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

RECURRENCE OF HEPATITIS FEIGNED

October 19, 2010

“A recurrence of hepatitis was to be feigned.” Those were the words used by Msgr. William A. Genuario to explain the absence of Father Laurence Brett from his usual surroundings. Several diocesan officials gathered in 1964 to plan a course of action concerning an accusation of sexual abuse against Father Brett, chaplain at Sacred Heart University. They decided that, until Bishop Walter W. Curtis returned from Rome, Fr. Brett would be sent to a retreat house and if anyone should inquire as to his whereabouts the explanation would be “a recurrence of hepatitis was to be feigned.”

Questioned about this by Attorney Paul Tremont, Msgr. Genuario conceded that it was a “poor choice of words.” He went on to say “I hate to think that we were going to tell a lie.” Attorney Tremont pressed him: “But you were going to tell a lie, weren’t you?” He denied that but acknowledged that it was not his responsibility to inform the faithful that Brett was away because of the charge of sexual abuse. He also admitted that he did not recall that the Diocese of Bridgeport ever informed parishioners that a priest was absent or was transferred because of complaints of sexual misconduct. Nor did he advise the police department that this criminal act had occurred at Sacred Heart University.

When Attorney Tremont asked Bishop Edward Egan about the “recurrence of hepatitis was to be feigned” he said that he would not have used such dramatic language. He recognized that attempts to hide the facts by such devious words was “done all the time in other contexts. . . . But not done by me. . . . I would not do it. . . . If anyone were to ask, I would simply say they probably had no business to ask and I would just avoid the answer.”

Although Msgr. Genuario could not bring himself to confess that “a recurrence of hepatitis was to be feigned” was a lie, one suspects that in his heart of hearts he knew that to be the case. Bishop Egan affirmed that he would not have used that language, but he seems to dismiss the thought that the Catholic faithful have a right to know that a predatory priest is in their midst. The statements of both men are typical of the diocesan effort to avoid public scandal by hiding evidence of sexual wrongdoing by priests. One wonders how their seminary professors of moral theology would evaluate their responses.

In 1997 Janet Bond Arterton, United States District Court Judge, ruled that the Diocese had fraudulently concealed its knowledge that Brett had molested children. By announcing that he had taken a leave of absence because of hepatitis, she ruled that the Diocese intentionally deceived the public. Honesty at last!

If you would like to hear more evidence from court documents concerning priestly sexual abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport, save the date, Saturday, November 13, and come to the Concert Hall at Norwalk City Hall at 12:30 p.m. for a dramatic presentation entitled “Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned!” Tickets are $20 and may be obtained in advance at http://www.votfbpt.org or at the door.

Recurrence of Hepatitis Feigned

September 27, 2010

We encourage the use of the Comments section for your thoughts after reading the opening page on our website –www.votfbpt.org

VATICAN ADVICE ON HOW TO HANDLE A SURVIVOR AND HIS FAMILY

September 27, 2010

Recent news stories have raised the question: when did the Vatican first become aware of the problem of priestly sexual abuse? As early as 1966 Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, informed then Bishop Walter W. Curtis of Bridgeport of the Vatican’s advice on how to deal with a family distraught over the abuse of their son, Mark Frechette, by Lawrence Brett, a diocesan priest. The family hoped that the diocese would help to pay for Mark’s psychiatric care, but Bishop Curtis denied any responsibility.
Commiserating with Curtis, Vagnozzi remarked that recounting such a sad story “must have caused you great heaviness of heart. We expect failures in our life but we never become accustomed to experiences as sordid as that involving one of the young priests of Bridgeport. I am anxious too for the Frechettes that there may be manifested to them the concern and understanding that they expect from their father in Christ. . . . They obviously now need reassurance that the Church is interested. In this situation I believe that it will be helpful if Your Excellency receives them and tries to be as sympathetic as possible. Such an expression of pastoral concern may relieve them while an official attitude may leave them bitter.
In December 1366 Vagnozzi conveyed to Curtis the observations of the Sacred Congregation of the Council in Rome concerning the matter: “The Holy See notes that neither the Ordinary [the bishop] nor the diocese of Bridgeport are obliged in strict justice to meet the expenses in the illness of the young man. This would be true even if it were proved that the priest in question was the cause of his condition. In such a case action for damages could be taken against the priest as an individual. However, in a larger non-juridical sense the authorities in the Church have a responsibility for the actions of the priests subject to them. Most Catholics think, in a vague way, that the Bishop is accountable for the transgressions of his priests and that he should protect the faithful. They would not press a claim, though, to the extent that the Frechettes have. The comment I have [made] recognizes the difficulty of your own position. If you admit a claim of this kind, you cannot know where it will end. Moreover, if acceptance of responsibility in such a case becomes publicly known, you might be vulnerable in any number of other situations. The suggestion is made that the diocese of Bridgeport may have some funds at its disposal for charitable purposes. Some allocation might be made from them to the Frechette family in such a way that the Church itself and not the diocese of Bridgeport will be thought of as offering assistance. This would safeguard the position of Your Excellency and at the same time meet the allegations that the Church is not interested in the welfare of her children when they are in trouble.”
While expressing pastoral concern for the Frechette family, Archbishop Vagnozzi seems more concerned with the burden imposed on Bishop Curtis, who was attempting to evade financial responsibility in this matter. While acknowledging that Catholics have a vague notion that bishops are responsible for their priests and that Curtis should make some charitable gesture toward the Frechettes, the Vatican also recognized that if news of this got out, others might make financial demand on the diocese. A truly compassionate, pastoral response!
If you would like to hear more evidence from court documents concerning priestly sexual abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport, save the date, Saturday, November 13, and come to the Concert Hall at Norwalk City Hall for a dramatic presentation entitled “Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned!”

