On the Road Again

The Bishop of Rome is in Brazil. We have friends visiting for a few days……The thermometer keeps climbing. My wife and I need to escape from our computers for a few days……Another Voice will be back after 15 August.



Risk-Management to Protect the Good Name of the Church

Stephen Crittenden reports in NCR, this week end, that Hunter Valley in New South Wales, located in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, is noted for its beaches and vineyards; and more recently it has become the epicenter of Catholic sex abuse in Australia.

Now, a special commission of inquiry in Newcastle reports that leaders of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle knew of repeated sexual abuse by one of its priests, for at least for 50 years, but failed to notify police until 2003.

The inquiry was launched after allegations by a senior Hunter Valley detective that the Catholic Church “covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations, alerts offenders, destroys evidence and moves priests to protect the good name of the church.”

In this case, the detective reports that the abusive priest had up to 100 victims, mostly girls from age 4 to 12; and that he was moved from parish to parish in Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, even though four successive bishops of Maitland-Newcastle knew of his crimes but kept their mouths shut “to protect the good name of the church.”

“Protecting the good name of the church” is the theme song these days for a great number of our episcopal leaders, in Australia, in Europe, and of course in the United States where it has echoed loudly in New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Los Angeles…and many points in between.

What we have seen and still see, as John Salveson strongly observes, in an excellent article in this summer’s Notre Dame Magazine, is Roman Catholic risk-management.

As Salveson, a survivor of sexual abuse on Long Island and later as a student at Notre Dame, observes:

At the Long Island parish where I grew up, I spoke to 400 parishioners who were trying to oust their pastor. He was, according to a 2003 report issued by a grand jury in Suffolk County, New York, a central player in the cover-up of the abuse committed in that diocese. Throughout this period, I gave television, print and radio interviews, held press conferences and wrote Op-Ed pieces for newspapers…….

“Most alarming of all, nothing was improving. All those people in the pews, who kept telling me how wonderful I was and were asking if I could give another talk, were sitting quietly by. As far as I could tell, they were doing almost nothing meaningful or effective to attempt to change their Church. I had no doubt that they were genuinely upset, bitter and angry. But I wondered if they were capable of little more than listening to a survivor like me and showing the proper empathy…..

“But as a front-line soldier in this war, I could see clearly that many in the Church continued to do those things that created the crisis in the first place — treating victims like legal adversaries, refusing to identify and sometimes hiding abusive priests as well as allowing them to serve in active ministry and, most important, failing to hold a single bishop or cardinal accountable for their role in enabling the rape of thousands of Catholic children…..

“Slowly, eventually, I figured out the reason for the lack of progress within the Church. It really was simple. I had long believed the Roman Catholic Church considered the child sex-abuse crisis to be a moral issue. So I expected clergy to care about the victims and to do the right thing.

“But the simple truth I had learned over time was this: Much of the Catholic leadership does not view this as a moral issue. They view it as a risk-management issue. The focus is on managing settlements, keeping the topic out of the media, telling the faithful everything is taken care of and, most of all, doing everything humanly possible to ensure none of these cases ever make it into a court of law.

“An institution focused on doing the right thing would admit wrongdoing, immediately remove abusive priests from ministry, embrace victims, reach out to their families, do everything possible to help them heal, and work to change laws that hide perpetrators and deny justice to victims.”

Risk-management or moral action?

The answer should be clear. And at all levels in the church. And no one can sit quietly by, to protect the good name of the church.


Lumen Fidei : Not Very Enlightening

Perhaps one should give Francis the benefit of the doubt, since his first encyclical is really a re-make of predecessor Benedict’s final one.

I just finished reading Lumen Fidei. Didn’t find it very stimulating; and it could have used a good copy editor. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge: As one friend observed, it is a blitz of poetic and pietistic sound-bytes, with chunks of Ratzingerian scholarly prose thrown in here and there. The writer/writers made occasional attempts at inclusive language; but most of the letter proclaims the papal message in the familiar church docu-prose: male nouns and pronouns to describe men and women.

