Legionaries of Christ will publish list of credibly accused priests “soon”

By Damien and Simcha Fisher

The scandal-plagued Legion of Christ will publish a list of its own clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. Gail Gore, spokesperson for the priestly order founded by sexual predator, morphine addict, and charlatan Marcial Maciel, said in a recent email exchange that the Legion will publish its list “soon.”

“We will be releasing our list of Legionaries who have received substantiated claims of sexual abuse soon,” Gore said. “The Legionaries of Christ are committed to creating and maintaining a safe environment for all children and all people who interact with its members and are involved in its ministries.”

Since 2002, a growing number of dioceses and religious orders in the United States publish their own lists of credibly accused clergy members, but very few include members of the Legionaries of Christ, despite lawsuits, police reports and direct victim statements that name Legion priests. 

There are, for example, no Legionaries on the credibly accused list of clergy in the Diocese of Manchester, despite at least one lawsuit alleging the sexual abuse of children, and subsequent cover-up, at a Legion school in Center Harbor, NH. Legionaries are also absent from the Dallas, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles lists.

We have obtained documents indicating that, in at least one major diocese, Legion officials quashed a police investigation of a Legion priest by lying to detectives about the wishes of the alleged victim. 

Gore has declined to comment on the actions of other dioceses, and she did not respond to questions about how soon the Legion list will be published. 

Maciel’s notorious behavior reportedly included drug addiction, fathering several children with at least three different women, and the sexual abuse of those children and others. Jason Berry of NCR has reported that Maciel took advantage of widespread corruption inside the Vatican to cover his crimes.

“For years Maciel had Legion priests dole out envelopes with cash and donate gifts to officials in the curia. In the days leading up to Christmas, Legion seminarians spent hours packaging the baskets with expensive bottles of wine, rare brandy, and cured Spanish hams that alone cost upward of $1,000 each. Priests involved in the gifts and larger cash exchanges say that in hindsight they view Maciel’s strategy as akin to an insurance policy, to protect himself should he be exposed and to position the Legion as an elite presence in the workings of the Vatican,” Berry wrote.

The Vatican’s 2010 assessment of Maciel is devastating in its frankness about Maciel’s true nature.

“The very grave and objectively immoral actions of Father Maciel, confirmed by incontrovertible testimonies, in some cases constitute real crimes and manifest a life devoid of scruples and authentic religious meaning. This life was unknown to the great majority of the Legionaries, above all because of the system of relationships constructed by Father Maciel, who was able skillfully to create alibis for himself, to obtain trust, confidence and silence from those around him, and to reinforce his personal role as a charismatic founder,” the Vatican statement reads.

“Not infrequently a deplorable discrediting and distancing of those who entertained doubts as to the probity of his conduct, as well as a misguided concern to avoid damaging the good that the Legion was accomplishing, created around him a defense mechanism that for a long time rendered him unassailable, making it very difficult, as a result, to know the truth about his life.”

Edward Pentin reports that Rome knew about accusations of abuse by Maciel as early as 1943

Pope Benedict XVI barred Maciel from active ministry in 2006 after his history of pedophilia became incontrovertible, but the Legion continued to celebrate Maciel’s birthday, hang photos of him in their centers, and refer to him as “Nuestro Padre” until they formally fobade these practices in December of 2010.  Steve Skojec, who lived in and worked with Legion communities for several years, describes the spiritual manipulation inherent in the Legion’s very structure, and notes that they continued to extol Maciel and his legacy in January of 2019

According to Zenit, “[T]he norms [adopted by the Legionaries in 2010] do allow Legionaries and consecrated members of Regnum Christi to keep a photograph among their personal belongings, and to read Father Maciel’s writings or listen to his talks in private. Additionally, the writings of Father Maciel may be used when giving talks and sermons, but without citing the author.”

When asked whether Maciel’s name will be included on the upcoming list of credibly accused Legion priests, the spokesperson did not respond. 

NH Diocese of Manchester publishes names of 73 accused priests; questions remain

The Diocese of Manchester in NH has published a list of 73 priests accused of sexual abuse of a minor since 1950. The list includes names, ordination date, status, and assignments of accused priests, but it does not include the accusations. 

When asked why the list does not include specific accusations, diocesan spokesman Thomas Bebbington said, “The status is intended to provide enough information so the public is aware that the person is not in ministry and why.”

The list includes more names than are listed on the bishop-accountability.org website, which includes 62 names. Bishop-accountability.org does include details about accusations in most cases.  

The diocesan list includes several categories: Cases concluded canonically or criminally, cases in process, priests accused after laicization, deceased priests, and religious orders/other.

Notably, none of the priests named are affiliated with the scandal-ridden Legion of Christ, which ran a private boarding school for high school boys from 1982 to 2015 in Center Harbor, NH.

The Legion was founded by the late Marcial Maciel, a pedophile priest who allegedly raped some of his own illegitimate children, and it has been perpetually rocked with scandals and accusation of institutional sexual, psychological, and spiritual abuse. As recently as January of this year, the Legion continued to extol Maciel.  

