Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Where Are the Women?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Frank Pavone. Grifter? Priest?



Anyone who observes or interacts with Catholic on twitter knows that Twitter has a toxic priest problem. Being more focused on more prominent, less conspicuously maniacal clerics, I admit I was not paying close attention to “Father” Frank Pavone until recently when I read a tweet by a Catholic writer and noted his history of fiscal misconduct. I’d spent a little time researching him on a whim last summer after I had become interested in the Rachel Project to which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops refers women who feel conflicted, confused remorseful about terminating their pregnancies, and Pavone’s name surfaced in connection with this minisitry for women. It quickly became clear that he had made something of a career of thumbing his nose a multiple bishops and that he was grifter whose game seemed to me to modeled on the style made popular by Rev. Jim Bakker and the Praise the Lord Club. Pavone, to his credit, does not even aim conceal his unwavering support for Donald Trump, and his twitter output is heavy with MAGA messages. Because I have long been interested in the violation by cleric of tax law as it pertains to the tax-exempt churches, I wondered, why do the Bishops allow grifter Pavone to cash in on his ordination thus? Where the heck is this guy’s bishop? 


My concerns about Pavone and ministering to women escalated rapidly, by the way, when I learned that he had been disciplined (not defrocked!) for using a dead human fetus as a prop in his celebration of the Holy Mass. 

Pavone claims that his aim an hope was that the dead fetus might “witness.” This is perverse. Why did Rome not step in and remove him immedately?The intensely unrelenting misogynist messaging in Pavone’s bizarre and hysterical output alarmed me still further when the thought that this “priest” might be conducting himself with in this manner in the physical presence of vulnerable women in search of some kind of healing. (While I recognize the need for some women to find healing after having abortions within their Roman Catholic practice, I have always found Rachel ProjectRachel’s Vineyardthey are connected—from a theological standpoint. and indeed suspect. There are far better approaches.) Frank Pavone has engaged in public blasphemy, is campaigning for Trump in plain sight, spends more time on social media than a 13 year-old (Remind you of anyone?) and uses donation dollars to fly around the United States giving speeches, rubbing elbows with pols and lobbyists and gobbling up Narcissistic feed. Why do the Bishops allow grifter Pavone to cash in on his ordination thus? My concerns about Pavone and ministering to women escalated rapidly, by the way, when I learned that he had been disciplined, but not defrocked, for using a dead human fetus as a prop in his celebration of the Holy Mass. Pavone claims that his aim an hope was that the dead fetus might “witness.” This is perverse. Why did Rome not step in and remove him immedately?

The church which ordained Pavone, from whom his authority as a cleric emanates, is a tax-exempt organization prohibited by lawfrom campaigning for a particular candidate.

 Over the past two days, I researched Pavone further. In 2016, his organization Priests for Life travel expenses alone in 2016 amounted to over $490,000 , during which year “expenses” were in excess of $9 million. His bishop Patrick J. Kurek in Amarillo Texas first embraced, but then cut Pavone loose. Pavone moved to Staten Island where Cardinal Timothy Dolan ostensibly, publicly, “cut ties with” Pavone. Pavone moved to Titusville, Florida in 2017 where, according to the generally unreliable Church Militant (They like Pavone.) media outlet, Pavone’s bishop circulated a letter exhorting his brother priests in the Orlando Diocese to refrain from allowing Pavone to speak in their parishes. Currently, Pavone is using donations to travel about the United States defending “the babies” and stumping for Donald Trump. The church which ordained Pavone, from whom his authority as a whose authority is a tax-exempt organization prohibited by law from campaigning for a particular candidate. Although high ranking priests in that church have detached from the con-artist lens louse, they have not moved to defrock Pavone. The Canon Code prohibits desecrating the altar and mass. A priest who has not been officially defrocked and who is stumping daily for a presidential candidate may, possibly be violating (I’m not a lawyer.) Tax Law. Pavone appears regularly as “Father Frank Pavone” on his Facebook ‘television channel’ sporting a Roman collar. It is not clear to me yet whether they are airing Pavone’s programming at present, but EWTN, Eternal World Television Network, the largest religious media outlet in the world (of Mother Angelica fame) helped to put Pavone on the map. A cabal of clerics run Priests for Life, as priests, not as private citizens. Why have the United States Bishops and the Vatican not moved to stop Pavone?

