Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Is There a Place for Women in the Church?

October 8, 2013

Jamie Dance

The Church has made things very difficult for women. Publicly, women are denied ordination and positions of authority and power in virtually every area of Church life, whether at the parish or curial level. Privately, the Church has denied women the right to make decisions regarding sexual, marital, and maternal issues as matters of conscience. In consequence, many women have left in protest, but, despite this, women still make up more than half of the Church’s members. In parishes across America, women are the backbone of liturgical, educational, and charitable work that defines the face of the Church to its members. Besides that, women are most often the administrators of parish offices and schools. It is obvious that women’s participation, particularly at the parish level, is fundamental and foundational to the survival of the Church as we know it.

On a theological level, women, both lay and professed, have made great strides in reclaiming the early history of women’s contributions to the Church, and integrating this heritage into a new vision for women in the Church. Premiere among them is Elizabeth Johnson, a professed nun who authored Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (2007), a well-received and academically esteemed volume that examines notions of God across the centuries in many cultures and religions. In 2011, Johnson was rewarded for her efforts by the doctrinal committee of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops with an official rebuke that questioned her loyalty to official Church teaching. Catholic theologians across the country roundly criticized this attempt to embarrass and demean one of their own.

In the face of clerical and hierarchical absolutism regarding the role of women, how much longer will empowered and educated Catholic women tolerate this inequity that strangles their perceived gifts for sacramental service and diminishes their right of conscience? The answer is not yet clear, but hopefully its resolution will be on Pope Francis’ agenda.


The Tension Between Obedience and Conscience

October 3, 2013

Jamie Dance

Today, adult Catholics are hard pressed to find common ground between the expectations and demands of the hierarchical Church and their own commonsense reasoning on critical issues that beset modern life. When questions regarding contraception, remarriage of divorced Catholics, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and therapeutic (life-saving) abortion are raised, they are generally met with a withering barrage by ordained naysayers for whom life’s most troubling issues have been reduced to an orthodoxy that denies the more subtle realities of life. Informed Catholics who desire full relationship with the sacramental Church find themselves in dire straits when met with an ethical dilemma that defies the certain confines of a hierarchically accepted tenet.

But living in the world, tossed about by the vicissitudes of life, is quite different from abiding in the hallowed halls of seminaries and curial offices. Everyday life has a way of making us face inconvenient truths that challenge traditional wisdom. It is in addressing these issues that our hearts and minds become engaged in struggles that force us outside our religious comfort zone and into a consideration of “What would Jesus do?” As the French Dominican theologian Yves Congar once wrote, “Experience and history have taught me that one must always protest when motives of conscience or conviction call for it.” Philosophically speaking, a religious or societal ethic is only effectual when its teaching has been received and accepted by those to whom it is addressed. Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae is a perfect example of such a case. The papal teaching notwithstanding, pastors across the world, beset by troubled couples, instructed women and men on the value of their informed consciences in issues related to family planning and familial well-being. Today, parents of homosexual children are using those same moral compasses in deciding to welcome partners and spouses into their children’s lives.

While the tension between obedience and conscience regarding church-related moral questions always will be present in the Catholic sensibility, people of faith, with good hearts, will continue to make their decisions based on the loving example of the Jesus who disdained the Pharisaical rubrics of his own day.


April 21, 2012

  Joseph F. O’Callaghan 

The right of the clergy and people of the diocese to choose their bishops is hallowed by usage from the earliest times, by canons enacted by Church Councils, and by repeated papal affirmation. Today, however, the pope appoints bishops without significant input from the faithful of the diocese.

 Since the Second Vatican Council theologians, canonists, and church historians have argued that the process of choosing bishops must be reformed. In 1971 The Second Synod of the Diocese of Bridgeport, convened by Bishop Walter W. Curtis, declared: “The basic Christian principles of co-responsibility, the dignity and freedom of persons, and the rights of Christians have traditionally dictated broad participation in the process of selecting bishops. With this in mind the Diocese of Bridgeport will work to develop means whereby priests and laity may have a voice in nominations of candidates for the Episcopal Office” (2:26). However, nothing further seems to have been done to implement that decision.

