Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Pope Francis Could Be the Remnant

20Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.
      21A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God.
      22For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea,
            Only a remnant within them will return;
            A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.
--Isaiah 10
A cradle Catholic, reared in the church, I returned to formal worship and practice about three decades after being mostly, though not entirely, away, and came at it, sometimes, at the start, with low-grade variation on a convert’s zeal. What I came to see/feel then was that there are two churches, the institutional church and the non-institutional church. The former is political, quasi-militaristic, deeply capitalist and in great part as venal and mired in greed. The latter is spiritual, sacramental and Christ-driven. I have never had much faith in the former. I still believe in the latter. Yesterday, my husband, who is not Catholic, asked how popes are removed. He was really asking whether they can be 'impeached.’ "Well, historically," I answered, "It's been done by force. I don't think we're gonna see armies of orthodox Catholics pushing past the Swiss guards and storming the Vatican any time soon. 

This explanation does not account for the pressure that might be brought to bear on Pope Francis by his fellow prelates within the Vatican. I suppose he could succumb to pressure to resign. I hope he will not. 

I was teaching a class of sixth-graders in a Catholic school the day Pope John Paul I died suddenly after 33 (33!) days of service. I remember the chill up my spine. I’m not advancing a conspiracy theory here, but lots of popes have been murdered throughout history. The pope’s security team is, thank God, more effective than almost any, anywhere.  I don’t think it’s a reach, however, to argue that a cabal of bishops who are morally capable of systematically covering up the mass rape of children in the service of protecting the church from scandal might be morally capable of murdering a pope in order to protect a the church from scandal. 

I want Pope Francis to continue. He is, by far, the best pope we have had in the past 50 years and, I suspect, the best pope we are likely to have for decades to come. 

Pope Francis has voiced an apology, a resolution to better. It is not enough. My heart and prayers go  out to the many victims of clerical child rape and sexual abuse, but I don’t care whether the prelates or pope apologize. These words have no force.

I have never believed the Vatican could be trusted to police itself. I do not doubt that the pope allowed priests who knew to be sex crime perpetrators and harassers to minister. I don’t like it, but there only one thing the Vatican can do for the people it subjected to torment is to allow secular investigators access to records, suspects and “persons of interest” in the Vatican, and encourage clerics, other religious, to lobby for expanded rights for victims of child abuse. Beyond that, there is nothing any bishop or the pope can say to ameliorate the suffering. 

The Pope Francis can do now, for the church and for all Catholics, is to say nothing more. Which seems to be his plan.  

Some are calling for the pope to clean up the Vatican. Pope Francis cannot clean up the Vatican. The fish rots from the head. He would have to investigate and purge himself. who would replace him? Another prelate who knew. 

Many orthodox/traditionalist/conservative Catholics agree with me on the matter of Pope Francis's cognizance of the scope and nature of the the clergy sex abuse and coverup. I still don't fully grasp why this is even newsworthy Pope Francis was chosen, in part, as a means for whitewashing the Vatican, as the Pope benedict XVI morality palate cleanser. Pope Benedict was in charge of policing these sex crimes for 14 years. The pope and the emeritus are still in relationship. Until this week, I didn't ever know there was any doubt that Pope Francis was part of the coverup; I thought this was self-evident. 

But the departure of Pope Francis would be catastrophic.  

Some might ask why I would want a prelate who was complicit in the coverup to continue as pope.  He is the best pope Catholics are likely to obtain. He inherited the rapists, perverts and coverup from his predecessor. If Pope Francis were removed, he would be replaced by another prelate who took part in the coverup, but that one would be an anti-Francis. That is exactly the thing for which Vigano and his ilk currently pray. 

This sounds cynical—because it's cynical. 

