Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

A Discussion on Faith and Culture

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Francis the Fixer

March 7th, 2014 · 23 Comments

This is from CM:

Pope Francis was visited by George Weigel last week, so it is no surpise that his statements yesterday on the abuse crisis mimick Weigel’s ideological views of the crisis: holiness is what was lacking; abuse is greater among the laity; we are getting blamed unjustly for a common problem; Benedict was at the forefront of the reform.
You, Leon, and so many other reformers have rebutted these false notions with hard facts, which continue to get pushed under the tide of high rhetoric.
Yes, there are slightly more pedophiles among laity than priests but pederasty (abuse of adolescent boys) by priests, which is the main problem, has been at a rate Sipe proved to be between 9% and up to 40% in some urban settings.

Sadly, Pope Benedict only acted under pressure, and after years of knowing the truth, and allowing, for example, Maciel to continue to abuse. I believe his brave stepping aside was in recognition of his failure and the moral impossibility of his leading any reform. It is example all must follow who betrayed children. It will be Francis’ fate if he does not act decisively.

Yes, holiness was lacking. But the kind of “holiness” which insists on couping men up together for years in seminary, without possibility of marriage, leads to situational homophilia with lifelong tendencies to be attracted to boys, if ex-Legionnaires’ accounts can be believed.

The Church has not been singled out. With over 4,000 creditable accused pederast priests in the US alone, the enormity of the diabolical infestation is almost unimaginable. In addition, known pederast cardinals and bishops remain in power, and are well known by the pope. His failure to remove them is aiding and abetting their continued abuse of children. If he thinks telling them to stop is sufficient, he should consult his chief demonologists.

The Pope struggles to appoint his abuse commission because, I believe, he realizes the clerical experts who now claim to be architects of reform were themselves minions in the original cover-up.

The crisis is far from over. Sick priests are still permitted to remain priests under insufficent supervision. Child protection measures being foisted on bishops conferences worldwide are a smoke screen to avoid addressing this horror.

True experts need to be consulted if the pope has any chance of coming out of the brainwashing that has deeply affected Church leadership on the topic. Leaders such as you, Leon, and Richard Sipe, and Jason Barry. The Pope should hold a private summit with reformer experts to educate himself first, including the real anatomy of the ring of abusers and abettors that exists under his nose, and continue to advise him.

Most importantly, he must establish a truth and justice commission, trying in court any bishop who moved priests around and through whose actions children continued and continue to be molested.

The Pope bemoans the lack of generative bishops. No honest priest will step forward to be bishop to support the continued practices they know will burden them with living a lie. There is no generativity possible without placing the protection of children before everything else. If that means most of the bishops in the Church must step down, then so be it. God will raise up 7000 more. The Church was reduced to a handful of clerics during times of heresy. This is the heresies of gnosticism, Jansenism and angelism writ large. Cleansing the house of the Lord must be complete now, or the enemies of the Church will do it later with violence. I believe the persecution of Christians has so increased because of contempt issuing from a crisis clearly not addressed.

The Pope must learn what he does not know. If not, his papacy will be for naught.

Weigel has not uttered the three words that, I am told, women love to hear: I was wrong.

Benedict did more than any pope in centuries to deal with abuse, but it was not enough.

Francis is a fixer. Whenever a parish or diocese experience a disaster, a fixer is sent in, as O’Malley was to Boston. Francis is the papal fixer. He is changing the subject from sexual abuse by his charm, hominess, and willingness to let people indulge their minor vices without a censoring voice from the clergy.

A fixer differs from a reformer in that a fixer does not address the roots; he is not radical. He merely papers over the problem, merely puts a poultice on the cancer.

Karadima is a terribly abusive priest in Chile. The archbishop of Santiago told him to stop saying mass in Public. Karadima ignored the order, and photos of him saying mass were tweeted to tens of thousands of people.

A prominent Chilean priest who was ordered by the Vatican to never again celebrate a public Mass as punishment for sexually abusing altar boys has been photographed apparently defying the order.

Chile’s top church leaders confirmed the Rev. Fernando Karadima’s act of insubordination Friday and sent the case to the Vatican for investigation. The photos were taken Dec. 4, but they were only released this week by Juan Carlos Cruz, a journalist and one of Karadima’s victims.

“It’s a very painful situation that shows that this priest continues to do as he pleases,” Cruz told The Associated Press. “It’s a slap in the face for the victims of his abuse. He should be in jail but instead he’s still being protected by the church.”

The Roman Catholic Church retains a firm grip on Chilean society, although in recent years its influence has waned after scandals in which priests have been accused of molesting children. Victims say Karadima began abusing them at his residence at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Santiago about 20 years ago, when they were between 14 and 17 years old.

The Vatican sanctioned Karadima by ordering him to a life of “penitence and prayer” in 2011. He was also barred from celebrating Mass in public, from hearing confessions or offering spiritual direction and from having contact with his ex-parishioners. A Chilean judge later dismissed a criminal case because the statute of limitations had expired, but she determined the abuse allegations were truthful.

The timing of the photos’ release appeared aimed at embarrassing both the current and former archbishops of Santiago, who were in Rome for Saturday’s ceremony to name current Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello a cardinal.

The victims in Chile say the retired archbishop, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, failed to act on accusations that they were abused by Karadima, who was long one of the country’s most popular priests. They say the cardinal declined to even meet them.

Pope Francis’s response: he made Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello a cardinal. This sends a clear message. The Vatican does not care how a bishop handles sexual abuse cases.

Francis has not appointed the sexual abuse commission he promised. I will be flabbergasted if he appoints anyone like Tom Doyle or Richard Sipe, someone who knows the problem from the inside. The Voice of the Faithful here in Naples asked me to go to Boston to speak to O’Malley about Southwest Florida’s being a dumping ground for abusive priests (El Paso has a similar problem). I had to inform them that the mere mention of my name had reduced a cardinal to screaming fits (I guess I should be flattered). I was blackballed by my pastor from the Knights of Malta because I criticized bishops.

The caliber of members of review boards has declined, because bishops want only those who will say that everything is OK, that a bishop never makes a mistake.

The Roman Catholic Church claims that outside the church there is no salvation and that apostasy leads to eternal damnation. It encourages its members to confide their deepest secrets and inmost sins to a priest. It therefore has a far stronger obligation than any other organization or church to ensure that its clergy are of sterling character. After Augustine approved of the civil measures to force Donatists to become Catholics, he also insisted that Catholic clergy give the highest example of probity and that corrupt priests be disciplined and removed from the clergy.

But little or nothing will be done unless there is a crisis as serious as the Reformation, and even then reform was only partly implemented. Bishops have allowed priests with criminal convictions for abuse to serve in ministry, and are still trying to hide abusers. The Vatican deeply does not care. Only external pressure will force the hierarchy to act, and then they will act only grudgingly and minimally. Francis will canonize John Paul II, who refused to act on abuse and who called the psychopathic incestuous child molester Maciel “an efficacious guide to youth.” Bishops will notice that tolerating child molestation does not prevent canonization, so it can’t be all that serious a matter.

→ 23 CommentsTags: Pope Francis · clergy sex abuse scandal

The Bishop and The Heiress

March 4th, 2014 · 7 Comments

As a harmless amusement, to distract my thoughts from the perennially depressing revelations about sexual abuse and corruption in the Church, I took up working out the genealogy of my family. Some pleasant surprises on my side: a staunch Confederate, and a soldier who was on the muster rolls at Valley Forge. Also indirect relationship, but real and traceable, to Lady Beatrice Weasel, King Alfred, and best of all, Lady Godiva.

