Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Child Victims Act, L'affaire Markey-DiMarzio: Opportunity For the Church to Do Better




 “'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Mark 10:14

When the scope of the Vatican child sexual abuse scandal came to light, some Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States got sued. Some went bankrupt. Others managed to remain flush. Bishops disbursed hush and “go away” money. Payouts and payoffs ensued. Money changed hands in several directions .On June 7th the New York Daily News reported that Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Queens) had accused Brooklyn’s top Catholic bishop, Nicholas DiMarzio, of trying to buy her silencewith a $5000 bribe. DiMarzio denies it. No one paying attention to the current presidential race can ignore how flimsy, the perforated line between “campaign contribution” and “bribe” can sometimes be. A quid pro quo is rarely ever explicit. The $5000 figure sounds quite low. DiMarzio claims that a nun who is no longer employed by the Diocese of Brooklyn has provided the “diocesan attorney with a statement” supporting his recollections of the meetings between DiMarzio and Markey. The statute of limitations for reporting the bribe is up, so the nun will never testify. Maybe Markey is remembering wrong. Maybe the bishop is. No one but Markey and DiMarzio know what really happened in the meeting which the $5000 bribe was allegedly offered. We are left with a classic ‘he said/she said’ situation.

DiMarzio is a priest. His chief obligation, such, is to emulate Christ. He has now publicly defamed Markey, a Catholic who resides in his diocese. Under any conditions---even if Markey were lying---DiMarzio's conduct would be improper. (I think she's telling the truth.) Even if Marge Markey were slandering the bishop---DiMarzio’s moral obligation as a Roman Catholic priest and as the bishop of Markey’s diocese, be like Jesus. DiMarzio is supposed to be a shepherd. Marge Markey is one of his flock. A good shepherd does not slay his sheep to save his ass. 

The bishop owes Assemblywoman Marge Markey an apology. Had DiMarzio behaved like a good priest and not a skilled pol in this, had he refrained from comment, the story of the bribe would have gone away. $5000 is small potatoes for a man closing in on meeting a an $80 million capital campaign goalInstead, the bishop had his spokesperson make the following statement: “This is a very serious allegation against a clergyman with an impeccable reputation.” Bad move, Bishop. 

Yes and no. Yes, the allegation is serious. No, Nicholas DiMarzio does not have an impeccable reputation. Not by a longshot. 


Many Brooklyn Catholics wrote DiMarzio off as spiritual leader the day he compared marrying one’s same sex beloved to marrying one’s dog on the radio. The bishop has risked the diocese’s tax-exempt status by using his office to electioneer, often at the behest of his friend and favorite pol the now disgraced Vito Lopez. DiMarzio has lenting his voice to pre-election robocalling. In 2009, at one Brooklyn church, DiMarzio sent his dispatched his assistant, Monsignor Kieran Harrington, to lead New York City Council candidate Steve Levin down the aisle at a 12:00 mass. After mass, the monsignor helped himself to the pulpit, from whence he stumped for Levin, and drafted a few of the faithful to leaflet outside the church as mass let out. 



Although DiMarzio denies the exchange ever happened, some 20 witnesses were in the room to hear DiMarzio threaten to shutter parishes in districts whose political leaders refused to support his opposition to the Child Victims Act. DiMarzio appears to have made good on some of these threats. Some of the parishes he threatened to shutter---all poor, and located within a few miles of the cathedral, two under the pastoral care of activist priests---closed shortly after the threats were made. These closings occurred while DiMarzio was pumping more than a few million into the restoration of St. Joseph’s Church/“Co-cathedral” located about a mile away from DiMarzio's other cathedral, St. James. (DiMarzio believed the diocese needed a second cathedral; the cathedral he already had wasn’t large enough---about twice a year---for ordinations and Chrism masses.) Once St. James was open for business, the bishop installed his assistant, Monsignor Harrington as its pastor. DiMarzio’s muses in making the second “co-cathedral” dream a reality appear to have been the some of the same local politicians who championed the burgeoning assortment of luxury high-rises currently going up near Brooklyn’s Barclay Center Arena thanks to the kind of greed Francis I much laments and Eminent Doman. DiMarzio's "Generations of Faith" diocese-wide fund-raising campaign will probably meet their $80 million goal. $10 million has been, ironically enough, earmarked for "youth evangelization."   

There's no way to know, but I suspect that he film Spotlight catalyzed a fresh wave of Captain Queegish fear among the U.S. Bishops. Furthermore, in the last year, more and more accounts of a problem with pedophile priests in India and the developing world are dribbling forth. It won't be long before some reporter breaks the story of Vatican Sexual Abuse crisis in the developing world. The discoveries will not be pretty. 

I worship in DiMarzio’s diocese. About ten years ago, moved in part by the experience of a friend, I read the John Jay report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy, and began to research and write about the Child Victims Act and the United States Bishops’ response to it. I felt a moral obligation to probe. Experts tend to agree that children who are sexually abused by trusted adults (clergy, teachers, coaches) are more likely to struggle, in adulthood, with depression, intimacy problems and increased risk of addiction and suicide. They are more likely, also, to lose the very faith that supports those who have a religious practice, in times of tribulation. In New York City, the church hierarchy seems to oppose the Child Victims Act for one reason: fear of bankruptcy.

I believe DiMarzio’s opposition to the Child Victims Act in New York City is immoral, unethical and inconsistent with the teaching and character of Jesus of Nazareth. L'affaire Markey-DiMarzio, disheartening as it is, might be a blessing in disguise. It presents Bishop DiMarzio and his fellow bishops the opportunity to rethink their determination to put money before justice. The bill goes to the assembly during the week of June 13th.  Every bishop in charge of a diocese in the U.S.has an obligation to support a properly articulated Child Victims Act. Every bishop in charge of a diocese has an ethical and moral obligation to strain, in the name of Jesus, to provide every victim/survivor of the sexual abuse at the hands of a priest with full support in obtaining just outcomes in court. Every diocese in the nation must do all they can to help victims to become survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of predator priests---and the several bishops who served as accessories to these crimes. 

It is only through helping a just Child Victims Act become law that the U,S. Bishops will be absolved of the systematic sexual abuse of innocent children. It is only by helping victims to become survivors that church leaders might emerge from the pall of shame in this. Fighting legislation that would better enable victims to obtain justice, and serve as a deterrent to future sex offenders of children, is deeply sinful. Anything short of strenuously advocating for a Child Victims Act falls short. A bishop who withholds his full support for a just and fair Child Victims Act spits in the face of the man who said "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

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