I believe the Vatican is intractably corrupt. A wealthy sovereign nation, run, in a sense, by an autocrat, the Vatican yields an immense amount of international secular political power (which is why non-Catholics should care about this mess.) Within the past two weeks, news of Vatican clergy sexual abuse crisis  in the United States has chronicled abuse in Chile, Ireland and the U.S. The abuse crisis in Spain won’t come to light because Spain has all but abandoned the religious Roman Catholic Church. In the south of Spain, one finds secularized 'Catholicism' in the form of Semana Santa traditions, but I found it impossible, while spending a total of six or seven weeks in Spain between 2016-2017, to find a non-Opus Dei mass. (Opus Dei came to prominence under Franco and flourished with his support, it is goes to reason that young sentient Spaniards would reject services conducted by holdovers from fascist, Falangist Spain.) Germany gave us the woman’s ordination movement (The first Roman Catholic women priests were ordained there.) and the degree to which Latin America (both South and North America) have defected to Protestantism is astonishing.

The scandal is international, involves human rights violations and a coverup. I don't believe a schism is at hand now, but once the abuses in the developing world come to light, schism could become a reality. The Vatican should fear an International Criminal Court investigation. That might trigger an all-out schism.  

One of the problems with investigating the Vatican, especially for Catholics in the pews, is that the Vatican is opaque. We obtain some good reporting from Vatican beat scholars and reporters but often the former are devout Catholics driven by excessive concern for protecting Mother Church or reporters whose paychecks are signed by Catholic organizations. 

Often Catholics who write about the church are chastised for doing so without proper credentials. They are not "vaticanists," church historians, scholars of the papacy, systematic theologians etc. I occasionally see even writers without training in Catholicism playing this card. If one is baptized, one has a stake in the church. The verbal input and output are necessary to the health of the church. 

Compounding the problem is that a disproportionate number of "reporters" covering Catholicism are Catholic. That an entire academic and quasi-academic industry created around Roman Catholic expertise has been erected to serve as the authorized interpreters of Catholicism is a big part of the problem. Can Catholics who are being paid by Catholic publications or universities report honestly? Some can. Can writers who don't write about anything but the church be trusted to be authorities on the church. Some, perhaps can. I find that, as a rule, that many too fail in this regard. 

And with regard to amassing expertise: how many people in the pews have time to parse encyclicals and the Canon Code? How many experts on the Vatican are employed by Catholic colleges and universities that sometimes still fire heretics those who challenge doctrine and conduct of bishops, and you see how the Vatican controls the ball. I notice that women writing for Catholic publications will rarely be "out" about being pro-choice. All Catholics have much to say, but in the case of the totality of Roman Catholicism, all takes matter.  No one challenges the credentials of Catholics as they pope a check into that offertory basket on Sunday. 

Of course theologians, ecclesiologists and church historians and priests have much to teach us all, and even ones teaching in Catholic colleges and universities, have long flown in the face of doctrine—Even Pope Benedict XVI in his youth was one such theologian. But the thick tradition that has long surrounded and attended to the formation of teaching also presides over much of interpreting divinely obtained truths. We Catholics are conditioned from the time we first prepare for our first sacrament to put faith in a priestly caste that interprets the rules for us. 

It is through this very reasoning that the church enshrined the rules and regulations of Roman Catholicism. Catholics are the Christians who have, until  about 50 years ago, were discouraged, by the teaching body of the church, from actually reading The Bible. We have a natural urge to leave Catholic knowledge to experts, and the quickness to do so has, in my opinion, contributed to the abuses that have been making headlines over the course of the past few weeks. 

The woman’s ordination issue is very important to me. I am often asked by non-Catholic friends why women cannot be ordained in the Catholic Church. I, myself, asked a Catholic doctor of systematic theology this question a few years ago, and have carried her answer in my heart while researching the topic since then. I boil down the arguments against ordaining women in my May 2017 open letter to Pope Francis (and won’t do so here) but, essentially, the reason the Vatican does not ordain women is that the men in charge of the church developed a feeling—a take on revelation—that it was Jesus's preference that only men serve as priests. Men charged with interpreting that feeling, or sense, enacted the law, and men who came later ruled that such laws could not be amended by other men. People in the pews are asked to just accept such truth as teaching. 

