Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Where Are the Women?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Fish Rots From the Head: The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report





The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report


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 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”. He spelled out a plan to meet with victims. Pope Francis to the rescue. This letter prompted some Catholics to rejoice. The problem here — the problem with the letter 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 have said and done. It is hard for me to suggest, here, that Pope Francis might be a part of the problem, because I am aware that many of the most wrong-headed Catholics have been waiting for the day the “liberal” pope might be unseated.

But Pope Francis is a part of the problem. He must act.


The Institutional Catholic Church is, at least in part, a criminal organization.


Can Pope Francis get away with a “Is there gambling, here in Casablanca?”disposition on the matter of the Pennsylvania grand jury report?

No. Many of those currently targeting the pope are Catholics who want a pre-Vatican II church. They preach anti-LGBTQ prejudice, misogyny, and antisemitism. They insist on a quasi-fundamentalist reading to the “rules and regs” of Roman Catholicism. Jorge Bergoglio, on the other hand, is no rebel. He was a member of the College of Cardinals for seventeen years before being elevated. There are a only a little over 200 cardinals. They speak to each other. Many have known each other for several decades. It is likely that a few have been friends for half of the past century, and many serve as each others’ confessors.Can Pope Francis get away with a “Is there gambling, here in Casablanca?” disposition on the matter of the Pennsylvania grand jury report?

No. This fish rots from the head.

The institutional Roman Catholic Church is in many (possibly most) respects a criminal organization, and every cleric, person employed by a Catholic publication or Catholic university, college or school is, whether directly or indirectly, on its payroll.

Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day wrote the following lines in 1968 at around the time Vatican II changes were taking hold, in a letter to Gordon Zahn, 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 a petition currently circulating which calls for the resignation of all of the U.S. bishops. I had mixed feelings about signing it because I knew nothing would come of it. I went ahead and signed it anyway, on principle. The United States is not Chile. There is way too much money to be had in the United States, and if there is anything thing the U.S. Bishops like almost as much as God and Jesus — it’s money.

Much of the Vatican sexual abuse scandal boils down to money and holding onto it. The institutional Roman Catholic Church is in many (possibly most) respects a criminal organization, and every person employed by a Catholic publication, Catholic university, or religious order is, whether directly or indirectly, on the payroll. I have never had much faith in the bishops, and now I have less than none. I continue, however, to have faith in the church of Dorothy Day. The institutional Catholic Church is not “the Catholic Church.” The two are not one and the same.


Why continue to beg bishops to police themselves? The myth of the “liberal” pontiff.


I know several survivors of clergy sexual abuse (In the case of forcible penetration of adults and all assaults of children, itis critical that we call it “rape.”) and I attended a few Voice of the Faithful meetings in 2000 in support of a friend who was a survivor of sex crimes committed against him, by a priest, as a child. This friend, now in his eighties, was brave enough to report, as a child, that he was being abused by priests. He was arrested by NYPD, at the time, and taken into custody. Here are my predictions in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand Jury Report: 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 about forgiveness, then emerge again, not out of ashes, but out of hiding, once the shooting dies down, to ask for peace. Even as a father, grandfather, and rather model citizen and Catholic, my friend was regularly insulted, scorned, and ridiculed by Catholics within and outside of his relatively speaking, welcoming parish. I was moved by the devotion and dignity of all who spoke out about this abuse at VOTF meetings, but I found the pattern of requesting support from bishops to be absurd and possibly masochistic. Why continue to beg bishops to police themselves?
I see some of this same religious masochism among some Women’s Ordination advocates. (Why beg a hierarchy maddened by its own quasi-royal power to return to us the freedom to worship and minister which was stolen from us in the fourth century?) Martin Luther King Jr.’s words from Letter from a Birmingham Jail do apply:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
The authority of bishops emanates 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. These prelates have been covering up these crimes for years.

That Pope Francis is not really progressive doesn’t matter all that much, because the “liberal” Catholic Church itself is not progressive.

