Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Boycott the Basket for Lent


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. 



Saturday, February 23, 2019

Sister Veronica Openibo for Pope: Vatican Sex Abuse Summit and he Prelates Hiding Behind Women's Skirts

A former reporter and a Catholic who raised and educated his children in the church asked me recently whether the Church could be sued successfully under RICO. Good question. I think the answer is "no." I read an opinion piece a few weeks ago written by a Catholic theologian and lawyer. (I won’t link to it here; I think it was irresponsible.)  She argued that the Church could not be charged under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and corrupt Organization) because the institutional church’s chief "reason for being" is not profiteering. The Church exists, firstly, she argued, to spread the message of Christ. Any criminal conduct or interests would be secondary.  

While I probably agree, from a personal perspective, that the church is to ensure a presence of Christ in the world, I know that many who are not Catholic would disagree strenuously. Furthermore, having grown up amid new York City social clubs and numbers joints, I know, quite well, many organized crime outfits do not see themselves as branches of organized crime syndicates either.  Rather they often see themselves (erroneously, in my view) as protection, neighborhood watch, custodians of parish religious life and culture. The raison d'etre of the the Roman Catholic Church, is very much in the eye of the beholder. 

We now have ample proof that wide-scale systematic sex crimes have taken place and that leadership at the top presided over the coverup. 

We have lots of evidence of money being laundered through the Institute of Religious Works. That’s two. Together they pass the test for RICO. 

The problem is that the money-laundering is for the most part done internationally. My guess, not being a banking expert, is that it would be difficult to track the financial crimes in the United States due to the lack of transparency of the institutional church in the U.S. and the fact that the center of financial operations of the Church is located in a sovereign nation, Vatican City.  

This is complicated. It is important to stop and notice the role its the complexity of Catholic theology and ecclesiology plays in keeping Catholics powerless. (To give you an idea: there is such a thing as a "vaticanist!") 

There’s a reason that the Vatican is a sovereign nation. The Vatican was able to spirit Bernard Law, a Roman Catholic cardinal and accessory after the fact in multiple child rapes, off to the Vatican with more than 500 civil suits and criminal charges against him pending. 

Any legal effort to prosecute the Vatican for its crimes would have to be international in scope. 

While newspapers like The Financial Times have done a very good job covering the Vatican banking scandal (which I have believed, in part, explains the sudden retirement of the Emeritus and the replacement of him with a more user-friendly model) most Catholics in the pews don’t tend to give much thought to the criminal conduct of their hierarchs.

I recently traveled to Rome with my family, all of whom (me included) were appalled by what we began to call the “disney-esque” characteristics of Vatican City. I’m thinking of the bobble-headed Christs for sale outside Piazza San Pietro, the guards who scold in whisper-yell tones in the Capella Sistina, and the ubiquitous shops found throughout the galleries.

I worked in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York City for a few years many years ago, and am an art lover and an amateur painter. The rooms are lousy with treasures. The curation at many points has a sloppy, clotted feel. The whole setup radiates greed. It cost us almost a hundred dollars to enter the Vatican Museums, even with four full-time students in our contingent. There was a student rate, but when I showed my (full-time graduate student in religion!) ID card, the clerk just shook her head and barked, "under 25"! No other museum in the United States or Europe (I've visted more than a dozen since returning to school.) has refused to give me a student rate. 

I was very interested in Vatican art when I visited the Vatican about eight years ago, in June, with one of my daughters, who was 16 at the time. We were aware of the dress code and prepared for it, but we were repulsed by the young men working at the Vatican museum entrances. Their job essentially was to look women over a few times to ensure that they were fit to enter the Vatican. Over and over again I saw my exquisitely beautiful daughter visually-molested by Vatican creeps.

The sight of the devout trying to shove themselves into the mass line on Sunday at the Basilica, the creepy pageantry of processions of altar boys and old prelates in the side altars, lifting the sides of the cardinal's robe as he circled the altar, the security team in dark suits scolding, shoving, being rude to visitors on the sabbath—it all made me feel, in the moment, somewhat ashamed to be Catholic.  