Pavone went rogue. He began to run his Staten Island-based “ministry” via Skype from a Texas convent, an Alex Jones-style desert father, besieged by snakes and other menacing creatures:

Pavone caught a bit of trouble with his superior, Bishop Patrick J. Zurek in Amarillo, Texas, in 2011, in connection with his fund-raising tactics and possible fiscal misconduct. Here's some of what he wrote:
"I had to reach you [the donor] right away and address some important issues that concern you, me, and our work together at Priests for Life, and the entire pro-life movement here in the United States. Before I go into that with you, I must first tell you that it is critically important that you send me a response of any kind to this letter”…
The demand for immediate action is classic a 700 Club move, the call for: 
 unconditional support for Priests for Life … Right now…that means doing whatever is necessary to send Priest for Life the largest gift you possibly can today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But right now!
Bishop Patrick J. Zurek was still direct donors to Pavone in 2012, after The Amarillo News-Globe exposed the grifter priest: Pavone lost his tax-exempt status in 2010, but continued to run his Gospel for Life Ministry as a Roman Catholic priest:
Gospel of Life Ministries — one of three nonprofits at the heart of a dispute between Pavone, the charities’ self-described frontman, and Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek — continued to feature on its website an online donation form that refers to contributions as tax-deductible. The IRS revoked the group’s tax-exempt status in May 2010…
“If it still is collecting tax-deductible donations, it’s collecting under false pretenses,” said Vaughn James, a Texas Tech University Law School tax law expert.
Pavone was finally removed from ministry by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek who alerted his brother bishops about the thieving priest:
Patrick J. Zurek… sent a letter to every other U.S. bishop declaring that he had so many concerns about the group's $10 million budget that Pavone shouldn't be trusted with donors' money. 
It was then that Pavone went rogue. He began to run his Staten Island-based “ministry” via Skype from a Texas convent, an Alex Jones-style desert father, besieged by snakes and other menacing creatures: 
the New York-born priest was stuck in a convent in the Texas panhandle where he served as chaplain to an order of nuns in a place called Prayer Town, a virtual prisoner in a war of words with Zurek, who had blasted his "incorrigible defiance of my legitimate authority as his bishop." 
 As I write this, on the morning of October 17, 2019, Frank Pavone’s twitter feed ( @FrFrankPavone) is filled mostly with images of Frank. Frank waxing prosaic about “the babies,” Frank asking devout Catholics on fixed incomes for more money because abortion is worse than nuclear war, Frank quote- tweeting Trump booster Candace Owens. Frank wearing a red MAGA cap. Pavone’s tweets announcing his Facebook programming feature Pavone front and center, always upstaging Jesus, God and Mary, Blessed Sacrament monstrance and Rosary are featured; moved by the spirit no doubt, but dashing the spirit of the law which prohibits clerics from using their religious authority to stump for a political candidate to unholy smithereens. 

I don’t believe the US. Bishops wish to restrain him. He is an embarrassing necessary evil, a forceful if doltish cleric, in their view, to be tolerated but not celebrated.

He is an embarrassing necessary evil, a cleric to be tolerated but not celebrated. Until two years ago Pavone’s Gospel of Life Ministry operated out of the Archdiocese of New York, yet somehow it was not until 2014 that Cardinal Timothy Dolan cut ties with Pavone , perhaps due to Pavone’s history of fiscal misconduct. (By the way, I think this cutting of ties was pro forma. Done for reasons of Optics.) Pavone has been disregarding bishops in plain sight for more than a decade. I don’t believe the US. Bishops wish to restrain him. He is an embarrassing necessary evil, a forceful if doltish cleric, in their view, to be tolerated but not celebrated. This is why Pavone’s superiors in the Roman Catholic hierarchy continue to go back and forth about whether to banish or support Frank Pavone. In 2014, Pavone’s own bishop cut ties with him. In 2015 in time for Election Day 2016 (in November of 2015). Cardinal Renato Martino, a longtime supporter of Pavone and Priests for Life, sent Pavone a letter of commendation. Currently, Pavone’s center of operations appears to be in Titusville, Florida, today. (I write “appears to be” because it is, by Pavone’s design—part of the lack of trasnparency—hard to know.) Although Bishop Noonan of Orlando Diocese circulated a written exhortation addressed to priests in his diocese to refrain from inviting Pavone to speak in the his parishes, he seems not to be doing much to stop Pavone from operating what looks quite a bit like a Ponzi scheme out of Titusville, Florida.