A difficult question arises; is it fair to ask the U.S. bishops to resign without asking the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis I to resign? I’m not sure. Even many “liberal” or “progressive” Catholics writers, religion experts and and clerics who know the pope probably is complicit in the coverup are loath to call for his resignation because 1. He’s the pope, and can do what he pleases in this regard. 2. They know Pope Francis is the best pope Catholics are likely to obtain. That Pope Francis is not really progressive, doesn’t matter, because the “liberal” Catholic Church itself is not progressive. It still upholds misogyny, homophobia and the idea of a maintaining a measure of chauvinistic feeling regarding Catholicism’s priestly caste. Pope Francis took five whole 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 accepted responsibility in the way every other bishop speaking out had.

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.” No man who is not a misogynist says such things.


The day before the pope’s letter came out, I turned to my husband in the car shared by predictions re: “the strawberries on the cake” angle. “Watch. They’ll all go ham on the Blessed Mother in their rhetoric, focusing on her gentleness and forgiving nature. Then, they’ll make the move of inviting the women to come in and bat cleanup.”A few days later, I had the not very satisfying opportunity to hear him say, “You sure called it!” Once Pope Francis did speak, multitudes of Catholic writers waxed prosaic on the “Francis to the rescue” bluntness, power, and beauty of the pontiff’s letter (in which he, of course, name-checked Mary). 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.” No man who is not a misogynist says such things. Some Catholics — even some who identify as feminist! — find this somehow excusable, citing the “It takes a long time to turn a big bus.” Some have built whole quasi-scholarly careers out massaging this kind of prejudice into a polite defense for the misogyny that morally compromises the entire Roman Catholic Church. 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 bigotry, and bigots rarely confine their bigotry to one category of bigotry. To defend Catholic magisterial teaching on the matter of an all-male priesthood is to defend sexism, misogyny, and the practice of conditioning Catholic children in Catholic school classrooms that to be female is to be less than. The popes and prelates like to haul out Mary when they sense a need to extol the merits of womanhood, pointing, usually, to her docility. I doubt that any bishop who promulgates misogyny under the guise of “complementarity” (most do) can ever fully grasp the full significance of Mary. Nonetheless, I give Pope Francis credit for reminding the world, this week, that Mary was “the first disciple.”

Benedict VXI dropped the ball, but it was “Saint” Pope John Paul II who was the more culpable pope,for he was soft on rapists like Marcial Maciel Degollado and Theodore (“Uncle Ted”) McCarrick.

Pope Francis is a company man. In the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, Pope Francis also pointed to 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, under whose jurisdiction tracking and addressing sexual abuse cases falls, between 1981 and 2005. Benedict VXI dropped the ball, but it was “Saint” John Paul II who was the more culpable pope, for he was soft on rapists like Maciel Marcial and Theodore (“Uncle Ted”) McCarrick.

Pope Francis I has been a member of the College of Cardinals for more than seventeen years. There are only about 450 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. Some have ordained each other and consecrated (made bishops of) each other. 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? Unlikely. Watch some pretend to be.




The genius Vatican Optics of elevating Jorge Bergoglio

NOT Bergolio! but close.

The Vatican has been losing 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, is Latin American. These comprised the perfect Vatican Optics.


Elevating a cardinal who refused to live, as his two predecessors had, two floors up from the Vatican bank, just as Vatican Bank money laundering news was making headlines in the Financial Times, was a stroke of Vatican Public Relations genius. The new pontiff’s choice to take the name from the saint most associated with poverty, to jump-start his pontificate with a “greed is sin” message, to be a “1st” (as in Pope Francis I) sent a walloping out with the old in with the new message. As a progressive Catholic I have sometimes felt encouraged by the words of our current pope. He was chosen to serve as a brand ambassador for a novel, contemporary but still essentially medieval brand. The Vatican has been losing 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, is Latin American. These comprised the perfect Vatican Optics. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Francis lacks the regal countenance Catholics have come to associate with out-of-touch, corrupt hierarchs. Pope Francis presents as a human being, not as a prince.

Elevating a cardinal who refused to live, as his two predecessors had, two floors up from the Vatican bank (This, just as Vatican Bank money laundering news was making headlines in the Financial Times), a prelate who took his name from the saint most associated with poverty and who jump-started his pontificate with a “greed is sin” message was a stroke of Vatican Public Relations genius. Pope Francis I rode the bus, washed prisoners’ feet, and publicly exhibited other impressive Christlike conduct. Even Bergoglio’s status as a Jesuit was part of the plan. Educated liberal Catholics love the Jesuits. Sometimes I saw the elevation of Bergoglio to pope as encouraging. At other times I more saw it as a Machiavellian move designed to keep “Cafeteria Catholics” in the United States and Western Europe in the pews, tithing and spawning Catholics.