Because I follow Catholic news carefully, I know better that to have any faith at all in the Vatican Sex Abuse summit. I know that it is all damage control and theater designed to keep Catholics tithing, and men entering seminary. And staying. 

No one on the outside knows quite how money works in the Vatican, and thatis intentional. I think one of the things Catholics who decided to stay can do (besides withholding donations, aka, "boycotting the basket") is be mindful of the many ways in which the institutional church, by design, withholds information, not just from the laity, but from Catholics whose orientation is more spiritual than scholarly or analytical. 

Following the trickery of the Roman Catholic Church is a part-time job and many of those claiming sufficient expertise and authority to to do it properly, do nothing but that. 

Many priests and sisters are so overwhelmed doing Christ’s work to track Vatican wrongdoing. One should not have to be a compulsive news reader or Catholic theologian paid by a Roman Catholic institution to be Catholic. 

I am seeing frightening commentary on social media via actual Catholic theologians who might even probably self-identify as progressive. One claimed that to speak of “zero tolerance” is not helpful. One argued that making accusations against John Paul II was somehow a cheap shot. The canonization of John Paul II was damage control, a way to shsine up the image of a man who had many opportunities to address the wide-spread rape of children and declined on the theological basis argument that scandalizing Mother Church was the greater evil than keeping silent about the torture of children. Pope John Paul II made McCarrick a cardinal in 2001. McCarrick’s first accusation dates back to 1984. The college of cardinals is not all that big, and by most accounts, McCarrick’s New Jersey love shack (rape shack) was not exactly a well-kept secret. John Paul II probably knew all about McCarrick. Marcial Maciel, leader of the Legionaries of Christ, got their authority to evangelize from Maciel’s friend, John Paul II. Maciel’s crimes are too long to catalog in a blog post. It may suffice to say that he had many children by a few different women while ministering, raped lots of boys, including one of his own. John Paul II probably knew all about Maciel and his Legionaries. 

It was under John Paul II that Opus Dei obtained the "go ahead" to be a "prelature." Opus Dei is not the cult characterized on the Dan Brown novel, but is incredibly wealthy, concentrates its evangelization efforts in places where wealth is obtained (E.g, Harvard for example is crawling with them.) got its start under the Phalangists in Spain. 

I have having spent a good deal of time attending mass in Spain. My sense is that most of contemporary active Spanish Catholic worship is conducted the leadership of Opus Dei. They are uber-capitalist, have misogynistic ethos, and look quite attractive and well-meaning from the outside. In many ways their approach reminds me of that of Scientologists, in that they over-focus on do-gooding on the face, while focusing on accumulation of wealth behind the mask. Other traditional Catholic groups have an different approach; the thrust of their evangelization is Tridentine, anti-Vatican II. 

I have recently felt alarmed by the increase of liberal Catholic theologians, writers and publications offering apologias for cardinals who rape. Peter Steinfels’ piece in Commonweal Magazine was exciting to read, but his case against the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was unsettling. The tenor of the whole essay suggested that the effort to hold the Vatican responsible was something of a witch hunt. I’m sure several of his points of argument in the piece have merit, the claim, for example, that the Grand Jury Report carelessly slimed some prelates who had already been slimed; that some cardinals had been unofficially convicted without proof, that not enough benefit of the doubt had been dispensed. 

I’m a big Steinfels fan. He’s a fine expert on things Catholic, but because he did not (could not? the piece was very long.) provide enough grounding in what grand jury reports do are are, the piece comes off like a defense of the poor cardinals who were denied benefit of the doubt and other civil rights. Grand juries do not try suspects. Grand jury reports are investigative documents whose goal is to determine whether there is cause to prosecute. If one wishes to understand any possible pattern of error that results in  unfairly casting those named in the document as perpetrators, one would have to compare the Pennsylvania Grant Jury Report to other grand jury reports one other criminal syndicates. The goal of a grand jury report is to discover whether there is enough smoke to suggest a fire. 