When asked for clarification as to why there were no Legion of Christ priests named on the list, Bebbington said, “The Legionaries of Christ is a religious order and its members are not incardinated in the Diocese of Manchester. The list only includes members of religious orders assigned to ministry by the bishop of the Diocese of Manchester. ”

“Incardinated” means “under the bishop or other ecclesiastical superior.” I asked Bebbington if the bishop has any control over whether unincardinated priests work in his diocese, if he has not assigned them to ministry there. He has not yet responded. 
UPDATE:  Bebbington clarified: “A bishop does not have control over priests and religious who are not incardinated in his diocese.  They report to the superiors in their own orders, rather than to the diocesan bishop.” He also said that a bishop does not have control over who is assigned to institutions such as private high schools or colleges. 

Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor and the Legion of Christ, Inc., were named in a lawsuit in Connecticut in 2017. The plaintiff said that, when he was a student at ICAS in NH, Fernando Cutanda, or “Brother Fernando,” a “supervisor, mentor, and spiritual leader” employed by the Legion-run school, repeatedly raped him in several locations on the school property. The lawsuit says that, feeling guilt and shame, the alleged victim told a Legion of Christ priest, Fr. O’Carroll, what had been happening. Fr. O’Carroll, whom the legal documents describe as “in charge of I.C.A.S. at the time,” allegedly told the boy to say five rosaries “for his sins” and told him “God will take care of things.” According to the lawsuit, “Brother Fernando” allegedly raped the boy again after Fr. O’Carroll allegedly heard of the abuse. The school was dismissed as a defendant in 2017, and the Legion settled with the victim in October of 2018. Although the school is in New Hampshire, the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut since the Legion of Christ, Inc., is headquartered there.

The list of accused sexual offenders published by the Diocese of Manchester does not include monks or religious brothers who are not priests.

The Union Leader reports that Bishop Peter Libasci said in a statement about the list:

“This is meant as an act of ownership and accountability. It is my hope that by making this information available, we are holding ourselves accountable to the evils of the past, and offering timely assistance, support and resources to those individuals and families who have been affected by the sexual abuse of a minor.”

He also said “On behalf of my predecessors and the Church in New Hampshire, I am sorry. I seek your forgiveness for the grave sins of abuse and betrayal of trust that representatives of the Church committed.”

The Diocese of Manchester is the 136th American diocese to release a list of accused priests (there are 197 dioceses in the U.S.). But in 2002, the diocese was among the first to undergo an investigation by state prosecutors of decades of sexual abuse and cover-up in and by the diocese, just after the Boston Globe exposed a similar, even more widespread scandal in the neighboring Archdiocese of Boston. 

In 2003, the Attorney General released a report on their findings, and the Diocese paid $5 million in settlements to 62 victims who were abused in the time period between the 1950’s and the 1980’s.

The Attorney General’s report was not an exhaustive list of accusations, but was meant to highlight only details of a much broader and deeper scandal. 

According to the report, John McCormack, who was bishop at the time of the investigation, had a long history of reassigning priests who were known pedophiles and of keeping secret the names and actions of known molesters. McCormack served as Bishop from 1998 until 2011. In 1984 he worked closely with Cardinal Bernard Law in managing accusations of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.

According to the report, McCormack acknowledged that the diocese of Manchester paid for the legal defense of Gordon MacRae, and said he thought MacRae’s sentence was disproportionately harsh and that the priest wasn’t much of a threat. MacRae was convicted of sexually assaulting several boys, including during a pastoral counseling session inside the St. Bernard church in Keene.  

Before McCormack was bishop, Bishop Odore Gendron served from 1975-1990.  According to the Attorney General’s report, Gendron worked with police to keep secret reports of sexual abuse. According to the report, one of the abusive priests, Paul Aube, personally asked Bishop Gendron not to be assigned to work with youth after he was caught, but the diocese went on to assign him to work in youth ministry in a different parish. He then assaulted other minors, according to the report.

In today’s statement, Bishop Libasci said:

Each and every day, I pray that victim-survivors find healing. I also fervently pray that we never allow such darkness to enter our Church again. With these new efforts, I hope to continue on a path to restoring your trust. 

Bishop Libasci, who was appointed in 2011, has spoken several times on the issue of the sex abuse scandal, and has struck a notably different tone from his predecessors. In October of 2018, after the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report was made public, he wrote:

“These revelations have left me sickened, shaken, embarrassed, and heart-broken. I have heard from many of you, either directly or indirectly, that you are justifiably angry, discouraged, and saddened that Church leadership has breached your trust and failed to protect children, youth, seminarians, and vulnerable adults adequately.”

He acknowledged at the time that the steps the diocese is taking “are only the first steps” that the diocese needs to take.

“I will rely on my consultation with you, the People of God, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to identify the best path forward,” he said.

“I have committed myself to the Act of Reparation to the Sacred Heart,” Libasci said. 

 

Did Fulton Sheen witness and cover up the sexual assault of a child?

BY DAMIEN AND SIMCHA FISHER

Did Fulton Sheen witness and cover up the sexual assault of a child?