 Today bishops are usually strangers to the diocese over which they preside and are often transferred to other wealthier and more prestigious dioceses. As a result, bishops are often viewed as agents of an international corporation inRomeand as careerists anxious to move up the ecclesiastical ladder. Even Cardinal Ratzinger decried any sense of careerism among bishops.

 The time has come to acknowledge that the People of God, particularly the clergy and people of the diocese, should have the primary role in choosing their bishop, whose leadership will significantly affect their spiritual well-being. All the faithful, clergy and laity alike, are best suited to evaluate the challenges facing the diocese, to indicate the qualities of pastoral and spiritual leadership desirable in a bishop, and to propose candidates whom they believe to be worthy of the episcopal office.

 In doing so, the clergy and people will be observing the age-old tradition of the Church expressed by Pope Celestine I (422-32) who said: “the one who is to be head over all should be elected by all.” He added: “No one who is unwanted should be made a bishop; the desire and consent of the clergy, the people, and the order is required.”

Lori’s Tenure as Bishop

March 31, 2012

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).

What Would You Do If Your Parish Were Closed?

January 21, 2012

ImageJoseph F. O’Callaghan

The American bishops during their recent visit to Rome discussed the issue with Benedict XVI and various Vatican officials. Last fall Bishop William E. Lori announced the closing or merger of several parishes in Bridgeport. The restructuring was the result of a three-year study conducted by the Bridgeport pastors who considered five indicators of viability: Worship; Education; Service; Community; Administration.

 As reconfiguration seems inevitable several issues must be considered. First, are the parishioners brought into the process at the beginning and actively involved in reaching a final determination to close or merge the parish? Secondly, the parish is primarily a spiritual community of the faithful, not a territorial division of the diocese or a collection of buildings. People develop strong ties of affection for their parish and will suffer a great sense of loss if it is closed. What steps can be taken to preserve that community and to avoid destroying it by dispersing the members? Thirdly, will the proceeds from the sale of the buildings and grounds go directly to the diocese or be distributed among the surviving parish or parishes? Similarly, will the liturgical vessels, furniture, fixtures, etc., be distributed to another parish or parishes? Finally, what will you do if your parish is closed? Where will you go?


Church and State – Clergy and the Elected – A Citizen View

January 1, 2012

ImageIt is a sad day for those who have long respected men who wear the Roman Catholic collar, specifically because of what the collar symbolizes. Sad, because another expensive shoe has dropped in the Diocese of Bridgeport with the plea by Father Michael Moynihan to federal obstruction of justice. Father Moynihan was the proud pastor of St. Michael’s Church inGreenwichat the time of the revelations in Darien of Father Jude Michael Fay who pleaded guilty to the ‘interstate transport of embezzled funds,’ and was subsequently sentenced in Federal Court to several years in prison. Suffering from an aggressive case of prostate cancer, Fay died while serving his term. And the sadness extends to the majority of clergy who have observed their promises and serve their ministry faithfully 24/7.

The article brought some closure for me. I had wondered about “high and mighty” priests, secrecy of Church process, and no serious consequences for Church leaders around the world from poor decisions that created too many ignored victim/survivors of power and sexual abuse. Why was the million dollar personal use inDarientreated in one way, but theGreenwichfinancial abuse just seemed to go away? (Rumor suggested that Moynihan was in NY serving an Episcopal ministry.)

Now I understand that both issues were dealt with by the Feds. Perhaps the Diocesan legal team is more comfortable that way? Less news gets published then with State courts, it seems, and that limits scandal? There may be deeper pockets to investigate once on the scent of wrongdoing. And negotiating to a single charge with a guilty plea and a Federal sentence makes for a final public cleansing. In each case, news of long-term friendships that challenged priestly promises of chaste celibacy also circulated. Money from the people of God facilitated a life and lifestyle for these pastors that were in serious conflict with their ordination promises, as well as parishioner expectations.

Each priest was removed from his pastoral position promptly. However, that is a Diocesan administrative position connected to a specific geographic territory. What is curious to me is the path that is pursued by the Diocese in their evaluation of the continuation of a man’s ‘priesthood’? Will there be a voluntary or involuntary move to seek a reduction to the lay state of that man’s priestly ministry? We do not hear about this. Bishop Lori does not keep a scoreboard in the Fairfield County Catholic on his priestly force, as clergy available for service to the people of God in his Diocese. Retirements, leaves of absence, appointments to specific parish posts are formal news each month as are ordinations that produce new men for ministry each year, though not enough to fill the aging priestly ranks. But others seem to disappear from the radar screen. Where are they now? What is their status? Does the public have a right to know that needs to be balanced with a right to privacy of a priest removed from ministry?