Steinfels claimed that nobody read the whole Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. The day his piece came out I heard from quite a few people who read the whole report; some write about it. Steinfels argued that the document was front loaded with salacious details. It was frontloaded with salacious details because it was 1000K plus pages long. Remember that reports filed in 2002, 2004, 2008 covered much of this same territory. The crimes under scrutiny are crimes against children. 

Grand Jury reports are often prolix, and discursive. And all of the reports on the wide-scale sexual abuse of children and ensuing coverups in the Church have been lacking in some ways and not other. One very prominent Catholic theologian I know complains about the very influential John Jay Report; incidents compiled in the John Jay Report, he reminded me, were limited to those reported to Police Departments. It is reasonable to presume on that basis alone that the John Jay Report under-represented the scope of the sex abuse crisis. No report chronicling abuse over a period of two generations involving tens of thousands of crimes (conservative estimate) in fifty states which were covered up by a secret organization that has maintained a policy of destroying and falsifying many of its records of sexual abuse is going to be perfectly fair.  Yet this Steinfels piece got a lot of traction among, and in some cases, praise from liberal Catholics!  

Catholics, Catholic writers are heart-broken. I understand that. I understand how Catholic theologians teaching in Catholic universities, Catholic writers who hearts are broken, and Catholic priests and religious feel. 

But the bottom line is that the fish rots from the head and the wolves can not be trusted to police the henhouse. 

In the US, along with many secular papers of record are, to varying extents, unfortunately, somewhat “in the bag” for the Catholic hierarchy. The press in general is under siege in our nation, and fearful, I believe, in its weakened state, of taking on an institutional church which is more and more aligns itself with autocrats on a global scale. 

This aspect is extremely complicated by an escalating war within the church itself between the traditionalist wing and the more liberal wing. The problem is that both are off track. 

Catholics on the left know the current Pope did not conduct himself as he ought to have but they don't want to cede the church to the traditionalist wing. Liberal Catholic experts know that all of the cardinals and U.S. Bishops should resign, but their fear of the traditional Catholics (Vigano et al) will gain strength is so great that they are mounting a soft defense for the current pontiff. As a consequence of this fear, Catholic liberals are still 
peddling narratives that have these bishops who played Molloch and are now, at long last, contrite, finding the solution to the Vatican sex abuse crisis. 

It is hard to criticize them because these are the Catholics who do are less misogynistic, homophobic and more open to the liberation theology direction of things. 

An Indian cardinal, Oswald Gracias, Mumbai who broke Indian law by refusing to report the rape of a child spoke at the summit, yesterday. According to the BBC he was on a the short list to be elevated to pope

Maybe the experts will shriek in horror later. But today, sanguinity. 

I have also noticed more and more (It has worsened since the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and l’affaire Vigano) that Catholic scholars writing for Catholic publications have become frighteningly tame. So far as I can tell (a hunch) pieces like Lucian Truscott IV’s first person piece about Francis Spellman’s attempts to grope him, Gary Wills’ piece about the clericalism, and Andrew Sullivan’s two pieces about the general corruption of the Vatican are and gay priests not receiving the nearly the kind of Catholic social media attention they should. This may have something to do with the fact that these pieces appeared in publications not bankrolled indirectly by the Roman Catholic Church. Wills, Truscott, and Sullivan are talented intellectuals and writers—outside of their church writings. That’s part of the point. I love reading many of the Catholic writers writing about the Vatican, but I no longer trust those writers; they are way too close to the cake. 

It is hard to know, but I it may be that people in the pews are wallowing in denial, and have no interest in any Catholic news that casts a shadow on their church. They want to go to mass, send their children to Catholic schools, hope for the best and pretend what they hear about the leadership of their church is "a few bad apples." 
It's not a few bad apples.  