Less than a week after Sheen’s beatification was announced,  Rebecca Bratten Weiss’ Patheos blog echoed recent chatter on Twitter, sharing text that alleges Sheen saw a priest sexually abusing a child. The text claims Sheen walked in as the abuse happened, but he merely told the priest to put his pants back on, called the victim a “slut,” and proceeded to help cover up the crime. The text alleges that the Cause for his canonization knew about the allegations and did not respond to them. 

“I knew there was something fishy about Fulton Sheen,” tweeted Mary Pezzulo, another Patheos blogger, after the documents were shared. 

We are well aware the Church has an abysmal record of abuse and cover-up. We also believe that allegations of abuse should always be taken seriously and investigated if possible. But we do not believe these allegations are credible. Here’s why.

The only reference we can find to these allegations comes from that text, which was posted on BishopAccountability.org sometime in 2007. BishopAccountability.org is an invaluable clearinghouse for documents regarding sexual abuse and cover-up in the Church, and we are grateful for its work; but it does not claim to vet or verify any documents it shares. According to the site:

“It is our goal to assemble on the Internet a collection of every publicly available document and report on the crisis …
Our standards of inclusion are broad … BishopAccountability.org makes no claim regarding the accuracy of any document we post, and we have tried to include the full range of viewpoints, so as to provide a fully documented landscape of the crisis.”

This is not a criticism of BishopAccountability.org, but merely a clarification of what they do.

The allegation against Sheen is part of a lengthy text that purports to be a lawsuit complaint prepared by New York attorney John Aretakis sometime in 2007 on behalf of former priest Robert Hoatson. Who are Hoatson and Aretakis, and what is their history?

Hoatson and Aretakis first filed a $5 million federal RICO lawsuit in December of 2005 against The New York Archdiocese, Cardinal Edward Egan, the Archdiocese of Newark, Archbishop John J. Myers, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, the Congregation of Christian Brothers, and a number of individuals. The federal complaint was amended a few weeks later. 

Neither the original December 2005 complaint nor the amended January 2006 complaint mentions Sheen at all.

In February of 2007, the RICO lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning they may not file those claims again. The court also sanctioned Aretakis and ordered him to pay $8,000 ($2,000 to each of the major defendants). 

The presiding judge, Judge Paul Crotty, had harsh words for Aretakis’ behavior and credibility when he dismissed the case, saying in his ruling: 

“Taking Mr. Aretakis’s behavior in this case as a whole, it is clear that his conduct is sanctionable because it is sloppy and unprofessional; the pleadings are so far removed from adequate that they cannot be said to have been filed in good faith or after a reasonable inquiry; the bulk of the allegations dealing with sexual abuse are wholly irrelevant to the RICO claim, and; the Title VII claim is admittedly without basis in law.”

Crotty noted in his ruling that Aretakis and Hoatson made a splash the day they filed the lawsuit, holding a high profile press conference. He also noted that Aretakis has a history of filing RICO lawsuits that get dismissed.

Crotty’s ruling did not dismiss all the legal claims Hoatson brought, allowing him to refile the lawsuit in state court. In 2007, Aretakis filed a New York State lawsuit on Hoatson’s behalf against many of the same defendants.

While we can independently verify that Aretakis did file a state lawsuit on Hoatson’s behalf, we have been unable to find a verified copy of the complaint. We do not know if the complaint text on BishopAccountability.org, where the sole public accusation against Sheen exists, is the actual complaint filed in court. It was provided to the site by writer Matt C. Abbott, who has written copiously about the abuse scandal in the Church. Abbott himself said: “It should be noted that I do not necessarily agree with every assertion/conclusion made in the complaint.” Abbott referenced the document in a column he wrote for Renew America, but the column is no longer available online

Let’s assume for the moment that the complaint that appears on BishopAccountability.org was actually filed in court. Here is the section that mentions Sheen, which is part of a long litany of allegations against several different priests:

“The plaintiff is counseling a victim of a New York Archdiocesan priest whose sexual abuse continued for over ten years. One day, while the victim was being abused in the offices of the Propagation of the Faith in New York City, Bishop Fulton Sheen walked in on the abuse, called the victim a slut, told the priest to put his pants on, and did nothing to report the incident or comfort the victim. Bishop Sheen covered-up the crime. The priest abuser remains a pastor and had a prominent role in national television coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II. When the plaintiff wrote to the promoter of the cause of canonization of Bishop Sheen to inform him of Bishop Sheen’s actions, his letter was ignored and went unanswered. Bishop Sheen’s sainthood is steamrolling ahead despite his cover-up of child sexual abuse, while the plaintiff continues to be harassed, retaliated against, and fired.”

There are no names, except for Sheen’s. This is not a first hand account, but claims to speak on behalf of Hoatson supposedly counseling an unnamed victim. It is hearsay, not evidence. It is precisely how one would operate if the goal were to create buzz for a potentially lucrative legal case by making accusations against a famous dead man. Judge Crotty, in his federal RICO dismissal ruling, specifically chides Aretakis for using this strategy:

“Finally, further evidence of Mr. Aretakis’s motives is the drumbeat of publicity which Mr. Aretakis has sought. The day he and his client filed this complaint, he held a press conference to announce his lawsuit. This appears to be his common practice. The immediate link between the filing of the complaint and the press conference support the inference that Mr. Aretakis’s intention was to injure. That intent is confirmed by Mr. Aretakis’s statements in which he describes himself as an activist for clergy sexual abuse victims and is quoted as intending to ‘continue to humiliate and embarrass the Church’ by bringing incidents of sexual abuse to light, even if he cannot bring them in court. This intent to humiliate and embarrass is further manifested in the amended complaint which is littered with wholly irrelevant, inflammatory, and embarrassing facts concerning defendants and non-defendants alike that have no bearing on the actions brought, such as ‘it was widely known that he [one of the defendants] was an alcoholic.”