Are Frank Pavone’s fiscal misconduct, disregard for his bishops, maniacal support of Trump and public blasphemy being... because “no investment is too high for the diffusion of the word of God?”


Who are the people who actually pay for Pavone’s elaborate stumping for Trump speaking schedule? Do they have any sense of how this cash is being spent?  Pavone’s bio on this Priests for Life travel itinerary, by the way, includes his status as “Pastoral Director, Rachel’s Vineyard.” The United States Bishops’ website still directs women to “the Rachel Project.” Are vulnerable women still being directed to obtain support from to this deranged huckster? Has EWTN (Eternal World Television Network) the global network funded by billionaires, aligned with the traditional Catholic Church and by extension with Catholic pro-Trumpers, broken with Pavone? ETWN’s Chairman and CEO Michael C. Warsaw is a consultant to the Vatican's Dicastery of Communications. (Reverend James Martin, S.J. is, as well.) Just last month at the plenary assembly for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, Pope Francis said the following in a text statement:
“No investment is too high for the diffusion of the Word of God”… 
Are Frank Pavone’s fiscal misconduct, disregard for his bishops, maniacal support of Trump and public blasphemy being tolerated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the United States because he’s an earner committed to overturning Roe v. Wade,  and because “no investment is too high for the diffusion of the word of God?” Yes.

Many Catholic women have abortions. Some agonize over it. Others do not. Roughly half of Catholics reject Magisterial teaching on abortion, and many of them are women. Perhaps because I know so many Catholic women who continue to worship Catholic without feeling any need of special formal religious interventions in the wake of terminating their pregnancies, the Rachel projects had long rather fallen off my Catholic radar. Although I find the idea that Pavone, who identifies as the “Pastoral Director” of Rachel’s Vineyard might still be “counseling” vulnerable women horrific, I find my sense that Pavone is not really interested in the women or “the babies” strangely comforting. I think Pavone is interested in the money, attention, and power.

Unless Pavone does something truly egregious in the eyes of the Vatican—something truly heinous, like, say, ordaining a woman—Pavone will decompensate unchecked. He's helping. to keep the Roman Catholic Church safe for misogyny; no Catholic bishop will much obstruct him in this. 

So why do the Vatican and Roman Catholic hierarchy in the nation in which Pavone operates allow him to grift amok? I am not sure. I worry, however, that Pavone enjoys this license because bishops, the media network that made him, anti-abortion Catholics too refined to favor the use of a dead human embryo in a mass want him to continue to stump for white supremacist, nationalist candidates. They find Pavone distasteful. They dislike his means, but very much approve of his ends. Half of Catholics do not embrace Catholic teaching on abortion. The other half, roughly speaking, voted for Trump. The factions are at war, in a sense. Saints are always a little off, deranged, Narcissistic. Frank Pavone, is, like his fellow grifter hero Donald Trump, a Malignant Narcissist, a television-loving lens louse who wants to give speeches, get rich, and feel powerful. Priests for Life is a front, a kind of Ponzi scheme, but it also gets the message out. The U.S. Bishops know it. At least one cardinal in Rome knows it. The pope knows it. Unless Pavone does something truly egregious in the eyes of the Vatican—something truly heinous, like, say, ordaining a woman—Pavone will decompensate unchecked. He's keeping the Roman Catholic Church safe for misogyny; no Catholic bishop will obstruct him in this way.




Priests for Life 2016 Tax Returns:

2016-943123315-0f9b5138-9.pdf



Priests for Life 2016 Travel Expenses:


Michele Somerville, 
October 17, 2019, Brooklyn

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Rescue the Priesthood: Ordain Women


Both the Catholic Church and the priesthood 

itself can survive, but not without a 

correction of the misogyny.