Because so many Vatican cognoscenti are themselves too close to the cake to report dispassionately, because  and because so many who enough enough to enlighten the rest of us are too heartbroken by Mother Church, there is no way for the average Catholic to fathom the critical truths of our own religion. If a good thing can arise out of this hideous crisis at hand, it might be that Catholics in the pews, out of necessity, will begin to assume both greater agency and responsibility for challenging teaching.  

Today I read something by a Catholic woman—it was so appalling I can't/won't link to it here—in which she said the way to address the sexual abuse crisis is to keep attending mass, praying, tithing, living the Gospel in the knowledge there is no survival without the institutional church. The notion the institutional Roman Catholic Church is the lone route to Christ not only goes against Catholic teaching—it's also somewhat idiotic. I saw a comment on twitter in which a scholar argued that talking about “civil war” in the church was a form of equivalent of hoping for the eschaton. No, to say that the institutional church is broken is not, in any rational sense, to wish for the end of the world. It is to voice a concern. Another essay I read claimed there was no civil war in the church. If a situation in which every prelate in the church is credibly accused of a coverup of yet adjudicated atrocities involving children, which has various rogue factions calling for all bishops/the pope himself to resign does not constitute a civil war in the church, what does?

There is obviously a civil war at hand. The church has been bleeding out on the west for years. It's leaders are accused of grievous human rights violations. I personally will still go to mass on Sunday, but whether a civil war is being waged or not, but whether there is a civil war brewing in the institutional church is barely a legitimate question at this point. The answer is self-evident. 

I am hoping that Pope Francis will resolve, in silence, to open the Vatican to secular investigators, and then, step way from this matter and focus instead upon Christ’s message of love. This is, I believe the work cut out for him. 

I am not a Vatican expert. I am not a theologian. I can read and translate some Latin. I have read the Canon Code and Catechism in their entirety and I have read dozens of papal encyclicals. I can translate some Latin. I have worked in Catholic ministry for twenty years. I am currently a full-time religion student with a soft focus on Catholic theology. I know and cover frankly with many priests and women religious. 

For decades, nuns and priests have been informing me that the Vatican’s strongest evangelization efforts are focused on India and African nations where clergy sexual abuse is rampant and has yet to come to light. It is also in the developing world where the institutional misogyny of the church most threatens the lives of women. These stories will come out. They need to come out. The Vatican sex abuse crisis is international. 

It is difficult to write this, but I believe the Vatican should be tried at the Hague for human rights violations and the coverup, because I believe the kind of abuse chronicled in the Pennsylvania grand jury report continues to occur unchecked in India and in African nations in which the church has a strong evangelizing presence.

I pray that Pope Francis’s pontificate is not sacrificed to this greater good because I believe Pope Francis may be a man who cares as much for the suffering of his fellow human beings as for shielding the institutional church from scandal. He was installed by the monsters, but he now wields more power than those installed him do. 

Furthermore, in the United States, it is now, unfortunately, reasonably safe to assume that most of the U.S. bishops took part in a coverup of child rape and a child pornography while acting as accomplices in money-laundering and fraud. The 1970 RICO Act Act was written into law to address—exactly—this kind of crime. (RICO = Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations).  

If there are any, let the prelates who are without guilt emerge from such trials and investigations, rise up, and serve as remnants for a new, more whole, more just and more Christ-driven church. I continue to hope and pray that Pope Francis will prove to be fit to lead them. 

Michele Somerville 
August 28, 2018 NYC 2:25p

Monday, August 27, 2018

Is There a Civil War in the church? Of course there is!