The state lawsuit was dismissed in October of 2009, and the New York court ordered Hoatson to pay the defendants’ court costs. 

In October of 2009, a sexual abuse survivor sued Hoatson, claiming he used his position as founder of his non-profit, Road to Recovery, to extort sexual abuse settlement money from him, according to public records. The case was dismissed without prejudice, partially because the victim was seeking $10,000, while the minimum for federal lawsuits of this nature is $75,000.

Road to Recovery, an organization set up to help survivors of sexual abuse, collected  $117,907 in contributions in the last reported year, paid out more than $100,000 in management expenses, and paid another $13,000 for program expenses.  Yesterday, I erroneously stated that its tax exempt status has been revoked. It has not. I regret the error. According to the NJ Consumer Affairs, Road to Recovery is listed as “compliant” as a charity in the state.

According to public records, Aretakis’ law license suspended for one year in 2008 after he was found guilty of professional misconduct by the New York Committee on Professional Standards. Among the charges was that Aretakis made false accusations against judges, engaged in frivolous conduct, and entered into court actions meant to harass people. 

We cannot confirm independently that the accusation against Sheen is actually part of a real lawsuit. The information contained in the text which includes the allegations against Sheen appear to come solely from Hoatson’s account of what he says various sex abuse survivors told him. Hoatson was using these stories in his $5 million lawsuit.

In summary: There is no actual evidence that a crime occurred or that there is a victim, and there is no evidence that Hoatson or anyone else contacted the cause for Fulton Sheen and was ignored, as is asserted. The allegations of abuse and cover-up, and the allegations that the Cause didn’t respond, come entirely from a text that has yet to be verified, by a source and his attorney who both have significant credibility problems. 

We reached out on Friday to the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation and to Monsignor Soseman, who was delegated by Bishop Jenky to oversee the Cause, to ask if they had heard of these allegations and whether they were investigated. But the team tasked with investigating and recording information regarding a candidate for beatification are sworn to secrecy, in order to encourage people to divulge sensitive information; so we suspect the office of the Cause would not be able to tell us if an investigation had taken place, or even whether Hoatson contacted them, as he claims. If he did approach them with the same information he claims to have shared in court — that Fulton saw an unnamed priest abusing an unnamed child in an undisclosed year — it’s unclear how any investigation could proceed.

Regardless, we have not yet heard back. Since the text making allegations have been circulating, we thought it was important to follow up quickly with more information; but we will update this story if and when more information becomes available. 

We continue our call for complete transparency from the Church. Justice is not served by covering up the truth, but neither is it served by eagerly believing the worst.

UPDATE AND CORRECTION July 14, 2019 3 PM eastern:

I erroneously stated that Road to Recovery’s tax exempt status has been revoked. It has not. I regret the error.

Monsignor Soseman responded from Rome:

I do know that no such letter [as the one Hoatson says he sent] ever arrived at the office in Peoria,  nor have I ever heard of any such allegation, in any of the extensive testimonies we took.  I finished my work with the cause in 2008. Since then it has been at the Vatican. I do know that both offices of the propagation had open floorplans with very few doors. 

 

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We will continue to update this story as necessary. 

Image: Fulton Sheen by Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer [Public domain] via Wikepedia (image cropped) 

Mary who stays

My daughter is drawing at church. She handily sketches in a crucifix: Top, bottom, one arm, then the other. She’s drawn it many times, over and over. Lately, she’s adding more detail, and at first I didn’t know what it was– some kind of ghost, a formless lump.

Then I saw it was Mary, swathed with robes and veils. Jesus on the cross is sharp and angular, and he turns his face up to the heavens in his agony; but Mary’s head is down, almost crushed into the ground as she bows under the great grief of his innocent suffering. She is utterly helpless. She can’t rescue the child she brought into the world.

In her grief, she is almost unrecognizable, and why not? Why should she be her same self, since the crucifixion is so outrageous? It never should have happened. How could it possibly have happened? This is God we’re talking about; actual God, that than which nothing greater can be thought, and here he hangs, bleeding dry.  Ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by some thugs wielding a hammer.

Never mind the veil in the temple, it should have been the entire planet, the whole fabric of the universe that was ripped in two when he died. I don’t know how the world was held together through the crucifixion. How did everything not come apart?

I do know. It was held together through Mary, who stayed.

Under the intolerable weight of the suffering of her son, she was helpless, almost crushed. But she didn’t leave. There was nothing she could do, but she stood by and let it happen to her with him. Sometimes this is the only action of love: To stand by and not leave.