My wife’s family had some very successful industrialists, such as the great-grandfather who invented the open hearth process for making steel and built blast furnaces all over the world, naming many of them (to the puzzlement of historians) after his daughter Lucy, a woman of forceful personality. Others were classic American stories: from ticket agent to president of the New York Central Railroad, from cabin boy to owner of a steamship line. Another ancestor was James Caldwell, an English actor who came to the United States in the early nineteenth century. He played Romeo in the theater in Fredericksburg, Virginia; during the death scene the widow Wormeley sighed and fainted. One thing led to another, and over the opposition of all her relatives, she married him, producing a son, William Shakespeare Caldwell. Having dipped his toe into the gene pool of the First Families of Virginia, James Caldwell returned to the theater in New Orleans where awaited his mistress, a Jewish actress by the name of Margaret Abrams. My wife (to the consternation of her mother) is descended from that activity on the wrong side of the sheets. So far, so good. Hot stuff. Caldwell made a fortune lighting first his theater and then the cities of New Orleans, Mobile, Memphis, and Cincinnati with gas.

Shake Caldwell (as William Shakespeare was known), went to the University of Virginia, and married another FFV maiden, producing two daughters, Mary Gwendolin and Mary Eliza (these are my wife’s first cousins, three times removed). The Caldwells, I gather, may have been from a Catholic (if somewhat sexually irregular) background, because he and his wife prayed to Mary for children, which is why they were both named Mary. The mother died; the father, although he had already established the Little Sisters of the Poor in Richmond, postponed becoming a Catholic until just before his death, when he was baptized. He left the daughters in the care of Irish Catholics he had met in New York. They turned over the care of the daughters to the thirty-two-year-old Father John Spalding, nephew of Archbishop Martin Spalding of Baltimore. Mary Gwendolin was eleven and Mary Eliza nine. John Spalding was chaplain at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattanville, and took over their education, travelling with Mary Gwendolin to such an extent that it caused gossip. He became trustee of their estate.

John Lancaster Spalding  (1840-1916)

Mary Gwendolin Caldwell, Marquise des Monstiers-Mérinville

At the age of twenty-one, Mary Gwendolin, under the guidance of now-Bishop Spalding of Peoria, purchased the land in Washington D. C. for the Catholic University of America and gave money for the erection of Caldwell Hall. She was honored by Pope Leo XIII for her generosity and received the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame in 1899. Mary Gwendolin’s wealth attracted the attention of Joachim Napoleon Murat, the heavily-indebted grandson of the King of Naples; he wanted half her wealth as her dowry, so he could pay off his gambling debts. She said no dice. Instead she married a French marquis, Bishop Spalding presiding. It did not work out; they separated, and she pensioned the Marquise off so he wouldn’t divorce her, which would cause her to lose her title, Marchioness des Monstiers-Mérinville.

Caldwell Hall, Catholic University

Her sister Mary Eliza gave the money for Caldwell chapel. In it, with Bishop Spalding presiding, she married a German baron who was killed when Kaiser William’s yacht ran into his yacht during a regatta, leaving her the Baroness von Zedtwitz, with a four-month-old boy who became the bridge champion of the world. Spalding became the boy’s guardian.

Mary Gwendolin then became ill, and in 1901 revealed a dark secret to her sister: that she had been sexually involved with Spalding for twenty years, that is, it started she was nineteen. There were scenes. He was up to be made Archbishop of Chicago, but the Vatican investigated and instead made him retire at age sixty-eight. In 1904 both sisters publicly renounced Catholicism, although not directly accusing Spalding. Privately Mary Elizabeth called Spalding “a whited sepulcher,” “a liar,” a “sensual hypocrite,” of “a private life of iniquity and license” and “a very atheist and infidel.” She offered to come to Rome with witnesses to testify against Spalding, whom she had known “intimately” (her emphasis). Both sisters were denounced by Catholics as sick, crazy, spoiled rich girls who threw tantrums and made wild accusations when life didn’t turn out the way they wanted.

In her own defense, Mary Elizabeth, under her title of Baroness von Zedtwitz, wrote a short book, The Double Doctrine of the Church of Rome. She condemned the Jesuits, the doctrine of probabilism, equivocation, and the sexual failings of a supposedly celibate clergy.

In the 1950s, while he was writing a dissertation under the guidance of the John Tracy Ellis, the Franciscan priest David Sweeney discovered these allegations about John Spalding. Ellis did not believe the allegations, so they were simply suppressed, and the dissertation became the standard biography, The Life of John Lancaster Spalding. Andrew Greeley later claimed Sweeney and Ellis suppressed incriminating evidence.  C. Walker Gollar, the great great nephew of Bishop John Spalding, in 1995 published an article in the Catholic Historical Review, “The Double Doctrine of the Caldwell Sisters,” defending Spalding, implying that illness and disappointment had driven the sisters mad. Poor Spaulding had his career ruined, absolutely ruined by these crazy, hysterical women – mere women. Gollar in a later article examined Ellis’s decision to suppress what Gollar thinks are false charges against Spalding.


· Neither the interviews the sisters gave nor the book (available online) sound irrational.

· It is hard to explain their bitterness unless something terrible had happened to them or they had discovered something terrible. The sisters were not naïve; they were women of the world, and would not have been scandalized by rumors that a priest in a Roman suburb might have a mistress. Mary Gwendolin could not have publicly accused Spalding, without also ruining herself.

· When Mary Elizabeth threatened to make the abuse public if Spalding were appointed archbishop of Chicago, Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco wrote to Denis O’Connell, the Rector of the Catholic University: “You must advise the B[aroness] for the sake of her family and especially for the sake of her child to say no more about it to anyone. He [Spalding] has no chance for the promotion.”

· Archbishop Riordan looked into the charges and wrote to Rome “I had hoped he was innocent but I am now satisfied he is guilty.” Riordan later changed his mind for unspecified reasons.

· Bishop Frederick C. Rooker of the Philippines in 1904 wrote a letter in which he called Spalding “a brazen villain.”

· Enough officials in the Vatican believed the charges to block Spalding’s promotion. This at least shows that Spalding’s behavior was not considered either common or acceptable. But the hierarchy’s sole concern was to prevent scandal, which they interpreted to mean damage to the reputation of the clergy. They showed no concern for the tragedies and possible betrayal the Caldwell sisters had experienced.

· The tendency of historians and journalists and church officials to protect powerful men at the expense of the women they have injured also fits a general pattern.

· Spalding’s defenders (mostly the Spalding family) claim that Mary Gwendolin was mad at him because she wanted an annulment and he wouldn’t arrange it; but she had pensioned off the Marquis so he wouldn’t divorce her.

· Spalding lied about never being a trustee but documents show he was appointed by the court.

· Even if the sexual relationship began when Mary Gwendolin was an adult, it was abusive, adulterous, and quasi-incestuous, as Spalding functioned as her guardian and father. It was not an “affair,” as some historians have called it. Moreover, abuse victims usually cannot admit the worst, so the abuse may well have started when she was a child.

· The relationship of Mary Gwendolin and Spalding fits the classic pattern of Stockholm syndrome. The perpetrator keeps the victim psychologically off-balance by sudden changes from kindness to abuse. The victim feels that the only hope for safety is pleasing the perpetrator. If the victim is fortunate, she or he may suddenly snap out of the trance and realize that she or he has been induced to live in fantasy-nightmare world that the perpetrator has created.

If the allegations of the sisters are true, and the great preponderance of the evidence points in that direction, the Catholic University of America was founded by Spalding, who was, according to the sisters, a sexual abuser and an atheist, with the money of the woman he had abused.

Mary Gwendolin died at forty-five and Mary Elizabeth at forty-four. The Caldwell sisters were buried in a secular cemetery, not in their father’s grave in the Catholic cemetery in Louisville. On their monument stands the inscription: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

→ 7 CommentsTags: Celibacy · clergy sex abuse scandal


March 4th, 2014 · 3 Comments

Sorry for the hiatus - a hand injury limited my typing.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

The German Bishops and Divorce

December 2nd, 2013 · 5 Comments

Pope Benedict’s contra Germanos

The German Bishops have decided to put into effect a policy that Cardinal Gerhard Müller of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not like.

