As the work week nears its end, another outstanding and well-reserached essay by Jerry Slevin--this one arguing that more and more diverse Catholic voices are now harmonizing in an ever-increasing song calling for fundamental hierarchical reform in the Catholic church. What follows is Jerry's posting:
The increasingly harsh Roman inquisition now underway, often directed at the US, Ireland and Austria, is often difficult to understand and evaluate in light of papal secrecy, intimidation and misinformation. Yet, cumulatively, a dark message is being heard by Catholics, as well as almost everyone else paying attention. Continuously misguided papal actions and/or inaction have steadily raised more fears among many groups, including many parents, most women, even nuns, many priests, even a few bishops, and gay persons generally.
Yet by contrast, Joseph Ratzinger, the current pope, has usually looked the other way at the misdeeds of key Cardinals, including earlier Cardinal Groer of Austria, several curial Cardinals, Cardinal Brady of Ireland and now Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia. Why the double standard? What is really going on? Is there any reason for Catholics to be hopeful in these dark hours?
It is unclear how much of this sudden surge of inquisitorial iniquity is really just a fearful response to the increasing and distressing public disclosures of hierarchical misdeeds, amidst also signs that more and more Catholics appear to have reached their limit with this unChristian hierarchical behavior.
Last year a woman psychologist and mother, whom the US bishops had previously chosen for advice amidst the fallout from the Boston child abuse scandals a decade ago, pondered why Catholics were still so passive then with their hierarchy in the face of such ongoing clerical abuse as indicated here.
Recently, in light of another tsunami of bad publicity for the hierarchy, she analyzed some plausible explanations of why the Catholic hierarchy appears unable to face the stark reality of its misdeeds and, instead, has chosen mainly to respond angrily, rather than constructively by addressing its misdeeds effectively as indicated here.
As discussed below in more detail, everyday Catholics worldwide are increasingly beginning to organize and resist the papal aggression, from Dublin, to Vienna to Philadelphia (Philly), and are demanding a return to hierarchical accountability upon which the Church was founded, as exemplified here.
A prominent British writer, who was raised a Catholic, has now even volunteered in an interview (see here) that, in her view, it is no longer "respectable" to be a Catholic, which appears to have rattled at least one regular columnist for the UK Tablet. More and more diverse Catholic voices are getting ever louder and are even beginning to harmonize. The song they are singing is increasingly about the need for fundamental hierarchical reform.
Among the many escalating pressures on the pope is the publication of graphic and pervasive evidence of a half century of calculated cover-ups, by three prominent Philadelphia Cardinals and also several Bishops, of dozens of priest sexual predators. The pope and American Cardinals appear to be in denial about the Philadelphia revelations, but surely they can no longer credibly maintain that they have any real concern for protecting children first or for comforting survivors of priest sexual abuse. Concerned Catholics will no longer inhale the mystical smokescreens.
The Philadelphia evidence is too overwhelming and is being increasingly disclosed in the media. The evidence shows the decades' long sexual perversions of priests involving defenseless children and related hierarchical cover-ups and collusion. This criminal conduct has been nauseatingly uncovered steadily now in Philly for almost two months. The Philly criminal trial of Monsignor Lynn, a former top aide to the pope's long time curial colleague, Cardinal Justin Rigali, has been reported upon regularly and thoroughly, including by the Philadelphia Inquirer here. Lynn's trial is now expected to go to the jury within a couple of weeks.
The Internet has also made actual key evidence from the Philly criminal trial of Cardinal Rigali's former top aide available for all Catholics to see. They do not like what they are seeing as shown here.
Compounding the Philly criminal trial disclosures are the revelations, finally beginning to be dripped out slowly now by Philly Archbishop Chaput, about some of the three dozen other suspected Philly priests first disclosed in connection with Cardinal Rigali's sudden suspension of most of them fifteen months ago. These unexpected suspensions happened within a few weeks after Rigali indicated publicly, in effect, that Philly had no more predator priests, other than those few in the criminal trial. Some details about a few of these suspended priests have recently finally begun to be disclosed at a staged Chaput press conference discussed here as well as here.
As one of Philly Cardinal Rigali's former top aides, Monsignor Lynn's conviction would be extremely significant as the first supervisory official in the US papal hierarchy to be held accountable, after by Vatican experts' own estimates over 100,000 defenseless American children so far have been victimized by predator priests, for criminally endangering children by covering up for Philly sexual predator priests. Recent trial revelations under oath confirm, however, that Lynn was evidentially in many ways just a handy tool of the Philly Cardinals and Bishops that he blindly obeyed.