The suffering of innocents is what tears people away from the Church, away from God: When we have to stand by and watch the innocent suffer, and no one will rescue them. It tears us apart. This is why the abuse crisis has been the breaking point for so many people: The Church was supposed to be where children were safe, but instead it was where there they were ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by thugs wielding a crosier.

It is not tolerable.

But it is nothing new.

The split, the rift, the gap, the unravelling: This has been the story of man since we left Eden. God the Father made His children for wholeness and delight, and what did they do but leave, tear themselves away from him; tear each other apart. Even when there is no ill will, this is the duality of the human experience of love since the Fall: We always live through love and loss at the same time. Never love without loss. From the moment we give birth, we prepare our children to leave us. From the moment we marry, we take on the burden of preparing our spouses for death. This is nothing new.

But Mary is something new. She holds in her heart the making and the unmaking of her beloved, and she does not come apart. She is strong enough to make the son of God and strong enough to stand by and watch him unmade, and still she does not leave. She is steadfast like no other.

Our sorrows are the first part of the story. The long story, the whole story, is that the world is all knit back together again in the womb of Mary. If Penelope wove and then unravelled a shroud, over and over again while she waited for the king to return home, then Mary weaves . . . what should we call it? The swaddling clothes that somehow bind up eternal life itself. And every day, death tries to unravel it, and every night she knits life back up again, day after day, over and over again. She does not leave her island. She is waiting for the king to return.

There are times when we all flee from the foot of the cross. It is too crushing. It hurts too much to be so helpless. We are perhaps willing to suffer, ourselves. But how willing are we to stand by and watch the ones we love suffer? That is the thing that feels intolerable.

But leaving the foot of the cross leaves the world unravelled. Running away from injustice, and staying away, leaves injustice as the final word. If we want to meet Jesus, we must meet him in suffering, in injustice, on this island world at the foot of the intolerable. That’s where he is right now. That is where love is. There is nowhere else, no other place but this temporal island called suffering. We will not be here forever, but we need to be here ready to meet him. To try to escape is to leave the world unravelled.

I can hear that I sound like I’m saying, “Don’t leave the Church, or you will betray the world and betray God.” I am not. I know I have said things that sound like that, and I am sorry. I don’t know what I would do if it had been one of my children abused. I don’t know what I would do if I were a reporter or a district attorney who talked to hundreds and hundreds of victims. When I do write about how the Church has betrayed the innocent, there always comes a time when I close my computer and put my head down and cry. But this is not my life’s work. If it were, I don’t know what I would do.

I am only thinking of Mary, and how glad I am that she didn’t leave.

Jesus was crucified for our sins, and Mary stayed at the foot of the cross for our sorrows. She stayed there for us, waiting on that island called suffering and death. She stays with us still. With her son she will make the world whole again; and then there will be love without loss.

 

The Virgin In Sorrow by Simon Marmion. Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons

 

From Sessions to Synodality, can we please stay mad?

Something weird happened last week.

Okay, lots of weird things happened last week. If you stick with this post, you’ll find out what I think about the Pope and the Synod that went “splat.” But one weird thing that made me giggle was the spectacle of thousands of people streaming through the streets of the nation in righteous outrage to protest the unjust firing of . . . Jeff Sessions.

You remember Sessions, America’s darling, pictured here in happier times:

Tee hee, just a little joke. But you do recall that, when Trump picked Sessions for Attorney General two years ago, there was a lot of tooth gnashing, and not undeserved. The man does appear to be a bona fide nativist, if not a racist, and that’s why Trump chose him. Back in 2016, when Trump assumed he could utterly control him, Jeff Sessions was the new Jim Crow, said The Root, for instance. Nancy Pelosi, as many have pointed out, thought in 2017 that “anything less than [his] resignation or removal from office is unacceptable.”

But now 2018 is winding down and who is Jeff Sessions? Why, he’s the only thing saving us from being annexed by Russia, that’s all! La Pelosi now weighs in on the scandal of his resignation or removal from office that she demanded:

She’s right, of course. The Muller investigation is wrapping up and Trump hasn’t managed to fire his way out from under it yet, so he finally got rid of Sessions. And now everyone who very recently wanted to redecorate their condo with Jeff Sessions’ head on a pike is now weeping tears of blood because the Tyrant Trump has quashed our savior, Jeff Sessions.

Please don’t mistake me here: Everybody is terrible. Sessions is terrible, Trump is terrible, Pelosi is terrible. Russia is terrible. And one more time, for good measure: Trump. Terrible.

But also terrible is the terribly, terribly short memory of the news-consuming public. We can’t even remember what we were mad about six months ago, because right now there are different headlines in front of our faces. Different headlines, do you hear? And we forget what we’re supposed to be outraged about, and why, and who the perpetrator is.

I don’t actually care much about Jeff Sessions, but here’s something I do care about: The recent Synod, and how useless everyone knew it was . . . until the Pope quashed it.

A few weeks ago, every American lay Catholic who hasn’t been in a coma for the last five years was disgusted beyond measure with our bishops. After spending decades playing pervert valet, they finally got caught out; and they responded first with silence, and then by blaming priests and blaming the laity, and then by rolling out countless tone deaf, toothless, worse-than-useless statements and action plans.