Questions Unanswered by Church Leaders in the Diocese of Bridgeport

July 24, 2010

The stories of sexual abuse of youth by Catholic priests exploded 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 our local story. 

William Lori, Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, went to the 2002 US Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas that addressed the clergy abuse problem. He never asked the people in the pews to gather and discuss this subject nor did he reveal Diocesan history in this regard. But he did come home with ‘his solution’, the Safe Environment program that he installed in the Diocese. More than 90,000 persons have taken several hours of VIRTUS training intended to help them understand and look out for sexual predators. What are the results of the training? What has been the expense of this effort? A Diocesan Review Board was initially appointed to receive reports of abuse. The Diocese initially disclosed who served on the Board. Why are they secret today? And why not tell the faithful what their work entails and the results of their process?

The Diocese of Bridgeport under former Bishop Edward Egan and more recently under Bishop Lori has a Bridgeport headquarters on Jewett Avenue and includes the entirety of Fairfield County where 50% of the population is identified as Catholic by the Diocesan website. Early in the decade more than $37 million was paid to claimants in two major Diocesan settlements. Evidence of additional confidential settlements has come to light more recently. Thirty-four priests have had public allegations made against them. At least two have protested their innocence publicly but still serve as priests because the allegations of sexual abuse of youth were not found “credible” by the Diocese. Those priests neither got a chance in court to clear their names and reputations, nor did they have recourse to Canon Law rights set out for clergy. Why not? There has been no answer to this question. 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. Why is he still serving as a priest when the Diocese has provided funds for counseling and/or confidential settlement to one or more of the people naming him an abuser?

 Perhaps it is because the power of the Bishop is 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’ promise 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 all 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, they are notified that 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.

 Diocesan governance is thus to be experienced rather than expressed by the majority of the faithful. 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. And there is no mechanism for the governed to express exception or displeasure to such appointments other than a “quiet exit”. One of the trappings of the “Bridgeport” office includes a super-sized 10,000 square foot residence on 2 acres in the “‘burbs.” 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 become 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! The “freedom of the press”, one of our dear American freedoms, in this case becomes “freedom of the publisher”!

 Bishop Lori can review the finances of all Catholic activities with a new accounting system including the 87 parishes because significant funds were discovered missing or ill-spent during the decade in Darien, Greenwich and other parishes. However, the ‘people in the pews’ still have no annual audited comprehensive Diocesan financial report. Assets certainly exceed $1 Billion. Significant revenue flows can be 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 NGOs to support service programs, are not fully reported. Why such secrecy? Are there scandals here as well?

 Bishop Lori’s major effort during the decade, 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 sexual abuse. 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. The Bishop, 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. How much was the total expense to the Diocese? What did it cost the people in the pews? These are fair but also, unanswered, questions.

