Lori’s Tenure as Bishop

Joseph F. O’Callaghan
The announcement on March 20, 2012 that William E. Lori has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as archbishop of Baltimore is an opportunity to assess his tenure as bishop of Bridgeport since 2001. From the beginning he has presented himself as a protector of survivors of priestly sexual abuse and as a champion of religious liberty.
As the successor to Edward M. Egan, Bishop Lori had to confront the terrible tragedy of priestly sexual abuse, especially acute in the Diocese of Bridgeport. He announced on February 15 2004 that 107 persons made 109 allegations of sexual abuse against 32 priests in the Diocese from 1953 to 2003. While he served on the American Bishops’ committee that drew up the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, he also established a Safe Environment program aimed at preventing similar abuse in the future.
Although those administrative actions were necessary, neither he nor his predecessor displayed any real compassion for the survivors of sexual abuse. For many years the Diocese fought tooth and nail to avoid giving them financial compensation. In legal settlements reached in 2001 just before Bishop Egan was promoted to New York and in 2003 under Bishop Lori the Diocese paid $37,700,000 to the survivors. The faithful were assured that none of that money came from the Annual Bishop’s Appeal or parish collections, but rather from insurance, investments, and the sale of unneeded property. Nevertheless, as all diocesan funds come out of the pockets of parishioners that explanation is misleading and disingenuous. During their meeting in Dallas in 2002, the American bishops emphasized the need for greater accountability and transparency. Despite that neither Bishop Egan nor Bishop Lori issued a financial statement detailing the expenditures involved in processing claims by survivors.
Moreover, Bishop Lori labored mightily to keep under seal court documents relating to sexual abuse (the so-called Rosado Files). In the eight years that elapsed since the sexual abuse cases were settled in 2001, a succession of Connecticut courts ruled against him and the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the release of the documents in question. Bishop Lori, however, was adamant in his determination to prevent the public from reading about the cover-up by Bishop Walter W. Curtis and Bishop Egan and their subordinates, as well as the testimony of abusive priests and the survivors of their abuse. Thus, claiming the protection of the First Amendment, he attempted to present the dispute to the United States Supreme Court. The Court, however, refused to hear the case. Consequently, the documents were finally made public in the fall of 2010. Countless sums, perhaps in the millions, that could better have been used to alleviate the suffering of the poor, were expended on this legal battle. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state, but it does not guarantee Bishop Egan or Bishop Lori the right to conceal criminal behavior on the part of the clergy, the bishops, and their subordinates.
While Bishop Lori noted that he had apologized to individual survivors of priestly sexual abuse, he has steadfastly rejected overtures from Catholic organizations concerned about this grave scandal. When Catholics of long-standing service to the Church organized Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport in 2002 and offered their support in restoring the Church’s good name, Bishop Lori spurned them and, without a hearing, accused them of not adhering to orthodox teaching and banned them from meeting in their parish churches. In like manner, when the newly formed Connecticut branch of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) asked Bishop Lori’s permission to place notices of meetings in the diocesan newspaper and in parish bulletins, his response was a deafening silence.
Financial scandals in at least two parishes prompted Bishop Lori in 2008 to require all parishes to utilize the Parish Administration and Finance Manual. Though intended to protect against similar abuse in the future, it also centralized control of parish finances in the diocesan office. Just as bishops have often been described as branch managers of a corporation centered in Rome, Bishop Lori has transformed pastors into branch managers of the diocesan corporation. At the same time, he has neglected to provide a financial statement for the Diocese since 2008.
That point became very clear in 2009 when the Judiciary Committee of the State Legislature began to consider a bill that would modify the existing structure of parish corporations as established by the State of Connecticut. The parish corporation, according to the current statute, consists of the bishop, the vicar general, the pastor, and two lay members appointed annually by the other three. The proposed modification would provide for greater participation by the laity. Realizing that enactment of that bill into law would undermine his absolute control of each of the 87 parishes, Bishop Lori, wrapping himself in the banner of the First Amendment, led a rally in Hartford to denounce it. Whereas the Second Vatican Council affirmed that the Church was the People of God, Bishop Lori used the First Amendment to oppose this challenge to his authority and to reject the right of the faithful to participate effectively in the governance of their Church.
Most recently Bishop Lori has gained national attention as the spokesman for the American bishops on religious liberty. A photograph depicting Bishop Lori and four other male clerics appearing before a congressional committee has become iconic, as evidence of insensitivity to women who queried: what is wrong with this picture? If the hearing was to discuss contraception, why were there no women at the witness table? Bishop Lori’s “Parable on the Kosher Deli,” delivered on that occasion, is not likely to take its place with the parables of Jesus.
Now that Bishop Lori embarks on a new stage in his ecclesiastical career, we wish him well. We pray too that the clergy and laity of Bridgeport will have the opportunity to voice their concerns about the needs of the Diocese and the qualities desirable in a new bishop. We also pray that the faithful of the archdiocese of Baltimore will discover in Bishop Lori the type of leader described by Jesus when he said: “You know that among the Gentiles their seeming rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mk 10:42-45).

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