The sexual abuse scandals in the Diocese removed the curtains from the Church laicization process only slightly. If a Bishop removed a priest from parish duties due to credible allegations of sexual abuse of youth, and if the accusations proved true enough to be subject to trial in criminal or civil court, the Diocese often pursued a path of settling confidentially. (Scandal was averted for the most part. And in recent years the priest was not moved to another parish, as was the case so often in the latter part of the twentieth century in Dioceses around the world.)

So, what is his current status? The Bishop to whom he owed obedience had removed his authority to practice ministry publicly. If the abuser chose to resign his priesthood, the Diocese could co-sponsor that resignation and present it toRomefor a decision that might take several years. If the abuser chose to stay a priest in the face of a Bishop wishing otherwise, it took longer or did not happen.Romehad the power. The people in the pews had no clue.

What is the status of that man/priest and how does the public recognize whether he is ‘frocked’, defrocked, or going through a process? The Bridgeport Diocese does have a Sexual Abuse Policy posted on its web site. Section 11.2 addresses “Publication of Diocesan Action: Where an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor has been verified, the Chancellor of the Diocese, with the assistance of the Director of Communications, will publish an appropriate announcement of the action taken in response to the abuse. The Diocese will maintain a public record, including a website that lists the name of priests and deacons who have been removed from ministry under this Policy.”

Where is this listing? I cannot find it. Perhaps there are no priests who fall in the category, even after more than $37 Million of settlements disclosed and others less public? But there is at least one former pastor I recognize who was removed for “Safe Environment” reasons, for whom a settlement was made and who was suspended from public ministry who appears publicly on occasion with collar and priest suit. How is that possible? And isn’t that confusing? Where is enforcement? Perhaps it is part of what is seen as consistently “high and mighty” behavior, that others term “clericalism” where men have forgotten that they are men, humbly attempting to serve fellow people of God, subject to internal and external challenges throughout life on the path they promised to follow?

And if religious men of any persuasion exhibit “high and mighty” behavior without institutional process and vigorous practice of open, accountable and transparent, then what are we to think of local elected officials who are so proud of their plumage and power that they ignore necessary institutional checks and balance mechanisms? Democratic government (and the RC Church declares it is not democratic, but many faithful feel it is truly participatory) is best described as democratic when the necessary citizen participation is present, and that is not merely at election time. It is healthy participation on a regular and continuing basis by keeping informed and knowledgeable about the activities of government and the use of public resources that makes for democratic government. As we watch Arab spring uprisings, or protests in Moscow, or financial challenges in Euro-land, etc. the impulse towards democracy is hopeful, but real continuing effort is demanded of a citizenry if it is to truly live up to the promise of democracy. The alternative is to decline into another “ocracy” without awareness of the slide. Time will tell.
John Marshall Lee                 December 10, 2011

Celibacy Issues

June 27, 2011

Joseph F. O’Callaghan

A story in the Connecticut Post (6/23/11) concerning the removal of Monsignor Martin P. Ryan as pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Church in New Fairfield on charges of harassing a female employee raises several troubling issues, both personal and institutional.

In the personal realm there is the question of priestly celibacy, the topic of this essay. Responding to accusations that Msgr. Ryan had molested a teenage girl at St. Theresa’s Parish in Trumbull, the Diocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board in 2002 stated that he had “celibacy issues” but should be permitted to function as a priest. Not quite ten years later those celibacy issues seem to have re-emerged. Msgr. Ryan’s example could be multiplied across the country and indeed the world.

Catholics must ask whether obligatory celibacy is in the best interests of the Church? The struggle to impose obligatory celibacy in the Latin Church was carried out with great violence in the late eleventh century. Not until the First Lateran Council of 1123 (canon 21) was the rule of celibacy made binding on all priests of the Latin rite. The history of the Church since then is replete with examples of priests, bishops, and popes who did not observe their vow of celibacy. The amorous cleric is also a figure in western literature.