Increasingly, the Philly prosecutorial questions appear now to be moving towards what actions in the near future the prosecutors will take against Lynn's former hierarchical bosses, in light of the implications in the sworn trial testimony relating to (1) Cardinal Rigali's role, (2) the role of at least several present or former Philly Bishops, including Cullen, Cistone and Fitzgerald, and (3) the three separate serious misconduct allegations made under oath relating to Bishop Bransfield, formerly from the Philly Archdiocese, and long time head of the Catholic elite U.S. donor group, the Papal Foundation, as well as currently treasurer of Cardinal Dolan's US bishops group.
Bransfield met a few weeks ago at the Vatican with the pope and Cardinal Wuerl after these serious sworn allegations about him were made public. Neither Bishop Bransfield, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Dolan, the pope nor any of the elite donors appear yet to have publicly addressed the Bransfield allegations adequately, other than Bransfield's pro forma denials.
Philly parents are aware that much has been done among Catholic staffers and volunteers to promote child protection. But what the Philly trial has fearfully shown convincingly is that, for a half century at least up to almost the present, a systematic effort of cover-up and deceit, from the top down, protected numerous Philly predator priests who, after being identified as serious risks for defenseless children, were apparently enabled, in effect, by Philly Cardinals and Bishops to sexually abuse more children.
Even today, all sexual abuse claims involving Philly and U.S. priests generally are not required to be promptly reported to the police and bishops are still not required to have professional audits of their compliance with child protection rules by a major independent auditing firm. The Philly criminal trial has shown clearly that the Philadelphia Archdiocese's child protection program was in key respects a sham. Archbishop Chaput's purported reforms appear to be mainly window dressing, as was evident in his imperious approach at his recent press conference.
If the Philly District Attorney (DA), Seth Williams, fails to follow up, based on this trial's sworn testimony and extensive documentary evidence, with a thorough investigation of Cardinal Rigali and these Bishops for possible child endangerment and even possible suppression of evidence, including the elusive "shredding memorandum" that seems to have disappeared from 2006 to 2012, then the Philly trial will only confirm to US bishops they have practical immunity if they spend unlimited amounts on politically connected lawyers and can lay the blame on some insignificant monsignor. That would be a miscarriage of justice.
The Philly DA must follow up to meet his statutory obligations to investigate and prosecute crimes diligently and without any favoritism, especially when they involve unprotected minors. If he fails to do this, Philly citizens should note this and vote accordingly.
WOMEN: The pope and US bishops' war against women's reproductive health insurance rights is still going strong. The US bishops have just filed extensive written objections to the Obama administration's latest proposed HHS regulations. The bishops' ally, Rush Limbaugh, has not raised his large head yet supporting these objections, perhaps because Georgetown student, Sarah Fluke, is finishing up her classes and will have more time to confront him.
Cardinal Wuerl may have been silent about the allegations relating to Bishop Bransfield, but he has weighed in hard against Georgetown's president's graduation invitation to Kathleen Sibelius, Obama's HHS Secretary as indicated here.
Also, an Ohio Catholic university has just decided to forgo any longer offering any health insurance to its students as a result of this controversy. It is highly unlikely that Catholic universities and medical facilities can remain competitive if the pope and bishops try to compel them to forgo offering health insurance benefits.
Happily, the distinquished octogenerian journalist, Robert Blair Kaiser, has made available as a free e-book here, The Politics of Sex and Religion, his classic history of the 1960's pro-contraception birth control commission and the anti-contraception encyclical, "Humanae Vitae." Kaiser's book makes abundantly clear that the encyclical was driven much more by papal power politics than by sound biology, psychology, theology or Scripture.
Moreover, polling indicates that the pope and bishops' rigid approach to contraception is driving more American women voters to vote for Obama, undercutting an apparent objective of the U.S. bishops' contrived "religious liberty" crusade to replace Obama.
For more on the pope's U.S. election strategy of creating sexual "wedge" issues, apparently intended to turn out conservative Catholic Republican voters in key states, please see the detailed discussion here.
Not satisfied with declaring war against American women and nuns generally, the pope and bishops have apparently decided now also to go after Girl Scouts as well, as indicated here.
It seems likely the political issue of women's reproductive rights will not be settled in the U.S. anytime soon, certainly not before the November national elections. The related religious issues are also not likely to be settled on the current pope's watch.
PRIESTS: The plight of many Catholic priests is increasingly dismal. Many lay Catholics blame almost all priests for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by only some priests. Many innocent priests are stressed greatly and understandably about being falsely accused. The discussion above about Archbishop Chaput's press conference relating to two dozen suddenly suspended Philly priests makes clear that many priests, in practice, have few due process rights and are subject to the sometimes arbitrary and premature judgments of their bishops and the bishops' criminal lawyers.
Vocations are declining domestically, while priests' average age is increasing (in the U.S., the average age is almost 60 years old). Married and women priests are precluded, increasing the the risk that more predator priests will be ordained from the diminishing pool of seminarians. Priests' overall workloads consequently appear also to be increasing, while their diocesean salaries and pensions make priests often completely dependent on pleasing their bishops.