We were pretty mad. One fellow on my Facebook wall (and I probably should have saved a screenshot for the FBI) wanted the bishops beheaded in St. Peter’s; but even those non-crazy among us wanted metaphorical heads to roll. We wanted mass resignations from the worst offenders, and we wanted true contrition, true repentance, and true reform. Remember?

And they offered us guidelines, mission statements, and ass-covering; they bought themselves pretty houses, were swatted down, and then bought themselves more pretty houses; and they gave each other awards for how much money they raised. They complained that donations were down.

Remember when Cupich said “we have a bigger agenda than to be distracted by all of this,”— “this” being the sex-abuse scandal and cover-up — and told a seminarian “I am sleeping OK”? I remember!

And so the one thing we all knew was the Synod was going to be useless. We were mad when they went ahead and whooped it up at World Youth Day, and we were violently skeptical that anything useful or self-aware could come from this group of men working together and overseeing each other.

And yet, the last few days of Catholic social media have been full of laymen outraged at the Pope for how he treated our beloved USCCB, for how he undercut, humiliated, and castrated them with his brutal, top-down swat-down. And that’s insane. I’m still mad at the bishops, and you should be, too. Nothing has changed except the narrative.

Don’t mistake me. I’m not defending the Pope’s actions or motives. The way he handled this situation was crappy. I pray for his soul and I pray that his future actions won’t cause more harm to the Church, but I don’t see a single reason to hope that he’ll suddenly become the man to dig out the institutional church’s deep, deep roots of corruption. I have given up on this pontificate. He doesn’t have some satanic plan to oversee the deliberate degradation of the Church;  he just doesn’t want to see how bad things are, he doesn’t want to know why they’re so bad, and most of all, he just plain doesn’t like it when people don’t knuckle under. Thus the stunningly bad optics of his actions, which predictably came across as “I heart child abuse.”

But for crying out loud, bad optics is all this is. Nothing more. Nothing good was spoiled here. Nothing worthwhile was quashed. No ground was lost. I say this with confidence despite not knowing the first thing about what the bishops decided in their synod, because there’s not a scrap of evidence that most of them (not all, but most) ever understood what the hell the problem even was. Unless Our Lady of Fed-Upness stopped in and smacked the synodial hors d’eouvres out of their hands and made them smarten up, I guarantee you they came out of there just as clueless and self-serving as they were when they filed in.

And so it’s bizarre and dispiriting to hear so many howls of despair over this allegedly crushing blow to synodality. Oh, no, they didn’t get to vote! Oh, no, the synod came to naught! So what? Remember who got us here. Don’t let the latest outrage sway your focus and turn the bishops into some kind of victims who are trying so hard to reform things but the mean pope won’t let them. That’s not what’s going on here.

As canonist Ed Peters said on Twitter:

While Rome has (needlessly but not illegally per Canon 455) forbidden US bishops from adopting NATIONAL standards for episcopal accountability, nothing prevents individual bishops from presenting PERSONAL provisions for same, whereupon other bishops might choose to copy them.

Let’s see some of that, your eminences. Let’s see how well you understand your flock and what they need. You wanted to be able to act, so let’s see some action. I haven’t given up on you. But I’ll need more than a “big bad pope” narrative to make me trust you.

 

 

 

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We Are All Loyal Klansman image uploaded by Bcrowell at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain,

Photo by Simcha Fisher of painting titled “The Cardinal’s Portrait” by Toby Edward Rosenthal

Francis has a lot of buffers.

The Catholic sex abuse scandal has two parts. The first part is the abuse itself. The second part is the institutional efforts to cover it up.

And now we are in the process of slowly, painfully uncovering these decades and centuries of crime.

This process is not part of the scandal.

The uncovering is dreadful. It is agonizing. It is, to use one of Francis’ favored words, messy. It’s always horrifying to witness the uncovering of hidden sin. But the uncovering is not part of the scandal. It is the remedy for the scandal, if there can be a remedy.

And yet Pope Francis, in his homily addressed to bishops today, said:

“In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The ‘Great Accuser’, as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, ‘roams the earth looking for someone to accuse’. A bishop’s strength against the ‘Great Accuser’ is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world.”

This was not plucked out of context by some uncharitable, click-farming rag. It was chosen for publication by the Vatican news service itself. It is the Pope’s message.

In the past week, it seemed that Francis was making an effort to preach in ways that could possibly be construed as general pious reflections on scripture. But in today’s homily, he’s clearly referring directly to the scandal — or, more accurately, to the investigation of the scandal. He does not speak of the need to be more transparent. He does not speak of the need to repent, nor for the need to reform the Church. He does not speak of the horror of sin. He does not speak of the victims. Instead, he casts the bishops themselves as the victims — and some of the nine who advise him are themselves accused of covering up abuse.

Has Pope Francis spoken out about the abuse? Sure. He was more than willing to agree that terrible things had been done, and that some people ought to be very sorry indeed — until those accusations were turned on him. Then we heard that silence was holy, and that those who uncover sin are Satan.

I’ll say it again: Francis sounds like an abuser.