The Greek Church allows the ordination of married men to the priesthood, but requires bishops to be celibate. The Anglican and Lutheran churches have allowed their clergy to marry. Recently Pope Benedict XVI created a special rite for Anglicans who wished to join the Catholic Church and to be admitted to the Catholic priesthood, even though they were married.

More than likely the apostles, simple fishermen, were married men with children. The story told by the evangelists of Jesus’s healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is evidence that he had a wife (Mk 1:29-31; Mt 8:14-15, Lk 4:38-9).

The earliest biblical description of the qualities desirable in a priest is found in the First Letter to Timothy (3:1-7; 5:17-19): “Whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Therefore a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?”

At the time the letter was written, the words bishop and priest were used interchangeably to describe the same function of overseeing the Christian community.

Given all the problems that celibacy has created over the centuries, is it not time to return to the earliest Christian tradition represented by the example of Peter, the married man, and the Letter to Timothy (see also Titus 1:5-9), and allow priests to marry or to remain celibate if they wish? If our priests, our bishop, and our pope shared their lives with their wives, would they not have a more profound and realistic understanding of the lives of the people entrusted to their care?

Bridgeport Diocese Still in News

April 8, 2011

The Diocese of Bridgeport and sexual abuse scandal activity are unfortunately in the news again. Tremont and Sheldon filed a lawsuit against Father Charles Stubbs and the Diocese according to a release on March 17, 2011. It is claimed that Bishop Walter Curtis had prior notice of Reverend Stubbs behavior but, still continued to allow him unfettered access to children in the Diocese.

On March 20, 2011 the CT Post recognized the nearly ten years of service that Bishop William Lori has provided to the Diocese, in an editorial, noting “the challenges of…the overarching scandal of pedophile priests”. The editors continued, “Under his leadership there has been no continued hiding of offenders through reassignment, and he created Safe Environment policies to protect children in the diocese.” Some would explain this “zero tolerance” approach as an outgrowth of the Dallas meeting of Bishops in 2002 to deal with the revelations of the Boston Archdiocese. However, a review of material released in the Rosado documents by Bishop Lori in 2009 would show that there was tolerance for multiple communication lapses and secret practices of previous Bishops who have not been criticized during Lori’s decade, nor who have suffered consequences.

Had the previous Bishops acted in the interests of the children and their families who reported abuse, priests would have not been transferred to other parishes or out of the Diocese. Priests sent for treatment of “sexually inappropriate or criminal behavior” would have had a higher standard of behavior reported by a healing institution than “the priest completed the treatment program”. Treatment professionals were not routinely recorded as saying that priests completing programs presented “no further risk of sexual abuse”. How concerned were the Bishops and the Monsignors who worked with the troubled clergy in effective dealing with the heinous behavior? How concerned were they with healing families with compassion? Where has Bishop Lori commented on this tragic history created by his episcopal predecessors?

And what about Bishop Lori’s uneven handling of priest “offenders”? Some priests have been reduced to the lay status. No public ministry. No appearance in priestly street garb. No pretence of being a priest one would think. But if such a man is living in Bridgeport today, or in Dublin, would it not be fair for the community to be aware that at one time the Diocese judged him to be unfit to continue ministry, because of his offenses? Why not report the name and location of that person today on the Diocesan site? The prime reason so few priests faced criminal charges, court trial and conviction is that Bishops all over the world covered their behavior until most were well beyond criminal “statutes of limitation”. But a sexual offender of youth if credibly accused and acknowledged by the Diocese does not have to be listed as a “sexual offender.” How safe is the environment where these men are living today?

Now if such a man is living in the Bridgeport region and the Catholic Directory of priests lists him as retired and though he is not assigned to a parish, he does on occasion appear in public in priest garb. Has he been reduced to lay status? If not, why not? Has his public ministry been suspended? Does the Diocese web site have a duty to provide such info in a true spirit of Safe Environment? And if he believes that he is innocent and a priest of integrity, what are his rights under Canon Law?