In his essay “Abolish the Priesthood,” (The Atlantic‘s June cover story) author James Carroll identifies the dramatic moment at which it occurred to him that Pope Francis might be lying about his ignorance of the scandal of the Magdalene Laundries. Like many progressive Catholics, Carroll had held out hope that the pontiff might more strenuously challenge what he describes as “the twin pillars of clericalism … the church’s misogynist exclusion of women from the priesthood and the requirement of celibacy for priests.” Carroll knows that the reasoning which keeps the priesthood all-male is insubstantial, and that the androcentrism preserving it is part and parcel of the corruption of Catholic Church clericalism. He suggests forcefully that its institutional misogyny will play a role in the demise of the Catholic Church as we know it. But Carroll also predicts that the Catholic Church will survive. He is right on both counts. Both the Catholic Church and the priesthood itself can survive, but not without a correction of the misogyny. The Vatican must ordain women if for no other reason than to save itself. A woman-rich priesthood will be more capable of addressing the toxic mess that is the institutional Roman Catholic Church.  In characterizing his own experience of moving away from clericalism, Carroll suggests that the survival of the Catholic Church may rest on what he describes as a form of “internal exile” by means of which Catholics will detach in subtle, gradual and sometimes invisible ways from the conventional aspects of clericalism for reasons of conscience. These “conscientious objectors,” as he calls them (us — I am one.) will continue to be Catholic but will do so while detaching from the clutches of clericalism. They will express their Catholicism in hospitals and soup kitchens. They will worship in small communities. Catholic “conscientious objectors” will reject the “caste” of priesthood with its medieval resonances and priest-as-“alter Christos” (another Christ) ontology in favor of a lay leadership more interested in serving than governing. 

In recent years, I have recognized that 

contributing my labor in liturgical context is 

not something I can continue to do in good faith. 

My own “internal exile” has been evolving over the past two decades. About fifteen years ago, after researching the matter of women’s ordination, I began to withhold contributions to (first) my diocese and (later) my parish.  I have walked out of masses celebrated by misogynists and perverts. I have crossed to the other side of Communion lines to avoid receiving Communion from two New York cardinals and the bishop of the diocese in which I worship. I choose my masses carefully, have done more church work than most professional mothers are generally able to manage and have sponsored young women in Catholic Confirmation and conversion. I have, up until recently, chosen to contribute time and talent so as not to "deadbeat" on  the faith and church I love. This, while wrestling mightily with my own conscience on the matter of remaining Catholic. In recent years, I have recognized that contributing my labor in liturgical context is not something I can continue to do in good faith. 

I attended Catholic mass in churches only at Easter, 

Christmas, and for funerals and sometimes felt guilty 

about it.  The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was 

my “fish rots from the head” moment, the moment 

at which I came to recognize that the Vatican itself 

was driving a horrific criminal coverup.  

For me, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was what James Carroll described as his “point at which my wire long stretched taught finally snapped.” The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report made obvious to me that I had been worshiping in outposts of a crime ring. As I read the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, I realized that the United States Bishops were still actively engaged in a coverup of horrific crimes against children — human rights violations, really — and that there was no reason to expect that they might desist in this conduct. I also came to understand at this moment that Catholics in the pews would not stop them. I knew people I love and some I respect would go on funding them. This sickened me. I began, organically, as Carroll did, to eschew Sunday mass in Catholic churches. I stopped attending mass in Catholic but began to attend mass in a small Catholic community outside of a parish. I added more non-Catholic (Protestant, mostly) worship to my life of prayer.  I increased my solitary prayer (Rosary). I attended Catholic mass in churches only at Easter, Christmas, and for funerals and sometimes felt guilty about it.  The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was my “fish rots from the head” moment, the moment at which I came to recognize that the Vatican itself was driving a horrific criminal coverup.  

Assume Pope Francis was not lying; Why then 

did he not know about the Magdalene Laundries? 