I often wonder whether some of cardinals who helped to elect Pope Francis might not have screened Nanni Moretti’s charming film, Habemus Papam, released a year before the emeritus pope resigned, and perhaps, been inspired by it.


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. Even conservative Catholics found the Office of Inquisition’s spying on nuns in their own homes, looking for heresies like Yoga, repugnant. 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. Then came the film Habemus Papam.While not normally one to subscribe to conspiracy theories, I often wonder whether some of cardinals who helped to elect Pope Francis might not have screened Nanni Moretti’s charming film, Habemus Papam,released a year before the emeritus pope resigned, and been inspired by it. 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 do not mean to suggest that Moretti’s film served as a blueprint for the selection of the pope — I offer it as musing, not as a soft conspiracy theory. However, the film was directed by an Italian, features the church, was reverential enough in tone, softly radical in vision, and well-and widely reviewed.

What was most needed from a Vatican Optics standpoint, when Benedict XVI resigned in quasi-disgrace, was a pope as telegenic as John Paul II, and, at least on the face, less interested than were John Paul II and Benedict XVI in policing Catholics’ private conduct. The policing was chasing Catholics out of the pews in Western Europe and the Americas, and they were taking their wallets and spawn with them. Ratzinger’s/Benedict XVI’s smaller, purer (compliant) church ideal is problematic in practice from a fiscal standpoint. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has its greatest hopes pinned on growth of the global church, but at present, Catholics in the Americans and Europe fund ministry in those regions. The cardinals may not miss the amoral, hyper-secularized Catholic defectors of North American and western Europe when they depart, but Vatican misses their money. Pope Francis was perfect for the job of keeping “liberal” Catholics enthused. He would also have the gift for doing so without aiming to make any substantive doctrinal changes.

Saint Pope John Paul II with “Uncle Ted” / Cardinal McCarrick


Moving Forward, How to Clean the Temple



Once installed, Pope Francis kept Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose alleged sexual misconduct began to come to light as early as 1994, in place. Pope Francis did not just attend Bernard Law’s funeral in In 2017, he offered the (deeply solemn and significant) final prayer of commendation over the body of the pedophile-shuffling fugitive prelate. (Pope Francis’s predecessors helped Cardinal Law elude prosecution for his alleged crimes against children by fleeing to Vatican City, a sovereign nation.) Once safe in Vatican City, Law, a fugitive, received a church and a posting from Pope Benedict XVI. Law should have been tried for his crimes, but with papal support, he was permitted to live out his life as a priest, in the Vatican, a sovereign nation from which he could not be extradited. Francis hastily made a saint out of Pope John Paul II: this sham express canonization was performed in the interest of sanitizing the latter’s legacy (It will not work.) As of today, August 21, 2018, Pope Francis has not removed Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the bishop in charge of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (from 1988 to 2006) who was implicated in the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Wuerl, head of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is named more than 200 times in Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report for transferring priests he knew had engaged sexual misconduct to new parishes, for silencing survivors and for mishandling complaints against predator priests under Wuerl’s watch. Despite that the wrongdoing to which Wuerl publicly admits is more than enough to warrant his removal, he has not been removed from his position.

People charged with crimes have a legal right to be seen as innocent under the law until they are proven guilty, and several accounts this week suggest the possibility that not all of the U.S. Bishops knew what their priests were raping children. But an adult man who knows that a child is endangered and fails to inform law enforcement is guilty of a heinous crime. Such a man is an accessory after the fact. Any bishop who puts costs before justice in this regard is unfit to serve.If he knowingly places a child within reach of a predator, such a man is guilty of child endangerment. Any pastor or bishop who transferred a pedophile must be required to step down and must be held accountable under the law.

Secular law.

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 secular criminal law, at least in theory, aims to uphold? Mandatory reporters of abuse — classroom teachers, doctors, nurses — who fail to report such abuse as that which clerics like Donald Wuerl ignored, lose their jobs. Yet today, it is likely that a few hundred bishops or more who are guilty of failing to report these crimes are still in place. All but a few will be in place one year from now, and they will still insisting that they can police themselves. Some will be assigned the task of leading the purge. To allow a man who failed to report the rape of a child to continue to minister is deeply sinful. To allow such a man to remedy the sex abuse problem is to put a fox in charge of a hen house.