 How could Bishops provide multiple “secret settlements” of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars except that the Catholic ‘citizenry’ has been expected to pay, pray, and obey, with no say? For the most part they have stayed for a long time, too. But today many Catholics have abandoned the pews, exited their practice or have begun to send dollars targeted on Matthew 25 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 secret Diocesan books’! When the Bishop Appeal decreases in revenues for one or more years, what does that portend? If a $1 Million shortfall in 2010 causes ten or more employees to be terminated, how many parishes caused the deficit? Aren’t they obligated to make it up in a succeeding year? Do they do it?

 What is the impact on Bridgeport and its environs and all types of human services from the true causes as well as trailing effects of the sexual abuse and cover-up? Are parochial school closings near? How many more employees will be terminated when revenues wane, yet assets remain untouched? Can parish clusters be distant? What ‘re-form’ of freedoms or structure awaits adult American Catholics in the coming decade to free the God given promise and gifts of faithful Catholics of all stripes bringing them together to face these challenges?

  Copyright @ 2010 John Marshall Lee (Reviewed copy and revised draft-approved 7-21-2010)

Support the Victims, Not the Bishops

April 28, 2010

Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Former Chair
Daniel B. Sullivan, Co-Chair
Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport

The bishops of the Catholic Church in Connecticut have once again raised a hue and cry against legislation pending in the Connecticut legislature that they perceive as an attack on the Catholic Church. Perhaps they perceive it that way because of their guilty consciences.

House Bill 5473 would eliminate the statute of limitations pertaining to sexual abuse of a minor in a very limited number of cases. It permits a victim who is older than 48 to sue ONLY if another action has already been filed within the period permitted by the existing statute, and that alleges substantially similar abuse by the same person and liability by the same defendant. The victim’s attorney must also have a good faith belief, after reasonable inquiry, that his client was abused as a minor.

While attempting to portray themselves as compassionate defenders of the victims of priestly sexual abuse, the bishops simultaneously are using all their resources to defeat this legislation in an effort to protect their temporal power and authority much like any corporate CEO.

But it is not this legislation that threatens the Church; rather, it is the acts of the priests who abused and the bishops who covered up that imperil the billions of dollars of assets controlled by Connecticut’s bishops. In the Diocese of Bridgeport Bishops Walter W. Curtis and Edward M. Egan routinely ignored charges of priestly sexual abuse and allowed priest predators to continue in service. Bishop Curtis destroyed documents containing evidence of abuse. Only when lawsuits were brought against the Diocese did the bishops remove the offenders from ministry. Bishop William E. Lori expended untold sums of money over nearly eight years to prevent the release of court documents that reveal the complicity of the bishops and their subordinates in the crime of sexual abuse of children.

Rather than accept responsibility for their actions, the bishops attempt to scapegoat attorneys who, in accordance with the principles of the American judicial system, present the claims of victims for adjudication in the courts. However, it is only after a jury has heard the evidence and found not just that a priest abused, but that the diocese was complicit because of its actions or failure to act, that the dioceses will face liability.

The bishops also argue that claims could be made that might be 50, 60, or 70 or more years old, as if the sexual abuse of an innocent child by a priest is something to be forgotten. In the opinion of the bishops, that child’s demand for justice should be dismissed as if it doesn’t matter anymore.

In view of the mounting evidence throughout the world of priestly sexual abuse and the subsequent cover-up by the bishops, Catholics have good reason to ask whether the present structure of church governance accords with the concept of the Church as the People of God. At present the laity is entirely excluded from any substantive role in church governance, as Canon Law reserves to the ordained all decision-making authority. It is the way the Catholic Church has chosen to structure most dioceses, to ensure maximum control by the bishop, which puts the assets of all parishes at risks for acts occurring anywhere within the diocese. If the bishops did not seek to maintain absolute control over every aspect of life within the diocese, but instead allowed individual parishes more autonomy, the liability of those parishes could be limited. If pastors and the laity had some say about the priests assigned to their parish and whether they could be removed, this would perhaps also lead to a better vetting of the priests in each parish.

Lest anyone be in doubt about the ultimate responsibility for the terrible abuse of children by men whom they were taught from earliest childhood to trust and revere, one may read Canon 391.1 of the Code of Canon Law: “The diocesan bishop is to rule the particular church committed to him with legislative, executive and judicial power in accord with the norm of law.” That means that the bishops have absolute power over all the faithful, clergy and people alike, without any checks or balances. That also means that despite the efforts of the bishops to shift the responsibility to the shoulders of the faithful, the bishops alone and their subordinates are responsible for the terrible tragedy that has occurred. The bishops and the clerical caste are not above the law and must be held accountable for crimes committed and for covering up crimes.

