. And that same refusing-to-guffaw cardinal would vigorously question the “pro-life” character of any candidate who would eliminate supports for refugees and the nation’s poor---most of whom happen to be children. In my opinion, it would be a mistake to disparage the prelate in charge---or the Catholic laity---for feasting with Clinton and Trump, this evening, at the Al Smith dinner. There’s Christian precedent to support the choice. God loves everyone, and Jesus dined with sinners. Nevertheless, we should look closely and wonder. John Cardinal O’Connor disinvited presidential candidates in 2004 in protest against Bill Clinton’s abortion position. Will Cardinal Dolan will laugh at Lady Macbeth’s jokes?

October 19, 2016

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Cardinal Dolan's Year of Mercy Plan to Address Clergy Sex Abuse Crimes in NY Archdiocese

New York's top bishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan announced the formation of IRCP, the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which would offer survivors/victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic archdiocesan clergy a path to obtaining damages n the Archdiocese of New York, which he heads. According to a October 7th New York Daily News piece that bears Dolan's byline, 170 "victims" have, thus far, come forward to report abuse by 40 priests. Anyone who has followed this crisis knows that those numbers are very low. Still, the formation of the IRCP may be a first step in the right direction. But it must be a first step, not an endpoint. 
Dolan described this new program as one formed with the of Pope Francis I's "Year of Mercy" in mind (The Year of Mercy comes to a close on November 20th, at the end of liturgical calendar year.) Certainly Dolan's program has the potential to extend both mercy and relief to so many who have suffered at the hands of predator priests--New York's cardinal appears to be interested in increasing the empathy. His effort to develop a program for hearing and examining these claims, and plan to award just damages where appropriate, is not nothing. It's a start, but Dolan must do more.
Survivors need more, and Dolan himself needs more if he wants to demonstrate good faith in this effort.He has a poor track record when it comes to responding to the cries of those who suffered, as children, at the hands of predator priests. While archbishop of Milwaukee (2002-2009) Timothy Dolan was credibly accused of hiding diocese money to insulate it from seizure in clerical sex abuse cases. His Milwaukee diocese went bankrupt two years after he departed it. He has been accused of paying predator priests to disappear, has strenuously opposed New York's Child Victims Act in all of its iterations, and he has joined forces with the lunatic Catholic fringe to publicly degrade victims traumatized by sexual abuse by Catholic clerics. 
The 2015 film Spotlight---which had to have left the cardinal feeling jittery---has been out for a little over a year.Timothy Cardinal Dolan's announced the formation of IRCP, the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which would offer survivors/victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic archdiocesan clergy a path to obtaining damages. According to a October 7th New York Daily News piece which bears Dolan's byline, 170 "victims" have, thus far, come forward to report abuse by 40 priests. Anyone who has followed this crisis knows that those numbers are very low. Still, the formation of the IRCP may be a first step in the right direction. But it must be a first step, not an endpoint. 
Dolan described this new program as one formed with the of Pope Francis I's "Year of Mercy" in mind (The Year of Mercy comes to a close on November 20th, at the end of liturgical calendar year.) Certainly Dolan's program has the potential to extend both mercy and relief to so many who have suffered at the hands of predator priests--New York's cardinal appears to be interested in increasing the empathy. His effort to develop a program for hearing and examining these claims, and awarding just damages where appropriate, is not nothing. Dolan must, however, do more. 
Survivors need more, and Dolan himself needs more if he wants to demonstrate good faith in this effort. He has a poor track record when it comes to responding to the cries of those who suffered, as children, at the hands of predator priests. While archbishop of Milwaukee (2002-2009) Timothy Dolan was credibly accused of hiding diocese money to insulate it from seizure in clerical sex abuse cases. His Milwaukee diocese went bankrupt two years after he departed it. He has been accused of paying predator priests to disappear, has strenuously opposed New York's Child Victims Act in all of its iterations, and he has joined forces with the lunatic Catholic fringe to publicly degrade victims traumatized by sexual abuse by Catholic clerics. 
The 2015 film Spotlight---which had to have left the cardinal feeling jittery---has been out for more than a year. Pope Francis's "Year of Mercy" comes to a close in a little over a month.The Child Victims Act in New York State received plenty of attention in New York City earlier this year, but was defeated. Despite the fact of a lapsed Catholic-friendly pope, the folks who left the pews in disgust following the Cloyne and John Jayreports are not returning. The lack of a presidential candidate the U.S. Bishops can unofficially can be seen as an outward sign of the hierarchy's losing a grip on the next generation of American Catholics. (Tax law prohibits tax-exempt houses of worship from electioneering but Catholic bishops have, until presidential campaign 2016, unofficially endorsed "pro-life" candidates. This election year? Not so much.) Powerful public relations maneuvers are needed by the Catholic hierarchs, and the formation of IRCP might be one such maneuver. 
On the other hand, Cardinal Dolan might be rising to the occasion of his vocation. If he can make this first step work and follow it up with a second step, he may dramatically reduce his erstwhile show of poor faith in the matter of the sex abuse crisis. But Dolan stops with a program that operates under his unofficial surveillance; if he declines to make records available to police and prosecutors in his diocese, his IRCP will reveal itself to be a Catholic publicity stunt. If Dolan continues to fight the passing of laws that would protect children from abuse in the future and hold perpetrators accountable, he will look like a weasel doing damage control. 
In the Daily News piece bearing his byline, Dolan claimed that the Archdiocese of New York will take out a loan in order to avoid dipping into collections and other (stewardship) funds. It sounds good, but not exactly true. How will those loans be repaid? The archdiocese of New York is wealthy and can be trusted to find the cash, but whatever the plan is---the cardinal should be forthright about it. He threatened to close down Catholic Charity once, in the course of a tantrum. Catholics who toss cash in the basket on Sundays should be interested in knowing from where exactly the money for this program will come. Many left the church or elected to stop tithing when the John Jay Report came out. They didn't want their collection money to be used for payouts and sex abuse case settlements. Dolan needs to be clear about how the IRCP will be funded.
The trio of "three prominent Catholics" assigned to investigate claims has the potential to be problematic. The long reluctance of Roman Catholic police in to charge priests, pastors and the bishops who protected pedophiles might suggest that putting a Roman Catholic former Marine, NYPD Commissioner, Interpol and FBI investigator on a three-person team in charge of verifying cases brought against the archdiocese is imprudent. The other two Roman Catholics in charge of assessing the veracity of complaints are Judge Loretta Preska and Dr. Jeanette Cueva. Cueva is a child psychiatrist. Two Catholic women and a Catholic super-cop. 
"Master of Disaster" Attorney Ken Feinberg of 9/11, Penn State (Sandusky) mediation and settlement fame has been retained to have the last word on cash awards. He's a top-of-the-line hire who appears not to be Catholic. According to Dolan, Feinberg will have the last word on cash settlements and will scrutinize only those cases that the Catholic trio deems legitimate. Feinberg explains how bringing cases will work: 
"'As with the 9/11 fund, there is a tradeoff...If you decide to participate, you are waiving your right to participate in court... Claimants would need to offer proof of their allegations, including contemporaneous conversations with parents, police officers, friends or teachers; the history of the priests' behavior, or psychiatric records.'" 
Feinberg is expert at evaluating nuances, and his experience with Penn State and the BP oil spill leave him well-prepared to slog through the mire of New York's Catholic clergy sex abuse cases, but ethical and moral questions abound. A church is not a university or a corporation. A priest is not a football coach. Where's the God? 


