Reporting Systems are Fine; What We Need is Strong Leadership

Cardinal Seán O'Malley

Cardinal Seán O’Malley is instituting a new system for reporting misconduct by bishops of the Archdiocese of Boston. Of course, it’s mainly symbolic, but it sends a challenge to his brother bishops in the US and beyond to take similar action.

The new phone number and web site is similar to one that was set up in 2011 to report financial misconduct in the archdiocese from a company that specializes in setting up whistleblower systems for corporations and organizations.

At the moment, the only people it covers are the cardinal himself and his auxiliaries and his authority to institute it comes from his sovereign authority as bishop.

And therein lies a problem. The system exists at the will of the man who sits in the chair. Any successor of his could turn it off at a whim. The same is true for every other diocese.

The cure for these situations, like that of Ted McCarrick, the former cardinal and laicized cleric, is not that we need a reporting system. The solution can only come from having leaders willing to take action against those who undermine the Church, steep themselves in sin, and drive the nails through Christ into the cross by their abuse of the innocent or protecting those who do.

Cardinal Seán’s action is a good first step, but there are no easy solutions. What we need is for the Holy Spirit to bring us new strong and Christ-like bishops and for that we can only pray.

We warned them back in 2002, but no one listened

I’m perplexed, too, but not for the same reason. The Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday published a joint expose on all the US bishops who have failed to respond adequately to sexual misconduct in their dioceses and they say they’re perplexed. Meanwhile, Cardinal Seán is also perplexed too.

More than 130 bishops – almost one-third of all living bishops – have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses, according to an examination of thousands of court records, media reports, and interviews with church officials, victims, and attorneys.

“I’m shocked by that number,’’ O’Malley said in an interview at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, responding to the two organizations’ report. “It raises a lot of questions in my mind.’’

As I said, I’m perplexed, but not that 130 of the living bishops (note: that includes retired bishops) have themselves failed to respond adequately. It’s that this is news to anyone.

Because back in 2002 when the Dallas charter was first advanced in the midst of the explosion of the Scandal, both Phil Lawler and I were pointing out that while the charter focused on the tiny percentage of all priests who ever abused a child, the bishops at the time (and ever since) failed to act against the bishops who shuffled them about and ignored the complaints of victims and hushed up lawsuits and paid off families under secrecy shields and all the rest.

In fact, if anything the problem is much less worse because at the time it wasn’t one-third of living bishops who were culpable, but two-thirds of bishops. But time and the Holy Spirit have winnowed that number down through the ultimate means of having them die off.
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A Time for Prayer and Fasting

“Prayer and fasting is all well and good, but what can I do that is really effective?” I’ve been seeing variations on that sentiment in recent days, accelerated by the revelations in Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony as released last week. His earth-shaking accusations against many top Vatican and US bishops, including Pope Francis, who he called to resign, because of their alleged complicity in covering up immorality and abuse, has left many Catholics reeling.

Social media has been awash in hand-wringing and people asking, “What can we do?” Because we don’t want this all to be swept under the rug to disappear in the next news cycle. We want our Church to be cleansed and the rot to be cleared out. We want the truth to come out and allegations examined. If the Pope is innocent of these accusations, we want to know it. If he’s guilty, we want him to make reparation.

Some have called for the withholding of donations to dioceses or parishes, which has some consequences. The assumption is that it will cut down on bishops’ lavish lifestyles. For one thing, by and large, most bishops don’t live lavishly. And for those who seem to have cushy perqs, they often get those from specific donations from large donors and foundations. The people who get hurt in that scenario are people like the director of religious formation or the diocesan accountant or the receptionist at the chancery or the person who goes around teaching confirmation kids about the Church’s message of chastity because they’re the low hanging fruit in the budget. “Fine,” they say, “I will direct my donations to my parish.” Well, the bishop will just demand a tithe from your parish to support his ministry. “Then I will put restrictions on my parish donation, so that it can only be used for local things.” The person you’re hurting in that scenario is your pastor who still has to pay the bills and satisfy the parish’s obligations while juggling all these restrictions and the bishop’s demands.

What’s really behind this desire to withhold money is a desire to be effective. As regular laypeople in the pew we don’t feel like there’s anything we can do to fix the Church or hold misbehaving bishops accountable. Read More and Comment

As For Me and My House: A Reflection on Staying Catholic

I believe in one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church. I say those words every Sunday and I still believe them, including that the Church is holy. Yes, she is full of the rottenness of men, the stink of sin rising to the very top. But she is still the Church.

In today’s Mass readings (the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018), we hear from St. Paul (Eph. 5:21-32) that Christ loved the Church and loves her still, despite her flaws and sin. He doesn’t just love her, He died for her, to sanctify her, to cleanse her. He loves her so as to become one with her, to make her part of His mystical divine body. Just as the Old Testament prophet Hosea stayed faithful to Gomer, his wife who was also a harlot, so much more so will Christ stay faithful to His Church, even as she is unfaithful to Him and stinks to high heaven of sin.