Carroll’s “fish rots from the head moment” occurred when it became apparent that Pope Francis might have been lying when he claimed to know nothing about Magdalene Laundries: 
“I had never heard of these mothers,” the pope said. “Never heard of these mothers? When I read that, I said to myself: A lie. Pope Francis is lying.”
Carroll concedes that the pope may have just been ignorant of this chapter of Irish Catholic Church history, but it is hard to imagine that any literate Catholic could have just missed so much Catholic news. ( The New York Times reported on the Magdalene Laundries in 2009 and The Guardian,in 2015. The film, The Forgotten Maggies, was released in 2009.  The United Nations investigated the asylums from between 2010 and 2012.) Despite all of this coverage, the pope claims to have learned for the first time about the torture of the Magdalenes on a visit to Ireland in 2018.Was the pope lying?
Which is worse: the pontiff’s ignorance of the Irish asylums or pretending not to know about them? Assume Pope Francis was not lying; Why then did he not know about the Magdalene Laundries? The pope may not have known about the abused women and babies because the clerical hierarchy of the Catholic Church is just not all that focused on the dignity of women and children, especially when such focus turns attention toward a flaw in its institutional structure. Under toxic clericalism, women are first and foremost helpers, children hold the key to the Catholic Church of tomorrow, and the material world is a kind of dress rehearsal for eternal life. This view may account for the ability of the clerical caste of the Catholic Church to remain silent and complicit in the context of a wide-scale sex crime spree that converted children into rape victims and survivors. 


Toxic clericalism will never be addressed 

so long as men alone interpret and promulgate doctrine. 

The Catholic Church needs women front and center 

in order that fundamental change and reform might take place.

The pope’s ineffectuality in addressing the suffering of children at the hands of the Catholic Church clerics and determination to  preserve institutional misogyny in the Catholic Church are related. Both should be deeply troubling for the many “progressive” Catholics who had high hopes for this Jesuit pontiff. Pope Francis I certainly has changed the style in which the message is delivered, but he has not changed the message. He remains a proponent of patriarchy. Women, for Pope Francis, are "the strawberries on the cake." Half of Catholic children grow up to become women, and women are, in the worldview of the institutional Roman Catholic hierarchy, equal under God yet inferior to men. A “Madonna-whore” ethos has been slow to fade in catechesis and priestly formation even among some Catholics who identify as “progressive.” Women are necessary to the institutional church, but the Vatican, for the most part, still espouses “complementarity.” (“Complementarity” is theory/perspective that views men and women as having distinct and dissimilar roles, talents, obligations and privileges). Toxic clericalism will never be addressed so long as men alone interpreting and promulgate doctrine. The Catholic Church needs women front and center in order that fundamental change and reform might take place. The ordination of women would “right size” the misogynist complementarity doctrine. The ordination of women must happen if the Catholic Church is to survive. Once women are ordained, the Catholic Church will thrive. 

Many of the "it takes a long time to turn a big bus" 

arguments about the Catholic Church's institutional 

misogyny are now advanced by well-educated "feminist" 

academics.

In many ways women who might even identify as "progressive" or "feminist" are helping to entrench the institutional misogyny in the church. I believe their usefulness in this is one of the reasons Catholic universities permit and even encourage women who identify as feminists to engage in advanced study. Many of the "it takes a long time to turn a big bus" arguments about the Catholic Church's institutional misogyny are now advanced by well-educated "feminist" academics. They often remind me somewhat of the "women for Trump" folks. The proponents of institutional misogyny obtain good public relations performance from these women, as they enjoy their most favored women status and become part of the very corps that keeps women out of the priesthood, decision-making, preaching. They keep "complementarity" alive. I found myself having to explain “complementarity” to my two millennial daughters recently. When they queried me about the Catholic ideal of a large family, as part of this conversation, they were interested in knowing whether the large family ideal was the result of the prohibition of artificial contraception or the cause of it. I wasn’t sure how to answer this possibly “chicken and egg” sort of question. Which came first, the prohibition against enjoyment non-procreative sex or the sentimentalized ideal of reckless fecundity? It may be that the prohibition against artificial contraception as much rises out of enchantment with the idealized vision of a large Catholic family as out of doctrine on family.  
  

Wherever one stands on the matter of the ethics and legality of abortion, one must recognize that the conception of the "pro life" Catholic woman was created by men.  