Is there a civil war in the church? Of course there is!  It has been transpiring for a while, perhaps, intermittently, since the reshaping of practice and ritual that came with the Vatican II. Did it flare a bit with the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report? With the resignation of Chile’s Catholic bishops? With this past weekend’s letter from Cardinal Carlo Maria Viganò? Yes. Catholics in the United States and western Europe have been steadily seceding, in one way or another, from 'communion' in/with the church since the start of the Vatican clergy sexual abuse crisis. This past weekend, some conservative Catholics—some call themselves “orthodox”—fringe (throwbacks, I believe) Catholics rallied behind Viganò and took their shot. 

To extend the metaphor, the bout was pro forma, featured Viganò as a ‘tomato can,’ and the fix was in the whole time. Canon Code and Catechism strict constructionists have no standing when it comes to condemning the pope. There are Canon Laws that apply to prelates who flout dogma and doctrine, but the pope is the pope (It’s good to be the king.) and ultimately answers to no one. Some Catholics might say he answers the God, but throughout church history, God has allowed many exceedingly shady popes to remain in power. 

What is interesting to me is how the orthodox fringe now aims to appeal to the pope as if he were a senator. On one online blog, I noted an exhortation to “write a letter of complaint to your bishop.” This is curious for two reasons:1. Few if any American bishops are free of culpability in the Vatican clergy sexual abuse scandal. 2. Pope Francis is the pope, and they installed him. 

It’s ironic that very people who otherwise adhere to the letter on teaching, now propose to unseat the pope. They are the most likely faction of Roman Catholicism to champion the ex cathedra infallibility of popes, but they, in. sense, want the current pope to be "impeached." (Some orthodox Catholics have a bit of a recent history of proclaiming popes they don't favor invalid.) The people militating to remove Pope Francis are the same folks who coined the phrase “cafeteria Catholic.” When they are not pushing for the removal of a 'legitimately' elevated pope, they are militating for a medieval church. Their campaign is fascinating and absurd. 

This Viganò affair constitutes an attempt to treat the pope as not fully papal. Their argument, which is not a bad one, given the way rules and regulations work in the institutional church, is that a pope who flouts long held teaching is not fit to serve as pontiff. Through this scandal Catholics in the pews obtain a glimpse at how changing doctrine works. I'm often asked why the pope can not just make same-sex marriage licit in the church, or decide to ordain women. A pope is not supposed to act unilaterally. But into the job description is an understanding that popes will not overrule other popes. Pope Francis, contrary to the opinions of some, has not changed doctrine in any way. He has merely made an effort to change tone. Despite all of this, the pope is extremely powerful. His political power is not limited to the confines of Catholicism. It is extremely unlikely that a fringe faction of the Catholic Church led by a scorned prelate who is not free of the coverup taint will gain any traction in a mission to unseat this pope. That is a good thing. 

The criticisms about McCarrick are not at the heart of their overall grievance. Viganò has remained silent while playing nice with Cardinal McCarrick for many years. The McCarrick affair was merely an opportunity for Viganò to strike out against gay men in the priesthood, and Pope Francis’s generous disposition toward LGBTQ Catholics, and the pope's expansive view on the matter of possibly allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments (Some U.S. Dioceses, by the way, long ago authorized priests to administer sacraments to LGBTQ Catholics who are married/ living in partnerships as well as to divorced and remarried Catholics at their discretion) 

That Pope Francis’s and Cardinal Viganò are probably on exactly the same page re: their attitude toward women is something Catholics ought to think more about, but Viganò longs to being gay restored to a “disorder.” He doesn't care that social science and psychology are not on his side in this. He wants Catholics to take the Eucharist on the tongue, for example, and not in the hand. This wistfulness is generally an extension of a longing to elevate the priesthood itself. Only the consecrated hands of the priest are fit to hold the sacred body of Christ in their hands, the reasoning suggests. 

From a baby-theology standpoint, it adds a super-human, supernatural quotient of status to the priesthood itself. This clericalism—this way of looking at priests—is what enabled priests who raped children to do so with impunity. Christ on the tongue has more to do with increasing the power of all priests. Giving priests more power is the last thing the church needs. Ironically, Viganò and his ilk depart dramatically from this thinking as they as they lobby to remove a pope from the Holy See.