From what I understand, the Germans bishops will allow Catholics who have divorced and remarried to receive communion without an declaration of nullity of the previous marriage. They will allow this if the Catholic is convinced that the previous marriage was in fact invalid, but its invalidity cannot be proved in a canonical court.

This could happen because the previous spouse has disappeared, or refuses to cooperate, or the process of a trial would be too emotionally painful.

Müller says allowing remarried Catholics to receive communion without a declaration of nullity would cause confusion. He is certainly right in that.

If a person leaves his spouse, and then tries to take another spouse, he commits adultery, according to the words of Jesus. But if the first union was not a true marriage, then the following marriage is a true marriage, and is not adulterous.

The Church, for good reasons, has added the requirement that an objective, outside judge examine the circumstances, on the principal that nemo judex in causa sua – no one should judge his own case.

But this legal principal has to take second place to the good of souls, and a person may be truly convinced that the previous marriage was no marriage at all, but is unable to prove it in a church court. Should he be denied the sacraments?

On the other hand, would allowing each person to decide in effect make the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage a dead letter?

I suspect that with much waffling and obscuring of issues Francis will allow the German bishops to do what they have decided to do (and in fact are doing already), all the while claiming that nothing has changed.

Hans “King” Kung has put his two cents in - which is more than his opinion is worth..

→ 5 CommentsTags: Germany · Pope Benedict · Pope Francis

Fat Pope, Thin Pope

December 2nd, 2013 · 8 Comments

The Romans have a saying, after a fat pope, a thin pope. That is, the cardinals will choose someone with a distinctly different approach to the papacy. After John Paul II Rock Star and World Traveler, they chose Benedict, a scholar and musician and stay-at-home. After the doctrinally-oriented and liturgically-conservative Benedict, Francis, a populist (who did not complete his academic studies).

Francis may inspire some people to take another look at the Church. He wants Catholics to evangelize – but to evangelize to what? He has a firm grasp on the Catholic faith both in doctrine and practice, but how many lay Catholics do? Many progressive Catholics want to change the Roman Catholic Church into a clone of the Episcopal Church (with worse music). But how successful has the Episcopal Church been at evangelizing?

The big danger is that Francis may awaken movements he cannot satisfy – for women priests and gay marriage especially. Revolutions are caused not by repression but by disappointed rising expectations. He may inadvertently precipitate the schism that has been brewing since Vatican II.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Pope Francis

One-handed Economists

December 1st, 2013 · 5 Comments

I think it was Harry Truman who said that he wanted a one-handed economist. When asked why, he said, economists were always saying in response to a policy question, “On one hand… on the other hand….” In economics, there are always trade-offs.

In the burst of enthusiasm among “progressive” Catholics that Pope Francis’s criticism of the current economic system, what is often forgotten is that good intentions do not produce good results. Extreme poverty has been decreasing throughout the world at an astonish rate, largely because of policies that allow poor nation to develop trade and bring more people into the market economy.

What this means is that workers in developed countries have felt downward pressure on their incomes. The good factory jobs have disappeared in the US. They have gone overseas where they allow millions to escape destitution and starvation. But profits have not declined. Although the American market may have lost comparative income, the incomes less-developed countries have expanded to produce far more customers for international companies. Inequality may be increasing not because poverty is increasing but because the people at the top have so many more customers. A movie star who has only American fans may be wealthy, but one who has fans all over the world is super-wealthy. But is this really unjust?

Unions gain a comparative advantage in wages for their members by restricting the labor market. They usually kept women and blacks out, and tariffs kept out foreign competition. But American workers now have to compete with workers in India, and the internal labor force has expanded with the addition of women and minorities. Some win, some lose, but overall poverty has been reduced.

Immigration also is a difficult issue. Immigrants put some downward pressure on American wages – how much is hotly contested. The fact that the Wall Street Journal supports open immigration should make one suspicious whether the ordinary workers will benefit from it. Companies would, especially tech companies who can bring in foreign tech workers who will work for less than Americans – who still make pretty good six figure incomes. Is it just to raise wages by limiting competition?

Immigration may also hurt poorer countries, as the most ambitious and educated leave for the U.S. Paul Collier raises the question in his NYT article Migration Hurts the Homeland. It is true that immigrants to the US can send home remittances and also bring home ideas about democracy and justice, but open immigration to the US can be harmful to poor countries.

There is migration that helps poor countries:

Migration is good for poor countries, but not in every form, and not in unlimited amounts. The migration that research shows is unambiguously beneficial is the kind in which young people travel to democracies like America for higher education and then go home. Not only do these young people bring back valuable skills directly learned in the classroom; they bring back political and social attitudes that they have assimilated from their classmates. Their skills raise the productivity of the unskilled majority, and their attitudes accelerate democratization.

And there is migration that can hurt poor countries:

But many poor countries have too much emigration. I do not mean that they would be better with none, but they would be better with less. The big winners from the emigration of the educated have been China and India. Because each has over a billion people, proportionately few people leave.

In contrast, small developing countries have high emigration rates, even if their economies are doing well: Ghana, for instance, has a rate of skilled emigration 12 times that of China. If, in addition, their economies are in trouble, they suffer an educational hemorrhage. The top rankings for skilled emigration are a roll call of the bottom billion. Haiti loses around 85 percent of its educated youth, a rate that is debilitating. Emigrants send money back, but it is palliative rather than transformative.

Even allowing refugees to come and stay in the US can hurt a poor country:

Seemingly the most incontestable case for a wider door is to provide a refuge for those fleeing societies in meltdown. The high-income democracies should indeed provide such a refuge, and this means letting more people in. But the right to refuge need not imply the right to residency. The people best equipped to flee from societies in meltdown are their elites: The truly poor cannot get farther than a camp over the border. Post-meltdown, the elites are needed back home. Yet if they have acquired permanent residence they are reluctant to return.

The type of people who come to the US may help us, but their own countries need them more:

Bright, young, enterprising people are catalysts of economic and political progress. They are like fairy godmothers, providing benefits, whether intended or inadvertent, to the rest of a society. Shifting more of the fairy godmothers from the poorest countries to the richest can be cast in various lights. It appeals to business as a cheap supply of talent. It appeals to economists as efficient, since the godmothers are indeed more productive in the rich world than the poor. (Unsurprisingly, our abundance of capital and skills raises their productivity.) It appeals to libertarians as freeing human choice from the deadening weight of bureaucratic control.

If we allowed open immigration, we might be helping individuals

but we might be feeding a vicious circle, in which home gets worse precisely because the fairy godmothers leave. Humanitarians become caught up trying to help individuals, and therefore miss the larger implications: There are poor people, and there are poor societies. An open door for the talented would help Facebook’s bottom line, but not the bottom billion.

Pope Francis and the American bishops seem unaware of the trade-offs in real-world situations. They want one-handed economists, but alas, real-world choices have unintended side effects. Helping “the poor” is not a simple matter, and good intentions do not guarantee good results.

→ 5 CommentsTags: Economics

The Cons of Decentralization

November 29th, 2013 · 4 Comments

Pope Francis has called for a decentralization of the Church. But that is no cure for many of its problems, especially of serious ones like sexual abuse. The Anglican Church as a decentralized structure which makes it difficult to act, at least according to Archbishop Aspinall, the Anglican Primate of Australia.

Like Catholic Cardinal, George Pell, Primate Aspinall is keen to remind anyone who will listen, that he is not like a CEO of his church, in that he has no power over his apparent underlings. Aspinall has so little power, that he has called on the commission to recommend that the government pass laws to force his church to be more humane towards its victims, through a national compensation system.