The idealized Catholic woman, if she is not a virgin, is still a Madonna. I am old enough to remember when the "Pro-Life" movement became visible on the parish level in New York City where I lived. It was not until the birth control pill became widely available that one began to see Catholic ladies outside mass with enormous posters of embryos. My devout Irish Roman Catholic grandmother, born in 1900, missed entirely the Catholic politicization of abortion; she and her friends were post-menopausal when anti-abortion advocates took to the streets. My grandmother was incredibly devout but anti-abortion sentiment was not part of this devotion. Wherever one stands on the matter of the ethics and legality of abortion, one must recognize that the conception of the "pro life" Catholic woman was created by men. 

Whether by design or accident, large idealized Catholic families keep women barefoot, pregnant and confined to their complementarity categories cordoned off from ecclesiastical policy-making. Living out this sentimentalized vision of a large Catholic family often requires that one parent focus more than the other upon hearth and children. As a feminist Catholic who put a career on hold to raise three children, and who found the work of caring for and educating my children stimulating, meaningful and enjoyable, I respect a parent’s choice to work at home caring for children. Wealthy families circumvent this dilemma by hiring enough help to support two-career families, but the persistence of a trend whereby Catholic women set aside their professions in order to work at home caring for hearth and children is a boost for complementarity. 


My sense of things, as I follow Catholic news, is that ultra-rich conservative and traditional Catholic women are enjoying a particular ascendancy right now, while "liberal" feminists working for Catholic schools and publications are often receiving a kind of mushroom treatment (fed manure and kept in the dark). 

As I track the fascinating narrative of ultra wealthy politically conservative /religiously traditional Catholics, I notice that voices of wealthy traditional women are prominent, and that extreme wealth often allows traditional Catholic women a complementarity workaround. The progressive-minded feminist Catholic assistant professor or Catholic secondary school teacher, more often than not, is still rearing her own children. My sense of things, as I follow Catholic news, is that ultra rich conservative and traditional Catholic women are enjoying a particular ascendancy right now, while "liberal" feminists working for Catholic schools and publications are often receiving a kind of mushroom treatment (fed manure and kept in the dark). "Liberal" Catholic women are, to varying degrees, being utilized for keeping feminist Catholic women tithing and bringing children into the Catholic Church, reminded at every turn that the institutional church has, for years, upheld special women—Church Doctors, magisterium-compliant nuns and theologians—which is not nothing. 


The re-entrenching of its own bigotry will only increase 
as long as male-only priesthood remains in place.

The fresh need to affirm complementarity that makes clear who the men and women are probably explains, at least in part, the Vatican’s urgency in issuing “Male and Female He Created Them” a transphobic, science-flouting document made public during 2019’s World Pride month. Complementarity requires definitive binarity, a strong unbroken line between those God made male and female. In the eyes of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, women are less than, and forced complementarity enforces sexism. From a doctrinal perspective, the times require novel clarity on the question of gender identity. The re-entrenching of its own bigotry will only increase as long as male-only priesthood remains in place. 


While it is certain that an exodus of traditional Catholics would ensue if the Vatican were to finally ordain women, it certain as well that a great influx of thousands of Catholics who have departed due to the (various) bigotry of the Catholic Church would occur. 

The current institutional church desires the maintenance of sexism, misogyny and complementarity. We have a pope who has publicly called women the “strawberries on the cake.”  More than 90% of Catholics support the use of artificial contraception. On one hand, the current institutional Catholic Church appears to be failing to “read the Catholic room” and appears willfully oblivious to the next generation of educated women unlikely to raise their daughters in a Catholic Church permeated by misogyny. On the other hand, the Vatican's focus is more on the global church. If the global church grows, they are unlikely to care what Western European and American women think about their misogyny, as long as cash enough to to pay for that global church continues to come in. While it is certain that an exodus of traditional Catholics would ensue if the Vatican were to finally ordain women, it certain as well that a great influx of thousands of Catholics who have departed due to the (various) bigotry of the Catholic Church would occur. If the Vatican does not ordain women, the unity of the Catholic Church will be further shattered and the Vatican press team -- it will fall to Catholic schools, publications and traditional Catholics to foot the global church bill. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is still lousy with clerics who have shuffled predators, failed to report rapes, engaged in fiscal impropriety, and used parish donations to fund efforts to oppose Child Victims Act legislation. These men are still in power. 

