02Feb The leadership of this institution is in terrible disarray

NCR Editorial: The Vatican is unable to find the church’s real scandal

by NCR Editorial Staff | Feb. 1, 2013

It would be difficult to develop a script more revelatory of the confounding priorities of the Vatican than that contained in the news of recent days. Real scandal — covering up the rape of children, compromising the church’s reputation with bizarre behavior and sexual shenanigans by its priests — is met with either silence from on high or unpersuasive explanations.

Meanwhile, advocates of open discussion about church teaching on women, celibacy, contraceptives and homosexuality — advocates who have advanced questions, not scandal — are met swiftly by the long arm of the law in the form of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

What the church finds deserving of its wrath in light of what it will tolerate to preserve the clerical culture and protect bishops is increasingly inexplicable to anyone outside that culture.

The record grows more grotesque by the week:

• Cardinal Roger Mahony’s long and expensive battle to keep secret files showing how priest sex abuse cases were handled in the Los Angeles archdiocese has come to an end. The files dealing with dozens of cases have finally be released. Mahony succeeded in diverting the spotlight from the truth of the matter long enough that it will probably be impossible for the legal system to do anything about what it finds in the documents.

A separate release of internal files on 14 priests showed that the cardinal and other archdiocesan officials protected priests from prosecution, hiding at least one they knew had raped an 11-year-old boy and abused as many as 17 others.

In a 2010 memo, according to the AP, investigators had already concluded that the documents “showed ‘the possibility of criminal culpability’ by members of the archdiocese leadership, but a criminal conspiracy case was ‘more and more remote’ because of the passage of time.” One of those officials was then-Msgr. Thomas Curry. He’s now an auxiliary bishop who resigned from his official ministry Feb. 1.

The cardinal and his staff went to great lengths and enormous expense to hide the truth from civil authorities and the Catholic community. The cardinal would try to convince us that we should judge him on what he didn’t know rather than what is becoming clear he did know.

And on these matters? Silence from the doctrinal congregation and the rest of the hierarchy. The secretive, all-male clerical club would have it no other way.

• In Bridgeport, Conn., the former pastor of St. Augustine Cathedral, Msgr. Kevin Wallin, 61, was arrested recently for possession with intent to distribute and distribution of methamphetamines. The indictment claims that Wallin made up to $9,000 a week peddling the highly addictive stimulant.

Wallin resigned as pastor in summer 2011 and was relieved of his priestly duties by William Lori, then bishop of Bridgeport. Church officials say they learned, after suspending Wallin, that he sometimes dressed in women’s clothing, entertained other men similarly dressed, and that the rectory was the setting for sexual activity among them. Reports say that Wallin has since purchased a store in North Haven that sells sex toys and X-rated DVDs. Wallin was once secretary to then-Bishop Edward Egan, with whom he regularly socialized, and later Lori appointed him to the high-profile position of pastor of the cathedral. Egan went on to be cardinal archbishop of New York before he retired. Lori is currently archbishop of Baltimore.

Once again, we are asked to believe the inexplicable — that within the gossipy culture of Catholic clergy neither of these men was aware of Wallin’s proclivities until his activities became so public they were impossible to ignore. Wallin was but one of the latest in a string of clerical disasters in Bridgeport ranging from sex abuse to theft by priests who used money to finance lavish lifestyles.

The response from higher-ups to the ineptitude in appointments and management? Promotions to higher posts.

• The most egregious and glaring example of a lack of accountability among the hierarchy is Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. Finn was convicted last year of one count of failing to report suspected child abuse after neglecting for months to notify civil authorities that pornographic photographs of children taken by one of his priests had been found on the priest’s computer.

Add to the criminal conviction the fact that Finn violated, in several ways, church law established by the U.S. bishops, and the result would seem inevitable — removal from his position running a diocese. But he remains a bishop in good standing, even though under court-ordered restrictions and supervision in two jurisdictions imposed as part of bargains designed to keep him out of jail.

• Cardinals Bernard Law, Anthony Bevilacqua and Justin Rigali did inestimable damage to the churches in Boston and Philadelphia with their incompetent and, in some instances, criminal handling of the sex abuse crisis. Everyone knows it. The record is beyond abundant. And the silence from the doctrinal congregation is deafening. To make matters worse, bishops who decide not to implement child safety programs or participate in safety audits, as mandated by the U.S. bishops’ conference since 2002 and confirmed by the Vatican in 2006, face no consequences.

The protectors of doctrine have been too busy to notice, perhaps. Too busy investigating sisters and elevating the illegal thoughts of priests like Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois and Irish Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery to capital offenses. These sisters and priests have lived long lives of exemplary service, lives that have brought them to a point where certain questions are inescapable. What about women? Can we rethink contraceptives? Should the gift of celibacy be mandatory? Is the church right about homosexuality?