“I think, in terms of the Anglican Church, it would be much quicker and simpler for us if that were imposed on us from outside. And then dioceses wouldn’t fall into the trap that Grafton did in terms of focusing on financial matters to the detriment of victims. They would simply be given a determination by a statutory body and required to find the money,” Aspinall said.

He felt that it would be essentially impossible for the Anglican Church to set up such a fund, because it would require agreement from all 23 dioceses. Agreement was unlikely, because, as he poetically put it, “Anglican politics makes federal politics look like kindergarten.” Members of the Church would “take a dim view” of having to sell property to raise cash for victim compensation and assistance.

Anglicans, with a married clergy and female bishop, can be as hard-hearted as Catholic celibate males. The clergy of both churches also same attitude to money: it is the lifeblood of the church.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Anglicans · Australia · clergy sex abuse scandal

Who Will Guard the Guardians?

November 29th, 2013 · 6 Comments

John Allen is a good reporter, but he doesn’t always ask necessary follow up questions. He interviewed Robert Oliver, who is the Vatican’s top prosecutor for sex abuse cases. They went over various questions, and concluded in this way:

Some will never accept that the church’s “zero tolerance” policy means anything until they see a bishop punished for failing to apply it. For instance, critics point to Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, who was convicted of failing to report abuse more than a year ago and still remains in office. What do you say to that criticism?

First of all, it’s important to say that whatever happened in the past, there are clear rules today for what bishops are supposed to do. We have norms that say when a bishop becomes aware of an abuse report, he has to look into it, and if it’s credible, he’s required to report it to us. He’s also supposed to report it to the civil authorities and to allow the criminal justice system to take its course.

Of course, what you’re really asking is what happens if somebody feels that a bishop hasn’t followed those rules, and I have to say it’s an underdeveloped area. For instance, there’s a question of what canon lawyers call “competence.” The code states that the metropolitan bishop is to investigate any abuses in church discipline in the suffragan dioceses and report to the Holy Father. It is not always clear, however, to somebody who wants to bring a complaint in a church court against a bishop for what you might call “negligent supervision,” what court do they bring it to? Who has the right to hear the case, and what process do you use? We often don’t really have clear answers for these people, and work in these areas needs to be done.

One point to make is that no matter what happens, there’s always going to be some local discretion. For instance, suppose a bishop gets a report of abuse and he takes it to his own review board, as well as relaying it to the civil authorities, and both come back to say there’s no evidence of a crime, so the bishop doesn’t move forward. He’s followed the process as it’s laid out, and in the end, it comes down to a local decision.

What if someone feels that decision was horribly mishandled?

Every member of the faithful always has the right by law to bring a complaint directly to the Holy Father. But that said, many people are telling us we need a better process, a better way of handling these situations.

Right now, there’s a broad conversation going on about reform of the Roman Curia, which includes taking a new look at the relationship between the Holy See and other levels of authority in the church, such as the episcopal conferences, the metropolitans, and so on. My hope is that a good response to this question [of episcopal accountability on abuse cases] will become a piece of that puzzle, because we’re well aware how important it is to many people.

Well yes, Oliver hopes that bishops can be help responsible for failures, but is in factthis being discussed? What sort of procedures would Oliver envision?

Pope Francis has talked about decentralizing church administration. There is no way the Pope can exercise effective supervision (episcope) over the thousands of bishops in the world, and in fact the popes have failed to discipline bishops. But decentralization may not work, unless bishops are willing to discipline other bishops, in something like a synodal structure. I do not know why the revival of the synodal structure is not being considered. It would make the Latin Church more like the Eastern Churches. However, synods can fail too. Bishops who have failures of their own may be reluctant to discipline other bishops for similar failings.

→ 6 CommentsTags: Vatican · clergy sex abuse scandal

The Vatican and a Sicilian Fraternal Organization

November 14th, 2013 · 9 Comments

While I was researching my book on sexual abuse in the Church, I saw many indications that the abuse was intertwined with organized crime: drug dealing, prostitution of male teenagers, and money laundering.

Decades ago I read in Time magazine of a monastery in southern Italy which had been completely taken over by the Mafia. Mafia members had joined quietly and eventually expelled all the legitimate religious. The monastery became a center for cigarette smuggling. The Vatican Bank has a profitable sideline in money laundering, and Pope Francis wants it to stop.

An assistant prosecutor for the province of Reggio Calabria has warned that Pope Francis is becoming the target of Mafia ire, according to RNS, the Guardian, and other papers.

Nicola Gratteri, 55, a state prosecutor in the southern Italian region of Calabria, where the ‘Ndrangheta is most active, said the pope’s effort to reform the church is making the ‘Ndrangheta “very nervous.”

The Vatican bank has been very useful in money laundering. Gratteri explains:

“Those who have up until now profited from the influence and wealth drawn from the church are getting very nervous,” he added. “For many years, the mafia has laundered money and made investments with the complicity of the church. But now the pope is dismantling the poles of economic power in the Vatican, and that is dangerous.”

When prosecutors asked the Orthodox Jews of Murder Incorporated how they could reconcile killing and the Torah, the mobsters explained that business is business. The Italians have a similar attitude:

Gratteri said mobsters did not consider themselves wrongdoers, and used the example of a mafioso putting pressure on a business owner to pay protection money, first by shooting up his premises, then by kneecapping him. “If the person still refuses, the mobster is ‘forced’ to kill him. If you have no choice, you are not committing a sin.”

The mobsters are uniformly pious (superstitious?)

“A gunman from the ‘Ndrangheta will pray and kiss his rosary before shooting someone,” said Gratteri.

Prelates cultivate their devout criminal contacts:

Gratteri attacked priests and bishops in southern Italy who legitimise mobsters. “Priests continuously visit the houses of bosses for coffee, which gives the bosses strength and popular legitimacy,” he said.

The Bank of Italy estimates the criminal activity (drug dealing, extortion, illegal disposal of toxic chemicals, corrupt public contracts) accounts for 10% of the Italian Gross Domestic Product. The criminal organizations have taken their profits and invested them in legitimate businesses, and therefore control perhaps 25% of the Italian economy.

Francis has a nice papacy; it would be a shame if anything happened to it. I am sure many Italians bishops are trying to explain this to the Argentine. Another papal election would be very inconvenient.

Remember Calvi?

Add (Thanks to comments)

And the case of Emanuela Orlandi

These criminal organizations are not nice people. They specialize in extortion. If someone balks at helping them, a child may disappear. Or it may become known which priests-bishops-cardinals  have have Mafia-supplied boys in the beds at night. Corruption is like cancer. It spreads, and is often fatal.

→ 9 CommentsTags: Pope Francis · crime

Doomed to Fatness

November 12th, 2013 · 7 Comments

As everyone has noticed, the average weight of human beings is creeping up and up and up, as airline seats become smaller and smaller. America is not even in the lead. Mexico and Central Europe are putting in the avoir-du-pois faster than we are. Even worse – obesity may be contagious!

What gives?

Even more alarming, domestic and wild animals and lab rats are getting fatter. Simple gluttony and indulgence in sweets and fats may explain human gains, but what about animals, including those who do not share food with humans?

No one knows. Changes in gut bacteria are the prime suspect. These could be cause by a number of things. One possibility is the overuse of antibiotics, which as everyone who had had to take them knows, have a highly deleterious effect on our intestinal flora. Perhaps the antibiotics have gotten into the war supply, as giardia did from campers pooping in the woods.

Another possibility is that children raised on junk food have changes in the gut bacteria and metabolism that make them crave more junk food. The changed bacteria can be transferred within families and may also get into the ecosystem where they affect pets and wild animals and even lab animals (although the last are hard to explain).