Bishop DiMarzio tries to muscle local pols. NY Post, May 31, 2009

Prelates must stop using donations made by Catholics in the pews to lobby against Child Victims Act/Statute of Limitations legislation, and must support, energetically, the prosecution of all sex offenders working under the supervision of the institutional Catholic Church.


It is 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.

Each time there is a report of widespread clergy child rape and coverup, various bishops offer their own variations on the heartfelt commentary. The statement made by Timothy Dolan, 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 disappear. Dolan supported an accused priest in 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? They must not. Nicholas DiMarzio, the (allegedly) 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 the church I have attended for two decades to campaign, on the altar, for a candidate who won the bishop’s support by resolving to oppose this legislation which would expand the statute of limitations for reporting sex crimes committed by priests. 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 notoriously corrupt and now deceased Brooklyn/Queens assemblyman and kingmaker Vito Lopez and one of Lopez’s proteges) as his part of the agreement. It is 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 Archbishop 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…


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. Something about this bishop caused me to cringe, but I didn’t quite know quite what. Two years later I watched 2017 film The Keepers, and realized Bishop Francis Malooly — who denies the wrongdoing dramatized in the film — was the creepy prelate in our Confirmation photo! The Keepers’ 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 Vatican moved to further investigate Malooly? Does it matter to them? How committed is William Lori, the current Archbishop of Baltimore, to helping to crack this case? The current archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, William E. Lori, also recently responded to the Pennsylvania grand jury report. He is one of the relatively “clean” bishops. (This may explain why he was sent to clean up Edward Egan’s dirty Bridgeport.) In 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 prevent 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 like Lori and Dolan, who have a knack for fiscal management (“earners” as the racketeers in the Bronx and uptown Manhattan where I grew up would call them), 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, perhaps, for his silence and imperious defiance in the face of questioning, and Dolan was then sent to clean up the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He did such a good job protecting (moving, concealing) Milwaukee money that the Vatican posted him in New York where there was a lot more money to move and to hide in order that it not be used for damages awards in child rape cases.



Disobeying one’s superiors and bringing scandal upon the Roman Catholic Church are, for many Catholics, sins more egregious than that of raping a child.


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. It is helpful to point out however, the enduring concern for protecting “the church” from scandal is often at the root of this secrecy, as is a belief that the sacrament of Holy Orders changes a man in a deep essential way that renders him above secular law. Many of the men now in charge of cleaning up Catholic church child sex trafficking view themselves as being above secular law. They are beholden to supernatural law alone. Catholic doctrine holds that the church is eternal, supernatural, and, in a sense, changeless. Under this view of things, the obligation of the those who lead the Roman Catholic Church to shield it from scandal. The Catholic Church, they believe, offers a path to redemption. If the “Church Militant” (earthly church) falls, human souls lose access to the “Church Triumphant.” Heresy is seen as a mortal sin, because it is thought to suggest a lack of perfection in the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church must be perfect because it was instituted by Christ himself. Some of these lying bishops may actually believe that in remaining silent about child rape, they are choosing was the lesser of two evils. Disobeying one’s superiors and bringing scandal upon the Roman Catholic Church are, for many Catholics, sins more egregious than that of raping a child. Those who believe this are often reluctant to declare it publicly.



The Role the Theology plays

Roman Catholic/Christian theology accords the body special importance insofar as it is “the Word” is, through Christ, made flesh and the flesh Jesus is believed to have chosen to inhabit is human. The body is evanescent, and the body of a child is no exception. But the church is eternal. The Roman Catholic Church Militant makes eternal salvation possible, extends its opportunities for grace to all initiated human creatures. Without the institution of the church, the boys in that “circle of secrecy” who suffer in this life, whom clerics allegedly photographed nude on a cross for pornographic photos, lose eternal life. Further complicating this analysis is the enshrinement in Catholic theology of suffering and martyrdom, and clericalism itself.

“Superior General” is the formal title, for example, of the superior of the Jesuit order. Priests promise or vow, as part of their ordination rites, never to refuse their bishops or superiors. It is easy to see how this vow or promise to obey protects predators.