On March 22, 2011 the CT Post in a front page article reports that the diocese has settled a suit from 2009. Brian Wallace comments that the Church does not believe it committed any wrongdoing but “it’s just too expensive to continue to defend against this frivolous lawsuit brought by out-of state lawyers…trolling for lawsuits across the country.” Bishop Lori addressed this case brought by a Connecticut attorney who lives in the Diocese of Bridgeport on behalf of the Estate of Michael Powel to parishes across the county in December 2009. He called it the “Lawn Man Liability Suit” failing to appreciate that behavior of a 40 year worker on Church grounds would be considered a Church responsibility. Isn’t that why all persons involved in employment, volunteer activity, ministry of any kind and indeed, those who entered a Church to repair a roof or basement are required to take Safe Environment course work? All need to be aware of what constitutes predatory behavior according to risk managers. But what Diocesan course will make us aware of the aberrant management behavior that allowed the predatory behavior to persist for so long?

Brian Wallace failed to tell readers that the Diocese retains its own specialist out-of-state law firm. I assume that “trolling” is not permitted in Colorado but I also assume that Diocesan lawyers, from Connecticut and other states are paid. Perhaps fishing with flies or casting nets, as Christ directed, is different. The Diocese has never provided the extent of its legal expenses. As a matter of fact the Diocese has put out no comprehensive audited financial reports on its site, and has failed to update even three limited reports since June 30, 2008. Many people have reduced their giving to the Church or stopped it totally.

In the case of Michael Powel, Monsignor Bronkiewicz, who was involved in clergy supervision for years, kept silent though he knew that “the Lawnman” had admitted child sexual abuse. Did he not believe that safe environment trumps power abuse any day? Bridgeport has some way to go before they can be considered a model Safe Environment program. Open, accountable and transparent process and practice is not yet evident in too many areas.

John Marshall Lee,
30 Beacon Street
Bridgeport, CT 06605

April 8, 2011

Diocese of Bridgeport—A Decade of Issues Entering into Daylight

December 20, 2010

The stories of sexual abuse of youth by Catholic priests exploded into public awareness in 2001 from Boston, but Diocese of Bridgeport legal documents ordered released by the US Supreme Court in 2009 and revelations of scandalous mishandling of clerical sexual abuse of youth in 2010 by Bishops in countries all over the world now frame the local story.

 William Lori, Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, attended the 2002 US Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas that addressed clergy sexual abuse of youth. He never asked the people in parish pews to gather and discuss this subject nor did he reveal Diocesan structure or history in this regard, but he did come home with his solution, the Safe Environments program he installed in the diocese. More than 90,000 persons have taken several hours of training from VIRTUS intended to help them understand and look out for sexual predators. A diocesan review board was initially appointed to receive reports of abuse. The diocese no longer publicly discloses who serves today, what their work entails, or results of their process. The Diocese of Bridgeport with a Bridgeport headquarters on Jewett Avenue includes the entirety of Fairfield County where 50 percent of the population is identified as Catholic on the diocesan website. In the early 2000s more than $37 million was paid to claimants in two major diocesan settlements. Evidence of additional confidential settlements has surfaced more recently. Thirty-four priests have had credible public allegations made against them relative to 109 victimizations. More than two of them have declared their innocence publicly and still serve as priests. Although supposedly the allegations of sexual abuse of youth were not found credible by the diocese, those priests neither got a chance in civil or criminal court to clear their names and reputations, nor did they have recourse to Canon Law rights set out for clergy. At least one Monsignor, still in service, with significant past diocesan responsibilities handling accusations of sexual abuse has had multiple allegations made against him personally, yet he still serves as a priest even though the diocese has provided funds for counseling and/or confidential settlement to one or more of the people calling him an abuser. The release of court documents in 2009, including depositions and affidavits, indicate threatening, conflicting and seemingly false statements by one of these clergymen during his office in diocesan governance.