The pope is the pope. He can do what he wants. If the pope were purging the church of gay priests, pushing for Communion on the tongue, pushing for turning LGBTQ Catholics away from receiving Communion, insisting that divorced and remarried Catholics ought not receive the sacraments, team Viganò would be affirming his inviolability. The wrongdoing chronicled in the Pennsylvania grand jury report is not the source of their outrage, but the means to an end. Viganò and the orthodox fringe have been gunning for the Bergoglio (almost) ever since the day Viganò allegedly duped the pope into an unplanned audience with the thrice married defender of traditional marriage, Kim Davis. 

As I mentioned in “The Fish Rots From the Head” last week, I signed a petition that called for the resignation of the U.S. bishops. I signed because I wanted to stand in solidarity with fellow Catholics who were protesting the systematic rape of children and the attending coverup, but I knew the letter was symbolic.  

I have not doubted, not for even a moment, that the pope knew about conduct outlined in the Pennsylvania grand jury report before the public did. I do not doubt that Pope Francis may have allowed Cardinal Carrick to remain in ministry after finding out he possibly had raped a child. I do not doubt that Pope Francis is guilty of taking part in the coverup of crimes against innocent children. 

The can't ever know what the pope knew. What we can know is that there are not very many cardinals. We know they talk to each other. We know many have worked together for decades. We know that some serve as each others’ confessors. And we know that whether a given prelate reported a sex crime to law enforcement is eminently (no pun intended?) verifiable. I don’t mean to imply that Pope Francis has not been moved by the suffering of McCarrick’s alleged victims. It is just not so simple as that. Pope Francis may care, but it is likely that the pope's concern for the suffering of children who have been raped by his priests is trumped by his concern for the suffering of the institution. (For more on this read “The Fish Rots From the Head.”)

So, Viganò et al are most likely correct, but Viganò has ulterior motives. He believes the pope has handed the church over to "sodomites." (Viganò himself has also been credibly accused of taking part in the coverup.) I believe every prelate who knew about the illegal conduct of bishops and failed to report it to law enforcement, should resign—the bishop of Rome included. But it will not happen. The pope will quickly move on. 

I also believe the penance for their collective sin should include vigorous efforts to advocate for changes in the law that expand opportunity for survivors to report sex crimes committed by clergy by extending statutes of limitations for looking back. Prelates should actively engage, as penance, in lobbying to eliminate statute of limitations for reporting child sexual abuse. Bishops should open all records to government investigators. They will welcome fiscal oversight that ensures that diocese dollars are not used to investigate victims or play for slander suits filed by priests. Anything short of that is both not nearly enough. None of this, however, will happen. It is way too expensive. 

The pope is more prince of the church than president or prime minister. The College of Cardinals is not really interested in what Catholics want or think. They conduct synods and so forth, but most of these are held for the benefit of Catholic intellectuals, who in indirect ways, serve as the hierachy's apologists even while finding fault. When the bishops want the input of Catholics, it is generally because they want more money. People in the pews, have almost no power over the hierarchy. Almost.Catholics do have a modicum of power: the Vatican likes money. They really really like money. They like money so much, they do not mind taking it very very poor people who don't question where the cash goes. My own grandmother was a highly intelligent woman born in the year 1900 on a farm in County Mayo Ireland. She went as far as second grade and read the New York Daily News almost every day well into her late 80's, but in her last years of life, I she still believed that giving money to. the church would get her into heaven. My brother and I, both of whom often attended mass with my grandmother, used to call her Manhattan pastor "the Rolex priest."  