Not all bishops have contempt for women and children but significant numbers of the most prominent Catholic bishops do, and there is a lot of overlap between bishops who hate women and those who believe that men who rape women should be hidden or pardoned due to their ontological uniqueness. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is still lousy with clerics who have shuffled predators, failed to report rapes, engaged in fiscal impropriety, and used parish donations to fund efforts to oppose Child Victims Act legislation. These men are still in power. Why are bishops and other priests who engaged in this conduct not reporting each other?  How could so many bishops just look the other way as children were serially raped and tortured? 


For many clerics the choice to expose the Catholic Church to scandal is a sin more grave than that of failing to report the rape of a child.

The answer, in part, is that the bishops who served as accessories to these crimes may have seen their ungodly choice to sacrifice a children to the greater good of insulating the Catholic Church from scandal as a religious imperative. For many clerics the choice to expose the Catholic Church to scandal is a sin more grave than that of failing to report the rape of a child. Raping an altar boy damages the boy’s earthly life; bringing scandal on the Catholic Church damages “the Church Militant,” Christ’s church on earth. Public scandal, they believe, compromises the power of the earthly church to save souls. Heresy and apostasy are seen by those who embrace this view, as threats to the very foundation of the Catholic Church on earth. 

This “omerta” factor can be disastrous in a number of directions. I am the daughter of a New York Police Department cop who rose to the rank of lieutenant, and in many ways, the clerics’ code of silence reminds me of “the thin blue line.” 

Many of the bishops and possibly the pope himself knew of the depraved conduct of Theodore Cardinal McCarrick long before his sex crimes were spelled out in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Reportand kept silent, not because McCarrick was a brother bishop and friend, but because their fidelity to magisterial teaching trumps the obligation to protect a child from harm. This “omerta” factor can be disastrous in a number of directions. I am the daughter of a New York Police Department cop who rose to the rank of lieutenant, and in many ways, the clerics’ code of silence reminds me of “the thin blue line.” As part of their ordination rites, Catholic priests take vows or make promises to obey their superiors. This obedience, like the confessional seal, is taken seriously by Catholic clerics. Rare is the priest who would defy a bishop’s directive not to report the rape of a child. 

An influx of women into the stagnant, polluted clerical structure of the priesthood would have a cleansing effect. 

I doubt that women bishops would have been as complicit in the coverup of such heinous crimes against children as Bernard Law, Theodore McCarrick and many other bishops were. I live quite near to a famously polluted canal in Brooklyn. I'm a poet; here's a metaphor. when my youngest was in fourth grade, I served as a chaperone on a school trip to the canal where scientists showed us how an influx of small oysters into the canal was cleaning the water. An influx of women into the stagnant, polluted clerical structure of the priesthood would have a cleansing effect. A clerical structure made up of men and women would likely have done more to protect vulnerable young people from predator clerics, and would, today, be more likely to lead the institutional Catholic Church toward justice for those whose souls it has murdered through sexual assault. I don’t believe women bishops would have been so quick to shuffle sex offenders from parish to parish. When women and men together comprise the magisterial structure, the voice of righteousness will be much more likely to register in doctrine.

 Silence is complicity.

The case of Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois who was defrocked in 2012 offers a good illustration of how vows/promises of obedience and the “sin” of heresy work in the context of the Vatican sexual abuse crisis. A Catholic priest, peace activist, Vietnam War veteran, and Nobel Prize nominee, Bourgeois was “laicized” (defrocked) for refusing to publicly recant his support for the ordination of women. Even the “Superior General” of his Maryknoll order couldn’t protect him, because superiors of orders are bound by vows of obedience to Rome. Right around the time the Vatican was preparing to defrock Roy Bourgeois, Bernard Law (whose conduct was the focus of the Academy Award winning film Spotlight) was preparing to resign from the position given to him by Pope John Paul II following Law's decision to flee the United States in order to evade prosecution for his crimes against children. Law died six years after resigning. He was responsible for covering up possibly hundreds of incidences of child rape, but he died a priest with "Saint" John II's help.  Roy Bourgeois was released from his Maryknoll order, defrocked (in 2012) within a year of refusing to obey an order from the Vatican and his order to recant his support for the ordination of women  “Silence is complicity,” Bourgeois wrote in his letter of refusal. If Bourgeois had engaged in the ‘the lesser evil’ of raping a child, he would be celebrating mass today. Silence is complicity.