Those American Catholics who are more able to face the truth about their bishops, those fully nauseated by the systematic child rape, bigotry and coverup, those who are sickened by the homophobia and misogyny, have left. They're not coming back. 

One of the reasons I believe it is essential for all consumers of news to fight off Vatican corruption fatigue is that what gets promulgated from the Vatican has a tremendous effect on global politics. In the United States, the institutional church is currently fighting same-sex marriage, mobilizing to overturn Roe, and to some degree aligning itself with the white supremacist right. 

We watched the way we Vatican misogyny infused Brett Kavanaugh’s disposition and saw the MAGA/Catholicism link via the Covington high school boys conduct. He may have somehow been Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s pal, but Antonin Scalia was an Opus Dei Catholic whose views found their way into his Supreme Court decision-making/writing. Opus Dei Catholics believe in complementarity between the sexes. They still view "homosexuals" as "disordered." That’s not too far from yesterday’s papal take on feminism. Reiterating a fresh version of his 'women as strawberries on the cake' ethos, Pope Francis, yesterday, in this 2019th year of our Lord, as they say, dismissed and denounced “feminism,” declaring that feminism was just machismo in a skirt. 

Pope Francis fooled a lot of feminists. I was never one of them. The pope's message at every turn, on the matter of women, has been no less sexist, no less misogynistic that that of his predecessors. Over and over again we hear the pontiff preach against racism, xenophobia and bigotry while practicing misogyny on a daily basis. A pope who is not doing all he can to advocate for the ordination of women has no moral authority to preach on the matter of bigotry.  

Yesterday the Vatican put an exemplary Nigerian nun out in front, so they could hide behind her skirts. The Vatican has a history of using women in this manner. 

There was lots of talk about mothers at the summit yesterday. Our of the over 100 representatives at the summit, two mothers were present.  If they could swallow their misogyny, the Curia could save the institutional church by making Sister Veronica Openibo pope. But they won’t, because girls aren't allowed to set that omerta holy card on fire. 

On the other hand, I attended a beautiful mass last night. At that mass everything deep that is untouched by embarrassment in me rose to the surface, as, why I haven’t yet bolted became clear---at least for that moment. 


Michele Somerville. February 23, 2019, Cambridge, MA 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Fish Rots From the Head


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 the 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.” This letter prompted some Catholics to rejoice—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 would come to the rescue. The problem 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 said and did. It is hard to suggest, here, that Pope Francis might be a part of the problem, because I am aware that some of the most wrong-headed Catholics, Catholics have just been waiting for the day the “liberal” pope might be unseated. 

Many of these are Catholics who want a pre-Vatican II church. They promulgate anti-LGBT prejudice, misogyny, and antisemitism, and 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 “Gambling in Casablanca” disposition on the matter of the Pennsylvania grand jury report? This fish rots from the head down. 

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. Zahn was 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. Little will come of it. The United States is not Chile. There is way too much money to be had in the United States. The U.S. Bishops like 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 less than almost none. 

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 (rape) and attended a few Voice of the Faithful meetings in 2000. One friend of mine, now in his eighties, was brave enough to report that he was being abused (this would have been more than 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 Catholic clerics outside of his then-welcoming parish. I was moved by the devotion and dignity of all who spoke out about this abuse, but I found the pattern of requesting support from bishops to be absurd—and masochistic. Some of the same criticisms, I believe, apply to 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 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. Is it fair to ask the U.S. bishops to resign without asking the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis I to resign? Maybe not. But by what other means might a purge that filters out the innocent be conducted given the opacity of their operation?
  
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.” 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.” 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. I notice the hierarchs often haul out Mary when they sense a need to extoll the merits of docility. I have my doubts that any bishop who promulgates misogyny (most do) can ever fully grasp the significance of Mary, but I give Pope Francis points for reminding his readers 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 unaddressed:

“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 charged with tracking and addressing sexual abuse cases, between 1981 and 2005. He dropped the ball. The pope cites him in the August 20 address. My guess is the plan to canonize him is already in the works.