If the gut bacteria of thin people differ from that of fat people, one treatment for obesity might be- yuk – stool transplants. Or a change in diet to more healthy foods might also lead to a change in gut bacteria – but as anyone who has tried to change his diet knows, it is not easy. Even educated people, even medical professionals who know what overweight is doing to their hearts, find it hard to change.

Adults should know better, but I truly saddened by obese children. They are at great risk for diabetes, and they miss out on the only time of life when almost everyone is energetic and resilient. Even if – and this is highly unlikely – they change their habits when they become adults, they still have missed out on childhood’s activities. Even if they can do it, most forty year olds don’t enjoy skipping rope or climbing trees.

→ 7 CommentsTags: Health

The Slippery Slope in a Formerly Catholic Country

October 31st, 2013 · 26 Comments

Any resemblance to the Nazi program of killing people whose lives were in terrible condition and suffering from illness and dementia is purely accidental.

From the National Post:

Should children have the right to ask for their own deaths?

In Belgium, where euthanasia is now legal for people over the age of 18, the government is considering extending it to children — something that no other country has done. The same bill would offer the right to die to adults with early dementia.

Advocates argue that euthanasia for children, with the consent of their parents, is necessary to give families an option in a desperately painful situation. But opponents have questioned whether children can reasonably decide to end their own lives.

Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer; it legalized the practice for adults in 2002. In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available. Doctors typically give patients a powerful sedative before injecting another drug to stop their heart.

Only a few countries have legalized euthanasia or anything approaching it. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal under specific circumstances and for children over the age of 12 with parental consent (there is an understanding that infants, too, can be euthanized, and that doctors will not be prosecuted if they act appropriately). Elsewhere in Europe, euthanasia is only legal in Luxembourg. Assisted suicide, where doctors help a patient to die but do not actively kill them, is allowed in Switzerland.

In the U.S., the state of Oregon also grants assisted suicide requests for residents aged 18 or over with a terminal illness.

In Belgium, the ruling Socialist party has proposed the bill expanding the right of euthanasia. The Christian Democratic Flemish party vowed to oppose the legislation and to challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights if it passes. A final decision must be approved by Parliament and could take months.

The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it’s motivated by compassion and protection,” said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester. “It’s unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others [children] if the need is equal.”


And Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, a pediatric oncologist at the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussels hospital, says the changes would legalize what is already happening informally. He said cases of euthanasia in children are rare and estimates about 10 to 100 cases in Belgium every year might qualify.

“Children have different ways of asking for things but they face the same questions as adults when they’re terminally sick,” van Berlaer said. “Sometimes it’s a sister who tells us her brother doesn’t want to go back to the hospital and is asking for a solution,” he said. “Today if these families find themselves (in that situation), we’re not able to help them, except in dark and questionable ways.”


The change in the law regarding people with dementia is also controversial.

People now can make a written declaration they wish to be euthanized if their health deteriorates, but the request is only valid for five years and they must be in an irreversible coma. The new proposal would abolish the time limit and the requirement the patient be in a coma, making it possible for someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s to be put to death years later in the future.

In the Netherlands, guidelines allow doctors to euthanize dementia patients on this basis if they believe the person is experiencing “unbearable suffering,” but few are done in practice.

→ 26 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

A View from Australia

October 29th, 2013 · 3 Comments

Patrick Parkinson AM, Professor of Law, University of Sydney recently gave a lecture,  CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AND THE CHURCHES: A story of moral failure? He stresses that his observations are based upon incomplete data, but that he has observed and fought sexual abuse for many years. he is an evangelical who once studied in Czechoslovakia where be observed the brutal repression of the Catholic Church and admired the courage of Catholics. He says “I regard myself as a friend of the Catholic Church” and wants it to overcome this corruption.

From the evidence he has examined it appears to him that sexual abuse is more prevalent among Catholic clergy than among the clerical and lay workers of other denominations and among the general male population:

Prof. Des Cahill identified 378 priests who graduated from a particular seminary in Melbourne and who were ordained between 1940 and 1966. Of these, 14 (3.7%) were convicted of sex offences against children and, after their deaths, another four were acknowledged to have abused children. That is, 18 priests or 4.8% of the total who were ordained between those years, sexually abused children. Taking a later cohort of seminarians, the 74 priests who were ordained between 1968 and 1971 from that seminary, 4 (5.4%) had been convicted of sex offences against children.

In fact, I think it is higher. In the United States I think that between 7% and 10% of Catholic clergy have been sexually involved with minors. But even the lower percentages that Parkinson cites are alarming. Parkinson asks

Is this level of offending higher than for men in the general population? There is no reliable baseline data on levels of offending in the general population in Australia. Peter Marshall’s study in England found some indication of population-wide conviction rates (Marshall, 1997). One in 150 men over the age of 20 had a conviction for sexual offence against a minor. Lifetime propensity figures will of course be higher than those derived from a snapshot of the adult male population at a given moment in time. Based on his data of various cohorts of these men, Marshall estimates that between 1% and 2% of the male population would be expected to be convicted for some form of sexual offence over their lifetime (including sex offences against adults). If those figures are similar for Australia, then Prof. Cahill’s research would indicate that the rate of convictions for Catholic priests who studied at the seminary in Melbourne is much higher than in the general population (3.7% of those ordained between 1940 and 1966 and 5.4% of those ordained between 1968 and 1971).

How do  Catholic clergy compare to church workers in other denominations? Parkinson notes that

The figure for the number of victims in the Catholic Church was exactly 10 times that in the Anglican Church. This is only partially explained by the greater size of the Catholic Church in Melbourne. The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne lists 287 parishes on its website. The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne contains 203 parishes covering greater Melbourne and Geelong (Anglican Diocese of Victoria, 2012). That is, the Anglican Church is about 70% of the size of the Catholic Church in the two Archdioceses as counted by number of parishes. In addition to parish ministries, the Catholic Church also ran schools and children’s homes in which priests and brothers worked, and this would add significantly to the tally of sexual abuse incidents which might involve members of religious organisations. There is not the same tradition in Protestant denominations of clergy or other people called to religious vocations running schools and children’s homes. Such institutions tend to be run by lay people. For these reasons, Catholic priests and religious have had a much greater opportunity for abuse than their counterparts in other denominations.

On the other hand, Anglican churches, like other Protestant churches, would also have many paid youth workers. When all explanations have been offered, the rate of convictions of Catholic Church personnel does seem to be strikingly out of proportion with the size of this faith community compared with other faith communities.

The profile of the victims of abuse also differed from those in the general population. In Australia, about 27% of girls and 9% of boys have been sexually abused. But both the Catholic and Anglican Churches vary from this pattern.

The John Jay College study of child sexual abuse in the US Catholic Church found that 81% of the victims of abuse were male. This is the opposite of patterns seen in the general population, where approximately three times as many females are abused as males.

Lest it be thought that these patterns are unique to the Catholic Church, we found a similar pattern in our Anglican Church study. Three-quarters of complainants who alleged sexual abuse were male.

Parkinson thinks that the difference is caused by the greater access to boys that clergy have:

The greater abuse of boys than girls in both the US Catholic Church and the Anglican Church of Australia is likely to reflect the fact that priests, ministers and youth leaders have a much greater opportunity to abuse boys than girls, given the patterns of their ministry. In the past, at least, it has been more common for priests and religious to be alone with adolescent boys or to have the opportunity to form unsupervised friendships with them, than with girls. Parents were likely to be concerned by too close a friendship between a 30-40 year old man and a teenage girl; but they would have had no such concerns if the priest took an interest in their troubled teenage son.

Little of the abuse by clergy has been true pedophilia. Most of the victims are adolescents:

No doubt some offending priests and members of religious orders have been paedophiles; but this is likely to explain only a proportion of sex offending against children by priests and religious. The loneliness and difficulty of a celibate life with all the demands of the priesthood may lead other men to seek out teenagers to meet their needs without them being paedophiles. Indeed, sexual attraction to post-pubescent teenagers may be, biologically-speaking, within the boundaries of normal adult sexuality.