Abolition of all-male priesthood will reinvest the church with authentic reverence, creativity, Christ-like compassion and conscience. The increase of this more Christ-like sensibility would take root and ramify within the church. 

Under toxic clericalism the transgression of heresy is more egregious than covering up scores of incidences of child rape. The church Roy Bourgeois envisioned, a church with women priests would, I suppose, by necessity emanate from of a Third Vatican Council. Ordaining women would resurrect and reinvigorate the Roman Catholic Church much in the same way the Second Vatican council did. In a sense it would complete the goals of Vatican II. Abolition of all-male priesthood would reinvest the church with authentic reverence, creativity, Christ-like compassion and conscience. The increase of this more Christ-like sensibility would take root and ramify within the church. Practically speaking, ordaining women would almost immediately render the priest shortage a thing of the past. It would catalyze a purging of corruption of the institutional church from within. It would force the Vatican to depart the Medieval era of its patriarchal imagining and enter the 21st Century. The greater good of protecting Mother Church from scandal would no longer be the exigency it is today because a priesthood with women in it would endow the institutional Church with dignity sufficient to foreclose the call for a defense. The Catholic Church would take on the dignity of Mary. Mother Church would then possess honor enough to defend herself. 


I know too many excellent priests to yearn for an abolition of the priesthood. I see their sacrifices, their patience, their holiness, their humility — but I’m with Carroll, in longing for a seismic shift. 

A number of commentaries on James Carroll’s essay have been appeared in the last month, and several take the premise spelled out by the headline, “Abolish the Priesthood,” as their point of departure.  In some instances, these appear to disregard the prose that follows the headline on Carroll’s piece as they offer arguments in favor of retaining the priesthood. All one need do is take a hint from Carroll’s writerly choice to toss a pinch of Finnegan’s Wake into the discussion in order to see that Carroll is using a bit of poetic license in his essay. (Carroll writes novels, plays and poems.)  It is the acrid, thuggish, misogynistic priesthood he wants to abolish — not the priesthood of the fine priests who serve every day with Christ in heart and mind. I know too many excellent priests to yearn for an abolition of the priesthood. I see their sacrifices, their patience, their holiness, their humility — but I’m with Carroll, in longing for a seismic shift. “The church I forsee” Carroll writes, “will be governed by lay people, although the verb ‘govern’ may apply less than ‘serve.’“ In “Abolish the Priesthood,“ James Carroll may be making a case for what theologian, biblical scholar and Harvard Professor Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza calls a “discipleship of equals.”

The temple that is the institutional Roman Catholic Church must be cleansed ...Ordaining women will make the Catholic Church whole. 

Does the leader of a church that enacts misogyny on a daily basis have any legitimate authority at all to preach throughout the globe against bigotry? I say it does not. One cannot publicly condemn bigotry while practicing it. Through its choice to ordain women, the institutional Roman Catholic Church will at last bestow upon itself the new and much needed authority to oppose the sin of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation.  It will demonstrate its readiness to correct the historical record on the matter of women priests and bishops. Because women have, for so long, suffered discrimination and erasure in this regard, it is reasonable to imagine their service and formation would be infused with their experience as survivors. Women who answer the call to Roman Catholic ordination will come to their altare dei moment with wisdom, shaped by having transcended persecution, humiliation, scorn dispensed by the church they love. The temple that is the institutional Roman Catholic Church must be cleansed. Bishops participating in the coverup of the wide-spread systematic sexual abuse of must resign, be dismissed, and, wherever possible, be held accountable in secular courts. If the institutional Catholic Church wishes to pull the priesthood out of its man-made hellfire, it still can; but it must clean house. We must drag the thieves out of the temple mire and release the doves from their cages. Ordaining women will make the Catholic Church whole. Without it the institutional Roman Catholic Church as we know it will fail to thrive.   

Michele Somerville
August 12, 2019, NYC   

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Boycott the Basket for Lent and Easter


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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, February 18, 2019

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