After all, where else can we go? Even as I read last night the riveting and earth-shattering testimony of Archbishop Vigano, who names names and demands that Pope Francis and other high-ranking Vatican officials resign their offices for their failures to protect the Church from predators and underminers like Theodore McCarrick, I wept for my Church. And yet it never entered my mind that I would leave. This morning, my family was there in our parish, sitting in our regular pew, to celebrate Mass. And we heard Jesus challenge His disciples (John 6:60-69), after they have received the hard teaching of the Real Presence in the Eucharist from Him, “Do you also want to leave?”

How does Peter respond? He doesn’t say, “O Lord, I understand what you’re teaching me. I know what you mean when you said we must gnaw upon your flesh to have eternal life. Those other guys just haven’t given it deep enough thought.” No, what Peter says is, “Master, to whom shall we go?” To whom, indeed. Peter is admitting he doesn’t understand and perhaps even that what Jesus just said is troubling, but that he also knows deep down to the roots of his being that Jesus is Who He says He is, that He is the One who has come to seek and save the lost, that He comes from the Father. And that’s good enough for him.

It’s good enough for me. I won’t leave, no matter what priests, bishops, or popes do, because the “words of eternal life” aren’t from them. They are not “the Holy One of God” that Peter proclaims. And, sure, Peter doesn’t quite live up to his promise in that moment, denying Christ at the cross, but he comes back and is forgiven. So, I too, may be shaken by the events to come, the revelations of misdeeds and sin, but I won’t stray far. I will come back to the Way.

Because, as Joshua says in the first reading (Joshua 24:15), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” My first loyalty is to the Lord, not to men. And we will serve the Lord in whatever way He calls us, in whatever way restores His Church and advances the kingdom. The alternative is to proclaim I will not serve (“non serviam”), but that way is the way of hell, literally.

“Far be it from us to forsake the Lord… therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24: 16, 18). Whatever may come, my house will serve the Lord, will stay faithful, will cling to the Sacraments, even as we do what we can to support the housecleaning to come in the Church.

Get the facts straight, Joe

Joe Bergantino, whose name is familiar to many Bostonians from his time as the local TV news investigative reporter, nearly breaks his arm waving it to get credit for breaking open the Scandal way back in 1992. It must be galling to see those ink-stained wretches at the Boston Globe getting all the credit, including Pulitzers and an Oscar (by proxy). Except, in his rush to burnish his bona fides, Joe glides over a couple of facts.

Yes, Bergantino and his team broke open the James Porter case, the laicized priest who was sent to prison in 1992 for molesting dozens of kids. He then uses that two-decade-old case to bash the Archdiocese of Boston about the head and shoulders again.

The I-Team’s May 1992 story unleashed a torrent of local and national coverage focused on Porter and other pedophile priests in Boston.

Except Porter wasn’t in Boston. He was, in fact, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River. And so earlier, when Bergantino says “the Cardinal at the time was made aware of Porter’s crimes and did little or nothing to stop him,” what he doesn’t know or say is that the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston doesn’t have any authority over a priest of the Diocese of Fall River. That’s the Bishop of Fall River’s responsibility. But ignorance of the Church’s constitution never stopped a reporter on a roll.

And so when Bergantino finishes his litany of how he was really the one a movie should have been made about, he recalls that one of his last stories was to see what happened to some of the pedophiles who had been laicized.

We found one ex-priest living a few doors down from an elementary school in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, another was a visiting nurse going into homes without any supervision and another was living in a small New Hampshire town. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley refused our requests for an interview and his PR flack whisked him away when we tried to ask him some questions. Not much had changed in 25 years.

Not much other than everything! Hey, Joe, these guys were laicized. They were thrown out. The cardinal has no more authority over them. If a guy gets fired from IBM for embezzling, is IBM supposed to make sure the guy never gets another job where he can embezzle? What mechanism can they use? Send over corporate security to manhandle into corporate jail?

In the past 25 years, the Church has undergone a top to bottom overhaul, the Long Lent as we call it, with zero tolerance policies and bishops resigned in disgrace, some charged with crimes. Every little old lady who irons the vestments has to submit to a criminal background check annually. And every priest and lay minister lives in fear of little kids hugging them a little too tightly after Mass. And, yes, this is the consequence of some of shepherds failing to keep the wolves out of the sheep and we have to live with it.

But, spare us Joe, your petulant victory lap trying to claim journalistic credit on top of the shattered lives of the victims of abuse.

VOTF’s hubris and infighting

I don’t mean to continually harp on Voice of the Faithful’s ongoing financial and membership problems, but they keep giving interviews and illustrating why they are so problematic.