If adults are sexually attracted to adolescents, male or female, why do the Catholic clergy succumb to this temptation more than other clergy and the general male population do?

One of the unanswered questions about sex offending by clergy is how much of it is situational, or influenced by the culture of a group, rather than the outworking of an abnormal sexual deviation.

And that is where the Catholic Church may have a unique problem.

Some priest-offenders rationalise their abusive behaviour on the basis that sexual activity with boys is not a breach of their vow of celibacy whereas sexual relations with a woman would be. Different levels of sexual contact falling short of intercourse may also be excused in this way. Some support for this thesis emerges from the survey conducted as part of the research for Towards Understanding, the discussion paper on sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Australia. Respondents noted that offenders within the Church dissociated their abusive behaviour from their commitment to celibacy. Indeed, a high number of respondents described offenders they knew as having a strong commitment to celibacy (Towards Understanding, 1999, p. 44).

This cognitive distortion may well be an important factor in sex offending against boys. If priest offenders have a strong commitment to celibacy, then sexual relations with adult women or girls will not be permissible. If these men rationalise sexual contact with men or teenage boys as either not being a breach of their vow of celibacy at all, or a sexual peccadillo which may be both tolerated within the Church and forgiven by God, then they may well be as prone to situational same-sex activity as men in prison or in other confined, all-male environments. Teenage boys in children’s homes and boarding schools, and boys in parish contexts with whom the priest or religious may find good enough reason to be alone, may disproportionately become victims because of their accessibility and vulnerability, not necessarily because of a paraphilic sexual attraction to boys of that age.

What this means is that it is impossible to end abuse by screening out men with abnormal sexual desires, because their abuse is not caused by abnormal sexual desires.

I would add that a flattening down of sexual sins is part of the problem. Traditionally, theologians have taught that there is no light matter involving sexuality. Therefore any sexual sin, a voluntary fantasy, masturbation, fornication, adultery, and child abuse, are all mortal sins that lead to damnation. Although it was not taught tat they were all equally serious, the differences among them were less important than the fact that they were all mortal sins. But they could all be forgiven by going to confession and saying a few prayers.

Clericalism has long afflicted the Catholic Church and is deeply ingrained in canon law.

There has long been a culture within international Catholicism that in some way the Church is its own jurisdiction, its own legal system, and that the proper place for judging clergy is within the structures established by Canon Law. Canon Law provides that clergy or religious who abuse children under 18 are to be “punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state” (Canon 1395(2)). However, it is no part of canonical thinking that child sexual abuse is a crime that ought routinely to be reported to the police and dealt with by the criminal courts.

Priest thought they were beyond the reach of the police and the courts.

Another was the culture of clericalism. The 2011 document puts it succinctly: “The bishop has a duty to treat all priests as father and brother” (Congregatio Pro Doctrina Fidei, 2011).

That was interpreted, in some quarters, as involving an obligation to protect priests and religious brothers from the criminal law. In 2001, Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux was given a three-month suspended prison sentence for not reporting Fr René Bissey, who had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2000 for sex offences against children. It appears that the bishop indicated at his trial that the admission of guilt by the priest had not been in the confessional. Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, wrote to the Bishop, congratulating him on not denouncing a priest to the civil authorities. He was said to have acted wisely in preferring to go to prison rather than denounce his priest-son. Cardinal Hoyos advanced a theological reason for this position. He explained that the relationship between priests and their bishop is not professional but sacramental and forges very special bonds of spiritual paternity. He drew the analogy with rules of law in various countries which excused one close relative from testifying against another.

The letter concluded that in order to ‘encourage brothers in the episcopate in this delicate matter’, a copy of the letter would be forwarded to all the conferences of bishops. The Cardinal said at a conference in 2010 that he wrote the letter after consulting Pope John Paul II, and that it was the Pope who authorised him to send this letter to all the bishops.

Pope Francis plans to canonize John Paul in the spring of 2014 – will Francis follow the example of his sainted predecessor in the way he handled sexual abuse?

Parkinson also notes the chaotic structure of the Catholic Church as a source of the failure to deal with abuse:

People think of it as a highly structured and hierarchical institution; but actually the opposite is the case. Each bishop is the prime authority in his diocese, subject to oversight from Rome. Each leader of a religious Order is responsible for his or her members subject to direction from the worldwide leadership of the Order, if there is one.

The management structure made sense in the Middle Ages, when the fastest mode of transport was a horse and authority even within countries, was highly decentralised. All that has changed now. To address these issues in future, the Church needs to find a way of throwing out its rotten apples, publicly rebuking or removing leaders from their positions if they have failed egregiously to do the right thing. It needs, in other words, to modernise and to create an authority structure with power to deal with the recalcitrant and the obstructive in its midst. I have no reason for confidence that this leadership will come from the Vatican or from the leaders of the worldwide religious orders, some of which are also based in Rome.

I would add that the laity are the only possible source of reform, but except for a handful of people, the laity don’t want to think about abuse or actively blame the victims for making it public. Only pressure from the police and courts will control the corruption.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Anglicans · Australia · Moral Theology · clergy sex abuse scandal

The Root of All Evil

October 14th, 2013 · 36 Comments

If the Catholic Church were serious about preventing sexual abuse (which it is not), one simple method is available: audited accounting of all church financial records.

Almost invariably, sexual misconduct has been paid for by misuse or outright theft of church funds,

The case of Gary Mercure is only one of thousands:

The records reveal that Mercure systematically stole money from church coffers and used it to lavish young men and boys with cash, gifts and living expenses as he brazenly maintained a sexually active, homosexual lifestyle for decades.

The donations of the faithful funded Mercure’s lifestyle:

In 2008, when Bishop Howard J. Hubbard sought to confront Mercure about overwhelming evidence that he had sexually abused minors, the priest responded that he was on vacation and could not be reached by telephone.

But Hubbard, in an internal document, had his staff trace the phone number. They learned Mercure was secretly vacationing at a gay resort “where the choice to wear something or nothing is yours … (with) erotic video lounge showing adult male videos.”

Sexual activity is private and is sometimes hard to detect, but money can be traced with ease.

However, church officials are even less interested in ending theft than they are in ending sexual abuse.

One elderly pastor told me that he had never been in a parish in which someone was not on the take.

Diocese accounts are set up so that money can be siphoned off with ease. Perhaps this goes back to the feudal concept under the old canon law, in which the income of a parish was the property of the pastor. From that he paid his assistants, the upkeep of the church, the dollar a day he allowed to the nuns, etc.

The financial system in many dioceses is susceptible to theft or misappropriation, and dioceses show little interest in preventing it until the problem becomes public.

In Baltimore each parish has its own bookkeeper and accounts. There seems to be little overall supervision or regular auditing.

Father Nick Cieri on the left

and his housemate Father Larry Johnson in the center

with two young friends

Domenic Cieri was director of liturgy (1984-1992) in the archdiocese of Baltimore  and then pastor (1992-2007) of St. Bernadette’s parish in Severn, Maryland, on the far southern fringe of the Baltimore metropolitan area.

There he set to accomplish two things: making St. Bernadette’s a gay-friendly parish and making himself financially comfortable. He succeeded in both.

In making St. Bernadette’s a national center of gay ministry, he set up several groups with the assistance of Ann McDonald.