It is a sad day when those who profess to have the moral authority to lead a major religious institution encompassing about half of Connecticut’s population seek to mislead, mischaracterize and spin the facts in an effort to preserve their temporal, rather than spiritual, authority.

Heimlich maneuver: Helpful? Hopefully

February 23, 2010

Do you have a favorite restaurant that you enjoy for good food and drink, friendly service and a relaxed environment? Close your eyes for a moment and visualize yourself there. Find it enjoyable? I hope so. Now, eyes still closed, picture what happens when you observe that a diner at the next table is red-faced, open mouthed and trying to say something. But no sound is coming out. They grab for their throat but whatever is stuck prevents communication. They stand up and wave to no avail. You see fear and embarrassment in their eyes. They wish they were anywhere but here at this moment suffering from this blockage.  You understand that they are literally choking to death! Do you think that they want any help at this moment? Will you assist them? Are you aware that their perilous situation may cause them to become angry and direct it at anyone who comes to help?

 What face do you put on the person suffering? Are they old or young, male or female, uniformed or casually dressed? Try imagining the face of a Roman Catholic Bishop on this breathless victim. Whether you live in the US, Canada, Australia, Ireland, or Germany, Catholic Bishops have offered a multitude of explanations for the causes of clergy sexual abuse of youth in recent years while ignoring critical others. They have insisted that the abuse problem is over and that is was the fault of merely a few ordained who are no longer present. They indicate the size of remedial programs they initiated and demand of ministers, settle billions of dollars and triumphantly proclaim that the institutional Church has done more for the safety of children than anyone.

 However, each victim/survivor who tells their tragic story undercuts their “Bishop-talk”. And Church legal response short circuits pastoral healing. Ignoring real human victims in this manner costs credibility. Are we witnessing the public suffering of a group of incompetent leaders, formerly respected sources of moral authority, reduced to choking on their own words? What is stuck in their throats that defies belief? Is it a confession that past exercise of power by Church leaders overrode care of children? Is it an inability to admit error and fully reconcile?

 The current story of the Irish hierarchy (with four resigned Bishops and the balance each getting seven minutes to converse with the Pope) shows just how much trouble was present in yet another country. Deferral, dithering, and dishonesty by those in power, including failure to be open, accountable and transparent about accusations not dealt with in a timely manner, neither in ways dictated by Canon Law nor by civil law, nor in a manner common to responsible adults who truly care for children is choking our Church. And are you surprised when the perfection sought by many clergymen reveals denial, embarrassment and even anger at anyone without a collar who tries to put their arms around this Church issue? Where is the healing nature of a Christian called to love and to tend the wounds of still suffering youth within now grown adults? Where is the institutional responsibility of the adult leader to study a problem to assure that any solution he develops truly eliminates a problem rather than merely deflects criticism while protecting those guilty of serious error?

 Let’s return to your favorite restaurant. Close you eyes again. How do you see the choking person now? Do you understand that they need help, right now? Will you stand up, regardless of what others do, and declare the truth of the situation? Will you attentively listen to the stories of victim/survivors as your part in their healing process, especially if you have failed to do so in the past? And if you don’t know how to perform a Heimlich, please give your neighbor some sound blows, between their shoulder blades, to help them cough up the blockage? Do you not see this person as your neighbor, a neighbor truly in need of a helpful application of your hands, to allow them to breathe again and fully come to life? The Body of Christ needs all of its faithful voices speaking truth and all its faithful ears listening patiently to heal the many wounds present.

John Marshall Lee

Diocese still secretive about abuse

December 17, 2009

When, pursuant to court order, the Diocese of Bridgeport this month released some 12,000 pages of documents pertaining to the abuse of minors in the diocese, it also filed with Waterbury Superior Court a “Revised Privilege Log” identifying over 1,000 pages of documents it believes are still exempt from disclosure and the purported legal basis for its position.

If one reads the argument accompanying that log closely, it appears that the diocese believes that documents created as a result of counseling sessions between priests in which abuse is discussed are exempt from disclosure. The logical extension of this argument is that not only is the document protected, but also the communication itself. Thus the priest-recipient of such communication would not seem to be required, in the view of the diocese, to report the abuse or abuser to state authorities.