The latest is in the UK’s The Guardian newspaper, which brings out not just VOTF’s money woes, but also the infighting plaguing it and the arrogant attitude.

Mary Pat Fox, the elected president of the group, tells the newspaper why Voice of the Faithful must succeed.

The group is poised to rebound, Fox said, but it needs to see some success in its initiatives, and it also needs to continually show Catholics why Voice of the Faithful is important.

“If the only voice that you heard on the Catholic church was from the hierarchy, that would be a problem,” she said.

That last sentence right there is exactly the problem with VOTF: the arrogance. As if, before VOTF came along, the only voice we ever heard about the Church, from within the Church, was that of bishops. Nevermind the long list of laymen, saints among them, who have contributed to the Church. Go to any parish and tell me where most of the initiative is coming from. Father is one man; he relies on the laity.

And what’s wrong with hearing from the hierarchy? Our priests and bishops are our spiritual fathers. We need them to speak out on the matters important to our faith. That some bishops and priests have failed in their important duties in the past is no reason to set yourself up as if your were the opposition party in a newly parliamentary government. We are a family, not a series of factions in a democracy. Unfortunately too many of VOTF’s founding fathers and mothers don’t know that.

That is perhaps the other reason the group is struggling so much, according VOTF’s board chairman William Casey.

The group is also facing what Casey called a “crisis in leadership” due to infighting, difficulty respecting each other’s positions and trouble reaching consensus on decisions, according to the notes of his remarks at a leadership conference in April.

Can’t say I’m surprised, given what I recall of their turbulent beginnings in 2002 when people walked out of their inaugural national convention after they were confronted with heterodoxy on a large scale and other well-meaning orthodox Catholics were effectively hounded from group chapters and online bulletin boards for daring to stand up for Church teaching.

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Voice of the Faithful’s financial crisis

What do you call an organization that spends nearly a third of its income just on raising that money in the first place? While I blogged about Voice of the Faithful’s ongoing membership and financial difficulties recently, a Catholic News Service article highlights some of the eyebrow-raising financial details.

Until 2006, the group reported relatively stable levels of contributions of around $600,000 each year. It rose to $661,774 for the year ending May 31, 2006.

Gifts to the group for the seven-month period from June to December 2006, the last period posted on the Internet, totaled $333,438.

During the past five years, Voice of the Faithful has spent rising amounts to solicit contributions. It reported $64,224 in fundraising expenses in 2003, $111,089 for 2004, $151,549 for 2005 and $143,603 in 2006.

It reported $133,261 in development expenses for the first seven months of its current fiscal year.

The Better Business Bureau’s guidelines on charitable giving state that no more than 35% of contributions should be spent on fundraising. For the first seven months of VOTF’s fiscal year 2007 (ending this week), the total was 39 percent. Not only that, but the total cost of development expenses is on track to be nearly double that of the previous year.

This is not a sign of a healthy organization. They are without a permanent executive director, they’ve laid off the two part-time office workers in their headquarters, and they’re facing a $100,000 budget deficit. As a national organization, VOTF is on the brink of collapse. Good riddance, I say.

While many individuals might have had noble intentions when joining the group in 2002, it quickly became apparent that the leadership had other ideas in mind. Almost from the beginning, it was clear to me and others that VOTF was just a pretty face on the same, old Call to Action heterodoxies and the only reason they lasted as long as they did was because certain media organizations held them up as the “faithful opposition” whenever writing about the troubles in the Church.

VOTF may go on as a shadow for some time, but it’s death knell has been sounded. Right about on track for what I originally predicted.

N.B.: I went back into my ancient archives and found this blog entry from October 3, 2002 in which I analyzed an email from one of the VOTF leaders on how the group should grow. He was predicting that in four years it would have 10 million members! On the other hand, I said that if they were still around in 2006, I’d be surprised. Not far off.

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Court says victims can sue formators

A Washington state appeals court has ruled that victims can sue the religious order that trained the priests who abused them. In this case, it was the Sulpicians who operated the now-closed seminary outside Seattle who are under the gun.

The crux of the lawsuit is that those charged with forming the seminarians should not have advanced them for ordination if they allegedly knew they were likely to abuse.

At the seminary, each student was assigned a “spiritual director,” a priest who oversaw the student’s development and acted as a confessor, court documents said.

O’Donnell has testified in depositions that he was open with his spiritual director about his interest in sexual contact with children and his struggle with his sexual orientation, the opinion said.

Lawyers for the seminary contended the spiritual director, identified in documents only as Father Basso, could not have shared with others what O’Donnell told him in confession. Thus there is no proof that seminary directors knew O’Donnell was a pedophile, they argued.

O’Donnell served as a priest from 1971 until 1985. At least 65 boys have accused him of abusing them, court records showed.