As pastoral associate at St. Bernadette Parish on Stevenson Road, Ms. McDonald helped found Reclaim in 1997 as a group for homosexual adults to ease the pain of alienation they felt toward the church and its teachings. Today, she helps preside over a group that has grown significantly, touching on issues such as the Catholic church’s relationship with gay adults, as well as its relationship with the parents of gay children, gay families and even gay teenagers. The most recent branch of the group, called Recharge, is an alumni group for the more than 200 people who have completed Reclaim over the years and either have joined Catholicism though Baptism or reinvesting in the faith through Catechism and confirmation. Some gay members join Reclaim if only to feel comfortable enough in their spirituality to attend Mass again, Ms. McDonald said. The church’s pastor said the newest incarnation of Reclaim will help graduates stay energized about and connected to Christianity, if only by knowing they’re part of a larger religious family.|”Reclaim is about trying to touch people in a meaningful way,” said St. Bernadette Pastor Domenic L. Cieri. “The church teaches its members to love and be loved in return and we want to help gay and lesbian members feel wanted by the church and by God.”|With a progressive, 1,200-family congregation at St. Bernadette Parish, Ms. McDonald said, there are plenty of ways for gays and lesbians, no matter their religion, to find acceptance and learn that being gay is not a sin. With dozens of pamphlets about gay and lesbian issues in the church office and vestibule, straight congregation members have numerous opportunities to educate themselves and realize that being gay is not an evil choice, Ms. McDonald said,

This was all done with the blessing of the Archdiocese of Baltimore:

With the Catholic church struggling with a myriad of issues, Reclaim is a step ahead of many of the 161 churches in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.|”Reclaim is a good gateway to educate people on the church’s teachings,” said Deacon Paul A. Weber, director of the Office of Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics for the Archdiocese. “Many communities, quite frankly, are unfamiliar with issues of same-sex orientation.”|According to the Rev. Weber and Ms. McDonald, no one at St. Bernadette or the Archdiocese of Baltimore hierarchy has ever voiced any objections to Reclaim, even though some Catholic circles frown upon the practice of homosexuality.”

It is not clear whether  St. Bernadette’s and the Archdiocese are or are not among those Catholic circles which frown upon the practice of homosexuality. However the parish’s web site claims that it is “providing pastoral care in keeping with the church’s teaching on chastity.” It is not clear which teaching this is referring to – Dominic Cieri’s or the Vatican’s.

(In July 2008 Ann McDonald was appointed Pastoral Life Director at St. Bernadette’s.)

Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of the Archdiocese of Baltimore participated in this work at St. Bernadette’s:

With a message of humility, faith in times of suffering and God’s unconditional love, a bishop with the Archdiocese of Baltimore celebrated Mass yesterday at a service devoted to gay and lesbian Catholics.

“‘As bishop, being here this afternoon in this community, I do so with genuine affection and gentleness to you,’ Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, the eastern vicar, told those gathered at St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church in Severn, [Md.,] a parish that has had a thriving gay and lesbian ministry since 1997.

“Reflecting on Scripture readings about the Apostle Paul’s admiration for the Thessalonians as ‘faithful people who embraced the cross at a time of suffering,’ the bishop added, ‘In our own time, you know the struggle, some of you, of being gay and lesbian.’

“The service – the second in five years sponsored by Baltimore’s Archdiocesan Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and offered by St. Bernadette’s – attracted same-sex couples, single gay men and women, and parents of gay children, as well as churchgoers hoping to send a message to Catholic leaders with their presence at such a Mass.

“Attendees traveled from Pennsylvania, Virginia, the District of Columbia and across Maryland for the religious service – and, more important, they said, an inclusive welcome that is not available to them at many Catholic parishes.

Cieri’s work in making St. Bernadette’s a gay-friendly parish was acknowledged by the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministries and by New Ways Ministry. He explained: “My integrative awareness status is indicated to me by the work in establishing safe and welcoming places for GBLT in my parish.”

He explains what he means:

“I identity as a white, middle-class, suburban gay male…You might say I am a soft male (my words). I am not macho and never have been.

“At the time of puberty I was very aware of being attracted to males. This was somewhat distressing, Even though I wanted to be a priest, I still had a desire to have a family.  I began to wonder what it would be like to be a girl.  Then I could get married and have a family with the boy of my dreams.

Cieri claims that his pro-gay work got him into trouble: “Naturally it got me into trouble with Church authority.” This does not seem to be the case; auxiliary bishops (Bishop Newman and Bishop Rozanski) spoke at St. Bernadette’s and praised the work there. Something else led to trouble for Domenic Leo Cieri.

While demonstrating a revisionist attitude toward traditional morality on sexuality, Cieri also set about his second goal of achieving financial comfort.

In 1999, 2000 and  2005 St. Bernadette’s, a very-well-to do suburban parish, ran an operating deficit. This is not surprising in light of what was later revealed.

In October 2006 Archbishop Keeler of Baltimore was in a serious automobile accident. He needed brain surgery in June 2007, and was therefore out of commission and had to be replaced by Archbishop Lori in July 2007.

Immediately after the accident, in October 2006, and after it had received an anonymous tip, the Archdiocese conducted an audit of St. Bernadette’s with special attention to compensation and was not happy with the results.

Domenic Cieri was pastor of St. Bernadette’s in Severn. He was supposed to be in residence there and receiving compensation according to an archdiocesan scale.

In fact (see here and here and here):

· Cieri was not in residence at St. Bernadette’s. He was living in Glen Arm, 34 miles away, in a house he had purchased with the Rev. Lawrence Johnson (former agent for the AIDS Interfaith Network of Central Maryland and now chaplain at Stella Maris) in 2001 for $255,000. The house is currently estimated at $455,000.

· Cieri earned nearly $48,000 a year for the fiscal year ending in June 2006, about 70 percent more than the $28,122 that the archdiocese says he was to earn as a pastor ordained for 25 years. His pay and other compensation was hidden in the budgeted single line item of $475,000 for “Salary and related.”

· Cieri was reimbursed nearly $36,000 for rectory expenses, although he did not live in the rectory attached to the church.

· Cieri received $14,000 as a housing allowance,

· Cieri received $6,300 in Mass stipends. Priests have the choice of receiving Mass stipends for individual Masses or a lump sum of $2,000 per year - for all masses an amount set by the archdiocese.

· Cieri, since he was not in residence, paid other priests to do his work. The church also paid a lot of money in stipends to visiting priests who celebrated some of the church’s four Masses each weekend,

· The lay parish officials had approved all payments, so there was no possibility of the parish recovering any of the money. The leaders thought that because others on staff earned salaries in the $40,000 range, it was appropriate to pay the pastor a comparable wage. They said they felt manipulated by the Rev. Cieri in approving his salary and compensation.

· According to the Bishop Rozanski, the archdiocese has no plans to formally reprimand or punish the Rev. Cieri, and his fate will depend on his own decisions after he ends his leave.

It is not clear whether this extra compensation was the annual or the total figure; it seems to be annual. If that is the case, during his pastorate Cieri received about $1 million more than archdiocesan guidelines provided.

Cieri resigned on May 29, 2007, because of, he explained, “differences regarding fiscal policies.” That’s one way of putting it. Cieri’ s attitude to the  priesthood seems to be based on that of Pope Leo X, who is reported to have said on his election “God has given us the papacy; let us enjoy it.”

Cieri claims he is experienced in “financial management.” Under the name of Nick Cieri, he became a financial advisor with SmithBarney and then with First Financial Group. In this capacity he was

Licensed to sell insurance products and to offer securities in the Mid-Atlantic States, Nick Cieri serves as a Financial Advisor for MassMutual Financial Group, a marketing segment of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual or MML). Headquartered in Hunt Valley, Maryland, Nick Cieri operates as a registered representative delivering investment advisory, securities, and financial planning services through MML Investors Services, LLC, a member of the Securities Investor Protection.

An expert financial counselor - ask St. Bernadette’s!

He would help his clients  engage in careful financial planning to achieve their financial goals – as he had done.