If this analysis of the diocese’s position is correct, its much heralded “Safe Environments Program” is nothing more than a hollow promise to parishioners. That program provides that anyone who has “actual knowledge of or [has] reasonable cause to suspect abuse or misconduct against a minor” is required to report such knowledge or suspicion to one of its Victim Assistance Coordinators or the Department of Children and Families Hotline, and in the case of a “mandated reporter,” to the police within 12 hours of becoming aware of an incident or concern.

Further, the Diocese argues that it, alone, is empowered to make decisions regarding the assignment of its priests, and that the civil authorities are precluded from inquiring into or obtaining documents relating to such decisions. Once again, the logical extension of this argument seems to be that the diocese believes that if it has obtained information regarding abuse by one of its priests only through counseling sessions or by other means that it views as constitutionally protected, it may reassign that priest to a position involving supervision of and/or contact with children, and that such decision and the documents on which it is based are not reviewable by the courts.

If such a position were taken by any other institution in society, it would be rejected on its face.

I believe that the laity of the diocese should demand that Bishop Lori clarify, in a transparent manner, the claims made on behalf of the diocese by its lawyers in this log and confirm that all clergy (outside the seal of confession) and employees of the diocese are in fact both required and encouraged to report either actual instances of abuse or suspicions that abuse may be occurring. We have seen too many instances in the past where priests ignored sleepovers at the rectory by young guests of their fellow priests, or other instances where the circumstances were such as to alert any reasonable person to the inherent dangers they posed.

The people of the diocese should also demand a clear statement from their bishop regarding the recent revelations regarding Monsignors Genuario and Wissel, of Greenwich. Rather than hide behind an elliptical statement issued by his long-time flack on his last day as an employee of the diocese, Bishop Lori should state directly whether the allegations involving these two priests were referred to the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board, how it investigated the complaints, who, if anybody, was called as a witness and the basis for its recommendations. Such apparently secret proceedings, if in fact they took place, fail any reasonable test of transparency.

Further, if a thorough investigation took place and the complaints were not found to be credible, the bishop should explain clearly why he authorized settlements that apparently cost the diocese $40,000, and why such settlements were not publicly disclosed. There should be no room in these matters for the doctrine of “mental reservation” so artfully employed by the Irish hierarchy in their dealings with their own abuse crisis.

If the bishop truly believes the positions asserted on his behalf in the log by his lawyers, he is sacrificing any claim he may have to moral leadership by an overly broad claim of privilege under the law. But that is perhaps the position we can expect from an organization that seems unwilling to deal with its members in an open, transparent and accountable manner as educated, adult members of the People of God.

Daniel B. Sullivan is co-chairman of the Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Do You Know Where Your Donated Money Is Going?

November 13, 2009

Money BagThe Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently announced that it is closing two of its high schools, only months after announcing a five-year, $200 million fundraising campaign. At the time that campaign commenced, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph McFadden was quoted as saying, “Right now, we’re making ends meet.” To me, that comment, juxtaposed with the high school closings, sounds inconsistent with a $50,000 contribution by the Archdiocese to the effort sponsored by the Diocese of Portland, Maine to nullify marriage for same-sex couples in that state.

 But, Philadelphia was hardly alone. Records required to be filed under the government ethics and election practices laws of the state of Maine reveal that as of October 20th, Catholic archdioceses and dioceses throughout the United States had contributed over $200,000 to the Ballot Question Committee (“BQC”) organized by the Diocese of Portland to overturn a statute passed by the Maine legislature and signed by its governor, a Catholic, authorizing same sex partners to marry. On last November 3, the initiative was approved. Those same records indicate that the Diocese reported that more than $250,000 raised by the BQC was categorized as “General Treasury Transfers,” which seems to indicate that those funds came directly from the Diocese of Portland.

 Whatever we as Catholics may think of the premise of this legislation, I wonder whether any of us knew that our diocese was sending money to Maine to overturn this law? Did our bishop tell us that he was sending a portion of our contributions out-of-state to lobby on behalf of a political initiative? Does he do this on other matters? If so, what might they be? In the interests of openness, accountability and transparency, we as Catholics have the right, perhaps even the obligation, to ask these questions, and demand an answer.

 Another interesting question to ask is whether this is a way to divert dollars from an organization that is qualified to receive tax-exempt contributions, such as the Catholic Church, to an organization that does not itself enjoy that status.