Given all this, priests are increasingly seeking to join together for mutual aid and protection, and are seeking lay allies in their struggles with an apparently increasingly arbitrary and insensitive hierarchy.
In Austria, apparently as many as two-thirds of Austrian priests and lay Catholics now support the reform movement of Fr. Helmut Schueller, who is advocating, among other things, opening up discussions about expanding the priesthood to include married men and women preachers as indicated here and also here.
Fr. Schueller has just given an extensive interview (in German, but adequately translated by Google Translate) to Der Spiegel entitled "Rome Supports a Retro Church," available here.
In Ireland, the new priests' association has recently met to an overflow Dublin audience of more than 1,000 priests and lay Catholics as described here.
The clear message from both Austria and Ireland is that priests and laity are joining together to work for change in the current Church hierarchical structure, notwithstanding papal warnings and, in Ireland, severe Vatican disciplinary actions against several prominent Irish priests.
NUNS: The unexpected and quickly developing Vatican attack on American nuns is being followed closely in a new National Catholic Reporter section, "Sisters Under Scrutiny" available here. The surprising role of Boston's infamous Cardinal Law has been described here.
Given the number of U.S. dioceses facing bankruptcy, it is not surprising that the nuns' assets appear to be a target of the Vatican's new attempt to gain control of American nuns' organizations as discussed under the comment, "Vigils Are Not Enough," available here.
GAY CATHOLICS: The pope and US bishops' assault on gay marriage is quite painful to observe and more painful to experience, and fundamentally unChristian as well, as was so movingly described here and sensibly deconstructed here.
The theological and Scriptural shallowness of the opponents of gay marriage has been fairly summarized and powerfully addressed, including the "debate" among Gary Wills, Mark Silk and Michael Sean Winters and the considerable unChristian harm that the pope's cruel assault does to real Christians, here.
CARDINALS: As the pope rules unnecessarily coercively, he is engendering as noted above greater fear among innocent parents, children, women, nuns, priests, bishops, and gay persons, yet he repeatedly looks the other way when a Cardinal is the wrongdoer. As Cardinal, the present pope, in effect, gave Vienna's Cardinal Groer a pass despite numerous credible allegations of many seminarians of sexual abuse by Groer. More recently, the pope's apologists even tried to excuse the pope's failure by lamely pointing the finger at Cardinal Sodano as reported here.
Of course, the pope has never called out Cardinal Sodano either for his misdeeds with Maciel as described by Jason Berry here.
Currently, the pope has avoided taking appropriate action against Ireland's Primate, Cardinal Brady, notwithstanding Brady's appalling role in the cover-up of one of Ireland's worst sexual predator priests, as described here and here as well.
In light of the foregoing, it is no surprise that the pope has been silent on Cardinal Rigali's shameful failures in Philadelphia as described above. They served together for well over a decade in the Vatican curia and know the rules--popes do not go after cardinals. The reason appears to be fairly simple. Cardinals are necessary to realize the pope's goals and to elect hopefully the pope's designated successor as pope. If the pope goes after one cardinal too harshly, he risks making all cardinals insecure, which is not usually in the pope's interest. Hence, cardinals are mostly immune from accountability, as the pope seems to be totally immune from accountability, at least until the new female prosecutor and mother from the International Criminal Court descends on the pope in Rome.
Is the situation hopeless for Catholics? Not necessarily. The current pope is likely to vacate soon. A new pope could be free of most of this pope's decades of bad baggage.
After losing the Papal States in 1870, popes retreated within the Vatican fortress while frequent European wars and subsequent reconstruction mostly precluded major changes until John XXIII convened Vatican II fifty years ago. He died early in the Council's term and the curia was able to get his successor, Paul VI, apparently as a condition of his election as pope, to pull back on, among other matters, collegiality, contraception and celibacy. The current pope and his immediate predecessor mainly followed for over three decades the curial controlled path of restricting many of Vatican II's key reforms.
Events are catching up to the papacy. Financial liability for child abuse, depleting resources (both financial and human) and criminal prosecutions will likely soon force structural changes whether the new pope and the curia want it or not. The dramatic changes following Vatican II that were implemented show that major changes can happen quickly. They will likely again and probably fairly soon. The desperation exhibited by the pope as described above just indicates how under siege the Vatican really is.
A key change that is esssential is to have bishops selected and accountable locally, as was the general rule among Catholics before Constantine changed it by force. Retired Fordham historian, Joseph O'Callahan, in his excellent 2007 book, Electing our Bishops, shows how bishops had been elected for centuries and how this can again be done. A short synoposis and brief reviews are available at Amazon.com. Hope is still an option for Catholics.
Cross-posted to Open Tabernacle, 17 May 2012.
Cross-posted to Open Tabernacle, 17 May 2012.