Irreparably damage the church by hiding criminal activity against our children, and no one will disturb you. You might even get promoted.

Ask questions that are on the minds of Catholics around the world? That’ll get you marginalized, even banished.

The script’s conclusion is inescapable: The leadership of this institution is in terrible disarray.

10 Responses

  1. Kevin

    “Irreparably damage the church by hiding criminal activity against our children, and no one will disturb you. You might even get promoted.

    Ask questions that are on the minds of Catholics around the world? That’ll get you marginalized, even banished.”

    And we are supposed to take it on face value that they are guided in all things by the Holy Spirit.

    Can’t imagine two more powerful reasons for the rest of us having a voice in the ‘discernment’ process.

    Might not be printed. But this sounds to me like sinning against the Holy Spirit – ‘the sin unpardonable’.

    I like to see that all victims of these grotesque abuses of power are being acknowledged together.

  2. Con Carroll

    Cardinal Sean Brady goes to conference in Gregorian University. A prayer of contrition of service at memorial for survivors. Slap on the wrist. No PSNI investigation. No high court proceedings. Still holds onto his title your emmience
    Bernard Law, Boston: shipped out of America. Given security in the Vatican. Financial wage packet and parish to look after.

    Women who are survivors of the Magdalene laundries. incarcarated into hell holes in the care of religious orders. for being women, single parents. forced to hand over their babies. to Church/ state institutions. denounced from the parish pulpits of Ireland. as way word girls their experiences slave labour physical violence. sexual abuse. humiliated betrayed made to feel ashamed
    The Irish political establishment or Church. through their denials of injustice. could not silence these women.
    these women were not going to be humiliated by male clerics. those in political power though, hoped that these women would go away. not to embarass Catholic Ireland
    we have to stand and bow to these women. in Ireland. America. England. dignified manner in which they demanded justice. with their sons, and daughters
    the Independent Commission. chaired by Dr. Martin Mc Alesse. husband of ex president. he is also ex elected senator will present to the Irish minister for justice. and cabinet members the commission proceedings and deliberations. Tuesday 5 February 2013
    a injury to one is a injury to all. http://www.magdalenelaundries.com

  3. ger gleeson

    “The leadership of this institution is in terrible disarray”. The leadership of this institution is non-existent.

  4. Colm Holmes

    The leadership of this institution is unrepresentative, unaccountable and not transparent. It is time to drive these power hungry old men out of the temple. We need a new system of governance. When is the Assembly of the church in Ireland due to take place?

  5. Raymond Hickey Bordine

    Am writing today from America, ‘land of the free and home of the brave’. It will be only a short time before Cardinal Mahony quickly follows in the footsteps of Cardinal Law and runs off to the Vatican for protection from American law. The timid slap on the wrist that Mahony received from Gomez acting as an agent of the RCC will do nothing to satisfy the call for justice by Americans. We expect and demand that the RCC act in a Christian manner regarding the intolerable abuse of so many of our ‘little ones’ and the consequent cover-up of these criminal acts.
    These atrocious and morally horrifying acts demand a just punishment. “No longer able to act in an administrative manner in the Diocese” is a laughable response to these crimes committed by Mahony and Curry. When one considers the consequences of the moral failures of these men: the suicides, the mangled lives, the personal destruction of Christian faith, the laceration of self image and dignity of the victims and the Catholic community are all concomitant results of these vicious and barbaric criminals who parade around as “Princes of the Church”.
    In my view and that of many American Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the just consequence for these vicious crimes should be a long term in a federal penitentiary. Maybe then, these perpetrators would not be considered ‘priests in good standing’! Anything less than that is a blasphemy and insult to the community of Jesus, the Christ. Christian forgiveness does not imply zero repercussions for the evil committed and the destruction caused. There is penance to be done to insure restitution and reformation. That is true not only for these individuals but also for the institution. Clericalism is the source of this evil and must be eradicated so that this church might become the model of community envisioned by its founder.

  6. Elizabeth

    when I was a child I often heard ‘Roman Catholic Church’ and just thought it was the long form of Catholic Church. Recently I discovered that the Catholic Church split in 1054 and they the Orthodox Catholic Church see themselves now as the real Church.

    The Orthodox Church allows priests to marry, doesn’t accept the Pope as the head of the Church, thinks that priests should work for a living rather than accepting alms. All of these things are good and the lack of them has contributed to the downfall of the Roman Church that we are seeing now.

    I have a question. What is the difference between being Roman Catholic and being Christian?

    If anyone can tell me I would be grateful.

  7. Raymond Hickey Bordine

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for asking such a thoughtful question. I think it is one that every Roman Catholic should be asking. Back in the day, the standard answer would have been that ‘Roman Catholic’ is a denomination within the Christian tradition. Now we are realizing much more.

