Religion, Faith and Sprituality

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 


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