Furthermore, the way leadership works in the priesthood is highly defective. When men are ordained, they make promises or take vows of obedience to either their diocesan bishops (in the case of diocesan priests) or (for many who join orders) or the superiors of their orders. If you are thinking that “superior” sounds faintly militaristic, you are not wrong. “Superior General” is the formal title, for example, of the superior of the Jesuit order. Priests promise or vow, as part of their ordination rites, never to refuse their bishops or superiors. It is easy to see how this vow or promise to obey protects predators. If a bishop directs a priest under his charge not to report a crime against a child, that priest is obliged by his promise/vow of obedience to obey to refrain from reporting that misconduct. Bishops and superiors, in turn, must obey the Vatican — and the Vatican muscles everyone.


The sin against the child, though horrific, jeopardizes the existence of the child alone, but bringing scandal to the church jeopardizes the survival of the entire institutional church.


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 (defrock) 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 wish to defrock Bourgeois, but the Vatican, then led by Benedict XVI insisted. While the Vatican will judiciously wait decades to laicize a man who rapes a child, it acts immediately 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, but bringing scandal to the church jeopardizes the survival of the entire institutional church. 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. Heresy imperils Mother Church.



The survival of the global Catholic Church will require the ordination of women. The current push to ordain more married men on a viri probati basis is a hedge against pressure to ordain women or allow women to become deacons.


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. It is also useful to know that there have been married Roman Catholic priests since 1951. The current push to ordain more married men on a viri probati basis is a hedge against pressure to ordain women or allow women to become deacons.)

Having grown up around NYPD cops, I find the secrecy of among “brother priests” to be reminiscent of the “blue code of silence.”


The combination of obedience and secrecy yield a toxic, warping mix. The refusal to ordain women and the handling of the clergy sex scandal are related. If the Vatican were to honor women’s call to ordination, women priests would have to be complicit with the secrecy or break the silence. Having grown up around NYPD cops, I find the secrecy of among “brother priests” to be somewhat reminiscent of the “blue code of 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, apply moral ethics to the analysis of the evils at hand, challenge the Magisterium’s reproductive policies (on which the current hierarchy of the church literally banks) is what the institutional hierarchs most fear. Women can’t be trusted. Increasing the fold is everything. And we are, as Pope Francis says, “the strawberries on the cake.”

I say “No.” I do not believe women priests would have remained silent about the Vatican’s child sex trafficking.

Many people are unaware that the current pontiff’s is not only head of a church that refuses to ordain women; he has also reaffirmed his predecessor’s choice to prohibit formal discussion of ordaining women in Catholic educational settings, this while preaching regularly on the sins of bigotry and hipocristy. There’s no substantive, legitimate impediment to ordaining women. (See my Open Letter to Pope Francis.) It is a holdover — the vestiges of the patriarchy of of the Roman Empire and late antiquity. Would women clergy have allowed the crimes described in the Pennsylvania grand jury document to remain veiled in secrecy? We can never know. I say “No.” I do not believe women priests would have remained silent about the Vatican’s child sex trafficking.


Why continued homophobic scapegoating of gay priests will catalyze the decline of the education, caring male cleric capable of ministering in the Christ exemplified.

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. (This potential for blackmail and his sexual sin was what got President Bill Clinton impeached.) Over and over we must ask: how many hungry people might that $450,000 have healed, fed, housed over the course of a year?

The traditional wing of the Catholic Church tries to pin the depravity on gay men. (Most of these charges, in my opinion, originate with closeted or ‘converted’/’former homosexuals.”) Some priests are chaste and many are not. Sexual activity among priests falls under two categories: consensual sex and harassment (“Me Too”). Some priests engage in consensual sex with adults; some don’t. Many a young seminarian has experienced the kind of treatment to which unctuous film and television executives subject young “actresses.” That is harassment. When a man engages in sexual conduct with a child, it is “rape.”

It is likely that many of these clerics who kept silent when they should have called law enforcement agencies did so out of fear of exposure, or in exchange for favors/support. (The smart investigator of the bishops’ culpability in sexual abuse cases will always pay close attention to who “consecrated” whom. Theodore McCarrick, for example, consecrated Nicholas DiMarzio.) 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, but for gay priests, this is more complicated, as the Magisterium still views LGBTQ people as “disordered.” It is still dangerous for even a chaste gay priest to come out. I suspect this will improve as people as a whole begin to evolve and catch up with what scientists and psychologists have long known about sexual attraction and sexual identity, but it is imperative, today, that gay priests not become the sacrificial lambs in whatever purge may be forthcoming. 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.