I am praying for bishops, and I am praying for the Pope, as he asked us to do. I am praying especially for those bishops who have been struggling mightily to show their flock they, at least, understand the profound horror we’re uncovering day by day, and that they want it to be uncovered. There are some good bishops. Some have been doing public penance. Some have called for independent reviews of their dioceses’ past, opening up records to the public and to the law. Some have demanded that the magisterium stop acting like this is business as usual and treat this scandal like the emergency it is.

And some have accused him of being part of the cover-up.

Are Viganò’s claims credible? I have no idea. I hope to God he’s wrong. And if Viganò himself is guilty, then he, too, should be investigated and prosecuted. But I keep thinking back to the courtroom scene in The Godfather II, where Willie Chichi tells the investigative committee, “Yeah, the family had a lotta buffers.”  If Viganò was part of the crime family that fed so many children and seminarians into the furnace, then that means he’s the one who knows what went on and how it was hidden. That’s how you get these guys: You get them to turn each other in.

So don’t trust accusers blindly, but listen to them. Look at what they claim, and find out for yourself whether it’s true or not. Open yourself to investigation. Turn over files. Uncover sin. Let the light in. Maybe stop calling investigators “Satan,” I don’t know.

Instead, the family closes ranks, and we hear absurdly tone-deaf assurances that Francis’ nine Cardinal advisors are in “full solidarity” with the Pope. I bloody well bet they are. The man has a lot of buffers.

***
Image by Long Thiên via Flicker (Public Domain)

Does Francis know he sounds like an abuser?

Shall I tell you the most charitable, least rash explanation I can muster for Pope Francis’ recent words and behavior? It’s that he’s surrounded himself with yes men who are shielding him from understanding the depth and breadth of institutional sex abuse and its cover-up in the Church.

He’s appointed, or left in office, no one but men who tell him that the world is chock full of false accusations, that the whole scandal thing is overblown, that it’s all in our past — oh, and that right now would be a good time to talk about litter in the ocean. The few who will tell him the truth, like Cardinal O’Malley, are so outnumbered that even their dire warnings can be dismissed as local problems.

That’s the charitable answer, and it’s not great. If he’s in a bubble that protects him from seeing the true state of the Church, it’s a comfortable bubble of his own making. The servant of the servants of God is not supposed to be in a bubble.

But the other explanation is worse. Here it is:

I have a number of friends who have escaped abusive marriages. They tell me that Pope Francis is sounding more and more like the men who abused them. He’s sounding like the men who hid that abuse from the world, who taught their victims to blame themselves, who used spiritual pressure to persuade them and their families that it would actually be wrong, sinful, to defend themselves.

Just listen to him. After responding to a question about Vigano’s very serious accusations, he said point blank, “I will not say a single word on this.” Several of the faithful speculated that he may have had this or that logistical reason for putting off responding to that specific question; fine. But for the rest of the week and more, he kept up an unmistakable theme of calling for silence, equating silence with holiness, and painting himself as a Christlike victim in his silence. Then he says it’s “ugly” to accuse others of sinning.Then he suggests that healing and reconciliation will only come if we take a hard look at our own flaws.

These statements are all true. They all reflect Christian thought. They would be reasonable at any other time in recent history. But coming right in the middle of our ongoing agony, they land as heavily as a fist on a bruise.

To the victims of the Church, and to those who love them, it sounds like he is saying, “Who do you think you are? I don’t have to explain myself to you. You’re the guilty one. You brought this on yourself. If you want to be loved, then know your place. I’m the victim, here, not you. If you know what’s good for you, keep your mouth shut.”

This is how abusers talk. They’re not content with power; they have to keep their victims doubting and blaming themselves constantly, so they don’t become a threat. Whether Francis knows it or not, this is how he sounds.

I know that we hear what gets reported, which isn’t necessarily everything he says. I know that the pope isn’t required to say everything we want him to say. I know that whatever is going on in our own diocese or our own country isn’t the whole of what goes on in the Church. I know that there are eternal truths that need to be told no matter what is going on in the current moment.

But even keeping all these things in mind, it beggars the imagination why the pope keeps talking the way he does. It’s clear he intends to keep on talking, despite his exhortations to be silent. This is what he chooses to say. The very best possible explanation is that his context is pure bubble, and he simply doesn’t realize that much of the Catholic world is transfixed with horror over the sins of the clergy. He simply isn’t aware that, with his words and with his silence, he’s turning his back on so many suffering priests and bishops, including my own, who tell their flock that they have not been abandoned — only to hear their spiritual father override their efforts with a huge, unmistakable message of “NOBODY CARES.”

Maybe he simply doesn’t realize that his cozy little aphorisms are coming off as a passive aggressive threat, as chilling as an abuser who smiles warmly at the world while secretly showing an open blade to the victim who stands faithfully at his side.

I do remember his gentleness, his compassion, his direct and sincere kindness in the past. I don’t believe that was false. You all know I’m not a reflexive Francis-hater. I don’t have any ideological reason to want to bring him down. I have defended him as long as I could, up until the Chile debacle.

And so I am working as hard as I can not to assume the worst, not to believe that this man who promised so much fresh air is really so intent on slamming doors shut before we find out even worse things hidden inside. But he is not making it easy. I am not saying he is an abuser. But he sounds like one.