    Maybe some examples will help to clarify the differences. If an individual’s primary spiritual concern is about helping the poor and the distressed, that person is Christian. If one’s primary spiritual concern is about doctrine and dogma, that person is a Roman Catholic. If one is all inclusive in the acceptance of individuals, that person is Christian. Roman Catholics are more elitist and exclusive: women, members of the LGBT community, the divorced and remarried, married priests, etc. are not welcomed into the fold. Christians encompass broad forms of belief and believers. Roman Catholics are rigid and unbending in what must be affirmed if one is to join and remain a member. Christians declare the preferential option for the poor. Catholics are drawn to power, material riches, and status.

    Each of us needs to do our own research in answering your question. Be careful to consider non-Catholic as well as Catholic scholars when searching. Frequently the research is quite different. Over the centuries, the RCC has put into the mouth of Jesus words and ideas that he never had. I would recommend the book “Honest to Jesus” by Robert Funk, one of the world-class Biblical scholars from the global Jesus Seminar group. You will learn there, among other things, that the vast majority of what is recorded as sayings and words from Jesus cannot be validated as historically accurate. The Roman Catholic monks and transcribers of the scriptures have a history of adding and deleting passages to suit their purposes.

    For the vast majority of my long life, I called myself a Catholic. Now that the recent developments of the past 75 years and long before have inspired and motivated me to do my own homework, I no longer identify with that name. I will answer to the name “Christian” but not to the name “Catholic”.
    God bless you, Elizabeth, on your personal quest. It is a most interesting, liberating and fascinating journey which will bring you much closer to Jesus, the Christ. As the brilliant Benedictine nun, Sr. Joan Chittister, always writes, “Don’t confuse the person of Jesus Christ with the Roman Catholic Church. They are often quite distinct and different.”

    If Christianity is your objective, Jesus Christ is your main man, not some Pope.

  8. Andrew

    Raymond, while I applaud your personal pilgrimage of faith leading you to a more personal relationship with Jesus; I find your many comments and assumptions about aspects of life and faith within the Catholic Church to be simplistic, naiave, incorrect and a very good example of ‘born-again programming’. It smacks of being disingenuous to those of us who, while acknowledging the frailty of any institution, wish to remain within its membership and seek reform from within as opposed to abandoning it and in ignorance of even a basic historical, ecclesiological, scriptural and theological basis, be such an agent of misinformation.

  9. Mary O Vallely

    Been reflecting a lot on “lay spouting” as Eddie Finnegan calls it. Actually I love Eddie’s spouting. There is much wisdom and great wit in it. “No back doors” with the man, a typical northerner but he does have a point. It is perfectly normal to give vent to feelings of anger and frustration, perfectly right and noble to sign petitions and protest outside Papal Nunciatures etc; but does it do any good except give the spouter, the signer and the protester a feeling of well-being (and a rosy complexion in those who protested in the biting winds)? Is it efficacious in any way? At this moment in time there are 1979 signatures on the Avaaz petition and no names will be seen by those who eventually receive it so is it doing any good? Fair dues to Brendan Butler for starting it, all the same.
    I recommend you all read Brian Lennon’s wonderful book, “Can I stay in the Catholic Church?” (Columba Press) He points out that Canon 129 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law forbids lay people to exercise the “power of governance” in the church. This wasn’t always the case. It could be changed, couldn’t it? It’s a goal, something you theological and legal brains could focus on. (I’m still digging my way very, very slowly out of the lower basement of ignorance)
    Having been away from the forum for a few days and trying to catch up on all the comments it strikes me that there is a great deal of anger and frustration here.Understandable. We’d be a totally moribund lot if we were not raging against the injustices we see in our brethren but we should be focusing on what we CAN change, shouldn’t we?

    P.S. Hope someone answers your question, Elizabeth.

  10. Raymond Hickey Bordine

    Andrew (@8), the Society of Jesus [the Jesuits] and I would certainly take exception to your accusation that ‘in ignorance of even a basic historical, ecclesiological, scriptural and theological basis” I have made assumptions that are “simplistic, naive, and incorrect”. After ten years of Jesuit education and a university graduate degree based in all of those fields of academic study that you referenced, that is quite an indictment of Catholic Jesuit education.
    No, to the contrary, I am grateful to the Jesuits for teaching me how to think for myself, how to do independent research, and how to analyze and separate personal opinion from factual information.
    My ‘personal pilgrimage of faith leading to a closer relationship with Jesus’ is an accurate statement and one that I without reservation recommend to all Christians.
    I believe it was Augustine who said that an unquestioned faith is no faith at all. He was reinforcing what Plato taught when he said to believe what is truth not just what is established and passed on by ancestors.


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