Caligula Obelisk in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican



What’s Next? The best Vatican Optics money can buy.

How will the Vatican proceed in the aftermath of 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. McCarrick and Wuerl will top the list. Lots of bishops will skate. and beyond that the Vatican will do what it always does: look for a sacrificial lamb or two, and then — radio silence. Look for the best Vatican Optics money can buy. Look for shiny objects that deflect attention away from the findings of the Grand Jury Report. report. Ireland just made abortion legal. Many Catholics construe this development as a collective thumbing of the nose aimed at the Vatican. Pro-lifers care a lot less for a baby once it passes through the birth canal, so notice the several ways in which Catholic reporting on Ireland eclipses the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. The pope will soon meet face-to-face with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. This is good Vatican Public Relations move.

The Caligula party is over, the emperor’s crew will call the washerwomen in to scrub the blood, semen, wine and fattened calf drippings from the floor.

Look for some pro forma, pro-woman lip service from the Vatican. Expect talk of “deaconesses” and female deacons (not the same thing). Catholic feminists will chase that carrot for a spell before the hype quiets down. Expect that the humility of Mary will be stressed, and her discipleship and apostolic nature downplayed as Catholics all over the world are reminded that that women can do all of the work of the church, possibly better than men can. If only they were not unfit for priesthood. Look for more “greater role for women” palaver. Expect many women, even “feminists,”to play along. Following the show of humility, the imperial Vatican will behave imperiously, as it always does in the wake of a scandal. Look for the “We are the Church of Rome” how of defiance. This show of force enables the hierarchy to announce that these investigations don’t really matter. The Catholic Church belongs to them; they do what they please.

Their organization is a multi-billion-dollar company housed in a sovereign state. They’re in charge.

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 at all surprised by Pope Francis’s choice to take 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 fox to guard those chickens.



Can the temple be cleansed?

How would it look — if the Catholic hierarchy were to wake up tomorrow and decide to to address the problem in substantive, ethical ways?

· 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 statutes of limitation 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 information gathered in counseling sessions or via confessions to be used against clerical sex abuse plaintiffs 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.
· Dioceses would pay court/legal fees of plaintiffs who prevail in clergy sex abuse cases against clerics in their dioceses.
Meanwhile, Catholics! Dioceses tithe to the Vatican and all parishes to the dioceses in which they are located. Stop giving them your money.

Prelates’ resolutions to self-correct, at the present time should be ignored. The foxes are incapable of bringing justice to the hens. The Bishops will be whining, playing innocent, playing dumb and making the same promises a year from now, and Catholics will somehow, for some reason, continue to drop tender into the offertory basket on Sunday, even knowing that parishes kick back to their dioceses, and dioceses to the Vatican. Stop funding them. Continue to worship. Continue to give directly to organizations that help the needy without going through the church collections. Force the dirty U.S. bishops to resign, to be held accountable.

Time to cleanse the temple.

Michele Somerville, August 21, 2018
Provincetown, MA

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump and the Pope: Both Talk About Justice for Women, But---

So the pope and the man who is, for the moment, the president, met. There's been no lack of post-meet analysis and color commentary, but O, the desire to pile on!

The supreme pontiff has already spoken plainly about Trump. Trump may be a man made in God's image, and the pope may say he doesn't judge anyone, but the pope, who studied Engineering and has a good understanding of Scientific method, has very strong feelings about climate change and the moral obligation humanity has to care for the earth. 

Pope Francis views greed as a sin. Trump is greed incarnate. 

The pope views marriage as sacred. Trump is a sexual predator. Trump seduces married women, admits to grabbing women's genitals without their consent, cheats on his wives, and has been credibly accused of being a sexual assailant. 

Trump sees the poor as losers. The pontiff sees them as children of God and the messages of Hillel, Jesus and the Beatitudes inform his to his view of them. Pope Francis views caring for the poor as a moral imperative. Trump thinks the poor are losers. 

The pontiff appears to be have a truly robust commitment to humility---to what Christians and Buddhists sometimes think of as the spiritually beneficial pouring out of "self." Donald Trump has publically informed that he, like Pope Francis I, is humble. The pope is actually humble. 