You’re on the inside? Do your job or GTFO

There are a lot of reasons to hate the anonymous NYT op ed piece yesterday. As another NYT reporter points out, it now puts the rest of the staff in the position of trying to investigate a writer whose identity their own newspaper is protecting. It absolutely gives Trump and his paranoid minions more reason to believe the press is the enemy, which makes life more dangerous for reporters like my husband. And it’s just . . . squicky. It’s not how newspapers operate. Anonymity is for when the writer’s safety is at risk, not for when he wants to play Secret Squirrel and we’re all supposed to play along.

But the thing that bugged me the most was the craven abdication of responsibility. Whoever this “senior” person is, he’s inside the White House, he sees that our president is entirely unfit for the job, and even though he somehow persuades himself that it’s worth letting ourselves be drowned in a flood of dreck because a few specks of tax reform –– tax reform — might go swishing by, he acknowledges that “senior officials” are daily “working to insulate their operations from [Trump’s] whims.” In other words, he has a front row seat to the burning of Rome.

And his response to all this is to . . . stick around. To keep the status quo, because robust military! Less regulation! Hey, he’s not personally fanning the flames, so it’s not his fault! He’s doing his absolute best to pass little thimbles of water along to keep it from spreading even faster. God forbid we should do something drastic, that might precipitate a crisis of some sort.

He says he doesn’t want to pursue impeachment, because that would be a constitutional crisis. But what he is describing is the constitutional crisis. People scurrying around scrambling signals, stealing documents, and playing shell games with the leader of the free world like Bugs Bunny sticking it to Elmer Fudd? That’s your constitutional crisis, right there.

I’ve kind of washed my hands of politics. I did my best to warn people away from Trump, and it didn’t work, and I lost my job for my troubles; so I have mostly tuned out. But I got pretty upset when I read the NYT piece, and I know exactly why:

It’s the same stupid, self-congratulatory, ineffectual, grandstanding, self-immolating shell game we got from the USCCB. In case you haven’t noticed, the Church is in flames. In flames, and we faithful were begging our leaders to do something, or at least say something. Let us know you see how we are suffering. And for the love of Jesus, use the strength of your arm to put out the fire. Do something about the career arsonists who call themselves our fathers. Use your power and influence to do the right thing. You’re on the inside, so do something. 

Instead, they issued a couple of statements saying, “Don’t worry, everybuggy. We took a good look and we know things are super bad and that is super bad, but don’t worry, because we are implementing procedures! Procedures are being implemented. A-OK. World Youth, yay! Now you write check now.”

Same. Damn. Thing. They are in a position to put out the fire, and instead, they choose to sit with it and paint portraits of it and pat themselves on the back for how well they’re managing it. Well, we’re still engulfed in flames, and they still haven’t even hooked up a hose. And this is our house. We’re the ones who have to live here, and we’re supposed to play along and pretend this is how it’s supposed to be. And we’re still engulfed in flames. It’s crisis time, folks. We’re past the point where we can avoid the crisis by being “silent.” It’s here. No, keeping quiet doesn’t make you look like Jesus. It makes you look like this is your fire, and that’s how you like it.

We’re going to get four more years of Trump because nobody wants to put their neck on the line and push for impeachment; and we’re going to get who knows how many more years, decades, centuries of the same old same old slow motion conflagration in our Church, while generation after generation of Catholics figure out how to live our lives, raise our children, keep our parishes stumbling along, while everything around us is on fire.

Nobody wants to put it out. It’s just easier, and more lucrative, to pretend you’re taking it seriously and somehow protecting the institution from the inside out by letting it burn. Crazy keeps the checks rolling in. Corruption makes the money and power and influence flow, and everybody gets their share. Same damn thing.

I’m praying, by God. I’m doing stupid little sacrifices. I’m not leaving my Lord just because He’s surrounded by perverts, and God help me, I still love my stupid fucking country, even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down. And I love my Church. Even though we apparently want to burn the whole thing down.

You people on the inside. You who have influence. You leaders with front row seats. I’m telling you that you need to do your job or GTFO.

***
Image: The Fire of Rome by Hubert Robert [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What do we Catholics do now?

By the time I’m done writing this, there will be a new crop of sad or enraging or just plain bizarre headlines about who did what, who knew what, who claims he never knew, who didn’t act and why that was someone else’s fault, and why we should all just relax and trust the hierarchy to do the right thing, starting any minute now.

And of course more and more of our fellow Catholics will burrow even more deeply into their comforting narratives of blame, to shelter them. When we’re confronted with calamity, the easiest thing in the world is to cry, “This is all their fault!” — “they” being the ones whose fault it always is and always has been. This response is worse than useless, but it’s understandable. We want coherence and intelligibility, but right now, it’s so hard to see, in this dim light of calamity. What to do?

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)

Wounded by silence

Testimony from a friend:

“I was kidnapped, violently tortured, escaped, went to the hospital and the authorities found my perpetrator and prosecuted him. He was arrested and is still serving a life sentence in prison.

Why? Because I had physical bruises, because people could identify the crime. It’s sad but true.

So many other victims of rape and abuses that were silenced will tell me, ‘Your story is awful,’ but I tell them, no, the story of those victims who suffered in silence is far worse.”

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.