Posts Tagged ‘Justice’

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

Our Statements in Support of Theologian Elizabeth Johnson and Rev. Roy Bourgeois

April 28, 2011

The recent statement by the Doctrinal Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that Professor Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Quest for the LivingGod: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, does not reflect authentic Catholic teaching about God and that it should not be used as a textbook in college classrooms is troubling.
            Faithful Catholics are right to call the Doctrinal Committee to task for several reasons. Whereas the Committee is very much within its rights to criticize the book, it apparently neglected to follow its own established procedures for such matters. At no time did the Committee notify Professor Johnson that her book was under review, but opted rather to carry out its investigation in secret. Only after publication of the Committee ‘s statement did she know that the review had been undertaken. She pointed out that the Committee attributed views to her that she did not hold nor express in her book. 
What is most disquieting about this affair is that it seems to be a heavy-handed attempt at censorship. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, chairman of the Committee, suggested that Professor Johnson could have requested an imprimatur before publishing her book. Imprimatur (“let it be printed”) is a censorship word used by a diocesan bishop to declare that, in his opinion, a particular book conformed to Catholic teaching. The bishop usually entrusted the review of such a book to one of his priests, who had the title Censor Librorum, Censor of Books. 
 The Committee’s action and Cardinal Wuerl’s statement suggest a desire to restore the arbitrary censorship of the writings of theologians. Perhaps they believe that Professor Johnson’s book and others of which they disapprove should be placed on the discredited Index of Prohibited Books abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1966. Perhaps the Committee believes that such forbidden books should be kept, as they once were, under lock and key in university libraries, lest the students read them. What are the bishops afraid of? Are they not the prophets of doom that Pope John XXIII mentioned in his opening address to the Second Vatican Council?   
This is not the first time that the Committee has blundered. In response to Jewish protests, the Committee in 2009 issued a clarification of its “Statement of Principles for Jewish-Catholic Dialogue.”
Canon Law (cc.220, 1390.2) stipulates that no one should harm the reputation of another, but the Committee has done just that. Inasmuch as Professor Johnson is recognized by her peers as one of the leading American theologians, we believe that the Doctrinal Committee owes her a public apology for mischaracterizing her work and wrongfully injuring her reputation. 
Signed: Jamie Dance, Jim Alvord, Joanne Bray, Kathleen Clement, Marge Hickey, Marilyn Kirchner, John Lee,  Dick Maiberger, Joe O’Callaghan, Anne Pollack, Marie Rose, Dick Vicenzi, Tony Wiggins

 Letter to Maryknoll Fathers

Rev. Edward M. Dougherty, M.M.Superior General, Maryknoll Fathers
P.O. Box304

Dear Father Dougherty:

             We are writing to exhort you to stand firm, shoulder to shoulder with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, one of your priests, who has been threatened with excommunication by theVaticanfor his outspoken stance in favor of the ordination of women. On that account, theVaticanis demanding that you expel Fr. Bourgeois from your community.

 As women, like men, are made in the image and likeness of God, we believe that they should be invited to preside at the eucharistic celebration. To continue to deny them ordination is unjust and an affront to those women, who, from the very time of Jesus, have carried out the essential task of transmitting the faith to our children.

 Rather than be complicit in theVatican’s abusive condemnation of Fr. Bourgeois, this is the time to stand up for what is right. Rather than turn your back on one of your own, a long-time member of the Maryknoll family, and thus bring everlasting shame on Maryknoll’s name, we urge you and your community to rise up in his defense.  When an injustice is committed, all good men and women, responding to the promptings of their conscience, will cry out in protest. Now is the time to do that. We know that you will.

 May God always bless your work!
Jamie Dance and the following members of the Board of Directors: J. Alvord, J. Bray, K. Clement, M. Hickey, M. Kirchner, J. Lee, D. Maiberger, J. O’Callaghan, M. Rose, R. Vicenzi, T. Wiggins



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