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. 

I think 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? 

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 product. Jorge Bergoglio, though of Italian heritage, was not an Italian national. He was Latin American. 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, unlike his predecessor, lacked a royal countenance. Elevating a cardinal who refused to live, as his two predecessors had, two floors up from the Vatican bank; who took his name from the saint most associated with poverty; who jump-started his pontificate with a “greed is sin” message; who rode the bus; who washed prisoners’ feet; and who publicly exhibited other impressive Christlike conduct was a stroke of public relations genius. Even Bergoglio’s status as a Jesuit was part of the plan. Educated liberals like the Jesuits. Sometimes I saw his elevation 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 and tithing. 

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.

While not normally one to subscribe to conspiracy theories, I have often wondered how many of those cardinals 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 would not go so far as to suggest that Moretti’s film served as a blueprint, 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. 

Once installed, Pope Francis also kept Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose alleged sexual misconduct began to come to light as early as 1994, in place. In 2017, Pope Francis did not just attend Bernard Law’s funeral, 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 unlikely to hand him over to U.S. authorities. Once safe in Vatican City, Law received a church and a posting from Pope Benedict XVI. Law should have been tried for his crimes, but with Pope Francis’s support was permitted to live out his life without facing trial. Pope Francis also made a saint out of Pope John Paul II, during whose pontificate the Vatican sex abuse crisis flourished and came to light. As of today, August 21, 2018, Pope Francis has not removed Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the bishop in charge of the Diocese of Pittsburg 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 accused 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 Wuerl denies the child pornography ring charges, the wrongdoing to which he publicly admits seems more than enough to warrant his removal. My guess is he may remain in place because a sex crime ring plus money-laundering might be deeply problematic for the Vatican. That’s RICO territory. 

I have read several accounts this week that point out that not all of the bishops knew what was going on. People charged with crimes have a legal right to be seen as innocent under the law until they are proven guilty. The bottom line, ethics-wise, is that any man who knew that a child was being endangered and failed to inform law enforcement has committed a crime, and a grievous sin. That means any bishop who transferred a pedophile must be held accountable legally. That means any bishop who put costs before justice must be held accountable legally. The problem with the bishops’ legal culpability is they have been declining to fully cooperate with law enforcement for decades. Furthermore, 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 Civil law (in theory) aims to uphold? Mandatory reporters of abuse—classroom teachers, doctors, nurses—lose their jobs for failing to report such abuse, yet today, to keep even one man who has possibly raped one child is one of the most horrific sins a man can commit. To keep a man who failed to report such rapes or who facilitated them is grievously sinful. 

Each time there is a report of widespread clergy child rape and coverup, various bishops offer their own variations on the heartfelt commentary to which all consumers of Catholic news are now accustomed. The 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 disappearDolan supported an accused priest of 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 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. Indeed something about this bishop caused me to cringe. Two years later I watched 2017 film The KeepersBishop Francis Malooly denies the wrongdoing dramatized in the film, but the narrative 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 Roman Curia moved to further investigate Malooly

The current archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, 
William E. Lori, also recently responded to the Pennsylvania grand jury reportHe 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 (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, I believe, for his silence and imperious defiance in the face of questioning. 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. At the root of some of these abuses is the enduring concern for protecting “the church” from scandal. Catholic doctrine holds that the church is eternal, supernatural, and, in a sense, changeless, and that it is the obligation of the hierarchs/Vatican to keep it “undetectable” by shielding it from scandal. Heresy is still considered (by many Catholics) to be 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 electing to remain silent about child rape they were choosing was the lesser of two evils. The church is eternal; the flesh of a child is evanescent. 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, but the body is temporal and the church is not. The church on Earth offers mortal creatures a mechanism for the reception of grace. Without the institution of the church, their reasoning might suggest, the body of the boy the “circle of secrecy” clerics allegedly posed nude on a cross, for pornographic photos and their depraved enjoyment, might lose access to eternal life. Also complicating this analysis is the enshrinement in Catholic theology of suffering and martyrdom and how drunk some bishops appear to be on power. When men are ordained, they make promises or take vows of obedience to these bishops (in the case of diocesan priests) or (for many who join orders) their superiors. 