Are all meetings between the spiritual director and his charge covered under the sacrament of confession and its seal? Maybe some priests or seminarians can clarify, but my understanding is that they are not. In fact, I seem to recall that other court cases have determined that they are not all covered, but only those which are actual confessions. Correct me if I’m wrong.

On the other side, this is an interesting legal tactic, i.e. holding the formators responsible. I wonder how far the various lawyers will take this. After all, didn’t the several treatment centers to which the perverts were sent clear many of them for return to ministry, only to have them abuse again and again? It seems this might open the door to lawsuits against St. Luke’s in Maryland and the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico and others like them. Wouldn’t those trials and depositions be interesting? I think we’re not done with the purge yet.

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Covering up for a sex offender

Is there a double standard in liberal Massachusetts regarding sex offenders? Imagine that a priest had been convicted—not just sued and settled—of sexual offenses including possession of child porn, sexual assault of a 19-year-old male, showing porn to children, and 10 counts of providing alcohol to minors. Now imagine that the priest was found to have been allowed to volunteer in a parish ministry and, further, that everyone from the parishioners to the bishop knew of his history and didn’t think it was a big deal.

What do you think would be the public reaction? The major newspapers would go into paroxysms of apoplexy. Victims’ groups would be out picketing alongside Voice of the Faithful and the usual suspects. There would be denunciations of hypocrisy and threats by government officials to conduct special investigations by blue-ribbon commissions and grand juries. Basically what many dioceses have experienced in the past five years.

Yet when a gay pride group allows a sex offender with the same record to volunteer as its chief fundraiser, critics are told that since he’s only working at 18+ events, then it’s okay.

Berggren’s history is clearly no secret in the volunteer circles in which he runs.

“He’s not really secretive about it. A lot of people know,” says Keri Aulita, vice president of the Boston Pride board. “Their competitive paper could have broken it a long time ago.”

“It is a concern, but it is a concern everybody is aware of and everybody has addressed,” says Joblin Younger, who serves on the board of directors of the Friends of the Commission on GLBT Youth and is a former member of the Boston Pride Committee. “And it’s very seriously taken into consideration what situations Bill is allowed to be in.”


Bay Windows [one of Boston’s “gay” newspapers] co-publisher Sue O’Connell recalls an incident several years ago, in which Berggren was taking photos for In Newsweekly [another “gay” paper] at a Youth Pride event (Youth Pride is a separate event that occurs the month before Boston Pride). At the time, O’Connell approached the Youth Pride committee to alert them to the issue—and, by all accounts, Berggren has not been to a youth event since. But Bay Windows (In Newsweekly’s main competitor) never reported on the incident or on Berggren’s role as a Pride volunteer.

Again, can you imagine one of the two newspapers in town not issuing a public warning or failing to give coverage to the transgression? I can’t.

Yet here we have the very same case, but because it happens within the gay community there’s not a peep from any major newspaper (this story was in a Boston alternative weekly) or from any politicians or any advocacy group. The hypocrisy is astounding.

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Italy TV to air already discredited anti-Church BBC story

You may have heard about an uproar in Italy over a BBC documentary to be aired on TV about sex abuse in the Church. This is the same documentary aired last year that claimed to have a smoking gun evidence of a Vatican-organized cover-up abuse.

Unfortunately for the BBC, this “smoking gun” is old news. The document came out in 2001, we wrote about it at Catholic World News in 2002 and it’s even mentioned on the Vatican web site.

It’s not much of a secret document if it’s right there on the web and everybody knows about it. The original document was originally published in 1962 and discussed the canonical crime of solicitation. I wrote several blog entries about it in 2003 when some American lawyers wanted to use it in lawsuits against the Church. The relevant entries are here, here, here, and here.

From the CWN story:

Crimen Sollicitationis covers canonical discipline for priests accused of the sexual misconduct— including, but not limited to, the sexual abuse of minors. In 2001, Pope John Paul II (bio – news) gave the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the exclusive jurisdiction for handling these disciplinary matters. Because the document emphasizes the confidentiality of canonical trials, the BBC report suggested that the Vatican policy, and its enforcement by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, was an effort to conceal evidence of abuse. Avvenire, in its editorial attack on the program, pointed out the distinction between canonical and civil trials, and noted that the Vatican document did not require victims of abuse to remain silent. In fact paragraph 15 of the document “obliged anyone knowledgeable of sexual abuse committed in the confessional to tell authorities or they would be excommunicated.”

The whole point of this slanted media was originally to try to connect Pope Benedict to the cover up of sexual abuse by priests when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now with the Church in the news in Italy over efforts by homosexual activists to push through a gay-pseudo-marriage bill opposed by the Church, the same error-filled, sensationalistic program is being used as a cudgel against the Church again.

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