Depression and addiction are common among adults raped by priests in childhood. The statute of limitations will have run out in most of the cases Feinberg will consider, and many of the claimants in these cases have already been managing two or three decades of trauma. Those who elect to "participate" in the IRCP but do not prevail, give up any right to fight again if the Child Victims Act does pass, and the law changes to extend the statute of limitations in cases of sexual abuse of children. Those folk will have trusted the cleric in charge--once again, once more--only to lose out. 
Adults who were victimized in childhood by predator priests are often distrustful of clergy. However the church is still responsible for their suffering, and is never free of the obligation to help them to find relief. The church hierarchy, of which Dolan is part, bears the burden of its poor record of responding appropriately to victims of abuse by priests. Historically, pastors have often been punitive and cruel in their responses. Dolan himself has erred in this. He may be trying to make amends as the Year of Mercy winds down. 
If he is truly seeking to facilitate healing, Cardinal Dolan will recognize the need for alternatives to the IRCP. He will understand that the IRCP is not fully independent of his office. He will remember that a church hierarchy that presumed to police itself amidst its own sex crimes failed. Dolan can say the IRCP is "Independent," but he lacks credibility, because in some (not all) senses he is still one of the wolves guarding the hen house. The success, therefore, of the IRCP, depends on Dolan's willingness to take the next step. The IRCP is a good first step. Next, he must strenuously support a soundly written Child Victims Act in the State of New York, offer genuine support to advocacy groups made up of survivors and victims who cry out for justice, and he must provide police investigating sex crimes committed by archdiocesan priests with pertinent records. Thus, Cardinal Dolan can demonstrate that his program is not a stopgap measure disguised as a good Public Relations move.

10/6/16

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