In theory Lumen Fidei seeks to enlighten people living in today’s world. Its piety, however, is from Benedict’s yesterday, with a good dose of Francis’ old-time Mariology.

Lumen looks askance at our contemporary times in an old world-is-evil Augustinian way. That of course is also the old Ratzinger way. The term “Vatican II” is scattered around the Benedict-Francis text, like raisins in a cake; but it tastes strange and lacks the flavor of Vatican II’s more positive incarnational perspective. Finally, readers are offered the usual reminders that a proper understanding of faith requires fidelity to the Magisterium; and sexual differentiation (being a man and being a woman) is the divine plan for human sexuality.

If the Bishop of Rome were my student, I would suggest he shred this document and try again, after meditating on something like the latest Pew report on contemporary belief.

Over the past few years, for instance, Pew Research surveys have found evidence of a gradual decline in religious commitment in the United States and in Western Europe. The number of Americans, for example, who do not identify with any religion continues to increase. (And the Catholic exodus continues.) Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – were religiously unaffiliated as of 2012. Two-thirds of contemporary Americans – those church-affiliated as well as those unaffiliated – say organized religion is losing its influence in their daily lives.

With the Bishop of Rome and the Emeritus Bishop of Rome, I would contend people today do indeed need a good dose of Lumen Fidei. I would like to see a new and better-written encyclical that addresses the really contemporary issues: What does it mean to experience God today? How do we speak about God and God’s presence in our daily lives and world events? How can we live, with dignity and mutual respect, as men and women with a great variety of God-given, and continually evolving, sexual, cultural, and ethnic identities. And what then is the place of organized religion in this grand scenario?

Let the Light of Faith shine brightly and illuminate all of God’s people.


Busting Big Apple’s Dolan?

There may be a lot of fireworks for Timothy Dolan this week but not the usual Fourth of July type.

As reported on July 2nd in the national and international press, Cardinal Dolan – Archbishop of New York and President of the United Sates Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been accused by sexual abuse victims of taking part in a decades-long cover-up by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic ordained ministers.

Documentation, made public on Monday, as part of a deal reached in federal bankruptcy court between the archdiocese and victims suing it for fraud, provide details about Cardinal Dolan’s plan to: (1) pay some abusers to leave the priesthood and (2) move $57 million into a trust for “improved protection” as the Milwaukee archdiocese prepared to file for bankruptcy amid dozens of abuse claims. A Vatican office approved the request to move the money.

Will Dolan be busted?

As Andrew Sullivan, writing yesterday in THE DISH, observed: You know where this man is coming from when he dismissed the organization SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – as having “no credibility“. The records from his old diocese in Milwaukee show he authorized pay-offs to child-rapist priests to encourage them to leave the ministry. (In the Catholic hierarchy, you don’t report rapists to the police; you eventually offer them financial incentives to leave.) Nonetheless, at the time, Dolan insisted that these charges were “false, preposterous and unjust,” whatever the records or even the spokesman for his old diocese said. Now, in another piece of stellar reporting, Laurie Goodstein adds more context to this man’s record:

Files released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee on Monday reveal that in 2007, Cardinal Timothy F. Dolan, then the archbishop there, requested permission from the Vatican to move nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund to protect the assets from victims of clergy sexual abuse who were demanding compensation.

Cardinal Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, has emphatically denied seeking to shield church funds as the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009. He reiterated in a statement Monday that these were “old and discredited attacks.”

However, the files contain a 2007 letter to the Vatican in which he explains that by transferring the assets, “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” The Vatican approved the request in five weeks, the files show.

So, twice now, we have been forced to choose between his words and our lyin’ eyes, when it comes to questions of how he handled and cosseted child-rapists under his jurisdiction in Milwaukee. We now know he deliberately sequestered church assets so he could argue he had no more funds to compensate those raped by his subordinates. He was once again putting the institutional church’s interests above those of the raped. And he seems to be able to lie about all of it – in the face of massive evidence – with nary a flicker of hesitation.