 In addition to Philadelphia, the Diocese of Phoenix also contributed $50,000. Other dioceses, among them St. Louis, Newark and Youngstown, each contributed $10,000. Two other entities, the Catholic Foundation of Northeast Kansas, and the Diocesan Assistance Fund, of Providence, RI, each also contributed $10,000. In the case of these last two contributions, it seems pertinent to ask whether or not any disclosure was ever made to those who were solicited to support these organizations that part of their donations would be sent out of state to support political activities, rather than to support the poor, the schools and the other social justice works typically carried out by such organizations.

 While these are some of the larger donations, the records through late October indicate that almost fifty dioceses sent funds to Portland to aid in this effort, as well as many clergy and bishops who appear to have contributed out of their own resources. Among these were Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, CT and Bishop William Lennon of Cleveland, who was formerly assigned to Boston, both of whom sent $1,000. Such a widespread, coordinated effort raises the question of whether this campaign was orchestrated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

 Additionally, the Knights of Columbus contributed over $50,000 to Stand for Marriage Maine, the principal organization that worked to overturn this law and the sole direct recipient, other than for incidental expenses, of the more than $550,000 raised by the Portland Diocese to promote an agenda that is, at its core, profoundly discriminatory.

 For a list of those who contributed to the Portland Diocese’s BQC through 10/20/09, see:

http://www.mainecampaignfinance.com/public/entity_financial_transactions.asp?TYPE=BQC&ID=4528

 Please check it, to see whether your diocese participated in this effort.  And think twice, before you write that next check to your parish church or annual bishop’s appeal.

Daniel B. Sullivan

Co-Chair, Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport

Secrecy, Power, Honesty, Humility

September 2, 2009

The Diocese of Bridgeport, still blithely spending the money of the Catholic faithful, has appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Presenting itself as a victim of injustice, the Diocese alleges that its First Amendment rights have been violated by the order of the State Supreme Court to unseal court records relating to priestly sexual abuse and episcopal cover-up. The Diocese further claims it has not been treated fairly by a succession of state courts that have heard the case. The Diocese complains that all of this happened long ago and that the newspapers only want to rehash old news.

In the eight years that have elapsed since the sexual abuse cases were settled in 2001, the Diocese has taken its case to court and lost consistently. It is difficult to believe that the diocesan right to due process of law has somehow been neglected. In the course of those years the Diocese has spent countless thousands of dollars – shall we say millions? -contributed by the people that could better have been spent to alleviate the suffering of the poor and needy. The diocesan spokesman, Joseph McAleer, refused to state how much money the Diocese has spent on this legal battle.

This is not about the First Amendment. This is not about the intrusion of the government or the media into the internal affairs of the Catholic Church. The First Amendment guarantees the separation of church and state. It does not guarantee the Catholic Church the right to conceal criminal behavior on the part of the clergy, the bishops, and their subordinates.

This is about secrecy. It is not about the priest predators whose names are known. It is about concealing from the public eye the conduct of bishops and their subordinates, who, when informed that some of their priests had committed crimes, chose to hide them rather than report them to the police. This is about bishops and their lieutenants who knowingly loosed the criminals on an unsuspecting public by transferring them from parish to parish without telling anyone. This is about Bishop Walter W. Curtis who shredded documents concerning guilty priests because he did not want anyone to know about their crimes. This is about the diocesan official who described the pretext to be used to explain the transfer of a guilty priest.

This is about the arrogance of power. This is about Bishop Edward M. Egan who airily disclaimed any responsibility for his priests by declaring that they were self-employed, independent contractors. Even he soon realized how foolish that was and sent a letter to all the faithful attempting to clarify his statement. This is about the black wall of silence. This is about bishops and priests closing ranks to prevent anyone from knowing their guilty secrets. This is about the right of the Catholic faithful to know that their priests and bishops are honest, moral, and upright men, not criminals or abettors of criminals.

Above all, this is about little boys and girls whose innocence was ripped away by priests whom they were taught to trust. This is about bishops, who, on learning of these crimes, paid off the boys and girls, now grown to adulthood, under the obligation that they not tell anyone.

This is not about saving the reputation of the hierarchy. This is about the great sin committed in our midst. This is about the duty of the Diocese to confess that sin publicly; to do public penance for that sin; to publicly ask forgiveness of the children whose defenseless bodies were violated; to publicly ask forgiveness of the Catholic community.

This is the time to stop wasting money on legal stonewalling. This is the time for the Diocese to abandon forever its policy of secrecy and to exhibit the humility of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church.justice_symbol