If you are thinking that “superior” sounds faintly militaristic, you are right. “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. 

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 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 Benedict XVI Vatican insisted. (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.) While the Vatican will judiciously wait decades to laicize a man who rapes a child, it acts swiftly in the case of heretics because heresy poses a threat to the institutional church. 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. 

If you are thinking that the refusal to ordain women and the handling of the clergy sex scandal are related, you are not wrong.

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. Also, there have been married Roman Catholic priests since 1951.) 

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. If the Vatican were to honor women’s call to ordination, women priests would either 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. Increasing the fold is everything. 


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.) In my opinion, fear of exposure plays a great role in the current pontiff’s decision not only to refuse to ordain women but also to forbid the formal discussion of it by prelates and Catholic university faculty. 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 had “dirt” on each other. 

A priest’s promise to remain “celibate” does not mean he resolves to remain chaste. It means he resolves not to marry. I have not finished reading the entire Pennsylvania grand jury report yet, but only one priest, so far, broke a promise of vow to remain celibate. 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. Many priests in orders vow tone chaste, but priests who are not in orders promise only to remain celibate. 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 a consequent the hierarchs’ backwards notions about sex and seual conduct. Much of the church as a whole has been so publicly contemptuous of LGBT Catholics makes it dangerous for gay  priests to come out. I suspect this is improving, as people as a whole begin to evolve. They catch up with what scientists and psychologists teach us about sexual attraction and sexual identity. Unfortunately Catholic teaching has not fully dispensed with the idea that same-sex attraction is “disordered.” Some Catholics still believe that prayer and conversion can turn a gay man into a straight one.

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. Most pedophiles identify as heterosexual, and those 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. 

It is imperative that gay priests not become the sacrificial lambs in whatever purge is forthcoming.  

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. 


Look for pro-women lip service from the Vatican. 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. There'll be talk of "deaconesses" and female deacons (not the same thing). The humility of Mary will be stressed. 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 the "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 imperative rial 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. 

My guess is that the beatification team is already rounding up miracles for Ratzinger’s canonization case. Edward Egan should have been arrested and tried as an accomplice to sex crimes committed by priests he reassigned, but instead, after leaving his diocese bankrupt, he was appointed to lead a larger diocese, the Archdiocese of New York. He is dead. Too late to try him. When The Boston Globe exposed Cardinal Bernard Law’s incredible malfeasance, the Vatican gave him sanctuary from law enforcement and a big job. He should have been tried in the United States, but Pope John Paul II gave him a position and a church in Rome.  

Ratzinger passed the secrecy test and became pope. (There were other reasons as well.) His CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) under John Paul II was charged with keeping track of and addressing every sexual abuse case in the world, yet it was only at the end of Ratzinger’s tenure as CDF prefect that word of the rampant clergy sex abuse and cover-ups emerged. In any other operation, a leader found to have grievously endangered innocent children in his charge might expect a demotion, but the Vatican has a history of adopting an inverse approach. The CDF/Vatican should have been tried at The Hague, but instead, Ratzinger was elevated to pope. He had taken one for the team. 

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 help the henhouse fowl. 

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 counseling sessions to discourage plaintiffs from coming forward would be removed. 
  • ·      Any prelate who used information obtained via confession or counseling to smear or discredit a plaintiff would be removed. 
  • ·      Any prelate who knowingly subjected even a single child to potential danger in this manner would be removed. 
  • ·      Any prelate who subjected any child to avoidable harm would be removed. 



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. 

Peace, 

Michele Somerville 
August 21, 2018