The power of the Bishop appears to be such that only he gets to practice full freedom of religion (while reminding all who will listen that the Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy). Brother priests at ordination promise celibacy (that does not include any sexual activity) and obedience to him (in contrast to the “independent contractor status” delightfully explained by Bishop Egan about Catholic clergy during a deposition) and he in turn exercises full control over their appointments, recognition and aspects of their compensation. It becomes obvious that faithful Catholics who are the majority of the people of God, identified by Canon Law as laypersons, hold no real practical power in the institution. Even when laypersons are included in certain church or parish administration functions, they are notified they are appointed by a Pastor or Bishop, serve at their pleasure solely, and are there merely for their advisory potential, of course getting to that stage only if and when called. All power of the purse is exercised by the ordained. Suggestions have been made of a financial freeze on donations to the diocese, but evidence is sketchy as to the results of such advice. Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport governance seems even tighter than the Democratic Party control of the levers of power in Bridgeport. There are no district elections. Bishop candidates usually are not even part of the local citizenry when Rome is in a selection mode. They are usually from other states with little or no local acquaintance. Further, there is no mechanism for those governed in expressing exception or displeasure to such appointments other than a quiet exit. One of the trappings of that Bridgeport office includes an elevator equipped 10,000 square foot residence on two acres in the suburbs for Bishop Lori and his dogs with a 2009 appraised value of $1,407,800. The Bishop has a bully pulpit paid for by people in the pews that provides “well screened advertisements” through his own publication, The Fairfield County Catholic, which has decreased to a monthly, in which his words and photograph appear frequently. A faithful Catholic with a contrasting opinion may not get printed as a Letter to the Editor or even in a paid in advance advertisement! Freedom of the press, one of our dearest American freedoms, in this case becomes freedom for the publisher! 

During the past decade the Bishop created an extensive system to monitor the finances of all Catholic activities including the 87 parishes because significant funds were discovered missing or misspent in the mid-’00s by pastors in  Darien, Greenwich and other parishes. The people in the pews in 2010 have no comprehensive annual audited diocesan financial report. Assets certainly exceed $1 Billion. Significant revenue flows are noted: taxation without representation in the form of Cathedraticum tax paid by parishes for support of the diocese; educational assessments on all parishes by the diocese for parishes with schools; subsidies from the diocese to schools as a lump sum per school contrasted with former subsidies per capita; and a Bishop’s Annual Appeal that becomes an enduring parish obligation when Appeal goals are not met. Income flows from separate operations, from investments, and grants from governments or other organizations to support service programs are not fully reported. Such secrecy can only suggest there may be scandals here as well. The tax-free status of the Roman Catholic Church seems to provide no financial disclosure responsibility such as the required Form 990 annually for 501(c)(3) charities.

 Bishop Lori’s major effort during the decade of the ’00s, aside from settling sexual abuse complaints with as little scandal as possible, focused on a legal battle to keep sealed and secret for the better part of ten years thousands of pages of court documents concerning handling of sexual abuse by those responsible. The documents reveal the clerical viewpoint and mindset as well as the confidential inner workings of the diocesan leadership to hide this information from the public and protect brother priests from facing consequences. He and his team of lawyers resisted major US newspapers waging battle in CT State courts and finally in the US Supreme Court, where after all appeals were exhausted in 2009 some of the 12,675 pages were released. This legal war was a major expense, costing the people in the pews untold additional millions. This secrecy apparently allowed Bishops to provide multiple secret settlements of tens of thousands of dollars, financed by the Catholic citizenry, which has been expected to pay, pray and obey, with no say. Although for the most part they have stayed for a long time, too, today many Catholics have abandoned the pews, exited their practice or have begun to send dollars targeted on Matthew 25:31-46 compassion and mercy to places where there is fuller public accountability. Works of mercy and justice are Christian activities certainly that can be directly supported. They do not require financial travel through the secrecy of diocesan records. The properties sold and the insurance benefits because of premiums paid came from the people in the pews. 

The impact on Bridgeport and its environs and all types of human services from the trailing effects of the abuse and cover-up are yet unknown, but may include parochial school closings or employee layoffs, especially if the Bishops’ Annual Appeal falls below target. American Catholics may hope for a reform of freedoms or structure in the decade of the ’10s so that the God-given promise and gifts to all faithful Catholics can come together to face these challenges.

Sexual abuse, money problems and the power system have unfortunately been parts of the unraveling story. It has been a very human story, all too tragic because the victims have been children and their families. Faithful Catholics and pastoral clergy living their ordination promises have also been survivors in this story. Political ambition, reward structure and individual wrongdoings have been kept secret for too long. When it could no longer maintain the veil on Church-countenanced and -directed activity, the moral authority and teaching example of leaders has become compromised. All of the people of God must use the next decade to observe, listen and learn an alternative method of becoming adult American Catholics, and they must use their voice, as a community, to engage in discourse and dialogue for the good of all in the Church. May that reform, constantly urged on the Church, be the story of the next decade in the Bridgeport Diocese.

John Marshall Lee