Within the past decade, the bishop of my own diocese shuttered churches on which old folks depended while restoring a pro-cathedral less than a mile away from the opulent cathedral he already had. In the service of this effort, he collaborated with corrupt politicians, unscrupulous real estate developers. Many very devout, very old people I have known lost their homes as a result of imminent domain projects boosted by Brooklyn's two-cathedral bishops think nothing about bleeding poor people and the elderly. 
When the bishop of my diocese was finished shutting non-earning parishes, he moved on to parishes like my own which had been, in a sense, floated, by a small cabal of devout middle class parishioners. As the parish began to fall apart, the bishop sent the beloved pastor to a tithing parish, an astonishingly incompetent deacon, and the team of core believers who stayed now tell me that parish are barred the parish from using the parish house, new locks are on mail boxes, a beloved nun who had been volunteering for years has been whacked, and there's whinging about the per capita donations being down. The bishops have never minded robbing poor, elderly or vulnerable Catholics in the pews. This is one (not the only one) of the reasons the hierarchy is so fiercely progressive on immigration—Immigrants are great tithers. This also explains the push to keep LGBTQ people in the pews. The Vatican wants all Catholics in church, feeling pressured to tithe whether they are admitted to communion or not. 

The only power Catholics I the pews have in the context of church policy is economic power. Catholics can refuse to tithe. 

The Vatican skims its small percentage off of what dioceses collect from parishes and special collections, but is always worried about protecting its wealth. (I believe most of the Vatican’s disposition toward women, for example, rises out of financial interest.) The Vatican is one of the wealthiest operations in the world, but much of its wealth is not liquid. 

Refusing to tithe could prove especially important in the context of that Pope Francis's papacy. Bergoglio was chosen, in part, because he was a good financial manager. (If you read Laudato Si, you noticed how left brain the current pope is.) Pope Francis helped the Vatican to weather a banking scandal, while projecting a (possibly authentic!) image of humility. Charismatic clerics tend to make good fund-raisers, and Pope Francis is no exception. An organized tithing strike would never be sufficient to change dogma, but it could, I believe, influence the shaping of other teaching. The psychological conditioning around tithing is, however, so strong, that it is difficult for many Catholics to even imagine boycotting the basket. We have been indoctrinated to believe we are, in a sense, giving to God, and not buying a beach house for a guy like Cardinal McCarrick. 

I often get accused being a Protestant when I champion the idea of a tithing strike. (Withholding tithes was a form of activism favored by Protestant reformers.  I am an Irish Catholic, but I do not take “Protestant” as an insult. ) Another critique of my refusal to tithe implies that I take cash out of the mouths of poor and elderly folks. I do not. It is easy to share with people in need without kicking back to the Vatican. 

I love my parish and I am fortunate enough to have a little money to donate to people who have less than my family has, so it has been hard for me to refrain from tithing. I decided over a decade ago that I was unwilling to support an organization that would not ordain women. I still find ways to contribute to people in need but I always strain to deny the Vatican their cut. I also made a concerted effort, during this time, to contribute time and talent to my parish. Labor is a contribution the Vatican can't pinch. I hope that this summer's Catholic eruption might cause Catholics in the pews to think a bit more about what their voluntary tithing does and buys. 

Back to the civil war in the church. Is there a civil war going? Of course there is! Is the church headed for a schism? Not yet. Despite that, schism phobia permeated almost everything Catholic that I read this past weekend. A non-Catholic asked me why Catholics in the United States are so fearful of schism. The answer is two-fold. There is the concern that the mystical body of the (“catholic” and “Catholic”) church might be fragmented, but also, there’s concern about all the wealth. 

Who gets all the money if a real schism happens? Today, I imagine that it Team Francis would acquire all booty. But if a man like Cardinal Vigano were to become pope—

No sitting pope is likely to cede power or money. Catholics will continue to debate among themselves, but Catholics who really want to create change in the church will begin to explore the only leverage available to them. They will stop kicking back to the Vatican They will begin to put their money where their mouths are. 

Michele Somerville 
August 27, 2018

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. 


Michele Somerville 
August 21, 2018