Although I tend to object to fat-shaming and view a bit of meat on bones (or voluptas as I used to think of it back when I was a young painter) I was grateful for the pontiffs choice to forcefully imply, before the world, that Trump is a fatty. 

Who knows whether the Supreme Pontiff had a chance to read the New York Magazine piece via which the world learned that at Trumps dinner parties the host receives two scoops of ice cream on his chocolate cream pie while his guests are treated to only one. It is unlikely that Pope Francis cares what kind of physical condition Trump or any human being is in---or how much ice cream anyone has at parties. 

But the pontiff does care about people who are starving, and he knows that Trump is enacting policy that will rob the poor to give to the rich. 

The pope gave Trump a copy of Laudato Si as a gift. Think: nesting dolls of irony. On one hand Trump must know that a signed Papal encyclical will fetch a nice price one day.  On the other, although the English translation is short, straightforward and interesting enough, Trump does not read well enough to get through it. 

If Trump were to enlist help in reading it, he would come away disappointed and possibly enraged.  Laudato Si is, in great part, an argument for adopting radical awareness of the sins to which greed and unconscionable capitalism have led. It's also a book that affirms the perils of climate change. 

Laudato Si is an indictment of all Trump is and for which he stands. If Trump were literate, this gift would have been a colossal insult. Funny/not funny. 

And thats not all the Pope did that might be construed as impolite. He gave the Trump ladies Rosary beads. Presenting a Jewish woman married to an Orthodox Jew with Rosary beads would probably be an insult to any Jew with deep religious feeling. On second thought, they don't care. 

Money is the great God of the Kushners. Not the G-d of many names. Jerusalem and theVatican were backdrops. Think: Kardashians, making memories. 

And what about the head coverings?

As the wife of an Orthodox Jew, Ivanka should be wearing a blonde wig over her bleached hair any time she leaves the house! so I always find it a bit amusing to see this Jewish mama swinging her Keratin and peroxide treated hair all over the world. 

Trump criticized the Michelle Obama for not covering her head. Obama declined because she is a highly intelligent, principled bad-ass thinker who probably respects the religion of Islam and women who elect to cover their heads, but Obama is an actual feminist who has some ideas of her own on the subject of subjugation of women. 

Ivanka and Melanie stand accused of being idiotic Barbie dolls. For them following the lead of Michelle Obama was a way of projecting the "We're feminists" optics. 

Why then did they not carry this feminist message to La Citta Vaticana? 

The reason the Trump women (and Michelle Obama for that matter) wore the Morticia Adams swag to their papal audience is that the Vatican is very strict about what women wear at the Vatican. The Vatican would have objected strenuously, and might not have permitted the women to even enter the pope's quarters.  

Sidebar: I was lucky enough to spend a week and a half in Rome with my eldest daughter, Maria, about six years ago. We spent two full days (of our ultra, extra churches and museum tour) in the Vatican. June in Rome is infernal. We dressed appropriatelyskirts, tank tops---but carried lots of light wraps and  shawls in our bags. 

Maria was 16, stunningly beautiful. With a biting wit. Shed stop at the entrance, glare at the twenty-something Vatican employees whose jobs it was to look the pretty ragazzi up and down to make sure they were covered enough. These diligent men were charged with making sure no bare cleavage, shoulders or thighs made it into the Apostolic Palace. 

“Oh, wait," Maria would say loud enough to be heard, as she wrapped shawls around her waist shoulders and neck. "Let me put on my dignity!” 

For women and girls who didn’t travel with seven veils in their backpacks, the guards had translucent sheets of plastic that females could wrap about their legs arms, bodices and shoulders. These looked liked something the Tom Cruise character would buy in that sex shop scene in the Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut.” 

Maria and I joked about how “pervy” it was to see the dignity guards supervising the plastic shrink-wrapping of college girls seeking to gain entrance the Vatican museums so as to view---walls and ceilings full of NUDES!

The Trump women wore black veils because it's the rule. The Vatican is very good about women in their places. This is one of the few things the Pope and Donald Trump have in common. 

Both speak about justice for women. One is a misogynist predator, but both fall short. Talk is cheap.

Follow Michele Somerville at @nypoet on Twitter.