A seasoned financial advisor, Nick Cieri serves clients through MassMutual Financial Group, a firm located in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Understanding that financial planning often involves a great deal of anxiety, Mr. Cieri offers all of his clients the personalized attention and insight that they deserve. Individuals come to MassMutual Financial Group for a variety of reasons. Some want assistance with preparations for college, retirement, or other life milestones, while others simply need reliable life, long-term care, or disability income insurance. Nick Cieri listens closely to the needs of each client, discusses the relevant options, provides them the information necessary to make an informed decision, and connects them to the best products and services available. Mr. Cieri places his clients’ well-being above all else and is committed to integrity (my emphasis).

Through his practice, Nick Cieri gives clients advice about navigating today’s complex markets to achieve financial freedom. He employs a team of experienced professionals who support his mission with expertise in retirement services, annuities, charitable giving, executive compensation, and estate planning. When clients first come to Mr. Cieri, he performs a comprehensive audit of their financial situations to accurately represent where they stand. After discussing expectations and strategy with clients, he matches them to the products that will best help them achieve their goals, which often involves a diverse array of services.

It should be a great comfort to clients to know that Cieri is “committed to integrity,” as his record so clearly demonstrates.

Cieri is now a substitute school counselor in the Baltimore County public schools.

I had met Cieri when he was the director of liturgy for the archdiocese. Cieri would frequently come to say mass at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Mount Washington, where the pastor was Nicholas Amato, who had worked with Cieri in the central offices because Amato had been archdiocesan director of education. Cieri explained to me that Jesus had not initiated the Catholic priesthood, but it was started centuries later. I pointed out that this was what the fundamentalists also claimed.  I mentioned to Cieri that the Baltimore Sun had reported that half the members of the burgeoning evangelical and charismatic churches around Baltimore were former Catholics. He said they had left because Catholicism was too perfect for them, and we should not try to persuade them to come back. I now suspect that he feared that might bring back with them their ideas about sexual morality, which they had learned from the highly unreliable source of the Bible.


→ 36 CommentsTags: Church finances · Masculinity · Narcissism · clergy sex abuse scandal · homosexuality

Rod Dreher and the Catholic Church

September 30th, 2013 · 23 Comments

Rod Dreher has an essay in Time about why he left the Catholic Church. The immediate case for his discontent was the failure of the Church to preach repentance, and its long-time toleration of sexual abuse by the clergy.

He adds in his column the essential reason (which should have been in the essay) – that he no longer believes the ecclesiological claims of the Roman Catholic Church – that is, that to be saved it is necessary to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff.

Things could be much worse that Dreher portrays (and they have been much worse in the past) but if one believes the claims of the Roman Catholic Church, the problems in the Church would not affect one’s membership in it.

I sympathize with the Orthodox criticism of Roman legalism and juridicism. The fact that so many bishops have degrees in canon law is a bad sign. Canon law is like the traffic code: necessary and useful, but it should not be the central focus of study for a pastor.

Repentance has never been popular, although it is the first word that is addressed to us: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Instead we are repeatedly told God loves you as you are. This is true, but inadequate. We also need to be told Go and sin no more.

The Jesuits attacked the Jansenist clergy. A Jansenist priest was not content with hearing a list of sins and then giving absolution. He wanted the penitent to see the deep reality of sin within himself. Such a priest would often refuse absolution until the penitent had demonstrated that he had wrestled with the deep reality of sin and alienation from God that affects even the baptized Christian.

Father Ruff criticized Dreher:

The author pins sex abuse to lax, feel-good Christianity after Vatican II. This is tendentious and unsupported by fact - for example, the fact that so much abuse also happened in the 1950s and 1940s and before. The causes of sex abuse are many; one of them is an overly authoritarian power system, coupled with such undue respect for religious authority that victims aren’t believed and media won’t publish such “scandalous” reports. These tendencies were much stronger in the “good old days.” The looseness of the 60s and 70s certainly caused lots of problems in behavior - but even here, clergy coped so poorly with the new freedoms in part because the old system didn’t prepare them for it and stunted their maturation. It’d be helpful if the author tried to look at the complexities of such issues, instead of using conservative ideology to twist a few facts in his direction.

Ruff is correct in that the problems precede the 1960s. Too often a priest would confess something like I abused thirty boys and two committed suicide and the confessor would tell him to say seven Hail Marys and give him absolution, and the bishop would transfer the abuser to another parish.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, Evangelical Christians in Latin America seem to have more success than Catholics do in bringing about true conversions. In part it is because they demand repentance, and that word and concept have evaporated in the Catholic Church.

Even before the 1960s, repentance was too often reduced to a mechanical fulfillment of the canonical requirements for confession, rather than a search for the deeply rooted evils in our nature and a desire to have them purged and our natures transformed by the searing and healing light of Christ.

→ 23 CommentsTags: Catholic Church · clergy sex abuse scandal · repentance

Conversion and Repentance

September 24th, 2013 · 8 Comments

I have never been in pastoral work and have only visited South America. But in researching the role of men in the churches in Latin America, I have noticed the consensus among anthropologists that Evangelicals have more success is reach men, especially young men involved in drugs and gangs, than Catholics do.

Evangelicals do this by a simultaneous proclamation of repentance and conversion to Jesus. Francis seems to be envisioning first conversion, and then, sometime later, repentance.

Rod Dreher has had discussions on Pope Francis’ interview, and one South American does not like the interview.

Mr. Dreher, I’m Latin American (Brazilian) and, let me tell you, this explanation is bunk.

The “very juridical and hierarchical and morality-focused Catholic Church of Latin America” has not existed for fifty years. It was replaced by exactly the Church that Pope Francis seems to want. The results have not been impressive, to say the least. There’s no reason to think that more of the same will give different results.

The section that describes the new Evangelical Protestants as not putting the culture war agenda in the foreground is, again, precisely backwards. They do precisely that which Mr Chapp says they don’t. They are very, very morally strict, which is why they grow so fast in the poorest areas: they give order to the disordered lives of the very poor, who come from generations of poverty and broken homes and have never known anything better. They take a huge portion of the poor’s meagre income in tithes and “gifts”… and even then the poor are better off in these churches, because the order the church gives, much like a military boot camp, helps them to plan for the future, educate themselves, not fall into drugs, not have multiple children out of wedlock, etc.

And this is not just inwards. The politicians elected by the Evangelicals are at the forefront of the resistance to homosexual “marriage”, to abortion, and most of the left’s culture war agenda. In my own country, abortion would have been legalized a few years ago if not for the resistance organized by the Evangelical politician-preachers across almost all parties – a fight in which, by the way, the Catholic hierarchy was entirely silent. If the Church retreats from these issues, the pull of the Evangelical Protestant churches will only INCREASE throughout Latin America.

To sum up, as we say here, when “the Church chose the poor, the poor chose the Protestants”.

This is also what neutral anthropologists have found.

Francis, like many of us as we grow older, may be fighting the battles of his youth, although history has moved on. The dead textbook Thomism he laments disappeared over a generation ago. Traditionalist restorationism is a tiny, tiny fringe movement in the Church. Strict moralism has disappeared, and laxity reigns.

It is true that a few bishops seem to delight in enforcing petty rules (even as they have let sexual abusers continue in ministry). Cardinal Müller, when he was bishop of Regensburg, severely disciplined priests for participating in an ecumenical wedding and for receiving communion at a Lutheran service. But Müller assigned a convicted abuse to a parish, where the priest molested numerous children. When parents complained, Muller threatened to sue them for criticizing him. In Baltimroe a priest was removed for letting an Episcopal priest, a woman, read the Epistle at a funeral mass for a relative of hers. But I was at a funeral of a friend of mine at the Cathedral in which all, even the unbaptized, were urged to receive communion. Bishops seem to be very arbitrary in their exercise of discipline, and strain out the smallest flies while swallowing obese camels.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Catholic Church · Pope Francis · Protestantism · clergy sex abuse scandal